Chasing green

In recent years, there’s
been a sudden surge in
interest in the idea of sustainability. Whether it’s
looking at alternative energy sources or using recycled carpet in a building
project, the focus on environmentally friendly practices has grown exponentially.

The problem is, a lot of
these green initiatives cost
money but have little, if
any, direct return to your
profits. There are always
exceptions, and some businesses may have a clientele
that demands a greater
focus on the environment.
But for the rest of us, we
are facing one of the
biggest economic crises
since the Great Depression.
Just trying to survive in
these economic times is a
major challenge. There
aren’t many organizations
that can afford to implement money-losing initiatives with little hope of
return other than some consumer good will.

In a Smart Business
national poll of senior-level
executives, 96 percent indicated that being green is an
important part of their corporate philosophy. But it’s
mostly talk because 45 percent said they aren’t willing
to invest any money in
going green, and another 34
percent would only pay
$5,000 or less for any initiatives. That’s not much of a
budget to accomplish a
companywide goal.

No one wants to deliberately harm the environment.
But in a business environment with a horrible economic outlook and tough
competition, there has to be
a return on everything you
do, environmental initiatives included. In our survey, 55 percent of respondents indicated that they
expected some form of
return on their investment
within five years of implementation — and rightly so.

You cannot run a mid-market business in this
economy based on good
intentions alone. You need
a solid business plan with
everything that is not contributing to the bottom line
trimmed out.

Everything has to be considered on its own merits.
If retrofitting your lighting
system will save you $5,000
a year and pay for itself in
three years, then it’s probably a good investment. If a
companywide recycling
program is going to cost
you $500 a month with no
measurable return, then it’s
probably not a good investment.

If there is a true demand
for something that is a
good product and environmentally responsible, then
someone will create it, no
matter what “it” is. That’s
the beauty of a capitalistic
society. Some entrepreneur
will figure out a way to
make the products we need
in a new way that will be
both Earth-friendly and
superior to what was on
the market before. When
that happens, a whole new
category of product or
industry emerges, creating
more jobs and more
wealth.

But, on the other hand, if
you try to implement initiatives based on a vague
hope that there will be
some payoff in the future,
your business will most
likely suffer. Most businesses that have implemented sustainability initiatives are either serving
consumer segments that
demand such action or are
doing things that will save
money.

For example, Coca-Cola
invested in energy management technology because
of the need to refrigerate
its products. The results
are a 35 percent reduction
— 650 million kilowatt-hours — in energy usage.
That will translate to a
direct savings to the company and help the environment.

It’s these types of initiatives that will drive true
sustainability. For sustainability to become widely
adopted in the business
world, it’s going to have to
be a win, both for the environment and for our bottom lines.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Energizing results

A few months ago, concerns about energy
prices were at the top of everyone’s list. But a poor
economy has led to falling
gas prices and a greater
focus on job losses and
other economic woes.
Initiatives that would reduce
our dependence on foreign
oil have lost some of their
luster as attention shifts
elsewhere. Concerns about
energy may come and go as
the price of gas fluctuates,
but now is not the time to be
complacent.

We cannot let energy costs
hamstring our economic
recovery. When things start
to pick up again — and energy demands increase with it
— prices will most likely go
right back to where they
were before, cutting into
economic gains.

In a national Smart Business
survey of senior executives,
60 percent of respondents
said that the federal and state
governments should be leading the way for developing
alternative energy solutions
and a majority of respondents
said they expect energy costs
to increase in the next 12 to
18 months.

So costs are expected to
rise, but much of the burden
has been placed on the government to do something
about it. The real question is
what are we — businesses
and consumers — going to
do about it?

We trust our elected officials to make the right decisions and look out for our
best interests, but we have
to take the initiative ourselves. Government is not
going to solve all of our
problems alone.

Ask yourself: What am I
doing about the energy problems in this country?

Instead of placing all the
blame in the public sector,
let’s take an active role in
doing something about it in
the private sector.

There are a lot of things we
can do as business leaders
and consumers to ease the
demand on energy.

As consumers, we can do a
lot of little things, like car-pooling or using public
transportation to reduce fuel
consumption. When it comes
time to replace your vehicle,
choose something that is
more fuel-efficient or look
into a hybrid vehicle.

As business leaders, we can
take measures at the office to
encourage employees to be
more energy-conscious, both
at work and at home. You
can start by educating
employees about costs and
creating initiatives to make
sure computers, copiers and
lights are turned off at the
end of the day. Take a hard
look at your equipment, such
as HVAC systems, and find
out if there is a more energy-efficient model on the market. The upfront investment
could pay off sooner than
you think in lower utility
bills.

Another place to start is
your utility company. Many
offer free evaluations and
can provide energy-saving
tips or education programs
that will ultimately save you
money.

Of those executives we
surveyed, 52 percent said
that they plan on reducing
other expenses to cope
with increasing energy
costs, 11 percent plan on
passing the costs on to customers and 9 percent plan
on eliminating staff.

As you can see, not controlling energy costs can end
up having pretty dramatic
results on your company. If
you take steps now, you may
be able to reduce the impact
on your bottom line.

But don’t sit around waiting for the government to do
it for you. Take steps now to
reduce your energy costs.
Anything the government
does later will just be icing
on the cake.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Moving along

With the economy seemingly getting worse by
the day, your initial inclination might be to eliminate all air travel by employees.

Why?

Because airfare usually
makes up the majority of
travel expenses.

But rest assured, if you
aren’t sending your people out
to meet face to face with key
customers, one of your competitors is. Business is all
about relationships. We live in
a high-tech, low-touch society
where too much is done by e-mail and fax instead of handshakes and lunch.

Air travel is an important
part of building relationships
with key customers and vendors. People do business with
people they like, and the best
way to make sure they like
you and your company is to
keep building those relationships in person.

The challenge is dealing with
the costs associated with that
strategy. The only sure thing is
that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all
approach. A lot depends on
how much travel you and your
employees are doing and what
your comfort level is with the
various ways of booking travel.

According to a national
Smart Business survey of top
executives, 77 percent say that
employees handle their own
travel arrangements. The rest
use either an internal resource
or a third-party company to
deal with all travel bookings.

Each method has its own
strengths and weaknesses. For
example, having employees
handle their own travel arrangements is probably the most convenient for everyone, but it
requires a well-defined travel
policy and is the most difficult
to oversee. Using a third-party
company to handle all your
travel can provide consistency
and a high level of service, but it
comes with a price.

Figuring out the best way to
manage your company’s
expenses depends on the
usual suspects: price versus
service. If your main focus is
price, there are plenty of ways
to look for a good deal — and
there’s always a better deal
out there if you look hard
enough. Online services allow
you to compare fares from different airlines and some offer
Internet specials, but don’t be
afraid to have someone pick
up the phone and call the airlines directly. Often, you can
negotiate a better deal that
way. There are also the special
rewards and points you can
accumulate using the same
airline or your credit card. If
you are doing it from a corporate level, you can use the
rewards to earn free trips for
your people that need to travel
to meet with customers. If
employees are booking travel
themselves and being reimbursed, these points become a
subtle perk that can contribute to job satisfaction.

But if you prefer not to bother with the details or if the
sheer volume of travel your
company does makes it difficult to oversee, then a travel
management company might
be the way to go. Travel management companies already
have relationships with the
providers and can often use
their volume to get better
deals than you could get yourself. These companies also
provide a point of contact that
can help you if you get stranded somewhere or have a problem with one of the airlines.
The question is whether the
higher level of service is worth
the extra cost to you.

The other consideration is
how much oversight you
want of your travel expenses.
Surveys show that employees
just aren’t as careful with company travel funds as we would
like. A travel management
company can help everyone
stick to the same rules when it
comes to upgrades or taking a
later flight to save money. By
consolidating decision-making
to one person, it helps keep
everyone flying under the
same rules and helps keep
your company on budget.

With airlines cutting the
number of overall flights and
with declining economic
conditions, the cost of airfare is most likely going to
continue to be a major
expense for every business
traveler. The key is to work
on managing the cost in a
way that makes the most
sense for your situation
instead of eliminating business travel altogether.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

The rifled approach

If you are looking for a particular product or service,
where do you look?

Most people would answer the Internet. Why? Because you
can usually find exactly what
you are looking for in a minimal
amount of time.

The problem is, many CEOs
don’t take their Web site seriously. Sure, it’s got the basic
information about what the
company does, but it is really
nothing more than a glorified
brochure. What many people
don’t know is that it’s what’s
under the hood that counts
when it comes to making your
Web site visible. The concept is
known as search engine optimization, or SEO for short.
When done properly, it allows
search engines to recognize the
relevance of your information
and move your site up to the
top of the rankings, making it
more likely that a potential customer will find your site before
your competitor’s.

In a national Smart Business
poll of executives, 51 percent of
respondents said they don’t do
any optimization of their site.

My instincts are that the
majority of those people probably won’t be around for the
long term. People are looking
for more efficient ways to do
business, and the Internet is the
quickest way to bring buyers
and sellers together.

The survey also showed that
35 percent of CEOs are spending between $10,000 and $25,000
on optimizing their Web sites,
and 4.5 percent are spending
more than $25,000. So on one
end, you have the people who
are doing nothing, and on the
other end, you have the CEOs
who see the value of investing in
their site to make sure they are
reaching customers who are
specifically interested in their
product or service.

These numbers are a reflection of changes in marketing
strategies. In the past, people
would use a shotgun approach,
spreading their advertisements
across billboards, radio stations,
daily newspapers and general
consumer magazines. For most
businesses, this is a waste of
dollars because you are reaching people who are not your target audience along with potential customers.

Smart marketers today are
using a rifled approach, narrowly focusing on a select demographic that avoids spending
money on reaching people that
will never have an interest in
your product. This targeted
approach is what has made
Smart Business a success.
We reach a target audience of
senior-level decision-makers
who need business products and
services through controlled circulation. The Internet is another
tool that can bring a select
group of potential customers to
your door — if you do it right.

Experts in SEO will tell you
that the longer you wait, the
harder it will be to get your site
ranked above the competition.
At the same time, you have to be
careful because there are a lot of
people out there who aren’t really experts at all. The quandary
is, you don’t want to be the last
one in, but you also need to be
sure you aren’t throwing money
away. Our survey response
shows that 81.5 percent of those
that used SEO saw increased
traffic to their site. Because optimization is very measurable
and, when properly funded,
should show results, the other
18.5 percent using SEO may
have made bad choices when
selecting a firm to help them.

To make sure you end up on
the positive side, find other
CEOs who have optimized their
site and are having success.
Talk to people who are doing it,
learn from their experience and
find out which firm they use.

If you are already doing it,
make sure you are measuring
the quality of the leads you are
generating. Getting more traffic
is just the starting point. You
want to know how many qualified leads are showing up at
your site and reaching out to
you. Optimization can be a
costly proposition, so set high
expectations for the quality of
your results.

If you wonder whether the
investment is worth it, consider
this: Kmart used to be the dominant discount department store
in the U.S. until it failed to
invest in computer technology
to manage its supply chain,
which opened the door for Wal-Mart and Target. SEO is the
type of game-changing technology that will separate the winners from the losers. Which one
do you want to be?

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Perseverance pays

There was a commercial
back in the ’80s for
Dunkin’ Donuts where a man would get up every day
and trudge off to his job muttering, “Time to make the
doughnuts,” on his way out
the door. He’d return at the
end of the day stating, “I made
the doughnuts.”

Sometimes as the CEO, it’s
easy to start feeling like that
guy. Day in and day out, you
work hard, put out fires, outline plans for growth, and then
execute to the best of your
ability. When you look at your
numbers, you see modest
increases in revenue and profits. So you work harder, refine
your plans, hire better people
and execute even better than
before. You look at the new
numbers and what do you
see? Modest increases in revenue and profits. So you
change things up, revamp
your plan, bring in some new
people, switch some things
around and look at the newest
set of numbers. Guess what?
Another modest increase in
revenue and profits.

The cycle then continues.
You work harder and harder
and get better, but your
growth isn’t anything special.
The economy gets worse,
which makes things even
more challenging. You’re
working harder just to not
lose ground.

Meanwhile, people around
you are getting that big breakthrough. They hit on the big
innovation or finally sign the
big customer they needed to
push them over the top. Their
success stories are every
where, including right here in
the pages of Smart Business.

It’s easy to get distracted from
your day-to-day duties wondering why it couldn’t be your company that hits it big. But like the
old saying goes, slow and
steady wins the race. A modest
increase every year strung
together over many years adds
up to a lot of growth. It might
not be flashy or exciting, but it
gets the job done. But don’t
take my word for it; take it
from Warren Buffett, the
world’s richest man.

Buffett is the chairman and
CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a
world-renowned holding company. Take a look at the types
of companies Buffett has
invested in. There’s underwear, bricks, furniture, paint
and insurance companies,
among others. These aren’t
exactly items that generate a
lot of interest or ones that you
would expect to have some
giant innovative breakthrough
that will double its growth.
Underwear may not be exciting, but people need it and
buy it, so Buffett makes
money on it.

If you are running an underwear company, there’s probably not going to be some
great innovation that’s going
to make you the darling of
Wall Street. You just have to
plug away, day after day, and
add up your incremental
gains. Buffett has built his
fortune investing in these
types of consistent, if not
flashy, companies.

If he sees the value in consistent performers, then so
should you. You have to just
keep persevering and never
lose faith that it will all work
out in the end. When things
get tough, you have to get
tougher.

Never give up. The big
breakthrough may never
come, but it all adds up in the
end. Remember the guy who
had to make the doughnuts
day after day? Slow and
steady growth has led Dunkin’
Donuts to be one of the
hottest brands in the quick-service restaurant segment.
Coffee and doughnuts may not
be exciting, but by being the
best at both year after year,
the company posted $5 billion
in revenue last year.

So the next time you buy a
doughnut on the way to work,
remember that Dunkin’ was
built one doughnut at a time,
and you can use that same
formula to build your business, as well.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Escape from the box

Imagine a fish raised in a
fishbowl. Its entire existence is enclosed in about one cubic square foot of
water. In this environment,
the fish is content to live out
its life, unaware of the world
outside. The fish is limited
by walls. This is the box we
need to escape from if we
want to excel.

When we think outside of
the box, a million-dollar idea
can seem so simple. We have
to reach beyond our self-imposed walls of limitations.
If we don’t, we’ll get left
behind. Think about how the
first airplane was invented.
While airplanes have only
existed since the beginning
of this century, the technology has been around before
man. The Wright brothers
imitated the balance and
aerodynamics of a bird’s
wing in their design. They
were one of the first to look
beyond mankind’s self-imposed limitations and to
see the relationship and
possibilities in applying
nature to industry.

In 1954, as a 52-year-old milk-shake-machine vendor was
visiting one of his restaurant
customers in San Bernardino,
Calif., he witnessed a
unique food assembly line
system that two brothers
had developed. Immediately
recognizing the potential of
their idea, he offered to pay
them a percentage of their
gross receipts. The brothers
agreed, and the vendor set
up a copy of their restaurant in Des Plaines, Ill., on
April 15, 1955. That year, he
opened two more restaurants, and within the next
six years, he had opened
228 more stores. The brothers, Maurice and Richard
McDonald, and the milk-shake-machine salesman,
Ray Kroc, have permanent
places in U.S. history. The
lesson? Sometimes, all it
takes is a simple idea to
make the difference
between minor and historic
success.

I recognize that thinking
outside of our walls can be
difficult. In today’s fast-paced environment, the one
thing that most people lack
is time. We’re always rushed
to make decisions, and the
urgency of accomplishing
the immediate naturally rises
to the top of our priority list.
What we don’t realize is that
this mentality encourages us
to act like gerbils on a
wheel, spinning in circles
but not really going anywhere. Therefore, it is
important to be able to take
ourselves outside of the picture at times to look at
things objectively. When we
train ourselves to be more
open-minded, we open
doors to Ray Kroc’s level of
success.

I’ve found from experience
that continual learning helps
maintain an open mindset.
We need to remind ourselves
to invest time in learning, no
matter our age. For example,
history has a marvelous habit
of repeating itself. By reading
about history, we gain various perspectives on how people respond to certain situations, and we can learn from
their successes and mistakes.
I, for one, read the Bible. It
helps me broaden my perspective on life, and it provides a personal resource for
me in finding new, yet
ancient, ways of viewing and
responding to situations.

There are other resources
that can aid us in tearing
down our walls. A source we
deal with in business each
day is our vendors. When
you think that those vendors
are probably dealing with six
or seven other businesses
like yours on a daily basis,
they suddenly represent a
great resource. They see and
hear all the latest innovations taking place in our
industries. How do you treat
these people? Are they like
flies waiting to be swatted,
or do you see them as valuable team members?

Maybe the next great idea
you’ll encounter will come
from one of your employees.
How are you treating them?

Our attitude can be the
direct cause of failure or
great success. Treating people respectfully is one way
of breaking down our walls.
And it’s an easy way to start
climbing out of our box.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

What’s in a name?

There was a time when
brand was everything.
Today, we are past that time.

Don’t get me wrong, a
good brand at the right time
can command a premium,
but a good brand at the
wrong time doesn’t mean as
much as it used to.

Consumers are loyal to a
point, but in the end, they
too often go for price over
any perceived value of the
brand. In some economic
situations, a brand that cost
millions to build could
become almost meaningless.

Take Ford trucks for
example. Ford trucks are
probably the best branded
series of vehicles out there,
but with high fuel costs and
a sagging economy, what
does the brand really mean?
It’s the best in a class of
vehicles that are no longer
selling anywhere near the
levels they were just a few
years ago. A former Ford
nameplate, Jaguar, is another brand that has fallen on
hard times. Remember
when owning a Jaguar
impressed people?

Marshall Field’s was a
department store icon in
the Midwest, but it was
eventually absorbed into
another iconic American
brand, Macy’s.

There are other brand
names that have been
cheapened over time by
decisions to substitute inferior quality parts into what
had once been a product
defined by quality. To save a
few pennies here and there,
first one part and then
another were changed out
for parts of lesser quality.

The next thing you know,
people are looking at the
products and seeing them
for what they are: cheap
imitations of what they
used to be. Brand loyalty
erodes and sales fall
because the brand became
a great name on a bad
product.

So many companies have
devalued their brands
throughout the years that
many consumers view
generic or unfamiliar
brands in the same category
as the big names, simply
because the big players in
many industries don’t put
forth the quality that they
used to. If an unknown
brand is carried by a brand-name store, that mitigates
some of the aversion to an
unknown nameplate.

When it comes down to it,
the buying decision is often
all about price first and
brand second.

In other cases, it’s not so
much that the big players
have dropped in quality, it’s
that the small players and
generics have increased
quality to be similar enough
that consumers don’t notice
or mind the differences.
Campbell’s Soup tastes as
good now as it ever did, but
the “lesser” brands have
gotten good enough that
many consumers reach for
the cheaper alternatives.
Private labeling has also
eroded consumer faith in
name brands. People know
that many “store brands”
are being made in the same
factories as the name
brands, so why pay more
for a different package?
Generic alternatives have
made inroads in everything
from pharmaceuticals to
mouthwash, eating away at
the market share of well-established brands.

While branding may not
be what it used to be, it’s
still an important part of
business. If you can create
an identity that resonates
with your market, the premium returns are still there.
If you can stay competitive
on price, then even value-oriented buyers will gravitate toward a brand they
recognize over one they
don’t.

So building a brand as a
reputable company with a
good product or service is
still an important and fundamental part of business.
It’s just not the be-all and
end-all it once was. Invest
in your brand, but do so
with the knowledge that it
may be just one of the many
differentiating factors that
lead a buyer to you instead
of someone else.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

The value of relationships

In business, you hear a lot
of talk about numbers.
There’s revenue and profit, but there’s one line you won’t
find on any accounting ledger:
relationships.

Relationships are intangible
and hard to measure, but if
you are successful, you probably have quite a few of them.
If you have solid relationships
with your vendors, your customers and your employees,
you most likely have solid
profits. There’s no one in
accounting that can really
show you the direct results of
your efforts, but you know
that the payback from these
relationships does eventually
help the top and bottom lines.

Take Dan Gilbert for example. The chairman and
founder of Quicken Loans
and the majority owner of the
NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers
has always put an emphasis
on relationships. Quicken
Loans has been voted one of
the top places to work for the
last five years.

He spends a full day
reviewing the expectation
that employees will feel
empowered to take action
and make things right as part
of the company’s culture. He
rewards innovation — last
year, 600 employees won all-expenses-paid trips to Puerto
Rico for their contributions
to making Quicken better. He
sends signed cards to each of
his 4,000 employees on their
birthdays.

All of these things are meant
to build a relationship between
his company and its employees so that they, in turn, will
do the right thing and build
relationships with customers
and suppliers. As a result, last
year alone, the company closed on $19 billion in loans
and is the nation’s largest
online mortgage company and
the 12th largest mortgage
lender in the nation.

Relationships are the basis
of what can help you get
through a difficult period.
Over time, all you really have is your reputation, which
comes directly from how you
treat people.

When things get tough, the
first instinct of a CEO is often
to let employees go, look for a
new vendor with cheaper
prices or switch managers.
Sometimes, you are left with
no choice but to make those
kinds of drastic moves, but
other times, it has more to do
with company leaders thinking about themselves first.
Why spend years building relationships with people and
then throw it all away at the
first sign of trouble? When you
do that, you are putting your
integrity and character at risk.

Most relationships falter
when a dispute arises. It could
be over price, service or the
terms of a contract. But whatever the reason, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction,
work to keep your relationship with the person intact
using these steps:

  • Treat people with respect.
    Many disputes arise from a
    simple misunderstanding or
    breakdown in communication,
    so approach the situation
    calmly and give the person the
    benefit of the doubt.

  • Communicate, communicate,
    communicate.
    Try to talk to the
    person directly so you can
    compare all the facts of the
    situation to try to reach a
    mutually agreeable resolution.
    If you can’t talk to them or
    aren’t getting results, write the
    person a letter that explains
    your feelings on the matter
    and what the resolution is that
    you would like.

  • Use a third party. Sometimes, a mutual friend or
    someone who is neutral can
    help you reach a consensus
    on what should be done to
    resolve the problem.

  • Legal system. Even if it
    comes to this, there are still
    options beyond going to court.
    Arbitration and mediators are
    options that will save both
    parties time and money.

It’s worth the work to salvage a relationship and
resolve the dispute. Doing so
will help keep your reputation intact and maybe save a
few friendships along the
way. In the movie “It’s a
Wonderful Life,” it wasn’t revenue or profits that saved
Jimmy Stewart’s character, it
was the relationships he had
with people. And, in the end,
relationships are what life is
all about.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Staying focused

CEOs like to think of
themselves as great
multitaskers, and to some extent, that’s true.

To be successful in any
business, you have to be
able to juggle the requirements of not only your family but also the constant
demands on your time from
your business. Charities call
and ask for donations to
meet new goals, and politicians are looking for contributions so they can lobby
Congress for laws that will
help you. And then, of
course, there are the day-today demands from your
business operations, like
meeting with customers to
build relationships, instructing your senior managers on
the next growth phase and
keeping tabs on all of the
data that tells you how well
you are doing.

With all these things pulling
at you for time, it’s easy to
overcommit. The next thing
you know, you’ve got 10
hours of time but 12 hours
worth of commitments.
Something has to suffer as a
result, and more often than
not, it’s your business. You
don’t want to disappoint the
people on the outside who
are relying on you, so you
start stealing time away
from the company.

This is where CEOs convince themselves that they
are great multitaskers and
they are successfully managing everything, while the
truth is their business is
hurting. They aren’t there to
make timely decisions. They
aren’t staying as focused on
long-term growth as well as
they should, and they aren’t
staying on top of changes in the industry. And it all
becomes easy to justify
because you are spending
your time helping worthy
causes or people in need.

This is where you have to
be careful. If you overcommit and take too much time
away from your business, it will ultimately suffer. And
when it does, that means
less profits that are available
to help the very people you
wanted to help in the first
place. It also means employees might lose their jobs,
customers may not get
served and vendors might
not get paid. This ripple
effect can cause a great deal
of anguish for many.

This is why it’s important
to make sure you stay
focused on your business
while also doing what you
can to help others.

There are many companies
that give back to the community in one way or another. But it’s a long record of
business performance that
allows them to continually
give at high levels.

Take U.S. Bank for example.

Last year, through its foundation, the company gave
out more than $20 million in
cash grants, made $20 billion
in loans to community development and its employees
volunteered thousands of
hours of their time.

If U.S. Bank had lost its
focus, there would be far
less money to donate and far
fewer employees to volunteer their time. It wouldn’t
have just been the bank that
suffered; it would have been
the communities and the
people it serves, as well.

In business, the old saying
of “slow and steady wins
the race” is often true. U.S.
Bank, while obviously not
the only one, is an example
of a company that’s proving
that. It stayed focused on
what made it successful, and
as a result, everyone — the
bank, its employees, charities and the communities it
serves — wins.

We are all responsible for
being good stewards of what
we have. While the demands
on our time and resources
are many, you have to make
sure you don’t lose focus on
the business that provides so
much for so many.

So the next time someone
calls to ask for help, make
sure you are not robbing
your business to do so.
Losing your focus can have
catastrophic results for people both inside and outside
of your business, and if that
happens, who will help those
that you help now?

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

Prospering in tough times

If you need to send a package overnight, what’s the
first company that comes to mind?

More than likely, it’s FedEx.
The company is so synonymous with overnight delivery that its name is often
used as a verb, as in, “FedEx
this to the Chicago office,”
even if the shipment is being
handled by a competitor.

The company has been on
the Forbes list of America’s
Best Big Companies since
the rankings were created in
1999 — one of only 21 companies to do that. The list
takes into account things
like financial performance,
growth and corporate governance to rank organizations.

But I’m not writing this to
encourage you to switch
delivery companies. I’m
pointing this out because it’s
an example of a company
that has weathered various
economic conditions, both
good and bad, and still managed to maintain its spot as
one of the best companies in
the nation.

With what looks to be difficult economic times ahead,
I think there’s something we
can all learn from FedEx:
Stick to the fundamentals.

At its core, FedEx is a pretty boring business. It takes a
package from Point A to
Point B in a given amount of
time. The more you pay, the
faster it gets there.

Pretty simple concept, yet
it has yielded a business that
does about $35 billion in revenue.

The company has done
pretty well regardless of the
economic conditions because it sticks to the basics.
It delivers packages and
does it well. This makes customers happy, so they keep
coming back.

A tough economy means
you need to make sure you
are focusing on what you do
best and executing the fundamentals of your business.
Regardless of whether you
are a national company or a
small local operation, getting
back to the basics can help
you navigate difficult times.

Here are four things to
help you get through an economic downturn:

 

  • Build relationships. People
    ultimately like to do business
    with people they like, so make
    sure you are maintaining a
    strong network. Having a
    group of businesses working
    together makes it easier for
    everyone to weather the storm.

     

     

  • Have integrity. This is as
    simple as doing what you
    say you will do and will also
    help you build stronger relationships. People have to be
    able to trust you to get the
    job done right, especially in
    times when every penny
    counts.

     

     

  • Be fair with price. Just
    because you could potentially gouge someone on price
    doesn’t mean you should. Be
    competitive and make your
    profit, but be fair.

     

     

  • Deliver a quality product and
    service.
    This is something
    FedEx has mastered. You
    know exactly what you are
    going to get from FedEx.
    Your customers should feel
    the same way about you and
    your products. Give them a
    product and service level
    they can’t get anywhere else.

 

With today’s news all about
a declining stock market, rising gas prices and industry
scandal, it’s easy to develop
a negative outlook. But by
following the example of
FedEx, you can prosper in a
down economy.

Stick to the fundamentals to
get you through the storm. If
you build relationships, have
integrity, have a fair price,
and focus on your core product and deliver it on time, you
can’t go wrong.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].