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Entrepreneur

Many Advisers Bring Success

By Tom Irmen

This ancient proverb goes on to state that “plans go wrong for lack of advice.”

It has been two decades or more since the popular Marlboro man commercials were barred from television. The iconic Marlboro man portrayed in these commercials was a rugged individualist whose independence was viewed as courageous by many. However, in the years since, this same independence is now perceived by some as a major character flaw; an individual who placed his reliance on his own independence rather than on the advice and recommendations of trusted friends and mentors.
As an entrepreneur, it is customary that the final decision on issues comes down to your choice. But it can be a huge mistake to make your decisions in the absence of the recommendations and advice of a few trusted advisers.

I’m always surprised by the number of small business owners that elect to go it alone, much like the Marlboro man. Some entrepreneurs prefer the freedom of independent decision making instead of relying in part on the advice of others. But unless you possess the wisdom of Solomon, this type of decision making seems ill advised.

Seeking the advice of knowledgeable advisers on important decisions is not only critical to your success in making important decisions, but it can also avert the consequences of poor choices. Confiding in others is not always an easy thing for free minded entrepreneurs to do, because it requires the courage necessary to place your trust in the wisdom of others. Little courage is required to act alone.

But caution must also be exercised not to overthink your decision, waiting for the stars to align. I’ve often observed small business owners who seek out endless advice in order to avoid the fear that can result from making an important decision.

Courage is the trademark of the successful entrepreneur, but the entrepreneurs that exhibit the greatest courage are those who are fearless in seeking the advice of trusted counselors and mentors.

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Entrepreneur

Technology Doesn’t Replace That Human Touch

By Tom Irmen

There’s no question that improvements in technology can help businesses enhance the customer experience. But it’s unlikely that this technology by itself will ever replace that human touch. While technology can help improve the customer service experience delivered by humans, reliance on technology alone can result in the absence of that human experience that is the foundation of a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Unless you are in a generic marketplace where you are unable to successfully differentiate yourself and where low prices dominate, the absence of genuine customer relationships can severely impact your bottom line.

Because technology is playing an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, creating and maintaining genuine relationships are all the more important to your customers today. And the more you reach out to your customers on a personal level, the greater the trust and loyalty that results.

Meaningful relationships help you better understand your customers and their competitive marketplaces. It also places you in a much better position to assist them in a way that will truly differentiate you from your competitors! And when competitive situations arise, as they inevitably do, your customers, whose loyalty you have earned, will likely confide in you. Remember that the lack of human relationships in business makes you particularly vulnerable.

I joked recently with a new client who, in his first email to me, asked me to call him personally. I asked him his age, suggesting that he was probably at least 50 years old. When he asked why, I explained that it has been my experience, as well as the experience of a great many of our clients, that a growing number of potentially new customers choose to conduct business exclusively via text or email. This is particularly true of many younger entrepreneurs. It seems that they have chosen to conduct their businesses in a generic world. While perhaps appearing efficient on the surface, just imagine how this generic environment deprives these same entrepreneurs of the very relationships that might have helped their businesses to prosper.

Don’t ignore the power of the human touch, as genuine relationships will trump any advancements in technology.

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Graphic Creations

Helping Our East Tennessee Business Community to Expand Their Brand

“I believe that what Graphic Creations does best is to help area entrepreneurs successfully differentiate their products,” said Jim Caughorn, owner of Graphic Creations. “By combining our more than three decades of in-depth graphic expertise with our corporate experience, we are able to assist both large and small businesses to successfully navigate today’s ever-changing business landscape.”

First launching in 1987 by former co-founders Debbie Billings and Jim’s father, James Sr., it’s unlikely that either Debbie or James could have envisioned all of the marketplace changes that would occur or the impact from rapidly evolving technology that resulted.

“I truly respect what Debbie and my dad accomplished,” said Jim. “Our team looks forward to the future and to continuing to help our East Tennessee business community thrive.”

From its most humble beginnings as a print center copying and selling UT class lecture materials, Graphic Creations has evolved into a full-service graphics source for all of your branding requirements, including:
» In-house design & creation
» Digital printing
» Copying
» Full bindery
» Signage & display
» Print – market – mail
» Apparel
» Promotional items
» Vehicle graphics
» Die cutting
» Foil stamping
» Embossing

“What’s even more important than the multiple services we offer is our in-house marketing expertise and our intimate knowledge of East Tennessee’s business community,” said Jim. “Our familiarity with our community helps us help your business successfully navigate this unique marketplace we call home. You simply can’t accomplish this with any other out-of-area source you may have used in the past or are contemplating using in the future.

“Regardless of your current or future graphic requirements, I invite you to discover how Graphic Creations can partner with you to expand your brand. We would like to offer you the opportunity to tour our new 12,000 square foot facility. We also welcome the opportunity to listen to you and your dreams for your business and to learn just how we can help you achieve your goals. We invite you to dream and grow with us in the New Year.”

Graphic Creations
213 East 4th Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37917
865.522.6221
www.graphiccreations.com

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Entrepreneur

Plan – Action – Success

By Tom Irmen

First launched on July 5, 1994, as an online book seller, Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, has been at the helm of this incredible success story navigating this garage start-up to the largest online retailer in the world.

Amazon’s mission statement:
“Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Amazon’s mission statement has become the guiding force behind its success, and the unwavering commitment to this mission on a daily basis by its 400,000+ associates makes this success a reality.

Many small business owners recognize the importance of developing their own mission statement, but the mere existence of a mission statement is no assurance that your business will prosper or that your customers will benefit. A truly successful mission statement must be customer centered and be embraced by all of your associates. It must become deeply embedded in your company’s culture. A successful mission statement will differentiate the spectacular from the mediocre.

For an example, examine Apple’s entry into the brick and mortar retailer store marketplace. Apple stores are located in upscale shopping areas and feature a professional, high-tech look and are amply staffed by highly trained associates that appear to genuinely enjoy what they do and interacting with their customers. Not focused on selling, Apple associates instead focus on building long-term relationships while helping to improve people’s lives.

Contrast this experience with Comcast/Xfinity. You have to love the newly branded Xfinity name. Their new retail stores are a vast improvement over their earlier stores, featuring the same upscale, high-tech look as Apple stores. But this is where the similarity ends, because their customer service is abysmal. If they do indeed have a company wide mission statement, they need to communicate it to their associates and encourage them to fully embrace it. They have emulated the Apple “look” but little else. They have chosen form instead of substance.
A well-thought out and carefully implemented mission statement can catapult your small business toward long-term success for both you and your customers. But a mission statement with no substance that is not embraced by your associates will ring hollow and result in a generic experience for you and your customers.

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Entrepreneur

Staying on Target in 2019

By Tom Irmen

Most self-employed individuals look forward to the day that they can retire. They look forward to waking daily by the sound of their home’s irrigation system rather than the alarm clock next to their bed.


But like managing your small business, retirement doesn’t just happen. A secure retirement is the result of careful planning, savings, and well-thought out investment strategy for the future. Done properly, it becomes a well-directed symphony. Done poorly, it may require a significant downsizing of your future retirement dreams.

One area of retirement planning that proves to be troublesome for many would-be retirees is just where to invest their retirement savings. Should you seek the advice of a trusted financial advisor, or should you go it alone? Do you have the time or expertise necessary to make your own investment decisions? What should your investment allocations be? How aggressive or conservative should you be? What is your risk tolerance? How much money will you require in retirement? Will you possibly outlive your retirement savings?

If you haven’t already begun saving for retirement, the time to start is today, regardless of your age. Later on you will likely regret each year that you postponed planning for your retirement.

Here’s an easy way to begin. Determine how much money you wish to allocate monthly to your retirement savings and then open up a brokerage account with a reputable investment company like Vanguard or Charles Schwab. Both companies offer Target Retirement Accounts. These are convenient, low-cost investment accounts that are professionally managed by experienced advisors that will allocate your retirement savings into a variety of investment options based on your personal target retirement date. Your investments are periodically rebalanced to reflect existing and anticipated market conditions, as well as your risk tolerance, which typically becomes more conservative as you near retirement. What could be easier?


These target retirement accounts are a great place to start, but keep in mind that there are many more moving parts to a comprehensive retirement plan that only a trusted Certified Financial Planner™ can help you plan for. You’ve worked hard for your retirement dreams. Make your retirement dollars work hard for you.

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Entrepreneur

Who Are You Going to Turn the Keys Over to?

By Tom Irmen

More than half of America’s nearly 30 million small business owners are within a decade or so of retirement. So who’s going to succeed you when you retire? Or maybe it’s your plan to work right up to the end? Regardless of your plans, you might discover that future events could interfere with even your best intentions.


What if you were to die unexpectedly? What if you are incapacitated and unable to make those same decisions in the future that you make today? What if your children pursue their own dreams that don’t include operating the family business?

Less than one-quarter of today’s small businesses have succession plans. If tragedy were to strike, it would be like dying without a will. In other words, someone else will be making decisions in the future on your behalf… decisions that you might not agree with.


It can get even more complicated than that. What if your son or daughter that takes over your business decides to divorce their spouse? You know, the one you were never quite fond of. Will the divorce settlement include surrendering half of your business to their ex?


Life doesn’t always go exactly as we might have hoped. If you and your spouse are counting on retirement income from your business when you’ve turned over the keys to your small business to your successor(s), your only assurance of continuity will be a well-thought out and carefully implemented succession plan. Probably the best place to start in succession planning is to meet with your family to discuss your future plans and expectations. Next, schedule a meeting with an attorney experienced in small business succession planning. Finally, incorporate your intentions into a final document that describes your future plans in detail.

It’s also a good idea to meet with those family members involved and key employees to review your succession plans in order to eliminate any surprises that might be potentially disruptive in the future. Your objective should be to map out as smooth a transition as possible in order to protect not only the business that you’ve invested your life in, but also to protect the livelihoods and futures of all of your associates who have contributed to your small business success.

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Entrepreneur

The Case for a Living Will

By Tom Irmen

Every year at my annual physical, without fail, my healthcare provider asks me if I have prepared or amended my living will. Contemplating our own mortality often makes us feel uncomfortable, but as I get older, I have come to appreciate that a living will may become the greatest gift you or I can leave our loved ones. And no, a living will it’s not something that just the elderly should consider. Regardless of our age, each of us is only one unforeseen accident away from benefiting from this simple yet all important document.

A living will is a written directive to your family, personal physician, and other healthcare providers about just what type and level of care you would wish to receive in the event that you were unable to make important personal medical decisions on your own in the event of a medical emergency. Your living will can be of great comfort to your loved ones who might be called on to act on your behalf in the absence of this document. Let’s be honest, not everyone knows what decisions you might make on your own, and two or more individuals that might be asked about your treatment options might not be able to agree on what course of action might be best for you.

When these decisions are left to others, you potentially place family members in the very difficult position of having to guess as to what care you might have elected to receive. Disagreements among family members can occur, resulting in strained or even broken relationships that may last for years or longer. And consider as well that these decisions can have long-term financial consequences for your family members as well.

A living will removes this burden from your family members to act on your behalf and asks only that they respect the choices you have made. This simple but important document may be the greatest gift you can give to your loved ones who might one day be forced to struggle with making medical decisions on your behalf in the absence of a living will.

Everyone of every age can benefit from the creation of a living will. No one is immune from a health crisis. And if you are self-employed, a living will is just one of several important documents necessary to assure the future success of the small business that you have devoted your life to, protecting it for your heirs. Our families deserve the peace of mind that can come from the creation of a living will.

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Success in Small Business is Not a Game of Chance

By Tom Irmen

The odds for a successful new business launch are abysmal, but they don’t need to be.  Your odds increase significantly depending on whether you view your startup as a game of chance or a solid business opportunity.  If you believe that your potential for success will come down to a roll of the dice or your celestial sign, you might want to hold on to your day job.

The same is true of would-be entrepreneurs that want to transition their favorite hobby into a viable business.  You may discover that your passion for your once favorite hobby will fade once it moves beyond the fun activity you used to fill your leisure time.

But if you believe that you have the necessary drive and the requisite entrepreneurial spirit required for success, start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Is my product or service unique?  If you discover that you can’t successfully differentiate your product or service from the competition, you will likely have to charge less.  And unless you possess some significant cost advantages, you will probably find that squeezing your margins may not result in the success you had hoped for.
  2. Do I have the necessary working capital to succeed?  The anticipation of future sales, reliance on credit cards, and leveraging your vendors is not a formula for success.  In fact, the eventual tsunami of high interest debt and resulting poor relationships with your favored vendors is a recipe for disaster that you may never escape from.
  3. Am I willing to create and follow a business plan?  If the answer is no, small business ownership may not be for you.  A well-thought out and carefully implemented business plan will significantly enhance your potential for success.  Add to that the accountability from a few trusted mentors and you may be well on your way to a rewarding future as a successful small business owner with the odds squarely in your corner.

Success as an entrepreneur depends largely on your perspective.  Do you view your new venture as a game of chance or a solid business opportunity?  If you find yourself saying that “you’ll give it a shot,” you may be rolling the dice.

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Hire for the Future

By Tom Irmen

It was just a few short years ago that small business owners seemed preoccupied with the state of the U.S. economy and the future likelihood of success for their individual businesses. What a difference a few years has made. Today, by contrast, entrepreneurs nationwide are preoccupied with filling open job positions.

In June of this year, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Center reported that 36% of small businesses were unsuccessful in filling open job positions – the highest level on record. In addition, the NFIB reported that 63% of business owners plan on hiring or are trying to hire new workers to fill existing or anticipated future openings. That’s up five points from last month and represents the highest level since September 1999.

The temptation today is to fill open positions rather than to hire for the future. Trying to fill an open position, while frustrating, can become even more frustrating if you have to refill the same position months later. Here are a couple of suggestions that you may wish to consider if your small business is currently trying to hire.

Discuss the open position opportunity with trusted associates within your company. They know first-hand about the job’s requirements, and they likely have a sphere of friendships unavailable to you. They know these people well and might be in a better position to help you to identify those individuals who are looking for a career rather than merely seeking a paycheck.

Another approach to consider is to seek potential candidates through your vendors. Representatives of your vendors actively market their products and services to other similar companies throughout your marketplace, including your competition. Oftentimes they know of talented individuals looking for new opportunities or hoping to make a move from an employer that might be struggling financially or perhaps one where the personal chemistry isn’t right.

With business optimism at record highs, filling future or currently open positions is critical. Be disciplined, and don’t make the common error of just trying to fill a position. Hire for the future!

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Small Business Pulse

By Tom Irmen

If you’re wondering about the state of today’s small business community, feast your eyes on the most recent small business optimism survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“There is no question that small business is booming,” said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB Chief Economist. “Consumer spending, the new tax law, and lower regulatory barriers are all supporting the surge in optimism across all small business industry sectors.”

The NFIB survey for the month ending April 2018 came in at 104.8, the highest in the survey’s 45-year history.

I’ve often spoken to other small business owners about the challenges resulting from the “sitting on the fence” trend that began to emerge during the most recent recession. Surprised by the depth and breadth of this nearly decade long recession, most entrepreneurs eliminated all but essential expenditures, reduced staff, eliminated or significantly curtailed capital expenditures, closed satellite locations, and shelved future expansion plans.

Despite all of the positive financial news of late, many small business owners remain cautious, fearing that the other shoe might drop. Perhaps current financial and political volatility playing out on our national and international stages are the cause of much of this apprehension, but it is important to recognize that the promise of real sustainable growth is being driven by sound financial fundamentals such as those cited in this NFIB survey.

This April survey is the 17th consecutive month of historically high readings. The survey points to gains in productivity, stronger sales, and increased spending on new equipment. And a host of other surveys and statistics support these survey results.

NFIB President and CEO, Juanita Duggan, said, “Never in the history of this survey have we seen such profit trends so high.”

The future for small business hasn’t looked this promising in a long time. Perhaps the biggest challenge confronting today’s small business owner is the reluctance to accept today’s positive financial trends as reality.

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