Simple Problems: Simple Solutions

The facilitator for the April meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Small Business Roundtable was Tori Williams Reid, Ph.D., co-owner of Right at Home – Durham/Chapel Hill, an in-home care and assistance company.

During a session entitled Simple Problems: Simple Solutions, Tori invited participants to share current business problems and then for each one, she led a discussion on potential solutions. At the end, she asked participants to share aha moments – things they had done that had changed their business.

I didn’t attend the roundtable planning to write this article, but left thinking there were a lot of Good Business tips that could be valuable to others. So here goes. I don’t claim it to be a complete list of all ideas mentioned during the session, and can’t give credit to each individual for his/her contributions so will simply thank all participants of the Small Business Roundtable for these great ideas and reminders that can help all of us do Good Business.

  1. Make the most of networking opportunities.

    1. Choose just one or two groups or methods of networking rather than spreading yourself too thin.

    2. Evaluate periodically to determine which groups and methods are delivering the best results.

    3. Have a goal in mind for each networking event (examples: meet a particular person or meet people in a particular industry).

    4. Follow up (item #2biii may be needed for this).

    5. Be helpful /be a connector – in other words, focus on helping others instead of getting what you want/need.

    6. Tell the same story (marketing message) every time.

  1. Regarding processes…

    1. Put all your to do’s in one place (like Google calendar).

    2. Let go of details so you can do the most important things for you to do (like those listed in #3-7 below). Ways to let go of details:

      1. Hire a bookkeeper.

      2. Hire a payroll company.

      3. Hire an assistant.

    3. Always be checking your systems to make sure they are working.

  1. Get support/input/ideas from others. Sources mentioned included:

    1. Business coach from SBTDC (Small Business & Technology Development Center) – it’s free!

    2. Business coach from SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives)

    3. A coach/consultant/expert from your industry

    4. Shark Tank, a reality show which features business pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs to a panel of potential investors.

    5. Entre Dot whose tagline is “Helping Entrepreneurs Connect the Dots”

    6. Strategic partnerships

    7. Linked in

  2. Ask for the business – Yes! It can be a scary thing to do! More on this below.

  3. Send a thank you card even if you don’t get the business – It’s polite. It’s unusual. People will remember you!

  4. How to get the confidence to ask for the business?

    1. Know your product.

    2. Work on personal development every day. Tips and sources mentioned included:

      1. Shoot for 30 minutes/day for reading, watching, listening to positive, instructional, inspirational material.

      2. Use your car as a classroom (for listening, not watching, reading or writing).

      3. Mentioned as sources used:

        1. Business Class Leadership Quote of the Week (I am not the one who mentioned this – I promise!)

        2. Mike’s Minute. To sign up for Mike’s Minute for “Daily Inspiration, Personal Development and Business Savvy”, send an e-mail to:

  1. Have a daily goal (based on your conversion rate) of how many people you need to call, meet, speak with, present to, etc. Make it a process…a daily routine. The more you do it, the more confidence you develop, the easier it will be to ask for whatever you need and the more people will say YES!


Good tips for Good Business from a collection of 20 or so business owners in the Chapelboro area.

Many of the tips are about doing certain things over and over. Not a lot of things, but just a few. Consistently. Over and over.

And all of that led me to select this as the Business Class Leadership Quote of the Week.

You can read more about it here.

To those who attended this session…any major points I left out? Feel free to comment below.

Comments and questions are welcome from others as well.

Note: Speaker at the May meeting of the Small Business Roundtable will be Paula Pazderka from DSI Comedy Theater. The title of the session: Using the Fundamentals of Improv Comedy to Become a More Effective Communicator. Get details and sign up here.

Jan Bolick is Founder and President of Business Class Inc which specializes in working with leaders to build positive, productive, results oriented service culture.

Good Green Business At Open Eye Cafe

Who needs paper when you can just write someone’s order on the counter?

Good green business by Open Eye Cafe; in Carrboro.

Important keys to success:

  1. Dry erase markers
  2. Metal, glass or other surface from which dry erase markers will easily erase.

Got any other examples of good green business?

Tell me in the Comments section below.

Fiscal Cliff

I was very fortunate to receive an invitation to visit the White House last Thursday. I was among a delegation of 40 community leaders from across the state of North Carolina who were asked to join in a conversation with the White House Office of Community Engagement about the impending fiscal cliff.

Now the fiscal cliff isn’t exactly my top issue, but I figured that there was no good reason to turn down an invitation to The White House. So while President Obama was having lunch with Mitt Romney and Joe Biden was at a local Costco (see that link for some amusing pictures), we were talking about why it’s important for our country to find a balanced approach to solve this fiscal crisis.

Many members of our delegation pointed out that the country’s poor are likely to suffer the most from government spending cuts that would come with the cliff. That includes the 1.6 million North Carolinians living in poverty, including 600,000 children.

The White House is emphasizing the $2000 that a tax hike would cost middle class families. The Republican plan is patently unfair, asking middle class families to sacrifice in order to keep tax rates low for millionaires and billionaires.

What does this mean for Chapel Hill and Carrboro? I pointed out that a cut in Title I and Title III education funding would eliminate teacher jobs and reduce services to poor students and English Language Learners. Some members of the delegation from UNC described how the fiscal cuts would hurt science researchers and health care providers. Across the state there were concerns about military spending, Medicaid and medicare recipients, and unemployment benefits.

So, let’s sum this up… The President wants millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more. The GOP want to cut spending and hurt the poor, the middle class, education, science research and more. And you (yes, YOU!) can really make a difference by doing one more thing beyond listening to this rant… Contact your Senators and Representative (especially the ones who don’t support the President’s agenda).

We Need a Better Plan for Transit. Vote "No"

There’s a 1/2 cent sales tax referendum on November’s ballot. It will be used to fund a 25-year, $660 million plan for light rail and other transit in Orange County. Separately, the commissioners and Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) will add $10 to the annual vehicle registration fees. If the tax passes and the fees are added, sales taxes increase from 7 to 7 1/2 percent; vehicle fees increase from $33 to $43 per year. 

A vote “for” the tax authorizes the BoCC to levy the tax, and TTA to proceed with the plans as written. A vote “against” the tax indicates that a better plan is needed. If voters oppose the tax, a new referendum can be brought forward on a later ballot.
TTA’s plan was originally developed for the Triangle region, but Wake County and RTP (the major population, commuter and congestion centers) are not participating. Durham supports the plan – which provides light rail through their downtown and targeted development areas. Orange County’s plan completes Durham’s rail line but ignores changing demographics, accelerating growth in Chatham and Mebane, and emerging transit corridors along 15-501, Carolina North, and in the county.
I’m voting against the tax because I believe we need a better plan – one that provides flexible and reliable transit system that fits the area’s changing density and commuter priorities, and motivates citizens to leave our cars at home.
What’s in the plan
Four miles of light rail consumes 70% of Orange County’s $660 million transit budget. The remaining funds provide bus rapid transit, (BRT), park and rides, and a small increase in bus service.
The plan covers new service only. The sales tax cannot be used for existing bus service from CHT, TTA or Orange Public Transit. In response to recent pressure from Chapel Hill, most of the vehicle fee ($22 million) will go toward CHT’s current operations (no expansion). TTA has not announced what services will be cut to accommodate this change or how it will impact the matching grant fund.

The plan includes: 

  •  A fixed 4 mile light rail segment from UNC hospital along NC54 East to Duke Medical Center and Alston Ave in Durham. The entire Durham/Orange line is 17 miles and will cost $1.4 billion. The 4 mile Chapel Hill portion is $477 million. Rail service would begin in 2026.
  •  A 2.5 mile BRT segment along MLK Blvd from I-40 to Estes Road at a cost of $24.5 million. Annual operating expenses are not included in the plan.
  •  An increase of 34,000 bus hours over 5 years, or 7,000 hours per year; 6,000 hours more in years 6-20). Added to a base of 200,000 hours per year, that’s 3-4% annual increase. The additional hours will help create weekend service and keep the buses running when UNC is on recess. A part-time, express bus to Mebane will be added. The bus funding ($131 million over 22 years or less than 20%) includes costs to build park and ride lots and transport to the train station. 
  • An Amtrak Train Station in Hillsborough ($8.9 million) that’s not connected to any other service features in the plan

The new tax does not provide service between Chapel Hill to RTP, RDU airport or Raleigh, either to or from. If Wake were to adopt the plan, commuter rail to Durham would be added using existing infrastructure. There is no plan for rail or bus service between Wake and Orange County.
Plan Management and Funding
The plan for Orange County is estimated to cost $660 million through 2035. The sales tax, vehicle fees and the new rental car tax fund about 1/4 of the plan. Federal grants provide 1/2 of the funds; state grants provide 1/4 of the funds. 
TTA manages the plan. Orange County, TTA and the Durham/Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) must unanimously approve material changes to the plan or its funding. This includes revenue changes or cost overruns, or changes required if grants are not approved. UNC and CHT have no authority.
A vote “against” the transit tax is the start of a meaningful transit plan for Orange County.
For TTA’s plan, including maps,
For financial information

On Vandals & Customer Service

it’s been almost a month since I posted Welcome to Notre Dame so it seems now would be a good time for a reminder.  Except instead of welcoming Phoenix Fans from Elon, now it would be more appropriate to welcome the Vandals from Idaho.

So here ya go, a sign for your window:  

Welcome Vandals

And in case it scares you a bit to post such a sign in your window, here’s another option. 

Welcome Idaho Fans

I suggest posting a Go Heels sign as well.  You can get one of those plus signs for all upcoming guests for the season at:  www.SignsForGameDay.Biz.

Posting such signs is a sign of  class and good customer service.

And speaking of customer service, as you may already know, next week is Customer Service Week.

In case you’d like some ideas for how to celebrate, check out 10 Ways to Treat & Tweak During Customer Service Week.

If you have any ideas to add, please send them to:


Winging It or Planning?

My Fast Entrepreneur instructor and SCORE mentor, John Wyman, suggested this topic the other day for the blog,”……why do so many small businesses fail?” He gave us a list to read before our class next week. If I ran this list by a friend whose small business failed to thrive, he’d tell you that he did everything wrong on this list.

Here’s what I think. First, he didn’t believe that it was necessary to write a plan, so he didn’t have a plan (#1 on Wyman’s list). Second, he didn’t know enough about starting a business, so he didn’t partner with a mentor (#11). Third, he wasn’t good at doing the math. He thought his revenues were covering his expenses. He didn’t base this thinking on an actual analysis. He didn’t partner with an accountant (again #11). Fourth, he overspent. He grew his business too fast (#8) and didn’t have enough to cover additional expenses. Fifth, he blamed his problems on someone else (“she made me do it). He didn’t take responsibility.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons  why so many businesses fail but take heart. Sixty-seven percent of new businesses are successful, on average, after four years, according to SCORE’s Simple Steps for Starting Your Business. Only thirty-three percent fail.

Do you want to bet your future on winging it (the 33% group) or on a plan (the 67% group)?

BOCC Imposes New Zoning Over Community Opposition

In the biggest reflection of how business will be done in this new era of dedication to economic development as the County’s number one priority, the Count Commissioners voted 5-2 to rezone the Eno Economic Development District (EDD) for commercial use. This EDD was created about twenty years ago and has existed only in the deep layers of some nebulous future plan since then.

The many residents of this community have been coming to grips with the realization that their neighborhoods will be radically altered because of the surfacing of this once-vague concept. Commissioner Barry Jacobs summed up the historic nature of the vote when he reminded the five relatively new members of the Board that it is rare for them to “ram something through” over clear opposition from the citizens most affected. Alice Gordon joined him in opposing the rezoning.

I was on the County Planning Board for its deliberations on this issue and I found several facets of the rezoning to be sensible and practical. However I could not support the overall rezoning package primarily because it was being railroaded through without sufficient community understanding and support.

Valerie Foushee issued a chilling rebuttal to Jacobs’ and Gordon’s assertion that the decision was hurried when she offered the time-honored excuse of many who have decided not to do the hard work of engaging with the affected community to forge a plan that achieved the County’s goals while also respecting the community. She said that the BOCC has to think of the entire County and not just one area at a time. Ironically, she has been the latest standard-bearer for the neglected Rogers Road community.

We will see how the Eno area evolves. The water lines will be installed and businesses will begin to appear. If all goes well from the standpoint of traditional economic development, more tax revenue and some jobs will likely result.

If we accept that this kind of return cannot be achieved without sacrificing the quality of life in a community, then we are shaping Orange County’s future in a way that may add some money to the coffers but leave us feeling no more satisfied with our progress.

Reform Building and Zoning Codes for Affordability

Building & zoning codes drive up the cost of construction. The state building code originates in the N.C. Department of Insurance, so you know they are quite content to spend your money to minimize future claims. The building codes are rife with overbuilt requirements, and building-code officials (in an understandable desire to make sure they are not personally liable for anything) routinely err, often liberally, on the side of spending your money.

Factor in the Home Builders Association that, like the Realtor Association, cries crocodile tears for affordable housing while working steadily to increase member profits in every way possible, and you have a formidable institutional fortress guarding against real affordability.

However, it would still be beneficial to study the latitude that local building and zoning officials have with code interpretation. Likewise, zoning regulations should be studied to assess their impact on affordability. Since many of the zoning regulations are local, there may be significant opportunities to facilitate more affordability.

There are two growing movements that should be factored into future planning and efforts to increase affordability: the co-housing movement and the tiny house explosion. The old model of a mini-McMansion for each family is not realistic. We need to allow for smaller homes (and tiny homes) and enable zoning districts tailored to co-housing that don’t have the same requirements placed on traditional developers.

Houses cost a lot to build. Even after you have driven the costs down to the point of gambling with a low-quality structure, the prices are out of the reach of a large number of people. The very simple reason is that houses are unaffordable because a lot of people can’t afford them. Thousands of people working essential yet low-paying jobs cannot afford to buy a house.

We need a community commitment to pay a living wage. I can think of no other organizations that are in a better position to lead a campaign for a living wage than the local Chambers of Commerce and the local Home Builders Association. They have been consistently vocal about our affordable housing dilemma, and this would be a good way for them to use their local muscle to promote affordability.

And the survey says….

You know those surveys you fill out and then forget about? 

Do you ever wonder, but never know what other people said? 
Do you ever wonder if the input made a difference anywhere? 
Do you ever wonder if your responses were even read? 

Today I want to remind you about the survey posted right here in the Good Business column back in February; let you know that it has been and still is being read and  let you read what other people said.  The purpose of the survey was to get input on how to achieve one of the  goals proposed by the Economic Prosperity & Engagement theme group for the future of Chapel Hill.  The goal:  Foster the success of local business.

Here’s a sampling of responses from the survey.  As you read through them, I hope you will remember the quote I shared last week.  The purpose of gathering this information is not to knock down the ways business is done here, but to look for opportunities  to build, repair or remodel these ways so that Chapel Hill is an even better place to live, work and play.

What do you like about doing business in Chapel Hill?

  1. Good university town with a good reputation
  2. Mix of people and incomes
  3. Community ideals
  4. Attractive, family friendly city, small town feel
  5. Climate, culture, clean, safe
  6. Walkability
  7. Bright people/forward thinking/well educated
  8. Has its ups and downs but is more recession proof than other towns
  9. People try to keep their dollars here, even though difficult to do.
  10. Many people actively engaged to make it better
  11. The never ending stream of customers that come to the town because of the University
  12. I’ve been in business in Chapel Hill for 43 years and can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

40+ additional responses in complete document (see below)

What do you dislike about doing business in Chapel Hill?

  1. The Inspections department is difficult to work with at times.
  2. Not enough parking downtown
  3. PLEASE do not plan for more parking – it only encourages them!
  4. I miss the trolleys.
  5. It is more difficult (and takes longer) to obtain approval here than other communities in the Triangle.
  6. Staff is not service minded.
  7. Current Town Council’s attitude towards development.
  8. Restrictive sign ordinances/time consuming and expensive to navigate sign ordinances.
  9. It’s a difficult municipality in which to effectively advertise/promote your business.
  10. It’s a seasonal town which causes many of us to have to dip into savings by the end of summer or lay off the normal number of employees during the summer months.
  11. High rent, taxes and utilities.  Some of this is a function of low commercial space supply; some is function of poor government stewardship of finances.
  12. Property owners can’t afford to properly keep up their properties because they must spend so much money on taxes.
  13. Too much support for anarchists who require government resources but don’t believe in government.
  14. Town’s approach to panhandlers.
  15. Town officials and Chamber can often get stuck in their ways.

78+ additional responses in complete document (see below).

What could the town do to foster the success of your business? 

  1. I do not look to the Town to foster my success.  The town is my success.
  2. Provide more online services so I don’t have to go to Town Hall as much.
  3. Continue to foster facilitation instead of regulation.
  4. Create a Relationship Manager type of position to help take a business through all the hoops/departments to obtain approval or set up a time like Chatham County where a business can come into a room to meet to discuss his idea/needs with all departments present.
  5. Help with advertising to bring in more tourist dollars.
  6. Build up and not out.
  7. The Town should be trying to fill empty spaces now…and advocating for decent rents for the tenants so they can be locally owned.
  8. Take a supportive yet responsible stance on pro business related items that improve our tax base and overall business climate.  We need to grow the business base versus exporting jobs to other communities.
  9. Free up the process and allow some options for creative signage and advertising in these tough economic times.
  10. Be more welcoming to retail and commercial development; streamline the approval process.

40+ additional responses in complete document (below)

Back to a critical question posed at the start of this article:  Will this input make any difference?

Not if all we do is read it, then let it sit on the PDF shelf.

There’s much digging and discussion left to do.   With open minds and a constructive approach.

Participants of the Community Prosperity & Engagement theme group for the Vision 2020 process will be digging into the discussion at their meeting TOMORROW (Thursday, April 12) from 4:30 to 6:30 at Rashkis Elementary School.

PLEASE JOIN US.  Whether you’ve attended one, many or none of these meetings – it’s not too late.  PLEASE JOIN US!

If you can’t join us, please add comments below or send them to

And I’ll be sure to give you an update on the discussions and decisions in an upcoming column right here at

View the document below or use the buttons at lower right of image to download.

can’t see or access document?  use this link to get a PDF of Good Business Survey

Drafting the Chapel Hill 2020 Plan

The Chapel Hill 2020 effort has been a wide-open, very participatory process to create a new comprehensive plan for our community’s future, for 2020 and beyond. We now have a clearer take on what the Chapel Hill 2020 process will accomplish, and what the overall structure of the plan will be. Our intention is to have a draft Comprehensive Plan “umbrella document” ready for community and Council review in June.

What are we doing? We are replacing the current comprehensive plan, now 12 years old, with a new plan built around the concept of sustainability – not only environmental sustainability but social and fiscal sustainability as well. This new plan will acknowledge the interconnectedness of all aspects of community life; this new plan will be fully defined in stages – beginning this June, added to over time.  We have learned many things during this process – we have learned how to include more voices in our conversation, how to respond to new ideas, how to be flexible in a rapidly changing world.  We know now that the comprehensive plan will emerge in stages, changing how the community thinks about its resources and its future in a strategic, methodical manner.

How did we get here? We started with brainstorming and visioning — an invitation that drew 475 people, people who wanted to have a stake in the future of Chapel Hill. Then the community identified six theme groups and the stakeholders got to work. The theme groups have been developing goals and objectives for the plan.

At the same time, citizen volunteers and town staff (read that Outreach Coordinator and Outreach Committee) kept taking the 2020 invitation to all segments of the community and bringing those ideas, comments, needs and inspirations back to our ongoing process. We are adding more community comment to our Appendix as I write this.

We are drafting the plan now, and we expect several revisions before it is reviewed by the Council in June. The 2020 plan will be an overall policy document, balancing the many voices and ideas about our community’s future.  We are looking forward to this first product of the 2020 process, and it needs a name, so let’s call it the Comprehensive Plan Community Vision and Framework.

The Vision and Framework should clearly state our collective aspirations for the future.

The Vision and Framework is what we are refining and clarifying for June. It will include the community’s goals and objectives.  It will inform decision-making. It will establish values and priorities. It will set overall policy directions.  It will provide land use guidance for the growth areas in Town.

We are answering your questions to provide a new draft of this Vision and Framework by March 13th, and we expect to revise it at least two times, before June, based on input from our future 2020 stakeholder meetings and others in the community.

What does the draft plan include? This Vision and Framework will also review the initiatives, policies, regulations, partnerships and funding sources that move us toward achieving our aspirations. But it will also identify the gaps — things we need that are not currently in place, or are in place but failing to function properly or efficiently. This document will also inventory and organize the important new ideas about how to move the community in ways to achieve our vision and goals. It will also assemble appendices to catalog and save for future use the wealth of information that has been gathered.

Specific action strategies to implement the vision will be recommended in June 2012. Some of those follow-up strategies are likely to be:

  • Priority based budgeting
  • Strategic planning
  • Zoning changes for growth areas
  • Specific corridor plans for growth areas
  • Major land use ordinance update
  • Workforce planning
  • Capital asset planning

The plan will help us build our future. After the Vision and Framework is in place, we will need to turn our attention to implementation – making the Vision into reality.  As we build a new way of thinking about our future, we will need to develop the infrastructure to support it.  From zoning to budgeting, we expect that stakeholders will continue to be engaged in refinement of all the action strategies as a truly sustainable Comprehensive Plan is implemented.