Which channel is best for your ROI?

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This is a great article about measuring the ROI between SEO, Paid search, Display ads, Social media and E-Mail alternatives.  They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure and it seem marketers have a bit of difficulty on that score.   Read on here

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SWOT: Revisiting an old friend

Skidbiz SWOTIt’s and old familiar friend and most will concede the SWOT analysis is invaluable when making a big decision to purchase a new business or restart an existing one.  However, its great for making other strategic and tactical evaluations as well.  It’s a lot like taking corporate selfies.  Identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on various issues can be a perpetual practice as your company matures and the marketplace paradigms shift. It is one of the most basic and yet most valuable multitools available to the business professional and while everyone gives it the knowing nod it remains underutilized. So use it beyond just those big picture applications.

The versatility of the SWOT analysis is clearly revealed in a Google search of SWOT images. The hundreds of iterations crisscross from the basic and specific Starbucks versions to Novamind mind mapping (there will no attempt at covering that subject here). They are applied to lean management, sales force improvements, crisis management, competitive market analysis, revenue improvement and about any aspect of your business that can benefit from a closer look.

I’m a big fan of co-creating solutions with lots of other associates. The SWOT process is well suited as a template for this. Bring your people together and ask them to give you a rapid fire version of what they perceive as the standout strengths of the issue in question. Write the items down on a poster size sheet. Give each person a limited number of stickers or post-its to “vote” on their most important entries by pinning them next to their top picks and add up the scores.   Make a list, vote, repeat process for weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The result is a consensus of opinions that most can align with and a feeling they were part of the decision making process. Your ongoing conversations will now be driven by the results that everyone contributed to and buy-in is a beautiful thing.

The SWOT analysis can help marketing focus, sales growth planning, team building and calamity avoidance. It can certainly accelerate changes, and be an essential step in making those mid course corrections that can make a solid difference to your company. Its uses are only limited by your business imagination. Heck, spread it on your toast in the morning and sprinkle it on your ice cream in the evening, just don’t file the concept in your desk drawer and forget it. The process stimulates conversation between associates and it costs so little to implement as an ongoing practice.

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The Jonas Project – Mentoring for Service Veterans

There are life stories worth sharing with others and this is one of them.  I became aware of US Navy SEAL Jonas Kelsall when I joined a relatively new non-profit organization called The Jonas Project. Now beginning its third year, it was created to honor the memory of their son by John and Teri Kelsall and to support Service Veterans who are starting new businesses by providing mentoring and financial support. The Jonas Project - jonas-small-300x225

     Jonas B. Kelsall, then just 17 years old, announced when he graduated from high school he wanted to become a Navy SEAL.  His parents had to sign the enlistment papers because of his age.  To ease his mother’s apprehension, he promised that as soon as he finished BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) Training he would go to college.  His plan to become a SEAL came as a complete surprise to his parents, but he always was a person of his word, and so the papers were signed and Jonas entered the Navy.

He made it through BUDS, and as promised, was off to the University of Texas for the next four years.  He received his Bachelor of Arts degree along with his Commission and spent the next several years following his dream, eventually leading him to Lt. Commander in the Naval Special Warfare elite Development Group.

Jonas spent 12 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL, loving every single minute. In those years he earned three bronze stars, all with Valor, a Legion of Merit Award, and 2 Presidential Unit Citations, to name a few.

On August 6, 2011 at the age of 32, he was killed in action in Afghanistan in the single worst disaster in the history of the U.S. SEALs.

He lived the kind of life most only dream of.  He traveled the world; he met and married the love of his life. His career was not only a source of great joy, but tremendous pride. He never met a person he didn’t consider a friend; he had a sister and parents whose worlds revolved around their love and respect for him. And now The Jonas Project has given birth to an initiative he may never have imagined.

Every time Jonas left for deployment he would tell us “If anything happens to me, know that I love my job. It is the only thing I want to do.” Jonas would constantly encourage others to do what they loved as well, and the Jonas Project will give Veterans that chance.

The Jonas Project (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) is giving back to those Veterans who have served our country with honor.  It is for those Veterans, who have an entrepreneurial spirit, and the determination to succeed at their dream, that The Jonas Project was born.

The Jonas Project is not about charity, it is about accelerating the empowerment of our nation’s most powerful natural resource.  Our Warrior Entrepreneurs will drive the economy for the future, standing with them is simply good business for America.

I am proud to be a volunteer mentor with the Jonas Project and want to urge you to be a supporter in whatever capacity you can, as a mentor, donor or advocate who passes this story on to others. Please visit http://www.thejonasproject.org/ to learn more about this wonderful organization.TJP Logo

 Robert Skidmore, President

Portions reproduced  with permission of The Jonas Project, a 501c3 organization  

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Five Finer Points of Succession Planning

  1. From starting line-up to bench strength  Succession planning is the backbone of strategic human resources management. Its primary purpose is to provide information for the identification of candidates for replacement of managerial and other “key and critical” positions within the organization. It should serve as the basis for developing a human resources component to the strategic planning process. Thus, two immediate benefits of a well-thought out and executed succession plan are the building of bench strength through targeted allocation of development resources and creating buy-in from those employees so targeted. 
  2. Avoid the forgotten binder outcome   Succession planning should be an ongoing process, bringing top organization executives and Human Resources department leadership together to engage in a strategic dialogue. This is essential if the process is to be something more than a “fill out the forms” exercise. The more care that is taken in the succession plan’s development and use, the more efficiently the organization will be served over time. Conversely, without top management input, support and use of the succession plan, it will be nothing more than another binder occupying shelf space in the HR department. Accordingly, the plan should belong to the entire organization. It is as much about the process as the plan itself.
  3. Getting it from the horse’s mouth   In developing the plan, lots of information may be gathered from personnel records; but addressing the employees to directly provide information about their career objectives, and development needs promotes buy-in and better quality of information. You should ask employees to “self-identify” their strengths, weaknesses and next position targets, as well as to identify possible successors to the position they currently hold. Keep in mind, though, it is ultimately up to Human Resources to edit and approve any employee-provided data prior to discussion with top management.
  4. Assessing for future performance potential   An in-depth profile should be developed for each employee shown in the plan and should include a two or three sentence summary prepared by the employee’s organizational manager, describing the employee’s responsibilities, strengths and contributions. The employee should also be assessed for “performance” in their current position and “potential” for future career growth.  HR should provide rating managers with standard forms and definitions for accomplishing this, to promote a uniform dialogue among rating managers.
  5. Is there no next man/woman up?   It is important not to force employees into a successor position who do not objectively meet the requirements for success in the positions outlined in the plan. It is vital for the organization to know if there are no viable candidates for succession to a key position, to better understand the risks associated with attrition (planned or unplanned) and to be prepared with plans for external replacement if such better serves the organization’s strategic needs.

       Rod Hanks with Robert Skidmore

       Other helpful articles at Hot-BizKits

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The Four Stages of Employee Costs

If your business hires one new employee every quarter or less the laundry list of costs associated with hiring, onboarding, training and retaining good people might seem incidental. However, if you are like a home care company that I worked with for a time (that employed hundreds of in-home caregivers) you are in a constant hiring mode. Then all these “little things” add up quickly if you don’t have strong processes in place to identify and control them.

One: Hiring costs

To effectively manage hiring costs, the many expenses associated with the new employee (that start well before he or she does) should be recorded in a dedicated recruitment expense account rather than into any of several possible miscellaneous expense categories. Hard hiring costs are pretty self-evident but there are also plenty of soft administrative costs mixed into the process that you may want to capture as well. For example, you should assign the percentage of time spent by employees recruiting as hiring costs. You can estimate whole dollar amounts to allocate per hire, but you can’t control what you don’t measure, so capture these costs.

  1. Job specific advertising, on-line, in print or other

  2. Time reviewing and selecting the best resumes and applications
  3. Phone time spent screening those applicants
  4. Interviewing: In groups, first and second level individual interviews and perhaps a final interview by one of your executives
  5. Aptitude, knowledge & skills testing including time and materials ($150-$500ea)
  6. Drug screening ($15-$25ea)
  7. Background checks ($40 – $70 ea. depending on how many jurisdictions you check)
  8. DMV check is a must for anyone driving on company business
  9. Professional agency fees (25-30% of first year salary is common)

And these all take place before the new employee is officially hired. Many of these are unavoidable, but being aware of them and minimize them when and where you can is the goal.

Two: Onboarding

This is the time taken to familiarize the new hire with the company’s physical and cultural layout. Where are the departments and who are the supervisors that they may interact with. Who are their co-workers? Where do they park and when and where do they take breaks and lunch? Also, keep in mind the costs of:

  1. General orientation meetings
  2. W-4 and other HR forms
  3. Employee handbooks
  4. Benefits handbooks
  5. Employee uniforms
  6. Security badges
  7. Parking permits

Three: Training Costs:

It takes time and dedication of resources to advance an employee up the ladder from “newbie” ” to fully productive team member. Your goal is to move them quickly from cost center to the tipping point where they are fully productive. In order to accomplish this there are certain essential general and/ or job specific types of training that might be undertaken. Regardless of subject matter or format, there will be real costs associated with training. Examples include:

  1. Safety rules and regulations (Hazmat, etc.)
  2. Govt. Compliance issues
  3. IT systems orientation
  4. Sexual harassment training
  5. Indirect costs of equipment, facilities and supplies
  6.  Individual counseling, coaching, mentoring

Cross training is a form of job enrichment, it leads to increased employee empowerment and security and can help to reduce very expensive employee turnover costs. It can thus increase productivity, morale and more. It can help fill voids created by illnesses and vacations and demonstrates to staff that the company cares about employees’ career growth. In short, effective and efficient cross training programs will serve you well.

Four: Retaining Costs

“Cash money isn’t the only way workers are compensated, of course – health insurance, retirement-account contributions, education and transit subsidies and other benefits all can be part of the package. But wages and salaries are the biggest (about 70%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and most visible component of employee compensation”.  Drew Desilver, Pew Research Center

Not every business can afford to offer a complete universe of benefits, but those companies who will compete most effectively for talent are offering benefits such as those listed below to attract today’s entitlement savvy candidates. Where do you stand with respect to the following?

  1. Major Medical Insurance
  2. Disability coverage
  3. Dental insurance
  4. Vision care
  5. Life insurance
  6. Tuition reimbursements
  7. Pension/Profit sharing plans
  8. 401k Plans
  9. Flexible spending accounts
  10. Free transportation to and from work (see Google and Facebook)
  11. No-cost company cafeteria open 24/7 (again, Google, etc.)
  12.  Child care services

According to Eric Koester of MyHighTechStart-Up, “estimates range from 1.5x to 3x salary for the ‘fully baked’ cost of an employee – the cost including things like benefits, taxes, equipment, training, rent, etc.” Hiring a new employee isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly, as it doesn’t fall lightly on the company budget. But without workers, there isn’t much work done. And that’s the bottom line for businesses; even though the investment may make the company accountant cringe, the potential in return on a good new hire continues to make the investment worthwhile. 

Before you decide to add benefits remember they are all added on top of the more mundane, but required (California) basics of:

  1. Social security tax of 6.2% on the first $117,000 in calendar gross earnings.
  1. Medicare tax of 1.45% on all calendar gross earnings (no maximum earnings)
  2. 0.8% Federal unemployment tax (FUTA) on the first $7,000.00 in calendar gross earnings.
  3. For CA employers State Unemployment Tax (SUTA) of up to a maximum of 6.2% on the first $7,000.00 in calendar gross earnings (new employers start at 3.2% SUTA rate on the first $7,000.00 in calendar gross earnings.
    Thanks to Craig Koster, CPA

In the current economy where jobs are being eliminated by automation and off-shoring in record numbers it is increasingly important that hiring decisions be made wisely and as infrequently as your retention rate allows. I hope this article has helped to give some clarity and focus to your hiring processes.

Robert Skidmore, President

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How to Find a Business Partner

Hey MomFinding a business partner might be easy, but finding the right business partner, no matter what stage your business is in, may not be  as simple as you wish it to be.  Clearly, finding the wrong partner can prove catastrophic and costly in both money and time.  So take some time and vet your candidates as you would any new strategic hire.  There is good reason you should run background and DMV checks to find out with whom you are cozying up.  Better to know now than later even if they are someone close to you.

Keeping it in the family is the logical place to start for most small businesses and many have prospered by doing just that.  However, if family seems “too close” or the skills and knowledge needed in your business don’t live within your family then it’s time to look elsewhere.  Potential business partners can be found in many places, although you might consider looking for a partner where you have a certain level of mutual credibility and trust.

Networking to Find a Business Partner

Personal introductions work well, so meeting the right people through your professional acquaintances, your banker, accountant, network friends or business consultant are certainly valuable.  Let your close friends know you are looking for a sound business partner, they might know of someone interested.

A professionally focused social media network, or group within it, might yield results.  LinkedIn is the best example.  A partnership is serious business and broadcasting it to Twitter and Facebook isn’t recommended.

Other places that you might have luck finding a business partner are trade shows and local networking events such as at a nearby chamber of commerce or Rotary Club.

Know Your Partner

Once you have found a prospective person to partner with, get to know them as much as possible. Business can be challenging enough without a partner, having a good partner should make things easier — not harder —for both of you.  Make sure that you make clear and concise agreements about how you divide responsibilities in the business and document as much as possible so that no misunderstandings occur down the line.  Having a business partnership is very much like a marriage. You know that it won’t always be good times, so be ready when disagreements occur.  It really isn’t if, but when.

Robert Skidmore, President

Skidmore Business Solutions

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Business plan, Org chart, Enthusiasm………..check, check, check! Now set the foundation with Core Values

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Most organizations begin with a business plan and an organization chart and a lot of enthusiasm, but eventually they recognize the need for a number of additional policies and devices that define who they are and drive their progress.  One of the most fundamental, and the one we cover here, is your statement of Core Values.   It will be the first step in drawing up the necessary documents and plans that will help animate your ideas into company beliefs and actions. These are the communications to all associates and stakeholders explaining what your enterprise wants to accomplish, what it stands for and where you intend to direct it. These are virtues that you post on the office walls and in the company newsletter that help to create the culture and the language of success that you want all associates to embrace.


Core Values definition: Principles that guide an organization’s internal  conduct as well as its relationship with the external world, its enduring purpose.

            OK, here we need to tap the brakes a little bit. Defining your company core values isn’t something you can (or should) bang out on a cocktail napkin. If yours is a small company then it’s core values may be an extension of your own personal beliefs that include your views on integrity, philanthropy, value creation and truth. If you are a non-profit organization serving the economically disadvantaged you may want to state diversity, respect and stewardship as your key identifiers. Either way some introspection will serve you well. Other tenets to consider may include: leadership, stretch, global, consistency, creativity and diligence.  Typically this list will include the five or six items you feel are most important, but expanding to eight or nine isn’t unheard of.

Kevin Daum wrote for INC. magazine: Most concede the power of core values in business. Jim Collins made a great case in Built to Last. But it’s difficult to accurately create or accept core values for your company if your own personal core values are unclear”. Many claim to understand their own values, but I maintain you don’t really know them until you have:”

  • Articulated them clearly in writing.
  • Tested them through daily decision-making.

Remember that these could be under inspection every day in the issues of customer service, credit and collection and employee hiring and disputes just to name a few. So take some time and be willing to accept input from others in formulating the pillars of what your company stands for.

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Creating a Strategic Team Vision

                    Three stone masons of the middle ages were hard at work when a visitor came along and asked them what they were doing. The first stone mason was toiling away, sweat beading his brow. “I am cutting this stone”, he grumbled. The second stone mason, though less distraught, responded with a deep sigh, “I’m building a parapet.” The third stone mason replied with a radiant face, “I am building a beautiful cathedral that will glorify God for centuries to come”.– Author unknown

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While the first two masons saw only what was immediately before them the third mason had been visualizing his cathedral, dreaming of how it would appear at its completion. Imagine him rising each day anxious to play his full part in that effort. Isn’t that the enthusiasm you would prefer to feel each day, and better yet, have your associates bring with them to work as well? When you undertake your visioning task, strive to be that third mason and to bring your co-creators along with you.

Strategic Visioning:

           Mental process in which images of the desired future (goals, objectives, outcomes) are made intensely real and compelling to act as motivators for the present action.

Unlike strategic planning, visioning is more about lofty aspirations and less about the nuts and bolts of implementation. Oh, there will be plenty of time for the nuts and bolts later, but why spoil the fun. Whether you are setting up a new banana stand, directing an established business, corporate division, a trade association or a township, it will have grown over the coming years and morphed from what it is today into something different. Strategic visioning gives you and your associates that uncommon chance to visualize that future as you wish to see it without limitations.

In the early 1990’s the Campbell Soup Company of Canada committed a few days to a strategic visioning session.  They brought together all the department heads, movers and shakers, etc. and went through numerous exercises. They broke into smaller groups and wrote imaginary future newspaper headlines extoling their desired accomplishments. They talked about “Gate to Plate” streamlining of their products to the consumers, what milestones they would reach along the way and generally about how dynamic they could be. When all the dust had settled they agreed that they wanted to be the “Best Food Company in North America” or B-F-C-N-A.  Thereafter they tested all new ideas and proposals against their vision to be the BFCNA.  “Would these suggestions contribute to us being BFCNA”?  It became part of their daily lexicon. It was used in communications with all the employees and other stakeholders until everyone knew exactly what they were striving to be. They would be the BFCNA.

It’s said that if you are lucky enough to have a job (or business) that you love you will never have to work a day in your life. Here is your chance to plot that course in a form that allows others to share in it. Take the opportunity now to develop and express what you want that to be and nurture it with your associates as co-creators of your success.

Please contact us if we can help facilitate your vision.

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Skidmore Business Solutions Welcomes Gene Rotondo

Skidbiz gene rotundo photo1Skidmore Business Solutions is pleased and proud to announce the addition of Gene Rotondo to the organization as a senior associate. Gene has over thirty years of experience as a business owner and entrepreneur. He is adept at funding startups, managing, expanding and providing exit strategies for businesses and supporting the full circle of business ownership.In Long Beach, California he is well known as the longtime owner of the iconic Legends Restaurant and Sports Bar and thirteen year president of the Belmont Shore Business Association. His background also includes a twenty-one year career as a securities broker with considerable experience in mergers and acquisitions, bridge financing, auditing, operations, asset management and strategic planning for existing and start-up businesses.  His most recent ventures include modular housing in the Bakken shale oil and gas fields, and retail operations in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has five years of experience working with licensing of retail/intellectual properties for Chuck Jones/Warner Bros., Disney and others. He has significant experience with retail credit card systems and functionality.

Read about other associates at: skidbiz.com

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Confessions of a Neophyte Blogger:

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I am learning that promoting ones consulting business is not a laid-back and stress free undertaking.  Apparently writing a blog to place before your audience is a broadly accepted means of such marketing, but what if you have little or no experience in self-bloviating?  Most of my experience consists of posting a few friendly cat and dog videos on Facebook.  So I decided to bone up a little.  I read and carefully dissected numerous other blogs and have determined that a few rules seem to hold sway and give the reader a reasonable incentive to follow along.  They seem to be as follows:

1)      You are expected to offer at least a few pithy words of advice, and certainly more than “Never turn on your blender while holding your cat”.  While that is sound advice, it won’t increase profits or curb your high employee turnover.  Given the never-ending availability of new marketing and management tools and tactics it should be easy to identify a topic of interest.  However, differentiating yourself from the nearly 500,000 other professionals (per the Institute of Management Consultants) is the real challenge.  I have to ask myself, how does one make the subject of reshoring American manufacturing sexy or even interesting?  Is there any real interest in four new ways to apply a SWOT analysis to your business?  And these were a couple of my best subjects?  My head began to spin.

2)      Announce at the top of each article the number of bullet points or rules that you espouse to be really important (Please note here that I have failed to do so, hence the neophyte status) like six ways to turbo charge your SEO, or three imperatives for effective leadership, and so on.  This rule is used to manage your audience’s expectations so that they know you don’t plan to drone on and on about thirty-five ways to manage Millennials or as I like to call it “How to Train Your Dragons”.

3)      Work-in oblique references to your many years of experience and super hero skill sets. This can be a little tricky.  If you don’t claim enough years your wisdom is in question. If you count your work history in decades you are probably a soon-to-be-extinct dinosaur. You may want to use dog years as an alternative in this case.  Mine would be about five dog years from my first spin in the CEO’s chair through my last dozen years as executive coach and business consultant. I like to think that I am a pretty wise old pterodactyl.

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