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Homegrown Market Research

I’m just back from “Wild Herb Week-end”, the NC Herb Association’s annual summer conference in Valle Crucis, NC. It’s always a great event, bringing together a diverse group of folks who are interested in all things pertaining to the group of plants called “herbs”. . I’ve been going for several years, and I thought this was the best one yet! It takes a LOT of work to put that on, so I’ll start this post by thanking the Board of Directors of the NCHA, especially, Darlene Dimenna, President of the Board. Thanks also to all of the interns, teachers, and other folks that come together and celebrate the herbal community in NC.

 

I usually teach a “Business of Herbs” class each year, and this time was no exception. “Telling Your Story: Marketing for Herbal Entrepreneurs” was this year’s entry. The main thrust of the class was market research and analysis that you can do yourself. When I started my first business, there was no Internet to speak of, and market research took a great amount of time. So that meant small business folks normally didn’t do any research! Not a great idea, but that’s life.

 

Fortunately, there’s a group of sites out there based on all the data collected by the US Bureau of the Census. Here are two I’ve found useful.

 

Quickfacts is a page on the Census Bureau’s website that is a treasure trove of demographics. If it’s people you want to know about, you can probably find it here.  (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/37000.html)

AccessNC is a part of the Thrive in NC program developed by the NC Department of Commerce. You can do a more customized searching at that site. Here’s the link.

http://accessnc.commerce.state.nc.us/EDIS/demographics.html

 

There are more sites like that out there. But to use them effectively, you need to know what you’re looking for.  Ask yourself some questions. Where are my customers? Where do they live? Where do they work? Where do they shop? Where are my competitors? You should be able to answer these questions with data from these sites. They won’t cost you anything but some time and effort. The more you know about your customer, the easier it is to find her or him and tell that interesting story of your business!

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Good Intentions

I’ve heard a lot of talk about intentions all of my life. Everybody knows the saying about the road to hell being paved by good intentions. We always say when we forgot to do something,” I intended to do that”. Intentions don’t seem to count for much these days. But there are lots of definitions of the word “intention”. The on-line dictionary defined it as “A course of action that one intends to follow”. This may or may not lead to action. That’s the most common definition, and the one that has given the word a bad reputation.

Some folks confuse intentions with goals. Goals are oriented toward the future; intentions are more a part of the present. Goals tend toward “I want” or “I will” statements. Intentions are  a type of over-arching value, an “I am” statement.

There are metaphysical definitions as well. Carlos Castaneda said, “Intent is a force that exists in the Universe.”  Wayne Dyer, inspired by Castaneda, called Intention “a field of energy that flows invisibly beyond the reach of our normal, everyday habitual patterns.” Another definition I ran across is “a very clear, directed impulse of consciousness based on our deepest desires.” In yoga, setting intentions is a spiritual practice, a part of being present in a class or a home yoga session. Lots of New Age folks set intentions as a means of visualizing what they want.

While I won’t call myself an expert on intentions, I have drawn some conclusions on what intentions are – for me.  Intentions focus on what is of value NOW. An “I am” statement is very different from an “I want” statement. The phrase “I want” implies that I don’t have it. “I am” focuses my attention on right now. And right now is when I can do something. “I am successful” puts me in a positive, achieving frame of mind. “I am happy” creates a mindset that is pleasant and affable. Since my perceptions are formed in the mind, how I think about things is a great part of how I experience things.

Don’t dismiss this as “just positive thinking”. For one, positive thinking works. It works for everybody.  It just seems to take different amounts of time for different people according to external factors and internal beliefs. Second, intentions that are formed correctly for your life affect you, not the world outside you. Most people turn to some form of intention setting as a way to control a world they see as beyond their control. I know I did. But as Thoreau said, “Things don’t change. We change.” And amazingly, as we change, that outside world changes. It’s not magic. It’s perception. As Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

How you create your intentions, referred to as “setting intentions”, is an important part of the process. It’s not complicated, but should be done with an awareness of what you think is possible. For instance, if you think it just isn’t possible to be happy, you can start with the intention “I am willing to be happy.” Note the phrasing. It’s a NOW statement. If you can believe that and give it the time to imprint on your brain, one day you’ll find that you are willing to be happy. How long that takes depends on how long it takes to create that new belief. That time includes releasing the old belief. If you’re negative, as I have been, that can take a while. But the end result is worth it. Once the willingness is there, then you can set a new intention. “I am happy” is a great state of mind. Give that some time, and one day, you’ll realize, “I AM happy!” Keep at it. It will happen. It happened to me.

 

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How much is that tincture in the window?

This column first appeared in the NC Herb Association newsletter

How much is that tincture in the window?

As I mentioned in my last column, it often surprises me how often business owners price their product in a vacuum. By that I mean that they have no idea of how much it costs to produce their product.  As growers or herbalists, we spend so much time creating our product, we don’t feel we have the time to do the mundane stuff like calculating the “cost of goods sold”. But while the cost of a product has no relevance to most of your customers, it has a lot of relevance to you. Meaning, of course, you won’t be in business long if you sell your product for less than it costs to produce it.

So how do find out how much it costs to grow that plant or make that tincture or do a session with a client? You’ve got to do some homework, plain and simple. The first step is to find all of the costs associated with your product or service. It’s important to collect EVERY cost associated with an operation. Some of them are easy to see. The cost of seeds or plants, for instance. The cost of bottles and alcohol is fairly straightforward too. But some costs, not so much.  How much do you charge for your time and labor? What about the costs of things that don’t apply directly to your product, like the rent or mortgage for your place of business? Let’s look at those two things as illustrations for what costing is all about. We’ll start with the second, because it’s easier to do. Things like rent, utilities etc., are called overhead costs. They stay relatively the same each month.

Let’s say you have $1000.00 in overhead costs. If you plan to grow 1000 plants, or produce 1000 bottles of tincture, you should apply $1.00 of overhead to every piece. Easy, right? Likewise, if you plan for 100 one-hour client sessions each month, you’ll need to add $10.00 to the cost of each session to cover overhead. What you need to understand is that it’s the number of pieces you actually sell or the number of sessions you hold that counts here. If you only sell 800 pieces, you didn’t cover your overhead at $1/piece. And if you only have 50 client sessions, you’re coming up short. On the plus side, if you sell 1500 pieces or have 120 sessions, that all goes toward profit. So it pays to monitor your sales.

Now let’s look at the tricky part of costing – your labor costs. I think it’s tricky for a couple of reasons. If we’re talking your own labor, there’s a lot of ego tied up in it. “I’m special; I can charge what I want.” “Geez, I can’t charge $X for my stuff, I’m not so special” Please don’t take it personally; I’m speaking from personal experience here. But I’ve seen this over and over in the nearly 20 years I’ve been in business education. I’m not going to deal with those issues in this column. Just be aware they exist. But do try to make your costing decisions outside of ego.

The second reason is that your actual costs of production or teaching or consulting may be higher than the costs you can charge a client. More on that in a minute. The easy way to find out about labor costs is to ask somebody in the industry. You probably have some friends or a close colleague that’s been in the business. Ask them. Likewise, you can ask some of your potential clients. “What’s it worth to you?” The technical name for asking friends/colleagues/clients is a survey. That’s the best way to get some idea of pricing before operations start, because they’ll tell you quickly once you’re open for business. Again, you need to monitor this closely, especially if you are selling a lot of product or doing a lot of client sessions. Because you may be charging too little! Just as you get better at growing or producing or teaching or consulting as you do more of it, so you get better at business management IF you do more of it.

For many agricultural products, there are enterprise budgets. These are lists of estimated costs and returns for a specific crop. The dollar figures on an enterprise budget may be out-of-date, so check them for the year it was created. There may be some regional differences as well. California prices and agricultural practices may be different from North Carolina’s. But you can certainly use the budget format and lists of income and expenses. Dr.  Jeanine Davis has created some basic herb enterprise budgets at www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/herbs/ . She also has a spreadsheet already put together for your use.

Here’s a link to a paper on running a retail herb business from Virginia Tech: http://www.hort.vt.edu/ghvegetables/documents/Herbs/RUNNING%20A%20RETAIL%20HERB%20BUSINESS.pdf . It doesn’t have a complete enterprise budget, but does include some numbers on budgets and pricing.  I have yet to find an enterprise budget for making tinctures or salves, but the format is similar to the format for herbal plant production. But be aware that you’ll need to identify your own costs.

Let’s get back to an earlier question. What if you have figured out all these costs and it turns out you have a price that is higher than others in your business? That’s where lots of things come in to play. You could certainly try to match the prices of others. I think that’s a losing proposition for everybody. You won’t be happy and neither will your clients. You can try to cut expenses or be more efficient in your operation so you cut your price and still make money. Efficiency is good, but effectiveness is better. So how can you be more effective? That’s a question with lots of answers; too many for this column. Let’s concentrate on one; telling a better more effective story about yourself and your product. That’s called marketing, which, by the way is a LOT more than advertising. And that’s what we’ll talk about next column.

Start collecting your cost information so you can have a better idea of your pricing accuracy. You might be pleasantly surprised at how close you are to the right price for both you AND your customer!

To contact Jeff for more information, he can be reached at jrieves56@gmail.com .

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Who wants to know?

Last column, we posed a series of questions a small business owner needs to answer in creating the “place” they will do business. And I finished the column by hinting there were some more questions to ask. And we’ll cover those other location-related questions in a future column. The title of this issue’s column, “Who wants to know?” is one of those questions. As a business owner, we spend a LOT of time working on all the details for the business. So much so, that often we lose track of what our customer wants to know. And after we’ve put our heart and soul into our product, we just know that our customers will love it every bit as much as we do, right?

Well, not necessarily.  But once you’ve told your customer what they want to know, maybe they will! It’s the blending of what you want to tell the customer and what your customer wants to know that is at the heart of a successful promotional plan.

So what do you want to tell folks about? “I have a great product!” you respond promptly. “My services are top-notch!” another of you might reply. And those are undoubtedly true. But those responses are expected. And here’s where what the customer wants to know comes into play. The things they want to know will help you say the things you want the customer to know. Here are some of those customer FAQ’s.

What do you have that meets my need? The answer here might be that groovy salve you make. Or it might be the expertise you have in creating a salve that is just a bit different from the rest. In answering this question, it’s all about the benefits. Remember the old saying, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”? I’ve always thought that was a bit crass, but it makes a point. We buy things because they make us feel good about some aspect of our life. Now a purgative certainly doesn’t bring a lot of good feeling until afterward, but you can always identify something that is a positive about your product. The trick here is to know your customers well enough to be able to anticipate what that is. Market research gives you that answer. Research can be as sophisticated as hiring a marketing firm, or as informal as giving samples to all your friends and family and asking for their feedback. But do tell them it’s a purgative!

Why should I buy it from you? There are as many ways to answer this question as there are products. “I’m the cheapest!” “I offer free shipping!” “I use funky bottles & labels” “I test all my products to insure quality & consistency” Obviously, you won’t answer the question that bluntly in every instance. Pictures, font types and styles, colors, and emphasis all tell the story. If you want to be the cheapest, don’t be afraid to say so, but maybe “We’ll match the price of any comparable product” is a better way to say your product is inexpensive. Low price marketing is a real gamble for small businesses though. You need high sales volume and to-the-penny costing to make any money. Free shipping is definitely a benefit for bulky or heavy products, but you’d better do the math (check your costs versus the selling price) before you do that. Packaging is a column all by itself, so when I find some affordable funky bottles for sale, I’ll do a column on that. And anytime you can add to the reputation of a product, that’s always a plus. And testing will certainly do that.

How much does it cost? It surprises me how often business owners price their product in a vacuum. By that I mean that they have no idea of how much it costs to produce their product. It’s difficult at times to collect all that data, but for herb growers, Dr Jeanine Davis has created herb enterprise budgets. These are decision aids that detail the costs and estimated returns of a particular crop. You can simply type “enterprise budgets” into your search engine, or you can start by taking a look at 2 of Jeanine’s budgets at www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/herbs/. She also has a spreadsheet already put together for your use.  I have yet to find an enterprise budget for making tinctures or salves, but the format is the same as for herbal plant production. As I stated earlier, pricing is very important. Knowing your costs of production is vital to the long-term success of your business.

Where can I buy it from you? Here’s how we tie this into our last column. How you answer this question affects the operation, and thus the profitability of your business. Are there lots of folks in your community that buy herbal products? Then a retail storefront might be in order. If you are the only person in the county that knows what Holy Basil is, then maybe an on-line store might be a better idea. But the idea here is to let them know where they can buy your product! Which leads us in turn to…

How and when can I buy your product? You can sell all your products at your bricks and mortar store, or you can sell via the Internet. That’s your choice. But telling your customer where, how, and when in a clear, concise way is essential to closing the sale. In today’s busy world, making it easy to buy from you would seem to be a no-brainer. But 24/7/365 customer service for a one-person show gets a little tricky. But remember, being able to order your product round-the-clock is different from your store being open all the time. Facebook, websites, twitter, Pinterest…the list gets longer all the time. But so does the list of opportunities to talk to your customers, even while you sleep!

These are the questions your customers will ask of you almost every time. How you answer them, how clear and concise those answers are, just might be the key to your success.

 

 

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Location, Location, Location

We’ve all heard that axiom in so many different forms that it’s become a cliché. But phrases become clichés because there’s a strong element of truth to them. That’s true in the case of a small business as well. Where you do business can, in fact, make or break your business. Today there are so many ways, or I should say, places to do business. Do you need a storefront? Where should it be? How much can I afford to pay in rent? What about on-line marketing? E-bay? Craigslist? What about your own website? The choices are both exciting and daunting.

Before you select a location, there’s a good bit of homework to do first. Many times, answering these questions will point the way to a perfect location! In no particular order, they are:

What product am I selling? I know that last time I said that YOU were the product, but in this case, we have to look at what you produce and/or sell in a more conventional way.  For instance, if you are growing herbs for cutting and drying, you’ll need more space to grow the herbs. If you purchase all the plant material you use to produce tinctures, you’ll need less outdoor space, but might need warehouse space for all the bottles.

Will you be selling retail or wholesale? A retail business sells to the end user of the product. Wholesale businesses sell to another business that will then sell to a consumer. Traditionally, retailers take the wholesale price for a product, and “mark it up” (increase the price) by 2 to 3 times or more.  You can make money in either situation, even with the lower prices you get for wholesale operations. Wholesalers don’t need any retail outlet, be it a storefront, website, or table at a festival or farmers’ market. You can work in your kitchen or spare bedroom if you like! And the cost of marketing your product can be quite low, as well. Maybe just the time it takes to make a phone call or send an e-mail. So the costs of wholesale tend to be MUCH lower.

What do you like to do? Another consideration here is your own personality. If you love working with your product, but tend to be introverted, you might have more success with wholesaling your product. If you are a more social creature, then retail is probably more to your liking.  If you’re in the start-up phase of your business, you have to essentially do it all, but if you like what you’re doing, you’ll tend to do it better.

Where do you find your customers? I’m not necessarily talking marketing here.  Where do your customers shop? If your product is usually sold on-line, then there’s no sense in investing in a store. If your customers like to sniff and fondle before purchase, then a storefront is a must. You could certainly do both, but if start-up cash is tight, then answering this one question might make your business a success.

One tip here – just because most products are sold in a particular way, doesn’t mean that all products of that type must be sold that way. A lot of successful businesses have gotten off to a rapid start by looking at a product in a different way.

Is online marketing for you? You can have a virtual storefront with very little money. While that’s good for you, it also means lots of other folks have gotten into the game just as easily and cheaply as you have. So all the rules on competition still apply.  Targeting the right market, being the “expert” in that market, and great customer service will help you succeed in online marketing. But that’s true for brick and mortar stores, too.

Do you have the knowledge to create an online “platform”? Platforms, or each of the elements of online selling, are all the rage now – FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, websites. And a good-looking site that is easy for your customer to use is essential! If you have to pay for all that, the savings of online selling goes away fast! But a clunky, slow site that looks like it’s put together by an amateur is a quick way to failure. That’s one of the reasons all the sites like Craigslist have proliferated.

Where’s the competition? Ever wonder why big stores are neighbors? Because that’s where the customers are! If you know who your customer is, i.e., you have your customer demographics well in hand, then you might find a great location right next door to your biggest competitor! For instance, large natural food retailers often have a decent selection of herbal products. So locate just down the street with a GREAT selection! And make sure you get to know the herbalists at that store. You might end up with traffic generated by your competition.

Can you afford that storefront? I know it’s a big ego boost to have that funky herb shop in the arts district in the city. And feeling good about your business is really important. But will you generate the cash you need to pay for it? Could you get by with that kiosk until your cash flow improves?

Do you need a professional? Real estate business is complicated. That’s why real estate agents exist. And why real estate law is a legal specialty. There’s another set of questions to ask that we just don’t have the space for in this column. We’ll look at that in the future. Til then, work on answering the questions posed here, and you’ll start to see a pattern emerging that will steer you in the direction that will work for you.

*Note: This column first appeared in the NC Herb Association Newsletter in 2013

 

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It’s not what your product is, it’s who…

Standard business plans have always instructed entrepreneurs to talk about their product. It’s not a complicated process. “I grow medicinal herbs”, or “I make all kinds of groovy salves and tinctures”. And that’s as far as most people go. They just talk about the stuff they make, grow or do. And that can be a useful exercise. But there are a LOT of “groovy” products out there. And whether we like to admit it or not, at some point in our business life, we will encounter somebody who has a better (groovier?) product or service. Or a cheaper one. Or who delivers for free. It gets to be a hassle sometimes, doesn’t it?

Let me tell you a “secret” I discovered recently. The product isn’t what you make. The service isn’t what you do. It’s YOU. Your knowledge, your wisdom, your experience is what you are selling. And that’s what you need to describe as your product. Both to yourself and to the bank, if you are looking for a loan.

I discovered this “secret” on the internet just a few months ago. I was doing a search for something entirely unrelated, and I came across this site called whitehottruth.com. It’s done by a Canadian entrepreneur, Danielle LaPorte. She’s an author and a speaker, who’s VERY good at both things. The site is loaded with all kinds of inspirational tidbits, practical business information, and has a really good feel to it. Every time I visit the site, I get pumped up about what I’m doing, either for my business or for Extension.  Not long after I subscribed to her site, Danielle decided to change the name of her site to www.daniellelaporte.com. I have to admit here that I thought this was a little vain at first. But as she explained to her subscribers, “I am the brand”.  What she means is, her knowledge, her wisdom, and her experience are what make her books so great. Her style and her delivery make the website a great place to visit. I HIGHLY recommend you visit her site and see what I’m talking about. It has nothing to do with herbs and everything to do with becoming a success at your herb business. So go look. Now. I’ll wait.

Now let’s get back to you. Think about this; would that salve or tincture even exist unless you made it? It is what it is because you created it! Would those Holy Basil plants look as good as they do without YOUR expertise? Can anything get done in your business without you? I know what you’re thinking. “Geez, that’s a lot of pressure!” My response to that is, “It’s a lot of opportunity!” It’s an opportunity because YOU are one thing that no big box store, no natural food co-op, not even your-best-friend-in-the-whole-world-who-just-happens-to-be-an-herbalist can duplicate.

So let’s apply this “secret” to a business. Grace is the owner of Graceful Potions, a small business somewhere in western NC. She creates a line of salves and tinctures (yes, they’re very groovy!) that she sells retail on-line and from her home. She’s doing OK, but sales just aren’t quite what she hoped for. She can’t price them as low as other businesses do because she puts her best into all of them. And she really loves what she does. And she wants to keep doing this. And she’s not making enough money, and, and, AND! She ‘s done this for nearly 10 years now, and spent 5 years before that in school becoming a certified herbalist. Her friends all come to her for advice and sometimes they buy and sometimes they don’t. Sound familiar?

Now let’s let Grace in on the “secret”. First, she realizes she’s not been selling her best product – her wisdom. But she hates to speak in public. But she does like to write, so she writes a few letters to the editor about wild plants you can eat or use to make simple salves. And a few folks come to buy. So her next step is to do a little FaceBook marketing, posting some easy tea herbs to grow and save for your use, and “Oh, BTW, I have that in a salve that great for dry skin!” And a few more folks buy because “Grace is so knowledgeable! And her stuff is just great!”

Things have picked up a little now, and she’s feeling pretty good about this writing gig. Then she gets a call from the library, and would she want to teach a class on herb gardening?  They have no money for speakers, and sorry no, she can’t charge admission, but sure she can sell a few things. Grace is absolutely terrified of speaking in public. She’s never done it, but like so many people, she knows she can’t do it. “How many people do you have at the classes?” she asks. “Oh, well, usually about 8 or 10. Is that enough?” She hears herself say, “I’ll do it. And Thanks!” She prepares and practices and when she shows up, sure enough, there are 8 people in attendance. the butterflies in her stomach are the size of a 747! But on she goes. She stumbles a little, but does OK. But doesn’t really sell much. She doesn’t even pay for her gas. But on the way home, she gets a call from someone else that wants to buy some of her stuff, “Because every time I ask about herbal stuff your name comes up.” Are you beginning to see how this works?

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that this is just an example. It takes a LOT longer than the time it takes to read this column. And not all of you have the skills TODAY to do what I’m suggesting. But if you can learn the skill of tincture-making or herb growing, you can learn to write a clear concise piece for the local paper or your own blog. And yes, you can learn the skills of public speaking. Next time you see me, ask me about my first experience speaking to a group. The terrifying mistake I made changed my life – in a good way! The point is this: You are the one unique thing about your business. Take advantage of that fact!

*Note – This post first ran in the NC Herb Association Newsletter in 2013. It has been edited.

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Planting A Business

FROM THE NC HERB ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER 2012

Owning and operating a business – any business – can be challenging. And if we operate a one- or two-person business, as many of us do, challenges are the one thing we don’t need more of! What we do need is good honest advice on how to run a business. That’s the purpose of this column.

I call this column Lunaria for several reasons. One of the common names of Lunaria annua is “money plant”, because its seedpods look like coins. Since many of us make our money from plants, I thought it appropriate. Its Old English name is “Honesty”, and since one of the goals of this column is to provide an honest look at business, I think the name applies. And in all honesty, I haven’t always been successful in business. I’ll share my mistakes with you in hopes you’ll avoid them and make some of your own! Seriously though, it’s just as important to know what didn’t work for somebody else as to learn what works for folks.

For the next few posts, I’ll go over the process of business planning. Creating a business plan is one of the most important things you can do to promote the success of your business. It’s a road map of sorts, with all the directions laid out…by YOU. But it’s the process of planning that I think is most important. Looking at all the opportunities that are available to business owners can really get your creative juices flowing. Do you want to grow herbs? Sell potted or cut herbs? Create your own line of tinctures and salves? Use the lotions and potions you’ve created in a clinical practice? All these great opportunities out there for an aspiring herbalist to explore!

There are as many parts to a plan as there are parts to a business, but there are some basic components to a plan. The Executive Summary is the “short version” of your plan. It’s the first section of a formal plan, but the last prepared. If you are looking for outside financing or trying to convince family you have a great idea, this is what you want them to read.

The product or service you want to provide should be described in detail. How will you grow or produce the product? What will you need to produce it? What type of services will you provide to your customers? All this may seem obvious to you while you are thinking about your business, but most people are surprised at all the detail you’ll discover as you do your planning.

The “5 P’s” of marketing deserve a section all their own.  Product:  how you will design and package your product/service? Price:  how you will price your product/service? Place:  how products (and related services) are distributed to the consumer.  Promotion:  what media and marketing methods you will use to generate awareness and interest about your product/service; include examples of your promotional materials (brochures, website, print ads, copy for radio ads, calendar of events for special/regular promotions, etc.) People:  sales force; those who will be responsible for marketing your product/service (Source: NC REAL)

Business operations have a lot more effect on the success of a business than you may think. Will you incorporate your business? Who will do what? Will your family be involved? Where will you conduct business? Are you offering a guarantee? All these questions affect your business in some way. Even though you have a specific business structure in mind, you may find benefit in another structure entirely.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, most of us make our money from plants in some way. And predicting how that money comes and goes is called cash flow. As you collected the information for the other parts of the report, you will have collected some information on what the costs will be and what prices you can charge for your product or service.  You can combine these figures into a cash flow projection. These reports will give you some idea of how much money you can expect to make over a certain period of time. Making an accurate projection is often challenging, but gets easier with experience.

We’ll go over each of these sections in upcoming columns. If you have a question or a suggestion for a column, contact me at jrieves56@gmail.com .

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Creating A Life, Not Just A Business

Several years ago, I was the Director of the Chatham County Small Business Center. I was between bouts of self-employment, and had discovered that I had a talent for teaching. I also discovered that I did NOT have a talent for being a community college administrator, but that’s another story. One of goals I had as the director was to help small business owners be more profitable. And of course, that means money, right? So my tenure at Chatham SBC was all about the money. I even had a tie with pictures of dollar bills on it.

I need to admit here that I am a recovering workaholic. I usually define myself by the work I do, how many people I affect, and how successful I am at it. So I work way too much, putting “the work” before everything else. But that’s cost me a lot over the years, including a marriage.

So the fictional concept of “work-life balance” has been a big thing for me over these last years. But I discovered my response to that fiction in a copy of Entrepreneur magazine. It was an article titled, “Build a Life, Not a Business”. I don’t remember another thing about it. Not the author, not the elements of the article itself; just the title. But I’ve carried that title with me for all this time.

Fast forward 15 years or so, and here I am, creating a new version of my life. Because that’s what we do when we start a business. We’re CREATING a new version of our lives. We can, and I believe should, do this consciously. That means paying attention to what you’re doing, having a focused intention as to what you want from life. The concept of intention is relatively new for me. I’ve been much more of a dreamer for the better part of my life, with no focus on specific things. Intention, at least to me, is a dream with a focus; “I WILL make this happen”. My experience has been that it takes some skill to move from dream to “reality”*. But that skill of intentional living can be learned and applied by anybody.

There have been many books, articles, & websites dedicated to teaching some aspect of intentional living. I’ll share my unique perspective in the coming weeks.

*Buckminster Fuller is one of the influences in my life. He said, “Reality should always be written in quotes.” He was referring to the flexible nature of creation, and the plasticity of our minds. .

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