Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, August 20, 2013
There are many websites, such as ODesk, Guru, and Elance, on which you can find people and firms to which you can outsource projects. Regardless of the site you choose, the key is to get the largest pool of qualified providers to apply for your project. This way, you have more people from which to choose.
Even if you only hire one, you can go back and contact the same pool of talent for future projects later. Consider applicants as being in your "rolodex" of people to contact in the future.
Below are tips to keep in mind when posting your project. In a nutshell, you want to include all of the information that an applicant needs to know, but do so succinctly.
If anything is left out, you'll have to go back and answer their questions about it later. It's always easier to clarify everything up front.
Create a Clear Project Title
Here, include the work to be performed, on what, and in what industry. For example, "Help Developing Ebook" could mean anything from research to writing to editing to cover design. Compare that to "Writing 10,000 Word Real Estate Ebook." The latter will be more likely to catch the eye of writers with real estate knowledge.
Create a Clear Project Description
This sounds simple enough, but you should try to answer as many possible questions as you can, which means addressing certain areas, like:
- The scope of the project. In the above example, wanting a 10,000-word Ebook written vs. 20,000 words would be helpful information for applicants to know. This helps them estimate the time it will take them and therefore their bid for the project. If you are paying hourly, it will help prevent misunderstandings later.
- Software needed. Make sure they at least have Microsoft Word and Excel, if that's what you use. Other software is industry-specific, like Adobe Photoshop among graphic designers.
You may or may not know what software is needed for things you don't specialize in, but you will soon enough. All other things equal, choose the person who already has the best software for the job, as you'll get better results.
- Programming languages. Some website projects require that the provider knows certain programming languages besides standard html, such as PHP, AJAX, etc. In these cases, it's better to post "PHP Programmer Needed to..." than just "Programmer." You'll get fewer, but more qualified responses. If you don't know what languages are needed, either ask a friend or do a Google search beforehand, or you could post in the project that you don't know what language is needed, and ask them to make suggestions.
Ideally, you will want to hire people who can educate you, so this sets the tone right from the beginning. I know some people who post $10 projects for 30 minutes of a programmer's time just to have their questions answered.
- Payment amount. First, decide if you want to pay them by the hour, or for the whole project. There are pros and cons to both. If you estimate that something will take 5-8 hours, going hourly is fine. For work that will take longer than that or that has a higher likelihood of uncertainty, I would try a project-basis.
Sometimes you can't estimate how long something will take, in this case, hire them on an hourly basis for a little while to get started and figure things out. Sometimes applicants will claim that they can't estimate how long it will take, while others can. I would go with people who are able to give you specific information as it shows they're more organized and have done something enough times to know how long it should take.
- Payment terms. I would never pay more than 50% up front. In this case, I would pay the remaining 50% when the work is done, or have a milestone payment of 25% and 25% upon completion.
Also, never pay someone the final payment if there is still work left to be done; you may never see your project finished.
- Payment methods. When you outsource through third party websites, they will typically handle the payment method. If or once you start outsourcing directly, you will have to figure out the best method for paying your contractor. In the latter, there are multiple options such as PayPal and Dwolla.
Upload samples of what you need
You can write 5 paragraphs trying to explain the final product, or you can show them something similar you have had done before (or someone else's to model yours after). The latter is typically more effective.
Most sites will allow you to upload files to show the contractor what they'll be working with or making. You can also insert links in the project description to websites, files, audios, or videos showing or explaining things more vividly.
Particularly if you are asking the person to develop a website, you must show them examples of other websites you like. If you don't, I can nearly guarantee you'll be disappointed with the results.
Choose the time period for bidding
On outsourcing websites, you are typically given options like 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days to accept bids. I lean towards giving a longer time period, unless the urgency of your project means that you don't have as much time to wait.
In general, the more time that providers have to find and respond to your project, the more qualified applicants from which you'll have to choose.
Also, some of the best providers are also the busiest, so by giving a longer time frame to respond you are more likely to catch them when they're available.
Follow these tips and my other key outsourcing strategies to get a qualified pool of outsourced applicants to complete your projects. These outsourcers will give you the manpower and expertise you need to grow your business at a very economical price.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, August 18, 2013
The term "outsourcing" describes contracting out of a business process to a third-party, that is, someone or some firm outside of your core organization.
Outsourcing generally refers to ongoing processes versus one-time processes. For example, the development of your website is generally a one-time process. Conversely, the maintenance of your website is an ongoing process. However, some people consider both one-time and ongoing processes to be outsourcing when you select someone outside of your organization to complete them.
Regardless of your definition, outsourcing has many benefits, my favorite of which are these four:
1. Focus: Outsourcing allows you to focus on your core competencies and activities. For example, if you own a chain of restaurants, you generally don't have (nor should you) the skills to develop a cutting-edge website in-house.
2. Cost Savings: You can often outsource to individuals and firms in areas with lower costs of living and thus lower prices than you can attain in-house.
3. Expertise: When outsourcing to individuals and firms who specialize in a certain area, they will have expertise that you simply don't have.
4. Flexibility: Outsourcing allows you ramp up and/or ramp down more quickly than maintaining a full-time staff for all functions.
Unfortunately, when they start outsourcing, most entrepreneurs and small business owners make several mistakes. Below are the 5 most common ones to avoid.
Mistake #1: Failing to define tasks/projects clearly
If you don't clearly and comprehensively define the task or project you need fulfilled from the start, your project will inevitably fail. You might choose the wrong person for the job and/or they won't perform to your expectations if you haven't completed this crucial step.
Mistake #2: Failing to hire someone without enough experience
Nothing is worse than the blind leading the blind. When I hire someone to do something that I do not know how to do personally, they need to know how to do it. They need to educate you on their chosen skill set, not the other way around.
Your role is to describe the end result you want, ask for and listen to their suggestions, and rely on their expertise and talent to achieve it according to your description. Make sure you check their past work and references to ensure they have a track record of getting similar work completed on-time and to the satisfaction of those who've hired them.
Mistake #3: Failing to establish and abide by the timeframe
If you've ever provided services for a client in a rush, you know how stressful it can be to drop everything at the last minute and make their emergency yours. The people you outsource to are no different, and it will benefit you to plan and begin things in advance and not at the last minute.
So, map out by when you need to hire someone, when the work needs to commence, and when it must be completed. Create milestones within each of these processes, such as by when you will complete your project description, and when the contractor must complete the first draft, etc.
Mistake #4: Failing to adequately communicate
Just because you hired a great person, it doesn't mean the project will go smoothly. The key here is to effectively communicate with them.
Make sure you check-in with them and get status updates. Get them to send you drafts of their work, and then provide detailed comments regarding what you like and don't like.
The fact is that the more and more thoroughly you communicate with them, the better they will perform. This is true up to an extent of course; because if you micro-manage (or manage too aggressively) it will take up too much of your time and often aggravate the contractor.
Mistake #5: Failing to leverage talented outsourcers
Once in a while, when you outsource, you will find gems. Gems are those outsourcers who do a phenomenal job.
The key is this: once you find these gems, keep them. Give them additional projects. And if you don't have any, refer them to others you know. And keep in touch. At a minimum, email them every month or two to say hi.
In fact, I've had amazing success with just this. I hired an outsourced tech person on August 16, 2005. He did a phenomenal job. I've often kept in touch since then, and he's helped me with several projects. And even though he now has a full-time job (he's in India), he still helps me on the side a lot. And he still does a great job each time!
Knowing how to effectively outsource is a critical skill all entrepreneurs must have. It allows you to accomplish more, accomplish it with more expertise, accomplish it faster, and accomplish it with less money. These are key benefits you can't do without.
Suggested Resource: In today's competitive business environment, you must outsource to stay competitive. Outsource the right way using Growthink's Outsourcing Formula.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Over the past 15 years, I've helped over 500,000 entrepreneurs and business owners to develop their business and strategic plans.
And, as you might imagine, I've spent a lot of time discussing business plans and strategic plans internally. Enough so that among other things, I use the acronym "BP" for business plans and "SP" for strategic plans.
Now, because these terms are often used synonymously, let me explain the key difference as I see them. Business plans or BPs are plans created for the primary goal of convincing an investor or lender to fund you. Conversely, strategic plans or SPs are developed to determine and document your strategy so your company understands and can attain its objectives.
As you can see, both plans serve very different and very important purposes.
Below are the 5 key sections that a strategic plan must have that need not be included, or require much less focus, in a business plan.
1. Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is a brief description of your business.
It is included in your strategic plan since your elevator pitch is both important to your business' success, and should often be updated annually.
An elevator pitch got it's name because you need to be able to describe your business succinctly and within the time it takes to travel from the ground to the top floor in an elevator.
A quality elevator pitch:
- Gets everyone in your company on the same page regarding what your business is and what the key objectives are.
- Allows everyone in your company to give a concise and consistent explanation of your business which leads to more customers.
In a business plan, you do include your elevator pitch in the Executive Summary section to concisely explain your company to investors and lenders. In your strategic plan, it is used to ensure consensus within your organization.
2. Company Mission Statement
A mission statement explains what your business is trying to achieve.
For internal decision-making, it helps as key decisions should be made with regards to how well they help the company progress in achieving its mission.
Also, for internal (e.g., employees) audiences, the mission can inspire and get them excited to be part of what the company is doing.
While your mission statement is often also included in your business plan, investors and lenders are generally more concerned with your ability to earn them a return on investment. As such, it's not as heavily emphasized in your business plan.
Some great examples of mission statements include the following:
- Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.
3. Goal Specificity
Because your strategic plan focuses on setting your company's vision and getting your team to execute on that vision, your strategic plan must include a greater focus on your goals than your business plan.
While your business plan focuses more on your long-term goals, your strategic plan is more granular. Specifically, your strategic plan should lay out your company's 5 year goals, 1 year goals, and your upcoming quarterly and monthly goals.
4. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
As the name indicates, your "KPIs" or Key Performance Indicators are the metrics that judge your business' performance based on the success you'd like to succeed.
Identifying and measuring your KPIs is absolutely critical to ensuring you are effectively executing on your vision and plans. Conversely, if you don't measure your KPIs, you have no idea whether you are achieving the success you desire.
In your strategic plan, unlike in your business plan, you must identify the KPIs your business must track in order to achieve your goals.
5. Identification of Required Strengths
In your business plan, you should stress your existing strengths that make your business uniquely qualified to succeed. This helps convince investors and lenders to fund you.
Conversely, in your strategic plan, you must identify the strengths you need to develop. For example, how could you gain competitive advantage by modifying your products or services? Or by hiring and training certain personnel? Or by creating new operational systems? Etc.
By asking and answering these questions in your strategic plan, you can create a strategy for building a rock solid company that's the envy of your industry.
To summarize, the right business plan allows you to raise money to fund your business' growth. The right strategic plan gives you and your team the vision, goals and game plan to achieve this growth. Finally, using the right strategic plan template helps you create your strategic plan quickly and easily so you can start growing immediately.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, August 12, 2013
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Last week, I talked about the communication breakdowns that occur when investors and entrepreneurs talk about risk.
Well, in most forms of angel and early-stage private equity investing, these breakdowns flow from a misunderstanding of the power and nature of outliers.
The concept of outliers and how they apply to early stage private equity investment was best described by the Lebanese thinker and writer Nicolas Taleb, in his best-selling books "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan."
In the Black Swan especially, Taleb described the nature and importance of outliers in a modern, inter-connected economy:
“What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."
Taleb continues, "I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives."
Less famous, but more helpful when it comes to designing an effective private equity investing strategy is Taleb's theorizing on how technological interconnectedness vastly intensifies Black Swan impacts.
This idea of technological interconnectedness is related - though not exactly the same – as that of the much ballyhooed Network Effect that is so much at the heart of many of the biggest technological and investment success stories of the last 15 years, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN, being first and foremost amongst them.
In its simplest form, the Network Effect posits that the value of a network increases exponentially with each new user on it.
Or, in other words, the primary reason why folks use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN is because there are a lot of other folks that use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN too.
And, as more users join, such the value for others to join grows that much greater.
And so on and so on.
Thus, one of the first screens that the intelligent early stage investor should utilize is the degree to which a network effect is present in a company's business model.
Now, let’s get to the rub of the matter as to how Taleb’s interconnectedness concept both informs and signals danger for the thoughtful investor.
Simply put, global technological inter-connectedness drives the winning business models to heights never seen before …
…and because of this, there are a lot fewer of them.
Simply put, the winners are bigger and happen faster than ever - Facebook's IPO was bigger and faster than that of Google’s which was bigger and faster than that of Microsoft’s, which was bigger and faster than that of Apple’s.
And because the winners are bigger, there are less of them.
So that giant sucking sound you hear is the consuming of so much of the energy and return in the deal economy into fewer, bigger and more lucrative deals.
To put it another way, turning $500,000 into $1.8 billion in seven years as Peter Thiel did as a small minority investor in Facebook is just not beyond extraordinary - it is also unprecedented.
And, correspondingly, returns of this scale crowd out and widely skew the distribution to fewer, higher returning deals.
Now, how should we respond to this brave new and highly challenging investing and entrepreneurial world?
Well, one obvious response is to proceed extremely carefully.
Investing in early stage private companies can be great fun and you can make money beyond your wildest dreams if the stars are aligned right doing it….
…but the probabilities of doing so in any one company or deal are low…and getting lower.
And unfortunately, this is true no matter how enthusiastic, how passionate, how hardworking, how brilliant the entrepreneur that is pitching his or her deal happens to be.
So does this mean that early stage private equity investing is for the birds? And that we all should just stay away?
Of course not.
You just have to do it right.
Next week, we’ll share how today’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs do just that.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, August 6, 2013
There are hundreds of thousands of individual or "angel" investors in the United States (and many more throughout the world). This is many, many times greater than the mere 6,000 members of angel investor groups.
And here's the key: the vast majority of these individual investors are what I call "latent angel investors." That is, they have the interest and ability to make an angel investment. But they don't actively seek to make angel investments.
Basically, you have to find them and pitch them, since they aren't actively seeking entrepreneurs to fund. And in most cases, they've never before invested in a private company.
So, who are these "latent angel investors?" The short answer is that they are people with money. I sat down this morning and wrote brief profiles of some the angel investors that have funded some of Growthink's clients. Here they are (I changed the people's names for privacy reasons).
1. Roger is a lawyer.
2. Alan is an executive at a large consulting firm.
3. Bill is the COO of the US branch of a multi-national corporation.
4. Allison is a restaurant owner.
5. Randy owns a small consulting firm.
6. Catherine is an executive at a large financial services company.
7. Robert used to run his own business and is now retired. He does some consulting on the side.
8. Victor is from Europe. He attended business school in the United States. He now has business ventures throughout the world including one in the United States.
9. Josh is a super successful entrepreneur in his early thirties. He had a lot of success in his first venture, and continues to launch new companies.
10. Richard is a retired executive from a Fortune 500 company.
Here's some additional info: All but two of these angel investors are between the ages of forty and sixty five. All but three of them live within 20 miles of the companies they funded. And of the three, two live within an hour's flight or 3 hour drive.
The key lesson here is this: potential angel investors are all around you. They are current and retired doctors, lawyers, executives, business owners and otherwise successful people with money (interestingly, none of my current clients have doctors as investors that I know of; although doctors are very common angel investors).
Yes, there are specific ways to contact and present your venture to these investors that I explain in my Angel Investor Formula, but the key is to network, network, network. Don't be shy. Rather, start telling people about your venture and get referrals to people with money that could invest in your company.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, July 29, 2013
A joy of my work is that I get to connect often with smart, “out-of-the box” and impressive businesspeople that can be best described as "Investors – Entrepreneurs.”
The most talented of these fine folks evaluate opportunities through the complementary perspectives of the two mindsets.
As investors, they do so dispassionately - with the lenses of risk and reward, and of expected value.
As entrepreneurs, they are more operational, more tactical.
They know that numbers on financial statements are byproducts of collective, human effort - of sales, marketing, and operational strategies and project plans, all underpinned by cultural commitments to excellence and to winning.
Now, when things get dicey is when these Investor - Entrepreneurs don't properly distinguish in their otherwise able minds where investing and entrepreneurship do NOT intersect.
The problem reveals itself in a number of ways.
For the entrepreneur, it is a cognitive dissonance, a denial of the simple fact that an incredibly large percentage of their net worth and earnings power is often concentrated in a single, and very high risk asset - i.e. their own business.
For the investor, it is the dark and dangerous side of that usually, admirable human quality of commitment and consistency.
This is the tendency we all have to stick to decisions that we have made in the past even if and when the original evidence that underpinned those decisions has changed dramatically.
The classic example of this is basing an investment decision on the original purchase price of an asset, its sunk cost, even though the faulty logic of doing so is almost self-evident.
Yet, following this truism, because of our emotional human wiring, is always far harder to do in practice than in theory.
So, how should - let’s call them “Entrepreneur Mind” and “Investor Mind” - properly work together?
Here are three ideas:
1. For Investors, view with an extremely jaundiced eye records and claims of past performance.
Let's be clear, doing so is extremely hard.
Both because of the aforementioned “human wiring” matter, and because the brokerage and insurance industries have a massive, vested interest in manipulating and exploiting this wiring to prevent us from doing so.
To best resist this manipulation, invest like an entrepreneur - pointed toward the future and leaving the past where it rightfully belongs, in the past.
2. For Entrepreneurs, just for a few moments, step in the space of not believing one’s own propaganda.
This too, is hard as what makes entrepreneurs who they are is their unshakeable and often irrational self-belief, in spite of often much evidence to the contrary.
This self-belief serves them well as leaders and as creators, but as shareholders not so much.
And as shareholders, the irrefutable principles of diversification, of long-term and global planning, and of the overriding importance of small differences in return, multiplied over time, so fundamentally apply.
3. And finally, as Investors - Entrepreneurs, to recognize good professional guidance as a success requirement, for the simple reason that one’s most dynamic competitors are getting it.
And if you are not, then you are wanting.
And in both investing and entrepreneurship, this wanting, this disadvantage, even if small, multiplied over time is usually the difference between failure and success.
What does this look like in practice?
Well, for one, a best-functioning team of professional advisors should include a great strategy and exit planning advisor, a great accountability coach, and a great wealth manager.
And they should all work together, especially and effectively toward that most natural and glorious and appropriate goal of all entrepreneurs and of all investors.
Which, of course, is asset building and earning power.
Built both slowly and methodically over time as an investor and in sudden, large green and creative shoots as an entrepreneur.
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Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, July 28, 2013
When developing their business plans for investors and lenders, there are lots of mistakes that entrepreneurs make. Here are the 5 biggest:
1. Forgetting that Your Business Plan is a Marketing Document
On of the key goals of your business plan is to convince lenders and/or investors to fund you. As a result, you need to think of your business plan as a marketing document.
In brief, think of your business plan as a brochure versus a product manual. A brochure gives high level features and benefits and gets people excited. Conversely, a product manual provides tons of details (which are often boring) and is generally hard to read.
Use your brochure/business plan to excite the reader so they agree to meet with you. During the meeting, you can provide additional details they want to know.
2. Failing to Prove Your Case
The second common business plan mistake is not adequately proving your case. Just like a lawyer has to prove his or her case, your business plan should prove the case as to why an investor or lender should fund you. There are two key ways to do this.
First, show why you are uniquely qualified to succeed in your business. For example, maybe you and/or your management team have unique expertise and experience. Or you have a unique and patented product. Or maybe you are first to market. Or maybe you have already secured critical strategic partnerships. Identify these key reasons and include them in your plan.
Second, include market research that proves your ability to succeed. For example, show how big your market is. Show how market trends support (or at least don't hurt) your business' success prospects. Detail who your customers are and their needs. And show you understand who your competitors are and their strengths and weaknesses.
3. Not Clearly Describing Your Business at the Start
Too many business plans fail to clearly describe the business at the very beginning of the plan. This is a critical mistake, because if readers are confused after the first paragraph, they often won't continue reading.
So, rather than starting your plan with a long story, start by clearly describing what your business does so readers "get it." Then, you can explain why it will succeed, the origins of your idea, etc.
4. Using Lots of Superlatives
Using too many superlatives turns off most investors and readers, and when unsubstantiated, hurts your credibility.
Specifically, avoid superlatives like "best," "greatest," "most powerful," etc., unless you can back them up. For example, saying that you have the "best management team" will turn off many investors.
Rather, you should say something like, "our management team has the experience, skills and track record to successfully execute on our plan. Among other things, our management team has [and then list the credentials of your team]."
5. Trying to Answer Every Question
The final mistake that most entrepreneurs make in their business plans is trying to answer every question in them. The solution, rather, is to answer the key questions, but not all the questions.
Similar to the above mention of how your business plan should be like a brochure, your plan should not answer every conceivable question readers might pose.
Rather, answer the big questions that will get readers excited about your venture, proves you really understand it, and influences them to invest more time meeting with you to discuss further.
During the meeting you'll have the opportunity to fill in the details, which are often different for each potential funding source.
Avoid these five mistakes in developing your business plan and you will have much more success completing your plan and using it to positively influence funding sources.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Every successful business requires a lot of planning. From market research to internal corporate structure, the planning stages of starting and growing a business can be quite extensive. While this preparation is a key factor in the success of any company, there are a few things which far too many business owners neglect. Planning for success and growth is important, but smart businesses are also prepared for the worst case scenario.
Situation #1: Disability
No matter what a business may do, if it has employees then it needs to consider disability insurance. Accidents happen every day and they are not restricted to those jobs which would traditionally be considered dangerous. Even in an office environment, for example, there is a potential for an employee to be injured (perhaps outside of their work activities).
When an employee is injured while on the job, the company may be personally liable for medical bills and worker's compensation payments. This is why disability insurance is so vital. If something like this should happen, the insurance will cover any bills and fees for which the company will be responsible.
In addition to insurance, a smart business owner will spend time on succession planning. There is no telling who might be injured and it is entirely possible that this person is the business owner.
What will you do if you cannot run your business - temporarily or longer term? Do you have the right disability coverage to protect your income? Do you have people who are trained and familiar with different parts of the business so they can be called upon to pick up where you left off?
Situation #2: Natural Disasters
One thing which can rarely be predicted is a natural disaster. Regardless of where a business is located, there is the possibility of one natural disaster or another. Whether it is earthquakes, floods, fires or tornados, these disasters can literally destroy a company.
This is why disaster insurance is so important. It may seem unnecessary to pay for insurance for something which might never happen but, when it does, this insurance will be the difference between a temporary setback and total destruction. Smart business owners need to know what types of disasters are possible and find insurance which covers them completely.
No, this article is not about promoting insurance. It's about making sure you have the protection you need to keep your business operating and your income flowing.
While disaster insurance will help cover the financial aspect of such a catastrophe, contingency planning is equally as important. Rebuilding a business can take months and work should not stop during that time. A good business owner will have a contingency plan set up which allows the company to continue, even if an entire physical location was lost.
When reasonable for the business model, redundant operations, back-up equipment, data back-up, and/or employees/contractors in other geographical areas are critical components to recovering from and/or minimizing the impact of a natural disaster.
Situation #3: One Revenue Stream
One of the biggest mistakes many businesses make is relying too heavily on one customer or revenue stream. Most companies will work with different clients and customers, but may rely on one specific client for the majority of their revenue. The problem here is that the loss of this client can mean a sudden loss of the majority of a company's revenue.
Just as anything can happen to a business, the same can happen to clients and customers. Relying too heavily on one specific source of revenue is a recipe for disaster. Smart business owners will focus on diversifying their revenue sources and creating a situation where the loss of any one source only represents a small loss of overall income.
If you don't have the resources to handle more clients, create a client back-up plan. What accounts or work-streams can you quickly put into action if you lose your main client? If diversifying pushes to outside of your production capacity, always have other work lined up to fill any vacuums.
Landing a big client may make you feel like you can take a break from marketing and customer acquisition. But beware of this false sense of security. Every day, dozens of businesses, from small to multi-national corporations, close their doors because they lost their main account. Remember the old adage; don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Situation #4: Data Loss
We live in the information age and nearly every business relies heavily on stored data. This can include, among others, payroll records, inventory systems, emails, documents, and even client contact information. This data can be so important to the success of a company that the loss of it can be just as damaging as any natural disaster. With technology constantly changing, this sort of data loss is a very real possibility.
Smart business owners plan for this problem. Much of the stored information will be confidential and having it fall into the wrong hands can have far reaching consequences. It can open a business to lawsuits from clients and make your business liable for paying damages to hundreds if not thousands of clients.
A business's data and information needs to be protected through proper security measures and backed up in multiple ways. There are many online options from Google to specialty companies that can do this for you. If you are in a regulated industry such as healthcare or real estate, you have a legal obligation to store documents in a specific way for certain number of years.
Situation #5: Regulatory Changes
Speaking of regulations, most businesses have to follow certain laws and compliance guidelines. These can govern nearly any aspect of what a business does. The problem is that many of these regulations can change over time. These changes can be unavoidable and are often unexpected. As new politicians are voted into office and the economic climate changes, the rules for doing business will also change.
Smart business owners will familiarize themselves with the laws and regulations related to their business. What many of them fail to do, however, is plan for changes in these regulations. A business that refuses to be dynamic and able to adapt to such changes is one which is precariously close to disaster.
For example, in 2011 there were far reaching changes made by the FCC that drastically affected how a telemarketer could get access to calling lists and contact consumers. Businesses that didn't adapt in time where shut down by the FCC. Only those businesses that made sure their business model could survive the new operational restrictions survived to dial another number.
How to Protect Your Business
Planning for negative possibilities can be stressful. And it is impossible to predict all of the threats facing any business. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps any business owner can take to protect themselves from these problems.
Take the time to review your business model and assess your risk in these 5 categories. Then start by mitigating your biggest risk. Work your way down the list so that within 90 days, you are completely protected.
- You need a plan to cover the potential loss of any vital employee, including yourself! Create and document systems that allow the business to run without current employees. Insurance should also be purchased to cover the company in the event of an accident or injury, and a firm succession plan should be updated every six months.
- Business owners need to be familiar with any potential natural disaster in the area in which they have assets such as offices or warehouses. Storm-proof your business as much as possible. Create a business continuity plan (example: can employees work from home while the office is restored?). Finally, get adequate insurance to protect your assets and income.
- Revenue sources need to be analyzed. Clients and customers need to be diversified to help mitigate the trouble associated with losing any one of them. If there is only one main source of revenue, its time put a client acquisition plan into action. If you can't handle any more clients right now, have other sources of work lined up at all times.
- All data should be backed up on a secure server which, if possible, is located off site. These days cloud storage makes backing up data easy and affordable. Information such as contracts and other legal documents should be printed out and stored in a secure location. Schedule a day each month or each week to back up all new data. Start this immediately.
- Smart business owners need to keep an eye on the current state of laws and regulations relating to their business. Make sure you have the systems in place to keep your business operational. If you are not sure how things affect you, contact an attorney with expertise in your industry. A consultation is a lot cheaper than losing your business.
These are relatively simple steps which any business owner can take. While there may be no way to predict the future, proper planning can help turn a major problem into a minor inconvenience.
You have the power to protect your business and your income. Not only will these steps help protect your business; they will help you sleep a little more soundly.
Written by Dave Lavinsky on Sunday, July 21, 2013
You've probably heard the term "a level playing field" which refers to a scenario where everyone has an equal chance of winning.
For example, the desktop computer leveled the playing field by giving individual entrepreneurs virtually the same computing power as individuals working at multi-billion dollar companies.
When starting a business, you should choose a space where the field is level; meaning going into a market where you have a fair chance of winning.
But after you start your business, and/or if you have a more mature business, I encourage you to unlevel the playing field.
What I mean by unleveling the playing field is to make it so that nobody wants to compete against you. I want you to have an unfair advantage (using ethical tactics of course) so that you win the game.
So how can you unlevel the playing field? One of the best ways is to create organizational assets that your competitors don't have.
Here are five examples of organizational assets you can build:
1. Customers: Most mobile phone companies offer 2 year service contracts that all new customers must sign (and face penalties if they leave before the two years are up). This essentially "locks up" customers making it harder for new entrants (or existing entrants) to come in the market and take their customers from them. Customer agreements and contracts are one of the most powerful organizational assets you can build.
2. Systems: Most franchise organizations (e.g., Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds) have made significant investments in systems such as systems to serve customers, produce products, handle customer complaints, etc. These systems make it easier and less expensive to hire and train employees and better service customers, making it harder for others to compete against them. Likewise, I know many companies who have built customized software systems that allow them to perform faster, cheaper, and more consistently than their competitors.
3. PPE (Plant, Property and Equipment): When I was a teenager, I made a lot of money shoveling snow. I used that money to buy a snow blowing machine. Equipped with the snow blowing machine, I was able to remove snow ten times faster than my competitors. This allowed me to dominate the market.
4. Product or Service Variations: A local pizza shop promotes itself as having 36 varieties of pizza. Offering this large variety makes it harder for new pizza companies to enter the market. Because a new company would have a very hard time creating 36 varieties from the start, it would be harder for them to satisfy customers.
5. Partnerships: I've created several partnerships with major websites and organization to be the only business plan provider they promote. This excludes my competitors from working with those organizations and serving their customers.
What I want you to consider now is how you can build organizational assets that unlevel the playing field. How can you make it so that nobody wants to compete against you?
- Can you lock-up customers with agreements and contracts?
- Can you build new systems to make your company more effective and efficient?
- Can you make investments in plant, property and equipment that allow you to cut costs or increase output?
- Can you develop new product and/or service options that better serve customer needs?
- Can you form exclusive partnerships to help you gain new customers that your competitors can't?
Importantly, whatever answers you come up with, realize that building these organizational assets will take time. Often times they may take as much as a year (or even longer). So make sure to properly plan their development. Set a long-term goal for when you want the asset built. And make sure that you build time into your daily, weekly and monthly schedules to move the development forward.
Suggested Resource: Would you like to know the eight other assets you can use to unlevel the playing field and dramatically grow your revenues and profitability? You'll learn this and more in Growthink's 8 Figure Formula. This video explains more.
Written by Jay Turo on Sunday, July 21, 2013
My column last week, where I praised leaders that channeled legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi’s “tough love” leadership approach, prompted a lot of responses - some nice, some not so nice (and not just from the Minnesota Vikings fans out there!).
The most thoughtful ones came back and said, “well that style maybe all well and good if you are running a factory in China, but when it comes to managing younger people (i.e. Millenials - those born after 1982) in modern service businesses, to be effective a "softer" touch is needed.
Points well-taken, so do let me offer here five "Managing Milllenials" best practices:
#5. Revel in the Importance of Company Culture. In a world where everything can and is easily and quickly borrowed, copied, and sometimes just plain old stolen - the only sustainable competitive advantage is how a company organizes and aligns, inspires and challenges its people.
Or, in a word, its company culture.
Taking it further, the modern manager is doubly vexed by the unsettling (yet exciting) reality that the plan today will almost certainly not be the plan tomorrow, and as the plan changes, so must change both individual roles and team dynamics.
And thereby so must the culture change.
Please let’s not jump over this point too quickly. It is all too easy for the ambitious, hard-working, and often older manager to just throw up his or her hands and lament over “these kids” and how “if they only knew how things were like when I was starting out” that they would think and act differently.
And how they should be just happy to have a job and not just be so – well young and self-absorbed.
Well, that is dead-end talk.
Building high-performing 21st century teams requires winning hearts and minds and doing so each day anew. The best managers REVEL in this challenge as opposed to shirking from it or whining about it.
#4. Empowering and Coddling are NOT The Same Thing. Some may read the above and shake their heads and think that this is a “coddling mindset” or entitlement culture and is exactly what has gotten us in America in trouble in the first place and a big part of why China is kicking our you know what every which way.
This is where leadership and administrative creativity are of such importance in building win-win work structures that both inspire and challenge the younger worker to work harder and get better faster.
AND allow for balance and acknowledge those aspects of work that are not so “goal-driven.”
What are these? Well, that sense of community and common cause and healthy friendship and competition that make the best workplaces, for lack of a better word, fun.
And fun, as high-performing cultures like Southwest and Richard Branson’s Virgin have demonstrated so inspirationally is - surprise, surprise - very good for the bottom line.
#3. Understand that Entrepreneurship and Youth Go Hand-in-Hand. Most ambitious young people today don’t grow up dreaming about getting that “good state job” or to work for the same company for 30 years.
Rather, and following up on that overriding sense of “specialness” with which we now raise our children, young people want their star to shine. They want to come up with the new, great ideas, and to be acknowledged and rewarded for it.
They, in essence, want all of the recognition and empowerment and self-definition and financial opportunity that attract people of all ages to become entrepreneurs.
This is a great and good thing, and is at the heart of why we live in golden, global age as young people the world over are being raised with the right kind of high self-esteems to dream and act BIG.
BUT many of even the best of them on balance do not want the headaches and heartaches and vexing, painful choices and compromises that are just as much part and parcel of the real entrepreneurial “lifestyle.”
So how do you work with this? The deep desire and burning ambition that all companies desperately want in their people on the one hand, and a wariness and even a distaste for all of the prosaic, “not fun” stuff on the other?
Well surprise, surprise, this is tough.
A general rule here is as opposed to fighting this energy, go with it and reframe the “tough stuff” as opportunities for personal and professional growth and then profusely recognize and acknowledge these “less fun” challenges are taken on.
Not easy to do for sure, but it is this leadership that both modern organizations and younger workers desperately need and want.
#2. Recognition is Key. Having 2 young sons has helped me immeasurably in understanding the sometimes gentle psyches of younger employees. Long gone are those days of fear and punishment-based parenting and schooling. Rather, understanding that a recognition-based milieu is how most high-performing young people have been raised and schooled is a key to effective organization-building.
The best guidance I have seen on effective “recognition-based” leadership comes from authors Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick in their awesome book “The Carrot Principle.”
They describe recognition done right as being “positive, immediate, close, specific, and shared:”
Positive - managers sometimes mistakenly use a recognition presentation as a time to talk about how far someone has come, or how they could have done even better. This is not the time or place. Comments must be positive and upbeat.
Immediate - too often by the time a worker is recognized for a job well done, weeks if not months have passed. The closer the recognition to the actual performance the better.
Close - recognition is best presented in the employee’s work environment among peers. Invite team members and work friends to attend.
Specific - a great presentation is a time to point out specific behaviors that reinforces key values.
Shared - typically, recognition comes from the top down; however, recognition that means the most often comes from peers who best understand the circumstances surrounding the employee’s performance. Peers, as well as managers and supervisors, should be able to comment during the presentation.
#1. Embrace Fluidity. This is perhaps the hardest reality and where the rubber really hits the road with building 21st century, knowledge-based entrepreneurial organizations dependent on younger people.
They just get up and leave.
On a moment’s notice and often for the simple and defensible reason of valuing experience and variety over the often hum-drum and slow career - building that is part of staying and growing with one organization over time.
Again, as opposed to fighting this energy, go with it. Work to design the organization and refine the business model based on relatively short tenures - say 3 years or less - and with the ability to plug new people in and have them produce quickly.
To accomplish this requires strong and well-defined training styles and processes, clearly defined and “bounded” roles and responsibilities, and a knowledge management system that captures and processes the intelligence of the organization so that it doesn’t walk out the door when that “year overseas” calls.
How About Investors?
As for investors looking for emerging companies to back, my strong suggestion is to evaluate these softer “above the line” qualities in a corporate culture and a leadership team as much as the below line technology and balance sheet factors that are usually at the forefront of an investment evaluation.
For it is the right company culture - one that gets the best out of people of all ages - that both endures and provides for success for the long term.
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