Did you know that your business may be on a path to failure? Most businesses today can expect to last an average of 20 years, roughly the same age it takes to rear a child. Companies’ life spans, however, are shrinking.
Now that I have your attention, first and foremost, I hope that your business doesn’t fail. With a reported 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. alone in 2018, someone has to drag down the average. By performing a premortem on these five key areas, you can get a better handle on the direction your company is headed and make the difference if your business thrives or dies.
Failure to Grow
There’s a joke in the business world that running out of money is an unforgivable sin. If your company fails to break even, the issue can be solved in two ways. First, outside investors. Second, by increasing revenue. Boosting revenue — here’s the punchline — is supposed to solve all problems. Just as growth forgives all things. In reality, boosting revenue is harder than looking to outside funds because to boost revenue, you need to drill down into your sales strategy and operations, to see if your current structure supports growth. You need to evaluate the people you employ, the processes you follow and ultimately, your product. Boosting revenue, in other words, often means rejiggering the entire organization. And even if you are able to procure investors, you’ll still need to solve the growth problem.
Not Changing Fast Enough
Most entrepreneurs start a business with an expectation of how the world works and who their customers are. If the world changes, but you neglect to change with it and don’t work to stay continuously relevant, your customers will go elsewhere. Just look at Nokia, Kodak and Blockbuster as examples. These companies failed to adapt to the shifting market resulting in nailing their own coffins shut with bankruptcy. Leadership and culture must focus on learning from customers, taking in new information and iterating on your product and services to evolve. Remaining static instead of matching the shifting market is a death knell for your business.
1. Talk To Your Customers At such a stage of growth, Token is looking to interact as much as possible with our users. Typically, this will include everything from talking with one another in the Facebook comments section or sending out surveys. Early adopters tend to love to be part of the growth process, so simply talking to them and asking for input is a great way to excite consumers about your new business. – Yana Zaidiner, Token Payments, Inc. 2. Attend Community Events At Jiffy Junk, we try to attend as many community events as possible. Breast Cancer Awareness Walks and Veteran Runs are just examples of events that we donate our services to and sponsor. – Adam Butler, Jiffy Junk 3. Organize An Interactive Experience When we moved our studio to Bushwick last year, we organized an art show to show some of our furniture designs. “Room for Ritual” was also an interactive show: We asked all the attendees to pose on our tatami (meditation altar) for a photograph. We published the images on our Instagram page and on Facebook. The success was way higher than we expected and it was really a blast! – Sergio Mannino, Sergio Mannino Studio Forbes New York Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners in Greater New York City. Do I qualify? 4. Tap Into Local Media Outlets And Influencers Following the local news, blogs and social media influencers is huge. Follow what’s happening in your community and allow the community to see what you’re up to by sharing with those very same groups. People in the same community tend to support one another more often than people think. – Hoda Mahmoodzadegan, Molly’s Milk Truck and F’in Delicious Beverages 5. Interact With The Community In Person My most successful community engagement has come from physical interaction. I feel the best way to engage the community is to show them what I do. One of my firm’s specialties is behavioral profiling. It’s been this aspect of my business that has made an impressionable impact on people. I show them something they are not used to seeing. I show them the things that make my firm different.
There are many different ways of determining, in starting your own company, when you’ve started to become successful — when your revenue start outweighing your expenses, when you hire your first full-time employees, when you start getting press or even buyout offers—but in my experience, nothing is a stronger indication of a mature startup than being truly selective with the clients you work with.
This isn’t about managing client expectations — you should be doing that no matter what stage you are in your business. My business is college consulting, which does not include writing essays or otherwise doing work the students should be doing, but there are unfortunately plenty of students and parents that are looking for that. Generally, these prospective clients won’t explicitly ask when signing on, so I’ve always, since day one, had to make sure our service offerings are clear and tried to ensure nobody signs with us with that expectation.
Still, no matter how clearly you align expectations before signing a client, sometimes a chiropractic intervention becomes necessary. Whether the client is texting you at all hours of the night, missing meetings and being unresponsive, or any myriad of other potential problems, the first step is always to address the issue in a clear, respectful manner. The first step is to remind them of what you made clear when signing (i.e., “Just a reminder that we do have a 24-hour cancellation policy.”) It also doesn’t hurt to explain again why those expectations are in place (i.e., “If I don’t have at least 24 hours notice for missed appointments, I can’t make that time available to other clients.”)
Always take client concerns seriously and go above and beyond to make sure their experience lives up to your standards for your services. Someone that offers negative feedback or expresses displeasure — even impolitely — is not automatically a problem client. These complaints only become problems when the client’s expectations are unreasonable. In my experience, misaligned expectations are the leading cause of strained client relationships.
If the reminders of your boundaries and expectations or your attempts to address client concerns are ineffective, you may be dealing with a problem client. Often, problem clients are also higher-paying or higher-profile than your other clients. Often, they know it, and assume that means they can get away with worse behavior. In the early days of your business, they’re often right. That’s why it’s such a clear sign that your business has matured when you reach a point where they need you more than you need them.
by Christopher Rim .
With the huge group of baby boomers hitting retirement age, we’re seeing a lot of businesses up for sale—and Gen-Xers won’t be far behind.
When the time to exit rolls around, it’s extremely important to get the most value out of your company, because there are no “do-overs” when exiting your business.
Consequently, a large and growing industry has developed around the business of selling businesses. Not to question the value of those in these ancillary businesses, but let’s face it: They all take a share of your money, and the goal of selling your business is to end up with the biggest chunk of change in your pocket. Right?
This is why if you decide to sell your company, you need to explore all your options before you commit to one path. There might be popular business brokers in your community that are recommended, but they are going to take at least 10% of your proceeds, so don’t sign on with anyone just because of convenience.
Take a long look at doing a DIY or hybrid DIY sale of your business. I recommend this approach because today, more than ever before, you have excellent free resources available to you, including:
- Free advice from experienced retired owners and executives
- Excellent internet assets
- A dedicated Small Business Administration (SBA)
Benefits of Small Business IoT
Take a look at these 4 ways the IoT can help your small business work more efficiently.
As a business owner, it’s a good idea to print and use flyers to build awareness and inform potential customers about your business, products or services. The IOT has made information easily available and accessible. One of many amazing things IoT has led to in the healthcare industry is the development of self-monitoring and wearable health technology that will suit almost every type of budget. The availability of smart gadgets to better your health and provide readily available information combine to create a consciousness about health and wellness.
Provide Free Assistants
If you can’t afford a human assistant but could use some extra help to manage your day-to-day tasks, you may consider Google Assistant. Other professionals prefer Amazon Alexa or Siri. People turn to these devices when they’re connected to task management systems and calendars. The devices have the ability to control other smart devices, removing tedious tasks like scheduling and research from the long to-do lists all business owners have. One of many things small business owners should know is that it’s smart to take advantage of free assistants and other tools that simplify your day and boost productivity.
Utilize Smart Locks to Improve Safety
Businesses are turning to smart lock systems; they allow users to give access to buildings instead of tangible keys. Small businesses can control and monitor a door from any location. Smart Lock can also tell if a door is open, and those who use this system can select a package that includes a camera at the door bell, so they can view the visitor before opening the door.
Small businesses can also invest in cameras to monitor security footage in different locations around their business. No need to hire a security guard when you can trust in the IoT options to view your surroundings and boost safety at your brick and mortar location.
Better Transport and Delivery of Goods
If your business has shipments coming in and out, the IoT will help you – it allows for real time tracking. With the implementation of sensors and smart tagging, all individuals with access can easily track the transport and delivery of the packages – something that is very valuable for small businesses that are sending sensitive information.
Smart tags and sensors are game changers for the retail industry. The IoT devices have the ability to track where every item is located in real-time, even identifying the location of an item within a warehouse. This allows for efficient stock and inventory tracking.
The IoT industry is improving the way people work, boosting efficiency. If you’re trying to compete with larger businesses, this efficiency is a key part of your growth and success. The IoT automates office tasks, from customer service to managing resources, to make your life easier and your business run better. Adopt and embrace these offerings if you want to stay competitive in the business arena.
by Megan Totka
The traditional business plan has seen its ups and downs over the years. While still recommended for start ups, especially those seeking funding, business experts and assorted talking heads waver on the role of the traditional business plan for existing firms. The necessity and value of a lengthy document stuffed with research, carefully worded text, and financial analyses is often seen as too cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. “The business world is changing too fast! By the time the plan is done, it’s outdated!” they say. Besides, an existing business already knows what it does well, who it targets, and how to reach their goals, right?
Not so fast.
Here is the reality: businesses always need to plan effectively, regardless of how long they have been in business. The questions that effective planning seeks to answer are always relevant.
- “What are we trying to accomplish?”
- “What will be required?”
- “Who are we targeting, and how will we reach them?”
- “How much money will we need?”
- “Will we make any money?”
- “What is our competition doing?”
Here are six great reasons why your business needs a plan.
1. To define success:
The planning process helps you get very clear about what success will look like for your business. If you don’t know the target, how can you hit it?
2. To assess your market:
Proper planning helps you validate both the size and makeup of the market. Are there enough customers who want what you offer? What do they look like and where are they? What is your competition like, and can you compete effectively?
3. To discover what it will take:
A good plan helps you ‘count the cost’, so you know what you are getting into.
What will it cost, in time, effort, and resources to attract your ideal customers, to expand your reach, add staff, or build that new location? What will you need to learn? How much money will you need to invest? Can you get there from here?
4. To identify ways you will achieve:
Planning helps you uncover the strategies that will generate the results you seek. What methods will be used to get your message to the right market? What marketing tools will you use? What kind of skills do you need on your staff? What partners will you work with to increase your odds for success?
5. To avoid mistakes:
Too many businesses fail in the early years. Many mistakes are probably preventable, if you take the time to learn from those who have ‘been there, done that’ and lived to tell the tale. Mistakes will be made, no question about it, but a good plan will help minimize the most common mistakes, and potentially uncover and correct others before they happen!
6. To engage your team:
A growing business depends on a team of talented and dedicated employees. A solid business plan, effectively communicated with your employees, helps them better understand what the overall business goals are and how their efforts will contribute to hitting the target.
Writing an effective business plan has many benefits, whether your business is just starting out or in the third generation. Take advantage of what the planning process can do for the future of your business. It’s not the Plan; it’s the PLANNING that makes the difference.
Who here has ever been tempted to cut corners with their business? I’ll admit it, I have.Sometimes, you get that voice at the back of your head, saying: You’ve already spoken with your sales reps last week; that’s good enough. You have a gazillion things on your to-do list… you don’t need to check in with them again.
Now, I call this the “creative justification” trap. You know those justifications that sound as though they make sense, but are actually a cop-out? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
In your personal life, you might say to yourself “I’ve been sticking to my diet the whole week, so I deserve a cheeseburger this weekend,” or “I’ve saved a lot of money this month, now I can finally buy that new smartphone.”
You get the point.
Now, when you take a step back and think about it, you’ll realize that these creative justifications are nothing but excuses for you to cut corners.
And when it comes to your business, creative justifications can be very dangerous. In particular, make sure you avoid coming up with justifications in these three areas…
1. Blaming external factors.
When things go wrong, plenty of entrepreneurs look for external factors to blame.
“Clients aren’t buying our new products because of the economic downturn.”
“I’m getting bad reviews on Yelp because my competitors are creating fake profiles.”
But here’s the thing — while these creative justifications might make you feel better, they won’t help you grow your business.
So what if there’s an economic downturn? Are you going to cancel all your product launches, and let your sales stagnate? No, you have to figure out a way to work through it, and drive more sales despite the downturn.
2. Compromising on ethics.
Making money is pretty dang important to me, but you know what’s more important? Being ethical and honest.
Say your supplier tells you they can swap out your materials for something lower-grade (and cheaper!), and your customers won’t know the difference. If you’re really struggling, you might be tempted to take up the offer, and use creative justification to ease your guilt.
Don’t do it. In this day and age, consumers value authenticity and honesty above everything else, and being ethical is the key to building a great business.
3. Moving away from your core business.
Your core business is your strength and your foundation, and you should never get distracted or move away from it.
I know, it’s easier said than done. You’ll always hear of exciting new opportunities and projects that you can jump in on. Your customers might also tempt you: “Why don’t you also offer X? If I pay you extra, can you do Y?”
It’s easy to come up with a creative justification — you might think to yourself, I need extra cash to pay for the unexpected costs that came up last month, so I’ll just do this one thing.
Well, here’s the problem: the first step in the wrong direction will open up the possibility for the second step. And before you know it, you’re moving away from your core business. So don’t waver, and politely turn down any opportunities that are not aligned with your core business.
Creative justifications make you feel better about yourself, but as an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand and cut corners with excuses. Ditch these justifications once and for all, and make the right decisions for your company!
Startups struggle with volatility. Scaling companies struggle with volatility and complexity. Like the bodies of adolescents, these developing organizations behave in unexpected, sometimes unnerving ways.
Their leaders, consequently, require new skills and approaches to navigate this challenging stretch, says Scott Belsky, the chief product officer at Adobe and founder and former CEO of Behance, a platform where artists and designers showcase creative work. Belsky characterizes this “middle” period as a time of swiftly alternating lows that must be endured and highs that must be optimized.
Belsky’s new book, The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture, addresses founders and others in the middle of both ambitious undertakings and their own leadership journeys. Here are three of his useful tips.
1. Take a light touch to process
Belsky calls process the “excretion of misalignment.” Startups, he explains, comprise small teams in which everyone understands the vision and acts on it. Communication is frictionless. To the extent leaders can maintain that alignment through the middle stage they will need less process. “It is only when people start giving you different answers to questions like ‘What are we trying to do?’ or ‘What are our priorities?’ that you [need] to process,” Belsky says.
Leaders can’t avoid process but they can minimize it. For example, founders who fret they’re losing touch with their expanding organizations may set up unnecessary sign-offs or regular check-ins just to maintain the feeling of control. Don’t do that, Belsky cautions. Also, don’t create processes in a vacuum. Instead, A/B test them to see, for example, whether it’s better to brainstorm as a group or have people dream up ideas on their own and submit them for discussion.
Also: always be auditing. “Processes may outlive their usefulness,” Belsky says. “Are we meeting every Tuesday just because it’s Tuesday? Why are we having 360-degree reviews at the end of the year?” Improving or outright killing processes frees up time and releases creativity.
Belsky tempers his personal anti-process bias with this warning: If teams devise their own work processes, don’t interfere. You may know better than anyone else what the business needs to succeed. But your people know better than you what they need to get things done.
2. Market internally
Alignment trumps process. But as companies grow, alignment weakens. New folks sign on, new products and projects pile up, and the mission gets obscured. So in the middle, Belsky says, leaders must convey the company’s message to employees as loudly and clearly as they do to customers and the public. “It is wild how much money companies spend marketing themselves to the world, yet they do so little to market themselves to their own people,” he says.
A company’s external marketing can help. Employees are more likely to believe promises made to the public, whose trust it must earn, “than some kind of internal rah-rah email,” Belsky says. He advises, for example, that companies create external collateral–such as the splash page for a new product–to share with engineers before they start developing. Then everyone coalesces around that vision as they bring it to life.
Belsky also recommends liberating signs of progress from spreadsheets and project management tools and mounting them on large public dashboards that denote metrics like bugs quashed and customers landed. At Behance his team plastered “Done Walls” with completed project plans, checklists, and sketches. When making presentations about future work, he began with slides recounting what teams had already accomplished.
The leader’s main job is constantly to remind employees where to focus, particularly when change and growth throw out so many new narrative threads. Belsky likes the approach of Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, who treats every year as a new chapter for his business with a central theme: For example, the “Year of Going Global.” That way,” Belsky says, “even with all the volatility, everyone has the same answer to the question, ‘What is our No. 1 priority this year?'”
3. Help your hires
Hiring for cultural fit has both yea- and naysayers. Belsky is strongly agin’ it. Small startup teams are typically pretty homogenous, so scaling is an opportunity to enlist discordant viewpoints, he argues. “You want people who can spot an edge that in the future will become the center,” Belsky says. “That means you need edgy people.”
Such people can be polarizing, but that’s what produces bold outcomes. “On your due diligence calls you are probably asking, “Is this person easy to get along with? Did the team like him or her?'” Belsky says. “Those are the wrong questions.”
Post-hiring, leaders must act like surgeons, grafting on new employees–particularly senior people–to the existing team and suppressing the cultural immune system so it doesn’t reject them. Belsky advises checking in often to make sure new hires are settling in and to solicit feedback while their impressions are still fresh. Make sure they’re invited to all the relevant meetings and that everyone on the team understands their new colleague’s role.
Leaders must also foster psychological safety so new people know they can speak up without getting shut down or mocked. That includes safety when challenging the CEO. “I love it when people disagree with me in an interview,” Belsky says. “Sometimes I’ll say something I think they’ll disagree with just to make sure they are going to stay in the fight.”
M.I.T. neuroscientists have found that our brains can process images in as little as thirteen milliseconds — that’s faster than reading a sentence. Our brains are wired to absorb visual information, yet as we get older, we’re taught to “use our words.”
But when a disruptive idea is so unfamiliar that people have no context for it, how do you use words to explain it? When words fall short, a visual approach can help you more fully develop your idea — and more easily connect the dots for others.
To strengthen your skills of visualization and your ability to better describe innovative ideas, try a technique called Picture the Future. Not only can it help you communicate really big ideas, it can help align the vision for your company and inform strategic planning. In fact, a VP at Sprint used this same exercise to create a vision of Sprint’s Future for Content Development.
It all starts with a group visualization exercise. You’re ten years in the future, and your organization is a leading innovator. You’ve achieved a position of dominance in your industry. How did you get here? As in, what specific decisions and actions got you to this level of success? To focus your thoughts, capture your answers to the following:
What new things will our business or team be selling or doing?
What changes will enable us to sell and do those things?
What skills will we need to be successful?
What will be different about the structure of our business?
Now, start drawing your vision of the company ten years from now, using your answers as a guide. Maybe your answers included things like “all employees work remotely” or “A.I. will have a much larger role in operations” or “we will only sell our products through a subscription model.” Whatever your vision, convey it through a mix of words and images and then share with the class.
As you look around, take note if any team members’ sketches are really similar. Ditto if everyone drew something different. Generate a discussion around the implications of having aligned or differing visions for the company. Then decide, as a group, which drawings represents the ideal version of your company’s future. Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or two drawings, identify what you can act on today to start fulfilling your vision of tomorrow.
Visualizing your company’s innovation success in the future is essential to achieving it. Use the actionable ideas from this exercise to strategize, align, and implement a ten-year plan for innovation success.
You want to work smarter — not harder. By making a few aspects of your business automated and passive, you’ll be saving time and resources. This gives you a smarter work day, every day.
And it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. There are always certain parts of your process you can automate — whether that’s marketing, customer outreach or scheduling appointments. The more you can systematize or delegate, the more time you free up to grow your business. That means passive strategies become scalable strategies.
Now, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I opened several successful drop-shipping companies in various industries that have since allowed me to open additional businesses. And even though my current endeavors at True Blue Life Insurance are less passive, there are still aspects we’ve automated in order to allow us to focus on growth.
Here are a few strategies for building passive aspects into your business that have helped me be successful:
1. Leverage your visibility with social proof.
Just like with any other aspect of your business, you want to be visible. With people going online more and more, it’s that much easier to draw them in and grow your business passively.
For me, as an online business owner, that means being visible in search engines. Because I run a national company I’m also competing nationally for SEO results. Even if you’re just local, you should be in every local directory and showing up in every local search result.