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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book review: "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business" by Nancy Lublin
c.2010, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 246 pages, includes index

It's budget time, and you've been going over your plans for the year ahead. And as your eyes sweep over the pages, several words come to mind ...

Thin. Slim. Small. Cut, slash, eviscerate, butcher, chop, and several other euphemisms for painful carving. Also: uh-oh, awww-no, oh-heck, and a few other things you can't say in front of your mother.

How can your business ever hope to thrive and grow on such increasingly meager budgets? Find out what non-profits do by reading "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business" by Nancy Lublin.

While sitting in a planning meeting at a "ginormous" global company whose employees were bemoaning a lack of funds, author Nancy Lublin gently, timidly suggested a few inexpensive solutions to the got-no-money problem.

Her ideas were met with silent looks, as if she was "the firstborn spawn of beings from another planet."

It was then that Lublin realized that for-profit businesses could learn a thing or ten from businesses who are used to working with nothing or less. She decided to write a book, based on what she learned in her seventeen years of running a not-for-profit business and what she could glean from colleagues.

"I realized that what we have to offer," she says, "can be boiled down to one concept: the power of zero."

First lesson: do more with less cash. Bonuses, raises, and other incentives are fine, but that's not always what motivates employees. Hire people with passion for what you do; they'll work harder and smarter. Offer them opportunities to build skills, and never forget the importance of fun.

Keep your brand simple, unique, consistent, and relevant. Stick with one thing when branding, and utilize "ambassadors" in every facet of your business. With that in mind, choose your partners wisely and remember that word of mouth is the most effective method of marketing, ever.

When you are in need of help, money, or services, learn to ask wisely and be specific. Never confuse business with friendship. Be shameless, but don't ask for money – even if that's what you really need. Then, do more for customers and never underestimate the power of the lagniappe. Be strict with your budget. Learn to barter. Be innovative.

Does budgeting make you want to eat antacids for dinner? You won't need them if you take a big bite of this book first.

You might even need two bites.

Author, founder of Dress for Success, and current CEO of DoSomething.org Nancy Lublin used her own experiences and that of colleagues to show for-profit businesses that being budget-challenged isn't the end of the world. "Zilch" is absolutely packed with hundreds of ideas, instructions, and tips; so many, that it seems overwhelming at times and, in fact, you may want to take time to read this honest, helpful book twice.

If you can't seem to find the words for your skinny financial business plan, here's over 230 pages full of them. For you, "Zilch" is a book to budget for.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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