Everything Old is New Again

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter, and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 10/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Environmental, Energy, Job Creation

Source: Everything has a life cycle: a career, a product, a technology, even a building or sports venue all have their heyday. When most items in our world become old, broken, outdated or past their prime, we are often very quick to dispose of them. Sadly, even individual lives are often devalued and disregarded in our throw-away society. How do we find new purpose and new life after the prime has been reached?

Broken toys, broken cars, broken homes, and unfortunately, broken people are often viewed today as disposable. Sadly enough, our modern day society has its way of treating people in the same way they treat disposable objects. What if that wasn’t the case? What if everything old had a new purpose? What if each person could find a new purpose that gave them a new breathe of fresh air, giving them a sense of value and importance again?

Our modern day world is so quick to condemn the broken, and will vilify a broken person’s faults and capitalize on the fallen. It is printed in news headlines every day; and while the masses can be quick to judge others, their own fears of mistakes or failure are simultaneously being fed. It is not uncommon for major media to splash the front pages with catchy headlines, purposefully created to trigger the emotional reactions of shock and awe so a reader continues to read on, while they inadvertently end up viewing advertisements within the printed or online media.

How many headlines have you seen recently where the news caster shares about the comeback story of the broken or fallen – how they utilized their adverse set of circumstances to turn their lives around, and as a result, helped to improve the lives of others around them? Today’s society often considers the broken unworthy of a new lease on life, and once the label has been placed on them, it can be very difficult to shake, no matter how much good they do or how much they turn their lives around.

There are individuals, groups and communities that believe everything old can be made new again with a little love, time, dedication, and old fashioned elbow grease. There are signs of this everywhere.

For instance, older homes are often purchased, remodeled and upgraded with modern amenities, while having some of the original features incorporated so the owners could hold onto the home’s original charm that they fell in love with when they first purchased it.  Some of the original doors, floor boards, fixtures, woodwork, etc. are often repurposed for other functions within the remodel.

Another example can be found at the famed Orange County Fair Speedway, located in Middletown, New York. The facility itself and venue has served the racing community for over 150 years between its combined history of harness and horse racing and almost a century of automobile racing.  This track recently got a new lease on life. While many speedways of its kind have fallen to modern day suburban sprawl, the OCFS racing community has supported their decaying “House of Power.” As of recent, the speedway has had a makeover. New grandstand seating and bleachers have replaced the rotting wood chairs. Buildings are being remodeled and painted. Even the race surface has seen a transformation.

It’s the love for the racing community and the love of the sport that helped this happen. The premise of value in this track that holds a great legacy (even though it might be past its prime) is a driving force for Chris Larson of Halmar Construction and the rest of the racing community in breathing new life into something that could have easily been bulldozed into another shopping plaza. The transformation has its cost – financial investment, time and vision, but also brings a refreshing buzz of excitement, renewal and enthusiasm.

Likewise, consider the car enthusiast that spots the rotting carcass of an old rusted automobile parked in a farmer’s field, and envisions a new day on the horizon for the vehicle (which may be thirty, forty or even fifty years old or more). He brings in a tow truck and pulls the relic from the dirt once he has negotiated terms of purchase with the farmer. Back in the shop, the mechanic then pulls apart every nut and bolt, door and fender. Once the car is down to the bare frame, the mechanic makes a parts list, then invests money and time to take the pile of junk and bring it back to life to become a beautiful piece of mechanical artwork.

So why is it that we don’t invest this kind of effort in rebuilding broken people?

In some cases, there are communities of people who believe in investing the same kind of passion and love for one another, realizing that in life, there are second chances. In faith, Christians believe in this concept. The idea of being “born again” is that of a new beginning for an individual who acknowledges his faulty nature and accepts the forgiveness and salvation that is a gift from God, and then commits to following the example of Christ to walk in faith and new habits in line with God’s word. Despite a man’s inability to be perfect, God continues to forgive and guide.

There are advocacy groups that work with former inmates who are now trying to rebuild their lives. These advocacy groups provide assistance and education to former inmates to equip them for successful re-entry into society and gainful employment, and then continue to support and provide guidance to them. In some cases, rehabilitated former inmates begin to mentor other former inmates on re-entry into society as a way to promote peer to peer support.

In sports, second chances don’t happen often, however they do happen. In baseball, a player might be drafted and get their once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the major leagues. Sometimes, players have unsuccessful debuts or sustain injuries that can really set them back. Some players are even sent back to the minor leagues to work out the fundamentals and mechanics of their skill craft before they can be promoted back to the majors.

What about the players who never meet the mark, yet have extensive knowledge and passion for the sport?  Maybe those players could continue to be involved in the sport and transition their knowledge capital to other areas of the industry such as scouting or sports marketing. The players then have second chances with their career in sports, just put to work in different applications.

There is not any one specific recipe for renewing people who are rebuilding from a poor season in their lives. Everyone’s situation is different. The process starts with the fallen individual.  They must recognize their mistakes and/or weaknesses, learn from them, and be ready to change and apply the lessons learned to become better and stronger. Just the same, we should all be willing to recognize this step and support those who are willing to rebuild from nothing.

It has been said, “Failure is the first step toward success.” If we believe in that quote, then surely successes come from second chances.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

E-Commerce Platforms for Small Businesses

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/22/2018, a www. SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Commerce, Technology, Innovation

Source: In today’s fast-paced society, where the world of commerce is not limited by borders, small businesses need to expand their ability to exchange their goods and services in return for payment. With more consumers shopping online from the comfort of their living rooms, small businesses need to consider alternatives to traditional payment systems.

One of the residual benefits of technology advancement for small businesses is that it brings small businesses and distant markets closer together. Fifty years ago, an independent retailer on Main Street USA would have never been able to communicate with a potential customer in a foreign country, let alone sell their goods or services from afar. Today, many small businesses can offer their value propositions outside of their zip code with the help of electronic commerce platforms and digital tools.

Small business owners have a two-fold win. Firstly, small business owners have a multitude of digital advertising options available to them to reach potential consumers in other geographic locations outside of the physical reach of their businesses. Secondly, by using ecommerce platforms, small businesses can collect payment for their products and services without the customer ever having to step foot into their physical business location.

There are two kinds of ecommerce platforms to consider: Self-Hosted and Hosted. There is a difference between the two types of platforms which a small business owner should consider before choosing the platform and service that works for them.

Self-Hosted platforms are designed to be coupled with web hosting. These systems work similarly to partnering a web blog roll to an existing website. However, instead of partnering content, you are partnering a payment system. These systems can be tailored to the specific needs of the business, such as the implementation of a shopping cart for an online store. When using a self-hosted ecommerce platform, businesses are afforded the flexibility to alter their system, website, or even transition from one service provider to another.

Hosted ecommerce platforms are ecommerce platforms that integrate all of the moving parts of an ecommerce system into one. Hosted ecommerce platforms include access to the master web servicer that services multiple end users, the online shopping cart, bill collection, transfer of funds, and technical and design support. Because hosted ecommerce platforms are designed to be universal platforms utilized by many ecommerce participants, these systems and functions are more uniform.

Some of the most recommended Self-Hosted ecommerce platforms include Magento, OpenCart, WooCommerce, Zen Cart, and Big Cartel. What these platforms have in common is that they are designed for use by both the home-based business and the small brick and mortar business. These self-hosted platforms allow users to customize their own tools without the help of outside tech support. They also allow for the business owner to take advantage of search engine optimization tools, and user-friendly systems for shoppers. Much like creating a website, these platforms offer multiple templates, built-in blogging tools, and individual control over design and tool integration changes.

Shopify, Big Commerce, PrestaShop, Volusion, and YoCart are highly recommended Hosted ecommerce platforms for the small business owner to the major corporate-run online store. Shopify is the most recognizable and popular ecommerce platform of the bunch; however they all offer an elevated service package. Many of these systems are mobile friendly, include full blogging capability, offer a number of payment gateways and options, support multiple languages, have app capability, and include automatically integrated back office security. These platforms have some flexibility for custom features to be added, and can be integrated into almost any digital marketing advertising tool.

Alternatively, Facebook now offers a purchase button on business pages, allowing for small businesses to share their products on one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and some of the most popular ecommerce websites where products can be offered include Alibaba, Amazon, Craigslist, E-bay and Etsy.

Several payment processing options are available with ecommerce platforms, such as Payline Data, Stripe, Dharma Merchant Services and PayPal. Choosing the best fit for your ecommerce platform may require a little research, since you will also want to consider which options are most secure and what the fees will be.

One of the most common ecommerce payment gateway options is PayPal, which can be used as either the primary payment gateway or as a secondary payment option, since many consumers have PayPal accounts. PayPal has served many small businesses and online marketers as a payment collection option. PayPal’s functionality is the reason it is preferred by so many small businesses and online shoppers. PayPal serves as an online e-bank account where consumers can hold money for use in making online transactions. Small business owners can put PayPal to work just the same as a cash register, where they can generate an invoice and bill clients, collect from clients, and then either hold their revenue in their PayPal account, or transfer their money to a traditional bank account.

Cost will vary between ecommerce platforms. Some require a monthly or yearly subscription flat fee while others will waive the flat fee in exchange for a percentage of the purchase-sale transaction – much like operating a merchant account tied to a credit-debit card terminal. Business owners should consider how many online transactions they project their online store will generate and compare the percentage rate against the flat fee rate. Shipping and handling costs, taxes, and import-export fees (when warranted) will also need to be factored in.

Before deciding on the platform for your small business, consider all of the options, costs, and how well your potential consumers will respond to the ecommerce tool. If the process is overly complicated, you may lose sales if potential customers are not comfortable with the transactional platform.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

Every Small Business Owner is A Farmer

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/8/2018, a http://www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Some believe small business ownership leads to overnight success and immediate wealth, time freedom and social status, when, in fact, the fruits of small business ownership are most often experienced only after years of long hours of toiling and after taking a significant financial risk. We will show how being a small business owner is much like being a farmer.

Small business ownership and farm ownership share many of the same attributes, responsibilities and challenges. The process of growing a business and growing crops in the field are very similar in nature. Most farmers are, indeed, also small business owners, but how is it that small business owners are like farmers?

Much like a farmer, a small business owner must plant the seeds of their future harvest. This means investing into a location, equipment and tools, inventory, and many other aspects of their value proposition before they reap any financial benefit. The small business owner must cultivate the field of potential client prospects and nurture these relationships the same way farmers nurture and provide for their plants, so that in the near future they can benefit from the harvest. The small business owner’s harvest happens when the relationships built with potential clients begin to yield purchases, and the financial exchanges are made for products or services of equal or greater value.

Just like a field of corn or a crop of select vegetables does not grow into a cash crop overnight, the small business owner must also wait for their business to mature. The small business owner must have three qualities that the farmer also possesses – patience, perseverance and vision.  Just as it takes time to grow a quality crop, it also takes time to grow a fundamentally sound business model. During the time in which the crops and business continue to grow, new challenges can arise. The business owner and farmer must both have a plan to deal with these challenges and a willingness to work through the adversity.

Both the farmer and the business owner have an opportunity to sharpen the ax. For the business owner, the downtime in between serving existing and potential clients affords attention to be concentrated on other areas of their business that are critical moving parts of the bigger wheel of small business ownership. Small business owners and farmers must always be looking for ways to make their respective enterprises more efficient. Whether it be dedicating time to education or industry training, development of a marketing-advertising program, or taking some time out to service and maintain equipment and tools, both the farmer and business owner must use downtime to make improvements that will maximize their return on investment.

The business owner and the farmer each have time constraint issues to contend with. The farmer only has so much time to get their ripened produce harvested and to market before the crops spoil. The business owner must also serve his/her customers in a timely manner or put at risk their reputation with the customer. In both situations, the farmer and the business owner must be postured to serve the needs of the customer in the expected time frame that the consumer has set, or they both risk losing the sale. A harvest must be presented to market in a set period of time or the crop becomes unwanted by the market. The same can be said for products or services, as every product or service has a life cycle before it becomes obsolete. New technology is developed each day, and as a society of entrepreneurs, we are always looking to make things better and more efficient for less money.

The farmer and business owner must also be good managers of the tool known as money. A farmer has to know the cost of growing fields of their preferred crops, as well as all of the indirect cost of operating their farm. Farmers must be able to budget their money wisely so that they have enough resources to operate their enterprise until the next harvest provides additional cash flow. Small business owners also must also be good money managers. They must plan and gauge their inventory and/or services, as well as turnover time in between sales cycles and projects, so they too can have enough cash to run day to day operations until the next wave of sales happens. The farmer works on slim margins and knows that a bad year in the fields means a hard year of managing expenses until the next harvest is available. The small business owner must also be prepared for long sales cycles and poor performing seasons.

The business owner and farmer both must be able to see the field full of harvest before they even begin. This is called having vision. The small business owner must have a short term and long term plan for creating a return on their original investment while also pointing to the future of what will happen in a year, three years, and even five years down the road for their enterprise. A farmer stands in the field in early spring, before the first rows have been tilled, and must be able to see the crop that is to be harvested in the fall, even before the first seed is planted. The vision provides the ability to stake a plan of action that brings the series of events into focus that leads both the small business owner and the farmer to the day when they can be proud of the investment they made into their respective fields of practice.

Small business owners are farmers, regardless of whether they own a retail business or a service-oriented business. They must always plant new seeds of potential customers in growing their consumer base, cultivate and nurture business and community relationships, and invest themselves in the “behind the barn” work that is part of the machine of their value proposition to the market. If you want to become a great small business owner, aim to become a farmer first.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

“It’s a Pyramid Scheme…”

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 8/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Marketing, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business,

Source: Multi-level marketing has received a great deal of criticism throughout the years, being accused of scamming people out of their money while coaxing them with grand visions of financial independence and lavish lifestyles. Though the odds have not always been in favor of the average network marketer, we uncover the myths versus facts of network marketing business opportunities.

So why does multi-level marketing receive such negative press and opinion? Chances are, the majority of negative opinions were developed by individuals that tried to make a go at becoming successful in a multi-level marketing business venture, and failed to achieve the success that was originally advertised. The statistics are not pretty, however when you compare them to how many people start a traditional business and fail, or how many people try to become professional athletes and fall short of their desired success, the statistics are relative to other career aspirations that are not achieved.

According to a Report authored by Robert FitzPatrick in 2005, over ninety-nine percent of individuals that got involved with multi-level marketing business opportunities ended up losing all of their investment. Studies performed by third party consumer watchdog groups have proven that between 990 and 999 people out of 1000 that have signed up as network marketers have lost their entire financial investments; and for some, because they had dedicated so much time to their multi-level marketing businesses, were let go from their day jobs or lost out on other career opportunities. It will be interesting to see if these numbers change as the industry transforms.

It is difficult to decipher the true number of MLM profits, losses and sales revenue from retail customers versus the network marketer participant’s product purchases because most MLM companies historically have not disclosed the data that makes a clear distinction between sales revenue from their consumer-only audience versus sales revenue from their own network marketer participant audiences.  Because there has been little incentive to solely focus on consumer retail sales, and much of the focus in the industry’s business training has been directed to recruiting a “downline”, few network marketers have focused their sales efforts on establishing retail sales only.

The fact that most MLM parent companies’ total gross revenue is not in direct relationship to what each independent distributor earns creates a blur between the numbers, a truth often skewed when a MLM company is presenting an opportunity. If the math and the probability of success is not in favor of the network marketer, why do people still sign up to participate?

Some individuals join the networking side of the business because they enjoy the parent company’s products so much that they continue to purchase them, but desire to continue making their purchase commitments at a significant discount. In some cases, the consumer then becomes their own network marketer and tends to save enough on product discounts that their fee for joining is covered over time.

Some individuals are drawn to the social lifestyle and travel, the added value of education and training, and networking with other like-minded individuals; thus treating their distributorship more like education and/or a social club membership. In some cases, this training, networking and the connections made also benefit their other businesses or day jobs. Some individuals just enjoy the flexibility that the MLM opportunity provides, and want complete control over their own schedules. Sometimes these individuals might be involved with more than one MLM opportunity, where they may profit from cross pollination of their networks from one organization to the other (though most often frowned upon and against company policies).

Some individuals become network marketers because they believe that they (and their team) will defy the odds and strike it rich, hoping to find themselves at the top of the pyramid after the masses of other people quit. For some, the idea of “owning a business” or being “in the business” is attractive, and they will leverage that representation to recruit others into their organization.

In the legal sense, a network marketer does not own their own business (unless they have their own corporation or limited liability company that is in contract with the MLM parent); because the network marketer does not own any hard assets owned by the MLM parent organization. The Network marketer does not own the patents, intellectual property, physical property, inventory (in most cases), or other intangible business assets such as a website or domain name; nor can the distributor’s “business” be sold or acquired for a profit (in most cases).

Multi-level marketing companies have had their fair share of legal bouts. In the 1980’s, the Amway Company was met with much criticism and negative press. As of most recent, HerbaLife faced the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission. Yet network marketers that remain committed to multi-level marketing claim they have benefited from their involvement and have seen a return of investment after three to five years of dedicated efforts.

Skeptics, media, and government agencies focused on consumer protection argue that a multi-level marketing agency crosses over to a pyramid scheme when it pays more focus and monetary benefit for new network marketer recruitment than on product sales commissions, where the participant (the network marketer) can only make sales commissions on consumer retail sales if their downline is meeting mandated personal consumption inventory buys; and in order to earn either bonuses from recruitment or sales commissions, one is most often required to maintain an automatic shipment purchase of company products themselves that also may include a number of pre-requisite items such as tools, marketing materials, and training materials.

There are some multi-level marketing companies that do focus more on the products and services offered than on network marketing recruitment of new participants. Companies like Primerica and Pre-paid Legal focus on the sales of services, and encourage their network marketing representatives to be successful at selling these services before recruiting new people into their downline. These companies also have no required auto-ship.

Some companies have changed their business model to adapt business practices acceptable to watchdog groups and government agencies. Some have also eliminated the requirement for auto ship purchasing, and have increased compensation benefits to allow individuals who only desire to earn commissions on sales of products, to do so and see a return on investment within a reasonable time period.

The perspective of ‘being a product of the product” holds true in successful product promotion, and most people are drawn to specific MLM companies because they see the value and benefits of the products that the company offers. However, many folks who are introduced to these companies have limited financial resources and are already struggling to get by. Though they may like nothing more than to be able to personally enjoy the benefits of the company’s product lines every day, they may not initially have the means to purchase them monthly while doling out the expenses of building their business – such as tools, training and fuel. It is also important to keep in mind that it takes time and training to build the knowledge, skill sets and relationships necessary for success; and most often, little (if any) monetary earnings will be recognized for the first several months, especially for those who are new to the industry.

If you’re still intrigued and contemplating whether or not the MLM industry might be for you, your next step may be to research a few multi-level marketing companies, along with their products, culture, and compensation plans with a fine eye focused on detail and the fine print. Before joining a MLM organization, you have the right to research and ask for reports on the average payouts per year to new recruits, statistical and historical analysis on success/failure rates of network marketers within that organization, and for a review of consumer complaints related to the MLM parent company’s product offerings. Once you have found the MLM opportunity you are comfortable in working with, continue to move on with your new business opportunity with cautious optimism.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also the author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource, Water;” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.” 

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