Five tips for growing a small business
When you start a small business, you'll probably discover that what you learned in business school doesn't cover everything you need to know as a business leader.

That's what Michael Alter, SurePayroll president and CEO, discovered during his 10 years leading the company. He's put together five tips for growing a small business that you probably won't learn in business school:

1. Don't be afraid to make new mistakes.
Mistakes are one of the most valuable learning tools I've ever come across. You can't learn anything if you're afraid to try something new, or worried about letting your staff do things differently.

As a small business owner, you can't afford to fall victim to "the paralysis of analysis."  That doesn't mean you should change how you run an aspect of your business without doing your due diligence. But the longer you wait to try something new, the longer you'll wait to learn something your competitors might already know.

Develop a culture where you and your employees feel comfortable trying something new and embracing an entrepreneurial spirit. "At SurePayroll, we give a 'Best New Mistake' award that's our equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The winner walks away with $400 - the largest prize we issue to any employee," Alter says. You'll be pleasantly surprised how much you learn, and how entrepreneurial your employees can be, when you give them the freedom to err.

2. Saying "no" to new business is one of your most powerful assets.
Taking on new challenges and doing practically everything yourself is the hallmark of a small business owner. But rather than accepting every new opportunity that looks like it might be helpful with your business, start saying "no" to things that aren't strategically aligned with your business.

Be sure "no" is part of your vocabulary so you can say "yes" to focusing on your core business.

3. Use negatives as positives.
You may never have the big marketing budgets, huge cash flow, or large infrastructure that your big competitors will. Most people will tell you that's a negative you'll have to overcome (or a "challenge" you have to overcome, if they're being nice). Rather, think of it as a positive - an opportunity you need to seize.

Working with abundant resources is always more cumbersome. When your competitors want to change, they have an army of employees to retrain, technology to reprogram and at least a few big wigs who'll need to sign off on it - usually after a lot of convincing.

As the owner of a small business, you are able to change quickly. Use your nimbleness to your advantage. Turning your idea into a reality quickly is much easier for you than for a colleague who works at a large employer.

4. Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses.
In past jobs your bosses probably tried to help you by identifying skills or traits you should improve when they conducted your performance reviews. But, time is the one resource you can never get more of. So why waste time trying to improve something you're not good at - and probably don't have any passion for - when you can outsource your weaknesses?

If you're buried in receipts and your general ledger, struggling to keep the books accurate, find an accountant or bookkeeper so you can free up your time to focus on growing your business. If you're great at selling your service or product but can't help customers with questions, get a customer service representative on board so you can focus on what you're best at.

When you're in the middle of doing something you hate, pass the buck to someone else.

5. Use technology to improve everything.
The advances in business technology over the last 15 years have leveled the playing field. With the right technology, you can revolutionize how your business and service works - and even what your market expects.

Find the technology that can help you improve operations and free your staff to work on tasks that generate more revenue. If your employees are still digging through mounds of paper files and different spreadsheets for customer and prospect information, put everything in a central online customer relationship manager (CRM) solution like And when your employees are on the go, ensure they have smartphones with apps (such as a document and spreadsheet viewers) they need to work from anywhere.

Smart technology investments always produce a strong return on investment.
"Following these principles has helped me in every step of my career," says Alter. "But they wouldn't matter if I didn't adhere to one overarching goal: Keep learning and remaining open to change. Markets change, consumers change, needs change. You need to provide the change businesses and consumers demand."

Friday, 26 August 2011


Before oil was discovered in the last 1950s, Nigeria basically survived on it's agriculture for it's economy, and for it's food. Today, agriculture is still a part of the domestic economy, but by the late 1960s, oil had replaced cocoa, peanuts, and palm products as the country's largest foreign exchange earner.

With oil money, Nigeria started importing raw materials from other countries, and as a result, manufacturing became established. Industry in Nigeria grew to include a full range of industries, including but not limited to food-processing, vehicles, textiles, pharmaceuticals, paper and cement. Before the discovery of oil, there had been very few industries. Part of the effects of the oil boom was that there was a significant rural-to-urban migration caused in part by the lure of high wages and consumer-oriented lifestyles of the city. This took a lot of the labor force away from the more rural farms, leaving the very young, the old, and the infirm to cultivate the land. Not surprisingly, agricultural production declined, and so did the export of cash crops. Eventually, the import of crops had to increase.

In 1971, Nigeria became a member of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). By then, it was the world's 7th largest petroleum producer.

In 1972, the government took some steps towards trying to promote Nigerian enterprises. At that time, about 70 percent of the commercial firms operating in Nigeria were foreign-owned, and the Nigerian government issued a decree to prevent foreigners from investing in specified enterprises, and reserved participation of certain trades to Nigerians. In 1975, the government bought 60 percent of the equity in the marketing operations of the major oil companies in Nigeria.

Also, the government had to deal with the severe drought that affected the north between 1972 and 1974 (this drought was the most serious since that of 1913-1914). This caused famines in Nigeria and some other neighboring countries, and some Africans came into Nigeria from some of those other countries.

In 1974, oil prices rose dramatically worldwide, and this caused a sudden flood of wealth, and the revenue that came into the country was intended for investment to diversify the economy, but instead, it led to inflation and a lot of unemployment.

In 1975, oil production fell sharply because of the decrease in world demand, and the prices moved downward until later in the year when OPEC intervened to raise prices. During the decline of oil prices, exports of traditional crops collapsed as a result of poor government policy and low prices on the world market.

When Nigeria found itself importing a lot of food, various agricultural plans and policies were drawn up to try to produce cheaper food in sufficient quantities. Examples of these were the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) and Green Revolution (GR), and the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Some of the techniques involved in these different programs included large irrigation schemes, expansion of credit, using high-yielding seeds, dismantling the Commodity Boards, liberalizing export trade, introducing incentives to boost farmer's outputs, and assisting wheat-producing states. Also, other aspects of agriculture (besides just farming crops) were started, including forestry and fisheries.

In 1986, the ruler at the time introduced market reforms, freeing exchange and interest rates, and this led to a sharp drop in the value of the Naira, while lending rates rose to more than 40 percent.

However, even if agriculture was able to go back to where it was, the population growth was huge, and the agriculture in the country has been unable to keep up with this. So, Nigeria still now imports food. And it didn't help when in 1996, there were severe shortages of fertilizer that further limited the agricultural production.

With all the wealth that it 'should' have, Nigeria is still considered a third-world country nationwide, where the real standard of living has fallen sharply, and these are attributed to political instability, mismanagement and corruption, and the decline in oil prices.

Also, the developments in terms of oil has been pretty rocky over the last few years, and seems to have increased over the last few weeks (today is October 20, 1998). You can read a little bit more about this on the history page, but the environment concerns about the oil industry has increased over the last couple of years. And the ruler at the time (Sani Abacha) responded to this by executing the environmentalists that protested, leading to many countries placing sanctions against Nigeria. After he died in June of 1998, some of those sanctions have been removed, but oil troubles persist. Environmental activists are still speaking up and protesting against oil companies in parts of Nigeria because it is ruining their environment. These protests and attacks have led to oil production losses of over 400000 a day in September and October of 1998, and I read somewhere that these troubles have slashed oil exports from Nigeria by more than one-fifth.

For those of you who understand what this means, GNP per capita was US$260 in 1995, with an annual average rise of 1.2% in real GNP per capita, 1985-95. GNP was $26.817m in 1995, and GDP growth estimated at 3.3% in 1996 (from the World Bank).

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Capitalism is a
social system
based on the
principle of
individual rights.
The term
capitalism is used
here in the broader philosophical
political sense, and
not in the
narrower economic
sense, i.e. a free-

2. What is a
An advocate of
laissez-faire is
known as a
capitalist, i.e.,
novelist Ayn Rand
is a capitalist; i.e.,
Engels came from
a wealthy
politically he is
recognized as a
because of his

Monday, 15 August 2011


This week's cover
story in The
Economist makes
it more or less
official. Deflation,
not inflation, is
now the greatest
concern for the
world economy.
Over the past
year, producer
prices have fallen
throughout the
advanced world;
consumer prices
have been falling
for the last 6
months in France
and Germany; in
Japan wages have
actually fallen 4
percent over the
past year. Until
the recent crisis
prices were falling
in Brazil; they
continue to fall in
China and Hong
Kong; they will
probably soon be
falling in a number
of other
So far, none of
these price
declines looks
anything like the
massive deflation
that accompanied
the Great
Depression. But
the appearance of
deflation as a
problem is
disturbing, not
only because of its
implications, but
because until
recently most
economists -
myself included -
deflation as a
something that
should not be a
The point is that
deflation should -
or so we thought -
be easy to
prevent: just print
more money. And
printing money is
normally a
experience for
governments. In
fact, the idea that
governments have
a hard time
keeping their
hands off the
printing press has
long been a staple
of political
economy; dozens
of theoretical
papers have
argued that the
temptation to
engage in
excessive money
creation causes an
inflationary bias in
economies. It is
largely to combat
that presumed
bias that most of
the world has
accepted the
notion that
monetary policy
should be
conducted by an
central bank,
insulated from
political influence -
and has written
into the charters
of those central
banks that they
should seek price
stability as their
main, often only,
Yet here we are,
with deflation
turning out to be a
serious problem
after all - and with
finding that it is
not as easy either
to prevent or to
reverse as we all


The overall
general upward
price movement of
goods and
services in an
economy (often
caused by a
increase in the
supply of money),
usually as
measured by the
Consumer Price
and the Producer
Price Index
. Over time, as the
cost of goods and
services increase,
the value of a
dollar is going to
fall because a
person won't be
able to purchase
as much with that
dollar as he/she
previously could.
While the annual
rate of inflation
has fluctuated
greatly over the
last half century,
ranging from
nearly zero
inflation to 23%
inflation, the Fed
actively tries to
maintain a specific
rate of inflation,
which is usually
2-3% but can vary
depending on
opposite of