BizConCLE Spotlight: ‘Make It Happen Before It Happens to You’

As an early investor in companies such as Facebook and Netflix, Mark Thompson knows a thing or two about identifying the ingredients that go into making a successful company. In advance of his keynote presentation at this year’s BizConCLE event on Oct. 12, Mind Your Business had the opportunity to sit down and get Thompson’s unique takes on how to attract capital, what the next business disruptors will be, and what challenges business owners might be facing in the future.

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    Read on below to find out what Thompson had to say about these issues and more …

    Q: Without giving away the store, what’s one key takeaway you want people to come away with after listening to your presentation?

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    A: I want them to know how finding the right talent can be a game changer for businesses. It’s all about finding the people who are connecting with your customers and finding people who have the willingness to grow and scale. You want to find those people who are customer-focused, believe in the business and are willing to have an open-minded attitude.

    RELATED: Secure your spot for this year’s BizConCLE

    In growing markets like Cleveland, that battle for talent is acute, so having a strategy to find people who add all three of the characteristics I just mentioned is key. Then, you have to help these people develop those skills. That ends up being your recipe for success.

    RELATED: 19 things you need to know about finding and keeping talented workers

    Q: What are the best ways for a business to raise the capital it needs to fund growth?

    A: The specifics depend on the capital you’re raising: venture capital, small business loans, tax credits, etc. But in terms of getting funded, generally the people who take a bet on you will do it because you have demonstrated you can grow your business in changing times. They love to see a great track record; that always sells a banker. They like to see the humility to be able to change and to be willing to grow. They also want you to be open to looking for ways to improve things on behalf of your customer.

    RELATED: What you need to know before visiting your lender

    Everyone knows it’s never a straight line when it comes to business and the customer is always changing. You want to be characterized as having some flexibility. You want to make—and keep—promises. You want good, quality testimonials from your customers. Those kinds of third-party endorsements show what you have been able to achieve.

    Q: What’s the biggest challenge you see businesses struggling with today?

    A: I talked about this a little bit before but I really think it comes down to finding talent and finding someone who believes in your business and their willingness to feel connected to the business. It takes more than money to attract people to your business. You attract talent with meaning. They want to work with people they believe in, trust and that have their long-term development in mind. This also means caring about the larger life they lead and I’m talking about Boomers as well as Millennials.

    RELATED: The tangible benefits of workplace wellness

    People do want to feel connected to the work they do and the people they do it with. Think about your mission, your vision. As humble as the business might be, you still want to trust your boss and believe in what she’s doing. Leadership matters more today than ever before.

    Q: What do you think is going to be the next business “disruptor” people are going to have to deal with?

    A: What we’ve found is that you need to be the change you wish to see. In Cleveland particularly, when you’re walking down through the neighborhoods and looking at the way they’ve been transformed, that takes leadership. That shows a willingness to work with these communities and that they wanted to lead the change rather than be run over by it.

    RELATED: How Northeast Ohio Will Keep the Economic Development Momentum Going

    You have to make it happen before it happens to you. It’s your role to continue to lead the change and find opportunities to serve your customer better, faster and cheaper and have empathy for the customer. Whether you’re a B-to-C or B-to-B, you’re seeing the world our customers live in is changing so fast. The winners are those who recognize that. You want to be that partner with your customer and have shared objectives. Boy, that will really start to separate you in a world where there are a lot of short-term-isms.

    RELATED: 7 Ways to get your customers to think of your sales team as trusted advisors

    In Cleveland, you have a context for having a long history and building long-term relationships. That’s your strategic advantage. Use it. Your customers have to change and you can help them change.

    Q: What’s one thing no one is talking about that’s going to be on everyone’s mind 12 months from now?

    A: In a year from now, we’ll be talking about companies expanding domestically and also how you can participate globally in the economy. One way to think about your business is how the product or service you’re offering in Greater Cleveland could be offered in other cities, states and countries around the world. Start thinking about that larger dream.

    Related to that, think of more and more ways to partner with your customer by developing different programs or solutions that address their needs. Behave like you’re more deeply integrated with them. Even if you’re in the product business, you’re still providing a service.

    Find out more about the other keynotes who will be taking the stage at BizConCLE in October. And learn more about the plenary and breakout sessions planned at this year’s event.

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    Next up: Brand-Building Basics for Small Business

    Brand-Building Basics for Small Business

    Nevin Bansal, president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions and a member of the COSE Expert Network, explains what small businesses should keep in mind when building their brand.


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    Next up: Buckin' Business

    Buckin' Business

    The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business initiative feeds knowledge and resources to entrepreneurs like Eileen Thorsell of Buckin’ Ohio, a live rodeo event producer.

    Wild bucking bulls and a rodeo ring, thousands of spectators and country western hospitality. This is Buckin’ Ohio at the Thorsell family farm in Burbank, where the bulls are “wild, mean and nasty athletes with a bad attitude.” Some of the bucking bulls bred at the farm are national rodeo competitors, and visitors can watch them riding live in Ohio — not exactly a state known for rodeos, but Eileen Thorsell is changing that with her growing operation.

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    More than 3,000 people attended each of Buckin’ Ohio’s four summer events in 2014. Their raving fan base has grown steadily during Thorsell’s 13 years in business. It all began when Thorsell realized that a large group would arrive at the farm to watch when the time came to “buck in” the bulls that the family raises.

    “We didn’t advertise,” Thorsell says. “People just showed up.”

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    Thorsell had no experience coordinating events, though the family had attended plenty of buckin’ bull-riding rodeos. “But I said, ‘We should start an event and charge people to be here!’” she relates.

    So Buckin’ Ohio was born, and the first event attracted 500 visitors for Buckin’ Ohio’s very first professional bull riding. “It started to grow, and then we began searching for knowledge, information and how to do a better job,” Thorsell says, relating that Buckin’ Ohio got involved in local visitors’ bureaus and chambers of commerce.

    “We are unique to Ohio,” Thorsell says. “Out west, you can go find a bull riding here or there, but in Ohio…”

    Thorsell’s focus is on creating a family friendly event. The gates open at 4 p.m. with mutton ridin’ for children ages 5 and older — they can mount a sheep — and enjoy food (pie eating) and entertainment (country singing), followed by the 7 p.m. main event: buckin’ bull riding with professional cowboys and cowgirls.

    “What makes us different is our fan base, our clients — they are really what made us good,” Thorsell says.

    Thorsell was looking for a way to get even better when a colleague referred her to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. “The key for me is to never stop learning, and that’s why I looked at that program,” says Thorsell, who applied and was accepted for the fall 2014, nine-session program.

    The premise of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative is, you’ve got a business not a business degree. And as a small business, you’re part of the 98 percent of U.S. businesses with fewer than 20 employees. That’s a lot of businesses that could use extra support to expand and thrive — and better serve our communities by providing jobs. Goldman Sachs launched this initiative to bolster small businesses that are poised for growth by offering education, training and support.

    The national program is available to applicants that are passionate about growing their businesses and creating jobs in their communities. Forty-five percent of the program’s alumni add new jobs within six months of graduating from the program, 64 percent increase revenues and 80 percent collaborate with other graduates on new business opportunities.

    Thorsell says being accepted to and participating in the program gave her a mission and a support system. “You feel like you have people who believe in you, and you are not going to let them down,” she says. “You are going to progress and grow and make them proud! They picked you.”

    As the visionary of Buckin’ Ohio, Thorsell says she was ready to take a step back and look at the business and its potential for growth. Cornering a unique market in Ohio, she saw lots of opportunity for Buckin’ Ohio. Here are some of the take-aways from her experience:

    You’ve got company. Thorsell was one of 32 small business owners in her class, which met September through December 2014. “Just being surrounded by this wealth of knowledge was wonderful,” she says, relating that no business was the same but they shared similar challenges. “You think you are the only one, but you realize we all have the same struggles that any small business does with growth and change. The program gave us the freedom to share and learn and grow together.” 

    Love your fans. Buckin’ Ohio has 12,000-plus fans who attend events each summer and come back for more the next season. The energy is contagious, and Thorsell learned that she has to focus on her existing clients just as much as attracting new business, if not more. “Now that I have these loyal fans, what can I do better for them?” she is now asking herself.

    Map the experience. What does a visitor experience, from parking at the farm to entering the gates, and from enjoying pre-show activities to watching the main event? Thorsell learned about business mapping — breaking down processes into steps that can be analyzed and measured.

    Work on the business. Thorsell developed a five-year growth plan for Buckin’ Ohio that includes renovating a vintage barn on the property, which she will complete before June’s grand opening. “Working on your business rather than in it is a key philosophy of this program,” Thorsell says. “It forces you to step back and look at your business with fresh eyes, and to keep learning.”

    Learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative.


    This story was originally published in the January/February 2015 issue of the COSE Update. 


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    Next up: Webinar: Budget-Friendly Digital Marketing

    Webinar: Budget-Friendly Digital Marketing

    Do you have a solid understanding of your digital marketing strategy? This webinar will show you how to create a budget-friendly, trackable, well-defined plan that will generate a return for your business.


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    Next up: Build Your Team: How to Get Everyone Pulling in the Same Direction

    Build Your Team: How to Get Everyone Pulling in the Same Direction

    Culture plays a huge role in the success or failure of a business. As we ring in the New Year, now is the perfect time to take a good look at your business and make changes to ensure you are cultivating a culture that engages employees and ensures they are committed to the goals and growth of the business in 2016.  No matter the size, businesses develop cultures over time and those beliefs and behaviors become ingrained in the workplace. A company’s culture is influenced by many factors, including the style of leadership, employee mindset, motivational factors, and opportunities for advancement, recognition, and interaction. With all these dynamics at work, it is vital to make certain your employees are engaged and committed to the mission of the organization.

    Culture plays a huge role in the success or failure of a business. As we ring in the New Year, now is the perfect time to take a good look at your business and make changes to ensure you are cultivating a culture that engages employees and ensures they are committed to the goals and growth of the business in 2016. 

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    No matter the size, businesses develop cultures over time and those beliefs and behaviors become ingrained in the workplace. A company’s culture is influenced by many factors, including the style of leadership, employee mindset, motivational factors, and opportunities for advancement, recognition, and interaction. With all these dynamics at work, it is vital to make certain your employees are engaged and committed to the mission of the organization.

    Mind Your Business reached out to small business owners who have gone to great lengths to create and foster an employee culture of teamwork and accountability and found that they are reaping the rewards for their efforts. Following are just a few steps you can take to cultivate a winning culture in your business.

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    Assemble the Right Team

    James Wearley, general manager of FEMC in Bedford Heights, knows first-hand what a difference the right team can make. When Wearley left the banking industry to step in to run his father-in-law’s custom packaging equipment manufacturing business five years ago, he was shocked to find the culture of the once thriving business in need of serious attention. “There was a culture of entitlement,” says Wearley. “No one wanted to share information or follow processes or procedures.”  Wearley knew he either had to successfully change the mindset of the employees or build a better team. In the end, he had to do a lot of both.

    As Wearley started making changes, he noticed a handful of employees jumped on board and thrived in the new team-oriented environment. “But a lot of employees had a shot and didn’t step up to the challenge,” Wearley says. So he turned his focus to hiring the right people who would fit into the new framework. “I didn’t have the money to go out and hire the starting quarterback,” he says. “I had to find people that had a little less experience, but that had the right mindset: the mindset of, ‘I will do what it takes for this team to be successful.’” 

    Once he had his team in place, the goals started to align. “We now have a culture based firmly on accountability,” says Wearley.  “That is not only good for our company but ultimately adds value to our customers.” And the hard work has paid off.  “I knew it was going to be a tough road to get here—like a rung on a ladder that seems too high up—but now that we’re here I feel that anything is possible. We are half the size as we were five years ago, and we have double the sales,” he says.

    Hiring the right team is especially strategic for smaller businesses.  Chelly Bevel, CEO of Chelly’s Nursing Review & Tutoring in Highland Heights, grew her company guided by a belief in the slow growth/no debt principle of business.  But last year when she outgrew her third building, Bevel knew it was time to hire a full-time employee after having previously enlisted seasonal help. Finding the right fit for her business was paramount.  “It’s almost like being parents,” Bevel says.  “When there are just two of you, you have to be of one mind on everything. Ours is a huge team, even though it’s only two people.”

    The key to her first hiring success?  “Employees have to believe in your mission,” says Bevel. “And I don’t think it works well to have someone on your team exactly like you. I believe in hiring someone who can fill in your weaknesses with their strengths.”

    Chart the Course

    So you have your team in place. Now it’s time to chart the course. What is the mission of the organization and what are the strategies for accomplishing set goals?  In any busy business, it’s crucial everyone knows what is expected and how their individual contributions and efforts as a team drive the business forward.

    Wearley and his team are in the process of creating a vision statement and core values for FEMC. They are also creating project management dashboards that include precise timelines so everyone is on the same page.  

    Bevel sets the same standard for her one employee as she does for her students: no excuses.  “We are training professionals,” says Bevel. “There are no excuses for not being your best at all times.”

    Lisa Oswald, owner of National Commercial Warehouse and Kay Chemical in Cleveland, says that the culture at their business is very much family-driven.  That culture was built over the last 50 years by her uncle, the business’ original owner, who often jokes that everyone in their large family has worked in the business at one time or another.  Oswald and her husband, Bob, try to carry on that sense of family with their three full-time and seasonal employees.  “My uncle set a precedence of honesty, fairness and reliability,” says Oswald.  “And he never refused an opportunity,” she says.  “His mantra was ‘There is always a way.’  That is truly how we work, and that mentality continues to motivate all of us every day.  That attitude is how we serve and retain our customers.”

    Cultivate the Culture

    It falls to the business owner and an organization’s leadership to make certain that the culture of the business is one that promotes the concept of teamwork. “We make sure that everyone knows that their attitude, performance and their contribution is important,” says Oswald.  “I think the more people feel valued in their role, the harder they want to work for you.”

    Chet Green, owner and president of Northcoast Inc. Recycling Specialists, a premier industrial and commercial recycling business located in Solon, believes he has figured out what motivates his 18 full-time employees.  Besides offering an attractive benefits package that includes health, dental and retirement benefits, Green offers opportunities for education and training.  “We encourage our employees and we want them to push themselves,” says Green.  “If you want to take a class, and it benefits our company, we will pay as long as you pass the class.”  To Green, he just can’t see doing it any other way.  “Why would you want someone working for you who doesn’t want to better themselves?” he says.  “To me what defines success is when the people who work for you are successful.  It’s not only about the money.”

    Green also ensures that his workplace is a safe one, which his employees appreciate.  As one of the founding members of the Western Reserve Safety Council, Green understands the need to work hard to protect his employees and is proud of the fact that Northcoast Recycling has never had a loss-time accident in their 28 years in business – quite a remarkable accomplishment.  “We work hard at doing everything we can do to motivate and protect our employees.”

    This article originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Mind Your Business magazine.

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    Next up: Tips for Your Business: Business Development is Not Sales

    Tips for Your Business: Business Development is Not Sales

    More and more often today, Business Development and Sales are terms that are used interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between the two. “There is a fundamental difference between business development and sales and it is called leverage and value generation,” says Joe Mayer, co-founder and managing partner of Mayer Business Group, an executive coaching and business consulting group in Solon. “Sales is an activity focused almost exclusively on driving revenue; business development is more strategic, big picture thinking such as developing a new channel or partner strategy.” 

    More and more often today, Business Development and Sales are terms that are used interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between the two. “There is a fundamental difference between business development and sales and it is called leverage and value generation,” says Joe Mayer, co-founder and managing partner of Mayer Business Group, an executive coaching and business consulting group in Solon. “Sales is an activity focused almost exclusively on driving revenue; business development is more strategic, big picture thinking such as developing a new channel or partner strategy.” 

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    In general, business development will identify strategies that create leverage for growth by enhancing the product and service line-up and sales strategies. “Unlike larger companies that undergo strategic planning initiatives to develop a few key goals for the year, smaller businesses don’t have a GPS system that tells them where to go,” says Mayer. “When an opportunity arises, they jump on it no matter if it leads them in the right direction for growth. By responding daily to the immediate opportunities in front of them, small businesses can have 365 different goals a year. They can quickly lose sight of the big picture, and that’s where a business development plan can make a huge impact,” says Mayer.

    Mayer recommends taking a step back and creating a plan on how you want to develop your business as well as setting concrete quarterly or yearly sales goals to ensure and measure progress. “The strategic planning process will help you identify what products to sell and who to sell them to,” says Mayer. “Selling really starts with knowing where value is created. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to find more of those people in that market niche which creates value by buying high-margin products or services from my company?’ The last thing you want to do is sell more of a product that doesn’t create sufficient margins.” 

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    “The biggest mistake by far that I see business owners make is not knowing their numbers. Nine out of 10 owners, if asked, cannot tell you what their profit margins are on their products or which of their customers creates value for them. If you don’t know these numbers you are basing your strategy and sales goals on faulty information and you are making decisions in the dark,” says Mayer.

    Joe Mayer is one of COSE's experts. Learn more at www.cose.org/expertnetwork

    This article originally appeared in the June 15, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.


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