Tag Archive for 'Business planning'

Eight questions and four fallacies about business growth

Giant sequoia redwood trees grow very tall. Bradford pear trees, not so much. It’s all in the genes.

But there’s no genetic code for a business. While a Bradford pear can’t decide to compete with a redwood, a business can become whatever its owner makes it. And that last fact creates two questions we go to sleep asking ourselves and wake up trying to answer:

1. Should I grow my business?
2. How big should I grow my business?

In his book, Warp Speed Growth, my friend and Brain Trust member, Peter Meyer, lists four fallacies of growth which every business owner should consider. Here they are, each followed by my comments.

Fallacy 1. You can grow out of organizational problems.

In a state of denial or ignorance, small business owners sometimes think getting bigger will fix management and organizational shortcomings. If a tree is bent, fertilizing it won’t make it grow straighter – only faster in the wrong direction. If you have organizational challenges, don’t grow until they’re resolved.

Fallacy 2. Growth equals profitability.

Yes, increased sales volume can help you improve vendor discounts and therefore, gross margins. But that doesn’t mean your organization can manage the extra activity well enough to convert discounts to the bottom line. One of the rudest awakenings an owner can have is when projected sales growth is achieved, but profit is no better, or perhaps worse, than a period of lower sales. Remember Blasingame’s Growth Razor: “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.”

Fallacy 3. Profitability improves when every customer is yours.

Being the market leader is overrated. Peter cites research showing only 29% of market leaders were also profit leaders. Not only are you not going to sell every customer, you don’t want every customer. Many customers, and some customer profiles, aren’t profitable. Remember, you don’t spend sales.

Fallacy 4. If you grow, customers will benefit.

Peter says focusing on growth is focusing on yourself. Every minute your company focuses on itself is a minute diverted away from focusing on the customer. One of the classic examples of a company’s self-absorbed focus on growth is when it uses the term “fastest growing” in marketing material, as if this benefited customers. What makes you think customers don’t like the size that you are? What makes you think they’ll like your next size?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m the last person to say growth is bad, or that you should be happy with the current size of your company. I’m a capitalist, and capitalists LOVE growth. But I do encourage you to make sure that when you grow, it’s because you’ve thought about why and how. Here are six growth reality checks, each followed by a slap-in-the-face question to ask yourself.

• The marketplace is pretty full already. Is there a real opportunity to grow?

• Growth requires capital. How will I fund the growth I am planning?

• The rewards of growth are typically delayed. Can my organization wait that long for the payoff?

• Growth takes a company into unfamiliar operational territory. Do I have the staff and systems to blaze that trail without creating a casualty list?

• Being a business owner should be a source of happiness. Will I be happy with a larger business?

• Every business has corporate values, good or not so much. If our values are good, can we scale them? If they aren’t, why would we scale them?

Ask the growth questions and answer them as Polonius instructed Laetres in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

Write this on a rock … Just because you can grow your business doesn’t mean you should.

You say your business plan every day

Do you have a business plan? What? In your head? How’s that working for you?

Don’t know how to get one started? Well consider this conversation that happens many times, every day, between business owners just like you and the people they meet.

Friend: “Hi Joe. Heard you started a business. What’re you doing?”

Owner: “Oh, hi, Sue. Yeah, John and I are selling square widgets to round widget distributors.”

Friend: “What? How’re you going to do that?”

Owner: “We discovered that no one has thought to offer square widgets to these guys. Our research found that round widget companies not only need square widgets sometimes, but they’ll pay a premium for them.”

Friend: “I thought you couldn’t get new square widgets anymore?”

Owner: “Well, we discovered that round widget companies don’t need new square widgets, so we’re buying seconds, cleaning them up, repackaging and delivering them to those customers.”

Friend: “Sounds like you’ve found a niche. How many can you sell in a year?”

Owner: “We’ve identified the need for 15,000 this year, and with the trend in the market, we think we can double that within three years. Gotta go. See ya later.”

Let’s look at what just happened. Without realizing it, Joe essentially said his business plan to Sue. In two minutes Joe identified the business, management team, industry, market opportunity, customer profile, vendor profile, pricing strategy, market research results and, finally, growth plans. All that’s left is to add a few other elements, write the narrative and project the numbers.

Since you’re probably having similar conversations that means you’re saying your business plan, probably without realizing it, every day. But is that a useful form?

There are a bazillion reasons to put your plan on paper, but we only have room for the three most likely:

  • To get a bank loan
  • To attract investors
  • Because it’s an essential management tool

So now that I’ve convinced you how important this management tool is, when you do yours, don’t make these mistakes:

  • Don’t wait until you need a business plan to start one.
  • Don’t wait until you have time.
  • Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

The words of a conversation like the one above are the seeds from which you can grow your business plan. So just start writing what you already know, like Joe said.

A written business plan will help you achieve new levels of management professionalism and success. Here’s a good place to see something less than a bazillion sample plans without any commercials: www.bplans.com.

Write this on a rock … You already say your business plan every day. Now write it down.

Continuing education leads to more intelligent planning

The life of a small business owner is hectic, to say the least. Multi-tasking is the norm. So much of our day is spent reacting to the crisis of the moment, conducting the business of the day, and initiating our plans for the future. And once we acquire a level of competence in this life we’ve chosen, it’s natural to want to relax, settle in, and seek the ease that can come with familiarity and repetition.

But the marketplace isn’t a comfortable, lumbering vessel anymore, rolling along like a single screw trawler. It’s become more like a vibrant starship capable of warp speed. Indeed, it takes a much more knowledgeable person to successfully operate a business in today’s marketplace than it did even 10 years ago.

The great American revolutionary and legendary wordsmith, Thomas Paine, said, “I have seldom passed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge.” This from a corset maker who dropped out of school at 13.

You can’t anticipate everything, so react when you must. The business of the day, obviously, must be attended to. And what will you have tomorrow if you don’t plan for it?

But however circumstanced, before you succumb to the human tendency to rest on your laurels, make it part of your daily tasks to acquire some knowledge.

Make it your daily intention to learn something new that might help you react more effectively, operate more profitably, and plan more intelligently.

Strengthen your spirit and watch how high you soar

Do you know what a jet fighter is?  If you said airplane, you’re only half right.  In the strict nomenclature, a jet fighter is actually a weapons platform. Its job is to deliver ordinance to a target, not to fly the pilot around.

In that sense, the human body - his vessel of protoplasm we drive around - is not really what a human is. It’s actually a delivery platform for the will of our spirit; the true life force that is who we really are.

One of the things I have observed about humans is that we often don’t understand, and therefore tend to under-employ, the power of our spirit. We seem so obsessed with the body that we don’t spend enough time contemplating the presence and power of the spirit.

Someone once told me how little of our brain’s power we actually use.  I don’t remember the percentage, but I do remember it was astonishingly low.  I wonder if there is a connection between under-usage of the brain and limited awareness of the spirit.

Author and philosopher, Colin Wilson, wrote, “We possess such immense resources of power that pessimism is a laughable absurdity.” The power he’s talking about is that of the spirit.

Pessimism can’t be overcome by our bodies. Dealing with frustration and overcoming disappointment are both tasks performed way above the pay-grade of protoplasm. If you are a small business owner you either already understand this, or are acquiring that understanding a little more every day.

I’ve been a small business owner for a long time and have observed others far longer. I can’t imagine how any of us could do what we do without a strong spirit.  The challenge is to become more aware of our spirit and flex it - like a muscle - to our advantage.

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.”




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