Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Can your business survive a major construction project or emergency? Plan now for slow seasons or unforeseen events.

Can your business survive a family medical emergency, unplanned weather event or eight months of road construction?

Hope is not a strategy
What would you do differently if you knew your business was going to bring in half of the income for the next 8 months? What would happen if a key employee suddenly became ill or moved? Do you have enough reserves to survive a major equipment break down? 

There are things that a business owner can do to prepare for planned slow-downs or emergencies. This article by ThriveHive has some great tips for marketing in a slow time. 

Here are a few others:
1. Budget and plan ahead. 
Work with your business advisor to plan out the next year. Look at different best and worst case scenarios and see what changes you can make to lower expenses or increase revenues. If you will need a line of credit to get through a major construction zone, now is the time to prepare.

2. Band together. 
Business in certain neighborhoods or districts may look at partnering up for special events to draw customers in during a slow time. For example, hosting a pop up jewelry or art show at a brew pub, or a sports team fundraiser at a restaurant.

3. Identify and support your regular customers.
Your current customers can be your best advocates in a down-turn. Think of ways you can engage your neighborhood customers - maybe a passport or reward program specifically for a time when the streets are a mess. Engage in social media to let them know your hours, parking lots and construction routes. Flash sales. Locals nights. Private parties.

The bottom line is to be proactive. Develop a budget or strategy to keep the doors open during a difficult time. Fall is a good time to plan for the next year, give us a call today if we can help.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Do you want to sell your business in 3-5 years? Now is the time to plan.

We have seen a steady increase in clients that want to buy or sell a business. There are a few things business owners can do to prepare a business. In many cases, it is a good idea to start 3-5 years in advance. 

In working with your business advisor, we can discuss things to consider and provide guidance on what information you will need to start getting together to sell your business. 

Information such as:
  • Estimated value of a business.
  • Overall financial health and analysis.
  • Assets included in a sale.
  • Options for financing.
  • How to find a buyer.

We have seen some cases where a business owner tries to keep the tax burden so low that the business shows a loss each year. This is good for taxes, but when it is time to sell, a buyer doesn't want to buy a business that isn't profitable and a bank does not want to lend money for a losing venture.

There are some steps you can take to not only increase the sale value, but to identify potential buyers that can draw more from a sale. 

If you are buying a business, we can help identify things to look for in the business offering, prepare a financial analysis and talk about bank requirements.

We also have some handy articles and checklists for both buyers and sellers.  As always, please contact your advisor and set up an appointment for free, confidential business advising.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How millennial habits shape retail spending

Millennials have been in the news a lot. Retailers are lamenting the fact that they can no longer reach customers by traditional methods. There are numerous studies and statistics out there about Gen Y, Gen Z and how they are different than baby boomers and Gen X.

There are some trends that retailers and marketers should pay attention to when it comes to selling to millennials and Gen Z.

Some basic characteristics of Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z are:
  • Gen Y: Born between 1977 - 1995
  • Gen Z: Born between 1995 - 2001
  • Both groups are mobile in many ways
    • Technology - they aren't just tech savvy, they are tech dependent. 
    • Social media - they grew up with social, it has always been around.
    • Physically able to work, study and live from anywhere with an internet connection.

Millennial habits influence spending

These are general trends but things to keep in mind.

Millennials spending trends:

1. Convenience over price
Convenience store spending is on the rise. Millennials spend an average of $80 a month on coffee.

2. Eating out
Millennials eat out more than older generations. According to BusinessInsider, "53% of Millennials eat out once a week, compared to 43% of Baby Boomers and Gen X". (

3. Flexibility
Shoppers want searching and payment options that are flexible and easy. More buyers are shopping online and picking up in the stores, or shopping on a mobile phone IN the store so he/she can price shop. Millennials want easy ordering and payment options - like Uber, GrubHub. Keep in mind, many millenials don't carry cash.

4. Mobile
Websites need to be responsive for mobile search, find, purchases and reviews.

5. The Experience
Millennial shoppers are looking for the experience. And with the 'experience' needs to be a way to share it socially and visually. 

Local tips to reach shoppers

Traditional retailers, like the neighborhood store, are still trying to figure out how to reach younger generations. Here are a few tips that businesses should be aware of to reach local customers.

1. Claim your Google Place page.
Customers need to be able to find you if they are searching.
I've noticed more of these "Photo Opportunity" notifications popping up now when your phone recognizes your location. Since when is Safeway a photo op?

2. Reviews:

  • Pay attention to your online reviews. If you get a negative review, post a prompt, non-defensive reply. There are many tactful ways to point out if it is not an honest review and if the business made a mistake, own up to it and try to correct the behavior. 
  • Encourage good reviews from your regular customers. For example, I took my daughter to a new hairdresser. The service was fast, affordable and turned out great. The stylist said thanks for my payment and that was it. It would have been so simple for her to hand me a postcard or business card and ask me to post a Facebook review, picture on Instagram, or pass on for a referral bonus.
3. Social
Use of relevant social networks can greatly increase your online searchability and presence. I encourage clients to choose 1-2 appropriate social network sites and start slow. 

Comment, engage, particpate, post relevant content. Social media is not about selling - it is about building relationships. Choose the right social network for your target customer. 

4. Video
Short videos can boost SEO, customer interaction on social sites and be a good marketing tool. YouTube is owned by Google.

Customer Service Matters

Traditional retail stores cannot compete on price. Paying attention to trends and customer behavior can help a business stay ahead of the competition and better define what their customers are looking for.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Important updates: 2017 Minimum wage, Safe & Sick Leave, Overtime Exemption Rule

We were keeping an eye on these initiatives last fall. Here are the latest updates:

Washington State 2017 Minimum wage

If you have not heard, voters approved Initiative 1433 last fall raising the Washington State minimum wage.

Here is a breakdown of the wage increases from 2016-2020.

Washington State and Spokane Safe and Sick Leave changes

City of Spokane:
  • Starting January 1, 2017, employers in the City of Spokane will be required to provide their employees with paid sick leave.
  • Paid sick leave shall accrue at a minimum rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked as an employee.
  • Click for full ordinance and a good list of Frequently Asked Questions...
Washington State:
  • Starting January 1, 2018, employers in Washington will be required to provide their employees with paid sick leave.
  • Paid sick leave shall accrue at a minimum rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked as an employee.
  • See more specifics...

Overtime Exemption Rule

No changes for now. This ruling was challenged and is suspended while under review by a federal judge.

Read the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) post.

If you have questions or need help, please contact your SBDC advisor.

New CDL driving instruction business approved by Washington State

Professional instructor seeing steady demand for classes

Spokane-based CDL Driving School
Jason Boudreau, owner and operator of Drive509, has launched a new business to help truck drivers achieve the goal of acquiring a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). 

The business is located in Spokane, Washington and will serve students throughout Spokane County and other areas in Eastern Washington. 

The business is located at 3203 E. Main Ave. Spokane, WA and is fully licensed, bonded and insured.

Currently, any person seeking a CDL must complete a State-approved testing program. The curriculum has been approved by the Washington State CDL compliance department. Students can sign up as individuals or companies may also choose to send employees through the training. 

Some grant funding available

For a limited time, eligible students can receive a grant through WorkSource for up to $2,000. The school is offering a promotional price of $2,800 and is booked out until March.

Boudreau is the owner and main instructor and is a contracted Washington State CDL tester.  Jason has been a CDL tester for Washington State Department of Licensing for two years. “I wanted to start this business to help educate and train a new generation of truck drivers” said Jason. “With my past truck driving experience and the CDL testing, I’m able to offer firsthand experience to driving and testing”. Although he cannot legally test his students, his expertise and training will increase students’ success rate of passing final CDL exams.

Industry requirements

Many current jobs in today’s market require a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The transportation industry, heavy equipment, construction, road crews, utility crews, and waste management are just a few of many examples where the jobs require a CDL.

In order for a person to obtain a CDL, Washington State requires residents to attend an approved school. As the trucking industry continues to grow, so will the need for training to prepare and certify drivers.

The truck driving industry has faced a driver shortage and is projected to steadily increase.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

“Employment of heavy and tractor‐trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average of all occupations in the United States.”‐and‐material‐moving/heavy‐and‐tractor‐trailer‐truckdrivers

The course involves written and hands-on training. Courses offered are Class A and B CDL, CDL upgrade from B to A and employer CDL training.

Potential students or employers can reach Jason at 509.990.2884 for more information.
Jason Boudreau


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Upcoming event: Meet Eastern WA Prime Contractors

Good opportunity for businesses that are registered in SAM and want to meet the large prime contractors. 

If you are just getting started with selling to the government, you will learn a lot about working with prime contractors. Read my popular blog post on "Getting Started with State and Local Contracting" on how to get a foot in the door.

Event notice from Eastern Washington PTAC

Date: February 28, 2017 
Time: 10AM – 2PM 
Location: Ramada Spokane Airport

Meet the BIGS! Doing Business with the Government

Learn how to do business with some of the largest government agencies and contractors out there. Meet prime contractors, get introduced to sub-contracting opportunities, learn the requirements to do business with the Government and expand your revenue stream.


Hosted by Eastern Washington PTAC, Greater Spokane Incorporated and Fairchild Air force Base

For more information or to register, contact:
Jessica Kirk
Eastern Washington PTAC | Greater Spokane Incorporated
801 W Riverside, Ste 100 | Spokane, WA 99201
509.321.3641 | 509.624.3759 |

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How to choose an advisor, mentor or consultant

This article was written by my colleague, John Rodenberg, in the Tacoma SBDC. John has been an SBDC advisor for over ten years and is regional manager for the Southwest part of the state. John is my unofficial mentor; whenever we meet for our staff training, I make a point to meet with him.

This was also featured in the South Sound Business Journal, November 2016.

Consultant, Advisor, Mentor or Licensed Professional for your Small to Medium Sized Business.........Which is Right?

John Rodenberg, left
Tacoma SBDC
My answer, as a certified business advisor with the SBDC would be “You bet, you may need all these professionals and more!”  But let’s look at the question in little more detail to see what the real answer is that works for you, the small business owner or entrepreneur.

This is based on my experience as Tacoma/Peirce County certified business advisor for ten plus years, having worked with over 1300 diverse clients.  

See our website for the Washington SBDC (Small Business Development Center) network, to access a no cost, confidential, appointment with an advisor.

What are the differences between a consultant, advisor and mentor?

You can easily define and research these four categories or sources of business advice, using a search engine, Wikipedia or dictionary; I will generalize a bit here and identify them as:

Consultant – an industry or business expert who studies or analyzes your situation, process or environment and provides an authoritative report, usually for a fee.

Advisor – a one time or ongoing engagement with a person who has  experience and skills in the business world and access to data, research and other professionals to help you generate alternatives, solve problems and manage your business.  A fee may or may not be involved.  SBDC does not charge for their advisor’s time.

Mentor - supports a no fee one-on-one relationship over an extended time to assist you with the formation, growth and management of your business.  Larger firms have “internal” mentors, but as the leader of a small business, you will need to find an “external” mentor.

Licensed Professional - engaged for a fee for a specific purpose, on a contract or retainer basis, to provide advice and guidance on legal, accounting, insurance or other issues.

This article focuses on the advisor function, but all of these are necessary tools and are equally important in their own right.  The successful small business owner will learn how/when to reach out to each as needed.

Examples of SBDC Business Advising

Business advising can cover any of the five functional areas of business:  operations, human resources, marketing, financial and legal/organization.  

As you might expect, what a business owner does in one of these areas affects the others, so it is often important to have an unbiased, or outside, set of eyes and ears to provide feedback and act as sounding board.  Also, small business owners often don’t have time or resources to do extensive research.  

The SBDC has access to many nationwide sources of data such as Fintel, RMA, Reference USA and IBIS, some of which are also available at your local library.  This structured data helps in decision making and focus.

Here are three examples that will give you an idea of how an SBDC advisor can assist you:

1. New Business Owner 
Ray is an owner/operator licensed contractor in start-up year one.  He sought marketing advice from me initially and we developed a plan with a sales goal that is tracked monthly.   I also recommended cash basis accounting in QBooks and his outside bookkeeper agreed.  In reviewing monthly P&L and AR, we noted a large 90 day receivable of $8K and collection would be very helpful.  I referred this client to three attorneys who specialize in construction disputes and collection.  Estimating, bidding and profit planning are other areas we are addressing now.

2. Employee - purchasing business
Eli had worked as VP for a medium sized supplier of technical talent to major corporations for years.  The owner wished to retire and Eli was offered the opportunity to buy the firm, which he wanted to do.  Eli looked for outside advice to help him chart a course with a three year timeline to be in position to purchase the business.  We discussed asset vs. entity purchases, I found reliable reading material on the subject, developed a business plan, discussed equity and debt mix and when time came to apply for an acquisition loan, three lenders were referred.  Eli received attractive options for six figure term loans and he selected the best one. 

3. Business partner starting new practice
Dr. S was a successful chiropractor in a two-provider practice.   She wished to be sole owner and broke off from partnership to start a practice in a new location.  Original advising started with an organized search for leased or purchased space and she successfully navigated the commercial real estate market to find a location which an SBDC research study said was “under served”.  She is doing well in gross revenue and has cut back to a partial work week, so she can act more as practice manager.

Selecting an Advisor

Write down, your key needs or “pain points”.  Then, note your timeline and budget.  Then, ask for referrals and research providers.   Interview each and ask for background and references.  Lastly, be prepared to contribute to the process (after all, you are the expert in your business).  Get down to work following the plan you develop, and evaluate progress as you go.