Friend Raising -- Getting the People Right Before Raising the Money

Money is the focus of many business meetings and strategic planning sessions. How do we get more sales? How do we fund our growth plans? How do we cover our cash flow? These are just a few of the multitude of money issues that small business owners deal with on a daily basis. As important as the answers to these questions are; there is something more important than FUND raising and that is FRIEND RAISING.

Friend raising can take many forms. For a start-up it is getting those closest to us to buy into our crazy ideas. And for established businesses, networking is a popular and effective technique to open new sales opportunities. But there is so much more to be gained by making new business friends inside and outside your business. The best part is many of these ideas can be done for free.

 Build your board. Every company should have a board. It doesn’t have to be a board of directors that have authority over your organization, but an advisory board can be a very invaluable tool, especially when facing tough decisions. An advisory board will provide an outside perspective to your business and can both encourage and challenge you. When selecting board members, look for people who believe in you and your business. Be selective, not every personal friend should be on your board. Choose people who will bring a different perspective to your business. Often retired professionals in your industry can impart a wealth of information from their years of experience.

 Make friends in your industry. Even competitors can be friends and you never know when you may need to partner with someone on a project or vice versa. Attending trade shows and industry events is a great place to meet new friends and become aware of even more opportunities. Keith Ferrazzi talks about the many techniques for making friends in his book, “Never Eat Alone.” This includes, as the title says, building friends over coffee, lunch and dinner. Spending time together and sharing reality with each other builds friendships. Be honest and expect honesty from others and true friends will emerge.

There are many other friends you can make including mentors and political allies that you will find to be valuable contacts when the need arises.

"If you go out looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
— Zig Ziglar

Nothing is ever free. Making friends is hard work. If you look for friends that can help you but are not willing to reciprocate your friendship may be short lived. You must be the friend that you seek in others. See everyone not as a sales target but a potential friend and you will find many friends and sales opportunities will follow.

Todd A. Luhtanen is a serial entrepreneur, business consultant and founder of Talan SBS a Michigan-based provider of Small Business Services,

(Video) SBAM Praises Governor, Legislative Leaders for Enactment of Historic Business Tax Reform

(Gov. Snyder signing business tax reform bill with, from left, SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler, SBAM Director of Government Relations David Jessup, SBAM Vice President Government Relations David Palsrok, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.)

The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) today praised Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders, as the governor signed into law $1.7-billion in business tax cuts effective next January 1.

“This is literally a once-in-a-generation step forward toward creating a business climate that encourages business owners to grow their companies, create jobs and revitalize their communities,” says Rob Fowler, president and CEO of SBAM. “We are proud of the governor and legislative leaders who had the courage to vote for a measure that moves Michigan’s economy much closer to a prosperity.”

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, about 136,000 businesses pay the MBT, but the Department of Treasury estimates only about 41,000 businesses will pay the 6 percent corporate income tax that will replace it. 

Fowler says he’s confident that the business tax reform will lead to small business job growth. In an online survey, SBAM asked small business owners: “If Gov Snyder’s 6% Corporate Income Tax Plan becomes law, and your small business no longer pays business taxes, what will your company do?” From companies who identified themselves as Second Stage, which historically have created the bulk of new jobs in the economy, SBAM got these responses :”(companies could select more than one option that applied): 64% said they would add employees, 58% said they would expand their business, 65% said they would buy new equipment, 72% said they would raise wages and benefits for their current employees and 57% said they would realize the profits.

Tax reform prompts small business in west Michigan to expand and add jobs

West Michigan headquartered company Lake Michigan Mailers announced plans to expand its electronic document management service – ifilesecure™ -- and create two new full-time positions and one part-time position.

“The recent passage of business tax reform in the state legislature directly contributed to our decision to invest in facility upgrades and job growth,” said David C. Rhoa, president of Lake Michigan Mailers, Inc. “The State of Michigan’s actions sent us a very strong, albeit long-overdue message; namely, that Michigan wants existing, second-stage, entrepreneurial companies to grow and expand within the state.” 

David Rhoa is interviewed on business tax reform and his business expansion on the May 21-22 Business Next radio show

The expansion plan calls for renovating a portion of the company’s Kalamazoo facility in which its high-tech data and document center is currently housed. This expansion is the first since the company opened its state-of-the-art processing facility in South Bend, Indiana in September 2008. 

“When I testified before the House Tax Policy Committee in March of this year I stated that if the State adopts a policy that removes my company’s corporate tax burden, we would reinvest those funds in our people, our software, our hardware, and our facilities just as we have done since our founding 34 years ago. This announcement affirms that commitment,” said Rhoa. “We are certainly excited about the growth of our electronic document management service – ifilesecure™ -- and are equally excited to make our expansion in Kalamazoo at a time when the State of Michigan is working to create an environment that will foster that growth.” 

SBAM salutes GOP Senators for passage of historic business tax reform plan

Rob FowlerThe Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) thanked Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and members of the State Senate who voted today for Michigan business tax reform.

“We deeply appreciate Senate Majority Leader Richardville’s stalwart leadership in ensuring passage of this historic tax reform,” says Rob Fowler, president and CEO of SBAM. “This is literally a once-in-a-generation step forward toward creating a business climate that encourages business owners to grow their companies, create jobs and revitalize their communities. We are proud of the State Senators who withstood a withering barrage of attacks by opponents and had the courage to vote for a measure that moves Michigan much closer to a prosperous future.”

No Senate Democrats voted for the bill. “My observation is that it’s curious that for all the talk from our friends on the Democratic side of the House and Senate about supporting small business, not a single Democratic lawmaker voted for this tax reform – an issue that we think is the single most important small business issue to come before the legislature in a generation. At the end of the day we, not them, get to determine what issues are important to small business.”

Turning Unhappy Customers into Fans

The weatherman has the world’s easiest job. He can over promise and under deliver to his heart’s content and still keep his job. Other than a few unhappy school kids, no one gets upset when the predicted storm doesn’t live up to the hype.
He will live to predict the weather once again.

As small business owners, we don’t often get that second chance.

Making Mistakes

If you have a business it happens. You will over promise and under deliver. Maybe it is a special order that didn’t arrive in a timely fashion. Maybe it is a product or service that wasn’t as advertised. Maybe it was a bad day for one of your employees and the great customer service you advertise wasn’t there.

As the owner of a small business, the burden is on you to take care of that unhappy customer.

How do you handle those moments?

The best thing to do is say, “I’m sorry. We made a mistake.”

No matter whose fault it is, no matter that you did everything right but your vendor failed you, your shipping company goofed, or your employee was totally misunderstood – it is still your mistake. So own it.

The customer doesn’t care about all that other stuff, the excuses. She put her trust in you and you failed her. So say you’re sorry, admit you made a mistake, then go about trying to fix it. That’s all she wants.

An apology — An admission of guilt — A solution.

Making Amends

An apology changes the tone right away. She came in guns a blazing. I’m sorry extinguishes those flames. Most unhappy customers are satisfied with a simple “I’m sorry.” They come in angry, prepared to fight. But the apology stops them in their tracks, softens their demeanor. So say it first and mean it. Without the apology first, it is hard to have a meaningful conversation and find a solution.

An admission of guilt takes away her defensive posture. No matter who is to blame, you screwed up somewhere. At the very least, you didn’t meet her expectations. So admit you made a mistake and move on. Don’t make her have to defend her position. It only belittles the relationship and keeps her guard up.

A solution shows that you truly care. And you often don’t have to give away the world to find that solution. You can start by asking her how she would like the problem solved. Usually her solution is more than reasonable and far less costly than what you were planning to offer. And even when it isn’t, the act of solving the problem is what turns you from goat to hero.

Creating Fans

Customers are reasonable people. When they have a problem what they really want is to be heard and have their problem acknowledged. Do this and you turn an unhappy customer into one of your biggest fans.

In fact, the true difference between a store with good customer service and one with great customer service isn’t in how you deal with the happy customers. It’s how you handle the unhappy ones.

When you under deliver, give your customer an apology, an admission of guilt and a solution, and I promise the sun will come up tomorrow. Heck, I’m certain of it. My weatherman told me it would.

Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too, one of the 25 Best Independent Stores in America in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. In his spare time Phil helps other independent retailers to succeed. Read more about Phil’s thoughts for business at

SBAM salutes small businesses honored at Michigan Celebrates Small Business event

Innovation of the YearMarcos Dantus, president/CEO of Biophotonic Solutions Inc. of East Lansing, received the Innovation of the Year Award at the Michigan Celebrates Small Business event April 29 in Lansing.

The Innovation Award is presented by the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center.

Biophotonics, which expects to increase its number of employees from seven to 16 this year, is a global leader in ultrafast laser pulse shaping and compression – important for applications like ophthalmology, machining and biomedical imaging.

Uckele Health & Nutrition of Blissfield (Michigan Small Business of the Year – U.S. SBA Michigan District Office) is a member of the Small Business Association of Michigan, as are nine second-stage companies recognized at the event as being among the “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch”, an entrepreneurial awards program supported by the Edward Lowe Foundation. The companies are:

  • BS&A Software, Bath
  • Draths Corporation, Lansing
  • Integrated Strategies, Inc., Okemos
  • L’Anse Manufacturing, Inc., L’Anse
  • Leon Speakers, Inc., Ann Arbor
  • Message Makers, Lansing
  • New Age/Landmark, Inc., South Haven
  • Sakti3, Ann Arbor
  • Shorts Brewing Company, Bellaire
  • Wellco, Royal Oak

SBAM praises state House for passing tax reform plan, helping to set stage for small business job growth

The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) thanked House Speaker Jase Bolger; Rep. Jud Gilbert, chairman of the House Tax Policy Committee; and the Republican members of the House Tax Policy Committee for their leadership in House passage today of Michigan business tax reform.

Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, says small business owners across Michigan are poised to use a business tax cut to grow jobs. “We look forward to working with the Senate to move this bold, game-changing business tax reform to the governor’s desk,” Fowler says. “Small business owners are ready to use the tax savings in this plan to increase employment and help revive our state’s economy.”

Economic impact of fast-growing second-stage small businesses

Anyone who harbors doubts about the impact that Michigan small businesses have on job growth and economic expansion will be enlightened by statistics recently released by the Edward Lowe Foundation.

Looking at the companies that made the list of 2011 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch, the foundation found that these firms (all of which are fast-growing, second-stage companies):

  • In 2010, created 1,581 full time equivalent employees
  • Project to create 527 net new jobs in 2011
  • In 2010, earned $290 million in total annual revenue (up 34% compared to 2009.)

What if a single large Michigan company had added 1,581 jobs last year? The news would have created banner headlines across the state. Yet the fact that this same number of jobs was created by 50 individual small firms puts the news under-the-radar and underplays what a tremendous impact these companies have on the state’s economy.

Want to help create an economic climate that will turbo charge the growth of firms like the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch? Go to MBT-R.I.P. today and get engaged in the fight!