When Your Mission Stinks….

When Your Mission Stinks….

Having worked in consulting to both for profit and non-profit organizations over the last decade, one of the time honoured truths that I often see, is that very often, mission statements stink. While this may seem like a harsh statement, consider the weight and importance we place on mission. Your mission, is the driving force behind all you do. It is how you deliver your product or service and particularly, in the non-profit world, it represents your organizational goals, and your purpose of existence.

 

For young organizations, that are figuring out their way, the mission can and should be flexible. Let’s ponder that for a moment. It is OK if your mission changes?  We are told that Missions must drive organizations. The mission must be the focal point that guides you through. Simultaneously, we are told, fail early, fail forward and fail often.  At a glance, these statements are in opposition to each other.  How, can you have a guiding statement and yet be failing? The easy conclusion to draw, is that after each failure the mission has to be changed. Here’s why.

 

What a Mission is Supposed to Be….

A mission statement, its very definition, is a statement that communicates, what you do, for whom and how you do it. Sometimes, we add where for clarification.  It is from the mission, that we draw HOW we do things, what will make us competitive and our key success factors.  Failure, often arises because there is misalignment or misunderstood assumptions between how the different components need to work together.

 

A simple example is a product that was intended for one purpose, but ended up having another. There are several famous examples. Bubblewrap was intended to be textured wallpaper. Rogaine, the hair replacement solution, originally was designed as a blood pressure medication. In these cases, the need to change the mission is easy to see.

 

The need to change a mission is harder when you are providing services and/or delivering programs.  One example I have seen involved the failure of an organization, originally intended to deliver entrepreneurial services to a very narrow segment of the population.  In this case, there simply weren’t enough people to justify a market, and the mission had to be changed to be more inclusive.

 

Another more common example, are organizations that drift from their mission, as they pursue projects, grants, and other funding.  We often talk about mission drift as a way to refocus the organization, but rarely do we discuss the need that if the organization has drifted so much from its core, is there a need to rewrite the mission to focus on the core activities of the organization?

Bottom-Up Mission

Missions, are most powerful when they are created from the bottom-up. However, this is rarely the case. Missions, tend to be created by Boards of Directors, Executives and Consultants. They are crafted for how they sound, market and branding appeal, and less by direct front-line staff, or program development staff who in reality, know far more about the challenges of delivering services and building programs than executives and boards. If they are not included in the Mission development process, then failure and drift are likely to result.  Consultant’s don’t generally like bottom-up missions as they represent more work to develop. However, better tools such as 360 degree feedback,  stakeholder analysis and customer surveying do change the discourse, but not nearly enough.

Understanding Mission Drift

When mission drift is occurring, we need to question why.  Is it to obtain funding for sustainability, or is it because the program has a genuine need that must be filled. In other words, are you writing the grant because your organization needs money, or are you really trying to solve a problem you see in your everyday work.  If your answer is the latter, and your front-line people consistently are building services and designing programs that stray from your mission, then my advice is that it may be time for a new mission; one that better reflects the real market need of the individuals you serve. And, the bad news? Your mission may stink. If, that’s the case, change it. Change it fast and change it often, until you can figure out what you should be doing and how.  While there are expenses to changing the mission, it can be far more expensive if your mission is just wrong.

 

 

How has your mission been used in your organization? Do you find it effective? Drop us a line carmen@reimargroup.com.

 

Business in a Slump? It’s time to Growth Plan

Develop A Business Growth Plan

It seems like all we do is plan.  We write business plans, strategic plans, marketing plans, and disaster recovery plans. We plan our businesses to death.  In the early days of your business, your need to plan less. Personally, I am a planner by nature. Planning is how I organize my thoughts, how I mitigate my risks and develop my to- do lists. When our businesses are first being developed, we need to focus on the DO, and less on the planning. Yes, you heard me correctly. You need to plan less and DO MORE.

Let me explain.  This does not mean the abolition of “Planning” but rather it needs to evolve to Growth Planning. As a small business you always need to be in growth mode. This does not mean chasing the aggressive growth of early business days, but it does need to evolve to be focused on implementation and the “how” rather than the “what”.

A growth plan, in its purest sense, is a cross between a business plan and a strategic plan. A business that is growth oriented has to evolve with its customers, in needs to be in touch with the market, it has to be aware of trends and the social and environmental impact of its products or services.  Most importantly, a business that is not growing is stagnant and not healthy. It is reaching the peak of its life-cycle and beginning its decline.

Should businesses be in perpetual growth? Some people may say no. Some experts will tell you that a business where the owner seeks to exit, may begin to think about succession and naturally, as we age we begin a process of seeking to “slow down”.  However, think about it from viewpoint of a prospective buyer for your business. Would you rather buy a business that is healthy and growing? Or one that has shown decline over the years leading up to the sale? The answer from this perspective is simple. Focus on the growth, and the rest takes care of itself. The following are what I define to be the 10 Key Components of a Business Growth Plan.

The 10 Key Components of a Growth Plan

 1. Where Are You Now?

Examine the following for your organization:

  • a. Mission- this is the “DO” of your organization. What you do, and how you do it.
  • b. Key Success Factors – What do you do well or better than your competitors?
  • c. Key Constraints-What are you limited by? Who are you limited by? What is the financing available?
  • d. Stakeholder analysis-What do your customers think? How about your suppliers? Your employees? Your partners and family? Get everyone’s input, it matters

 

2. Where Do You Want To Be

 

  • a. Vision Statement-Define where you want to be in 5 years and build a vision for your company around it.
  • b. The Magic Number- What do you want your company to be worth in 3-5 years?  How much do you want to make? This is your magic number that you will be working towards.

 

3. What is Going on In Your Environment and Industry?

It is vital to understand what is going on in your industry and how your company fits into it. The following analyses should be conducted to understand how all the pieces fit together.

  • a. SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Look inward and outward to your company and industry and judge how you fit.
  • b. Porter’s 5 Forces-This business school classic has staying power for a reason. The five “forces” of Porter identify how you work within the broader industry. It examines your customers, suppliers, competitive rivalry within the industry, the threat of new entrants and the threat of substitutes in the industry for your product or service. It creates a picture of how dependent or independent you can be of industry trends in general.
  • c. PESTLE Analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental). This examines the broader trends in your industry, from each of the above contexts and how they can potentially impact what you do.

 

4. What have others in your field doing?

Competitor Innovation Analysis. In the history of your industry, how have your competitors innovated? Can this type of innovation still be useful to you? What products or services do competitors offer that are successful? Can you mimic them? What is not working? Is this something you are currently doing?

5. What are people doing in in other industries that can be applied to your Industry?

External Innovation Analysis- what are others doing that is innovative in another industry that can be applied to your industry? Can you change the business model of your industry to become more innovative?

6. Prioritize Your Current Opportunities

Prioritize opportunities based on a model that identifies needed inputs, available resources and constraints. Identify your resource requirements based on:

  • a. HR
  • b. Technology
  • c. Financial
  • d. Network and contacts needed to help you grow

 

 7. Do you Need Extra Capital or Resources to Make Growth Happen?

How will you raise it? What can you cut, divert or change from your current operations or business model to make this happen?

8. New Initiatives

What new initiatives will you develop? Identify your identify your CIPD Strategy- How will you Concentrate, Innovate, Penetrate (Market) or Diversify your company’s products or services?  This is the foundation of growth. Your CIPD Strategy can happen in any of the following areas:

  • a. Marketing
  • b. Sales
  • c. Technology
  • d. Partnerships
  • e. Alliances
  • f. Products

Find the ones that work best for your industry and company.

 9. Develop Your Implementation Plan.

Your implementation plan should be detailed and should include quarterly goals (financial and growth) and should identify key resources and steps needed to accomplish your vision and get you to your “Magic Number” of growth. Identify the riskiest steps, and develop action items to specific how you will address each item.

10. Just DO It!

At some point, you have to start growing your business. The faster you get this point, the faster your business will grow. For most entrepreneurs, this is the scariest, but most exciting part.  There are ways to make this manageable. Develop a daily checklist. Do 3 things every day that will grow your business in a solid way and contribute to growing your business based on your Growth Plan. A growing business requires daily infusions and care to push it forward, but not at the detriment of the owner.

Business growth needs to be sustainable, responsible but ever pushing forward and upward.  Implement these strategies, and watch your business and profits soar.

Business Plans for Newcomers – Part 1

I cannot tell you how many times, I have heard of newcomers turned down for loans simply because they could not produce a business plan.

In our lending systems, as covered in a past blog, it is customary to ask for a business plan. In many cases, lenders will not even look at your business idea without it.
So what is an immigrant, with poor English skills to do? Many will pay consultants to prepare plans for them.
Sometimes the immigrant will just stop the application process right there. Others will attend month long classes where they will be guided through the business plan process.

While both of these are good in principal, consultants can be expensive. Classes that drag on for months and months, are not only time wasters, but not effective at teaching what a business plan should be.

A business plan should be a guide-NOT a ROADMAP, but a guide, that gives general direction, provides some estimate of costs, and demonstrates an understanding of the market and the steps you need to get where you want to go with your business.

Many, expect business plans to be “gospel truth”, but they are not. There are those in the business world who will tell you never to plan or that they are a waste of time. I prefer a more democratic approach and believe that a general document should be prepared, but that document should never be taken as the Road Map for a new business.

For newcomers, understanding what to put in a plan, how to obtain market research, estimates of business costs and mission and vision statements, can be beyond not only their language, but also their cultural skills. Remember, Business Plans are largely a North American invention. To do them properly requires insight into Business Culture.

So what is an immigrant to do? My advice is to find a plan/template/program you are comfortable with and use that to develop a basic business plan. More important are items like personal credit and financial holdings. Also, getting a mentor in the industry would be a great asset, for immigrants or those new to an industry. In the next blog we will discuss finding a Mentor.

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Demographics for Small Business: market segmentation and counting customers

The last couple of entries have focused on stories of entrepreneurs who have either not cared about customers or who believed that the entire world was a prospective client base.

While these strategies may work for some entrepreneurs, generally speaking, we need to have some understanding of the size of the market and what we can expect to sell. This understanding increases dramatically if you are a “product” based business, where you make or manufacture a product. Making too much can result in excess inventory and wasted operating funds, making too little and you forego potential profit.

I’ve created a 5 step process to help you segment your market and more accurately predict potential sales:
Go through this exercise – even in your head, and I guarantee you will have a better understanding of your potential customers and will be better able to quantify your market research to an investor, funder or partner.

1. Who will buy your product and why?

Most entrepreneurs create a product to fill a need or to improve. Who will buy your product and why they will buy is the first step in calculating your customer base.

2. How many of these individuals/group/needs exist?

For most people this is the hardest part of market research. Calculating the number of people in the “market” can be a daunting task. However it need not be that bad. If you determine that your product is aimed at young professionals who live with their parents, you would first need to consult the Census in your country to determine the number of professionals, then most censuses narrow these by age, so you can further segment professionals say in the 24-34 range.

3. Narrow, narrow, narrow that customer base

One of the core mistakes in research is that many people want as large a customer base as possible. This is a mistake. While some lenders will let this pass, to the trained business person, the more narrow a target market, the more I know that the individual has thought about his product and who will buy it. The trick here, is to tie the narrowed slice of the target group back to question 1 – who will use your product and why?
So in our example above, we decided that young professionals who live at home with their parents are your target market. You know that not all young professionals still live at home. However you saw a recent stat in a newspaper that said about 20% of these individuals lived at home until the age of 34. So if we determined that in our City, there are 200,000 young professionals, and we estimate that 20% of them live at home, then our market segment would be 40,000. (200K*20%)

4. Market penetration rates: The world is not your oyster.

The next biggest mistake people make is that they assume either naively or optimistically that they will sell to the entire market. Either this, or they assume a far too low market penetration rate. A general rule, the smaller and better defined your market, the larger your market penetration rate can be. The larger your prospective market size, the smaller your number.

Let’s clarify with an example.

So if I was going to sell business plans, and I know there are over 3,000,000 global searches a month in Google for business plans, I could say that I could sell to half of the market (50%) and I would have generous predictions indeed. Trust me, if I was selling 1,000,000 business plans a month I would not be here blogging!

Rather, I know that the 3,000,000 can represent less than the total market. Why? Because many individuals do a search more than once. Particularly for something like a business plan. Also, they may search on more than one device. Finally, this represents global searches and my market is the English speaking world of do-it yourselfers or those for whom English is not a first language.

So if I were to limit my search to Canada, there are over 12,000 searches in Canada. Assuming that half of these are repeat queries, and then taking the percentage of the general population that are do-it yourselfers, (perhaps in the 5-10% range) might provide me with a realistic size of the market that I am targeting.

(12,000*50% for repeat queries) = 6000*10% DIY market= 600 = the number of business plan writers that are DIYers

My target capture rate of 35% = 210 Plans per month – my sales at maturity.

Now compare this number with saying that I plan to capture 0.1% of the global business plan market – that would be 30,000 plans per month – still much to high, particularly since many of those searches are in a language other than English. Numbers below 1% make no sense to anyone, so segment, segment, segment I say.

5. What will your sales be in year one?

The third and final biggest mistake that people make, is that they assume they will sell their predicted sales at maturity in year 1. Remember, that your size of the market is once your sales reach maturity. For the majority of businesses, this can be a minimum of 3-5 years. How quickly you reach your sales will include how quickly the industry is growing, the number of competitors and the quality of your product. Anyone of these can change your sales forecast.

For myself, I know that I will most likely achieve 15-25% of sales at maturity in year 1 and then predict that sales will increase by 20-35% every year thereafter.

So, to all the prospective entrepreneurs out there, good luck and start selling!

Demographics and Your Business Plan

The term for some of you may conjure up images of university classrooms and painful modelling excercises. For others, the term might imply some kind if research to do with population, but most certainly nothing to do with your business plan.

What if I told you that demographics should form the basis of your ENTIRE business plan. That if you have not addressed the demographics of your plan that you are doomed to fail?

Before you think I’ve lost my marbles, or worse, before you start to freak out and start “Googling) the term Demographics, sit back and read the following. Demographics are no more than your customers. Most would call this market research, but I prefer the term Demographics because in my experience most people DO NOT do their market research properly (if they did-half of the businesses we see fail would never have been launched in the first place).

Demographics, to cite Wikipedia, “Demographics are current statistical characteristics of a population” and Demographic Trends ” Demographic trends describe the historical changes in demographics in a population over time (for example, the average age of a population may increase or decrease over time). Both distributions and trends of values within a demographic variable are of interest. Demographics are about the population of a region and the culture of the people there.”

So if we are to understand the WIKIPEDIA definition, Demographics provides us with information about a population and the culture of the people who live there.

This is a very powerful statement. Demographic trends not only give us insight into whether populations are increasing or decreasing, but they also tell you about the area.

Let’s go through an example. Years ago, I moved into a new subdivision. New subdivisions tend to draw young, newly married or co-habituating couples if housing prices are close to their actual market value. A couple of years later in the middle of the night, I could not find my infant son’s soother and so had to run to walmart to find a 0-6 month soother. When I got there, not only were there no soothers in that age range, but also no size 1 diapers. Talking to the sales associate, and she said, “we just can’t keep this stuff in stock” I have no idea what it is”. Fast forward a few years, and he was preparing to enter school, the local school was talking about the “boom” in enrollment and chalked it up to the excellent reputation of the school.

You probably get where I am going wiht this. The new couples who moved in had babies, those kids grew up and went to school. So why might this info be useful if you are opening a business? Well let’s say you want to open a neighbourhood daycare. It would be wise to know the age of your subdivision. Why? Because in starter neighbourhoods, couples tend to stay an average of 3-7 years in their first home. After that they may disperse. Newly married people will have their first child within 1-5 years (generally) so if you open in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of children or young married couples, you are assured constant business (as was the case with a neighbor). However, if you open your daycare in a more established neighbourhood, you will have to search further for clients and have a marketing strategy that makes up for the lack of proximate customers.

So how does one begin to navigate this minefield of information? Before we begin, I think it is important that we begin to understand the very nature of entrepreneurship and I will tell you about some entrepreneurs that I know and what entrepreneurship means to them.

who needs a business plan?

Part III: So Who Needs a Business Plan?

So Who needs a business plan?

These days, if you are seeking financing of any form, you probably require one. Do you need a business plan to ensure the success of your business? I would say no. Don’t get me wrong, business planning can be a very valuable exercise. For some personality types (you know who you are!), a business plan is a requirement to ensure that they have thought through their business idea. These entrepreneurs are generally rash, and have likely entered into risky arrangements in the past. If this sounds like you, and you are considering investing personal funds into industries which have high capital costs, you would do well to stop and prepare a business plan.

For others, I would say that a business plan is no more than a checklist item to get your business launched. This is not to say that all business planning is bad. Rather, like reading literary classics in school, this is a checklist item that you need to get through the system. Some will take pleasure in preparing these, for others the term “business plan” evokes visions of weeks, or even months of pain.

Entrepreneurs like this may choose an app to build their business plan. After all, putting together a 25+ page document from scratch can be daunting. My own experiences with software and as a consultant led me to create SME Gurus and BizMula – two solutions that really simplify the process without losing sight of the value behind the thought process of writing a business plan.

What it really boils down to is this: why did you start thinking about a business plan: Was it a requirement from a lender or an entrepreneurship program? Did a friend or mentor recommend one? Did you just hear about it and think it was a good idea? Or are you just unsure of launching your business idea, and want to do your homework? Then you need to ask yourself, what kind of entrepreneur are you? Do you need a plan to help keep you on track, or can you plan on the go?

Regardless of your choice, don’t brush over this question, as it could be the difference between success and failure.

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Part 2: Why Businesses Fail

Since 1980 onward, business plans have become standard staple in lending and investing. They provide, or so their supporters will argue, a standardized way to look at a business. Business plans require entrepreneurs to actually “plan” and they are the road map an entrepreneur uses from start-up through to a full -scale operation.

So why is it then, that businesses with business plans still fail?

There are several reasons. Oftentimes, the challenge is not in the business plan itself but in the strategy of the entrepreneur and in the broader business model.

The first main reason that businesses fail, is that they are just generally bad business ideas. One of my favorite shows is the Canadian version of Dragon’s Den. Just watch one episode (the are available at www.cbc.ca) and see the sheer number of bad business ideas that exist. Bad ideas are bad for several reasons. The market for the product may be small or ill defined. The marketing or distribution strategy may be abysmal or non-existant and the entrepreneur themselves may be the biggest obstacle the business has.

The second reason that the businesses fail, is cashflow. Entrepreneurs are great at predicting prospective revenue, but poor at understanding cash flow. They are so eager to get orders, that they will take any payment terms from their customers, even if it is at their own expense. I have seen entrepreneurs come to me and they offer 90 day payment terms for their customers, but have all payments due in 30 days or less from their suppliers. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is going to be a cashflow problem here. Unless the entrepreneur has a good line of credit, or a large degree of personal savings, this issue can mean the death of the business.

There are many other reasons. Poor management. Inexperienced. Lack of contacts in the industry–take your pick. My favorite reason cited for the death of a business is poor planning. Poor planning by the entrepreneur.

Planning in itself is not the answer. What these critics mean, but rarely get around to saying is risk mitigation strategies. Identifying what the Risks are to a business and confonting ways to change/challenge those risks is really where the crux of all business success starts.

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Do I need a Business Plan? (Psst … You May Not) Part 1

Do I need a business plan? I cannot tell you how often I get this question. Early in my career, I was an avid supporter of Business Plans. Not the business plan itself perse, but the planning process. Planning, in itself is crucial to the success of a business-or so I thought. However, over the years I have become more of a cynic.

I have seen man well-planned businesses fail. These were businesses where the entrepreneurs wrote business plans, strategic plans, revised, reviewed and planned their hearts out. Some entrepreneurs plan for years before launching, but even the best laid out plan, can fail–and they do.

I have seen many ideas, developed after intense all-nighters, go on to flourish and sell for seven figures within two years without ever having a single page of a planning document.

What is the difference? Why is it that some can survive without a business plan and others seem to live and breath by their plans?

The Evolution of the Business Plan

To fully understand this this, we need to take a step back and ask, what has led to this business planning phenomenon?

The answer can be found, both in our business culture and our communities. There are parts of the world, where business plans do not exist. Yet in North America, the Business Plan is seen as a crucial component of the business process–and the torment of Entrepreneurs and their Financiers.

Years ago, when we wanted to borrow money for a new business, we went to our local bank-the one we had dealt with for years. The bank or lending manager knew you by name. He knew where you lived, your family, your Church and your habits. Further, many people had higher levels of personal savings. These were tapped and used at key moments such as this.

Entrepreneurship in itself, was less common. One might run a family farm, a general store or small restaurant, but imagine the lack of bureaucratic read tape of the Wild West compared to setting up a business in a large urban city today? From non-existent to a nightmare.

As our communities grew, as newcomers entered, as borrowing markets expanded, knowing everyone that we dealt with was harder. What was needed, was a rigorous, scientific process, that would standardize the objective financing process and introduce some scientific validity to what had previously been a very personal decision.

Enter the business plan, the savior of the Financier and the Entrepreneur. Over the years, particularly since the 1980’s the use of the term business plan has skyrocketed. For example Google traces the use terms used in books from the 1800’s onward.

Do I need a business plan?

So, with such a long history, how can it still be unclear when a business plan is needed? Be sure to follow our blog for the answer.

Do you have a business question for one of our experts? Be sure to tweet @carmenreis or get in touch with us – we would love to hear from you!