Planning for your future requires one important element: organization. It involves taking the various components of your life and assembling them into a systematic routine aimed toward a particular result. Absent organization, you can look forward to frustration, wasted time, poor performance and lack of perspective.
Organizing your life yields three priceless resources: time, efficiency and perspective. Everybody has the first of these. Each day contains 24 hours that can never be captured again. If the average life of a person is 73.5 years, that's 26,827 days, or 643,860 available hours.
But time is finite. When we waste it, we can't simply go back and make up for it. Like cash in the bank, it must be managed. And by managing our time, we gain control of this resource, and can accomplish more in a shorter period.
The dividend of time management is efficiency, the ability to do more with less. The wealth and ease that most people have in the United States is a direct result of increased efficiency. The evolution of the world from agricultural to industrial and now to an information age is tied to ever-increasing productivity. We thus need to look for ways to continue to increase our own productivity. Are we involved with overlapping activities with negligible rewards? Every wasted activity eliminated is time discovered to produce more results.
Perspective is the ability to form a clear view of your environment. How often have you felt so overwhelmed, only to realize that you were going in circles? The person without perspective cannot see their path. But when we can step back for a moment and consider ourselves as outsiders might, we can correct our course. The Portuguese navigators of the 14th century kept detailed log books and records of their voyages to uncharted waters. In fact, they were considered state secrets. In our life's voyage, it's only by keeping detailed records of successes and failures and the choices that brought us there that we're able to adjust our course for more profitable waters.
So where should we begin? First, take an honest look at ourselves. Three major steps will follow:
No. 1, examine every aspect of your life--work, leisure and spiritual-and make an inventory. Assess the tools you have at your disposal. What is your expertise? Who is around who might give you insight? What are your assets and liabilities? Where are you wasting time? Are you spending too much time relaxing? How much time do you spend at work? What are your work processes? Where is your work being duplicated?
No. 2, group the different parts of your life into components. Ask yourself, what is important? Then incorporate these various aspects into one central command post, sometimes called an organizer.
The Roman army was one of the most successful in history because it was one of the best-trained and best-organized ever. It was divided into divisions, or legions, of 6,000 men. These were in turn divided into cohorts, which had several centurions over various units. Through superior organization, Caesar was able to conquer the larger but less-well-organized armies of Gaul in a few years. Your organizer can likewise become a central command post from which you will be able to direct the needed resources to win the war. It should contain some lever of control over every aspect of your life.
No. 3, execute your plan of attack. Do you need to make more sales? Do you need more products? More locations? More quiet time? With a panoramic view of your personal battlefield you can begin plotting your strategy for the rest of your life.
We are only given one life, and now is the time to make it count. We can't go back and capture lost time. We can only look forward and make the time we have left count. By organizing ourselves, we can all get there.
Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the beginning of 1998, SBN set out to follow a year in the life of a fledgling enterprise. The idea was to find a business that was far enough along in its growth to have achieved a level of stability, but still young enough that a year could bring measurable change.
If the quaint brick walls of Chip Eberhardt's office could talk, they would tell a story of the most drastic changes a business can experience. They would also tell a lesson that Eberhardt and countless others have learned: Hard work and dreams are not enough to build a successful business.
Nearly three years ago, Eberhardt opened the doors to his new office in the Akron Industrial Incubator to establish Ohio Millwork Distributors Inc., a company that would provide custom wood trim, molding and pre-hung doors to contractors working primarily on mid- to high-end homes.
Today his office is vacant once again. Eberhardt made the painful decision this spring, shortly after his 40th birthday, to close the company.
"The last straw was a certified letter from the bank demanding payment in full," Eberhardt says. "I had a hard time leaving the last time. I put my heart and soul into it. I stared at those walls for two-and-a-half years but the time just flew by."
The first few weeks after shutting down were the hardest; Eberhardt had to come up with enough to pay a retainer before his attorney would take any steps toward filing for bankruptcy. As a result, Eberhardt's home phone rang with creditors calling for payment, and he didn't have any answers for them.
Until then, the company had struggled for months to survive a relentless cash-flow crisis. Eberhardt had already worked out arrangements with vendors to pay off long-overdue bills on materials they had supplied. But none of these vendors would extend any more credit to the young company, which made it all but impossible for a cash-strapped Eberhardt to buy materials needed for new jobs.
At its peak, the small company had eight employees, though in the final months Eberhardt had trimmed it to just himself, a secretary and a warehouse manager. He also managed to work with one rather than two trucks.
As a skilled carpenter, Eberhardt had excelled in his trade. But as a business owner, he faced obstacles he never expected. From interpreting financial statements to gaining bank loans and budgeting for payroll, Eberhardt learned as he went.
One of the cruelest lessons was when he learned that it wasn't worth trying to make money by manufacturing his own pre-hung doors-one of the very tasks he had hoped to perform. Instead, it was cheaper for everybody if he bought the doors from a manufacturer and merely served as a distributor.
"We found it was better to buy a box and sell it," Eberhardt says simply.
Other key mistakes, Eberhardt says, included burning through his cash while learning the business by trial-and-error, and adding staff members before he knew he could make their positions pay off.
Already in a money squeeze by the time SBN first spoke with him nearly a year ago, Eberhardt sold off the equipment he'd used to build doors, and cut the amount of space he leased by a third.
Desperate to regroup, early this year Eberhardt started cutting back on even the smallest expenses.
"I went through every item in the budget, from A to Z," he says. "I took steps to balance the budget and addressed everything. I had to decide if things were a necessity or a luxury."
Eberhardt returned the water cooler he had leased for $32 a month and stopped using a credit card to purchase gasoline for his work truck. "Things add up quickly," Eberhardt says. "We found by cutting the little things we could save more than $3,600 a year."
But it wasn't enough. With four bank loans and 30 to 40 vendors with debts ranging from $250 to $55,000, there was no way out.
"I remember we got an $8,000 check but our bills for the month were $22,000," Eberhardt says. "It was a matter of paying those that screamed the loudest at that point."
Eberhardt didn't file for bankruptcy in his business. He shut it down and filed for personal bankruptcy in September. Under terms of that filing, the bank received all but $20,000 of the money owed, and the other creditors received nothing.
"I'm a little guy too," Eberhardt says. "That's what hurt the most-leaving money on the books and being unable to pay back the other smaller operations out there. If I had it to do over, it would be different. But I can't change the past."
A liquidation sale of inventory and equipment was scheduled to be held by the city of Akron, with proceeds used to pay back rent on the incubator space.
Eberhardt also admits his personal life was suffering before he made the decision to close.
"If I had continued in business, it wouldn't have been bearable to remain married," Eberhardt says. "Closing the business brought us closer together."
In June, Eberhardt took a job selling interior trim for Galehouse Lumber Co. in Doylestown. The job involves work with contractors and serves the very niche he had targeted upon opening his own business.
"I can continue doing what I like to do without the financial pressures," Eberhardt says of his new job. "There was no breaking the ice and everyone at Galehouse has been very supportive. I feel like it's my company too."
With 25 years behind it, Eberhardt says he feels positive about the company and his future there.
"Dreams can still come true," Eberhardt says. "My patience has grown and with every heartbeat I'm less irritable. I'm more patient now and I'm getting to know myself better ... I'm finding true happiness."
When Sam Morrison designed a pillow to make his wife's car rides more comfortable, he didn't plan a journey of his own.
The Stark County native has invented about 10 products. The Add On Head Rest was the first he patented.
"I designed the headrest out of necessity for my wife," Morrison says. "Because it worked so well for her, she said, 'Why not market these?'"
In the process, Morrison discovered that his invention was more than a comfortable addition to a typical automobile seat. It also has the potential to reduce neck injuries resulting from accidents.
Morrison's son-in-law, David Braendel, who has a background in sales and marketing, joined the effort to market the product.
When Braendel showed the headrest to a chiropractor who studies how injuries occur during car accidents, he suggested having the item tested for its safety potential.
Texas A & M's Accident Reconstruction Program crash tested the wedge-shaped cushions, using human subjects. The headrest proved "highly effective in reducing the damaging forces" that cause whiplash.
The impact tests, which involve volunteers, are done at low speeds.
"The problem with most cars is there is simply too much space between the back of the head and the headrest," Braendel says. "During a rear-end collision, the head travels 12 to 18 inches with a force as great as seven g's in a quarter of a second. That's twice as much force as an astronaut experiences when he takes off in a rocket."
While that might seem like a great selling point, Braendel says they are still having problems marketing the pillow, which sells for $24.95. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found more than half the vehicles on the road have "poor" head-restraint designs and only five out of more than 200 models tested have a "good" rating.
"It's difficult convincing people they need the product," Braendel says. "We know seat belts save lives but we had to mandate it as law before people would use them. The headrest won't get to that point, but it does provide safety and comfort."
Morrison and Braendel originally approached the medical community as a marketing outlet.
"It hasn't worked as well as we'd hoped," Braendel says. "We would like to think physicians have a preventative point of view, but from their lack of orders, I would have to say that belief has fallen short."
The two are marketing the product through their Web site, catalogs and mail-order companies. They hope to have the product represented on a home-shopping network such as QVC and they plan to approach chain department stores like Wal-Mart.
"We're also hoping to do an 'informercial' and get more medical professionals involved," Braendel says.
Morrison founded Morrison Tire in 1969. He lived in Stark County for 53 years before moving to Charlotte, N.C., several years ago "for the warmer weather."
Among his other inventions are a product called "foot slick," which helps water-skiers slip into ski boots without injury; a specialized "swab bucket" for repairing tires; and a more efficient method for inflating truck tires.
How to reach Wedge Support Products: (888) 800-7117
New software programs and services available via the Internet pop up daily. Here are a few of the more intriguing and even helpful ones for your growing business.
Top secret secrets
Encrypting computer data is like throwing down the gauntlet at the feet of a hacker-a double-dog dare challenging them to unlock the mystery in your files.
Steganos, a new software program, goes a step beyond basic cryptographic methods that merely make data unreadable; it hides the existence of data through a process known as steganography.
Jim Tyer of CenturionSoft, the company marketing the new software, says it's important to use both methods for certain types of data.
"If your data is only hidden and not encrypted, someone could search all suspicious carrier files for hidden data and, perhaps, find your sensitive information."
Steganos can be ordered through the CenturionSoft Web site www.centurionsoft.com for $49.95.
Low budget national advertisingWant to reach a national audience but don't have an ad agency to do it for you? Contact The WorkShop Inc. for its recently released set of CD-Rom programs. The software offers ready-to-run databases of more than 10,000 daily and weekly newspapers, 3,000 magazines and 2,000 e-mail newsletters.
"Our listings include the name of the publication, all their contact information, e-mail, Web site, circulation and frequency of publication," says Carol Wadell, spokeswoman for The Workshop. "All this information allows just about anyone to create smart, highly effective ad campaigns based on just about any size budget. Business owners can get stronger results by better targeting their ads to the right publications."
"Newspapers '98" and "Magazines and E-zines '98" are available for $40 per CD.
How to reach: The Workshop www.workshopinc.com
Scheduling with ease
Need to set-up a conference in another state? How about another country? No long distance calls are necessary with Facility Master II. The new COMSEC Scheduling Software makes on-line reservations as easy as clicking a mouse-if the facilities you're after offer on-line scheduling.
Company headquarters, hotels, conference centers as well as various equipment, food service and key personnel can all be scheduled through the system.
COMSEC has developed and distributed the software since 1983. It's not cheap, but Bob Taylor, sales manager, says the company has never charged for upgrades and provides free technical support. The software ranges in price from $489 to $1,289.
How to reach: COMSEC www.comsec-llc.com
Software developer and information technology consultant Michael Gemmer doesn't worry about the limited lifetime of archival storage media. What concerns him is the hardware and software needed to access computer data.
Gemmer, president of The Gemmer Group Inc., says processor architectures are changing so rapidly, we'll soon have no compatibility among many operating systems.
"The odds of knowing what program is on a disk will be a tremendous problem," he says. "People say, 'I put my stuff on CD-ROM so my grandkids can look at it,' but they'll have computers on their wrists and won't have the foggiest idea how to access the data."
The same concerns apply to corporate data retrieval. The problem, however, could be solved with a somewhat older, low-tech solution.
Gemmer advises business people to decide what information must be saved long-term.
"And then, go buy yourself some acid-free bond paper, and print it out, because we can be fairly certain English will still be around 50 years from now," Gemmer laughs.
At least when it comes to pulp, the only operating system required is an ability to read.
When it comes to preparing for the worst, a smart business owner is armed with appropriate insurance coverage. But is that enough? Not according to Anita Castora, records and information manager at North Canton's Quanterra Environmental Services.
Giving full respect to the old adage, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,' Castora says the company has proactively prepared a comprehensive disaster recovery plan so everybody will know precisely what to do before the insurance adjusters arrive.
It's an important step. According to national statistics, nearly nine out of 10 companies that suffer a disaster are out of business within five years. Insurance notwithstanding.
Quanterra is an environmental testing laboratory that handles testing for contamination of drinking water, hazardous waste and a range of industrial applications. The company is one of the largest environmental labs in the country, with headquarters in Denver and 13 other locations across the country. Locally, Quanterra employs 80 people and operates with the entrepreneurial attitude of a small company-as it was prior to the company's purchase by Corning eight years ago.
Qunaterra's decision to develop a disaster recovery plan-or business resumption plan as it's called internally-was arrived at independently by the North Canton lab's staff, motivated by a concern to protect the company's vital records and personnel.
That was five years ago. The next step, according to Castora, was to contact BICEPP, the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning and Preparedness. BICEPP, a program of the American Red Cross Greater Cleveland Chapter, is designed to help businesses and organizations plan for emergencies. BICEPP has 140 member companies in Northeast Ohio, but Quanterra was its first in Stark County.
According to Castora, BICEPP's expertise was essential in convincing Quanterra management to spend the time and money needed to develop a disaster recovery plan. "Because this kind of effort doesn't generate revenue, it's hard to get the company to deal with it," says Castora.
Working with BICEPP helped Castora build a case for taking the time to create and implement an effective recovery plan. Since disaster recovery is not mandated by most companies, the importance of preparation might not be seen until something has already gone wrong.
"We knew of a case of a lab in New Jersey that had a fire in the mid 1980s, and some people were killed, so we were aware of how disasters can occur in our industry, and wanted to make preparing our company for a disaster a priority," Castora says.
BICEPP's contribution to Quanterra's disaster recovery planning was critical in addressing all facets of an effective, workable plan. The goal: to emphasize emergency preparedness and develop contingencies to maintain business operations in spite of a disaster. BICEPP's emergency response and disaster recovery expertise is provided to member companies such as Quanterra for a yearly fee, ranging from $100 to $500 based on company size.
Services include personalized consultation, assistance in creating and evaluating a plan, and monthly workshops and seminars to assure the plan remains effective and updated.
The list of 1998 BICEPP monthly meeting topics illustrates the wide range of issues that companies need to address when it comes to business recovery planning. Some of the topics for this year's Northeast Ohio member meetings include:
- Dealing with the media/reputation management;
- Communications and data recovery;
- Financial issues;
- Restoration of property (fire, water and smoke);
- Creating an evacuation plan;
- Business impact analysis
- Human issues in disaster planning
As these topics suggest, effective emergency planning is more than a simple fire drill; it's a multi-level, long-range process. Involvement in BICEPP has also provided Quanterra with other valuable resources, says Castora, including networking with other member companies to share ideas, and gaining access to information about products and services in the business recovery industry.
Last July, Quanterra staff put its emergency plan into action when a tornado was reported heading toward the facility. While the storm passed without incident, employees said they were grateful they didn't have to wait helplessly until someone else figured out what to do.
Margo McVay is an independent writer in Canton.
Before you send out that sales and service survey asking customers how you can better serve them, you'd better get internal feedback.
Barbara Sanfilippo, a speaker at Exploring Success '98, says companies providing five-star customer service focus internally first.
Many companies flunk the customer service report card because the level of customer service an organization provides is influenced by internal service, which, in turn, is influenced by the degree of employee morale and job satisfaction.
When Sanfilippo polled the 100-plus businesses represented at Success '98, the majority indicated they had sent out customer service surveys. But only one-third had done an internal survey to gauge employees' perceptions.
Sanfilippo is the author of Five-Star Service Solutions: Winning Ideas for Achieving Exceptional Service. The book, published by Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville, Ill., includes sample employee surveys and ideas to improve customer service.
National pageant comes to AkronAkron has been selected as the site for the 1999 Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in August. State titleholders from across the nation will visit Akron for a week's worth of competition, activities and sightseeing.
Why should you care?
The pageant is looking for sponsors.
Pageant producer Lowery Lockard says the contestants "will not only be competing but will be bringing awareness of what women with disabilities can do and opening doors for advocacy through the program."
More than 5,000 visitors are expected for the week of competition. The pageant will be hosted by the Weaver Group and the County of Summit Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities.
For more information, contact Lockard at (330) 634-8877.
A new school for OSHA-required training
ASW Services in Mogadore has established a new school for local companies that need to learn how to comply with a few new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.
Summit Vocational Training Services Ltd. is certified to train operators of powered industrial trucks.
The new OSHA rulings deal with training, re-evaluation, workforce development and the reduction of incident and workers' compensation claims.
The classes involve one day of in-class instruction and two days of hands-on training. Two additional days of training are available for more in-depth warehousing techniques.
Forklift operations classes are also available. ASW operates similar schools in Texas and Michigan.
For more information, contact Training Supervisor Bruce Wilt at (330) 733-6291, ext. 147.
SBN has become a platinum sponsor of the Premier FastTrac II Entrepreneurial Program conducted by the University of Akron Center for Small Business.
The program, open to businesses of all sizes, begins Feb. 24, with enrollment running through Feb. 8.
The program is an 11-session, 45-hour program designed by and for existing business owners to help them evaluate all aspects of their business operation and generate a vision and a means for achieving greater growth.
"We think the program blends perfectly with the information provided on the pages of our magazine," says SBN Editor Bob Rosenbaum. "The goal is to help entrepreneurs build their companies by learning about new tools for growth and then putting those tools to work."
The program, which is offered in a number of cities across the nation, appears to have done just that. Since January 1986, the FastTrac program has graduated more than 20,000 entrepreneurs. The program is broken into two curricula. FastTrac I, which is not currently offered in Akron, is for start-up entrepreneurs. FastTrac II targets owners of existing businesses.
Between 10 and 25 percent of FastTrac II graduates have more than doubled their company's sales within a year of graduation and 40 to 55 percent did so within two years of completing the program. More than 90 percent were still in operation five years after graduation.
Program topics include market research, financial management, cash flow analysis, market penetration, management building and planning an exit strategy. Participants are expected to leave the program with a viable business plan for achieving growth.
The cost of the program is $549 per person; discounts are available for multiple participants from the same organization. Each session has three parts: small group workshop, dinner/networking, and topic presentation by experts. Each class is limited to 25-28 participants.
For more information about the Premier FastTrac program, visit the Web site at www.fasttrac.org or the University of Akron program, through which applications can be filled out, at www.uakron.edu/cba/entre/index.html or call the Fitzgerald Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at (330) 972-7038.
Ever consider forming a partnership with the United States Postal Service to obtain lower postage rates?
Bob Buwala of Rapid Mailing Services in Cuyahoga Falls, a one-stop mailing shop serving small and medium-size business markets, says the postal service affords substantial discounts for work-share mailings in which you handle sorting details so postal workers dont have to.
In a work-share partnership, your postage cost could be as low as 13.7 cents to 15.7 cents for a 4,000 to 5,000 piece, standard class, barcoded mailing to recipients in the Akron/Canton area. Standard class delivery time is slower, but in comparison to the 32-cent per stamp rate, you save between $600 and $800. Even if your mailing is nonbarcodedwhich takes four to seven days for local deliveryyou realize greater savings when you sort it yourself.
Why? Average postal labor cost for manually handling handwritten letters is $43 per thousand. That drops to $5.50 per thousand when mail is presorted and barcoded, because it can be processed using full automation.
How to reach: Rapid Mailing Services (330) 929-6245