Monday, May 30, 2016

New Episodes: Janay Oliver Interview & Delivering Remarkable Customer Service

Two new episodes of The How of Business podcast released today:

Episode 015 - Janay Oliver Interview
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode we interview Janay Oliver, founder of, Online Marketing Expert and Mommy Blogger. Janay shares his insights and knowledge about online marketing and social media practices for small business owners.  

On creating engaging content, Janay believes you have to be flexible with the content. Keep in mind your target audience, what you want them to do, and then track the response.

Episode 014 - Remarkable Customer Service
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode Henry Lopez and David Begin define Remarkable Customer Service, share tips and techniques for delivering it consistently, and the challenges faced by most small business on this topic

“Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting.” 
“Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not slapping on marketing as a last-minute add-on, but understanding that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, it’s invisible." - From The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

Thursday, May 26, 2016

3 Pillars of a Successful Business Partnership

At the foundation of a strong business partnership are the three pillars of trust, respect and agreement.

By Henry Lopez

My first business venture was a partnership. Working with another person with similar dreams was the only way I was able to get started as a business owner. We coupled my general business skills and money, along with his expertise and time.

We operated three units of a local pizza restaurant franchise throughout the 1990’s. I kept my day job, and my partner took care of the day-to-day operations of the business.

I’ve gone on to experience less rewarding partnerships, and fortunately, much more fruitful ones as well. I now understand more clearly why I prefer working in teams, and how I am typically more productive combining my skills and energy with my partners’. Starting with that first successful teaming, I have come to understand and appreciate that at the foundation of a strong business partnership are the three pillars of trust, respect and agreement.

1. Trust
Before there can be anything meaningful and lasting in a relationship, there must be a mutual level of trust. Trust, however, takes time to develop.

I have known David Begin, my current partner in various ventures including Levante Business Group and The How of Business podcast, since 1991. We met when we both worked for a large software company, and have remained friends over the years. Our families have travelled together, and we have developed a close bond over time. When the opportunity first arose for us to partner on a business, we had already developed a deep trust at a personal level. This trust has been the basis of our business relationship. We rely on the fact, as good partners must, that we have each other's interests in mind – we have each other's backs in any situation. We try to consider what's best for the other person, and what's makes most sense for the business overall.

If you have the advantage of considering a partnership with someone with whom you have a long-term relationship, then trust should already be established. But what if you have recently met the person you are considering going into business with? How do you develop trust in a short period of time?

In my opinion and experience, it’s difficult if not impossible to rush the development of personal trust. There are, however, techniques we can use to accelerate the development of trust in a business environment. It requires careful and calculated observation, applied techniques, and lots of intuition.

In his book “The Trusted Advisor”, author David Maister explains that in business relationships you can quickly improve your “trust factor” by increasing credibility, reliability and intimacy while reducing self-orientation. The “trust factor” is a measure of trust, from the perspective of the other person with whom you are conducting business.

When it comes to measuring the evolving trust you have in a new partner, it’s applicable to consider those same factors. If the person is potentially trustworthy, they will likely demonstrate credibility (they tend to be accurate, complete, and don’t tend to exaggerate their knowledge), reliability (they follow through on their promises and are consistent in their actions and behavior), and intimacy (they are candid, genuine, and emotionally open). Low self-orientation (meaning that they are not always focused on themselves, they are good listeners, and don’t exhibit a need to always be right and win at all costs) is the other important clue to help you judge the character of your potential partners. It’s often most effective to watch for these indicators during the most casual of situations, like during a meal at a restaurant when the other person may reveal more of their true self.

Partnerships may not be a fit for people who do not like to seek advice from others, who do not prefer to share success or blame, and if they don't see value in the opinions of others. As you are getting to know your potential partner, be sure to listen and observe carefully to identify these characteristics.

It's also probably not a good idea to partner just for financial reasons. Overlooking a mismatch in personalities and vision in the short-term because that person has the money you need may eventually result in a negative relationship.

2. Respect
An effective business partnership also depends upon mutual respect. Ideally, your partners bring complimentary skills and abilities to the team. Combined with each partner’s perspective and experience, the group is considerably stronger and more effective than any one person could ever be by themselves. Team members must have a level of respect for each other, which fosters a positive and productive business environment.

Recognition and positive feedback are important for showing and feeling respect. We must take the time to recognize and appreciate the efforts and input that all partners bring to the collaboration. We all naturally want to be recognized and respected for our individual contributions, even if those contributions are never implemented. You demonstrate respect for your partner when you value or simply acknowledge their input, ideas and perspectives.

Of course, to gain respect, you must be worthy of being respected. Earning respect is in large part based on being a good person and partner (are you someone who looks for the best in others and who follows through on your promises and commitments to the team?) telling the truth and being transparent, and genuinely caring about your teammates. Respect the people you work with, and they should respect you in return.

3. Agreement
There can be complete trust and honest respect in a business relationship, but it can all come tumbling down with one seemingly simple misunderstanding. “I thought you were going to do this?” “No, I assumed that you would do that!”

During the honeymoon phase of the relationship, when we are caught up in the excitement of the new business, we may be quick to make assumptions and avoid difficult conversations. Dodging critical questions and assuming that things will always be great often leads to ruinous arguments later.

It's critical that you clearly define up front who will do what and how much time each partner will invest in the business. You also have to discuss and agree on many other points including the terms of a future buy-out – either because one of the partners wants out, or there is a death.

My business partner and I benefit from, and prefer, what we refer to as "active partnerships". These are partnerships where all members are contributing fairly equally. It provides us the financial benefit of spreading the risk, but also sharing the burden and responsibility of building and growing our small businesses. It often makes sense to bring in investors, however, who are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business.

Legal written partnership agreements are a must for any partnership. This typically includes an Operating Agreement and a Buy-Sell Agreement which is drafted by an attorney. The legal agreement defines all of the parameters and terms of the business, including who is the Managing Member, what capital is contributed by each member, and what happens when a member of the partnership wants to exit or can no longer perform their duties.

We recommend that you start with a Memo of Understanding. This is simply an outline that documents most of the terms of the partnership. Then you consult with an attorney to finalize the details and create the legal Operating Agreement. The key is to discuss and agree up front on the terms of the partnership, and avoid the misunderstandings and resentment that can otherwise develop later.

There are many reasons why partnering may make best sense for your business venture, including funding (one partner or a “silent partner” provides the money for start-up), expertise (one partner has the expertise in the industry or business you are starting), and the desire to build a company with friends and family (although we always caution that you be careful when partnering with your friends and family as it may end badly). If you are like me, you may simply prefer, and be significantly more productive, when you combine your efforts with a partner. Regardless of the reasons, always consider the three pillars of trust, respect and agreement upon which successful business partnerships are usually based.

Want to learn more about Business Partnerships?
We invite you to listen to episode 8 (Business Partnership Tips) of The How of Business podcast on this topic:

Monday, May 23, 2016

New Episodes: Franchising, Call-to-Action Marketing, Online Marketing & Live Streaming!

Three new episodes of The How of Business podcast released today:

Episode 011 - Kit Vinson Interview
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode we interview Kit Vinson, owner of FranMan, and an export on franchising. If you are considering offering franchises and becoming a franchisor, then this episode is for you.  

"At Franchise Manuals (FranMan), we’ll focus our resources on your operations manual so you can focus your resources on your franchise system."

Episode 012 - Call To Action Marketing
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

Henry Lopez and David Begin discuss Call-to-Action Marketing for small business

What is Call to Action or Direct Response Marketing? Advertising with the specific purpose of enticing a direct action (i.e. visit your business or call you today) on the part of your customer within a short period of time.

Episode 013 - Alessandra Colaci Interview
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode we interview Alessandra Colaci, owner of FranMan, founder of Influence Buz, specializing in online marketing strategy, building an active online community, analytics planning and implementation, and creating more visibility for your business. In this interview we also dive into Live Streaming, and using video content to promote your small business. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Franchise Business Economic Outlook for 2016

This past January, the International Franchise Association (IFA) released the Franchise Business Economic Outlook for 2016, published by IHS Economics.

This report presents a forecast of the franchise sector of the US economy in 2016.

Some of the highlights we found interesting include:
  • The number of franchise establishments will grow this year by 13,359, or 1.7 percent, to 795,932.
  • The lodging sector leads the way with 6.6 percent output growth.
  • Retail products & services, quick service and table service restaurants, and business services will continue to be among the growth leaders in 2016.
  • The trucking industry and related services should experience increased demand.
  • Consumer spending on auto parts is expected to increase 4.3% in 2016.
  • Growth in commercial and residential services should benefit business such as architectural, project management & contracting firms, and special trade contractors.
  • Lower gasoline prices may be resulting in increased spending on eating out.
  • Growth is expected to slow in the sporting goods and hobby store sectors. 
  • Healthy growth is foretasted for a wide range of business services, including accounting & bookkeeping, and architectural & engineering services

Monday, May 16, 2016

Latest Podcast Episodes:

Two new episodes of The How of Business podcast released today:

Episode 010 - Tom Nunez Interview
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode we interview Thomas (Tom) Nunez, President Elect of the Dallas Fort Worth Marketing Association (DFW AMA), highly experienced marketing expert, consultant and business owner. Tom shares valuable marketing tips and advice for small business owners. 

Episode 009 - Online & Social Media Marketing
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

Henry Lopez and David Begin discuss Online and Social Media Marketing and how they have used it to promote their small businesses.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

3 Critical Franchise Benefits

Are you considering investing in a franchise business?

Investing in a franchise business may make sense for you, particularly if it’s your initial move into business ownership. By selecting the right franchise, you can reduce some of the common challenges associated with small business startups. Leveraging the franchisor’s proven model and systems, you should ideally be able to mitigate many of the risks associated with opening a new business. From initial site selection through ongoing day-to-day operational best practices, a strong franchise will provide significant benefits to help you achieve success. 

There are three critical benefits, however, that I believe you should consider when evaluating and selecting a franchise that’s right for you: the brand, the leverage, and the systems. 

The Brand:
What is the value of the franchise brand in your target geographic market? Perhaps the brand has a great presence in the Northeast, but that may have little to no value for you if you are considering opening the first unit in the Southwest. A big part of what you are paying for is the brand recognition that the franchisor has ideally already invested in and developed. 

A strong, positive and established brand is one of the biggest advantages of franchising.  It would be extremely difficult to build a brand by yourself to the level that a successful franchise can achieve. A great brand should have positive value in the eyes of the customers or clients you're trying to attract. Important considerations on this point include:
  • What is the value of the brand in your market? 
  • Does it have a positive reputation, or have there been issues in the past that have tarnished it?
  • Is it a tired and dated brand, or is it fresh and relevant?
  • If the franchise you are considering is just getting started, or has limited to no presence in your area, then you should evaluate their ability to execute. What are their plans for building a brand that will benefit your location over time?
  • As other franchise locations open in the same area, is there a budget and plan for marketing the brand image specifically? 
  • What is your monthly cost to participate in developing and maintaining the brand (this is typically the marketing component of the monthly dues to the franchisor)?
Franchise Leverage:
A successful franchise system should provide opportunities to leverage economies of scale that would simply not be possible or available to an independent small business. These points of leverage may include everything from preferential access to lending, to the combined buying power of the entire system.

When I owned several units of a local pizza franchise in the 1990’s, for example, I was able to buy cheese and other ingredients at a much lower price through the franchisor than I would have been able to negotiate as an independent operator. Advertisement is another area where franchise leverage can provide an advantage. You may be able to budget for an effective radio or television campaign as a franchise group, for example, that you would not be able to afford as a stand-alone business. The opportunities for leverage offered by a franchise may include:
  • Preferred access to lending (banks may prefer to lend to established franchises with whom they have experience).
  • Lower operating costs through group purchasing (for raw materials, equipment, and other operating supplies).
  • Cooperative and leveraged advertising campaigns.
  • Lead generation through websites or call centers.
  • More favorable consideration by landlords who value the reputation and historical success of the franchise. 
  • Network of fellow franchisees to provide advice and moral support.
The Systems:
The quality of the systems offered by the franchisor should be the most important consideration in your selection of a franchise. The systems include everything that is used to operate the business in a standard and repeatable fashion. It includes the initial startup and training, the operations manuals, and the on-going best-practices that drive continuous improvement in the business model. A comprehensive and proven system is what enables a self-managed company, as opposed to an operation that is dependent on a few key people who have all of the knowledge in their heads. 

The systems are the core of any successful franchise. Without effective, proven and repeatable systems there is no franchise. The benefits of a great franchise system typically include:
  • A proven and repeatable business model.
  • Shorter time to opening your business (including assistance with site selection and design).
  • Comprehensive initial training (including operations and marketing).
  • Little to no direct experience required (the franchisor teaches you how to bake the cookies).
  • Ongoing support & innovation (including improvements to the systems).

There are certainly other important benefits and criteria to consider when evaluating a franchise, including their history and track record, their management and support team, protected territories, and how the business concept fits with your lifestyle and vision. 

As with any business opportunity, there is no guarantee of success and there are trade-offs. When you own a franchise you must adhere to their policies and structure, and you are committed to the franchise for the length of the franchise agreement – often 10 years or more. This can create a conflict with your desire to be your own boss, and to have complete control over how you run your business. You are also exposed and affected to some extent by how other fellow franchise owners operate their units and their potential impact on the brand’s reputation. 

There are no definitive or reputable data on the success rate for franchises, despite the often cited and debunked statistics to the contrary. That’s due, in large part, to the fact that franchises vary widely across many industries. There are thousands of franchise models available today. You must carefully consider the value you may be able to derive from a franchise, versus building your own independent business. With the correct expectations and planning, a franchise that meets your needs may well be the best option for you. A franchise that offers a strong brand, an opportunity for collective leverage, and comprehensive and proven systems can help you realize your dreams of successful business ownership.

Want to learn more about Franchising?
We invite you to listen to these podcast episodes:

> 016: Three Benefits of Franchising
> 011: Interview with Kit Vinson - Franchising Expert
> 006: Interview with Earsa Jackson - Franchise Attorney
> 018: Interview with Sara Waskow - Franchise Consultant
> 023: Interview with Nick Neonakis - Franchise Consultant

Monday, May 9, 2016

Latest Podcast Episodes: Steve Alexander Interview and Partnerships

Two new episodes of The How of Business podcast released today:

Episode 007 - Steve Alexander Interview
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode we interview Steve Alexander, owner of Private Water Fishing, a member-based fishing club that offers a superior outdoor experience and some of the best bass fishing in Texas. Steve shares his entrepreneurial journey and valuable advice for other small business owners.

Episode 008 - Business Partnerships
[Listen on iTunes] [Listen on Stitcher]

In this episode Henry Lopez and David Begin discuss business partnerships. They share their experiences with partnering, why they prefer to partner, and some tips for doing so successfully.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ideation - Where Business Ideas Come From

by Henry Lopez

Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new business ideas. When we plan to launch a new business, we either leverage an existing concept or we develop our own unique idea. The same applies to growing an existing business. I have always struggled with determining which is harder – finding the idea or executing on it.

Sometimes ideas are easy enough to conjure, and the hard part is deciding if it’s good enough as the basis for developing a profitable business. If you have what you believe is a “great idea”, the next challenge is to prove or test that it will translate into a successful venture.

Then there are times when a viable idea is the hardest thing to find. It may seem like all the good ideas are taken, and you are left on the sidelines with the resources and desire to start or grow a business but without a great idea. The ideation process can take a day or it can take years, and as with the creative process, it’s usually unproductive to rush it. Aside from the other typical barriers of resources (money and people), the lack of a “good idea” is often what keeps people from taking action on their dream of becoming their own boss.

Creating a new business starts with the idea. The process of developing that idea, and your business concept, may perhaps include some level of testing through prototyping and iteration. During these early phases your idea will undoubtedly evolve and may even morph into something entirely different. There are three basic categories for business ideas, and considering these categories can help with sparking that next great brainchild or validating your existing one:
  • New – a new invention or business idea. Examples may include the Segway, Virtual Reality and other product inventions. This is the most difficult category for new business ideas. There are very few truly and completely new ideas. By “new” I mean something that absolutely does not currently nor in the past exist in any way. It’s easy to confuse a new idea with what is really an improvement or disruption of an existing or traditional way of doing something. Truly new and unique ideas are hard to come by, so don’t get paralyzed by thinking this is the only source of viable new ideas. 
  • Improvement – this is the proverbial better mouse trap. Examples include exterior-express car washes (where you stay in the car), Virgin Airlines, LED lighting, and Disney Land. Most small businesses probably fall into this category. You take an existing service or product and you make or deliver it in a better way, either directly or indirectly. You may make it of better quality raw materials, for example, or you may add value to the product or service by including additional services or add-ons. 
  • Disruption – a new and revolutionary way of doing something. Examples include Uber, AirBnB, and Amazon. Our modern interconnected world – supported and made possible by the internet –  now allows us to completely reinvent, transform and disrupt entire industries. The internet and other technologies are not the only way to execute on a disruptive business idea, but it has certainly accelerated our ability to do so. 

Where do great ideas come from? Sources of ideas can include reading, podcasts, art, architecture, personal experiences, travel, conversations, hobbies, borrowing from others, crowd creativity, crowd sourcing, and attempting to solve existing problems in our world. For existing businesses, the best source of ideas is usually your customers. Yet it takes a bit more than just experiencing or reading something to spark your next great idea.

In the article “How to Generate Good Ideas” by Belle Cooper, Steve Jobs is quoted as sharing that creative people are able to “connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” In his observation, creative people consistently have “had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Consciously and objectively experiencing new things will definitely influence and feed your creative abilities, and it’s one of the most productive ways we can continue to develop our ability to generate great ideas.  

Does this mean that you have to be creative to generate good business ideas? I believe creativity is certainly one of the main ingredients required for ideation, along with ingenuity and vision. The challenge for many people, however, is that they either have little confidence in their inherent creative abilities or don’t have the courage to express and tap into it. The idea generation process is much like the creative process in that we are putting forth something personal to be judged by others. You must have the courage and confidence to submit ideas that others might think are frivolous or ridiculous. It’s appropriate to remember what George Bernard Shaw wrote: “all great truths begin as blasphemies.”

The ideal process is to identify one or more business ideas, test them, and then continue with developing the idea that has the best possibility for success. Of course, always remember that the true test of an idea’s business viability ultimately rests entirely with the customer. Also remember that if your concept was easy, it would probably have already been done by someone else. 

Some questions to ask yourself to help qualify your business idea:
  • What need does my product or service fill? What problem does it solve?
  • What are the features and benefits of my offering?
  • What is my competitive advantage? What makes this idea truly unique in my market?
  • How do my skills and experience fit with my idea?
  • How will I be able to test and demonstrate it?
  • What resources will I need to build this idea into a viable business?
  • Does my idea solve a billion-person problem, or the problem of just a few?
  • Can I envision myself executing on this concept for the next 5 to 10 years?

Want to learn more about the ideation process?
We invite you to listen to Episode 4 (Ideation) of The How of Business podcast on this topic:

Monday, May 2, 2016

Latest Podcast Episode - Earsa Jackson Interview - Franchising

In the latest episode of "The How of Business" podcast, Henry Lopez interviews Earsa Jackson. Earsa is an attorney and partner with Strasburger and an expert on franchise law. Earsa shares some valuable knowledge and tips for businesses that are considering offering franchises.

[Listen to this episode here.]

The How of Business podcast is focused on helping small business owners operate and grow their business. This podcast series provides practical advice, tips and techniques for our listeners. This series presents a mix of small business topic discussions by Henry Lopez and David Begin, and interviews with other successful business owners and professionals who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences with our audience of entrepreneurs. Most of our episodes are about 30 minutes long.