Copper State Technology

Observations from a small business owner.

September 2011 - Blog Archive

29 September 2011 Praise Pen.

One day while I was working at Georgia Pacific, John Hutchison walked into my office. In his hand was a nice writing pen in its box. Spanning the box top was a simple label with the words 'Praise Pen.' John once played ball at The Ohio State University, has more stories than anyone other than my Grandfather, and defines the term 'gentleman.'

A Praise Pen's only purpose is to write a hand-written note of appreciation. It has no other purpose. John told me to leave the pen in its box and stash it in a desk drawer with some decent Crane stationery. Each time you look into the drawer and see the pen box; stop and think 'who has done something that deserves some acknowledgment from me.' It can be an employee, vendor, client, or whomever. If you can think of someone, use the Praise Pen to jot out a quick note of appreciation. Stamp it and place it in the US Mail. Nothing beats a note hand-written on great stationery sitting in your mailbox.

John shared many other nuggets of wisdom while we worked together. I will give him a call tomorrow. He has a great pet otter story.

When was the last time your praised one of your staff? Do they remember it?

27 September 2011 - Coaching.

The New Yorker has an article subtitled Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?. It describes how a surgeon decided to seek the advice of a surgical coach. In fact, he may have invented the idea. It seems the surgeon's skills had "plateaued" and he needed some advice on how to get to the next level. An interesting read.

How many business owner's get coaching? Who has the time, right? Perhaps we should all make time.

As a small business grows, we all seek expert advice. Before too long, you have a legal expert, an accounting expert, a tax expert, a web presence expert and so on. This makes sense. I remember just enough from my accounting minor to be truly dangerous in QuickBooks. That is why I have a CPA to call.

Who helps you become a better business owner? Your customers are always driving you to improve. The market forces you to improve. Are you really improving your entrepreneurial skills or falling back upon your skills and experience? Does it make sense to hire a management coach? I believe it does. Sure, there are plenty of resources on the 'Net, but those folks don't observe how you run your day to day business. Maybe spending a week with someone who has grown several small businesses from scratch is an good investment?

How are you improving your skills as a small business owner?

25 September 2011 - Word of Mouth.

Shawn Blanc delivers his best blog entry to date with You Can't Buy Word of Mouth. If you run a boutique business...Go read it!

The section that strikes me:

You can start small and slowly iterate and improve upon your product while gradually increasing your user base through word of mouth. Or you can grow quickly by throwing a lot of money behind your product and paying for people to use it instead of selling it to them.

I know that small businesses run on word of mouth. One of my clients did no advertising outside of a simple web page and relied ~99% on word-of-mouth. After two years, they have more business than they can handle. Shawn is correct. It can take years for your business to grow this way. Anyone can throw gobs of money at marketing/advertising. How sustainable is that? Personally, I prefer doing business with small companies that have bootstrapped their way to success.

I firmly believe that perseverance pays in the long term. So it takes another year or two to really get your business flowing. Do it right and the $ales will follow. (Staying out of debt helps.)

Are you creating a natural buzz around your products and/or services or paying someone to do it for you?

23 September 2011 - Email Auto Responder.

Sent an email to one of my vendors. Got back a well written, witty reply saying my email would be read within three business days. At the bottom of the email was a funny blurb saying don't respond to this email as it won't be read. Wow!

We make it a point to answer every email and phone call before we leave for the day. Certainly there are exceptions, but that is our general rule of thumb. What kind of message to do you send to your clients when you ignore their email for three days?

At some point, we can all hope that our companies' grow so much that we no longer have enough hours in a day to personally answer every customer inquiry. Perhaps when that day arrives, it is time to hire an admin who can read and personally respond to every email to arrives in our in baskets? Just a thought. How much does a part-time admin really cost?

How long does it take you to personally answer your email?

21 September 2011 - Andre House.

Andre House is one of the community service organizations we support. They provide hospitality services near the Phoenix Capital Mall area. You can donate goods, money or volunteer at their Soupline. Every meal is prepared from scratch.

I am thinking of donating 5% of a month's net revenue to one of our community service organizations. Perhaps once per quarter? I'll kick the idea around to our partners and let you know.

Which organizations does your company support? How do you spread the word?

19 September 2011 - Things update.

Just an update on running Things on my Mac, iPhone and iPad. I use Things from Cultured Code to keept track of my 'To Do' list. I am a big fan of David Allen's Getting Things Done. Mr. Allen's concept work very well for me.

You do need to trust your system. Things on my iPhone really allows me to capture those random thoughts that become ToDos. Unless I can accomplish a task within a minute, I add everything to my Things Inbox. A couple of times per day I will review those Inbox items and do one of three things. 1. Just do it. 2. Schedule it. 3. File it within a project. Since I trust the system I use it more and more to clear my head of all those tasks that float randomly in our memory. I find that Cultured Code's version of GTD via Things works extremely well in keeping me on task.

What tools do you use to Get Things Done?

17 September 2011 - Local Business Spotlight.

Visited the old town, downtown district of Avondale, AZ on Saturday. Nice to see the City of Avondale working to revitalize an area with so much history. To our surprise, there is a cupcake bakery on Western close to Dysart.

Kreative Kupcakes has an awesome selection of cupcakes. Red Velvet was one of a dozen varieties ready for consumption. Their coffee was good too. All handmade on location by Leah McDermott.

The owner had her laptop out in the lobby to do her accounting. I love seeing a business owner 'running the books' out front and not hiding back in an office.

Do you personally greet your customers even when you are buried in Quickbooks?

15 September 2011 - Sold Out!

Stopped by my local "Office Supply Superstore" today. Posted on every door was a nicely printed 8.5x11 sign. This store is "Sold Out" of HP Touchpad Tablets.

Interesting concept. Here you have a store that wants to turn away potential customers. Perhaps the manager thinks that putting up a sign is easier than having his staff deal with a simple question?

I would approach this differently. Every personal interaction you have with a customer represents a sales opportunity. Certainly, these folks who are looking for one of the last remaining HP Touchpads probably aren't interested in a new PC, a box of staples or an office table. However, perhaps you can sell them something on the way back out the door? A pen, ream of paper, or even a bottle of ice-cold Dasani water from the cooler next to the check stand? Why turn someone away before they even walk in the door.

What are you telling your customers at the door?

13 September 2011 - Credit Card Processing.

Finally took the plunge and signed up to accept credit cards. Most of our sales are BtoB and most of our clients pay with a check. We have a rather valued client that wanted to pay for a new office setup with a credit card. Now we take credit cards.

James Adkison, the president of CardTech Enterprise, set us up for credit card processing. James came well recommended and defines the term “fanatical customer service.” I look forward to doing business with him. James can be reached at 818.492.4224.

How many ways does your business accept payment?

11 September 2011 - Ten Years Ago.

Ten years ago I was in Pensacola, FL. I worked for Int'l Paper and we had a mill tour/boondoggle scheduled with SP Richards. Some of us were golfing that morning while other were getting on a boat to cruise over to Orange Beach, AL.

I remember eating powered doughnuts while watching the 2nd plane fly into the WTC. The entire hotel lobby, staff and guests, stood in stunned silence.

As we were all stuck in one fashion or another, we decided to go ahead and boat/golf as scheduled. A rather sober day by the Gulf. Tacky Jack's was no fun at all.

Getting everyone home was interesting. We had a three car rentals. I took mine back to Ft Lauderdale while one car went to Dallas and one went to Cleveland via Atlanta. Everyone was home safely by the next evening. It seems that everyone at Int'l Paper was flying somewhere that week. Everyone did get home safely, but some took an entire week to accomplish that feat.

Hard to believe it has been ten years.

09 September 2011 - Bikram Yoga Peoria.

Our friends, Ben and Terri Tosuner, have opened Bikram Yoga Peoria. Free classes and some great discounts this weekend.

Please give Bikram Yoga Peoria a visit. Hot yoga at its best.

07 September 2011 - End Malaria Day.

Looking to make the world a better place? How about purchasing the End Malaria book? I did.

I love how Seth Godin uses articles from his blog to highlight great causes.

How does your company support its community?

05 September 2011 - More memory.

We added one gigabyte of memory to three PCs recently. All three were older Pentium 4s. All were at least five years old. All run much better now.

I just quoted six new PCs at $592 each plus tax plus S&H. Figure $655. We charge $150 to setup each PC.

Memory costs ~$35 plus another $35 for one of us to drive out. $70 versus $800 for another year or two. I figure the PCs we upgraded are good for another couple of years.

Do you really need to buy new computers? Why not upgrade what you have?

03 September 2011 - Business Opportunity.

My partners and I have been kicking around an idea. We would like to offer back office administration for small or boutique (IT) professional companies. We are looking to offer phone answering, invoicing, parts ordering, payroll, Quickbooks etc. Basically, you work your business and let Copper State handle all the paperwork.

I'll refine this idea over the next couple of weeks. I know that handling the back office functions can often take hours. Perhaps we can help you free up time to devote back into running/growing your business?

Who runs your back office? Want to devote all your time to running your business while someone else minds the books?

01 September 2011 - Doing business with trust.

Came across a rather interesting story in the Caravan Journal. Written by Salil Tripathi, the article profiles Sanjiv Mehta and his effort to renew the old brand of The East India Company. (Yes, that East India Company.) An interesting article.

Mehta talks about his first trading experiences in Russia. He notes how “relationships, trust and instinct” drive his business. Mehta goes on to say that,

Russia taught me that. Russian business is completely based on trust. Contracts have no meaning. Your word is your bond. Open your mouth, and mean each word you say. Judgements are formed based on what you say. You trade with people you know and the commodities you know. You hit the ground running. I have learnt a lot from my customers, suppliers and commodities. I size people up when they walk through this door,

It would indeed be nice to conduct business here in Arizona without needing to get Legal involved just to create a simple scope of work.

How well do you trust your clients? How well do they trust you?