One of the biggest differences between running a business on the side and quitting your job to run it full time is that you lose the security of a steady paycheck. That loss of income and the uncertainty as to whether it will ever come back is enough to make anyone pause and reconsider quitting their day job.
But what if your part-time venture is beginning to pick up steam, and you earnestly believe that it needs your full, undivided attention? While it can be scary, there are steps you can take to make such a leap less daunting.
When you begin your business in earnest, take time to reduce your clutter. Working out of a messy office will eat much more time than it takes to get everything organized.
Speaking of time, making the transition to full-time business owner means also becoming much more self-motivated and coordinated. There is no one to remind you to clock in or to hound you about being late.
It’s great to go about the day without being micromanaged, but be careful. It’s just as easy to slip into a state of complacency. Organize your space, set a schedule and stay disciplined.
There is always going to be some element of risk involved in whatever you decide to do next. But there are also actions that a new full-time business owner can take to reduce some of that risk.
As a part-time owner, chances are high that your business is a sole proprietorship — sort of the default business structure. Unfortunately, that means that you are responsible for your business’s debts, and if things go south, debt collectors may start trying to take your personal assets to pay for those business debts.
When you jump to full-time, consider forming an LLC or S corporation. There are different advantages and disadvantages to these structures, but they will help protect your personal property by separating you and your business’s debts.
Make saving a priority
Take full advantage of that steady paycheck for as long as you have it and save. Anyone looking to branch out and start a business has to use every cost-cutting measure out there so they have breathing room when trying to get their new business to turn a profit. Advisers typically recommend having enough saved up to pay for four to six months of living expenses. Luckily, if a business is being run part-time, it may be pulling in money already.
There is no magic number for saving — it just needs to be enough so that you don’t have to dig for change to pay your electric bill. Meet with an accountant, crunch the numbers and make sure you’re comfortable with the recommendations they give on budgeting and working with your financial situation.
Part-time owners know their company can draw customers, sell a product or service and bring in money since it has already been doing just that. This insight makes it very tempting to throw caution to the wind and jump into full-time ownership without making the necessary preparations.
But don’t take a huge leap without ensuring your fall is cushioned. Take your time, get everything in order, protect your assets and meet with an accountant to solidify a plan. Next, take a deep breath and put in your two weeks’ notice — you’re now a full-time business owner.
If your business isn’t completely dependent on technology, then you are in the minority these days. Given this dependence, protecting your business from an IT failure should top your priority list.
“Having been in the IT business now for 16 years, I’ve seen my fair share of close calls and, unfortunately, my fair share of outright disasters when it comes to IT,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “There are three particular disasters that stick out in my mind. In each of these three cases the companies were taking nightly backups of their data, and they thought this was enough.”
Smart Business spoke to Schuler about how businesses can avoid these kinds of mistakes.
What are some of the worst disasters you’ve encountered?
The first case was a company that had a sprinkler break right above its servers. While it was taking a daily backup, the company left the tapes on top of its servers. The tapes were drenched and basically unusable after the downpour. The server hard drives were sent to data recovery, and after several days the company was up and running again. Had the tapes been taken off site, the downtime would have been significantly less.
The second case was a company that had its building burn down. Its current tapes were stored on site; however, the company had an older set that was taken off site. After a painful data reconstruction process, and several months later, the company was able to get back on its feet.
The last case was a company that experienced an Internet outage for a week when a major telephone company had its T1 down. This was the company’s only connection to the Internet, and its business was highly dependent on email, so this outage had a significant impact on its business. The company lost a percentage of its revenue as a result of the outage.
Needless to say, none of the above companies were prepared for the type of disaster that they suffered, yet all of them were backing up their data.
How can businesses avoid costly downtime?
Here are three important questions that you can pose to whoever manages your IT, and some tips that will get you one step closer to being truly prepared in case of emergency.
1. What is your plan in case of a lengthy Internet failure? The smart thing to do is to make sure that you have multiple connections to the Internet, over different mediums. Having a connection via a T1 and a DSL line is not a smart move, as they both traverse over the strands of wire. An Internet connection through a telephone company and another through a cable provider is the way to go.
2. What is your plan in case of a physical site failure, such as a fire, earthquake, etc.? Something as simple as a long-term power outage in your building can be a lot more common than one would think. On more than one occasion we’ve seen a building lose power for several days, and companies basically send their employees home. We had a client that was prepared in this scenario. It sent its employees to work from home, as it had a hot-site set up that employees were able to connect to from home.
3. What is your plan in the event of a major hardware failure? Even if your equipment is under warranty, if a particular part fails on a server, and the vendor is out of stock on that part, you could see some downtime. In this scenario, you should have a transition plan documented whereby you can easily move the data from one server’s backup over to another server, perhaps in a virtualized environment, to keep running.
What is the most common issue you’ve encountered with companies’ backup plans?
Perhaps the biggest overall error that I’ve seen companies make is that they don’t have any documented plan in place to recover from any of the above scenarios. Most companies simply don’t test their backups by going through a simulated failure. They assume that the backup is running as they’ve been told. The smartest action that you can take is to go through a simulated failure. Pretend that any of the above scenarios has happened, and try to recover from them. We assist IT departments with this type of work frequently, and we’ve never walked into a disaster recovery test whereby we didn’t make a tweak of some sort to make the plan better, thus more recoverable.
Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at email@example.com.
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Securing trademark protection provides a company with legal rights to market and sell its services or products, and offers this same company an opportunity to stop other companies from marketing or selling services or products that are, or could be, infringing upon its protected marks.
However, each country has different criteria guiding the trademark process, which introduces varied time and cost elements that can be difficult to navigate. Ignoring these laws could mean forever losing legal protection and the opportunity to market and sell goods or services under a valued brand name in key markets.
“There is no such thing as an international trademark, but U.S. copyrights can be enforced internationally,” says Tom Speiss, a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, who works as a business adviser and brand manager.
Smart Business spoke with Speiss about managing domestic and global brand portfolios for companies operating at home and abroad.
How can companies protect their brands domestically?
Companies can protect their brands domestically through both trademark and copyright law. For trademark, the U.S. is a common-law country, which means trademark rights begin to be established as soon as a company starts using a mark in commerce. But it’s important to conduct a trademark availability search and, if the mark doesn’t infringe upon another’s mark and appears to be available as a federal trademark, then file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to acquire federal trademark protection.
In addition, companies also can file for federal copyright protection through the Copyright Office. To start this process, product packaging, website material or other advertising material can be used as part of a copyright application. Once a copyright registration issues, the registration potentially can protect a company’s product packaging, Web content and advertising content, as well as the design elements of a trademark. The U.S. copyright registrations then may be enforced internationally, through a treaty known as the Berne Convention Treaty.
If a company has plans to expand in foreign markets, when should management consult an intellectual property (IP) attorney?
A company should bring in an IP attorney as soon as it starts thinking about foreign market expansion, even if the plan’s realization is years away. Companies must be advised concerning all trademark rules for the countries in consideration, including possible infringement issues; whether the brand name is even available; the timelines and costs for applications; how use and non-use might affect the rights being granted; and when a company is required to exercise any rights it has been granted before a mark is vulnerable to cancelation. Each of these steps can be measured in years and have a lot of moving pieces, so — as ideas are generated — counsel needs to be involved.
What are the criteria for foreign market selection?
Companies can point to home successes with their products, including sales and brand equity, as they venture out. However, the mark used in their home country may be unavailable in a foreign market, which means the company won’t be able to transfer that equity even though it’s a proven brand.
The recourse is to develop a new name. But that brings risk because then its history at home won’t translate to the new market. This is another reason to bring in an IP attorney at the onset of brand expansion to assist in successful brand development or expansion.
What should you ask your attorney regarding brand management in other countries?
The most important first step is determining whether the target country’s trademark laws are governed by the principle of first-to-use or first-to-file. IP attorneys also can help companies establish timelines, such as when a company needs to start using or selling a product in the target country. Good counsel will thoroughly search to discover if the mark to be used in the foreign market is already in use for the same or similar goods or services. Along the way, counsel can help clients understand what other regulations might be advantageous or impede selling in foreign markets.
Tom Speiss is a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (424) 214-7042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts raised the top individual income tax rate to 39.6 percent, prompting owners of pass-through entities to consider switching to C corporation status to avoid higher individual taxes.
“Now that the tax rate for pass-through entities like S corporations and partnerships is effectively going up because individual tax rates are going from 35 to 39.6 percent, people are wondering if it still makes sense to be a pass-through entity,” says Alan Villanueva, a tax partner at Moss Adams. “In California, a proposition passed in November increased the maximum state individual rate from 10.3 to 13.3 percent, so a California resident with a pass-through entity is looking at a combined rate of almost 53 percent.”
Smart Business spoke with Villanueva about the advantages and shortcomings of the different corporate formats and whether businesses should switch.
What are the tax differences between pass-through entities and C corporations?
For many years, the top C corporation rate and the top individual rate were the same — 35 percent; whether it was a C-corp or S-corp, the current tax paid was the same. That’s still the rate for C-corps. Now taxpayers are upset about higher tax rates for pass-through entities and want to know if it makes sense to become a C-corp.
Does it make sense to switch?
Some businesses may benefit, but if it made sense to be a S-corp before, the difference in the rates will likely not change things dramatically. Any significant business expecting a liquidity event down the road would not want to become a C-corp, even if tax rates are lower for the present, because it would be subject to corporate and individual taxes at sale. The detriment of the double tax can far outweigh the benefit of the lower rate now — it could result in 20 to 25 percent less in after-tax proceeds.
For example, a sale resulting in a $1 million capital gain would leave about $600,000 after the first level of tax, assuming a 40 percent combined federal and state tax rate. Then, the remaining proceeds would be taxed at the shareholder level, which could be another 33 percent — assuming a federal dividend/capital gain rate of 20 percent and state rate of 13 percent — or $200,000, leaving $400,000. If the business were a S-corp or partnership, there’s one level of taxation and the after-tax proceeds would be approximately $667,000.
Are there businesses that would benefit from a conversion to a C-corp?
Business owners have to weigh everything, including long-term plans. A S-corp business making $1 million a year that had paid $350,000 in taxes at 35 percent would now pay a 39.6 percent rate, and in some cases another 3.8 percent Medicare tax as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That 8.4 percent increase definitely makes an impact on a current basis every year. But does it make sense long-term to switch? If it’s a small business that’s never going to generate a large exit liquidity event or pay dividends, it may make sense to switch.
Other than avoiding the tax hike, would there be other reasons to change from a S-corp to C-corp?
One reason would be if the company decided to go public. Typically, any business remains a S-corp or a partnership right up until they go public. It’s expensive to switch back to being a S-corp, so it’s done only when everything is certain. When a C-corp is converted to a S-corp or partnership, there’s potentially a gain that’s taxed, if there are appreciated assets. Sometimes the tax cost is so great that businesses can’t switch and have to stay in a structure that is not optimal and/or desired.
That’s why businesses should be cautious about converting; it’s not something that is easily undone. There are also compelling reasons to be a S-corp in spite of the higher current rates. The 4.6 percent increase is just one factor, and it might not be the most significant one.
Alan Villanueva is a partner, Tax, at Moss Adams. Reach him at (949) 221-4046 or Alan.Villanueva@mossadams.com.
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When Experian arrived in Allen, Texas in 1993, the city was “at the end of U.S. 75 and just starting as a community,” says Russell Tieman, vice president of facilities and administration.
The consumer credit services company has grown along with the city, and last year signed a lease extension to stay through 2025. That came on the heels of a 2010 agreement with the Allen Economic Development Corporation to invest $30 million in facilities in return for incentives totaling $1.5 million over 10 years. As part of the agreement, Experian plans to add 300 employees to boost its workforce in Allen to 1,000, with most being part of the national assistance call center or global technology services team.
“We have a great relationship with the city, and there’s a great, highly educated labor force here,” says Tieman.
Smart Business spoke with Tieman about Experian’s investment and what makes Allen a good location for its business.
What makes Allen a good location?
When Experian originally moved to Allen, there was nothing here. Since then, there’s been so much commercial and retail growth, as well as new housing. It’s been an up and growing suburban community, and Experian tends to be in locations outside of central business districts. For example, the company headquarters is in Costa Mesa, Calif., as opposed to a downtown area. Allen and the surrounding communities have good, safe neighborhoods and an excellent labor force. Quality of life is important and you want to limit commutes.
Did Experian consider other locations before renewing its lease?
Yes, but we conducted an analysis and it made more sense to stay. It was challenging to remodel an occupied space instead of building new. But, although we tested the local real estate market, we never considered looking outside of Allen. In the end, we chose to stay because of our long-standing relationship with the city of Allen and the deal we negotiated with our landlord.
What impact did the Allen Economic Development Corporation have on that decision?
They assisted as much with their customer service as the incentives that they offered. It’s very competitive among local economic development groups in Texas, and Allen works hard to keep and attract companies. They are really great to work with — the whole city, not just the economic development team.
What was involved in the $30 million investment made by Experian?
About $20 million has been put into remodeling in the past few years, with at least $10 million more going toward equipment and other assets. The space was originally built in 1993 with cubicles that had very high walls, and it was very dark and chopped up. The work plan is more colorful and energetic, and builds collaboration. There is a lot of meeting space, video conferencing, game rooms, TV rooms, quiet rooms and amenities that would not have been thought of in 1993. We had been working in a space based on 1993 technology and it was time to invest in the property.
There was surplus space, and the space that was being used is far more efficient with the remodel. The final phase of the second floor was recently finished and received all sorts of accolades. Employees who had worked in the old design have been saying, ‘This is fantastic.’
Would you recommend Allen to companies looking to relocate?
Absolutely, it’s a great community. The Allen Economic Development Corporation is a great group to work with and very helpful. That help would probably be even more beneficial to a company that didn’t already have experience in Allen. Any company should look at the North Dallas metroplex area, particularly Allen.
Russell Tieman is a vice president of facilities and administration at Experian. Reach him at (714) 612-0597 or email@example.com.
Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.
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Decent bosses typically try to lead by example. As a leader, you must model appropriate behavior to promote the greater good and to send a constant message with teeth in it.
The French term “esprit de corps” is used to express a sense of unity, common interest and purpose, as developed among associates in a task, cause or enterprise. Sports teams and the military adopt the sometimes-overused cliché, “One for all and all for one.” “Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps’ motto for “always faithful.” We commonly hear, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
However, the real test of team-building and motivational sayings is that they are good only when they move from an HR/PR catchphrase to a way of doing business — every day.
As soon as you put two or more people in the same room, a whole new set of factors comes into play, including jealousy, illogical pettiness and one-upmanship, all of which can lead to conflicts that obstruct the goals at hand. Certainly, much of this is caused by runaway egos. Perhaps a little bit of it is biological, but most of it is fueled by poor leadership. Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the boss’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track. This prevents employees from straying from the target and helps avoid major derailments. Essentially, it all gets down to the boss leading by example with a firm hand, understanding people’s motives and a lot of practicing “Do as I say and as I really do myself.”
Communicating by one’s actions can be very powerful. A good method to set the right tone is stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected and dramatic ways. This shows the team that you govern yourself as you expect each of them to govern their own behavior. In my enterprises, I constantly tell my colleagues that the title following each person’s name boils down to these three critical words: “Whatever it takes.” Certainly, I bestow prefixes to this one-size-fits-all, three-word title, such as vice president or manager, but I consider these as window dressing only.
After speeches, when I explain this universal job description, I always get questions from the audience about how I communicate this concept. I follow with a real-life experience that played out in the first few months after I started OfficeMax. As a new company, we had precious, little money, never enough time and only so much energy, which we preserved as our most valuable assets in order to be able to continually fight another day.
In those early days, too frequently, I would see what looked like a plumber come into the office, go into the restroom and emerge a few minutes later presenting what I surmised to be a bill to our controller. I knew whatever he was doing was costing us money and probably not building value. The third time he showed up, in as many weeks, I immediately followed him into the restroom (much to his shock and consternation). I asked him what in the world kept bringing him back. He then proceeded to remove the john’s lid and give me a tutorial on how to bend the float ball for it to function properly. That was the last time anyone ever saw this earnest workman on our premises. Instead, after making known my newly acquired skill, whenever the toilet stopped working, I became the go-to guy.
This became an object lesson to my team about how to save money. At that time, 50 bucks a pop was a fortune to us. It got down to people knowing that all of us in this nascent start-up were expected to live up to their real, three-word title. This was our version of how to build esprit de corps. Others began boastfully relaying their own unique “whatever it takes” actions, and it became our way of doing business.
The lesson I learned in those early days was that it wasn’t always what I said that was important but rather what I did that made an indelible impression. A leader’s actions, with emphasis on the occasionally unorthodox to make them memorable, are the ingredients that contribute to molding a company’s culture.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.
While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.
You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.
For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.
The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.
Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.
Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.
With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.
These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
I was recently having lunch with a private company CEO and the topic of private equity came up. When asked if he had ever considered seeking a private equity partner to fund and support his planned growth initiatives, his answer was expectedly, “No, we don’t want to sell the business yet. We want to focus on growing the business.”
While I can certainly appreciate his perspective, that opinion is consistent among many business owners and leaders. Namely, that private equity is primarily a liquidity mechanism, not a preferred tool to fund and support company growth. Moreover, many business leaders often see their growth plans as incompatible with private equity, which they associate with high leverage and limited financial flexibility.
This perspective of incompatibility was also on display during the recent presidential election. Private equity firms were broadly characterized as opportunistic value extractors, rather than enablers of company growth and job creation.
While the purpose of this article isn’t to defend private equity (there certainly are some firms worthy of this negative characterization), significant evidence exists to suggest that, in general, private-equity-backed companies experience proportionally greater growth. This is particularly true for small-to-medium-sized businesses.
Private capital a key to growth
According to studies performed by GrowthEconomy.org between 1995 and 2009, U.S. private-capital-backed business grew jobs by 81.5 percent and revenue by 132.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, for all other companies.
In California, over the same period, the story was even more favorable to private equity. Private-capital-backed businesses grew jobs and revenues by 123.1 percent and 155.2 percent respectively, compared to 11.3 percent and 26.4 percent for all other California businesses.
While each situation is unique, there are many reasons why private-equity-backed companies experience greater growth.
Access to capital
With the continued tightness in the credit market for small-to-medium-sized businesses, private equity can be a source of capital to support growth initiatives.
Additionally, private equity firms often have preferred relationships with lenders, giving businesses more access to attractive and flexible debt financing where appropriate. With greater access to capital, companies can more quickly, nimbly and opportunistically implement growth initiatives.
Strategic guidance and ongoing operational support
A private equity partner can provide much-needed strategic and operational resources to support the company’s growth initiatives and ongoing operations. This often leads to more thorough and refined growth strategies, as well as more effective plan execution and implementation.
Private equity firms often have large networks of industry experts and experienced operators that they can bring to bear to support company growth and operations.
Increased capacity for acquisitions
Private-equity-backed companies are significantly more acquisitive than other private businesses. Acquisitions can be an attractive source of growth, allowing companies to increase their customer footprint, expand geographically, create greater scale and enhance capabilities in a relatively short time frame.
However, successfully identifying, executing and integrating acquisitions can be very difficult. Many business leaders don’t have the time or experience to effectively pursue acquisitions. Private equity firms generally have expertise executing acquisition strategies and can be valuable partners in supporting companies as they identify, negotiate, execute and integrate acquisitions.
Private equity can be a compatible and effective tool to support and achieve company growth — not simply a mechanism to achieve liquidity. While private equity is not appropriate in every situation, and not all private equity firms are growth-oriented, business owners and leaders should carefully consider a private equity partnership when evaluating their ongoing growth initiatives and funding options.
Josh Harmsen is a principal at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com) a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower middle-market companies. Harmsen was previously with Morgan Stanley & Co. and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Smoothie budgets were drying up everywhere, and Frank Easterbrook was one of the first to realize it.
The owner and CEO of Juice It Up! — a chain of juice and smoothie bars, franchised by LLJ Franchise LLC — watched throughout the recession as the discretionary spending of consumers slowed to a trickle. With less money to cover bills and groceries, many households could no longer afford trips to the ice cream parlor or smoothie shop. It didn’t take long before Juice It Up! felt the pinch.
“As people lost their jobs, they stopped purchasing discretionary products, like things that were considered treats,” Easterbrook says. “Items like smoothies were just not being purchased at the level they were prior to the recession.”
The downward spiral only picked up steam throughout 2009 and into 2010. Cash dried up, forcing about half of Juice It Up’s locations to close. What was once a chain of 180 stores had dwindled to 90 by last year.
“My company was on many of those store leases as a guarantor,” Easterbrook says. “So in many cases, I became the last resort for the landlord, and I had to negotiate millions of dollars’ worth of lease settlements to get through the recession. It was something we never could have anticipated.”
The company has emerged from the recession intact and is attempting to re-enter growth mode, but the effects of the recession remain. Easterbrook’s skills as a leader were put through a severe test over the past four years. He and his staff had to find new and creative ways to market their products, boost morale for all 1,200 corporate and franchise employees, and protect the corporate culture that he and his leadership team had worked so hard to build and maintain.
Take initial steps
As revenue started to dry up, Easterbrook took some steps to try to solidify the company’s financial outlook — most significantly, he suspended some franchisee royalty payments to the company, and he negotiated rent reductions with commercial landlords, saving money for about 85 percent of the remaining Juice It Up! franchise locations.
But perhaps the most critical action taken by Easterbrook and his team involved advertising. Saving money in the form of reduced expenses gave franchisees some relief, but no retail entity survives without a steady supply of consumer dollars. Despite the steep uphill battle in front of them, Easterbrook and his franchisees had to lure customers in the door and get them to buy the product.
“Though we reduced royalty payments, we kept the advertising payments and fees coming in, because we felt we had to advertise heavily if we were going to get through this tough time,” Easterbrook says.
“Simply put, we had to have the means to let people know that we are still here. So we added to the advertising cash pool, and advertised using methods such as billboards and local television ads. We wanted to maximize the reach into our communities, to maintain our presence with consumers.”
Easterbrook gives his franchisees some degree of control over their advertising approach via a local store marketing, or LSM, program. The program allows franchise owners to tailor local advertising to their market.
“We have a lot of templates there for franchisees to use, where they can incorporate their own name and local information into the advertising template, then take that to the printer,” Easterbrook says. “It includes items such as coupons that they can distribute, posters to hang in the store and some other materials. We do try to give them a great deal of freedom with what they can use and materials they can create.
“But the freedom only comes after we’ve looked at the material and reviewed it, and decided that it fits the look and feel we want to see in our stores. The control we exercise is strategic-level control, but the specific implementation is up to the franchisee.”
Giving your field associates a reasonable amount of control over the marketing of your brand is important, because they know the customers the best. You do want the message to remain consistent with your brand and values, but you need to allow some flexibility regarding how your brand is related to potential consumers in a given geography.
“You need to understand who your core customer is, and focus your advertising on reaching that customer,” Easterbrook says. “But it is an awfully broad question, because each product can have its own demographic. Previously, I had worked in the food industry for Mars and Nestlé, two big companies that do a lot of advertising and spend a lot of money. We worked hard to understand who our customers are and to identify the most effective ways of reaching those customers.”
Throughout his career, Easterbrook has focused on an advertising strategy that creates multiple touch points with consumers. It’s something he brought with him when he came to Juice It Up!, and he continued to develop that strategy as the recession created an even more pronounced need for the company to appeal to consumers.
“In some cases, your strategy might consist of media coverage like radio and television, and other times, you might find it more useful to go the print route with coupons and Valpak mailers,” Easterbrook says.
“One area where we found some traction was bus stops, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with advertising on billboards. In most areas, the public bus stops have small shelters, so people can wait under a roof if it’s raining. Inside those shelters, there are places for paper advertisements, and we started advertising in there. It’s about finding a lot of methods to connect your brand to consumers.”
Illustrate your vision
During a crisis as severe as the recent recession, you’d be excused by most for going into survival mode, eschewing any large-scale plans in favor of merely reacting to whatever the economic climate throws at you.
That might help your company weather the storm from a financial perspective, but it won’t do anything to salvage team morale or reinforce your culture. In those areas, you still need to show your people that you have a vision — not just for getting out of the crisis but for prospering once you’re on the road to recovery.
At Juice It Up!, Easterbrook wanted to reinforce a message of stability throughout his franchise network. He wanted his franchisees to know that the tools and infrastructure for future growth were still in place and that the company planned to expand when the climate was right.
But for the duration of the recession, and despite the fact that Juice It Up! was losing franchises, he wanted his remaining franchisees to know that the corporate entity was stable and still capable of supporting its franchise network with whatever resources deemed necessary.
“As this recession started to cover us like a blanket, they just needed to know that we were going to be there,” Easterbrook says. “So we had a series of meetings, some in a face-to-face setting, and I found those to be very important.
“As the leader of the company, you need to be visible. You need to demonstrate your interest and concern for them and their businesses. Some of our franchisees have effectively invested their life savings in the company, in their stores, so I needed to assure them that we were going to be there, and we’re going to get through the recession together.”
Easterbrook used the meetings, and other communication opportunities, not only to reinforce his vision and promote a feeling of stability but to also maintain a dialogue aimed at developing a constructive relationship between the leaders at the corporate level and franchise operators. Strong interpersonal bonds form the basis for the working relationships that can help your company endure a crisis with its culture intact.
“Relationships are really critical to withstanding the kind of thing that we went through,” he says. “It becomes a function of establishing your core values and communicating those core values and maintaining a very high level of professional and personal integrity. If you are a person of high values and you practice and communicate those values and you live those values and you combine that all with honesty and integrity, people know you’re genuine.”
External marketing and internal communication produce the combined effect of reaching all three of the constituencies that Easterbrook needed to reach: consumers, franchisees and corporate associates. With all three constituencies engaged and aware of Easterbrook’s plans to bring Juice It Up! through the recession, the company was able to endure the crisis and is now emerging with a focus on the future.
“Our core values that we follow are quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom,” Easterbrook says. “We feel that each one of those impacts one of the three stakeholders that we have, which really leads to us establishing the way we operate. We strive to provide value for the money that our consumers spend with us and to assist franchisees in maximizing their investment. All of the programs we have and the communication we do is aimed at achieving both of those objectives.”
How to reach: Juice It Up!, (949) 475-0146 or www.juiceitup.com
The Easterbrook file
Frank Easterbrook, owner and CEO, Juice It Up!
History: I started as a small investor in Juice It Up! when the company was founded in 1995. The company had 25 stores by 1999, and in 2001, I bought out all the shareholders and focused on becoming a franchisor. We had grown the company to 180 stores in 2008, just before the recession hit.
What is the best business lesson you have learned?
Accept failure. Treat it as a lesson. When you open a store that doesn’t survive, you don’t look for someone to blame. You look to discover the lessons that you need to learn, and you debrief everybody on those lessons. You learn the things you did right and the things you did wrong. When you have a problem, don’t avoid it. Face the problem, make a decision and learn from the consequences.
What traits or skills are essential for a leader?
You have to be a person of values and integrity. If you have that, you will be someone that people will respect and listen to, so those are very important traits to have.
What is your definition of success?
Everybody has a different definition. Mine would be continual improvement. If you are better tomorrow that you were today, you will naturally become more successful. Things can’t stay the same. They’re either improving or declining, so if you want to survive as a business, they have to improve. As the head, you have to identify those areas for improvement.
Diversify your marketing strategy.
Understand your customers.
Refine your messages.
If you are interested in becoming a cutting edge company with respect to communication, your phone system and email have become old news. The latest and greatest trend around communication is what the industry refers to as “unified communications.”
Unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, data sharing (including Web-connected electronic whiteboards, a.k.a. IWBs or interactive white boards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, email, SMS and fax).
“UC is not a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group.
Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the highlights and advantages of some of the key components of UC.
What are some key features of UC?
There are some great aspects of UC that can improve communication at your company. These include:
Instant messaging (IM): IM has evolved from an Internet-based social tool, to a corporate collaboration tool. At Cal Net, we use IM to get a quick answer to a quick question. Rather than using email as IM, which many companies do, we choose to use IM itself. IM has to become part of the culture, and when you need a quick answer to a quick question, it’s our tool of choice. Email has a less critical response expectation than does an IM. To take IM a step further, if you implement what are known as ‘federation services’ you can connect to a clients or business partner’s IM system while still remaining in your IM interface.
Video conferencing: In its simplest form, video conferencing can be two people talking back and forth using an inexpensive Web cam. In its more elaborate existence, video conferencing can be a multiple camera setup in a conference room, connected to another conference room, over high-bandwidth private lines that produce very crisp high-definition video. The big value in video conferencing is to save time and money on travel, and to have a better communication experience with the ability to read facial and body language. Once part of your culture, it is a very effective tool.
Presence: Within many of our tools, such as IM and SharePoint, there exists a tool known as ‘presence.’ Presence is simply where a person is located and what they’re doing. This can include the city they are in and whether they are available, in a meeting, on a phone call, traveling, or whatever categories you deem appropriate. For example, when I look at our presence dashboard now, two of my employees have ‘do not disturb’ marked. Internally, that means ‘I’m working on something, so don’t IM me, call me, or stop by my office unless it’s an emergency.’ Presence is an effective tool for letting your coworkers know where you are and what you’re doing.
Data sharing or interactive white boards: These components of a UC system can prove to be invaluable when you are working with someone at a remote location. Let’s say that you’ve got a meeting with a coworker in New York and you are brainstorming on a work flow diagram. You can simply launch a Web chat through your UC client, and then through the client, one person can take over another’s desktop. You can share a particular document or you can bring up an ad-hoc white board and begin scribbling notes. This is a very effective tool for collaboration.
Unified messaging (UM): Imagine getting your email, voicemail, texts and faxes all in a single inbox. This is unified messaging. In my case, if someone leaves me a voicemail message, it arrives in my e-mail inbox as a .wav file. Double clicking the .wav file plays the voicemail back, which is far simpler than using my telephone to pick up the voicemail. If I’m out of the office, the voicemail is delivered to my mobile device, and once again, with the click of a button, I’ve got my voicemail. Faxes arrive in my inbox and in the form of PDF documents.
When used across an organization, UC can be a very effective set of tools to boost productivity and have an overall better communication experience.
Zack Schuler is founder and CEO at Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.
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