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Archive for the 'Entrepreneurship' Category

It’s time to adapt to the new age of technology

Henry Ford is generally credited with being the creator of the assembly line. To meet the demand for his Model T automobiles, Mr. Ford knew that just hiring more people wouldn’t be enough to mount the challenge of building Ford Motor Company — it would take technology.
His technology was crude by modern standards, but it did what technology does: leverage the productivity of human beings. During the year Ford’s assembly line was first put in service, he wasn’t just using technology he was creating it. He also turned 50.

The list of technology options today is long and growing and available in features-rich products that support and improve virtually every business task.  How much are you adopting technology to help you leverage the humans in your organization?

Yes, some employees don’t want to embrace technology because they think they’re too old, or have gotten too far behind the curve. Hogwash! There is so much point-and-click technological capability these days that you can ramp up on any learning curve within a matter of days, if not hours. And besides, rapid changes in technology means you can catch up with anyone by being prepared to fully adopt the next generation of capability that’s usually never more than 90 days away.  You can literally go from being technologically illiterate to being an application expert within weeks. But you do have to take that first step.
The great Roman statesman, Cato (234-149 BC) began studying Greek at the age of 80. When asked why he would contemplate such an undertaking at such an advanced age, he replied, “This is the youngest age I have left.”

Regardless of your age or level of technological proficiency, learn how to leverage technology. No excuses! Remember, it’s the youngest age you have left.

A small business lesson from what Target did right in Canada

In 2011, Target Corporation, the successful national retailer out of Minnesota, announced they were expanding into neighboring Canada.

The launch was aggressive; by assuming almost 200 spaces vacated by a recently bankrupted chain, Target Canada opened 133 stores in less than two years, including one just 500 miles from their headquarters in Minneapolis.

Having successfully gone head-to-head with U.S. competitors who’d already expanded successfully north of the border, why wouldn’t Canada be a good opportunity for Target? But less than two years and $2 billion in losses later, Target Canada announced it was closing all stores and seeking creditor protection.

This story isn’t to call attention to the many things Target did wrong, but rather to highlight the one thing they did right: They did not become victims of the Concorde Fallacy.

In 1956, the British and French governments, along with aircraft and engine manufacturers, began the process of building a supersonic airliner. From the start the Concorde was plagued by prohibitive budget overruns. In fact, long before the wheels came up on the first commercial flight in 1976, the partnership knew the venture would never sustain itself financially. And yet they couldn’t bring themselves to shut it down.

By the last Concorde flight in 2003, the Anglo/French misadventure had become so legendary that evolutionary biologists coined the term, “Concorde Fallacy,” as a metaphor for when sticking with a troubled project costs more than starting over with a new alternative.

Ego and sovereign pride by the Concorde partnership caused the willing suspension of economic reason. Plus they failed to apply the lesson of sunk costs, which is that, “Any decision to continue a financially unviable project shouldn’t be based on what has already been spent.” In a small business, it might sound like this, “We’ve got too much invested to stop,” or “We just need to work harder.”

Pride can be productive or it can be a problem. Consider this handy admonition a mentor once gave me that I have named the Concorde Question: “Do you have a fighting chance or just a chance to fight?”

Arguably the hardest decision any small business owner faces is when to end a business pursuit, whether a product, an acquisition, or the mother of all anguishing decisions – to close the business. Should you, like Target, heed the sunk costs lesson to avoid your Concorde, or is a breakthrough just around the corner?

Being a small business owner isn’t for sissies.

Write this on a rock … Avoid the Concorde Fallacy by answering the Concorde Question truthfully.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

Seeking due diligence in business

As we conduct the due diligence on what’s next for our business, we seek the information that will help us acquire knowledge and create conditions that minimize the risks and maximize the opportunity.  After all, we want to be as certain as possible that our next step is the right one, don’t we?
That’s an interesting word, certain.  Webster says it means fixed, settled, determined, not to be doubted. But it’s a word that isn’t often found in business plans.
The 19th century president of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, said, “All business proceeds on beliefs, or judgment of probabilities, and not on certainties.”
What do you think the marketplace — indeed, the world — would look like if business had been built more on certainties than beliefs? I think we would probably be closer to wearing a stone ax on our belt than a smartphone.
It’s important to understand that on the entrepreneurial scale, each of us resides somewhere between the foolhardy and seekers of certainty. The challenge for entrepreneurs is to know when to seek certainty and when to move forward with our beliefs.
No position on this scale is better than another — the world needs all kinds of entrepreneurs. But understanding where we reside on the entrepreneurial scale helps us make better business plans.

Seven ways to cut yourself some SLACC in 2015

People make New Year’s resolutions all the time. But do you know anyone who actually kept one?

OK — one person, but he’s the same guy who reminded the teacher that she’d forgotten to give out the homework.

Knowing how difficult, not to mention annoying, resolutions can be, there’s a different way to kick off the new year in your small business. I call it Strategic Look At Critical Components, or SLACC, for short. So instead of getting all bound up in resolutions, just cut yourself some SLACC. Here’s a list of seven key areas on which to focus your SLACC:

1. Financial
Give your company some SLACC by reviewing financial systems. If not already, create regular financial statements, especially a 12-month cash flow projection, and manage with them. And SLACC up on the difference between cash flow and accounting.

2. Human Resources
Take the necessary SLACC to find and keep the best people. Then cut your staff some SLACC by providing the best training you can afford, with emphasis on how their assignments continue to evolve in the 21st century.

3. Management
Business management is more complicated than ever. Use SLACC to identify your current best practices, then check your position against how 21st century ideas are impacting management fundamentals.

stress-391654_12804. Marketplace
The marketplace has always been a dynamic and evolving organism, but in The Age of the Customer, it’s being driven more by customer expectations than competition. Use SLACC to develop strategies that deliver relevance first, followed by classic competitive advantage. Remember, in The Age of the Customer, relevance trumps competitiveness.

5. Technology
More than ever before, how you use technology and new media are critical relevance expectations of prospects and customers. Cut yourself some SLACC by delivering the technology (especially mobile) and community-building media customers now expect from you.

6. Public Policy
Every small business is influenced by politics. Use SLACC to identify when to be personally involved in local, state and federal issues, like taxes, healthcare, and regulations and when to contribute to professional organizations that can deliver a greater impact on your behalf.

7. Personal
Cut yourself some SLACC by remembering the greatest small business truth: Success must be defined by more than just money and stuff.

Write this on a rock … To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, the longest journey begins with the first SLACC.

Train yourself every day for the future

In the world of runners there are two kinds: sprinters and distance runners.  To be sure, sprinters must train long and hard to be successful.  But when it comes to the actual event, in 10 to 40 seconds it’s over.  Raw, explosive muscle power, pushing the body to the extreme, but not much mental taxation.
Like sprinters, distance runners have to train plenty; but their event often seems as much a test of mind, spirit and will, as it is a demonstration of conditioning, strength and endurance.
Small business owners are more like distance runners than sprinters.  Even if we have the fundamentals (strength) and the experience (conditioning), all of the stuff that we have to deal with, sometimes all alone, sorely tests our spiritual mettle (endurance).  Like a distance runner, a small business owner often moves forward more on sheer will than anything else.
In his inspirational book What’s The Rush, my friend Jim Ballard says, “When you feel overwhelmed and want to quit, pick out a landmark just ahead-a light pole, a house, a tree-and agree to run only that far.”

Jim is a runner, but his words are meant for every test of our strength and will. I use this mental drill when it looks like I am more likely to be prey than predator. I make an agreement with myself to just take things one day at a time - sometimes one hour at a time - and it helps me stay focused on the present stretch of the race.

However far ahead you place your light pole, focusing on that way-point instead of the finish line will help your mettle withstand the stress. You can’t cross the finish line halfway through the race. So if you can’t solve next week’s problems today, don’t let them trip you up today.

I have a little prayer that helps me get to my next light pole:  You and me, Lord, one day at a time.

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Beware of the maxim that can become a lie

The maxim is one of the most interesting of expressions because in its definition we find both truth and consequences.

Webster says a maxim is a “generally accepted truth.” But that makes it sound like we voted on it, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the truth be beyond debate? Well, that’s why something is a maxim; it’s merely “accepted” as the truth, and therein lie the consequences.

In the world of leadership, one of the best examples of a maxim is “It’s lonely at the top.”

But must it be?

Small business owners know all about being lonely at the top. Even though being atop a small business isn’t very high in the greater marketplace, no Fortune 500 CEO can move the loneliness needle as far as an entrepreneur can. But small business loneliness is a self-imposed exile that we don’t have to accept as the truth.

Maxims are usually harmless, unless they turn out to be untrue. For example, sometimes taking the maxim “It’s lonely at the top” too far can actually manifest as dangerous lies.

CC Photo via Pixabay

CC Photo via Pixabay

Lie #1: I’m supposed to know how to solve this.

Lie #2: I shouldn’t ask for help because I’m the only one with this problem.

Lie #3: Admitting I have a problem makes me appear ignorant and uncompetitive.

Lie #4: I don’t know anyone who can help me.

Lie #5: Even if I found someone to advise me, I can’t afford it.

When you allow any of these lies to become maxims the consequence can be maximum failure.

In the 16th chapter of Proverbs, King Solomon coined a maxim that should be prominently displayed in every business owner’s office: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with advisors, they succeed.”

Here are some of the places small businesses can get counsel, from free to fee.

No Cost: Local peer-to-peer mastermind groups; Small Business Development Centers (SBDC); SCORE.org.

Zero to $250: Local chamber of commerce; continuing ed classes; industry trade groups.

Budget Required: Consultants; franchise peer groups, like Vistage or The Alternative Board; legal, accounting, etc.

Remember, “It’s lonely at the top” - and the five lies - get maxim status only if you accept them. Since you didn’t get where you are today by being a conformist, why start now?

Listen to the wise man, and seek counsel.  Otherwise you could become painfully acquainted with another maxim in Proverbs 16: “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Write this on a rock… Abandon the exile, lose the martyr act and ask for help.