‘There’s a wealth of business knowledge out there to share,” says attorney Yan
Bennett, and many business owners are happy to volunteer to share their knowledge to help others in business.
That is the purpose of the next meeting of the Mercer chapter of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners. The group will host “Creative Solutions for Your Business for These and All Times,” on Thursday, April 23, at 6 p.m. at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center. Bennett, an attorney with Maselli Warren on Alexander Road, will join Bill Litchman, a retired telecommunications executive; advertising consultant Alan Yarnoff; and Adnan Shamsi, a financial advisor with UBS. Cost: $45. Reservations may be made online at www.NJAWBOMercer.org.
Bennett’s interest in working with business owners through SCORE came from her family, many of whom are small business owners, she says. She grew up in Dalton, Georgia, where her mother ran a restaurant at one time and currently owns several rental properties. Her father still works with her uncle in Dalton at a company that manufactures disposable heating pads.
Bennett received her bachelor’s in political science from Furman University in Granville, South Carolina, in 1996 and her master’s in international affairs from George Washington University in 1999. She was a foreign service officer with the Department of State, and as a career diplomat she served in Singapore, China, and Bosnia.
She later earned a J.D. from Syracuse. During law school she worked for Dow Jones & Co., in its Enterprise Media Group legal department and interned with the U.S. Immigration Court in Philadelphia. She joined Maselli-Warren in 2008.
Many business owners are particularly worried about the bottom line right now, says Bennett, but that doesn’t mean that they can ignore certain business basics. You can’t quit working on your business if you want to remain in business, she explains.
Keep on marketing. The most common mistake many business owners make, she says, is that when sales get slow and money gets tight they cut back on marketing. That, she adds, is exactly the opposite of what should be done.
“Marketing is particularly important when the economy is down,” she says. “It helps a company to maintain its client base and client loyalty when the competition is fierce.” Marketing, however, doesn’t have to cost a company a fortune. “Be creative and innovative,” she says. In today’s world of E-mail marketing and social networking it is particularly easy to keep your brand in front of customers without spending a lot of money.
Don’t just maintain. “Just because the economy is down it doesn’t mean that a company can’t grow,” says Bennett. The company that only focuses on maintaining its client base in the coming months may be losing opportunities to gain new clients and increase business.
“Yes, the competition is fierce right now, but business owners can’t forget to constantly work on selling their products and promoting their businesses,” she says. She suggests identifying top clients and reaching out to them. “Make sure they know that you understand their needs,” she says.
Revamp product lines. Now is the time to look at your entire product line, identify the top sellers, and consider getting rid of products that do not do as well.
Reach out to creditors. “Talk to your creditors before your problems become too big — and that includes your suppliers,” says Bennett. “Ignoring the problem won’t make it get any better.” She suggests working to renegotiate pay terms with creditors and suppliers to insure that you continue to maintain your cash flow.
If you are leasing space, now might also be the time to discuss a lease modification. “You don’t want to go into this lightly, however” she cautions. Some contracts include a clause that gives the owner the right to terminate a lease just because the tenant asked to renegotiate. Hire an attorney to look at your contract before doing anything.
If your contract allows it, it might not hurt to ask. Your landlord might be willing to consider accepting a smaller payment each month rather than being faced with a store or office space going empty for several months.
Reconsider your payment requirements. Many people in service businesses traditionally are paid in one lump sum at the end of a job. That policy “puts too much power in the hands of the people who owe you,” says Bennett. Consider changing to a policy to include a partial payment before the job starts or at intervals throughout the project.
It might be difficult to change your policy with long-standing clients, and if you have a contract with a client make sure that a lawyer looks at it before attempting to make changes. However, it is good plan to start a new payment policy with any new clients.
Be proactive. The most important thing for business owners to remember is to stay on top of conditions in their own industry and their own business. Keep track of cash flow, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. “Figure out solutions to problems before they become large,” she says. “You might have to consider laying off employees, you might have to prioritize your payments.”
Make sure you bring in your experts before you make those decisions. “If you need to lay off employees, check with an attorney; talk with your accountant when you are prioritizing your bills.” Bennett learned her final piece of advice from business owners from another SCORE advisor. “Do everything you are doing now and do it more and better,” she says.