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Squirreling Away Your Emergency Fund

It’s Fall in New Hampshire and the squirrels and chipmunks are very busy. A horse chestnut tree in our yard lures them in, much to the joy of our retrievers Its rare that either a squirrel or a chipmunk does not pass in front of us whenever we head down the road, and usually there is a nut in its mouth. From our local public radio show I recently learned that in an observation of a female chipmunk, a 2-minute round trip amassed an estimated 116 acorns in one hour. Another chipmunk was estimated to Squirrelhave stored a bushel of chestnuts, hickory nuts and corn kernels over 3 days. Now that’s what I call putting something away for a rainy (or snowy, in this case) day!

Creating an emergency cash fund is done much the same way; one dollar, or one nut, at a time. The ideal mechanism is to have funds withdrawn automatically and deposited into an account that is less accessible or perhaps, a retirement or college fund. In the current economy, the accessibility to obtain cash for growth is critical; if your business is not currently growing, have faith – with the right action now, it will again. To make sure you have access to cash when you need it, follow these easy tips:

  1. Keep overhead low, even when revenues start to pick up again. Avoid returning to old spending habits just because your top line is starting to look like the old days.
  2. Stay in touch with your banker and other potential lenders or investors. Even if they’re not in a position to invest or lend now, a positive, open line of communication now will keep you in their mind when they are in a lending or investing position again.
  3. If business is slower for you now, use your time to invest in improved infrastructure. A well run company with strong operations is an attractive investment or lending opportunity.
  4. Clean up current borrowings and whittle them down as much as possible. Show potential lenders that you are a good credit risk, one who meets their obligations as agreed. While you’re at it, obtain a credit report on yourself or your business.

Don’t be a nut – save for tomorrow with cash and accessibility. – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Disaster Recovery

Earlier this week a client got some pretty bad news from his bookkeeper, the kind of news no one ever wants to hear. The kind of news that led him to say, “Well, it’s been nice doing business.” Envisioning worst case scenario, panic mode had set in.

It just so happens that at about the same time as my client’s “disaster” was unfolding, I was hearing about disasters that made his financial troubles pale in comparison: the tsunami and volcanic eruption that rocked Indonesia this week.

Once my client got through the initial wave of panic, I decided to compare the aftermath of the two “disasters”. What I found was that, regardless of the magnitude of the disaster, the resolution process is similar.

  • Assess the damage; collect data. For my client, it meant finding out the amount of money in question; learning how long it had been happening.
  • Triage the injured. Injured are sorted based on the severity of their medical needs. The same can be said in a business emergency; based on the data collected, provide “medicine” to those areas in the business most damaged. This could be employees, vendors, or customers.
  • Ask for help. My client reached out to me (I’m honored) as a sounding board and for a calm voice, I suspect. We also reached out to a CPA for knowledge. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
  • Prevent further damage. When I thought about Indonesia, it seemed to take a couple of different forms: Evacuation OR Preventing the Spread of the Disease.


My client initially thought that evacuation, closing the doors, was the only choice. Once we walked through the steps outlined above, we learned that we didn’t need to evacuate, we only needed to prevent the spread of disease. He did this by correcting the error as quickly as possible and modifying operating procedures to insure that it doesn’t happen again.

My client is on the better side of his disaster, and in his Big Book of Business, he has another significant Lesson Learned.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Be Wary of the Pendulum Effect

Last week, my daughter’s eighth grade science class was studying pendulums and Newton’s Laws of Motion. In case you need a refresher, here’s a summary:

  • An object in motion stays in motion unless an external force is applied;
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; and,

  • There is a relationship between an object’s mass, its acceleration, and force. The greater the mass of the object being accelerated the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate the object. It is expressed as F=MA.

Phew! Thank you, Mr. Kibler!

This science lesson came screeching into view yesterday as I listened to news about mid-term elections. Candidates run to the other position; unhappy voters abandon elected officials in strong reactions to the current state. An image of a pendulum was vivid.

Too often, these strong reactions occur in business, as well. Have you ever heard yourself say, “We’ll never do that again”! Just as Newton’s second law states, the stronger the action is, the stronger the reaction. It shouldn’t always be that way in business.

Let me give you a simple analogy. Imagine that you were driving from New England to Texas but you’ve gotten off course and find yourself in Georgia. Would you react by throwing in the towel, get back in the car and head north? Probably not. Instead, you would recognize that you made an error and adjust your course. Instead of heading south, you needed to drive southwest. You would make a simple course correction and drive west.

Think about your business now. Have you made an attempt at something that didn’t work out as planned? For example, my husband wanted more animals to have dental cleanings at his animal hospital. They modified how the service was presented to clients, but it didn’t work. If anything, clients were even more disinclined to purchase the service. The animal hospital could have called it quits, blaming the results on the economy or the town’s demographics. Instead, the staff put some thought to what clients said about dental cleanings, and modified their presentation again. This time it worked.

Let Newton’s Laws stay in the eighth grade science lab. Let reactions be the choice of politicians. In business, act and then adjust..


– Helen Dutton, Business Coach


I’m Lovin’ It: What McDonald’s Teaches Us About Leveraging Target Markets

Whether you love ‘em or not, most agree that McDonald’s is a powerful marketing machine. Last week, McDonald’s stock hit an all-time high; market share is increasing; revenues are up. When consumers are spending less, how is this possible?

McDonald’s has made its share of mistakes but they know who buys their products – Moms. Moms driving min-vans at lunchtime; moms on their way to soccer practice. What is more easy for a mini-van-driving-soccer/music-lesson mom than drive thru to pick up a quick bite? There’s no getting car seats in and out, no being late for practice.

By focusing on one of their core demographics, McDonald’s was able to seek out new products to market. The mega restaurant has expanded the opportunities for a mom with new smoothies and frappes, giving moms that little “self-indulgent treat” they so crave mid-morning or early afternoon.

Geoffrey A. Moore, a consultant and author, wrote Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado about marketing high-tech products and increasing market share. Let me loosely apply one of his theories to the McDonald’s scenario and how they develop new markets and products based on what they know best. It looks like this:






Think about your target market:

  • How can you best leverage what you already sell to new target markets?
  • How can you further leverage new products to your current key demographic markets?

Let’s say that your core demographic is office managers of dental offices. What other products or services can you offer within dental offices? Find a way to leverage what you know about office managers; what other industries can you easily target? Look to expand your offerings to current markets; find new markets by looking for similar attributes.

Apply these principles to your marketing strategy, and soon, you’ll be lovin’ it. – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Think Outside The Box

I have a confession: I’m a Gleek (fan of the TV show ‘Glee’). While plot can be a bit light at times, I just don’t care because their musical harmonies and choice of songs makes my hair stand on end. And ifGlee Logo you see me singing my heart out in the car, chances are, a Glee playlist is playing in the background.

I have to admit, when I first heard about the show’s plot (a story about high school underdogs who make their way by singing in a group) I wondered how it would survive. It sounded a bit like High School Musical, and honestly, with two kids in their target market at the time, I’d had enough of that. I wondered who would listen, other than high school kids who could identify with the lead characters. And yet Glee is gets great ratings amongst young adults and people just like me!

In an age when we have hundreds of channels to choose from and just about every imaginable “reality” playing out on the screen, I’m fascinated thinking about the meeting when someone pitched this show’s premise. Did he/she get laughed out of the room when suggesting that it would appeal to middle-aged professionals?

Radical departures from traditional thinking are rarely met with open arms. Think about the brilliance of this show: middle-aged professionals remember the classic rock songs from the first time around and can sing along; the show tunes are at least recognizable by a larger audience; it’s fun rooting for the underdog; and it appeals to that kid inside all of us who just wants to find a way to fit in.

Glee’s success reminds me of the value of turning an ‘accepted’ idea around and asking:

  • What if this wasn’t true?
  • What if the opposite of this were true?
  • What if this ‘truth’ were no longer important to me?

Gleek or not, there’s value for all of us in following their example of thinking out of the box. Right now, though, I’ve got to go download last week’s songs.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.