As 99% of the people who have talked with me in the past two years know, I am embracing my little camper as my post-retirement activity. With that in mind, my brother-in-law (whom I will henceforth refer to as “Bil”) has been giving me some great advice along the way. Bil is not, I’m happy to report, a “splainer”; he is more of a coach. Like the saying goes, “Give someone a fish, you’ve fed them for a day; teach them to fish and you’ve fed them for a lifetime”. So Bil recommended that I put together a well-equipped tool box so I can keep my adventures running smoothly. With that in mind, I put together a short list of items that should be included. How can you adapt these to operating your business successfully?
First, I wanted an assortment of basic tools, things like hammers, pliers, wrenches and screwdrivers. What are some of the tools that you need for your small business? What might you be lacking? As a business owner, you have to wear many hats: operations manager, financial manager, employee supervisor, marketer, etc. Maybe you already feel confident in overseeing all these areas, perhaps you don’t, but you need to recognize that they are all very, very important to your business success, and so you don’t want to overlook any of them. You may be able to hire out some of these duties to professionals or have put together an excellent group of advisors, but either way, you need to have at least a basic comprehension of what these tools are for.
The next item I made sure to include was a good measuring tape. It’s never a good idea to just “eyeball” or estimate what you need. There’s a saying for that too: “Measure twice, cut once.” I might even venture to say, measure three times! This applies to your business in a couple of ways. For one thing, I think it indicates how important a business plan is to your business, whether you’re a startup or an existing business. A business plan should not just be a static photo of your idea or operation. You want to continually look at the state of the market, the economy, business trends and the like. What might your inventory need to look like six months down the road? Are you going to need to expand – or reduce – your workforce? Are some pieces of equipment going to need replacing in the next year or two?
This also affects your financial planning, the other piece of your business plan. Are your current sales or operations going to allow for those expenditures? Do you need to find a way to increase your revenues? And do you have enough cash reserves to be able to handle unexpected business needs, short term or longer? We sadly know all too well the stresses that the global pandemic and extreme weather events have put on our business community. So, think about incorporating disaster planning into your measurement tool as well.
Finally, although this one makes Bil laugh, I’m a firm believer in the importance of including several bungee cords into your tool box. Bil calls me “the bungee babe,”I just call it my bucket o’ bungees. I have a variety of sizes and strengths that I can adapt wherever I need them (don’t buy the cheap ones, you’ll regret it). For your business, the bungee cord tool can be reflected in your ability to employ flexibility whenever and wherever needed. Many of the communities along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario had to make several changes to recover from the high water levels of 2017 and 2019 that affected their business community, in particular how they served the tourism industry. And it was demonstrated again over the past 18 months as we saw that those businesses that were able to pivot pretty quickly and react to changing needs and markets for their products and services could bounce back much more quickly than others.
On a last note, I’m just going to throw in that universal favorite - and essential – part of any well-equipped tool box here: duct tape. If you are operating your business with all the tools you need, you’ll be able to ensure that your customers “stick” around forever.
You can contact your local Small Business Development Center to talk with a business advisor confidentially and free of charge. You can reach the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262, SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312 or SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232.