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The customers and community were excited, yet a few months or years in, something has changed. Join Vince, Ken, and guest Dave Bittner of the Indiana Small Business Development Center, for a discussion on utilizing your business' strengths and recognizing its weaknesses to energize and grow your business going forward.
Dave Bittner is a Rural Business Advisor for the West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center. Dave and the WCISBDC team provide advising, training, and support to small business startups and existing organizations based on the specific need. Dave’s experience and knowledge were obtained over 25+ years of management in small businesses and large corporations. He ensured business results by driving high-performing business operations, leadership development, sales growth, excellent customer service, and profitable results.
A life-long advocate for civic leadership and entrepreneurship, Ken's career has included small business creation and ownership, the director of an entrepreneurship center and faculty member of a community college, and leadership in the not-for-profit and community development organizations of his community.
Over the last decade, as founder and President of Distinct, Vince has worked with over 400 small businesses and nonprofits. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from DePauw University and is an MBA candidate with Quantic School of Business and Technology. He brings a passion for listening to client needs, understanding their challenges, and developing creative solutions that help them grow. Vince has worked with organizations of all sizes from solopreneurs to companies with 400+ employees and ranging from pre-revenue to 40M+/year in revenue. Vince is a proud son of Chicago's South Side and currently resides in Greencastle Indiana with his wife Shelby and son Xavier.
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- 3:41 SWOT Diagram
- 5:37 “Go Confront the Brutal Facts”
- 7:34 Identifying Business Strength & Weaknesses
- 8:44 Disconnect from the Emotion of your Business
- 9:53 Don't Forget How Intuitive Your Spouse Is
- 10:59 Benefits of Having an Advisory Board
- 13:20 Understanding the Reality of Why Something is Happening
- 14:58 The Ability to Connect with Other Businesses, Customers & Vendors
- 18:01 Your Website is Your Front Window
- 22:20 It's Easy to Talk Yourself Into Something that is not a Weakness
- 25:28 Find Your Niche and Your Strengths
- 27:01 Are You Actually Making Money?
- 29:44 Strength of Entrepreneurs or Small Business People
- 31:40 People Doing Too Much In Their Small Business
- 34:30 Build Relationships Within Your Community for Your Business
- 36:23 Who is on Your Advisory Council?
- 38:25 Have Discussions with Unhappy Customers
- 41:56 Business Self-Assessment
- 45:13 Find That Quiet Time and Reflect on Your Business
- 46:25 DIY vs. Professional Business Resource Help
- 50:33 Don't Let a Weakness or Challenge Keep You From Seeking Help
Vince Aguirre: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Small Business Squad live stream. My name is Vincent Aguirre. I'm the President of Distinct and one of the hosts of the Small Business Squad. Today we're going to be talking about Business Strengths and Weaknesses. We have a familiar face, Ken Eitel, and a new guest, Dave Bittner. I'm going to bring both of these gentlemen on, greet them. Hello, guys, how are you?
Vince: Good, good! And before we get started, I want Dave to go ahead and introduce himself and tell his experiences and what his role is.
Dave Bittner: Thanks, Vince. So, I am currently a rural business advisor for the Indiana Small Business Development Center, West Central. So out of Terre Haute, actual job is only rural counties. So, all the six rural counties in the western side of Indiana that I cover, prior to this, I had a 30-year career in business. Small Business made me an operation, a little bit of sales, but started out in the field doing water treatment work, changing degree, and moved on from there to have better had the opportunity of working for private equity owners. We had large owners from Siemens Corporation on down so always been part of a business that was service-related, always been part of a business that was external to customers and quality and customer satisfaction and doing things on time in the right way. And being honest and upfront about him was always what led the lead the game, we did have some interesting products but that was really the meat of it. And I took a break off and wanted to work locally and get back to home, I spent 18 years on planes. And I'm just about done with that. So, we look forward to helping out to rural communities and seeing what I can do to contribute with you guys today on this podcast. I think this is wonderful. And the topic you have is, will hit home or any business owner, I don't care where you are on the stage. So, thank you!
Vince: Thank you! We're really happy to have you here, Dave. And before we go any further, I kind of want me to remind everyone that this Small Business Squad and Beyond The Launch specifically has been an ongoing series. We started it last year, didn't we, Ken? Yeah, so I'm gonna go ahead and put that in the chat. No matter where you're watching this, you can go to becomedistinct.com/SmallBusinessSquad, and you can see all of the past series, you can get links to our YouTube to our Facebook group and see all the good content that we've been putting out. So, feel free, go ahead, you can subscribe to our email lists there as well. And we're really looking forward to growing this community, our Facebook groups almost at 200 People now. So, it's really been an exciting growth in just the last few months. Without further ado, Ken, why don't you take the lead and guide us on this journey today?
Ken Eitel: Thanks Vince and Dave, we're glad to have you and your experience and expertise. You know, I've always and I think Vince would agree we always learn from people from different walks of life. As much as we think things are different. Really, oftentimes at the core, they're the same, they just look a little different. Those previous sessions that Vince is talking about, we really first start, I think talking about talking about finances, and what you need to do that are essential in your financials, and how to account for what you do. We then talked about something that is really in the forefront today, which is hiring employees and managing employees. And we all know who's in business today. That's one of our biggest challenges and biggest responsibilities is how do we hire good people to do the things that we want to do with our mission and vision.
3:41 SWOT Diagram
Ken: But today we're going to talk about and first start talking about what's called a SWOT diagram. And that acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. So very broad subject, each one of these areas has a lot of input and a lot of important things to talk about if you own a business or manage a business. So, the strengths and the weaknesses are really issues that are internal things that you should be able to try to control or about you. Whereas the opportunities and threats are things that are outside your business, and you need to be aware of, but oftentimes, particularly with a threat, you can't do anything about it, you just have to know they're there. So, we're gonna kick this off talking a little bit about strengths. And one of the weaknesses to kind of play off of this, most entrepreneurs is that they don't know their weaknesses, or at least they don't want to know their weaknesses. They have a hard time being honest with ourselves about how should I rate myself? How should I take a look? What am I doing well, what am I not doing well, and so your strengths are easy to identify? Because they build confidence in your business. They build confidence in you. You feel good about yourself when you're talking about what you're good at, or at least What you perceive you're good at. And so those are easy things to do. Identifying weaknesses, though, on the other hand is an honest conversation with yourself. And again, entrepreneurs, while oftentimes they might think what they look like, when they look in the mirror, when they ask other people about what could they do better, they either don't see that, or they don't want to listen to it. And so, we're going to talk about, how you find this out and why it's important that you that you do this. So, Dave what is a business need an honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses? What's been your experience?
5:37 “Go Confront the Brutal Facts”
Dave: So, my experience, there's an old saying, “Go confront the brutal facts.” And as when you are going through that I just brought a reminder in my head of we still want our businesses to do well. And we do focus on our strengths, we do focus on what's going in our favor. And the ability to take a step back and set that up as part of your week, your day, your month. And really question, ‘Are we as good as we think we are?' All the times I've done that in my career, or had either an employer or colleague, gently nudge me and say, “Hey, we got a problem. You just don't see it, you got blinders on.” Every time I did that, every time I was forced to do it, or did it on my own, it helped the business like you wouldn't believe it either took us to a new pond to go play in for the market, or it saw just a huge deficiency in our operations that was… it was impacting customers, we didn't realize the impact of customers through our poor processes are a poor standard we had set forth. And usually, it was a breakdown of a standard that we thought we had. But it also takes you away from your game. I mean when you are now running your business trying to fend off all the weaknesses. And you don't even realize that sometimes that you can't do the good stuff, you can't then take care of your customers at the highest level possible. And you start to lose business. So again, my experience, I think it's hard. Even towards the end of my career, it was hard to be critical of the business. But every time I did that, it was very much worthwhile always took our business to a new level.
7:34 Identifying Business Strength & Weaknesses
Ken: So, Vince, I know you've done some of this work, as you've grown and changed and moved around. What's been your experience with the angst involved with trying to identify strengths and weaknesses?
Vince: Yeah, so I would definitely agree with what Dave already said, I might take it a step further to and say that even when I feel like I'm being critical, and understanding my weaknesses, which is very challenging to do, oftentimes, I'm looking at them from like an internal perspective, whereas the client doesn't see them that way. So, I might think, you know, weakness of mine is, our websites aren't fast enough. And we can't compete with XYZ company. But clients don't even realize that something they should care about. And to them the weaknesses, maybe we're too expensive. And I'm thinking about raising prices to be faster. So sometimes even when you feel like you're looking at like, ‘okay, yeah, these are my weaknesses, I can admit it.' They're just not really the true weaknesses that the market is proceeding. So, I think there's a lot of challenges throughout the whole process, even when you feel like you're doing well.
8:44 Disconnect from the Emotion of your Business
Ken: So, I'm just thinking about this in this discussion. I'm wondering if you have encountered a time where there were people watching you had a strength and felt you were very strong in that area, but you didn't feel that yourself. So, is it worth the opposite way?
Vince: I'd say yeah, I've definitely had that.
Ken: So, how did you go about doing that assessment, Vince? How did you find out those?
Vince: I've done them a lot of different ways. But I'd say the most effective and honestly, the first SWOT analysis I've done in the business was with someone consulting me, his name was Ken. I think there's value, even if you're not working with Ken in particular, or even Dave, there's value in having someone else guide you through that process. You know, like I kind of alluded to, and we've all alluded to, it's important to disconnect from the emotion of your business and having someone guide you through that process and even be able to prompt you and help you think of things outside of your own box that you kind of are stuck in everyday as a business owner. It's really beneficial to have that guided practice.
9:53 Don't Forget How Intuitive Your Spouse Is
Ken: We talked a little bit earlier, don't forget how intuitive often your spouse is. And how they recognize things that maybe you don't recognize. I know when I consult with people looking to start a business, that's one of my first questions is, is your family supportive? And it's very important because they will see things and know things that are your strengths and your weaknesses that other people may not. And we've talked a little bit about the reason you should have an advisory board. And or at least a group of friends. Whether that's socially, or whether it's a business group, might its benefit often was when a group of other business people in my area who did business elsewhere. Maybe Indianapolis, or advisor, the convention, Chicago, New York, wherever, who could help me with the things that I might have as a weakness and a weakness in the industry itself. So, Dave, what's your experience been in terms of advisory councils, outside input? Those kinds of things in a little larger arena, I think, than I was.
10:59 Benefits of Having an Advisory Board
Dave: Sometimes I've done it on purpose, sometimes it's been implied people. And sometimes it's been, ‘oh, my gosh, our best customer doesn't want to do business with us anymore.' And you're forced to bring advisory board together and really dig down to what the root of that is. Advisory boards are at their most beneficial when you're meeting them on a regular basis. And you're getting feedback, and you're getting input from all angles of your business. And it's not just an event. So, I would my opinion on advisory board is if you're going to do it, do it and get the right people on it that are just “Yes People”. And have it be a really detailed analysis of your of your business I had a quick plot. We had customers as A, B and C customers and had not only had to deal with revenue, but you know, just the volume they brought in, they made us better, they always asked us to be better and you're not quality is not as high as it needs to be. And those are the kinds of customers that I would put it not the beginning of my career. But as I learned, I realized, once a quarter, I would do a sit down with whoever it was in that business, if it was a small business we were working with or a large company. And I would get anyone that had high touch with us. It could have been the payables person that ran payables department, whatever it happened to be. And I would ask to sit down just able to have lunch. And one of the first questions I would always ask is, ‘why do you do business with us? Why don't you go to our competitor.' And when you get that feedback, that's not in the heat of the battle, not in terms of you had an event or you're trying to pitch something to them, you really get good strength and weakness, feedback. They'll start out with the strengths because they like it as a vendor, but you should ask them the question, ‘What could we do better?'
13:20 Understanding the Reality of Why Something is Happening
Ken: So, one of the things that I've always thought about is the understanding the reality of why something's happening. So, when we first purchased our flower shop, from my family, for the first five or six years, we clearly weren't generating profits. We were struggling with that. And so I went to a seminar, industry seminar, and I learned all the stuff I was doing wrong. I mean, I had accounting in a college class, but it was different. When it was on the ground in the business. It's great to learn it out of textbooks, but when it's actually there, and you have to manage people to be profit profitable. I think that's one of the ways that a weakness will manifest itself very quickly, is in a deficiency in the business, or you're not efficient. And you need to recognize that you need help, that you need to find somebody that can help you. The other thing I think is so you're not growing, your market doesn't seem to be there, or you were doing business with a particular client and all of a sudden you're not. And what caused that? Is it a weakness? Is it something that we need to do differently? You made the comment about certain customers would hold you accountable for your quality. And I think those are things that you have to you really have to be able to recognize. So, in that sense Dave, what kinds of things do you use in ISPDC? Do you see that are strengths and weaknesses? What can be identified? What should somebody maybe be looking for?
14:58 The Ability to Connect with Other Businesses, Customers & Vendors
Dave: Now, this is a great question. If you'd asked me 10 or 15 years ago, of course, it'd be completely different answer. But especially in rural communities, again, we offer services that have to do with, ‘Hey, I have an idea. And I don't know what the heck to do.' All the way up to a better business long time and ‘how can you? How can you help me?' But I think what I'm seeing now, this is right up Vince's alley, it sounds like is the whole connectivity, the social networking, the online presence, to get your name out there, your business out there, connectivity through broadband, again, I'll just speak to the rural counties that I'm in charge of now. But, that whole ability to connect with other businesses and other customers and vendors is probably the biggest issue that I see right now. Otherwise, look, entrepreneurs are the greatest thing in the world, because all you want to do is get something out there, get focused, get aggressive, and start growing your business. And all the rest is noise. Now the problem is, it can't be noise. And you need people to help you. And we're happy to do that. We can give you referrals, and we can have our own advising. Or you can grab a consultant and I'm sure Vince can speak to that. But we really can't. That's what it is. A huge issue with just the ability to connect in today's wired and unwired world.
Ken: Vince, what do you see? You agree with that?
Vince: I absolutely agree, especially from that rural perspective. Not to dive too far in a rabbit hole or get on my soapbox. But working in a small community and working with a lot of rural clients. Some of the success stories we see, with both just being online and being able to be found are making tremendous impact. We've talked before about, Myers Market here in Greencastle, that has an online shop that we built, and they're sending product all over the country, just an extra source of revenue for rural Deli. And also, restaurants and especially hotels, restaurants, and businesses that are attractive to visitors, being able to be found and making sure you're the first business in your industry to be found when someone's in your area is going to bring all kinds of revenue, where you wouldn't have gotten that 5, 10 years ago. The kind of when we first started off, our biggest objection to a website was, ‘well everyone knows we exist, everyone in this community knows us.' And, I don't even have to fight that argument anymore because people understand that being found online is the key to success. And you can even find those extra sources of revenue. So, I totally agree with everything Dave said.
18:01 Your Website is Your Front Window
Ken: One other point that early in this technological process. One of the things I ran into, and I tried to make sure of, is people would have a very nice website would be very attractive, would be very nice. And you'd go to the store, and it didn't look anything like it was on the website. A website became really just like your front window. It became your display window, and a much larger audience. And so yes, I think the technology thing, because there's just not one way to find somebody now, there's a handful of ways in which customers can possibly contact with you. And so, do you really have to decide Vince, which medium you're going to use and stay with that? Or do you have to cover all of them?
Vince: It's a combination of there are some you have to be on. For example, if you have a brick-and-mortar business, and you're not on Google My Business and owning your Google Maps profile, you're going to be in trouble. Even if you don't see that as a general source of like your target market. But you should find your niche and find where your target markets living online and definitely aggressively attack those. I feel like a broken record, I don't know if I said this on this podcast before or not. But, in a small community, Twitter's probably not your target market. It's a younger demographic, there's not as many users as Facebook. I can speak to Greencastle in Putnam County particular, Twitter's not going to be the best way to reach people, Facebook is. So, you probably shouldn't waste as much time or even any time on something like Twitter and a community like Greencastle. Whereas in a larger city, it might be more make more sense. Or if you're an online brand are targeting a younger demographic that maybe doesn't make sense to invest in Twitter. I don't spend time on Twitter for our business. It's just not where we're gonna find our audience.
Ken: So early on, when Facebook first came out, I resisted it for probably four or five years. I was an old old business guy, right? But I realized this where customers work. And those that's one of those things that was a weakness for me, we're talking about this. But I had to go develop a strong online presence, I had to have a website, I had to have an email marketing list, because the mailbox no longer did any good, even if you could find somebody address. And so, it really began to change. And from the standpoint of a businessperson, that became a whole nother department for a small business guy that was trying to do everything anyway. Really is why it's important to find somebody who is qualified, and understands who's in the tech business, who can, you can outsource it to, I guess, is what I'm saying. You just don't have time to build your own website, you just don't.
Ken: So, let's talk a little bit about what some of these things might look like. I think from a strength standpoint, I've got a list here, and you guys can add to it if you want to, but you’ve got you or your business or you as a person. But you have the ability to look ahead, you can see things out ahead, you kind of can see what's coming. Partially because you have good financial data, and you have good customer data, you are able to do some of that. But you also are great at focusing on your daily business, and so you'd like to be involved in the daily business too. In addition to that, you have an extensive advertising program, and your staff is excited about all the new products and all the new ideas you're coming up with. And you have that broad social media presence, those are all kind of strengths of a particular business. On the other side of that, because I think really, we're going to talk as much about weaknesses. Realize our strengths, you're having problems with errors and billing. You're having problems with cash flow, you kind of have to wait to write checks, or you can't mail this cheque, or you're running to the bank with the next deposit. Your displays and all that nice merchandise, it's disorganized, it's hard to find things. You have a lot of browsers, but you have people walking out without it without a sack. You have employee turnover, and you have a website that's not interactive or really user friendly. So, talk a little bit about Dave, what you see, is keeping that as in mind of this is strength, this is weaknesses. What do you see in businesses, what I guess are really their weaknesses you see? And then what do you see as far as strength, which I think could be fairly varied?
22:20 It's Easy to Talk Yourself Into Something that is not a Weakness
Dave: Yeah, obviously, it depends on the business and the industry. But I have to come around to your question, I want to go to the beginning where you said, you can rattle off your strengths really simple. You know, people tell you all the time. The weaknesses’ part is one where sometimes you may think you have a weakness, and it's meaningless to your customers, but you turned yourself into, ‘oh, my gosh, this is a big job website.' this kind of thing. And they could care less about that. So, this is what comes back to your point Ken, you got to communicate, ask them, ‘Hey, how are we doing? What do you, you know, advisory boards.' things like that. Otherwise, you'll go around got dumb unhappy. Earlier in my career, I was running a small business and I just got my first shot. It was with a big company, but it was a company-owned store. And it was in water treatment, industrial water treatment in a decent-sized city. And it was a mall at 26, 27 years old, and I got this opportunity. And what I didn't know is we had customer leakage, like you wouldn't believe. We have customer hoppers that were coming in and leaving, we were gaining customers. And so, we thought we were doing great, but we didn't get to the details. And we didn't realize we have just as much going out is coming in. Our numbers looked okay. And then lo and behold, two, four years later, we go by the mom and pop across town. And we thought, okay, we're going to show them how to run a business. We walked in there, they must have had a third again, the customers we had they had way more than we then their customer. Just unbelievable. So, it was a lesson to me that going back to the weaknesses side of your question. It is just so easy to talk yourself into something that's not a weakness, or to just not make the effort to understand what your weaknesses are. And what I'm seeing right now in rural counties, but the obvious weaknesses can’t hire anybody. You know, the broadband connections, things like that. And it makes it very difficult. But man, I'll tell you, there's probably a weakness in your business that's unique to you that I can't sit here and tell you what it is until you go out and try to figure it out. And I'd encourage you to do that.
Ken: Vince, what do you see weakness-wise in the technology world? What about the technology? What about people like you who do what you do? Not your customers, not their weaknesses. But what do you see in website developers? What are their weaknesses?
25:28 Find Your Niche and Your Strengths
Vince: So, there's a wide variety. One of the things, it's a blessing and a curse for my industry is it's really low barrier to entry. So, some of the weaknesses are really basic business problems, right? Someone opens up a web design agency, but they don't know how to invoice they don't know how to handle cash flow, things like that, because they're just good at designing, and they design things. Some of the other weaknesses are, it's it is hard, since it is a saturated market, it's hard to differentiate. And a lot of businesses in similar situations to mine just can't find a way to grow. They're kind of stuck in their immediate circle. And the first couple clients that they have. On the flip side, the strength is, there are a lot of opportunities, every business needs a website. But again, a weakness, you're competing against a lot of different people, you're competing against the Do It Yourself, the WIX, the Weebly's, the things like that. We're also competing against large agencies that work with big brands and can execute giant projects. So, you really have to find your niche and your strengths. For us, we focus on kind of a mid-level project for small businesses, not really startups, not really new businesses, but small businesses that have been established. And we try to carve out that niche because there's a lot of people and other areas carving out or at least trying to carve out their own niche.
27:01 Are You Actually Making Money?
Ken: There are several things in that comment that will be relative for some other discussions down the road, like marketing, and niches and all those kinds of things. Because it's a very important thing to realize. What I think I've seen in the consulting work I've done once people have opened up; I'm not talking about the business planning process that what we've kind of call the “glorification of entrepreneurship”. But people seem to be afraid to spend the money to hire professional help. And I'm talking as much as anything about accountants, or accounting services as I am anything else. And getting the reality of, ‘if you don't keep track of your sales and your dollars, there's a lot of things that you don't know.' One is what you're doing business-wise, and what your expenses are. But the other is, are you making any money? You know, where's it going? Are you just spinning your wheels and really not getting paid for what you're doing? That I think is a very large weakness. I think one of the others might be that it is very hard to listen to other people, particularly when they talk about critical things. And sometimes you just want to shake somebody, when you talk and talk about things, and it just doesn't seem to change. Those are things that I hired done and paid off by doing that. The same thing is true about, I tried to self-help websites for a long time, and it didn't work. Because it was just enough time to do it. So, the other thing that I find interesting though, when people start to analyze their businesses, this goes back to a tech trend. And this is kind of one of those, as it's called rabbit hole. But I've been around a number of my I would say my wife has a number of folks who owned what call them boutiques. But no lot, they no longer have a storefront. They are doing quite well, just online, and doing things like what we're doing here. And so, I guess my point is, is that when you begin to think about what's the best thing for you to do, there are many, many options out there that you need to explore. And what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Can you do something radical? I think that's radical if you ever for me as a retailer, I think that'd be radical. But it's just an interesting model for that people are looking at. What do you see Dave, strength-wise? What do you see the strength of many of the people who classify as entrepreneurs are or small business people in rural areas? What's their strength?
29:44 Strength of Entrepreneurs or Small Business People
Dave: Well, the number one strength is they share know what the heck they're doing when it comes to their business. They have really embraced a product or a service or some offer, that they've not only passionate about, but they probably already failed one or two times with either getting it in the community or trying to start a business. But they're very, very focused on being very good at what they do. And that's clearly when you can see it. Another strength is they do care, I mean, I care deeply for their customers. And you can tell one customer is just unfathomable. Especially when they're in that early stage, or to not have any customer traffic, I think is something that, that they fear. And as a result, they put forth an excellent effort. And I think another strength that comes up in my mind is, they don't seem to be satisfied. You know, coming from when I was in small business, and big business, we tend to get a little laissez-faire, and you know, you get satisfied with the last quarter and the pressures off. But look, when you're a small business owner, you're trying to put food on the plate. And not only that, but you’re also trying to make a big difference in your community. And that's a lot of pressure you put on yourself. And that can turn into a huge strength if you can really encapsulate that and use that as your driver. It just comes out you see it, and it's really something to behold. So those three things are just what I see is very common.
31:40 People Doing Too Much In Their Small Business
Ken: So, what do you see, though, I see one of the weaknesses I see sometimes is people try to do too much. That goes back to Vince's comment about, finding niches and niches wherever they are. But do you see that happening as well? I mean, I've seen that where you're trying to take the latest, greatest new idea. And I can remember a time where I was doing a lot of reading. And I think I know Vince does a lot of reading right now. And so, in doing that, I realized that every six months, I was changing something where I was operating, and my employees really didn't know what to experience what the next experience was going to be. And so, whether it's that or whether it's your markets, or whether it's getting outside of what your expertise is. Do you see entrepreneurs in your area in the rural area doing trying to do too much just to make dollars?
Dave: Oh, for sure, for sure. It comes out significantly in the early stages. I did a counseling session last Wednesday. And this person already had a business, it was fairly new, but they were already into, ‘I need to add more products to get more volume.' And as we had that discussion, you could just see that looks at all a mile wide. And eventually, they were just every idea now in demand I'm going to implement tomorrow. And emotionally that's a very natural response, ‘well, if these work, I'm going to go make five more different, they're going to go just the same.' So, yeah Ken, that's a very, very common thing to do. And it's hard, especially if you've been fairly successful, to think that your next venture won't be just as successful. And you get caught up in that and you completely lose focus of why you got into business in the first place. And what's bringing in the money, there's no question. I see a comment here from Scott about the biggest strengths I see is the relationship they develop the relationships generate confidence from potential clients or partners. No question. If you're in a large community, that word of mouth is very difficult. But in a smaller community, it means a lot.
Vince: Ken, I'm sure you would agree with this. I think in a smaller community, and maybe in larger, I don't have the experience there. It can make or break your business. You know, here, I'll be the first to admit, our product has come a long way over the years. But, at first it was our relationships that really drove our business and without our relationships, I don't think we would have grown as much as we did early on. Also, Ken, before you answer I want to thank Scott for joining us today. I really appreciate him for taking.
34:30 Build Relationships Within Your Community for Your Business
Ken: So, I would agree with this statement. You know, I've kind of always used that analogy, in a small rural area, you kind of can be the big fish in the small pond instead of that little bitty fish that small fish in a huge lake or sea. But I've been saying for years, this tech trend continued, and Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn. Ultimately, 80% of your business is going to come from the relationships you build within your community. My favorite comment is when my kids were doing swimming, I could spend all the time in the world networking in a swimming meet, and only had to watch two events. And it was a great place to talk about business and build relationships. And so those are the reasons you do that. And knowing that Scott's involved in the nonprofit sector, that is, the same thing holds true there. I think Dave, you made the comment about you can contribute back to your community. And you do I mean, that's clearly what drove a lot of what we did. Being a family business with the history of growing up in that kind of a model. And that's really positive. The other benefit to this is to find our other rabbit hole Vince, is that working in a community is great leadership training. And if you want to learn how to work within your business and your employees, and how you can relate to the people who work for you, and even further than that, get involved in a nonprofit. And because it steps into the leadership of that role, those are things you can do in a small rural community, it's very hard to do in a larger community where the boards tend to be much more, I think, much more hands-off, and so on. So, yeah, those are great things about small communities. And I thank Scott for commenting about that.
36:23 Build Relationships Within Your Community for Your Business
Ken: We talked about advisory councils, where else might you find people who can talk to you about your strengths and weaknesses, those internal things that affect your business? If you really want to do this, you know something's just not quite right. Or you want to grow, or you want to improve your business, you want to improve your quality. Who can you go to? Who's on your advisory council? Who's your call was to go to lunch with?
Dave: Well, obviously, I'm going to take my best customer. And I'll go for a customer that doesn't do a lot of business with us and I'd ask them if they could join. So, customers for sure. Not only yourself, if you happen to have employees, and you have an employee, that's very dedicated and focused on the business and appears that they care deeply like your business, having them on there to give that day-to-day customer perspective, is extremely important. I wouldn't otherwise say is, if you have a colleague that you have a relationship with, they don't have a problem telling you, the good the bad and the ugly about what you got going on in your business. And we made fun a little bit earlier about your spouse or someone that's close to you, I would say, having them because when you when you get back to the house, and you start to talk about the advisory board, you can get a different perspective on body language and things like that, that happened in the meeting. So, there's little things that come up again, it has to be the gamut of customer, it could be your CPA or all that matter. But, your finance person, they'll see holes, they'll see gaps, and they'll see weaknesses, looking at the numbers all day long. So those come to mind first.
38:25 Have Discussions with Unhappy Customers
Ken: So, Vince what do you do with unhappy customers? Do you put them on your advisory council?
Vince: Maybe. So, I've had some customer roundtables, I think we've talked about before they went really well. But the one negative thing I would say about that is that it's easy for them to feed off each other's frustrations, and that can quickly kind of snowball in the event. So, I think it's important to have good discussions with unhappy customers figure out what's going on, figure out if it's something you can address, or if they're maybe just not a good fit for the way you do business and the way you want to build out your product or services. But I think involving them in the conversation is really important. I don't know if I answered your question.
Ken: Well, not really. But Dave, what do you think?
Dave: I don't even know what the question was.
Ken: A disgruntled customer on your advisory list.
Dave: If you could get them to get on the advisory board, I don't think that'd be a problem. And if you think they're professional enough to do like Vince said, I mean, you don't want it to turn into just a session that's just going on and on about negative, negative, negative with no one offering up a solution. Well, if you did this better this way… If you have a customer that would be willing to do that… We had a contract with American Electric Power, and we had four in their power plants. And three of the plants loved us one of the plants just didn't like us at all, and this gentleman, I went out and met with him. And we could do though, right? And so, the reason was because his quality of service was much higher than what we're doing with the other plants, the other plants loved it. And so, I asked him, I said, ‘Hey, could you come and talk to the management team, or leaders or supervisors, some of the workers, and talk about quality?' And he did that. And he was saying, ‘well, you need to do it this way.' And once the line workers started to say, ‘that's not feasible, it's either unsafe, or we have to invest to be able to get that quality, and you have to invest with us because you have agent equipment.' things like that. It did bring us together. And he ended up being one of our best customers for a long, long time. But I was really nervous about that meeting, Ken.
Ken: And that's kind of where I wanted to go with this is that sometimes your best input is from somebody, maybe you haven't done quite as good a job for and, and just like how challenging it is to look at your weaknesses. It's just as challenging to go sit down and talk with somebody and say, ‘Hey, I know we didn't do this, right. How could we do it better?' And you can't do that with everybody. But there are people who really want you to improve and are willing to give you the input. And so, I wouldn't suggest that the advisory council, you were very brave to bring that person in. I guess you had a sense of it anyway. Those are very valuable tools to talk with people who maybe you haven't done a good job with who were willing, and they may say, look, ‘we've had really great service from you, but this is what was wrong this time.' And so, they still want to be your customer. But they really want to make you a little bit better.
41:56 Business Self-Assessment
Ken: So, let's talk a little bit about another part of some of this. And one is, we're talking about the business, but ultimately in a sole proprietorship, or if you have a business that has a manager, it really comes down to the individual strengths and weaknesses as well. And so, you're kind of assessing your business, if you're sole proprietor, you're probably assessing yourself, if you're a manager. So, what are some of those questions? So, this means not only you have to think critically about your business, but you also have to think critically about yourself. And so, I can think that's even harder. In fact, I know what's harder to be able to do that. Particularly if you have that entrepreneur mindset. How do you how do you do that? Dave or Vince, how do you really get critical with yourself? That's true, the business as a whole and realize there's some things you have to do differently, or you have to get some help someplace else.
Dave: Vince, why don't you go ahead on this one.
Vince: I think it starts with humbling yourself, and being able to listen to those around you, right, whether that's a spouse, friends, customers, whoever that may be, and then really seeking out that advice and information. I think, if you start there, you build a good foundation for really understanding and being able to take things and make it actionable. But I think it definitely you have to be ready. You have to humble yourself, and then you have to start seeking it out and just asking.
Dave: Vince, I agree with you humble is a great word to use. I learned over time and obviously didn't do this when I was younger. So, the ability of age, it's coming out now. Once I realized that before I go in there… There are two things. One, I'm going to listen and tell myself I'm going to listen 90% of the time. And I got my list of questions. And I'm gonna listen to get feedback. The second thing I'm going to do is, I'm going to avoid myself and avoid any effort to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, I disagree with you.' You don't see it that way. Or that never happened, you can't get defensive, and you can't start to rationalize it. You got to take notes. Thank them for the feedback. And although you want to go all out and go out have to say no, that's not who we are I am as a manager. You have to take it and then to me, I take that I close my book that sleep on it, wake up the next day and then reread it. And generally, when you do it in that frame of mind you get a little bit of change in yourself for the company because you'll be a little, you say okay, well maybe he was right here, but in the heat of the moment, when you're having that discussion, no matter how prepared you are, you just got to avoid engaging too much, because then the person who's giving us feedback will just walk away and say, ‘well, you're not gonna listen to me anyway.'
45:13 Find That Quiet Time and Reflect on Your Business
Ken: I think there are a couple of things that come out of this conversation one of them, I agree with, humbling yourself and but I think the other thing is to make sure that you can find that quiet time to reflect. And you come out of that meeting Dave, and you are really wound out and you're hurt. And you just need to go reflect. I've never been very good at journaling. But I do like occasionally to free write. And what I mean by that is now instead of using pen and paper, you can sit down with your word document, and just start writing your feelings down. And all of a sudden, you see where there are some strengths and weaknesses. And one of the other things somebody told me years ago when we were talking is, if you talk about humbling yourself, think about the number of times in a sentence or in a conversation, you say the word “I”. And so that's been kind of a real revelation to me, as I think through how my conversations were back before I got old enough to really have wisdom.
46:25 DIY vs. Professional Business Resource Help
Ken: So, as we kind of close this up, let's remember that when we put down our weaknesses and our strengths. Oftentimes we find that we have strengths that if applied, will take care of our weaknesses. And so, if you find a weakness that you don't have strength for, or that you don't have an ability or skill, you probably ought to look somewhere else to try to get that. I've used accounting a lot, but there are other things I think that can go along your business marketing, like with using Vince for your technology and those kinds of things using you day, particularly if my knowledge was the ISBDC is the financial projections are just extremely strong in terms of forecasting. But remember there is help there. The Entrepreneurship Center, one of the things that we were able to do there is act as a resource. And one of the things I think Vinci would agree with is that while you can google things that you might want to find, that doesn't mean you've found the kind of resource you need. You need to go places like ISBDC, or those folks that can help you find and direct you towards resources that can help you. And there's a lot of times those resources don't cost very much actually. When you get right down to it. Have you found that true, Vince?
Vince: Yeah, actually before we went live, I mentioned the podcast and listening to, and this is a different story from the same podcast this morning. He was comparing specifically service-based professional services, businesses to cooking, right? You can go on Google, and you can find a recipe, you can find a recipe from Gordon Ramsay, and you can go home, and you can try to do that. Maybe it'll work, maybe not. But if you go to Chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurant and he prepares it, or his trained staff, professional staff prepares it for you, it's going to be a different experience. So, there's that difference in both, you know, finding the resources that are out there and trying to do it yourself, which sometimes can work or get the job done. And really getting the professional experience from someone who, you know, is an expert in this field. So yeah, absolutely.
Dave: Ken, I appreciate you bringing it up our organization. Because the Small Business Development Center, we do there was an old advertisement, I think was Verizon, where they showed the technician and then this triangle of sea of people behind the technician, that was all part of Verizon and the staff and the support and all that kind of thing. That's what we do. We not only do advising, we do introducing. And there's a whole lot of programs, workshops, people. We have specialists in agribusiness, veteran-owned business, LGBTQ+ business, black-owned business, and all kinds of folks. And I'm just amazed by it, the more I get involved with the organization. So yeah, you mentioned help and so someone online mentioned that there's help as well, boy it's fast, and you just got to reach out and we could sit down with you and have a half-hour chat and see what we can do to help them. And again, it's all at no-cost basis. It's all grant-funded. So, it truly is a wonderful resource.
Ken: And so well you're based in Indiana, in West Central Indiana. I happened to have an airport discussion with somebody about a week or so ago, who was an entrepreneur who had a business in Kentucky who used one of your counterparts in Kentucky. I don't know how widespread we are here with this audience. But the services that you offer, at ISBDC, are available nationwide, right?
Dave: Yeah, Indiana Small Business Development Center, plug in the name and go to any state, Montana, all across the board.
50:33 Don't Let a Weakness or Challenge Keep You From Seeking Help
Ken: And don't let a weakness of a business… and I guess I've talked to the audience, don't let a weakness or challenge you have keep you from seeking help, or advice if you don't want to call it help, called advice, or wisdom, or whatever you want to call it. But there are people like the three of us and many more, who are more than willing to pitch in, and, and help the technology, retail, and all the things that Dave actually talked about. So, before I close and talk about next week, Vince, do you have anything else?
Vince: You know, as I always say, we want people to make sure they join our conversation, our community. So, you can find us on Facebook, YouTube, or any podcast network by searching for Small Business Squad. And you can also find everything in one place on the becomedistinct.com website. And the Small Business Squad is covered there as well. So, take it away, Ken.
Ken: Dave, anything in closing?
Dave: Just a thought for me, this topic has been fantastic. And final thought and final comment for me is make the time put it on your calendar, weekly, monthly, whatever it happens to be to take the time to just do a strength and weakness analysis of yourself and your business. And you'll find that it'll really pay dividends for sure.
Ken: So, I would just say that it's been over a decade ago, I've made the choice to attempt to run for political office of one and only time I've ever done that. And I just SWOT diagram. And the campaign was unsuccessful against an incumbent. And I went back and looked at that SWOT diagram. And it was exactly on target. The threats were exactly what happened. And the weaknesses were exactly what they were. And the strengths that were on that and the opportunities couldn't overcome the others. And so, as we move to our next session, which we're going to talk now about opportunities and threats next time, begin to think about how these things will all interconnect. And if someone's listening here, think about putting together a grid that has four different places to it, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Put your strengths in the upper left-hand corner and your weaknesses in the upper right-hand corner. Next time, we'll put your opportunities in the lower left-hand corner, and your threats, your external threats in the lower right-hand corner. And I think you'll be surprised at how all of those things interact, and how they can help you if you bring them together and look at them critically. So that's kind of all I've got for this session. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you want to, or any of us who've been part of these podcasts. We care about you. We care about our communities, and all the help you need is there. Thanks, Dave!
Vince: Thank you, Dave! Thank you, Ken! And like Ken said, feel free to reach out to us. We'll connect you with the resources we've had the viewers from past streams reach out to us and get connected as well. We're looking forward to our next session. And thank you all for tuning in. Thank you, guys!
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