Katie Milton: Welcome, Capital Now listeners to another addition of our leadership interview series. Today we’re catching up with Cleve Pohl.
Katie Milton: Okay I would like to welcome all of our Capital Now listeners to Ten Small Business questions with Cleve Pohl. My name is Katie Milton and I’m the head of special projects at Capital Now and I am pleased we have Cleve here with us today, Cleve are you excited for our visit?
Cleve Pohl: I sure am.
Katie Milton: Okay, fantastic. And before we get too far I’d like to give you a formal introduction so our listeners have some context for our call. Cleve C. Pohl has 21 years of professional development experience. He has been an entrepreneur, a technology evangelist and sold all forms of technology from underlying software to large back office transformational applications. Mr. Pohl worked with Sun Microsystems and Oracle over the last 13 years, he has received numerous awards including the presidents club at Oracle in 2011. The latest role for Mr. Pohl at Oracle is that of major account development and management. He works closely with the major stake holders of some of Canada’s largest corporations to transform the back office.
Katie Milton: Cleve is there anything you’d like to add to that introduction?
Cleve Pohl: No, that’s me.
Katie Milton: Sums it up, okay good. And to get us started I’m going to ask you finish what may be the most difficult question I may ask you all day today. Are you ready for this?
Cleve Pohl: I am ready.
Katie Milton: So, if you really knew me, you would know?
Cleve Pohl: Ha Ha, I wear a tie. Call me old fashioned but I wear a tie every day.
Katie Milton: That’s fantastic
Cleve Pohl: Whether or not I am seeing customers or I am working out of my home office, I kind of get dressed for work. I blame my mother.
Katie Milton: You blame your mother. I went to school with a guy who said “Look good, feel good, do good.” and so all over campus you could always find him dressed for success. So is that a similar perspective you have?
Cleve Pohl: That’s right. You just never know you just got to get up, even in my current role I’m still really an entrepreneur, it’s my business the phone will ring and someone could be calling with something I have to go out and see them and if I’m portable and ready to go and ready to work then I am ready to work, I don’t have to think about it I just go.
Katie Milton: Fantastic, fantastic.
Katie Milton: So with that I’m actually going to jump right into our questions, 10 small business questions and hit you with the first one which is, a growing business needs to be smart about its money. How should small businesses prioritize what they invest in or prioritize their growth investments?
Cleve Pohl: I like this question because its one of those, I always look to companies that have been successful other ones that have been successful and what did they do and how did they grow. What did they invest in to move their market or generate more revenue. It’s typically the companies that live within or stay within what they are good at. So if you’re going to invest in something, it’s going to be an additional product to what it is that you already offer, an additional service offering to what you already offer or additional hours and that’s where you should be really, offering out of your core values a determine if there is an investment to add on to the services and the offerings and the products you have.
Katie Milton: So for small business owners to identify to what they are good at you’re suggesting that they make sure that its an allingment with their core values and also related to product or service they are currently offering. Is that correct?
Cleve Pohl: That is correct and there is another way to look at it and that’s the cost. The easiest way to generate profit, because that’s really what we are doing, the easiest way to generate profit is actually control your costs. So is there some way you can look at your business process and reduce the amount that you spend in running your business and then you don’t have to generate more top line revenue in order to create profit.
Katie Milton: Yeah, excellent suggestions
Katie Milton: Okay, so our next question. How have you overcome personal challenges in your business and what advice to you have for other business owners?
Cleve Pohl: By personal challenges, you mean the outside noise that creeps into our daily struggle?
Katie Milton: Yeah, I would say any and all of the above. Anything you would define as a personal challenge.
Cleve Pohl: How do I overcome them?
Katie Milton: Yeah
Cleve Pohl: OK, I like to focus on what I’m good at. I learned a number of years ago that if you, people tend to work on the things that we are not good at. Say I’m not very good at the public speaking or I’m not very good at following a task all the way through point A to point B. But there are usually things that go around those types of activities that you’re really good at. So pick one thing every day that you’re really, really good at and you know you can get accomplished and start with that. And then build on the things that you’re maybe not so good at from there. So maybe it’s making a cold call or maybe it’s doing your invoicing there are certain things we do as entrepreneurs and business owners that we don’t necessarily like to do but are necessary and maybe you’re not so good at doing those so start with something you’re really good at and then work your way into the things you’re not. And those for me are personal challenges those are overcoming bits and parts and pieces of your personality.
Katie Milton: Yeah, that’s definitely good advice. I heard somebody say once when you increase your strengths or strengthen your strengths that your weaknesses get stronger relative to the strengths.
Cleve Pohl: That’s right. I like that.
Katie Milton: Fantastic.
Katie Milton: Okay so what criteria should I consider to determine whether a loan or a cash infusion would be a good decision to grow the size of my business?
Cleve Pohl: So I would approach this like I would anything else when it comes to business or personal finance or anything else. If you took a bunch of money out of your pocket, and put it somewhere, what would you expect to get back from it. And we do this with investments we do it with other things and it’s really no different. If I’m going to buy a RSP and I’m going to buy shares in a publicly traded company, I want to know what my expected return would be. When it comes to business the expected return is always a little bit fuzzier because you don’t know, there is no track record, this is new for you. So I think as an entrepreneur, trusting your gut is the number one thing. If your guts telling you that there’s an opportunity there and if you put a little time, energy and effort into it a little bit of money that the opportunity would be worth the effort, start there. Listen to your instincts.
Katie Milton: Good advice, good advice.
Katie Milton: Okay, that brings us to our next question. What is the best way for entrepreneurs to demonstrate that they have thought through the essential aspects of their business especially the financials?
Cleve Pohl: It’s a funny question, I think any entrepreneur probably knows their business better than anybody else just by the nature of what we do. The financials part of it is really the results, it’s the measurement, it’s how did I do today. I tell this story to my customers, some of them are very, very large in nature, I don’t care if you have billions of dollars in revenue or hundreds of thousands of revenue, if you can close the till every day and determine how much you spent, how much you sold, what your overhead is, you can close your books and know how you did today. And I have yet to meet an entrepreneur that doesn’t do that. In terms of thinking and forecasting your financials over time, it goes back to one of our earlier questions about where am I going to grow my business from a revenue standpoint or where am I going to control my costs or my process that would maybe restrict my ability to grow.
Cleve Pohl: I think any entrepreneur knows their business better than everybody, they close the books everyday so to speak, how’d we do today. How do you demonstrate that? I think is really just from your knowledge and your ability to come up with those answers. You know what they are.
Katie Milton: Okay. No, good. Very actionable advice. Okay so are there a few rules of thumb that you could share with us that would help a small business owner differentiate between good business borrowing versus bad business borrowing?
Cleve Pohl: Yes. My first company when I started when I was 22 or 23 years old I fell victim, I’ve learned more in business from my mistakes then I have from my successes so this would be one of those mistakes that I learned from. And I fell victim to a predatory loan type of a company. I had an opportunity with one of my customer and I needed to generate some cash flow to pay for the supply chain to build the products that I was going to make pretty good margin on. And so I partnered with someone that lent me the money and by the time everything was said and done, the way that they had structured the loan to me was I gave them all the profit. So I did all the work, generated the opportunity and at the end of it had nothing left. And what I learned out of that is you have to absolutely know the first four questions you’ve asked me. I’ve looked at my business process, I understand what the cost is going to be I’ve actually sat down and done the math, which I didn’t do.
Cleve Pohl: I went with my gut instinct that this was a good opportunity and this guy was able to quickly generate the money for me but didn’t really look at the details I was more concerned with the revenue than I was the cost. And by the time we strung it out there was nothing left. So I would caution everybody to work through the total cost ownership of whatever it is you’re going to buy.
Cleve Pohl: The second thing I’d encourage you to do is to look for a partner. It’s not a one time thing, if you’re in small business and you’re not running huge lines of credit and you haven’t signed over your house and all those kinds of things, then you’re going to have to have a way to have convertible cash. And find a repeatable process to do that so it doesn’t become a burden. It doesn’t add value. Chasing money around isn’t what you’re there to do no different than I was when I was a young entrepreneur, I wasn’t very good at chasing the money around. But I was really good at driving sales and expanding my business that’s what I was good at and what I should have stayed good at. So that was a long winded answer but …
Katie Milton: And a very good one though!
Cleve Pohl: Yeah the point is stop, take a deep breath if it really feels too good to be true, then it is. Motherhood and apple pie and look for a partner, look for somebody that’s going to be able to work with you on an ongoing basis whatever those needs might be.
Katie Milton: Good feedback from personal experience, lots of helpful insights in that question for sure.
Katie Milton: Okay so our next is many small businesses start out as family run or business owners eventually hire family members for a variety of reasons. What’s your advice on what to do when you have to lay off or fire a family member and how can you do that and maintain peace?
Cleve Pohl: I’ve never actually worked in that environment so I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer it. There are a number of different resources online and especially with the Harvard Business Review around those types of questions and I would probably have to refer people there. I just don’t have any experience with that.
Katie Milton: Good advice and we will encourage our listeners to check out the Harvard Business Review and I’m guessing they could probably just go to the website and do a search on the Harvard Business Review page for hiring and firing family members or something like that and it will turn up some relevant articles, correct?
Cleve Pohl: I did it on Friday and found a number or articles and one of them that almost is this question to a tee. It’s almost the same question. They talk about the succession plan and how you can work around it and some other business owner’s advice around managing that
Katie Milton: Oh, okay.
Cleve Pohl: So, yes absolutely. HBR.org
Katie Milton: Do you happen to have the name of that article handy?
Cleve Pohl: Not handy
Katie Milton: No, that’s okay, that’s okay. I will provide, I’ll get that from you later and we can link it up in the show notes after the recording. So we’ll get that so our listeners can look up that resource.
Katie Milton: Okay, so next question we have was there any deal that you regret investing in even if you made some money and why?
Cleve Pohl: Yes. Yes. I gave you an example earlier I took on a large project that was outside of my core values as a company and we did computer network installations in the mid 90’s and our core belief was we didn’t do more than 25 computers on any single network, we operated and supported small businesses. Because we were a small business, we felt we could really do very well there and when this corporate client came calling with their great big order, we were referred to them and they sole sourced the business to us and it was great opportunity, looking at it on paper it was this great wonderful thing and I didn’t do the worst case scenario planning. Which was to imagine myself with that order and try to execute on that project and that program and the resources it would take and I didn’t do my worst case.
Cleve Pohl: And my worst case maybe even wouldn’t have been enough. Because by the time I was done investing in it and put everything through, I had lost customers, my business had shrunk in actual size, I’d gotten away from my core values and beliefs. So I’ve always looked back on that an asked myself if I qualify this and I can do the job and do the business, will it be worth it in the end and you have to think about, and entrepreneur, a business owner or CEO has to think about that more than anybody else. Which is I have to think about the greater good, the whole not just the part. And it’s hard, it’s a hard balance I’m not going to suggest it’s easy. They’ve written books about it.
Katie Milton: That sounds like some very sound advice and some very good suggestions that people can go again searching for additional resources on that and it sounds like it was a pretty valuable lesson that you took away from that experience.
Cleve Pohl: Absolutely.
Katie Milton: Okay. Alright, next question. How can a mentor help a small business owner and do you or did you have a mentor?
Cleve Pohl: I’ve had a couple different mentors along the way. And I would challenge anybody whether or not you’re publicly traded or you have investors or any of those things is seek yourself a board of directors. The board of directors isn’t there as, in all companies really, they’re there to balance all the interests and there are many interests in any companies and any operation. The employees, the balance sheet, the cash flow, the customers themselves. Make yourself a board of directors go find people that will challenge you and get together with them twice a year and run your ideas past them, have that. And people will sign up for this type of stuff.
Cleve Pohl: I certainly have. I’ve helped people that have asked for it and said “Hey, I’d like to take a couple hours out of your time and use your expertise to help me with a business idea that I have.” I have yet to have anyone say no because typically the people I am asking are just like me. They are business owners, they might have different talents that they would bring to the table but their interested in the process as much as they are anything else and are happy enough to provide you with that feedback and I in turn have paid it forward and done it for others and I think asking for help is probably one of the harder things we have to do surprisingly enough and I would caution you if you’re going to ask somebody for help, know it exactly what it is and be specific. I need your help with this not hey I got a business idea I haven’t prepared at all and I’d like to sit down and boil the ocean with you for the next two days.
Cleve Pohl: I’ve done a business case, I’ve come up with a point of view and I think this will work and I just really need somebody to bounce it off of. And so I’ll buy the coffee or the dinner or lunch and I’m fully prepared and I can do my pitch quote, un quote in 15 minutes or less. If you’re not sure, watch Dragons Den or Shark Tank. Hello, my names Cleve I would like this much to do this and this is what you’ll get for it and this is what we do. And practice. Practice, practice, practice and it’s a great way to work with your mentors is be specific.
Katie Milton: Definitely and in terms of being specific those are some very specific examples that I think are going to be fairly simple for our listeners to take some action on. And if I can hit you up for one more action step.
Katie Milton: So let’s say that we have a business owner who’s listening and they want to start a board of directors, what is the step you recommend they take first?
Cleve Pohl: Do you specifically have a reason to gather your board. So you could look for examples out in the marketplace, you can listen to a couple of even if you get on anybody’s analyst calls any publicly traded company, that’s essentially what they are doing. Or you could read the opening message from the board of directors or the chairman of the board of any publicly traded company. And they will talk about the fact that they are thinking of the long term strategy. We’re seeing the outside forces on our marketplace effecting us in this way therefore, we are going to start investing in this type of an opportunity.
Cleve Pohl: Take for example an oil and gas company who’s investing in green energy. They’re reading the future and going you know what, people might not have as much of a need for oil and gas so we need to take our investment dollars, our cash or capital and start investing it in the next energy that people are going to use. Maybe its solar, maybe its wind and they are starting to make that transition and that’s what your board of directors is for. To help you look at that long term, five year plan.
Katie Milton: Excellent, excellent.
Cleve Pohl: So be very, be specific, If people call me and ask me to help and they don’t have specific agenda, I’m not going to carve the time out to do it.
Katie Milton: And it makes it difficult for you to answer their question if it’s not specific.
Cleve Pohl: That’s right. If you want my best and you want to play to my strengths, then be specific with me and what do you need from me.
Katie Milton: Perfect, excellent very great specific examples.
Katie Milton: Okay, we are actually coming up to our final question so I’m going to kick that off with you then I will give you a chance to share with us how we can reach out to you if there are any follow up questions as we wrap up.
Katie Milton: So our last question is, now that I’ve got a website up and running, what are the top three things I can do to start generating sales leads?
Cleve Pohl: I think every small business owner has the same challenge. I’ve hung my shingle, I want and have capacity to provide my product or service now how do I actually get people to sign up and start doing that. And it’s the age old question of I’ve only got so much to invest in my sales and marketing but I still want to drive people to my website. So there’s a number of guerilla marketing books out there, which I’m sure everybody has read but you know your existing customer base is going to be your best opportunity for new leads coming in.
Cleve Pohl: So if you have a customer who is wildly happy with what it is you do, don’t hesitate to ask them for referrals and not in a “Hey you need to refer me some customers” but gently remind them that you’re providing a service for them and in order for that service to continue or that product to continue, you need to continue to grow just like they are. And it can be mutually beneficial. We’ll drive people your way for what ever it is you do and if you could drive people my way, that would be great. So that’s number one.
Cleve Pohl: Number two. In all the guerilla marketing books they’ll talk about one of the best ways to get free advertising is to give it away and I don’t mean give your advertising away, I mean give your business away. Seems counterintuitive, yeah? But if you take a portion of what it is you do, and you provide it to a charity, lets say it’s a little bit of your profit or every X number of new clients we will make a donation to whatever it might be, partner with that charity. You got one in your back pocket, you know who they are, probably something that is near and dear to your heart, you can certainly pick up the phone and call the director of that charity and suggest to them that listen, I’d like to partner with you guys. Now their constituents become your constituents. And they will direct people to you because there is a benefit to them and its a tried and true method of getting traffic driven to your website.
Cleve Pohl: And again, be specific. Know what it is you want to do before you go there, have bounced it off your mentor, done your business case. You understand that generating the top line revenue and giving part of it away will still have a long term benefit greater than investing in radio advertising as an example. So think the whole thing through, do your worst case, bounce it off your mentor, your board and it just might be the best option.
Katie Milton: Excellent, excellent.
Cleve Pohl: Okay and the last one, that’s two. We’ll call that partnering, so referral, partner and the third one and maybe should be the first one is roll up your sleeves and make some calls. There is nothing better than picking up the phone and calling somebody and asking how they are doing and ask a question about how they might change what it is they are doing today and be prepared to have a point of view to challenge them on what they do today and how you might be able to it for them better. And honestly, it’s what I do every day. My customers all have systems and financial systems and they manage to close the books every day but I still call them and suggest there is a better way to do it. And then I have a methodology to engage them in that process. To challenge them.
Katie Milton: Excellent, excellent. And Cleve from a personal perspective your responses to that last question I think were my favorite from the entire interview. And so I hope our listeners have stayed with us the entire time because I really think that one question, that your response to that one question was worth the entire previous 25 minutes.
Katie Milton: Thank you so much for your insight and your perspective on those questions.
Cleve Pohl: You’re welcome!
Katie Milton: And I’m going to have you share with us how listeners can reach out to you if they have any questions or want to provide you with feedback on your responses before we wrap up.
Katie Milton: What’s the best way for them to get in touch with you Cleve?
Cleve Pohl: They can find me through LinkedIn so Cleve Pohl on LinkedIn or my email address is email@example.com. Certainly reach out to me and I’d be happy to answer any questions, specific questions that people would have for me.
Katie Milton: Fantastic. Well we will direct them that way in case anybody has any questions or feedback and thank you again for sharing your perspective and insights with us. This has been a very valuable interview and I believe that our listeners are going to find a lot of value in it too.
Katie Milton: Thanks Cleve, have a great day!
Cleve Pohl: I will, thank you Katie.
Cleve Pohl: Bye.