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.

Do You Love What You Do?

Do You Really Love Your Business?

One of the things I never learnt in school was how to be a psychologist.  Over the years, I took psychology courses, but with a graduate and a professional designation, neither of which are in psychology, I am very ill equipped to deal with psychological issues or offer any kind of advice. Yet when Entrepreneurs come to me, confused about why their business is NOT growing, why they are stuck, I cannot help but notice their need to talk to someone, anyone who will listen to them talk about their business.  Many of these individuals have lost marriages, their families, close friends and relationships all because of their businesses. They are working 60+ hours a week to make their “dream” come true.  Then they come to me, tired, miserable and alone and ask, “Why?” Why is this business not working? Why is this not fun any more? We hear so much about work life balance, about taking time for yourself and to spend time with those you love, but we rarely hear about the need to balance your “business” with your life.

Many Entrepreneurs got into business because they love with they do. Be it cooking, baking, customer service or programming, you are passionate about a cause and you want to share that talent with the world. Most entrepreneurs are good people who genuinely want to improve the world with their contributions and talents.  However, this being said they will sacrifice everything around them for their business. They will ruin their health, their relationships and their Entrepreneurial spirit all for this business.Many Entrepreneurs defensively will say ” My business is my life” or that this “sacrifice” is needed in the early years. To both of these, I say phooey. The sacrifice is not needed and if your business is your life then you need to get a life.  Put yourself in your customers shoes. Who do they prefer to do business with, a rested, energetic, reliable individual, or the individual that looks like htey have not had a vacation in 5 years, who is tired, grouchy and cannot balance their family and work life? Who would you do business with?

How do we balance the love of what we do with the practicality and time requirement of early start-up? How do we balance?  My advice? Love what you do.Here are five ways that “loving what you do” will help you to grow your business and yourself.

1. If you love something, you set it free.

If you love what you do, you build it strong enough to survive without you. A business to be successful needs to survive without the entrepreneurs. It needs to have the straighten to stand alone and be independent from you.

2. If you love something, you nurture but don’t smother it

If you love something you nurture it, you give it what it needs but do not smother it. You give it what it needs to grow, but also the room to grow.

3.  As in Relationships, you also need Alone time from your Business

As in a relationship, you cannot always be “with” the one you love. Take some time away from your business to do the things you enjoy. This will help you to relax, grow as a person, and then give back more to your business.

4. You Business May Move Away Some Day

As with our children, we have to be prepared for the fact that our business will not be with us forever. It may grow beyond our capabilities, you may need to sell, you may need to leave it for retirement or health reasons, but that business will someday leave you.  How will you manage after the fact?

5. The best thing you Can do for those you love, is to take care of yourself

The best thing you can do for your business is to take care of yourself. If you take the time to nurture the other important things in your life, then your business will also grow, because your business is YOU. If you are tired, if You are cranky and cannot see the forest for the trees, guess what? So is your business, so do yourself a favour and if you really love what you do, then act like it, and please take care of yourself, those that are important to you and you will see how your business will flourish.

Reimar Group Homepage

The Geography of Funding Inequality.

Around the country, incubators are popping up. Tech incubators, health incubators, manufacturing incubators. Venture capitalists continue to create to new opportunities to attract the next big tech company and angel investors sit poised, ready to be mentors and investors to new entrepreneurs.

Every start-up at some point in their existence, considers chasing venture capital. The funding may be a life-line to emerging companies, who have been boot-strapping to just get by. Location plays an irrefutable role in the ability of these firms to get funding. Location determines both the likelihood and the amount that start ups are likely to receive. Consider that start-ups in Vancouver receive typically receive 80% less funding than start-ups in silicon Valley?

Where is a Firm Most Likely to succeed?

Several studies have examined the likelihood of venture capital success. In a 2009 study in the Harvard Review by Chen, et al, and another in 2010 by Josh Lerner, found that start-ups who received funding that were OUTSIDE of the geography of their venture capitalists, significantly outperformed, those closer to the VC’s office.

This posits an interesting phenomenon, why is that investors continue to be scared of secondary markets? Start-ups are naturally attracted to cities where VC’s exist. VC’s often set higher hurdle rates for firms that are outside of their area due to increased monitoring costs for items such as travel time. Do those firms, because of their higher hurdle rates, outperform start-ups in NY, Silicon Valley and Boston? Or, to actually attract VC attention, are these firms better to start with?

How does this affect firms seeking VC funding?
Is it better for firms who are seeking VC funding to pack up and head to a larger tech center?
The  propensity of these firms receiving funding would increase. What does this mean for firms located in smaller cities? Should local governments invest more in encouraging more VC’s and investors in an area?

We will examine these topics in the coming weeks and provide insight and recommendations for firms looking for VC investment.

Innovation and the Aging Population

There is a lot written these days about innovation, competitiveness and intellectual capital. I hear the banter of politicians, the monologues from leading Venture Capitalists and Investment firms, and I sit back and think about how they have it all wrong.

Our society is aging. David Foot in his ground-breaking work, “Boom, Bust and Echo” discusses the impact of the aging population on everything from Baseball to Housing Markets. As people age, we generally become more conservative. Be honest with yourself, do you find yourself thinking, “how can kids do that”, or even worse looking at your own kids and forgetting what it was like to be that age?

As the whole of society begins to turn grey, we will see a fundamental shift in attitudes, work style and social values. While these changes are not bad in themselves, they will begin to shift Canada from a competitive and innovative nation, to one that lags in industrial and technological competitiveness. The beginnings of these shifts are already occurring. Report after report documenting lagging Canadian productivity and economic slumps hits the airwaves every few weeks. Taken individually, these may represent nothing more that an slow economy. However, our economy has been slow for nearly 5 years. The “Boom” years are gone.

The graying of our population is not a bad think in itself. There is much wisdom that can be reaped from the experienced to new firms starting out. Repeatedly, our politicians push money into grants, into mega-projects, and large industrial complexes, in hopes of getting a sound-byte with their name on it, when really what we need are small focused, incubators, mentorship programs, and training platforms to transform the tacit knowledge that exists in our aging population and extend it to our youth.

Youth also must understand that they are not “unique snowflakes” (as one friend often refers to the Y-Generation) and that the struggles that they as new entrepreneurs experience are not unique and in fact–exceptionally common to almost every entrepreneur.

This does not mean that the creativity of Generation Y cannot be harnessed to develop unique products, competitive solutions and to be, yes, innovative. Mentorship programs need not be one way only–we often think of a Mentor as an older individual–young people can also run Mentorship programs teaching others–who are new to an industry, a way of thinking, how to be more creative. As we age, we become more risk adverse, how about a mentorship program that teaches us to be less prone to risk? How about a Mentorship program that engages social leaders at all levels and teaches us to be innovative?

Our next blog post will discuss how smaller cities can be more competitive in a global environment.

Finding a Business Mentor

Nearly every self-help book will tell you that you need a business mentor. The general purpose of a mentor is to provide you with a foundation of advice, support and knowledge in the early days of business. The early days are tough. Cashflow will be tight, personal time will be non-existant and to-do lists are never-ending. How is an entrepreneur supposed to find time to find and meet with a mentor?

Mentoring relationships need not be formalized arrangements. They can be as simple as having someone that you meet with for coffee every few weeks/months and discuss your business. Many entrepreneurs may have informal networks from which to choose a mentor-think industry associations, chambers of commerce, customers, neighbours. For others, the choice to develop a relationship with a mentor is an exceptionally personal and large time commitment. Several mentorship programs exist which formally pair a mentor and a mentee. Having participated once as a Mentor, I can tell you what a fulfilling relationship it was. My mentee would call me, often just to tell me what was going on in her life. Years later, we still keep in touch.

So how do you go about finding a mentor?

Step 1: Decide on The Type of relationship you want

The first thing is really figuring out the type of relationship you want, the realms of expertise the Mentor needs to have, and how they can help you. Set this expectation at the forefront, and make sure it is something that you can commit to.

Step 2: Research possible mentors

The next step is to research and brainstorm a list of possible mentors. These may be people in your community, industry or field of study. Make a list of the people who you would want to be your mentor and list the reasons why they would be good/strong mentors for you, particularly what attracts you to having them as a Mentor.

Step 3: Try to find commonalities using resources such as LinkedIn

Did you graduate from the same school, have the same ethnicity, or are you members of the same association? Use points of commonality to open conversation or email about what you have in common with them. Much of this data can derived using or other social media platforms. Research the individual and show that you know something about them.

Step 4: Have an honest conversation with them about what you are looking for, the time commitment and the goals you have.

It is important to be honest to the prospective mentor about the time commitment you require and what you are looking for in a mentorship.

If the individual is not interested or a good match, go to the next person on your list. You need to ensure that the match is a good one from the onset.

Step 5: Be realistic

Most professionals and business people cannot dedicate 10 hours a week to a Mentorship. You will be lucky to get 2 hours a month of their time. Use your time wisely. Communicate over email and/or phone and when/if you do have face to face meetings, make sure you also give your mentor a chance to speak–there is nothing more irritating than a one-sided conversation.

In the next blog, I will focus on immigrants and how they can go about getting a mentor.

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.

Article keywords: immigrant business plans

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!

#waystokillanidea – It is too expensive.

Ways to Kill an Idea – #4. It is too expensive

Here is part 4 on my blog series of how to kill an idea. I’ll quickly recap three ideas from a recent conference that motivated me to write these posts:

1. Fail fast, fail forward.
2. Do not be afraid to think big.
3. Do not automatically say no.

We love to say no, even when it shouldn’t be our first response. We do need to be cautious, but a quick “No” is a great way to stifle innovation and kill ideas. Whether we are scared, unsure, or uncertain, we quickly come up with some great (and not so great) excuses, which often are just ways to kill ideas. While the entries in this series are independent, I do encourage you to go back and read the previous ones. For those that have been following along, here goes #4: It is too expensive.

To me, too expensive isn’t something that should be thrown out immediately or thrown around lightly. While a luxury car may be deemed too expensive, so might a heart transplant. Before writing off something as too expensive, I like to follow these golden rules:

1. Do you know the actual cost, or are you just guessing?
2. Have you measured the benefits or returns? (Remember, gains need not be solely financial!)
3. Expensive usually implies something big – is this project/undertaking/thing as big as you think, and if so do alternatives exist?

While these may be oversimplified criteria, I do believe that they can be used to narrow down if something is truly expensive, or if we are just being truly lazy or truly un-creative. Either way, a bit of analysis can’t hurt, especially if we are being presented with something completely absurd. Of course, if I present to my team that I’d like to fly to Mars, that isn’t quite the same as asking to launch a new campaign. Yet, our knee-jerk reaction may be to treat these as the same thing and quickly dole out a “It’s too expensive”. In order to clarify, I’ll talk a bit more about the rules mentioned above.

1. Do you know the actual cost, or are you just guessing?

I know that a Porsche is expensive. But I don’t know exactly how expensive. I also know that a consultant may sound expensive, or that a marketing campaign may sound expensive, but do I really know? You may be surprised how little something actually costs. Alternatively, consider that this can go both ways: don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions to make sure that you have ALL of the costs before green-lighting something. Costs are more then just dollars and cents – consider lost time, impact on your operations, your team and maybe even your image. A lot of the little details and extras can add up – and quick.

2. Have you measured the benefits or returns?

Again, this can often be more then dollars and cents! Some initiatives can have a strong positive impact on your organization’s image, and sometimes if just feels nice to do some social good. Don’t be afraid to start adopting triple-bottom line metrics, and of course, there’s the classic ROI. Sure, something might sound like a lot of money, but if it gives massive returns, then why not invest?

3. Is this too big or are their alternatives?

Sometimes, things DO cost too much, regardless of potential returns. However, we can often make things more complicated or bigger than they should be. If you like an idea but don’t like the cost, consider evaluating both the scope and scale, and how they may relate to your strategic goals. Maybe you can roll something out in phases, or maybe you only need a piece. And even if you do need the whole thing, are their alternatives?

This may sound silly (and overly obvious), but google is your friend. It really is. You would be amazed at what you can find, and the alternatives that it may present. It is entirely possible to build your own social network, fund a venture without the use of traditional lenders, outsource part of your business, and even build your own mobile apps. This is just a short list of some of the great initiatives that the Internet has made accessible to us. The average cost of these? Less than $500.00.

I do want to reiterate that costs are important and must be monitored. Money is too important to throw away, but we need to carefully evaluate opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, explore alternatives and do some real thinking before saying “No”.

Don’t let the “too expensive” mindset kill a good idea.

– Rodolfo Martinez

Article Keywords: it is too expensive

#waystokillanidea – We Have No Time.

Ways to Kill an Idea – #2. We Have No Time.

As I wrote previously, at a conference I hosted, we focused on 3 key ideas:
1. Fail fast, fail forward.
2. Do not be afraid to think big.
3. Do not say no.

We are too often quick to say no, even when it doesn’t make sense. While sometimes we need to be cautious, we let “No” kill ideas, and ultimately innovation. We come up with some great excuses and ways to kill ideas. I’d like to talk about Way #2: We Have No Time.

I recently re-read The 4 Hour Workweek and the 80/20 Principle. These are two excellent reads, and I can’t recommend them enough. These books have taught me some valuable life and business lessons. Above all else, if we allow ourselves to, we have an abundance of time.

That’s right – not a little, not just enough, an ABUNDANCE. If you have an idea that is worth capitalizing on, don’t find excuses, find time. Great innovators don’t allow an excuse like this to kill great ideas. Great innovators don’t allow ANY excuse to kill an idea.

We have no time. I’ve heard this one so many times. I’ve heard it in large corporations, small non-profits and startups. No one is immune to this one. While resources are limited, don’t be afraid to try new things. Often, low-cost, short-term initiatives can have superior and long-lasting impacts.

I know that it’s not easy, and that we do need to examine what is most important, and to give priority to activities that generate the greatest rewards. And remember: rewards do not need to be (and often are not) financial.

Remember, this excuse is good for one thing: killing ideas.

– Rodolfo Martinez

Article Keywords: ways to kill an idea we have no time