Wednesday, October 3

Setting Your Sights On Small Farm Dream

Have you ever thought about starting a farm or agricultural related business? New Jersey’s proximity to large consumer markets offers tremendous opportunity for small-scale farm businesses, but the barriers to entry can be daunting. High land values, high investment costs, and a relative dearth of educational resources for beginning farmers can make starting a small farm seem like an impossible dream. The new course presented by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ), however, promises to show would-be farmers that it can be done.

“Exploring the Small Farm Dream: Is Starting an Agricultural Business Right for You?” takes place on Wednesday, October 3, at 6 p.m., and will run for four consecutive Wednesday evenings. Classroom sessions will be held at the new visitor’s center at Howell Living History Farm on Woodens Lane in Titusville. In addition to the evening sessions, a Saturday field trip to two or more successful New Jersey agricultural businesses will be part of the program. Cost: $275 for one person, or $400 for two people working on a joint project. Full and partial scholarships are available. Call 609-737-6848 or visit www.nofanj.org to register.

Instructors for the course are Pam Flory, former farm manager at Spring Hill Farm in Hopewell, and guest speakers, including farm owners and operators, and agricultural professionals with expertise in start-up resources. Topics include current opportunities in small-scale agriculture, objectives, an assessment of personal and financial resources, preliminary market research, and developing an action plan for pursuing interests in food and farming. All levels of experience are welcome.

“Starting a farm business — like starting any business — involves risk, but it can be extremely rewarding,” says NOFA-NJ’s outreach director, Mikey Azzara. “Our hope is that this class will help people make realistic projections about those risks and rewards, and move toward their goal of working the land. Demand for locally-grown and organic produce in this region is rapidly outpacing supply, so one of our major goals as an organization is to help new farmers enter the field.”

The Exploring the Small Farm Dream curriculum was originally developed by the New England Small Farm Institute, a non-profit organization providing educational and other resources to beginning, limited-resource, part-time, and small-scale farmers in the Northeast. Funding to bring the course to New Jersey was provided in part by First Pioneer Farm Credit’s AgEnhancement Program.

Thursday, October 4

New Jersey’s Banks:

Weathering a Crisis

Sometimes the best-laid plans can have unintended consequences. In the case of the subprime mortgages offered to individuals without solid credit ratings who were struggling to get into the housing market, the consequences are rippling through the local, national, and global economies. The problems are serious, says John E. McWeeney Jr., president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Bankers Association. This is so, he says, even though as many as 80 percent of these loans have performed well.

Subprime mortgages, generally offered by mortgage bankers and brokers rather than commercial banks, had certain features that blew up when interest rates rose precipitously. Usually the subprimes offered adjustable rate loans that start low — very low — and then convert to a fixed rate. They didn’t require a large down-payment, tend to be forgiving in terms of a person’s credit history, and may not have stringent requirements for verifying income.

These mortgages did allow many families to successfully enter the housing market, but as interest rates went up, and these families had to move to a higher fixed rate, many couldn’t afford the payments.

“There was a dramatic increase in delinquency,” says McWeeney, “which is leading to a dramatic increase in foreclosures.” He says the problem is not too bad in New Jersey, but other states, including Ohio, Florida, and California, are having a difficult time.

McWeeney speaks on “Financially Turbulent Times and the State of New Jersey’s Banking Industry” on Thursday, October 4, at noon at a meeting of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Marriott Princeton. To register, go to www.princetonchamber.org

Because subprime loans are generally packaged and sold to investors, in many cases institutional investors, the unraveling of these mortgages creates turbulence on Wall Street, particularly with regard to assessing responsibility for investors’ losses.

These bundled mortgages are usually accompanied by strict guidelines as to whether and when a homeowner can refinance, and in many cases there are prepayment penalties, creating more problems for the individual homeowner.

The ensuing crisis has struck throughout every part of the home loan chain, from investors, to Wall Street firms, to the mortgage brokerage firms that processed the loans and now can’t get access to money for lending, and to homeowners at risk of losing their homes.

The subprime crisis has also affected credit markets generally. Large corporations have had a harder time borrowing, because, until recent moves by the Federal Reserve, there was not as much money available to lend out. Furthermore, sources of money for deals on Wall Street have dried up.

The housing market has also felt the impact of this crisis. The inventory of new homes is quite large and home prices have dropped in many parts of the country. At the same time, people are not purchasing first homes to the extent that they were. “If there are no first home buyers, they can’t trade up to second third, or fourth homes,” observes McWeeney.

New Jersey banking industry remains strong, though, he says.

“Commercial banks have not been impacted and have plenty of capital and money to lend out to consumers, businesses, and mid-market type companies,” says McWeeney. “The New Jersey banking industry has a lot of liquidity and capital to support our customers.” Furthermore, the banks’ asset quality is good, he says.

Earnings pressure in commercial banks. “New Jersey banks have been under earnings pressure for the last few years,” says McWeeney. To earn money, banks depend on the normally decent spread between long and short-term interest rates. They borrow money short term and lend it out longer term at a higher rate. But over the last few years, says McWeeney, “the yield curve, the difference between long and short term rates, has become very condensed.”

Consolidation in the banking industry. Because of this earnings pressure, each year in New Jersey and nationwide the net number of banks is decreasing.

“Because of pressure for earnings,” says McWeeney, “more banks are merging, or one is acquiring another.” PNC Bank, for example, is close to finalizing its acquisition of Yardville National Bank. Even though consumers are also seeing some new “de novo” banks (like the Bank of Princeton, which opened its doors in April and is already planning new branches in the next year or so), the number of banks doing business in New Jersey is shrinking every year.

McWeeney, who grew up in Avon by the Sea, where his father was the water superintendent, says that banking has been a longtime interest. He explains, “I have always been fascinated by the banking industry and the role it plays in our economy, as an intermediary.” He adds that as banks have gotten involved in more financial services, banking has become a more critical industry.

McWeeney received a bachelor’s degree from Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts, in 1977 and an MBA from Boston College in 1979. He retired in April after 28 years at Bank of America where he moved from management trainee to southern New Jersey market president and executive vice president and senior client manager in the bank’s government banking division.

He moved into his new role as president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Bankers Association, he says, “because it was an opportunity to stay in banking and do something from a little different perspective.”

McWeeney would like to see individuals in the private and public sectors promote greater financial literacy to help people make better choices and to avoid falling victim to potential financial predators. In particular, he envisions financial education programs for children, young adults, seniors, and immigrants.

In the next few years McWeeney expects more consolidation because of economic pressures. But he is satisfied that the industry will be able to continue to do its job, saying: “There are still lots of banks with lots of capital that are well positioned to serve.”

— Michele Alperin

College Level Insight Into Entrepreneurs

‘Harnessing the Power of Entrepreneurship,” a five-workshop series sponsored by the Princeton University for Innovation in Engineering Education, begins with a talk by the only high-tech entrepreneur to be elected as a U.S. Governor. Craig R. Benson, former governor of New Hampshire and co-founder Cabletron Systems will speak on Thursday, October 4, at 4:30 p.m. in Bowen Hall on Prospect Street. Call 609-258-9754 for information.

Julian Lange, a long-time entrepreneur and business school professor, moderates the series, which also includes Peter Kellner, co-founder of Endeavor and founder & managing director of Richmond Management, on Thursday, October 11, at the Friend Center. Each lecture is followed by a reception at 6 p.m.

Other speakers in the series include Francis P. Pandolfi, former COO, U.S. Forest Service and former CEO of the Times-Mirror; Walter E. Skowronski of Boeing Capital Corporation, and a panel of educators including Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel; David Botstein, director of the Lewis Sigler Institute; and Edward Felten, director of the Center for Information Technology Policy.

Saturday, October 6

Upgrade the Resume

It’s your ticket to that golden interview — the face-to-face audition that just might net you a career-launching job. Today’s resume, like most tickets, should come in both a paper and an electronic version. Like other tickets, it may have graphics — or not. It may be convention or glitzy, exhaustive or brief.

According to business coach Jim Deak, there are ways to present the ticket in such a way that it will pull in many positive responses.

To guide jobseekers through the maze of content and style, Deak presents for the St. Paul’s Career/Networking Group “Preparing a Resume that Highlights Your Most Marketable Skills” on Saturday, October 6, at 7 p.m. at St. Paul Church on Nassau Street. All are welcome to attend this free lecture and job networking event. Visit www.stpaulsofprinceton.org for more information.

Deak is a life-long engineer, not the qualification that immediately comes to mind as key for a resume mentor, but he insists that a more practical, scientific approach is just what resumes need. There is no room for quesswork when an appealing job is at stake, and when competition for it may be intense.

Born and raised in a small steel town near Pittsburgh, Deak was the son of an open-hearth coal stoker who sent all three children through college. Graduating in l960 with a bachelor’s in mechanical design, Deak joined Bell Labs, where he worked happily for 30 years. During that time, he earned his master’s in mechanical design from New York University.

Upon reaching retirement age, Deak decided to take a pass on golf, and get himself another job, and signed on with Telcore. But he still was not tired of the working life, and in 1997 he joined Neustar Corporation, and had “the absolute most fun I’d had in years.”

His job at Neustar was to reassign and shift telephone area codes around the nation. In the course of doing this he was able to travel extensive and to explore strange geographic niches. The only downside was that no one wanted to see Deak coming.

“You cannot imagine people’s attachment to their area codes,” he says. “Pretty soon, in self defense, I had to stop telling people what I did for a living.”

In 2003 Deak took his decades of business experience and formed Ideal Horizon Coaching in Morristown. The firm specializes in small business, career, and retirement coaching. Visit www.idealhorizoncoaching.com

“The resume is nothing more than a snapshot of yourself,” says Deak. “Dig down, find your best strengths, put them forward, and for heavens sake don’t overdo.”

Paper’s place. Just as it is assumed that the job seeker will be making at least a dozen calls a day, it is also assumed that he will have a good hard copy resume at the ready. Along with each job application that you fill out and hand in, attach your paper resume. (Have a little stapler with you so the receptionist won’t separate them.)

Also, if you have an actual contact person, always opt for sending a paper resume, unless specifically asked otherwise. Even if the contact is a stranger, he will almost invariably read a printed page more thoroughly than he would an E-mailed version.

Finally, paper is still the preferred medium when you make a cold call. The hard copy resume makes for a vital reminder of your visit.

Electronic styles. Many employers and human resource professionals prefer that electronic resumes be sent as a Word document, rather than a PDF file. For one thing, resumes that arrive this way take less time to open and print. But there is an advantage in sending a resume as a PDF file. Doing so allows you to format the resume any way you want to, and ensures that it will arrive exactly that way. So, says Deak, if you fear that the text might be changed or pieces may be dropped off if you send the resume as a Word document, PDF might be the way to go.

Initial review by humans If you are quite sure that a living, breathing human will read your electronic resume, use a style similar to the one you would use with a paper resume.

Start off with your name and contact information, add a one-paragraph skill summary, and follow it with your education credentials, and then go on to a chronological (or other format) listing of work experience. This verbal snapshot can be longer in electronic format than on paper. Paper resumes should always fit handily within two printed pages, but this restriction is not vital for the unpaginated screen. A few more lines may be tolerated, but don’t go overboard.

Initial review by a machine. Frequently the resume’s first stop is not human eyes. Increasingly the initial culling is done by a very unimpressionable computer that in a search-engine-like fashion hunts for keywords. This means that a pithy skill summary, including all keywords for which the machine is likely to search should be inserted before work history.

Some of these keywords are basic and obvious: “project manager,” “plant manager,” “staff supervisor,” “engineering,” and “instruction,” and any other words that appear prominently in advertisements for the job.

But Deak advises that the job candidate should really rake through his work experiences and set achievements in phrases that a computer can love.

Terms like “lead time reduction,” “established cross-functional teams,” and “solo accomplishments,” though not listed in the employer’s ad, may be the exact words that get your resume plucked for human review.

Keywords identifying character attributes such as “honesty,” “integrity,” and “diligence” may also make the computer smile. “As long as it’s positive, put it in,” says Deak. “Remember, the computer is not judgmental, it only seeks words on its secret list.”

Pictures? Nothing makes your resume stand out from the reams of other 8 1/2” x 11” white sheets as a high resolution photograph. (The operative words here being “high resolution.”)

Often a simple dignified headshot can provide a distinguishing, memorable mark of character. Yet be aware of the risk. The reason that there are so many anti-discrimination laws is that most people, knowingly or not, are prejudiced against certain physical types and — sad, but true — certain ethnic groups. Even gender traits that appear completely desirable could create problems.

If, for example, your potential employer’s wife just ran off with her tall, dark, handsome trainer, he could possibly — and even unconsciously — react badly to a picture of a tall, dark, handsome, nicely muscled applicant.

But if you guess that there will be hundreds — or thousands — or applicants for the outstanding job that is being advertised, it might be worth taking the chance. Sometimes a single action shot with an understated caption can give an otherwise anonymous applicant a big leg up.

“Here I am welding on the G.W. Bridge — 8/04.” “The office I redesigned for Acme, Inc. in Bridgeton — 7/06.” Something like that. Then the physical attributes of the welder or the decorator will take a back seat to the experience captured on film. Whatever photograph you choose, have a few friends review it first.

Content tips. Unless you are trying to land a job as a copywriter or an editor, worry less about exact wording and more about exact achievements. “Search really deeply through your every job experience, with an eye toward PAR — problem, action, result,” says Deak. Recall what was broken, describe the action you took, and then tell the result.

“Too many resumes leave out the results, or leave them vague,” says Deak. To say “I worked on solving our operating costs problems,” might mean that you labored and failed miserably. Rather, estimate the percentage of cost reduced, the labor saved, the appreciation in sales, or the response of others. It could even be all right to say “our clients were wildly excited.” But maybe only once per resume.

In the end, all resumes go out like notes in a bottle. The uncertainty and anxiety are great; the odds of success slight. A brief chat with any human resource professional will convince you that there is nothing personal in the selection process. No offense is meant. The only thing to do is keep sending out the resumes, custom tailor each one to the specific company and job, and if a phone contact is available, call within a few weeks if no response is forthcoming.

Politely ask for feedback. Try to find out why your resume wasn’t the ticket to a face-to-face interview. Many people really do want to help, and even more people truly enjoy being asked for advice. Indicate that you are well able to tolerate criticism, and you could get pointers that will make your next resume a winner.

— Bart Jackson

Tuesday, October 9

Avoid Personal Bias In Marketing Plans

John Bassler’s path to marketing has been a meandering one, starting with the quantitative marketing and statistics classes he taught at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, then turning to side roads investigations in academe and business, and recently settling down with his own company, Know/Go NPD LLC (www.knowgo-npd.com). He started Know/Go, which is based in Saugerties, New York, with a partner, Jim Kindley, to work with clients to improve their odds of new-product success through assessments, workshops, and consulting.

“The conceit of Know/Go NPD is that you ought to know before you go,” says Bassler. “Our emphasis is on helping people make good choices among new product concept alternatives early.” When companies are looking at new possibilities, he says, biases come into play. People get stuck on their own or their spouses’ ideas, and they have difficulty giving them up — even if it is obvious to everyone else that they would not be viable with any reasonable investment.

Bassler speaks on “Plan Your Marketing Proactively, Not Reactively” on Tuesday, October 9, at 6 p.m. at the Mansion on Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison Campus at a meeting of the Business Marketing Association, New Jersey chapter. For more information, call 973-443-8500.

Bassler’s new company brings together expertise he has been accumulating in varied work venues over the years. After graduating from Rice University in 1965 with a bachelor of arts in mathematics, Bassler received an MBA from Stanford University in 1967 and then a doctorate in industrial administration from what is now Carnegie Mellon’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration.

During his career he has taught in business programs at Dartmouth, Yale, the University of North Texas, and the University of Texas at Arlington, where he also served as director of the master’s program in marketing between 2000 and 2006.

The course he taught most frequently at the University of Texas was marketing strategy, for which he always required a project with an outside client interesting in improving its marketing strategy. His students, for example, worked with the Dallas Symphony, the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, and Mapsco, a mapping company in Dallas. The students conducted surveys, interviewed customers, and occasionally held focus groups. That class, says Bassler, “gave me a template for how to do marketing strategy or planning for any kind of organization.”

The second prong of Bassler’s experience is comprised of work in consulting and research firms. He has worked for Math Tech, an economic consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia, that is a subsidiary of Mathematica, and for Compaq Computers, where he analyzed customer satisfaction.

Because Compaq’s business model was to work through intermediaries rather than dealing directly with its customers, the company eventually failed and was swallowed up by Hewlett Packard. “Over time, the numbers were going down and they kept not understanding,” observes Bassler. “It was very poignant.”

The model, Bassler explains, had within it the seeds of its own decline. On the one hand Compaq didn’t know who its customers were, and, on the other hand, it had an adversarial relationship with dealers who wouldn’t share information about their customers for fear that Compaq would market to them directly.

After a year he found the combination of Compaq’s bureaucracy, the isolation of the work, and the difficulty of commuting between Dallas and Houston too stressful, and he quit.

At that point, he decided to try something completely different and asked himself: What is my passion? Given his active involvement in choral singing, the answer was easy. He had always loved classical music, so he got a job as the director and only employee of a small nonprofit called Fine Arts Chamber Players. He primarily raised money from state grants, arts organizations, and private donors to hire musicians to play in classical concerts that would be offered free to the public.

Gleaning from his varied experience over the years in academic and business settings, Bassler outlines some of the steps in developing a successful marketing strategy:

Identify your typical best customer. For the symphony this turns out to be a 66-year-old-widow, and, Bassler points out, “that’s a fairly small group to hang the future of an organization on.”

Analyze the competition. A classical musical arts organization like the Dallas Symphony, for example, has lots of competition — “at the most fundamental level, anything people can do with their leisure time,” observes Bassler.

Even by narrowing the field to potential intellectual and artistic activities, a whole range of alternatives exists, including concerts, museums, reading the books, or going to movies.

Find ways to expand your customer base. Again looking at the symphony example, a first step in attracting other people would be to change the total experience of going to symphony hall. Maybe offering meals would pull in busy professionals. Opportunities to interact with performers might bring parents who want to encourage their children to pursue musical training. Talks, lectures, and demonstrations might appeal to young retirees trying to figure out what to do with their new found leisure.

But it’s not that easy. “It’s just as hard for a traditional symphony orchestra organization to get out of its historical mold,” says Bassler, “as it was for Compaq to figure out how to compete against a company like Dell and take the risk of doing things differently.”

Overcome resistance to change. Bassler recalls a suggestion made by his students to the staff at the Museum of Modern Art that raised a lot of hackles. Apparently many visitors to the museum felt that their experiences would be enhanced if they were given more information about the pieces they were looking at — for example, who the artist was, what other artists were doing at that time, and what other kinds of work the artist did, as well as different ways of understanding the art.

“Modern and contemporary art can be highly nonrepresentational and that makes it difficult for people to know how to react,” says Bassler.

Based on the results of their marketing research, the students recommended improved signage with more information. When the director of education heard this, says Bassler, she hit the roof. She said, “You’re not supposed to say anything about contemporary art — that’s the whole point. The experience is between the work of art and the perceiver; different people will perceive differently and we don’t want to get in between.”

Yet the reality remained that without changes, the museum would have many unhappy customers.

“This illustrates how difficult it is for an organization to get out of a mindset, put aside its own preferences and biases, and hear clearly what their market is telling them,” says Bassler. If the museum does not listen to its customers, he says that it may not survive or may be reduced to opening only three days a week.

Promote your product or service. This is the toughest part, says Bassler, “finding how to effectively communicate what you are offering to your current and intended market in a way that makes clear to them that they ought to try it. In order to get someone to part with his or her money in exchange for what you are offering, you have to have a compelling case that what you have will solve the problem they have.”

In terms of art organizations, you must make the case that the experience will expand people’s horizons and increase their understanding of the world. Bassler speaks about his own reaction to music.

“Music speaks to us in very strong, nonverbal ways,” he says. “It changes us, and part of what we look for as humans are ways of enhancing our lives and broadening our experiences.” What arts organizations need to do is convey this message to potential customers in such a way as to create a need and then satisfy it.

That’s exactly what a supremely masterful marketer — the Apple computer company — has done. Says Bassler: “Who knew that we all needed an iPod?”

— Michele Alperin

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