By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie
Years ago, I was at a meeting with my boss and some clients when my cellphone rang. At that time, the song “Drop It Like It’s Hot” was a big hit and like any self-respecting 15-year old, I decided that since that song was my jam, it also had to be my ringtone. However, when my phone rang during the meeting and the bass filled the boardroom–and since I was actually not 15 years old–I decided that was the point in my life to rethink hip-hop ringtones. Time to grow up!
Ironically, only a few years later, I met the guy who actually created the ringtone for “Drop It Like It’s Hot!” Michael Zumchak was the nerd behind the ringtone and nowadays he’s the wizard behind the Easy Excel classes that he teaches to individuals and corporations in NYC (http://www.easyexcelclasses.com/). I had heard about his Easy Excel classes from friends, colleagues and Yelp–that he’s a smart, funny instructor who makes learning Excel simple and fun. I took the class a few weekends ago and I was not disappointed!
The basics class is for everyone–from beginners to programmers to people who just want to brush up and fine-tune their Excel skills. Michael has a low-key, easy-going approach to a very dry, coma-inducing subject. I took the class on a dreary Saturday afternoon, and while staring at numbers, lines and formulas all afternoon could lull anyone into a nice long nap, Michael kept the pace moving, encouraged (DEMANDED!) class interaction and cracked jokes left and right. Besides his comedic style of teaching, Michael has a great knack for breaking down a complicated, sometimes mind-numbing application like Excel, and explains what we need to know, and what we don’t need to know. That information is priceless because if you’re like most people faced with a long, complicated spreadsheet that’s color-coded, contains multiple pages and full of various notes, formulas and charts–the more complex the spreadsheet, the less user-friendly it is and the angrier you become!
Michael began the class with simple tips and formatting short-cuts, then went into creating formulas and spreadsheets. His tips on formatting–long forgotten since college–were awesome and he went over the rules of creating a clean, uncomplicated spreadsheet so many times that everyone got into it and started enthusiastically shouting out the rules like we were in 5th grade! I left the class feeling more comfortable, knowledgeable and confident with my revitalized Excel skills–and much less angry and confused.
Make Your Budget EXCELlent!
Even if you don’t use Excel for work, consider taking this class if you want to create your own budget. If you’ve been thinking of putting together a budget–and you don’t want to use Mint.com or any other online application–sign up and get yourself in gear. With Excel, you’ll be able to customize your budgeting spreadsheet to your specific needs and spending habits. Once you get the mechanics of the spreadsheet and formulas down, you can make adjustments in your spreadsheet based on any life changes or changes in your spending/saving needs. And at the very least, you’ll have fun in class!
If you’ve been following business news lately, you might be pleasantly surprised that the stock market reached a post-recession record high yesterday, the highest since October 2007. Investors who have been “stocking” up on equities will probably see some great rewards from the risky moves they’ve made over the past few years. Many experts say that the strength of the stock market follows positive corporate earnings and profitability, a strengthening housing market, and the continued perception of the US as the best place to park money compared to global markets.
While the stock market has shown major signs of improvement, the economy still seems to be plugging along at a sluggish pace. Despite the recent good news, small businesses and large companies are still finding it difficult to navigate the challenging economic environment. Even the mighty retail giant Wal-Mart has seen its profits decline, thanks to lackluster consumer spending. A flurry of recent articles indicates that Wal Mart has been struggling to keep sales up and its shelves adequately stocked since the beginning of the year. Experts link the weakness in consumer spending to various factors, like the expiration of the payroll tax holiday and tax refunds arriving later in February this year than in prior years; hence less disposable income for consumers to shop with.
On the other hand, the luxury market has been pretty resilient during the recession and is still charging ahead for the most part. While consumer reports indicate that 2012 was a turning point for many luxury retailers that saw a decline in sales for the first time in many years (such as Burberry, Gucci and Tiffany), other high-end retailers implemented various strategies to maintain and even increase their market share. Companies like Prada, Hermes and LVMH focused on ultra-luxury rather than expansion, improved their technology and online presence, entered various emerging marketplaces –and saw sales continue to soar.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to develop and expand their brands would be wise to adapt some of the successful practices of the luxury market. Simone Esposito is an expert and consultant who works with luxury and ultra-luxury international companies on branding and business development. He has worked with companies such as Thomas Pink, Loro Piana and Asprey of London, and has built a reputation as a forward-thinking consultant who anticipates market movements and trends and helps clients develop strategies to take advantage of industry shifts.
“The time is right for luxury brands to re-engage their customers, making sure to build a long-term loyalty,” urges Simone. “Companies must place the customer experience at the heart of their enterprise.”
Simone also insists that while some companies are doing a good job of adapting to new technologies which helps move sales along, they must continue to reinforce their offline presence as well– and this could ring true as well for small business owners and entrepreneurs. “I think that developing personal relationships with customers is something that all brands should aim for, ” he says. “Many prime brands (I am not only talking luxury here) have invested in upgrading their online presence in recent years forgetting to upgrade their offline, personal relationships. Unfortunately, according to the Luxury Institute, this translates only to 10-15% of luxury customers having a first-name relationship with a sales professional. It has been proven that customers who have a true human relationship with a brand generally buy way more from that brand, and loyalty is a direct and logic consequence.”
Simone insists that luxury companies emphasize customer service, and in today’s challenging economy, all companies would benefit from providing a positive and memorable customer experience. “A luxury brand offers luxury products, of course, but to attract and retain discriminating buyers, it must also offer luxury customer service. In fact, what sets a luxury brand apart from the crowd isn’t only price—it’s also the quality of the overall customer experience.”
Wal-mart and other large companies may find it more cumbersome to increase sales and swiftly take advantage of market upturns, but small companies and entrepreneurs are in a good position to follow the lead of the luxury market, and to innovate and implement smart strategies that can lead to growth.
One of the best aspects of being an entrepreneur and running my own business is the ability to work from anywhere in the world (with an internet connection). It’s always been a dream of mine to have the freedom and flexibility to combine my favorite passions–travel, adventure, the beach, meeting new people– with my nerdy side (yay personal finance! retirement rocks!) But of course there are the pros and cons of running your own business. The income fluctuates, uncertainty abounds, insomnia is my poker buddy, rejection is like the sugar in my coffee. When it comes to having a thick skin and not let negativity bring me down, my skin is like the dense stinky Arizona-style naugahyde that our parents favored for their lounge furniture in the ’70s.
On the other hand, I can hightail it out to Montauk for the week at the end of the summer, and get work done beach-side, with plenty of time to catch some crazy waves and watch the amazing Montauk sunsets. Not a bad situation if you ask me.
Being a small business owner comes with its challenges and rewards. Every day is an adventure. Many small business owners have hefty start-up costs or even on-going costs that they have to factor into the cost of doing business. To obtain access to cash to pay for materials, make payroll or pay marketing costs, many business owners turn to banks for business loans or a line of credit. But when credit is hard to come by (as has been the case in recent years), many business owners opt to use credit cards to cover their necessary costs.
Here is a great article from CreditCards.com — “Financing your small business with credit cards: A capital idea?” — that discusses best practices for business owners to use credit cards. And watch for some information and quotes from yours truly!