by Margot C. Lester
Before I start into the news: I ran into Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Dan Coleman last week and he said he wants a locally made soda. Orange County has locally brewed beer and locally roasted coffee. Why not a soft drink? Whoâ€™s gonna make Dan a happy man?
Now, on with the show.
New Yearâ€™s resolutions
Ah, the start of another year. A slew of us make resolutions for ourselves, but what about our businesses? What should entrepreneurs strive to accomplish in 2011?
I asked Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, what heâ€™d suggest as both a big-time scholar and small-town business owner. (His ventures include the Bead Store in Carr Mill Mall.) He responded that the most important thing is to accept the â€œnew normal.â€
â€œWe may not enjoy the prosperity we had in the past in the immediate term,â€ he says. â€œIf you [have] positive cash flow now, you will survive and perhaps thrive. This economy was your acid test. If you are not [in positive territory now], Iâ€™m not sure I would bet the farm on things improving immediately.â€
Ouch, but true.
With that in mind, hereâ€™s Zollerâ€™s list of business resolutions for 2011:
â€¢ Appreciate your customers. While itâ€™s always good business to recognize your customers, itâ€™s especially important now when folks may be more inclined to shop on price if all other things are equal. â€œIn doing so, position your business in the customerâ€™s mind for future growth and when they have money to spend,â€ Zoller notes. â€œGo beyond simply a discount and do something special to communicate how important their business is to you. Love them up.â€
â€¢ Manage your margins. If youâ€™re not making the margins you want, renegotiate your one-time and periodic services costs, such as accountant, attorney and other service-provider fees (phone, cable, Internet, etc.). Some providers may be willing to deal, especially if youâ€™re a long-term customer. â€œIt never hurts to ask,â€ Zoller asserts. And if youâ€™ve got debt, consider refinancing at todayâ€™s low rates. â€œWork with the community banks, credit unions and other lenders who are hungry for your business and work well with small business.â€
â€¢ Look at your lease. With so much commercial space sitting vacant, itâ€™s a buyerâ€™s and lesseeâ€™s market, so look for deals on new leases or lease extensions. â€œYou may even be able to lock in a long-term lease at bargain prices so that when the economy improves, you are sitting pretty,â€ he says.
â€¢ Staff up. Many businesses held off hiring in hopes that better times would be just around the corner. Since theyâ€™re probably not imminent, it could be time to stop putting off the inevitable. Take a look at the positions you need to create and/or fill and start recruiting (maybe with an ad in The Citizen!). â€œYou will be surprised by the quality of the workforce out there and your ability to attract top people in your business at competitive and fair rates,â€ Zoller says.
â€¢ Make a big buy. If youâ€™ve got cash reserves, consider buying hard assets, like your commercial space or large equipment and fixtures, at more affordable prices. â€œItâ€™s a buyerâ€™s market and not the time to pay the MSRP,â€ he explains. â€œNegotiate with the vendor or asset owner.â€
These steps will help business owners position themselves to take advantage of opportunities when consumer spending and confidence start to tick back up. That probably wonâ€™t happen until thereâ€™s tangible evidence of the recovery economists say weâ€™ve started.
â€œSo do not expect more than a marginal improvement in purchasing and market growth this year,â€ Zoller says, â€œbut position for the next when likely it will be stronger.â€
Do you have tips and techniques to help small business owners grow their businesses and be successful? Share them with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerceâ€™s Small Business Roundtable. Email a brief description of your topic to Roundtable facilitator, Alan Hecht of Multi-Channel Marketing, at email@example.com.
Energy-efficiency loans available
Carrboro commercial property owners can get financial help making their businesses more energy efficient thanks to a federal grant thatâ€™s trickling down to the Paris of the Piedmont. Thanks to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (aka The Stimulus Bill), the Department of Energy has been doling out loans to lower energy use and improve sustainability of the built environment. The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance received one such grant, and subsequently awarded a sub-grant to Carrboro to implement a commercial program based on the townâ€™s successful revolving loan fund.
Any business in the Carrboro town limits with 50 or fewer employees can apply for loans to improve energy efficiency. Applicants must undergo a $500 energy audit prior to filing a loan request to ensure their energy use can be reduced by at least the 15 percent required by the program. (The audit fee will be â€œrepaidâ€ if the loan is awarded).
Carrboro is the only sub-grantee focusing on commercial properties. The others, including Chapel Hill, are focusing on residential property. â€œItâ€™s a big deal that Chapel Hill and Carrboro were chosen because we are forging [new] ground for an energy-efficiency market in the area and creating a model for other municipalities to follow,â€ says Nora Barger, energy-efficiency services coordinator for Carrboro and Chapel Hill. â€œ[Through] improving the energy efficiency of the existing building stock and educating the public about the benefits of energy conservation â€¦ the grant funds are the first step to market transformation and an expanded energy-efficiency market in the future.â€
If the first round of funding is successfully granted, another infusion will be available, enabling more commercial landlords to participate.
â€œThe more energy we save and the more homes and businesses that install energy-efficient measures, the better chance we have to continue and expand the programs into the future,â€ Barger says.
Interested parties should visit ci.carrboro.nc.us/ecd/EERLF.htm, or contact Barger at 918-7334 or firstname.lastname@example.org