The retail industry's woes have crossed the tipping point...
Already in 2017, we’ve seen these store closing announcements:
JCPenney (138 stores to be shuttered), Radio Shack (552 stores), Payless Shoes (400 stores), Macy's (68 stores), Sears and Kmart (150 stores), The Limited (250 stores), American Apparel (110 stores), BCBG (120 stores), and Staples (70 stores).
This amounts to more than 89,000 retail workers being laid off since October, with sadly many more to come.
The root cause is obvious - the unassailable competitive pressures brought on by the cost, convenience, and customization advantages of e-commerce that builds every passing year (more than $40 billion / year in online cannibalization of retails sales every year since 2013) and now probably has reached the point of no return.
Now let's put aside the cultural implications of a world of hollowed out shopping malls, boarded up down towns, job dislocation and the poignant shift from an in-person commerce model in place since the start of recorded history to us all sitting alone in our underwear and just pressing “click."
Let's put it aside because as business people our jobs are not to engage in wistful sentimentalities, but rather to address economic conditions and technological realities as they are and will be and not as perhaps we would like them to be...
...and plan and act accordingly.
And so the next time we walk by a shuttered store front - especially one of a retailer where perhaps in our youth was a particularly special place (for me it was Radio Shack) it is ok to be sad for a moment but then we must transition quickly to the passionate and even angry feeling that "This will not happen to me and my business!"
That NO our businesses will not be reduced to a statistic, to a misty water-colored memory.
Instead, we will learn from the causes of the fall of traditional retail and not do those things. As in:
So if the writing on the business wall is such that your particular way of doing things is firmly in the cross hairs of the modern technological onslaught, then sometimes the most honorable and profitable (or loss mitigating) thing to do is to accept your business model as it stands now is truly doomed...
...and either radically change it or shut it down and do something else.
Now, the good news is that in the long run it is far easier to win at something that is aligned with modern progress than to fight to keep alive for “just another day” a flawed and anachronistic business model.
So no matter how stuck or old or frustrated we might be, we just gotta believe that a new and better business thing is right around the corner and is ours for the taking...
...because this is the only right kind of sentimentality for our technological age.
Earlier this week Tesla became America's most valuable car maker, with a market capitalization at Monday’s close of $50.9 billion, surpassing that of General Motors for the first time.
Last year, Tesla sold 72,285 cars, with revenues totaling $7 billion, and in so doing accrued $674 million in losses.
In that same time General Motors sold 10 million cars, with revenues totaling $166 billion and in so doing made $9.4 billion in profits.
So many found it interesting that sophisticated investors and market observers decided that Tesla was a more valuable company than GM.
But few found it surprising. Here’s why:
Tesla is led by Elon Musk, one of the most iconic and admired entrepreneurs of the past 50 years. A business leader who has driven fundamental change in two of humankind’s most fundamental technologies - ground and air (through his other company SpaceX) transport.
General Motors is led by Mary Barra, a 37 year veteran insider of GM’s notoriously ponderous bureaucracy.
Tesla's brand, even after just a few short years in business, ranks alongside Porsche, Mercedes, and BMW as one of the most valuable in the world, and its Model S was famously rated as “the best car Consumer Reports had ever tested,” with a perfect 100 score.
And yes Tesla is young (founded 2003) and General Motors is old (founded 1908).
While GM’s age offers some advantages - consumer trust and loyalty, institutional knowledge, assets acquired long ago at low cost basis - these advantages are outweighed by the burdens of age - legacy cost structures, cumbersome decision making, and the challenge of attracting and retaining change and innovation-focused talent to an older organization.
Contrastingly, Tesla’s youth, on balance, is a great advantage.
What it may lack in organizational maturity and depth of industry talent, it more than makes up for in the "Tabula Rasa" benefits of being organizationally new - simplicity and the ability to more easily put into use the best and newest "business things" - technologies, work processes, culture, etc.
In all of the most meaningful and important ways, it is these future prospects that most fundamentally drive business value.
Let us learn from this “Tesla versus GM” comparison and do everything we can to ensure our company’s strategies and tactics are focused more on what might and will happen in our industries and markets as technologies and buyer preferences evolve and far less in what has had and is happening.
Here is an easy shorthand to do so - just ask yourself “What would Tesla do?”
And perhaps even “What would General Motors do?"
The answers that come back will be surprisingly accurate as to what the future forward business decision should and should not be.
Ask and answer this question correctly enough times, and before you know it your company too might be valued as Tesla is...
...on its future prospects and not its past results.
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?
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.
Try these latest measures of business and consumer confidence:
I'm less interested in the reasons why (political and otherwise) these numbers are so rosy as I am as to how businesses of all types of sizes can benefit because of them.
On this April 5th, here are three of my favorites:
#3. Be a Bearer of Good News. At some point, in large swaths of American Society it stopped being "cool" to outwardly express optimism and confidence in both the economy as a whole, and in one's own business in particular.
To heck with that!
Great business leaders are almost always great business cheerleaders.
A habit I love is to start every business conversation with both concrete statistics and heartfelt enthusiasm as to the unique and sustainable opportunities allowed by current economic conditions.
Tone setting like this is always beneficial, but is especially so now because of all of the political noise that too often spills into business conversation.
The sweet spot here is to pull the business positives from the present political landscape, tax and regulatory reform being at the top of the list, and to offer no opinion on anything else (which, in our role as business people is almost always ineffective to comment upon).
#2. Get Granular. Once our “there are windfalls to be had” point of view is out there, then our focus should turn to the “micro-specifics” of delivering to our customers higher quality at a lower cost so to actually earn these windfalls for ourselves.
Delivering higher quality requires examining our products and services under a harsh and microscopic light and asking - “Do they really deliver “wow” experiences and outcomes?
For far too many businesses, the unfortunate answer is either "not really" or that maybe they once did but have become sadly outdated as technology and more innovative competitors have passed them by.
And then doing something about it.
As in tearing our products and services down to their studs and rebuilding them in line with updated technology and evolving customer needs and demands.
And then let’s use that same microscope on the business cost side - ruthlessly looking at all of our processes and personnel and finding the fat and waste and inefficiency and just cutting, cutting, cutting, and optimizing, optimizing, optimizing.
Attacking one of the two sides of the “higher quality / lower cost” business coin will yield good results.
Attacking them both, rapidly, in these great markets well...
...you just may need a wheelbarrow for all the money you'll be making. :)
#1. Run Free. When we combine the stance and mindsets of optimism and confidence with the hard, granular work of products, service and business process improvement...
...from this inspired and healthier base, we can let our entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative business minds and spirits run free.
Run free in how we market, how we sell, how we deliver.
In how we build and sustain a vibrant company culture and team.
And run free in the expanse of possibility and accomplishment we dream for ourselves and our businesses.
Not pollyanna dreams, but dreams grounded in the opportunities of today's markets, and dreams possible because we're willing and eager to do the hard, daily work of continuous, business improvement.
And always with a smile and a skip in our step.
I wish I could just say that if you do X, Y & Z, you'll magically raise millions of dollars for your venture. But unfortunately, that's not how raising capital works.
One key reason for this is that most sources of money, like banks and institutional equity investors (defined as institutions like venture capital firms, private equity firms and corporations that invest), are essentially professional risk managers. That is, they successfully invest or lend money by managing the risk that the money will be repaid or not.
So, your job as the entrepreneur seeking capital is to reduce your investor or lender's risk.
For example, let's say that two entrepreneurs want to open a new restaurant. Which is the riskier investment?
• Entrepreneur A has put together a business plan for the new restaurant.
• Entrepreneur B has also put together a business plan for the restaurant...and he has also put together the menu, secured a deal for leasing space, received a detailed contract with a design/build firm, signed an employment agreement with the head chef, etc.
Clearly investing in Entrepreneur B is less risky, because Entrepreneur B has already has already accomplished some of his "risk mitigating milestones."
Establishing Your Risk Mitigating Milestones
A "risk mitigating milestone" is an event that when completed, makes your company more likely to succeed. For example, for a restaurant, some of the "risk mitigating milestones" would include:
• Finding the location
• Getting the permits and licenses
• Building out the restaurant
• Hiring and training the staff
• Opening the restaurant
• Reaching $20,000 in monthly sales
• Reaching $50,000 in monthly sales
As you can see, each time the restaurant achieves a milestone, the risk to the investor or lender decreases significantly. There are fewer things that can go wrong. And by the time the business reaches its last milestone, it has virtually no risk of failure.
To give you another example, for a new software company the risk mitigating milestones might be:
• Designing a prototype
• Getting successful beta testing results
• Getting the product to a point where it is market-ready
• Getting customers to purchase the product
• Securing distribution partnerships
• Reaching monthly revenue milestones
The key point when it comes to raising money is this: you generally do NOT raise ALL the money you need for your venture upfront. You merely raise enough money to achieve your initial milestones. Then, you raise more money later to accomplish more milestones.
Yes, you are always raising money to get your company to the next level. Even Fortune 100 companies do this - they raise money by issuing more stock in order to launch new initiatives. It's an ongoing process-not something you do just once.
Creating Your Milestone Chart & Funding Requirements
The key is to first create your detailed risk mitigating milestone chart. Not only is this helpful for funding, but it will serve as a great "To Do" list for you and make sure you continue to achieve goals each day, week and month that progress your business.
Shoot for listing approximately six big milestones to achieve in the next year, five milestones to achieve next year, and so on for up to 5 years (so include two milestones to achieve in year 5). And alongside the milestones, include the time (expected completion date) and the amount of funding you will need to attain them.
Example: Launch billboard marketing campaign over 6 months, spending $18,000
After you create your milestone chart, you need to prioritize. Determine the milestones that you absolutely must accomplish with the initial funding. Ideally, these milestones will get you to point where you are generating revenues. This is because the ability to generate revenues significantly reduces the risk of your venture; as it proves to lenders and investors that customers want what you are offering.
By setting up your milestones, you will figure out what you can accomplish for less money. And the fact is, the less money you need to raise, the easier it generally is to raise it (mainly because the easiest to raise money sources offer lower dollar amounts).
The other good news is that if you raise less money now, you will give up less equity and incur less debt, which will eventually lead to more dollars in your pocket.
Finally, when you eventually raise more money later (in a future funding round), because you have already achieved numerous milestones, you will raise it easier and secure better terms (e.g., higher valuation, lower interest rate, etc.).
It might surprise you what you can accomplish with less money! So write up your list of risk mitigating milestones and determine which must be done now and which can wait for later, focusing first on what is most likely to generate revenues.
Suggested Resource: Want funding for your business? Then check out our Truth About Funding program to learn how you can access the 41 sources of funding available to entrepreneurs like you. Click here to learn more.
A great source of funding to start or grow your business is SBA loans.
SBA loans are issued by private banks. However, the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees a percentage of each loan. What this means is the following: if you, the entrepreneur or business owner, default on the loan (i.e., can't pay it back), the issuing bank only loses a small percentage of the money it lent you. The United States government essentially pays for the rest.
Because of this guarantee program, banks don't bear as much risk and are much more prone to issue SBA loans. This makes it easier for entrepreneurs like you to get these loans. Conversely, without the program, banks wouldn't make as many loans, and fewer businesses would get funding.
When small businesses grow, everybody wins. The entrepreneur can start or grow their business. In doing so, they create jobs. And their employees then have money to buy things. And the economy grows.
Small business funding challenges during the recession
But, as you may have noticed, business owners are still having trouble getting access to capital, namely 1) Small dollar loans, and 2) Loans in the niche industries affected by recession, such as real estate, finance, etc.
If you think about it, most small businesses don't need $1 million or even $500,000, and wouldn't even know what to do with it all. In many cases, even $100,000 can go a long, long way towards boosting revenues (or even doubling them) if invested in more lead generation campaigns, building a sales team, etc.
The odds are you can suffice with a smaller loan amount. In the past this has been more difficult because banks are geared towards extending larger loans since they can earn more interest for the same amount of due diligence per loan.
What the SBA is doing for small businesses
The SBA recently launched two loan-guarantee revisions that simplify and streamline paperwork even more for banks and borrowers.
One of them, the Small Loan Advantage program, is off to a strong start. It allows banks to make loans at more affordable rates, and brings more opportunities to borrow smaller loan amounts, like $50,000 to $100,000 or even less....which is great if that's all you need!
Applying for a small SBA loan from banks
To take advantage of this for yourself, find out which local bank makes the most SBA loans. You can often find this information on the bank's website. Or you can visit the branch or call them. Ask them how many SBA loans they make and how often they fund loans in the dollar range of what you need.
Find the local bank that is most active in the SBA loan program and apply for a loan. If the bank says you're not ready for the loan, don't hesitate to ask them why. Ideally, you can then fix the issue, and come back shortly thereafter and get the loan.
The SBA wants you to succeed as an entrepreneur and business owner. As mentioned, when you do, you will create jobs and stimulate the economy. So consider SBA loans as a funding source; they might be perfect for your business.
Suggested Resource: Want funding for your business? Then check out our Truth About Funding program to learn how you can access the 41 sources of funding available to entrepreneurs like you. Click here to learn more.
Is your business healthy and interesting enough to attract an investor and / or buyer to take a “leap of faith" on it?
As in funding / buying it at a price well beyond what its historic “proof” - customers, revenues, cash flows - might reasonably justify?
The hard reality, for most businesses, is that this is just never going to happen.
The equally hard reality is that, again for most businesses, that this is an unfixable problem. Unfixable for reasons including:
Now, I'll get to some options for unfixable businesses in a moment.
But let’s first look at the other side, those “chosen few” companies that opposed to being unfixable have the wind at their backs and oysters at their feet!
These businesses have the "good stuff" going on - growing revenues, healthy margins, next gen technology, cool brands, charismatic leadership - and their main stress is just to decide which of the plentiful, high potential opportunities to pursue.
For these businesses, there are investors and buyers everywhere that are excited to take big leaps of faith and offer them money to grow and / or sell.
With that happy aside, what are those folks at businesses that just feel “unfixable” to do?
Well, the cold truth is that they most likely need to either:
1. Try to sell themselves to a “strategic” buyer - someone to come in and either a) replace tired management with new blood and / or b) exploit “synergies” such as combining a business with strong marketing with one with great products / services or finding efficiencies through reducing redundancies, admin, etc.
2. Just accept that the business just can’t be sold nor fundamentally grown. And then like heck work to just suck as much money out of it as possible before its inevitable demise.
And oh, if there is just not enough money in that unfixable business to make it worth it to keep doing at all?
Well then let's shut it down, cry in our soup for perhaps even more than a little bit, and then move on to that next bigger and far better thing.
So if you are one of the chosen ones, or very much believe that you might be, then go for it full force.
And do so now when conditions are hot like this. Investors and buyers are wanting and waiting to take that chance and leap of faith!
And if you’re not, that is ok too.
Because yes in this 21st Century World of ours, there are a million ways to go.
One of those ways might be to sell the business, another to run it as absolutely best you can as profitably as you can.
It is just always very good to know what you are - and what you're not.
And to then plan accordingly.
The other day I wrote an article entitled "10 Obstacles That Are Limiting Your Growth." In it, I revealed 10 common things that block entrepreneurs and business owners from achieving the success they deserve.
Those 10 obstacles included:
1. Lack of Skill
2. Bad or Negative Attitude
Since Election Day, the stock market has risen more than 15%, and business confidence has reached its highest level in 9 years.
This exuberance was on full display earlier this month with the Snap IPO, both the first big tech IPO of 2017 and one that performed above even its most optimistic expectations, with a market valuation at today’s market close north of $24 billion.
For a company with less than $500 million in revenues, and that last year lost $47 million.
Remarkable on one level, but when viewed through the wider lenses of the bullish outlook for the economy and the “it just goes on and on” low interest rate environment, not entirely surprising.
While frothy conditions like these have characterized past markets, the dynamics of this "Trump Rally" just feel different.
Let’s start with the dynamic of tone.
Quite simply, when the highest profile person in the world's economy - the U.S. president - is in so many ways a pure “promoter personality,” that this quality of “hype and sizzle” is only naturally more rewarded and expected.
For executives seeking to launch new products, raise capital, and / or to sell their companies at a high valuation, this does not mean just “blowing hot air” is an effective strategy but...
...it does mean that if ever there was a time where talking through the more “optimistic scenarios” as to our business forecasts is both okay and to be expected, then that time is certainly now.
The next dynamic is political.
With Republicans in control of most levers of the Federal Government, big policy changes affecting huge swaths of the U.S. economy are potentially coming - to health care, taxes, regulations, infrastructure, trade, immigration, and more.
Whatever your political opinions are of these changes, they are on the minds of business and investment decision-makers everywhere.
And so we all need a plan as to how to react and profit from them.
A third dynamic not entirely unique to this rally, but always characteristic of bull markets is the heightened value placed on speed and velocity.
In this context, a long time Silicon Valley venture capital colleague of mine shared with me his views on a low revenue, no profit but $2 billion+ valuation company in which his firm was invested.
He said he and his partners felt at least 25% of that valuation - or $500 million dollars - was driven solely by the charismatic and “velocity-focused” leadership of that company’s CEO and founder.
Yes, investors were willing pay a half billion dollar premium for a leader capable of driving fast business action and results.
These are both strange and uniquely encouraging times and markets.
The future remains uncertain, but for now the guidance is to bake speed, political awareness, and perhaps even more than a bit of hype into your business model and presentation...
...and watch both your business results and its value soar.
P.S. Recorded Webinar: Five Steps to Maximize Your Valuation in the "Trump Economy"
Please follow this link for a recorded video webinar - Five Steps to Maximize Your Valuation in the "Trump Economy" - where I discuss the 5 steps you can take to dramatically increase the sale price of your business, and dramatically decrease the time needed to achieve it, including:
To listen to the recorded webinar, follow the below link:
There are many mental and personal blockages that can hinder you from achieving your full potential in business. Blockages in business can be compared to fatty deposits around your arteries that impede blood pumped from the heart from reaching its destination.
For you to succeed in your business, you must identify and eliminate such blockages promptly.
Here are 10 common blockages that can impede your success. As you read through the list, mark any of them that might be affecting you and/or your business:
1. Lack of Skill - As information increases, many business owners soon find out that there is much to learn. Whether it's getting up to date on new tax laws, learning about social media, or practicing negotiation techniques, take the time to keep your skills sharp.
2. Bad or Negative Attitude - While it may be easy to learn new skills, attitude is what makes or breaks a company. Whether you think you can or think you can't - you're right! Check your attitude frequently.
3. Lack of Focus - I always tell people that if they do one thing, they can do an A+ job; but that the second they do something else, they can only do a B+ job on each. And the bottom line is that to succeed in business, you must do an A job or better. So, make sure you focus on specific projects so you can excel at them.
4. Procrastination - Procrastination is high among the top five time wasters. Creating deadlines is an effective way of preventing procrastination. Though it may feel restrictive or even stressful, having a deadline can activate your brain and infuse new thoughts and ideas.
5. Monotony - It pays to try out something new once in a while. There is always a new instructional video with a different method from the text book methods learned in school. Doing something differently offers you the necessary relief from the routine and repetition that is common in many businesses.
6. Control Issues - Sometimes the tiny voice in your head may urge you not to give up control, so you end up micromanaging everything. It is important to have faith in the people you hire. Hiring qualified people for your business helps you to focus on specific tasks and minimizes your chances of overworking yourself.
7. Overworking Yourself - Sometimes you may overwork yourself even without realizing it. When you get overworked, you become less productive. Take it easy, go on vacation if possible. Your decision-making abilities become compromised when you are tired. Stick to a schedule and get some rest.
8. Seeking Approval - In business, you may sometimes unconsciously or even consciously wait for someone to encourage you or give you permission to take a step. Acknowledge your own abilities and make decisions on what is best for business, not based on pride of emotional approval.
9. Lack of Creativity - Keeping a journal can remedy a lack of creativity. Sometimes a new idea will pop up at a random time or place. Jotting down ideas and inspirations helps to unblock your mind. Apart from noting down random ideas for future reference, journals provide a useful way to track personal progress.
10. Thinking Small - With the current technological capabilities, it is easy to access success stories. Surround yourself with people who think big. Read books, blogs and watch motivational videos, etc. In business, if you aim low, you strike low. Aim high.
How many of these blockages did you circle? There is no right or wrong answer. Whether you picked one or twenty, you have work to do. Study the blockages you marked and start with the one you feel is impacting you the most.
Work on removing this blockage for 30 days. Then pick the next one that is having an impact on your business and start working on that one. As you stretch beyond your comfort zone and tear down barriers, your business will grow.