When the news isn’t what you want to hear

The Attorney General has released the redacted copy of the Mueller Report. After two years of investigation the report found there was no collusion and no obstruction of justice. Although the report said the investigation could not fully exonerate the president of misdeeds there was not enough evidence to file charges. This was a strange statement to put in the report and was certain to keep the Democrats forging ahead with their own investigation.

The response was as one would expect. The president’s supporters claimed the report was a total victory for the president while his opponents were left fuming. Democrats are demanding Mueller appear before them to answer questions about the report. They and countless entertainers are calling the report a cover-up. One must wonder if these are the same people who said the special investigation must be allowed to continue and Congress had the duty to protect the integrity of the investigation? Now that the findings are not what they hoped for it appears they believe the investigation lacked integrity.

Mueller was once their pride and joy. They cheered every time an indictment was handed down by the special prosecutor. They were certain each indictment brought them closer to the president and misconduct on his part. They rallied around the special prosecutor every time there seemed to be a threat he would be fired. But, he didn’t deliver what they wanted so now they want to question him to find out why he couldn’t give them what they want.

Such tactics are more suited for grade school playgrounds, but that is what our Congress mostly represents today. A bunch of childish individuals, on both sides of the aisle, who are convinced they know best and who can throw tantrums with the best of them. I won’t even start on those in the entertainment industry. Here we have a bunch of people who, because they can sing or act, think they are the moral spokespeople for America.

The question from this, though, is an important one. How do you respond when the news you receive isn’t what you wanted? Maybe a business loan is refused. Perhaps a new business plan doesn’t work out the way you expected. One of your best customers announces he is moving his business to a competitor. Do you throw a tantrum, blame others for the situation, shoot the messenger? Or do you accept the news for what it is and move on to something else?

The latter approach is the best one to take. In life and business the news isn’t always what we want. There are going to be failures and disappointments even in areas in which we were certain we were right. We can cry about it, or we can move on. I wish Congress would move on and quit trying to redo the 2016 election. There’s a lot of important issues facing our nation can might benefit from Congressional action if they were willing to move from the election and begin to act like the leaders they claimed to be when they ran for office.

 

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The power of knowing your customers

 

Several years ago I owned a heating and air conditioning business that we needed to sell.  Quite frankly, we had it for sale for some time with no interest.  We had already closed it which meant there was no money coming in, but there was still money going out.  An auction would at least stop the bleeding.  The nature of the business meant it would not be something that the general public would be interested in attending the auction which concerned me.  Fortunately, the auctioneer I chose had been in the business for many years and had a long list of persons who had bought such items at previous auctions.  He assured me he could send letters to at least 100 companies who were in the same business I was selling to invite them to the auction.

That may be why he was successful at what he did and our company was not.  I never compiled a list of customers by their interests so I could send them information about new products or services they might be interested in purchasing.  I often read that direct mail to past customers was one of the best marketing strategies a company could use, but my few attempts at direct mail were all sent to prospects, and none of them resulted in a single sale.  When it came time for the auction, most of the vehicles in our parking lot were from companies similar to mine.  His direct mail worked and brought out buyers who may not have known of the sale otherwise.

After that auction I began attending other auctions.  I’ve been to enough of them that the auctioneers know what I’m most likely to buy.  A few months after my auction I received a letter from the auctioneer who conducted my sale letting me know he had an auction scheduled that included a lot of items that I had purchased in the past that would be available.  He even sent a list of many of the items and directed me to a site on the Internet where I could see pictures of those items.  I attended that auction and bought a number of the things he had told me about.

At the same time I owned the HVAC business I was also the pastor of a small church. During that time I purchased a number of suits from a salesman in a nice department store in a nearby city.  After the first or second suit I bought I began receiving notices from him letting me know about sales his department were having.  He noticed I always bought my suits when they were on sale, so he made sure I knew upcoming sale dates, not only for suits but for other menswear items as well.  Over the course of three or four years I purchased a new suit from him about every six months.  I also bought a number of dress pants and dress shirts from that same salesman.  He left for another job, and I never received another contact from that store again.  Now that I think of it, I never bought another suit there either.  That salesman knew me, he knew what brand suit I liked, and what I would pay for it, and he made sure I always knew when I could buy one for that price. And, I usually did.

Of course, as most of you know, I am now an auctioneer. I make sure I follow the example of the auctioneer who did my sale and the suit salesman. I maintain a list of people who attend my auctions. A second list is kept of those who are interested in particular items. I make sure I contact these folks when I have an auction coming up that will have things they buy. In a few weeks I have an auction consisting mostly of railroad memorabilia. This will be a very specialized auction so I have made sure that everyone I know who is interested in such items have been notified. I am contacting them personally to tell them about what will be sold in this auction.

How well do you know your customers and what they want or need that your company can provide?  What are you doing to intentionally stay in contact with them?  How often do you send direct marketing material to them?  Studies find that it’s much easier to sell to a current customer than to a prospect, and it costs much less to get their business as well.  If you don’t have a current client list you need to begin developing one and begin marketing to it.  It will add to your bottom line.

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Student debt crisis

There has been a lot of talk lately about the student debt crisis facing university students. We heard in the last election a lot of promises of eliminating student debt, and we are likely to hear even more in the upcoming election cycle. Some students are fearful they will finish paying off their student debts with their Social Security checks, and for some that might be a reality! Naturally, politicians like to tap into those fears and promise voters if they are elected they will make those debts disappear.

The problem is real. Many students leave school with huge student loan debt. I knew a pastor whose student loan debt was over $60,000 and several others who completed their education with debts over $40K. I’ve heard people call into financial management programs asking what to do with huge student loans sometimes in the six figures. Some of these were doctors and others whose careers would handle that debt, but others graduated with degrees that would not begin to service that debt. Still others dropped out of school and had a large student loan debt and no degree..

Some of the blame needs to be placed on the schools themselves. I question the ethics of allowing students to rack up huge debt for degrees that will seldom pay for themselves. Some of the blame is on the parents who allow 18-year-olds to make financial decisions that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps they are old enough to make those decisions, but part of parenting is offering wise counsel. There are many ways to get a college education without going into debt which should be explored by the parents and the student.

One of those ways would include going the first one or two years to a local college to get the core classes completed. These local schools are usually far less expensive than public and private universities and they would allow the student to live at home eliminating the cost of room and board as well as paying lower tuition fees.

When it comes to selecting the school the primary focus should be on cost and not prestige. Right now the news is filled with stories of wealthy individuals who wanted their children to attend a “prestigious” university. These parents are likely facing prison time now for the illegal acts they allegedly committed to get their children enrolled in these schools. If you can afford to pay for a Harvard education, then go for it. If you can only afford to attend a public university, then that’s what you should do. Do you know what they call a student who graduated from a public state university? A college graduate.

The third way of going to school without incurring debt is one that has been around for a long time. It’s called working your way through school. Despite what some people think, it is not degrading to work while you attend college. Yes, you might miss out on a few parties now and then and you may have to forego the sorority or fraternity experience, but that’s a lot better than spending the rest of your life paying off an outrageous student debt. As one of my leadership mentors often says “You can pay now and play later or you can play now and pay later, but at some point you will have to pay.”

One of the advantages of working your way through college is that many employers will pay your tuition. UPS makes a big emphasis on the fact that they pay the tuition for their student employees. The factory where I worked paid my tuition saving me a lot of money I didn’t have to go to school.

Let me close by sharing some of my experience. I did not begin college until I was 39 years old. I was working full-time in a factory and serving as a pastor of a small church when I begin college. I had a wife and two children. It took me seven years to complete my studies. In 2002 I decided to enroll in a master’s program. By then I was working in a ministry role full-time. That degree took me four years to complete at which time I then enrolled in a doctoral program. My employer gave us funds each year for continuing education which I used to cover part of my expenses. In 2010 I completed this degree. At no time did I ever had any student debt. Yes, it took me awhile to complete my education, and no, I didn’t get to run away to the beach for spring break, but I have spent many vacations with my family at the beach. (I also never had to worry about embarrassing pictures showing up on social media.)

The student debt crisis is largely self-inflicted. It’s due to schools allowing students to incur too much debt to attend, parents who refuse to parent and young people who make very foolish choices when it comes to the schools they attend and how they will pay for them. Although we live in a time when no one wants to be held accountable for the choices we make, it’s foolish to think any politician can wave a magic wand and make your debt go away. I hear students being interviewed who demand their student debt be eliminated, but when they are asked who will pay it they have no answer. It appears they’ve never stopped to realize that someone will have to pay it, either they will or the taxpayers, and I think the taxpayers are getting tired of bailing everyone out of the mistakes they’ve made. So, I wouldn’t put too much trust in a politician making your student debt go away. Follow the steps outlined above and avoid that debt in the first place.

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The secret to business success: Selling

There are so many things to do when operating a small business.  There are business plans to write, inventory to purchase, supplies and equipment to buy, hiring quality team members, and having a good location.  You have to ensure that the facility is kept clean, that paperwork is kept in order, taxes and vendors are paid in a timely fashion, and you are adequately marketing your company.  This list could go on and on.  But, nothing has really been done until you’ve sold something.  Everything else may be important, but none of them mean anything if you are not selling goods or services.  You’re not in business to keep your shelves full and tidy, you are in business to make a profit, and you can’t do that until you sell something.

I’ve met store owners and employees who didn’t seem to understand that.  Clerks have made me wait to check out until they finished filling up the shelf they were working on.  Some were clearly frustrated when I interrupted what they were doing with a question on how to find something in their store.  I want to give them my money, and they want to finish dusting a shelf.  Here’s a novel idea for a business:  Take the money.  Make the sale.

The most important thing that happens in any small business is sales.  Without sales you have no income, without income you have no profit, and without profit you soon won’t have a business.  Every team member reporting for work should have one clear focus: to sell something.  That should be their focus every day.  They may not be in the sales department, but every person in your company needs to understand that everyone is in sales.  Some may be selling the product or service your company offers while others are in the business of selling your company and its brand.

It’s funny that even some salespeople do not understand how critical sales are for a business.  Such salespeople may be great at doing a sales presentation, but they forget to ask for the sale.  They work hard at developing a relationship with a possible client, but never get around asking for the sale.  Or, if they do ask for the sale, many times they make it easy for the client to say no.

Here are some things your salespeople needs to consider when talking to your clients.

  1. Know your product, your client’s needs, and how your product or service can better meet that need than your competitors.
  2. Ask questions.  This is how you learn your client’s needs.  After asking your questions, shut up and listen.  Your client will tell you what he or she wants.
  3. Use their comments in your close.  Few people will reject their own ideas.
  4. Sell the sizzle, not just the steak.  People are much less interested in your product or service as they are in how well your product or service will meet their needs.
  5. Make it easy for your clients to do business with you.  Offer financing.  Meet with them at a time that is convenient for them, not you.  Develop policies that are client friendly.
  6. Be prepared with several possible closes and use them at various times in your presentation.  If they agree to purchase your product or service, stop your presentation, take their check and get a signature.  You’ve already sold them.  There are no extra points for completing your presentation.
  7. Accept that call backs are a part of sales.  It may take 7-8 call backs before you make the sale.  Sometimes this is the result of poor presentations or the salesperson’s failure to clearly ask for the sale in an earlier presentation.  Work to lower this number.

Obviously, there is more to know about selling than what’s listed here.  For a fresh approach to selling I recommend you read Dan Kennedy’s book No B.S. Sales Success In The New Economy  Kennedy doesn’t give you a lot of fluff but points out exactly how any business can improve its sales.

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What can small businesses learn from yard sales?

If I have some spare time on Friday or Saturday mornings I’ll hit a few yard sales to find items to sell at auction or for my personal use.  Sometimes one can find some amazing buys at a yard sale.  Occasionally, we’ll hear a story of someone who bought a picture at a yard sale for a few dollars only to find our later it was worth thousands of dollars.  That’s never happened to me, but one can always hope!

My actual experience with yard sales has been rather disappointing because of the way too many people approach them.  I was recently at a sale that was advertised to start at 8:00.  I arrived at 8:05 and they were still carrying things out.  In fact, they hadn’t even set up all the tables yet.  Nothing was priced.  Most items at a yard sale are negotiable, but it’s nice to have some idea of what the people want for them.  I’ve made it a policy that I don’t buy items at a yard sale that are not marked, and I certainly didn’t have time to wait for them to drag everything out of their house they were going to sell.  I left.  The sale lasted three days, and on the last day I drove past their house on my way to a meeting.  It looked like they sold very little.  Like more and more of the yard sales I attend, they did not prepare for their sale.

I usually have one yard sale each summer, and I begin preparing for it a week in advance.  I purchase my newspaper ads, clean out the garage, and begin setting up tables.  By Tuesday I am already unpacking boxes and setting items out on the tables.  By Wednesday everything is priced and clearly marked.  On Thursday I go to the bank and get the money I will use for change and make sure everything is ready.  Large items are sitting next to the garage door ready to pull out the next morning.  At 7:45 I open the garage doors and move all the big items outside, and we are open for business.  There are usually some early birds sitting in their cars ready for the doors to open, and I am ready to serve them.

I find some small businesses operating like each of the yard sales I’ve described.  Some are clearly not prepared for business.  They make it difficult for their customers to do business with them due to their operating hours, their credit policies, or their personnel.  They make people who want to buy from them feel like they are interrupting something the employees feel is more important.  I recently stopped in a restaurant and asked for the lunch special.  It was only 11:30, and they were already out of the special.  Not ready for business.  Such businesses often struggle to be successful and wonder why.

On the other hand there are those small businesses that are ready every day to do business with their customers.  They are prepared when their customers arrive.  Everything is set up to make their customer’s buying experience a great one so they will not only come back but will tell others about their great experience.  What’s the difference between the small business that is ready for business and the one that isn’t?  Preparation.  The successful small business will take the time to make sure everything is ready when the doors open every day.

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An interesting auction

My next auction will be May 4 at the Venture Out Business Center in Madison, IN. This should be a very interesting auction. I will be selling the estate of a gentleman who retired from the railroad and spent a lifetime collecting railroad memorabilia. I spent hours going through his two-car garage preparing this collection for this auction. Although this will be a big sale, this isn’t everything. I will have to have a second sale later. While much of this auction will focus on his collection, there is also a lot of other items of his we will be selling.

His collection includes railroad tools, railroad pocket watches, railroad lamps, railroad hard hats, model cars and tracks, and a huge assortment of railroad ephemera.  Ephemera is a fancy word for collectible papers. He had amassed a large collection of railroad timetables from many different railroad lines. There are old union contracts between the rail lines and its workers, some dating back to the early 1900s. There are track maps, tons of pictures of trains and thousands of other paper items from numerous railroad companies. Of local interest will be the items he had of our local train system. This line was completed in 1841 and remains the steepest grade of any line-haul railroad in the country with a 5.89 percent grade.

This auction is one of the reasons I enjoy auctions so much. You just never know what you will find when you start going through people’s collections. The first day I began gathering his collection I could sense the passion he had for railroads.  Some of the items he had could not have been easy to find such as the old union contract books and operating manuals from various railroad lines. But, he managed to find them and add them to his collection.

Even if you have no interest in railroads I invite you to go to http://www.auctionzip.com and type in my ID# (36965) where it asks for it to go to this auction. Check out the pictures of SOME of the items we’ll be selling that day. Notice, I said SOME of the items because there is no way I could list or show everything that will sold May 4. When you see the pictures and read the listing I think you’ll sense his passion as well.

I am licensed in both Indiana and Kentucky to conduct auctions. If you have quality items you would like to sell at auction or if you have an estate you need to sell, please contact me. Let me help you turn those things you don’t need into something you want…like money!

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The minimum wage myth

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Progressives and others often point out that current minimum wage jobs cannot support a family. For several years they have been promoting increasing the minimum wage. Workers have gone on strike demanding higher minimum wages. Some companies have responded and several states have increased the minimum wage. Six states have now increased their minimum wages with Maryland being the latest. Their plan is to increase the minimum wage gradually until it hits $15.00 an hour, a move that some are predicting will cost the state 94,600 jobs.

Across the country, while the minimum wage is increasing, more and more businesses are cutting hours, eliminating jobs and closing their doors. People like Bernie Sanders and AOC do not seem to realize that these businesses are in business to make a profit,  and with the steady increases in taxes, minimum wages and other costs the profits are not there. No one needs the hassle of trying to run a business as a hobby. If there is no profit, the business will close and people will be out of work. At that point their wages will be zero.

After Seattle increased its minimum wage to $15.00 researchers from the University of Washington studied the effects of the increase. They found that the increase in wages was more than offset by a reduction in hours worked which resulted in low wage workers actually earning $125.00 a month less. Of course, those promoting increased minimum wage rates can’t be bothered by such facts nor can they be bothered by the impact their poorly thought-out policies have on people.

With robotics widely available capable of performing many tasks we can expect to see more and more of them replacing human labor. Robots do not require a minimum wage, insurance or any other benefits. McDonald’s and other restaurants are even now eliminating cashiers and replacing them with kiosks which will deprive untold numbers of young people the opportunity to learn valuable work skills and earn a paycheck. Big Box stores such as Wal-Mart are replacing their cashiers with self check-out lanes putting more people out of work. As robots replace humans we can expect more people entering the welfare programs costing our nation even more tax dollars. The demand for increasingly higher minimum wages will not end well for this nation and its workers.

Another problem with increasing the minimum wage is that it discourages anyone from attempting to improve his or her skills in order to get a higher paying job. Just how much is it worth to flip a burger? A free market can determine that much better than some politician setting a minimum wage saying that all burger flippers must be paid X amount of dollars per hour. If the worker isn’t satisfied with what he or she is making they can add to their skill base and go to a job that pays more.

I got my first job the summer before I started my senior year in high school (1965). I was a bagger for a local supermarket making .75 an hour. A few weeks later I was promoted to a stocker. I worked that job all through my senior year, working 50 hours a week most weeks. I kept asking for, and receiving, small raises until I was making $1.25 a hour as graduation neared. A few weeks before graduation I asked for another .25 raise, was turned down and quit for a job that offered me $1.50 to start. I was 17 years old and didn’t need the government to order some employer to give me more money. As I improved my skills I earned more money because I asked for it. When I finally asked for an amount the owner couldn’t afford he refused, and I found employment elsewhere that would pay more. Three months after taking that job I found another job that started me at $2.10 a hour. That’s how it’s supposed to work. No one will have the incentive to improve themselves as long as the government keeps playing nursemaid.

Yes, the current minimum wage is not enough for a family to live on. It was never intended to be. It was intended to provide financial support while individuals were able to find better paying employment through improving their skills. If people are unwilling to improve those skills to make themselves more valuable to employers then they should not expect to earn much or live on government handouts the rest of their lives. No one with any self-respect should be satisfied with either of these alternatives.

If the minimum wage keeps rising we will see more people out of work or working reduced hours so they still cannot support their families. This puts more people on government assistance which seems to be what some in Washington and in many states want. Increasing the minimum wage as a way to help raise the standard of living of low income people is a myth being promoted by people who do not understand simple economics or who have an agenda that does not bode well for the future of our nation.

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