Friday, April 18, 2014

River City Mentor Walk

During the River City Mentor Walk early-stage small business owners will be matched with seasoned entrepreneurs who will act as mentors at the River City Mentor Walk. Pairs will discuss business challenges and ideas for success. This three-mile trek around the UNF campus could be the beginning of a long and productive mentoring journey. It will be a workout for both your brain and your heart. We want you to participate. Here are the options:

Find an Entrepreneurial Mentor: Maybe you're just starting your business. Maybe you have been in business a couple of years, but are stuck and unsure what your next step is and just need to talk to someone who has made it to the top. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to be paired with another successful entrepreneur who has succeeded in their business. The cost to be paired with a mentor for the River City Mentor walk is $35.  

Be a Mentor: Many mentors can remember those individuals who truly helped in the early stages of their business process. We're offering you the chance to make a difference in the lives of current and up-and-coming business owners during this community-centered event. Mentors are required to have at least:
  • 3 years in business
  • 5 employees
  • $500,000 in revenue
 If you are chosen to take part as a mentor, there is no cost to participate.

To find out how you can get involved with the River City Mentor Walk, go to:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Now accepting applications for CEO XChange

Sometimes advice from your peers can spark the best ideas to make your business run more effectively or smoothly.  But finding a confidential setting with like-minded CEOs might be hard to find.  We might have the program just for you.   CEO XChange is designed to provide CEOs and business owners with the relationships, tools, ideas and guidance to succeed.
CEO XChange is an executive roundtable program serving progressive chief executives and business owners in Northeast Florida.  Designed specifically for growing companies, CEO XChange offers a confidential setting for top executives to discuss vital business issues, opportunities and trends with a group of peers.  The program also presents top executives with the opportunity to broaden their business perspective and gain new knowledge by engaging in collaborative thinking and problem solving – giving them the ability to more effectively lead their companies.
 In addition to the CEO round table discussion events, participants receive the following benefits:
 •One-on-one coaching and active communications by a SBDC Certified Business Consultant throughout the year.
•Free attendance to many SBDC at UNF events, workshops and seminars
•Invitation to SBDC business networking events
•Access to information resources, financial analysis, and industry research
•Subscription to SBDC’s online newsletter, calendar of events, activities and more.

A group of 8-10 top executives from non-competing businesses will be formed with meetings beginning in April.  Under the guidance of a program facilitator, the groups meet for two-hours at breakfast, 10 times during a twelve-month period.  Participants must submit an application for consideration.
Qualifications of the program include:
•Must be the owner, chief executive office, president or top-level officer of the company
•Company has generated over $500,000 in annual sales revenue
•Company has a goal of growth
•Has three or more employees
•Willingness to consistently participate in the program for one year
•Willingness to maintain confidentiality
•Willingness to listen, learn and network

Meeting Details
•Meet one morning each month at the University Club for its roundtable discussions.
•Breakfast is included with each meeting.  The cost of parking is not included.

An application is available for download here. Or to request an application contact 904.620.2476 or

The SBDC helped this business determine their next move for growth

Jacksonville Golf and Country Club is a private, member-owned country club located in Jacksonville, Florida. Over the years it has become one of the most desirable gated golf communities and country clubs in North Florida. The General Manager, Paul Cravey, and Board of Directors asked the FSBDC at UNF to help the club design ways to retain members a increase its member base. Robert Myers and SBDC Growth Acceleration consultant, Barb Pratt of Project Leadership Gold, held several meetings with Mr. Craven and Laura Bowman, Membership Director. These meetings helped provide a strategy for growth and member retention. Several concepts were discussed including designing different types of membership, developing market specific focus on segments not otherwise considered such as young professionals and creating new programs for fitness, golf, and tennis and swimming members.

The consultation meetings with Craven and Bowman also helped provide a framework for a workshop developed by Pratt for the board of directors and staff. The workshop focused on identifying specific objectives the club wanted to achieve rather than losing focus by trying to solve too many problems with too many unspecific answers. After the workshop, the board, Craven and Bowman agreed the results provided the best direction for the club that had ever been provided and also gave all parties a clear understanding of the club’s next moves in the coming year. Craven said no one could have provided the type and quality of training the FSBDC at UNF had conducted and looked forward to meaningful results of their efforts.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Do You Want To Be Your Own Boss?

If you are thinking of starting your own business, you are in good company.  On any given day in the United States, 53% of adults are seriously considering starting their own business.  This group of aspiring entrepreneurs is more male than female (60/40 split) and two thirds are between the ages of 35 and 44.  This data shows that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the United States, but how can you turn these thoughts into reality?

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has been designated by the State of Florida as the principal provider of business assistance.  The SBDC helps businesses through one on one confidential consulting (provided at no charge), workshops and access to business and marketing resources.  One of the workshops is called: How to S-T-A-R-T-U-P Your Own Business and uses the S-T-A-R-T-U-P acrostic to convey the major items of consideration for a new venture.

Select the Idea.  Businesses exist to meet a need, provide a service or fix a specific problem.  What is your idea or opportunity?  Is it new or different?  Does it make life easier or better?  If people will pay you for it, it could become a viable business.

Test the Market.  In this phase, the aspiring business owner does his homework to see if the idea is viable.  Who are my potential customers?  Where are they located?  How does my product/service meet their needs? What are my strengths and weakness?  Who is my competition and what is my advantage over them?  This research will help the entrepreneur refine the idea.

Acquire Capital.  A new business will need money to get off the ground.  The amount of money a new business needs depends on what type of business it is and the scope of the operation.  It is important, however, to carefully plan how much money you will need to get started and how much you will need to sustain operations until the business is self-supporting. 

The money can come from personal funds like a savings account or from others in the form of equity (in exchange for some ownership in the business) or debt (a loan that has to be paid back).  When securing money from others, the 5 C’s of capital are very important: Cash, Credit/Character, Collateral, Capacity to repay and Condition of the industry.

The fourth step is to wRite a Plan.  A business plan tells where you want to go (Vision) and how you are going to get there (Mission).  A well written plan is the product of your research and shows potential lenders and investors that you have carefully thought through and researched the feasibility of the venture.  It contains marketing data, operations data and financial data that support the business concept.

Turn for Help.  Although most business owners are experts in their field, it never hurts to network with experts in other fields.  A savvy business owner will network with one or more lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, bankers and other personal mentors to help him navigate the many facets of doing business in today’s society.  The SBDC can also help in areas like marketing, human resources, exporting, government contracting, business continuity planning, strategic planning and growth strategies.

Understanding Legal Requirements.  There are many legal doorways the business owner needs to walk through to get his business set up properly and other legal considerations that need attention during business operation.  There are laws governing zoning, taxation, legal structure, licensing, employee/employer relations, safety, environment and other issues.  Legal compliance issues reveal the strength and value of the owner’s advisers and professional network.

Putting It All Together.  Now that you have been briefly introduced to some of the tasks facing an aspiring business owner, do you still want to be your own boss?  Only one out of nine people who think about starting their own business actually do it.  Maybe you are one of those who will be able to put it all together.

An easy place to start is attending a How to STARTUP Your Own Business workshop held at the UNF Herbert University Center in Jacksonville once a month.  We will go over each of the seven steps listed above, of course in more detail, and give you a startup guide and workbook to help you with your journey.  If you aren't in the Jacksonville area, many other SBDC locations offer a similar seminar that will give you the same information. For a full calendar of workshops click here

Mark Yarick is a certified business consultant with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Live Oak.  The SBDC in Live Oak is hosted by the University of North Florida in the offices of the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

We love working with OneSpark Creators

Jacksonville is fortunate to have the World's Crowdfunding Festival, OneSpark, beginning held April 9-13.  The SBDC at UNF is thrilled to work with many of this years creators.  We would like to highlight just a few of the ideas that we think you might like to discover.

Creator: Join The Effort - Mobile Application | # 20170
OneSpark Location:  Jacksonville Landing - 2nd Floor - Food Court
Description: Join the Effort exists to make the world a better place.  They have developed an online network to help in the effort. It's similar to Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn, but it's designed specifically for helping others & changing the world. To continue their development & expansion, they need to develop a mobile application that gives users the ability to access the tools on their website from wherever they're at.

Creator:   Counselor Games | #20736
OneSpark Location:  Wells Fargo Building, Independent Drive, Jacksonville, Second Floor, Booth 13
Description: Counselor Games is play therapy for schools.  Counselors, teachers, youth workers and parents need to teach students good strategies for stress and study skills and facilitate good discussions. Funding helps with the creation of two DVDs to showcase demonstrations of games and curriculum in the areas of 1) stress management and 2) study and organizational skills.  Counselor Games shows you how to use simple everyday games which are fun and engaging!  The students learn critical thinking and communication skills as they participate.  The games are visual, auditory and hands-on which meets all learning styles.  The project also funds this curriculum for 100 counselors in the Northeast Florida area.  Come by, vote for Counselor Games and receive a free stress test! Play a stress management game! Play a game to make better grades! And enter one of our contests!

Creator:  TaboLap Workstation Built Inside Computer Brief | # 20772
OneSpark Location: CoWork Jax, 5 Forsyth St., corner of Forsyth and Main St.
Description: TaboLap is short for Table on Lap and is a mobile workstation built inside a computer brief with flat table-like surface; ventilation gap for computer devices’ heat to escape; two retractable shelves that can be pulled to left or right to store phones, gadgets, and drink cup; and is a TSA checkpoint friendly computer brief with its quick-open butterfly style. Just open the brief, pull out the shelves, secure your needed gadgets for your computer gear and your drink cup on the shelves, and you are set to work on your own Table on your Lap, anywhere, anytime.

Creator: Renaissance Jax | #20103
OneSpark Location: Hemming Plaza across from MOCA
Description: Renaissance Jax is a new nonprofit designed to serve as the fiscal and physical resource allocation and distribution needed to create hundreds of youth robotics teams which will use local engineering talent to mentor students as they pursue robotics competitions through FIRST Robotics. Five years from now, there will be over three thousand students designing, building, and programming machines every year working in master-apprentice style relationships with engineering professionals. Renaissance Jax will be the engine and driving force that fills and sustains the conduits between public education, the state university system, industry, future industries, and startup entrepreneurs. Every penny goes towards supporting the expansion of FIRST Robotics in Jacksonville.

How about you?  Do you know any OneSpark Creators this year?  We would love to hear in the comments section below.

Stop by the locations of the creators and find out more about their ideas.  Or better yet, take a minute to vote at  At this site you will find a complete festival schedule, creator project descriptions, a map and much more.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Follow One Spark Through Our New Blog!

The staff of the FSBDC at the University of North Florida will be out in force at One Spark again this year. We have nearly 70 current clients serving as Creators at the even and hundreds more we look forward to assisting.

There is so much going on that we decided that out One Spark efforts deserve a blog on the subject. We will be providing up to the minute information on the entire event and will be profiling our Creator clients and highlight their ideas and crowdsourcing success.

So check us out at and #osviasbdc

Its the best way to enjoy all the entrepreneural action during One Spark!

How to Win One Spark Workshop Tonight at 6PM!

The vibes are amazing at our office and this 2.0 version of One Spark will be a quantum leap over last year. We live in a world that advances itself so quickly and One Spark is no different. There were a lot of lessons learned by all last year and it will be FAR more competitive in 2014.

On our front,we had a team on site last year and we have a very god perspective going into this year's event. Our e-manual titled "How to Win One Spark" is ready for Creators attending, and the PowerPoint is locked in. There are so many ways to gain exposure and win dollars! You should be Jacksonville proud because this event is going worldwide.

Join us Thursday, March 27th as we take you through the best practices learned from our observations last year. Not only will we lay out step by step ideas, but we will have Kristen Keen from Rethreaded on board as a guest to answer any questions you may have. Yes, we have last years winner coming to help you out.

Enough! Register now or walk up! Register here. or call 620-2476.

Creating More Profits by Firing Your Customer

By Richard Balog, CPA 

Our studies show that about 80% of a company’s current customer base generates about 130% of the current level of profitability. This finding means the remaining 20% cost more to maintain and service than the revenues they generate. The ability to identify which customers are truly profit-generators and which aren't becomes a powerful management decision tool.

Customer Profitability Analysis
Some customers require more attention than others. Every sales professional can identify the high- and low-maintenance customers. The cost of customer support and retention can be driven by:
  • Customization
  • Packaging requirements
  • Engineering change orders
  • Shipping and handling restrictions
  • Inventory stocking levels

While the drive for excellence in customer service is always a paramount focus of every small- to medium-size business (SMB), understanding the costs incurred to service each customer versus the revenues generated by that customer is critically important.
  • Developing the Customer Profitability Analysis Model
  • The Customer Profitability Model consists of the following components:
  • Recognition of revenues by customer
  • Recognition of production costs by customer
  • Recognition of the cost of activities triggered by the following drivers, by customer:
    • Unique packaging and other minor production customization
    • Unique billing/invoicing arrangements
    • Unique production runs
    • Warehousing of contingency stock
    • Unique merchandising requirements
  • Development of a customer-driven P&L  statement.

Using activity-based cost accounting (ABC) to identify the costs of products delivered by department, such as IT, accounting, purchasing, and others, is the key element of the customer profitability analysis. ABC determines what unique requests are costing you at each stage of production and delivery to figure your true costs. By understanding these hidden costs in a customer’s unique requirements, you’ll make better decisions. So…are you ready to fire your marginal customers? You should be. Simply stated, marginal customers are costing you more than you realize. It’s easy for a struggling SMB owner to rationalize that accepting lower margins on some customers and making higher margins on others is OK, especially if your sales are down.  But this thinking works only if you and your business have unlimited resources and unlimited time. More than likely, your cash reserves, credit line, production capacity, and your company’s ability to carry inventory and accounts receivable come with limits. Finally, you possess only 24 hours each day. Spending one of those hours dealing with a poor, demanding, slow-pay customer prevents you from effectively serving the good ones. The following is a sampling of some of the customer traits to look for in identifying “Hit List” customers and some ways to turn them into good customers…or fire them:

The 90-Day Customers
The Situation: You know the type. Their story is “I’m really having a tough time now. I’ll pay you next week.” This circumstance requires a series of phone calls and multiple invoices. In the meantime, you’re paying interest on your line of credit, and don’t have the cash to pay your employees and your bills. They always have a good story of doom and gloom, and they apologize for tardiness and promise that the “…the check is in the mail.” On the other hand, they blame YOU for faulty merchandise, poor service provided, late shipments, etc.

The Solution: Develop and communicate clear credit policies. Charge them interest on accounts open more than 30 days. Put them on a COD status and require payment of all open invoices before additional shipments are made. Don’t be fooled and re-extend terms after only one or two prompt payments. Wait a year or six months before revisiting the credit status of these customers.

The “I Can’t Decide” Customer
The Situation: You serve a customer who is constantly altering or continually expanding his or her needs, but won’t tolerate a change in your price. These customers are the type who shop at the “Price-Club” store but expect “Park Avenue” level service. Typically, they see needs as basic because they haven’t totally analyzed and communicated their real requirements. As you begin to provide the service, or build product, they redefine their requirements and don’t want to pay more than the original price.
The Solution: These customers simply don’t understand the impact their changes make on YOUR business. For existing contracts, before firing them, educate them. Explain the impact of their requested changes and tell them an additional charge will be added. Then, if they balk, “Down the road!”

The “Discount Coupon” or Incentive Customer
The Situation: You distributed a coupon to advertise and attract  new business. The offer was a “Limited Time Only” or similar offer. Or you agreed to accept a lower fee for this contract only to help your client. Now these customers won’t accept the higher price and demand the lower cost indefinitely. The Solution: First determine the pricing and terms you’ll accept to keep the customer. Speak with the customer and specify the standard prices and when the discount period ended. Explain why you need to bill at the standard rate. Don’t waver. Be firm. If you’re confident that you’ve already made sufficient concessions to please a demanding customer, then it’s time to refuse additional business at any price. Understanding your “customer profitability” is a critical business success factor. Don’t be afraid to send the loss leaders packing to your competition. Let them go out of business.

Rick Balog is a member of the Small Business Resource Network and Managing Partner of Balog + Tamburri, CPAs in Jacksonville and St. Augustine. He can be reached at (904) 268-1148 or

Monday, March 24, 2014

Florida LLC owners - Time for a legal checkup!

Many owners (more properly referred to as “members”) of Florida LLCs are unaware of the rather sweeping changes in Florida’s LLC Act that were adopted into law in 2013.  These changes in the law are a good reason for an LLC owner to review the business’ articles, operating agreement and other legal documentation - especially if the LLC has multiple owners.   

The following is a very brief overview of just some of the new act’s provisions.

The new act became effective on January 1, 2014 and while the provisions of the act only apply immediately to LLCs newly formed or registering to do business in 2014, the act will apply to ALL Florida LLCs on January 1, 2015.  Also, LLCs formed prior to 2014 can elect to adopt some of the Act’s provisions prior to 2015.

No more “managing member.”

Under previous Florida law it has been possible for the owners of an LLC to designate one of its members to serve as “managing member,” and empower that “managing member” with considerable rights to take actions on behalf of the LLC.  However, under the new act the term “managing member” is eliminated.  The elimination of that term has several consequences for existing LLCs that continue to use it:
  • It is not assumed that the continued use of the term “managing member” by the LLC means that the LLC is manager-managed by the designated member.

  • Consequently, the LLC runs the risk of being considered as member-managed, with all members having apparent authority to manage and bind the LLC

Accordingly, it would be wise for LLCs currently established as having a “managing member” to seek legal advice regarding the possible need to amend the business’ operating agreement and any other affected documents.

LLC owners cannot waive certain provisions of the Act.

The new act is what is know as a “default statute,” which means that if the owners do not have an operating agreement, or if the operating agreement is silent regarding something contained in the act, then the provisions of the act apply to the LLC’s operations.  What it also means is that the owners can decide in LLCs operating agreement to override some of the act’s provisions. 

However, the act specifically states certain things that the owners of a LLC cannot override or waive, including:
  • The right of an owner to disassociate from the LLC (but the owners might want to seek legal counsel in framing the consequences of any such disassociation)
  • The duties of loyalty and care, and to act in good faith
  • The ability of the LLC to sue and be sued in its own name
  • The right of an owner to reasonably take action to enforce or protect the owner’s interest
  • The right of an owner to reasonable access to certain LLC records
  •  The owners may not relieve a person from liability for actions performed in bad faith, showing intentional misconduct or intentionally in violation of law. 
This is but a tip of the iceberg of the changes in Florida’s LLC Act.  The new act includes additional changes to, among other things:
  • Important definitions
  • Operating agreement provisions
  • Registered agents and service of process
  • Formation and filing requirements
  • Becoming a member and contributions; and
  • Distributions
Suffice to say that legal review of all LLC formation, operational and amending documents should rank high on the to-do list of LLC owners during 2014.

Paul Arrington worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration for over 20 years and worked his way to become District Counsel in the SBA Jacksonville District Office.  In 2006, Paul became the Procurement Technical Assistance Center Manager at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce where he helped businesses get contracts with governmental agencies.  Paul joined the SBDC at UNF in Jacksonville in 2008 to become a consultant and Director of Micro Enterprise Development.