Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

Customer is King

by Guy Ralfe on April 14, 2010

As I continue to share my experiences in the journey from corporate jockey to being an owner and entrepreneur it amazes me how similar business is, irrespective of which vertical or market sector you operate in.

I have moved from the high tech IT solution delivery to application of specialty coatings in the construction world. What is very apparent is that business seems to be the same at successful companies. Contrary to conventional understanding business is not about the product. Yes product is important but not fundamental in a way that customers are.

There is a saying “Take care of your customers and the business will follow

I have found this to be true looking back at the various companies I have worked at and when business has been good. Where I see the challenge is that most people don’t stop and think who the customer is for them or their organization.

This last week I watched a TV program Undercover Boss, which featured Chris McCann, President and COO of 1-800-Flowers.com going undercover to visit franchise stores to get a better understanding of what they could improve.  What became very clear is that they had lost focus of who their customers were – yes ultimately it was the consumer of their product but along the way the franchise store is actually their primary customer. What was amazing to see was that even though the product (arranged flowers and chocolates) were the same for the stores the individual stores success hinged on the relationships the staff created with the customers. And by the same measure the challenges that the franchise stores were facing was as a result of a neglected relationship with the central franchisor management.

In reflecting on how we transact, think about the people that you socialize with and who you call for help or favors in your network. Without giving it much thought you go out your way to take care of them and maintain the relationship. These relationships work in a symbiotic or balanced manner and just as when you feel down they help you through. So too should you be doing the same for your customers, both internal and external.

As another quote I found says – “If you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will….

Support for Success

by Guy Ralfe on April 7, 2010

Now that I have officially started my journey as a business owner and entrepreneur, but still in the honey moon phase I can share some stark realities about starting a new venture.

Most importantly it takes guts and lots of support. At the age of 38 with a wife and two young children to support, I am leaving a secure and stable employment to relocate half way across America, to the mid-west, to start a new company in one of the worst economic environments the world has known. Making this decision consumed a lot of thinking time and with this uncertain background, produced by the media, conventional thinking does not leave you in a sane place.

I have been looking for this opportunity to begin a new business for over 6 years now, I still do not have enough guts of my own to start this – and this is why I say you need lots of support. To give you an indication of the support I am using to get this off the ground:


Business Partner –
I have a business partner that already has a very successful business in the same vertical that can provide operational expertise and contacts within the industry to minimize the lead generation and prospecting phase of starting out.
The partner approach allows for the lowering and distribution of start-up overheads, much like  an Incubation start-up.
Laws, expectations, codes of conduct, processes that can take so much time to learn and often expensive when starting out, can be circumvented.

Financial – contrary to what you may think about business, it does not all center around the business plan, it centers around the execution. You can make all the sales in the world but if you cannot cash-flow the operation then you can never think about being profitable.

Most companies will need capital to start. I have  acquired a reasonable amount of assets, which are valuable to me but they are not all seen equally valuable to my financiers. Start to think about what instruments you can use for financing before you want to begin your business.

What type of assets do you hold? –  as that affects the ratio by which banks will offer/secure lines of credit.
What is your credit score? – what can you do to minimize the impact on your credit score leading up to opening your business.

What do you need to execute your operations – transport, utilities, insurance, offices, systems, subscriptions? They all send bills regularly and all expect payment regularly.

Industry Knowledge Partners – if you are like me and are wanting to start in a field in which you are not an expert, you will need knowledge experts that can guide you through the rapids in your journey. Look to building relationships with people such as:

Suppliers

Competitors

Lawyers/ Regulatory Bodies

Accountants

Customers (though customers do prefer to deal with experts so use this avenue selectively)

Personal Support – we all have our moments when we think we are the Lone Ranger and we can do it all on our own. As I have written about before, consider the impact one decision may have on other aspects of your life.

One such aspect is your family and close friends. This opportunity wasn’t an option until it became an opportunity for my family too – and I thank them for their support.

So yes it has still taken all the guts I have to make this exciting start, my sanity could be questionable and it sure was not due to conventional thinking that I was able to choose this – it is only possible to rationalize and make this choice because of the support and help that is in place.

Week In Review – Mar 28 – Apr 3, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on April 4, 2010

Business Intelligence or lack thereof?

by Brian Beedle, Mar 29, 2010

In these tough economic times, it is imperative that organizations make strategic changes rapidly. Traditionally, business leaders are focused on the profitability and the lower rungs don’t have the business intelligence to make serious impact. The answer lies in implementing a performance management system. Brian discusses some key factors you need to be cognizant of before you take the plunge. more…

Leadership Cancers #3: The myth of peak performance

by Gary Monti, by Mar 30, 2010

You know the story of Apollo 13. The entire ground team worked round the clock for several days to bring the astronauts back. The team performed at the peak level. Realistically, you cannot expect this team or any team to perform at that level continuously. There is a normal performance level and we need to strive to improve the normal performance level. But striving for peak performance all the time will burn people out and will setup the team and the organization for failure. more…

Timing the Flood

by Guy Ralfe, Mar 31, 2010

Timing is everything. It involves being at the right place at the right time and then evaluating the offer’s risk vs. opportunity. Guy’s current situation has put him in the right place for offers to be made. And he is evaluating the offers within his current capability. more…

How to handle any situation

by Vijay Peduru, Apr 1, 2010

Life is nothing but a series of situations. How we handle them determines how our life shapes up. We can approach situation will resignation or anger. But these are not powerful moves and will not enhance your life. Deal with situations in a mood of possibility and see a new and wonderful world open up for you. more…

Author’s Journey #15 – Crafting the perfect book proposal

by Roger Parker, Apr 2, 2010

Your book proposal for your first book is among the most important documents you’ll ever prepare. The purpose is two fold: 1) Sales pitch 2) Marketing plan. A typical proposal has seven sections described in this article. Think of your book proposal as an investment. more…

more…

Past is NO way to the Future

by Guy Ralfe on March 24, 2010

In many aspects of life we look to the past performance to gauge the expected future performance. Not to be confused with the warning label on all financial institution advertisements “”Past performance is no indication of future returns”. Ironically though, every financial product sold is positioned based on its past performance. We see this reference to the past particularly in sports, where carefully compiled statistics are processed and constantly fed back during commentaries. In hiring interviews people are often asked how they handled a past situation to get an indication of what could be expected in the future.

Of particular memory was the New England Patriots winning streak in the 2007 NFL season where they won 18 straight games leading up to the Super Bowl. Their past record had been perfect up to that point and it was hard to believe that it wouldn’t continue through the Super Bowl game. I can remember the optimism and near certainty going into the game (even though I knew nothing about the sport of Football having been brought up on Rugby) just based on the historical performance. Unfortunately that Super Bowl was not to be for the Patriots.  Up to the point of losing the Super Bowl game, the historical statistics had been brandished around with such hype in the media, news and commentary, then suddenly they became obsolete and no longer relevant and the world immediately moved on. At times the statistics seem to appear as certainties/facts and you see the future as such.

What we tend to forget is that even though it is the Patriots playing there are some fundamental changes taking place between the games that from an objective point of view would not have us so focused on these statistics of the past to predict the future. The patriots only made up half the game, the New York Giants had also fought their way through to the Super Bowl and rightfully had their statistics to call upon.

This applies directly to business also, just because a situation turned out one way has little to no bearing on the next situation unless it is identical – has all the same players, having the same concerns and ambitions. What we can do however is learn from the experience and keep it in our background as we navigate our way through similar situations. The distinction is that the statistics/ past experiences/ history are kept in our background and should not become the lens through which we navigate our future situations.

This leads me to share an experience just recently where Himanshu Jhamb and I were collaborating on one of our upcoming Active Garage projects. A clear request had been made of me via email to perform some functional testing. Himanshu inquired on my progress to which I replied something like “ Previously when I have offered my help or provided feedback I had been passed over  so I did not feel it was urgent to partake in this request or that any input would be considered so I haven’t done any testing”.  Thankfully Himanshu set me straight by saying “ Guy! you are speaking a number of things not mentioned in the email but clearly they are in your head…” It was only at that point that I suddenly realized that I was looking through the lens of the past in approaching the future and this severely hampered my ability to make an objective assessment and my actions were not appropriate for the situation – the stats suddenly became useless!

Keep the past as knowledge to reference, then deal with the situation at hand working with the future in mind. This way you can build respect, trust and opportunities.

Save Energy, be on the Offensive

by Guy Ralfe on March 17, 2010

In rugby there is a saying “it is easy to play well behind a winning pack”. For those that are not familiar with the game in each side there are 15 players of which 8 of them, “the pack”, work to maintain the possession of the ball and create space for the running backs to break through the oppositions defenses. One of the facts of sports, is that it consumes far more energy defending your position than it takes to continually attack your opposition.

I observed a situation recently on a project, that demonstrated this exact same principle. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise as projects are a team sport in  a way just competing against the opposition of time, resources and money. The project I observed had slipped somewhat over time and now that the final delivery was more firmly set in sight, it was apparent that not all could be delivered by the required delivery date.

The delivery date was fixed, but how the project and product managers presented the situation to the stakeholders was that if they wanted to meet the date they would have to forfeit some functionality requests. The stakeholders did not like the position as they had already settled on the bare bones delivery, as the project had consumed all available slack to the current point. Naturally this placed the stakeholders in a difficult position.

What seems to get lost in this play is that now the direction and decision capability is placed 100% in the stakeholders hands. Another key point is that the project had originally committed to delivering the functionality as part of the original scope, but now it is seen as a type of “scope creep” or “nice to have” and must be relinquished. Clever positioning by the project and product managers.

What I was also fortunate enough to witness is the behavior of the teams supporting this project. Because the project manager had lost control of the project over time, the project manager role turns into this ongoing defense of the current status and a slow ongoing erosion of deliverables. Like playing behind a losing pack in any sport, defending your situation on a project consumes time and energy – think of all the ancillary requests to your team members to test things out and provide feedback on how long xyz will take for the next project meeting. All this activity consumes rather than producing for the project and the situation just continues to get worse over time.

As a Project Manager you have to take charge and be the one to declare the future of the project with the support of the stakeholders. Don’t quit on the original commitment, rather try and declare what can be done for the delivery date and plan to make good on the original promise. This way you are in the driving seat and your team will feel compelled and motivated to play your game in the offense.

Don’t be on the defense, it will wear your team out – take charge and lead the offense to capitalize on the effort you have available. It is essential the project manager,” the pack”, is leading the way and creating opportunity for the team not stifling it with indecision.

Dancing for your Tribe

by Guy Ralfe on March 11, 2010

For the 4th time in my life I am resigning and taking a step into the unknown world of no job. This time I am doing it on a small scale, I am only moving my family across 8 states and not between continents. I don’t know what it is – maybe we just have a strong nomadic gene!

I have been working at Maconomy for a little over 3 ¼ years and am closing the door on the most exciting, hectic, challenging and learning chapter in my career. I would like to say a big Thank You to all at Maconomy who have pushed, supported, helped and laughed with me. If  you think you have the heart and attitude to be a business consultant, there are few finer places to refine your skills than at Maconomy

Before I lose you  – this is not about my career, but rather the reflections about making the decision to move and how vital networks and tribes are to being able to perform such drastic moves. For a long while I have had the ambition to branch out and become an entrepreneur but the opportunity has just never seemed to be there (bad luck?). But suddenly this opportunity has presented itself (luck?) and it makes sense to the point that I am willing to trade one tribe for another and turn the world I know upside down.

I hear people saying “you are lucky” and my response has often been “you make your own luck” and I speculate that there is a close resemblance between luck and the company we keep. There is  a lot of talk around tribes in the social networking space which may be a key to how an opportunity appears as suddenly available. I have had the ambition to start a business venture for the longest while, but what has lacked is another tribe in which I have been able to create an identity in which the opportunity can be exposed. Once this opportunity was exposed and I assessed I could coexist within the new tribe the natural movement is to make the transition. Rajesh Setty posted a great article on why nice people will win – the realization of this opportunity for me is just a positive consequence of making those connections and maintaining an existence to another networked tribe.

We have to have an identity and a presence with which people can make a connection and assessments across our networks. If we do not have this people will not think of us and we will just blend into the crowd and the opportunity will pass us by …and be snatched up by the colorful and loud person nearby! This is why it is so important to ensure we maintain a presence in the social networks we choose, and to leave an impression with those we meet and interact with.

Another similar example was our saleslady, who wished to make contact with a company. After a search on LinkedIn she found out that I was connected to someone who had worked at the company. This person had just sent me a LinkedIn invite after a ½ day meeting we had had some 8 months earlier. I really was not sure he would remember me, but I reached out to him to see if he could make an introduction. Surprisingly, he did remember me and was willing to help make an introduction. That is seizing the opportunity …not Luck!

So go make some noise, post a status update, tweet, call someone – get out there and pick your opportunity – Dance for your tribe!

What’s your ante?

by Himanshu Jhamb on March 1, 2010

If you have ever played poker (and I know there are many experts out there who can beat me hands-down belly-up!), you know what ante is. Simply put, it’s the wager you have to bet without an inkling of the hand that has been dealt to you or in other words It is the wager that you have to bet that simply qualifies you to ‘play’ in the game. Then there are many tables, each table with different stakes. You can choose which table you want to sit at and play on depending on how much money you have.

Business is very similar to poker. It requires us to wager something – an ante before we even have an inkling of the hand that is dealt to us. Think about the investment you have to make in order to bring a product to market or start your next entrepreneurial venture or even the new job that you get. In each of these situations there is this pesky ante that you cringe to put down but have to put down in order to play on the table! Here’s how the ante appears in each of these situations:

  1. Bringing a product to the market: You put your time, money (maybe not yours!) and energy as ante in building the product, doing your market research & getting help from others.
  2. Starting your entrepreneurial venture: Your ‘skin-in-the-game’ is pretty much your ante here.
  3. Getting a new job: You apply for your dream job, excel in that interview, land the job and within 2 months realize that what you’re doing is nothing like what you had imagined you’d be doing (Err.. I mean this in a negative way). In this case, all the effort that you put in to the point where you started the new job is your Ante.

My point so far: There is an ante in every game you play (Business being a game, too… )

Here’s the golden question: Is the table you are sitting at (which basically determines what ante you put) is the right table for what you want to achieve?

Consider this example: You are 45 years old & have plans of retiring with $4M in your bank account at the age of 65. You currently have $1M saved up. You make $100K a year. That’s a gap of $3M you have to cover in 20 years. You don’t need to be a math whiz to notice that it is impossible to get to this number with what you are making currently – You are basically sitting at the wrong table! because regardless of how well you play at this table, you’re never going to make your goal of $4M!

So you figured out that you’re sitting and playing at a table where no matter how well you play (heck! you might be the best player) you’re still not going to make it to your goal.

Now what?

Before you decide to take the leap of faith and move to the high-ante table, be aware that as you move up to the high-ante, the competition gets thick too. The players at the high-ante table are no pushovers. In fact, one mistake there and they’ll wipe you out before you know what hit you! So, yes – by all means, quit playing at the table where you are not going to make it BUT continue playing at the low-ante table until you are Skilled enough to move higher up and be the best player at the high-ante table!

… and of course, the last piece of advice and perhaps the most important to remember – Know when you have made it to your goal, get up from the table and go play a new game!

Good luck!

What Are You Waiting For?

by Robert Driscoll on January 14, 2010

As we enter this jobless recovery in 2010, it won’t be big business that will pick up the economy.  Once again, it will be the small business entrepreneurs.  News agencies and financial firms follow what the CEO’s of major firms foresee for 2010 to see when the light at the end of the tunnel will become visible.  What many people don’t realize is that small businesses employ over half of all private sector employees and generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.  It is small businesses and entrepreneurs who will bring us out of this slump.

While the days of working for one employer during your professional career are long over, big business continues to squeeze more perks out of their employees to cut expenses. Almost a third of Fortune 1000 companies have now frozen their pension plans in an effort to control expenses. US wages and salaries rose at record lows according to the Labor Department in 2009.  Over the past 12 months, wages and salaries only rose 1.5 percent making it the lowest increase since the figures started to be collected in 1982.

Wages for non-managerial workers have fallen by 1.4 percent so far this year, according to an article in USA Today, and are on track for even further declines. The official unemployment rate has reached 9.8 percent, and when one takes into account discouraged workers and people who are underemployed, it is at 17 percent, possibly higher.  And for 2010, while more employers state that they will be hiring more employees, it’s nothing to write home about as it’s not much higher than 2009.

With the marketplace now changing faster than ever and forcing businesses to adapt more quickly, more employers will have to rethink their hiring efforts as they look to their employees to be more flexible as well.  This request from big business employers to employees for flexibility will be: increasing and decreasing work hours depending on demand; the continued request to do-more-for-less; continue to learn new skills.  How do you think employees are reacting to this?  According to a survey of 2900 companies done by Careerbuilder.com revealed that nearly a quarter of them rate their organization’s morale as low.  So what can you do during these tough economic times?  You can be thankful that you have a job and suck it up or you can make a change.

Recently a good friend of mine told me that he was considering quitting his corporate job in the northeast and moving to the mid-west to help a family member of his grow his small business and take it to the next level.  While he would initially be taking a pay cut, the opportunity for growth and exceeding his income today is enormous, but he worries about leaving his “comfortable” corporate job.  He called me to ask me for my opinion.  I told him that there are risks in working for a small business, or for that matter, helping to start one, but in today’s uncertain economy, there aren’t any more uncertainties working for big business as there are working for a small company.  The difference, I told him, is that there will be nothing more fulfilling than creating something that is his and being in control of his financial destiny.  I asked him what he’s waiting for and when he’s leaving to start his new journey.  I hope it’s soon.

So ask yourself, “Am I happy?” or, “Is my career/job fulfilling?” If not, then what are you waiting for to change it?

What Matters NowI am privileged to have had the opportunity to preview Seth Godin’s upcoming ebook What Matters Now prior to its launch. First off, there is little I can write here that will be of any substitute for reading the actual ebook.

This is a brilliant work and you must read it for 4 key reasons:

  • Timing – It is the end of the year and those pesky new year’s resolutions are upon us. This book will provoke your thoughts, stimulate your ambition and orientate you for action in the coming year.
  • Power – Seth Godin has brought in 72 thought leaders to provide their version of “What Matters Now.” This is providing us a sneak peek into the minds of these thought leaders with minimum time investment from us.
  • Network – Through this book you get access to the recognized thought leaders of today, what they are up to and how to tap into their networks – very valuable.
  • Diversity – Each contributor has presented their work in their own desired format, which in conjunction with the powerful messages produces a lesson in the art of communication.

The eBook comprises a page per topic word, with diverse topics as Strengths; Poker; Harmony; DIY; Change; Confidence; Productivity, to which a contributor per topic has shared their insight and knowledge, primarily producing a sense of reflection and thought to each topic.

I found it triggered many emotions and thoughts associated with each topic. As fast as they were triggered, when I flipped the page to read the next topic, the sensation was repeated – it is like being in a conversation with the author of each topic.

Later in the  day after reading the book, as I moved about I found I was pondering my situation and reflecting back on what I had read earlier. I think this is one of those books you keep with you as a guide. The format makes for a very easy read and great if you need to read in byte-size slots.

To give you a little insight to the content and contributors – Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App: How to win business and Influence Friends wrote on the topic of Confidence – Tim speaks of confidence as the “Rocket fuel for your business life”. He then exposes the problem in confidence – “Most people don’t cultivate confidence – it just lands on them due to favorable conditions… Good times make for confident people. Bad times crush them, along with their daring point of view”

How true has this been over the last year? Tim then prescribes some sensible action to avoid this situation.

To demonstrate the contrast in presentation Jessica Hagy, author of the blog Indexed drew a simple picture on an index card and it produced just as much thought on the topic of Facts!

facts-by-jessica-hagy

Do yourself the favor and download the ebook – but more importantly read it! If you can’t do that then please send the link to someone you care about because they will appreciate it.

Download free now –What Matters Now

Notice the Exit as an Entrepreneur

by Guy Ralfe on December 2, 2009

exitHave you noticed how you live life and then suddenly one day you notice “something”, seemingly for the first time? Then after noticing that “something”, it seems to be hounding you – they just suddenly appear everywhere?

One of the best examples is the emergency exit sign at the movies. Amazing how an illuminated red/green sign in a dark room just goes unnoticed. Think back to the last film you watched and see if you recall  where the emergency exit was? Yes it was there, law requires it be there and clearly visible too!! You probably even left through the emergency door afterwards.

So what does this have to do with business? It occurred to me that many entrepreneurs start something that they identify as missing, flawed or incomplete. The fact that they are able to vision this means that they have a concern for this need and that is why they can notice it. This is good from the point of visioning, but it will also prove very difficult to get investors, partners and consumers interested until they too can see the need.

For big organizations they put their new products in front of us through marketing and advertising and telling us the story of the possibilities the new product will create for us. This gets it quickly adopted and widely noticed. For the entrepreneur it is a far longer and slower process. In the same way a salesman looks at his prospects and tries to convert as many to sales, the entrepreneur must maximize every interaction to ensure that the listener leaves with a clear vision of this product’s need, and the space of possibilities it will create once  in the world.

Once your listener can notice, they too will suddenly feel like they are being hounded by the opportunities for your product – and they too will then unconsciously become your speaker. This is important from a promotional point of view but more important in drawing in interested parties to build your products network.

Make sure you produce the vision every time in your listener, because that is where you will get the most powerful interaction, these listeners will see the exit signs like the fire alarm was ringing. If the listener leaves with a blurred vision, they will not notice that exit sign but take the exit!