Cheaper is Not Always Better

I work for a large insurance firm in the northwest, in an office with over 500 other employees. Management recently decided to replace our existing phone system as the old system was no longer meeting our needs. I and my co-workers were under the impression that they were going to update the system, as in “make an improvement”, and that we would have late model phones with technological advancements galore. Boy, were we in for a surprise.

One day a few weeks ago, we all came in to find new phones on our desks. These were not the state-of-the-art communication devices we had in mind. Instead of the sleek, sophisticated, caller IDing, multi-line handling, LCD displaying wonders of the modern age we all dreamed of, there was a simple phone with a keypad on the receiver…not unlike what you might have had at home 15 years ago. In addition to the new phone, there was a sheet which explained in graphically painful detail exactly which series of buttons one would have to push in order to make this thing function properly. We had to now enter a digit to put someone on hold, enter a three digit code to transfer someone (one digit, dial tone, two digits) and enter a ridiculously long series of numbers to access our voicemail.

Needless to say, we were in shock. I knew it wouldn’t take long before the roars of complaining would drown out the usual office din. Sure enough, by lunchtime our office manager came in to tell everyone that we were simply going to “try it out for a while” and that the company had saved thousands by choosing this option. I and the other employees were fairly certain that we had already lost thousands in reduced productivity that morning alone. Oh, well…it’s their company, we just bring in the money for them.

For the next few days, we tried to get used to saying “hold, please, while I transfer you”, removing the receiver from our faces and trying not to curse as we made a lame-duck attempt at pressing keys, listening and pressing more keys. It was a nightmare. We were getting pretty fed up with it, but just assumed that this was what we would have to deal with. Then, out of the blue, we came in one day to find real phones with real features at our desks. No more looking at the receiver while we frantically tried to key in numbers fast enough not to drop the call. No more ten digit voicemail “pins”. No more of having no idea who was calling or where the call came from. Ahhhh, relief at last.

Later the same day, we heard a rumor circulating around the office that the VP of operations had returned from a two week trip to New York. His words, upon seeing one of the phones management had originally purchased on his desk were, “get rid of them”. All it took were those four words from a higher-up to set things right. Unbelievable.

Calculating The True Cost Of Disaster Preparedness

Small-business owners who think preparing for a disaster is expensive should think again. Being unprepared-and losing everything-can mean paying a much higher price.

For example, in July 1996, the president and owner of Brookville Mining Equipment Corporation, Dalph McNeil, faced every business owner’s nightmare when the nearby creek crested at eight feet after a 24-hour downpour.

Expensive new machinery was covered in mud and a powerful current of water had swept away inventory and collapsed a 30-foot section of wall. The flood caused nearly $1.6 million in damages and losses.

After receiving a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan, McNeil relocated his plant away from the floodplain and asked one of his employees to take on the additional responsibility of “safety coordinator.”

Besides doing quality assurance and control, the safety coordinator, according to McNeil, “runs monthly meetings with representatives of the company, making sure all the employees understand the early warning and evacuation plans, and the emergency procedures.”

“You can never be too prepared, as a small-business owner, for disaster,” McNeil remarked. “It’s something you don’t want to think about. How do you carry on business as usual, as quickly as possible, after a disaster? You have to be a bit of a fatalist, thinking in terms of the worst-case scenario for your business.” And while he hopes he never has to use the emergency plans he has in place, McNeil says he is now ready for anything.

Experts say preparedness starts with developing such an emergency action plan that is tailored to the company’s needs and addresses several disaster scenarios. The plan should include a timetable, budget, assignment of responsibility, prevention and mitigation steps to be completed, and a list of risks and hazards to the business. It’s also a good idea to encourage employee involvement in the process.

A communications strategy is a key post-disaster recovery strategy. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses for your insurance carrier, suppliers, creditors, employees and customers, the local media, utility companies, and the appropriate emergency response and recovery agencies should be updated regularly.

This list should be maintained by a key employee and a backup person. Appoint a spokesperson to get the word out that your business is still open to dispel rumors of business failure.

Making sure your insurance coverage is adequate is another issue. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a recently released survey conducted for the National Hurricane Survival Initiative (done by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research) reports that one in three residents in hurricane-vulnerable states said it had been three years or more since they reviewed their insurance coverage.

When shopping for insurance, think about property damage and the loss of revenue and extra expenses that occur when business is halted by a disaster. Business interruption insurance covers necessary expenses that occur while the business is shut down. Many business owners don’t realize that basic hazard insurance does not cover flood damage. Additional purchased flood insurance is essential; most of the over $10 billion in disaster loans made by the SBA after last year’s Gulf Coast hurricanes were for flood damages.

The National Flood Insurance program provides coverage to property owners. For more information, visit the Web site at www.floodsmart.gov. Flood insurance must be purchased 30 days before the disaster hits to be in effect.

Commercial Machine Vending – What’s The Best Way To Get Started?

If commercial machine vending is a business that you are interested in, there is a wealth of information about vending machines and vending routes available online. It is one business that is easy to get into, but depending on the types of commercial vending machines you want to have, it could require a substantial investment. The distributors for commercial machine vending machines often have payment plans available and you can choose to lease the equipment you need.

Some people prefer to get into the vending machine business by purchasing an established vending route. Distributors can give you information about vending routes for sale where the machines are already placed in strategic locations. The locations for the vending machines determine how much money you will make in commercial machine vending because you do need areas where there are lots of people. The distributors will also have a used vending machine to purchase, which can save you money in getting started.

It is impossible to accurately predict how much money you can make with commercial machine vending. The success or failure of your business will depend on the location of the machines as well as the products that you sell and the reliability of the vending machines. If you want to purchase a vending route for sale, you should do your research beforehand and check out the machines. You might approach the seller about a vending machine to purchase so that you can start out small. This will also give you a chance to see if purchasing the full vending route might be beneficial to you.

Since the vending machine business is a commercial enterprise, you do need to abide by state/provincial rules regarding commercial machine vending. You will need to have a business licence and you need to keep accurate financial records for tax purposes. Another aspect that you have to consider with a vending route for sale is that the business owner gets a commission of the amount of money that you take out of each machine. This is usually 40% of the gross, before you deduct any expenses.

Look for a vending machine to purchase when you want to get into commercial machine vending. Most people start off with candy or gumball machines, but there is also a great profit into snack and soda vending machines. There are also vending routes for sale with machines that sell medical supplies, such as aspirin or even products associated with personal hygiene, such as toothpaste, soap and dental floss. The possibilities for products are almost endless when you consider the commercial machine vending business.

Competing With Color Levels The Playing Field

According to the United States Small Business Administration, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employers. There are an estimated 22 million small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the U.S. today. Such companies are constantly challenged with the need to create a huge impact in a noisy marketplace with a limited budget.

Today, affordable imaging and printing technology makes it possible to build an in-house marketing program. In fact, Revival Lighting, a vintage lighting fixtures company in Spokane, Wash., cut the cost of producing marketing materials 90 percent when they brought marketing in-house. In addition, because marketing materials can age quickly and frequently need updating, companies with the flexibility to respond on the fly will impress customers while reducing costs.

Color has become an effective, even necessary tool in marketing materials. According to a study by Loyola College in Maryland, using color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.

Bold and multicolored designs can impact people’s moods. Environmental green is considered hip and has taken on new, positive associations, while the combination of blue and floral reds has been found to evoke vintage designs and heritage, according to a 2005 study by The Color Association of the U.S.

In addition to printing materials in-house, SMBs should take advantage of inexpensive and often free marketing services that are available on the Web. For example, HP hosts an in-house-marketing portal for entrepreneurs and SMBs. It contains case studies, how-to seminars and other free tools and information, including over 200 free marketing templates ranging from brochures to an image library.

Blogs-online journals or newsletters intended for general public consumption-are another great tool for learning more about how to use color and create marketing materials in-house. To save time and money, SMB marketing guru John Jantsch, who maintains the popular blog Duct Tape Marketing, recommends that businesses create a marketing kit describing you, your company, services provided and what sets your business apart from the rest.

To improve marketing effectiveness on a shoestring budget, bring it in-house, remember to use color, take advantage of free services and seek out expert advice.

Electrical Safety Is Not Shocking

In electrical injuries there are four main types of injuries: electrocution (will cause death), electric shock, burns, and falls. These injuries can come from direct contact with the electrical energy, electrical arcs that jumps to a person who is grounded, thermal burns including flash burns from heat generated by an electric arc, flame burns from materials that catch on fire from heating or ignition by electrical currents, and muscle contractions can cause a person to fall. The fall can cause serious injuries also. High voltage contact burns can burn internal tissues while leaving only very small injuries on the outside of the skin.
There are some safeguard procedures that can be followed to ensure electrical safety:
1) Inspect tools, power cords, and electrical fittings for damage or wear prior to each use. Repair or replace damaged equipment immediately.
2) Always tape cords to walls or floors when necessary. Nails and staples can damage cords causing fire and shock hazards.
3) Use cords or equipment that is rated for the level of amperage or wattage that you are using.
4) Always use the correct size fuse. Replacing a fuse with one of a larger size can cause excessive currents in the wiring and possibly start a fire.
5) Be aware that unusually warm or hot outlets may be a sign that unsafe wiring conditions exists. Unplug any cords to these outlets and do not use until a qualified electrician has checked the wiring.
6) Always use ladders made of wood or other non-conductive materials when working with or near electricity or power lines.
7) Place halogen lights away from combustible materials such as cloths or curtains. Halogen lamps can become very hot and may be a fire hazard.
8) Risk of electric shock is greater in areas that are wet or damp. Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, known also as GFCI, as they will interrupt the electrical circuit before a current sufficient to cause death or serious injury occurs.
9) Make sure that exposed receptacle boxes are made of non-conductive materials.
10) Know where the breakers and boxes are located in case of an emergency.
11) Label all circuit breakers and fuse boxes clearly. Each switch should be positively identified as to which outlet or appliance it is for.
12) Do not use outlets or cords that have exposed wiring or use power tools with the guards removed. Do not block access to circuit breakers or fuse boxes and do not touch a person or electrical apparatus in the event of an electrical accident. Always disconnect the current first.
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) works by detecting any loss of electrical current in a circuit. When a loss is detected, the GFCI turns the electricity off before severe injuries or electrocution can occur. A painful shock may occur during the time that it takes for the GFCI to cut off the electricity so it is important to use the GFCI as an extra protective measure rather than a replacement for safe work practices.
GFCI wall outlets can be installed in place of standard outlets to protect against electrocution for just that outlet, or a series of outlets in the same branch. A GFCI Circuit Breaker can be installed on some circuit breaker electrical panels to protect an entire branch circuit. Plug-in GFCIs can be plugged into wall outlets where appliances will be used and are commonly found in bathrooms. Another common use for GFCI is for pools and hot tubs.
Test the GFCI monthly. First plug a “night light” or lamp into the GFCI-protected wall outlet (the light should be turned on), then press the “TEST” button on the GFCI. If the GFCI is working properly, the light should go out. If not, have the GFCI repaired or replaced. Reset the GFCI to restore power. If the “RESET” button pops out but the light does not go out, the GFCI has been improperly wired and does not offer shock protection at that wall outlet. Contact a qualified electrician to correct any wiring errors.
Power tools used incorrectly can electrically hazardous. Switch tools OFF before connecting them to a power supply. Disconnect power supply before making adjustments. Ensure tools are properly grounded or double-insulated. The grounded tool must have an approved 3-wire cord with a 3-prong plug. This plug should be plugged in a properly grounded 3-pole outlet. Do not use electrical tools in wet conditions or damp locations unless tool is connected to a GFCI. The operation of power tools might ignite flammable substances and in can cause an explosion near certain vapors and gases.

Business Strategy – Year End Considerations

As we enter the final weeks of 2005, you are undoubtedly hunting for gifts. While these are obvious year end considerations, you should also be reviewing your business strategy for 2006.

Business Strategy – 2005

Whether your fiscal year ends in December or doesn’t, the end of the month is a good time to take stock of how things went in 2005. While the old saying is “time flies”, it is particularly true for businesses. Business owners tend to be fixated on two to three month time periods. As a result, they can fail to see developments over longer periods of time.

After you’ve taken care of all your holiday gift purchases, you should have some down time in the last two weeks of the month. Business tends to slow down as people deal with the holidays, travel to see family and so on. This is the perfect time to go back and consider the business year. Specifically, you should focus on where your business was in January 2005. What were your goals at that time? Did you meet them during the year? If not, why? You will almost always be surprised when you realize how the business developed over the last year. This global view can give you a better perspective and evaluation of how things are going.

Business Strategy – 2006

After contemplating 2005, you should give consideration to what you want to accomplish and where you want to be by the end of 2006. Ask yourself the following:

1. What is a reasonable revenue increase for 2006 compared to 2005?

2. Are their products or services you should pursue?

3. Are their products or services you should drop?

4. If a strategy is underperforming, does it make objective sense to continue pursuing it or cut your losses?

5. What are your biggest frustrations and how can you deal with them?

6. Who are your most valued employees and have you taken a moment to thank them?

7. Who are your least valued employees and what should you do about it?

8. Which vendors or suppliers do great work for you and which don’t?

Many other questions will run through your mind. There are no wrong ones. What is important, however, is you write the goals and thoughts down and keep them somewhere private. Next December, you should pull them out and see how things are going.