Growthink Blog

Why I Hate January At the Gym: Parallels To Raising Capital


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I’m really good about working out. With few exceptions, I go to the gym every day after work and try to work out at least one day over the weekend.

Part of why I go is to stay in shape, but I think it helps me a lot business-wise as the exercise helps me release excess energy so I can really focus on the tasks at hand when needed.

Because there’s always too much to do each day and yet I insist on going to the gym, I’ve devised a laser-focused 25 minute workout that I follow. It’s nothing too fancy -- it’s mainly that I go from machine to machine to machine with no breaks in between (many people do a similar routine but it takes them twice as long since they take breaks in between each rep and/or machine).

Anyway, what this means for me is that every January is a nightmare. Why? Because every January, the gyms are full. And this means that I can’t quickly go from machine to machine to machine because I have to wait for others who are using the equipment.

This happens because every year, tons of people make New Year’s resolutions to go to the gym more. So, in early January, the gym is full of these “resolutionists.” Fortunately, by February, they’re usually gone and it’s back to normal.

The reason I tell you about this is that it’s incredible how much this mirrors raising capital.

To begin, raising capital, like weightlifting and exercising, only works if you do it EVERY DAY. You don’t get strong working out like crazy for one month and then relaxing the rest of the year. Rather you need to put in an hour a day or an hour every other day throughout the year to realize an impact.

When raising capital, you need to constantly be speaking with investors, finding new investors, and making presentations. You need to constantly tweak your business plan to make it better and better. This will not happen overnight. It takes months.

Also, in weightlifting, if you don’t know what you are doing, you will have poor form and you will most likely hurt yourself. In capital raising, if you don’t know what you are doing, you will also hurt yourself and your company by failing to raise the capital you need.

And, like in the gym example, all the “resolutionists” HURT YOUR CHANCES of success.

At the gym, the “resolutionists” hurt me be using my machines and thus slowing me down.

When raising capital, those who don’t know what they are doing also hurt your chances. They submit their business plans haphazardly to every investor who will accept them. While these investors will rarely if ever fund these plans, they waste the investors’ time. As a result, the investors have less time to review good plans and meet with good entrepreneurs, like you.

I wish I could tell you that raising capital was fun. But I can’t. I wish I could tell you that it was easy. But I can’t do that either. Like weightlifting, it’s neither fun nor easy, but once you learn how to do it, and you repeatedly do it right over a period of time, you can succeed and the rewards far outweigh the costs.

GrowthinkUniversity.com, our new membership website, was designed to teach you how to raise capital using the proven techniques that we have implemented over the past decade for our consulting clients.


Downturn Provides a Silver Lining for Entrepreneurs


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In his post, Could the credit crunch be good for startups?, Alexander Muse of Texas Startup Blog discusses Nortel's bankruptcy filing, and the silver lining he sees for entrepreneurs in the telecom space.


Muse writes:

With the bankruptcy and ultimate breakup of the company, there will be lots of room for innovation from startups and entrepreneurs in the telecom space... Tightening credit markets mean that companies need to generate profits and can’t simply use debt to wait out under capitalized startups.  

Just as forest fires cause great destruction, they are fueled by dead wood and allow new healthier forests to emerge.



This is a great analogy.  Muse's optimism is in line with our belief that, despite all the negative news, there is always room for innovative, bold entrepreneurs with great ideas, excellent plans, and the will and tenacity to execute.

 

Related post: The Downturn - Keeping Things in Perspective


How Entrepreneur-Friendly Is Your State?


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The Small Business and Entrepreneurial Council recently released its ranking of the states that impose the fewest burdens on the growth of new businesses in their areas. 

The report analyzes dozens of factors affecting entrepreneurship including regulatory costs, health-care costs, and crime rates.

Here are the full rankings of all 50 states, including District of Columbia (which came in dead last):

  1. South Dakota
  2. Nevada  
  3. Wyoming
  4. Florida   
  5. Washington
  6. Texas     
  7. South Carolina
  8. Alabama
  9. Virginia
  10. Colorado
  11. Tennessee         
  12. Georgia
  13. Arizona
  14. Missouri
  15. Utah      
  16. Alaska   
  17. Mississippi
  18. Ohio       
  19. Michigan
  20. Indiana
  21. Oklahoma 
  22. North Dakota
  23. Kentucky
  24. Illinois
  25. Pennsylvania
  26. Wisconsin  
  27. Louisiana
  28. New Hampshire
  29. New Mexico
  30. Arkansas
  31. Kansas
  32. Oregon
  33. Montana
  34. Delaware
  35. Idaho        
  36. Nebraska
  37. Connecticut
  38. Maryland
  39. North Carolina
  40. West Virginia
  41. Hawaii
  42. Iowa
  43. Vermont
  44. Massachusetts
  45. New York
  46. Minnesota
  47. Rhode Island
  48. Maine
  49. California
  50. New Jersey
  51. District of Columbia


Click here to read the full report.


Where does your state fall on the list? 

Does your state's ranking reflect your personal experience?


Sign that Firms are Improving Productivity in Tough Times


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A recent article from the Wall Street Journal suggests that companies are becoming more productive in response to the downturn.

The WSJ noted that in Q4 the decrease in the number of hours worked might have been greater than the contraction in overall economic output. In other words, businesses appear to have increased their productivity. 

Improvements can come from shifting marketing budgets to more easily measurable media (such as internet marketing) as opposed to print and television, renegotiating more favorable contracts with vendors and suppliers, and eliminating redundancies and waste across departments. 

An uptick in productivity would contrast favorably with previous slowdowns in the 1970s and 1980s when productivity lagged.


How are you reacting to the downturn?  What measures have you taken to improve your firm's productivity?


Entrepreneurial Skills and Traits: Are You the Next Richard Branson?


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What traits and skills really make Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and countless other entrepreneurs so successful?

Over the past decade, we've identified key ingredients that lead to success, which we've observed both in celebrity entrepreneurs and in our most successful clients. When it's all said and done, they have all of the following critical skills, which are essential to entrepreneurial success:

Vision & Leadership: Entrepreneurs must have a vision of where the company will be in the future.  In addition, you must be able to communicate you vision so as to motivate employees, investors, and partners to help you achieve that vision.  You must be able to identify staffing needs, expertly fill them, and lead your team to success. Rarely do entrepreneurs build successful companies all by themselves.

Focus & Execution: Entrepreneurs must focus to make sure that goals are achieved, customers are satisfied, and employees are motivated. For most entrepreneurs, staying focused is harder than it sounds.  Be careful not to be seduced by the next exciting opportunity without executing on the priorities at hand.  And don't let perfectionism prevent you from taking action, either; at the end of the day, a product on the market is better than a product shelved due to lack of focus, execution, or perfectionism.  Get to market and get feedback from your customers as soon as possible.

Persistence & Passion:  As an entrepreneur, you must be passionate about what you are trying to accomplish. In addition, you must be willing to commit whatever is needed of them, whether it's time, energy, money, or other resources.  You must persist through trying times (which will be frequent), and fight as much as needed to achieve the goals you have set for yourself and your team.

Technical skills:  As the owner of your firm, you may not need to be the most skilled technicion on your team.  But you need to have necessary foundational knowledge to be able to lead your technical team and make informed decisions. 

Flexibility: Successful entrepreneurs understand that the world and the environment in which they operate are constantly changing. While you must focus on the end game, you also must adapt your strategies and offerings to meet changing market conditions.

There has often been debate regarding whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Can you really teach persistence or passion? Perhaps you can't.  But if you understand the importance of these entrepreneurial traits, you can focus on them and make the necessary adjustments to succeed in your entrepreneurial endeavors.


What about you -- what skills or traits do you think make entrepreneurs successful? 


Vision, Business Plan, Success


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Just for a moment, consider the following press release headlines:

"Company X Receives Top Marks in Bloomberg Article..."
"Company X Ranked #1 Global Provider...Second Year Running"
"Company X Acquires Leading Provider of..."
"Company X Launches Philippines Operations"
"Company X Names Industry Veteran as Vice President..."

Now imagine what it would feel like to be the founder of Company X. For one Growthink client, Liam Brown, this isn't a dream - it's a reality.  

A few years ago, Liam had the vision to come to Growthink for assistance with a business plan for his vision - a company named Integreon. Liam, with a solid business plan, turned his vision into a business, raised capital, and attracted a highly motivated work force. Today, Integreon is a leading business process outsourcing (BPO) service firm that employs over 2000 people, with offices ranging from Mumbai to Fargo and New Delhi to midtown Manhattan.

Even with an amazing business plan, heights and milestones like the ones listed above cannot be achieved without vision. Simply put, you must have a vision of where you want your business to be in the future.  You must be able to communicate your vision in an exciting manner to employees and investors, so that they too share your vision and are motivated to help you achieve it.

Unlike your business plan, your vision doesn't provide a specific roadmap for your business.  Rather, your vision paints a picture of what the your business strives to become in the future.  A leader with a strong vision motivates his or her team to achieve this picture, regardless of the action plan that will be employed.

Vision provides motivation to both the leader and employees.  It gives employees something that they can believe in and rally around.  While it doesn't tell the employees exactly what to do to achieve it, having vision instilled in them helps positively mold their decision-making when problems must be solved that don't have clear answers.

A strong vision combined with a strong business plan is critical to the success of a growing venture.  The vision motivates everyone to achieve success, while the plan guides them to where they need to go.  In addition, the plan is significant in that it documents the vision.  By "cementing" the vision on paper, the team gains more confidence that the vision will not be easily changed and that the organization is truly committed to achieving it.

How a Business Plan Consultant Can Improve Your Business Strategy


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In my previous post, I explained how getting an outside perspective improves your chances of raising capital.

There is a second, equally important, benefit of retaining a business planning consultant to develop your business plan: it improves your business strategy.

Let's start with some facts...

Fact #1: There are 24 million businesses in the United States alone.

Fact #2:
History tends to repeat itself.

What I mean is, if you have an idea, whether it's a marketing idea, operations idea -- anything really -- chances are it's been tried before.  Chances are also that if it failed the first time, it will most likely fail again.

That's not to be discouraging, because there's a decent chance that it wasn't executed properly the first time, or lacked the nuances you bring to the idea. Regardless -- if your idea has been tested before, I bet you want to know about it.

When you are aware of the earlier attempts of an idea, you can quickly learn from them and either 1) Determine that it won't work (and cut your losses) or 2) refine the strategy and make it work.  But, if you never know about those other attempts, your chances of failure are increased.

A competent business plan advisor can provide a lot of value during this research and discovery phase.  Reputable business plan consultants not only perform market research, they leverage their existing knowledge and experiences regarding their own businesses and the businesses of their colleagues. This positions them to point out those potential pitfalls and strategies which have failed in the past, as well as strategies that have been proven to work.

This is very important, because unrealistic assumptions can kill a business.

To explore this, let's take an example from a company I just spoke with yesterday.  This firm is about to launch a new division offering BPO (business process outsourcing) services.  When I asked about their expected sales cycle (the time it takes from when they contact a prospective customer to when they secure the client) they answered 3 to 6 months.

Well, 3 to 6 months is a reasonable sales cycle in this industry. But what if they told me 3 to 6 weeks? Worse yet, what if they went out and succeeded in raising financing -- expecting revenues to come in within a 3 to 6 week period?

Most likely, they would have raised too little money and gone bankrupt while anxiously waiting for prospects to become customers.

There's another piece to business strategy consulting, which involves taking interesting (or even seemingly mundane) ideas from other industries and finding creative ways to adapt them to your business. These types of insights are frequently offered by outside advisors and have been known to result in breakthroughs responsible for transforming entire industries.

Consider roll-on deodorant. The "roll-on" part was inspired by the ball-point pen. Before that, deodorant was packaged in cream form. Or, consider Fred Smith's Fedex. Smith applied the banking industry's method of clearing overnight checks to the overnight delivery of packages.  Each of these cross-industry breakthroughs resulted in billion dollar industries.

I'll admit it... As a kid, I hated history class. I couldn't imagine information less relevant to my life than what happened in Europe 600 years ago. But you can't be ignorant about what has happened in the past or what is happening around you -- even half-way across the globe -- because it does affect you. Knowing what other companies are doing, what's working and what's failed -- that's the information that will prevent you from repeating failures and allow you to replicate success.

Who knows? A well-researched busines strategy might just result in a breakthrough that establishes your place in business history.

 

Related post: How Business Plan Writers Help You Raise Capital


How Business Plan Writers Help You Raise Capital


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Yesterday I was looking at an online forum that deals with all aspects of entrepreneurship. I quickly found the capital-raising section and started reading a post from someone who was considering outsourcing the development of their business plan to an outside firm.

Shortly thereafter, I saw a comment from an entrepreneur named Joe, who said, "How could you even consider outsourcing your business plan? Only you know your business well enough to write it."

Well, I'm probably pretty biased on this topic, since Growthink has been developing business plans for clients for a decade. I want to put that bias aside for a minute, though, because I'd like to explain the value of letting nearly anyone outside your company help with the development of your business plan.

Here's my stance: Only outside viewpoints can ensure that your business plan includes both a solid Business Strategy and Communications Strategy.  Right now, I want to talk about Communications Strategy - I'll touch on Business Strategy in an upcoming blog post.

Before we go any further, however, I want to dispel the biggest myth about business plans.

Most people think that the goal of a business plan is to provide an in-depth analysis of your business. If you have any aspirations of presenting your plan to outside investors, then this thinking is incomplete.  But most entrepreneurs are looking for a business plan to raise capital  to market your company to investors.

Yes, your business plan is a marketing document.

Would you buy toothpaste whose packaging states, in huge letters, "Sodium Fluoride," "Tetra Potassium Pyrophosphate," and "Titanium Dioxide?"

NO.

We all purchase toothpaste whose packaging promotes the BENEFITS such as "freshens breath," "whitens teeth" and "prevents cavities."

The same is true with business plans.  You should never -- particularly at the beginning -- pile on information about the details of your business. Rather, you need to focus on the benefits that investors will care about: the size of the addressable market, the milestones you've achieved to-date, what you have that your competitors don't -- and, importantly, how you expect them to get a return on their dollars.

A great communications strategy, in business planning, or in anything else, starts with figuring out what your audience wants to, needs to, and/or is willing to hear. Then, of course, you have to give it to them.  You must put yourself in your audience's shoes and figure out the most compelling way to convey the benefits of your business to them.

Back to Joe's quote, "Only you know your business well enough..." Following his logic, there would be no advertising agencies or public relations firms.

Actually, imagine if all of your competitors decided to do all of their advertising and PR in-house, and you were the only one to seek outside, professional assistance.  Your marketing would likely dominate your competitors'.

In the same way, when your business plan brilliantly communicates the benefits of your business to investors, you give yourself an immeasurable competitive advantage over the thousands and thousands of other businesses out there competing for capital.

It's no wonder that only a very small percentage of companies seeking venture capital successfully raise it.  Yes, the majority of contenders may "know their business well enough," but sadly, not well enough to convince others to invest.

 

Related post: How a Business Plan Consultant Can Improve Your Business Strategy


Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for Entrepreneurs in 2009


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200910) Keep Launching, Innovating and Growing

2008 was a tumultuous year, and most observers agree that we're now in one of the worst recessions in decades.

While the economy may be in for a bumpy ride, make sure you keep it in perspective.  Don't let all the negative news stop you from moving forward with your entrepreneurial initiatives.

History has shown that a downturn can be a great time to start a new venture. General Electric traces its roots to the Panic of 1873.  William Hewlett and David Packard founded HP during the Great Depression.  Microsoft launched during the recession of the early 1980s.  Disney, Oracle, and Cisco, and countless others took the leap during difficult economic times, and reaped tremendous rewards for their efforts.

One reason that recessions provide opportunities for entrepreneurial companies is because established firms decide to cut back on innovation and growth plans.  Don't make that mistake!  The key is to be running and growing your business successfully before the market comes back -- so that when it does, you have gained market share and are poised for explosive growth.  As we've said before, persistence and optimism are critical for entrepreneurial success.

For more thoughts on launching a business during a recession, read entrepreneur and investor Andy Liu's excellent entry The Secret to Starting a Successful Company.



9) Maximize Your Time and Resources


Running and growing a successful business requires that numerous jobs be performed at once, and well.  The start of a new year provides an opportunity to take stock of your most precious commodity: your time. 

What are you best at?  Where do you add the most value? 

Learn how and when to delegate or outsource certain tasks and responsibilities.



8) Build and Improve Systems and Processes

Most successful businesses are successful because they have effective systems in place.  For example, if you walk into any McDonalds across the country, and order a Big Mac, you know exactly what to expect. 

As Michael Gerber points out in The E-Myth Revisited, it’s critical that entrepreneurs build businesses, rather building an ever-increasingly stressful and taxing J-O-B. 

Especially if you're interested in selling your business, you want to be able to walk away from the business and have it continue to run. 



7) Build and Nurture an In-House Email List

Whether you run a dental practice, a restaurant, a software company or a social networking website, chances are you could be getting more out of your website traffic. 

One way to improve the efficacy of your website is to offer an email newsletter via an online email submission form. 

Building and maintaining an email list could be one of the best ROI decisions you make in 2009.  Constant Contact and AWeber are two recommended resources for email communications. And, if you run a blog, you can set up blog-to-email newsletters using services like FeedBlitz.



6) Participate in Online Conversations


If you haven't already done so, start a blog, create an account at Twitter, sign up for Facebook, join LinkedIn... whatever your website or tactic of choice, get online and contribute to the conversations about your industry online. 

Issue press releases using PRWeb.  For an excellent tutorial in online marketing and PR, I recommend reading David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing and PR, as well as his blog Web Ink Now.



5) Meet More People (Out in the "Real" Offline World)

Join new networking groups to establish relationships and potential partnerships with people and firms in your area.  One great way to jumpstart your offline networking is to leverage MeetUp.com.  MeetUp.com has thousands of business networking groups.  If you don't see a group in your niche, you can even start your own.



4) Get a Life (Outside of Work)

It's critical that you take breaks from your business to enjoy life.  Make a resolution to enjoy physical as well as mental vacations from your business every once in a while.  This is not only good for your health and sanity and relationships, it's also good for business!  You'll gain relief the stresses of growing your business, and once you return, you'll be reinvigorated with a new perspective on your challenges and opportunities.



3) If It's Not Working, Ditch It

Let’s be honest.  Not every marketing strategy, fundraising strategy, partnership, or product line will be a winner.  If you tried something in 2008 and it wasn't working, you might want to admit that and move on.  Focus your energy and resources towards those priorities that will deliver the greatest return on investment (both in terms of time and money). 



2) Learn Something New, Again and Again


Make a commitment to continual education.  Stay updated on your industry while branching out into new areas of knowledge.  Read blogs, books, newspapers, and magazines. An easy way to incorporate learning into your every day routine is to listen to interviews, audiobooks and podcasts.  Summary.com is a great, convenient service for integrating business education into a busy schedule.



1) Continually Update Your Business Plan and “To Do” Lists


Update your business plan weekly, monthly and quarterly, depending on what’s changing in your industry and what you’ve accomplished in your business. 

Updating your plan can be a critical factor in both your ability to raise capital and your ability to properly execute on market opportunities.  The sections that typically require periodic updates include the milestones, competition, management team and financials sections.

To increase your personal and corporate productivity, take advantage of tools like Basecamp which allow you to track tasks and milestones online in a collaborative "wiki" environment. 

For a great read on productivity, we recommend The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.  As Chet recommends, focus on the daily tasks that are most critical to your growth, and keep the daily “to do” list brief (no more than 6 items). 

 

That's it!  I hope you found this list to be helpful for growing your business.  Here's wishing you a prosperous 2009! 

 

What is your New Year's resolution?

 

 


'Twas the Night Before 2009...


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Happy Holidays!  In celebration of the season, and the entrepreneurial spirit, Growthink has created a video holiday card which you can view below:

 


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