Olwen Dawe – Tweak Your Biz https://tweakyourbiz.com Business, Marketing, Entrepreneur Articles. Tue, 17 Jul 2018 08:40:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 https://tweakyourbiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/cropped-tyb_trans-32x32.png Olwen Dawe – Tweak Your Biz https://tweakyourbiz.com 32 32 Mentoring: Getting The Know-How You Need To Succeed https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2014/11/12/mentoring-getting-know-need-succeed https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2014/11/12/mentoring-getting-know-need-succeed#respond Wed, 12 Nov 2014 13:00:41 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=8817 Mentoring is an-often quoted support for business, but does it really work?

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Mentoring has become something of a buzz-word of late. In part because the recent economic turbulence has propagated many nascent entrepreneurs, but also as these new businesses start and grow, support and advice is needed to assist their trajectory.

What is the value of mentoring?

The value of mentoring is regularly questioned, often without justification, however, its impact and usefulness can be diluted for many reasons. In my own experience, mentoring can be prescribed as a ‘quick fix’ or generic support for a business. Undoubtedly, this is not the right approach for any individual or organisation.

First and foremost, any soft support must be needs-led, and not simply delivered as a one-size-fits-all solution. While new entrepreneurs grapple with the almost-overnight requirement for multi-disciplinary skills – there are always aptitudes which can be quickly harnessed, and weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Mentoring for Start-Ups

For many start-up business owners, any help is some help – however I am a firm believer in defining or scoping out where you most require a knowledgeable mentor, and focusing on the right fit for your need. That may sound like a pretty basic assumption, but in times of complete chaos [which is the standard terrain of a start-up], these things can be overlooked.

Identifying the right fit means finding the right personality too; in fact, engaging a mentor is almost the same as a new-hire. Your mentor should understand the culture, vision and character of your organisation – otherwise, the relationship will not be a fruitful one.

Objectives and Outcomes

Another basic assumption often overlooked? Objectives and outcomes. Working with a mentor is absolutely pointless without a series of clear objectives. They should be discussed, agreed and a timeline adopted for delivery. Ultimately, a mentor is someone who simply provides the right set of skills required at a crucial time in the organisations’ development – they should guide, inform and shape – with a clear focus on engagement and collaboration.

What’s the difference between a mentor and an advisor?

Most organisations will have experience of both during their life-cycle, and for different reasons. Typically, an advisor will operate slightly differently to a mentor – though with a similar frame-of-reference. They may be akin to a virtual manager or member of staff, and will normally undertake a core area of responsibility or project as their focus. Mentors tend remain as an external ‘viewpoint’ on the general development of the organisation – or a specific area of it – they will suggest alternative options and flag concerns. In essence, depending on your organisations’ stage of development or requirement, you may need a mentor or an advisor… perhaps both!

Finally, it’s always worth measuring and validating mentoring (and indeed, advisory) inputs – ask yourself, what did we really achieve? Can we articulate the distinct benefits created or did we realise intangible but beneficial outcomes? Business, particularly start-up is an ever-evolving creature, which demands plenty of learning and evaluation – find out what works and what doesn’t work for your organisation.

Images: ”Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable personShutterstock.com

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Getting Buy-In From The Right People https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2014/06/03/getting-buy-in-from-the-right-people https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2014/06/03/getting-buy-in-from-the-right-people#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:11:18 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/?p=10691 When we hear the words 'buy-in' - what are we thinking? Oftentimes, it's about getting financial backing, or the support of a board-member or investor, perhaps an enterprise agency's commitment to our proposal or proposition. In every instance, buy-in comes down to securing a key outcome by bringing people with you and successfully communicating your story.

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When we hear the words ‘buy-in’ – what are we thinking? Oftentimes, it’s about getting financial backing, or the support of a board-member or investor, perhaps an enterprise agency’s commitment to our proposal or proposition.  In every instance, buy-in comes down to securing a key outcome by bringing people with you and successfully communicating your story.

How does buy-in work and how do you get it?

Recently, in the context of a programme I’m currently working on, I was asked – so how does buy-in work, and most importantly, what’s the best way to make sure you get it? There are some simple steps that will help you in every instance, but most critically, doing your homework is the best place start.

What do I mean when I say homework? Well, first and foremost – no meeting or presentation should be approached without basic preparation.  I know we don’t always get abundant amounts of time to prep, but some straightforward tactics can be employed to assist in this situation!  Remember that, in most instances, you are being asked to attend a meeting or have set about initiating interaction for a very specific reason – so have that output in mind, but be aware that you also need to consider the stakeholder’s perspective.

Think about the person, organisation or authority you’re going to talk to

So, rule number one – think about the person, organisation or authority you’re going to talk to – what’s their story? What are they looking for? What are their expectations?  It’s key that you don’t steamroller in with all your information, without understanding what their agenda is.

How might you do this? Well, put simply, it’s about doing a bit of intelligence gathering.  Sometimes this is extremely straightforward – and easily done by cursory internet searches or similar approaches.  If this doesn’t deliver what you’re looking for, it may be helpful to ask colleagues or contacts who have dealt with the organisation or individual, or to access other primary reference points – such as articles or profiles.  It’s really important that you know what matters to this person or organisation and why that is.

What do you want to achieve?

The next critical step is in getting a clear-sighted view on what you wish to achieve or your objectives for meeting or engaging with this stakeholder.  It might be straightforward – you’re seeking funding or applying for a specific support – or more unique to your needs,  a strategic alliance or promotional relationship.  Whilst being well-versed on the stakeholder’s views is hugely important, you must now begin to ‘put together the jigsaw’ of your rationale.  So, what is it we want to achieve? What are we expecting from this meeting? What messages about ourselves and our organisation, its plans and successes do we need to really communicate? Being clear in what your output or objective is, underpinned by your business’s journey and [from my earlier point] why the stakeholder might wish to ‘buy-in’ – creates a very effective ‘buy-in jigsaw’ for you.

Know your story

Know your story.  Be passionate about what has driven your business, concept or product – remember that people buy people.   They also buy the quality of the proposition and the passion that drives it.  Be authentic.  Be yourself.  But avoid being too casual. If there are issues that you know may crawl out of the woodwork, be prepared to address them – you will lose buy-in straight away if you hide or ignore something that could be easily explained, or clarified.  Again, remember – people, proposition, passion.  Don’t be mechanical.  The best outcomes are achieved when there is fluidity, and ease in interaction.

Finally, always be comfortable to take questions – and if you don’t know, say it, but revert with the answer when you have it. Remember, where buy-in is concerned… authenticity is critical.

Images: “Young woman presenting business plan to financial investorShutterstock.com

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The Crucial ‘Art’ Of Communication https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2014/02/27/crucial-art-communication https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2014/02/27/crucial-art-communication#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 15:00:51 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/?p=10124 Olwen Dawe talks about the central, crucual role of communication in business and why every business should make sure their communication is clear.

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Hands-up, how many times have you heard the following statements in a business context: ‘I didn’t know they did that?’, ‘Oh, I thought they offered that service!’… or ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to do that’, ‘wasn’t that your job?’… ‘we were never told that was the plan’.

Now I ask you this: what is the central theme linking all of these statements?

 

Yes, you got it: communication.

You see, communication is the oft’ forgotten yet critically important conduit for generally positive outcomes in business.  When you’re starting out, you need to communicate with your chosen or target customers and extract the knowledge only they can provide you about whether your product is good, or if it’s rubbish, why that is the case [more of which, see Eric Ries ‘Lean Startup‘].  Now, that’s a topic in and of itself… but you get the idea.

When we’re established, and growing – we’re constantly refining how we communicate what we offer – ensuring our messaging captures the hearts and minds of our customers.  We’re also re-evaluating how we say what we say [are we sending the right message?] and to whom.  Remember, customers change and needs change…  Technology is continually evolving, new media emerging – this also affects how we communicate.

Communication is also centrally involved in our business relationships; I read recently that more and more businesses rely on remote communication both internally and externally.  Time paucity? Possibly.  Good excuse? No.  You must talk, and talk to your people – be they customers, staff or stakeholders – regularly.

So, I hear you ask – that’s all fine and well – we get the why, but what about the how?

My view?  Good communication starts internally. You need to know what you’re about, who that matters to and why.  Values are critical.  Building a team that shares your values and understands why they are what they are makes the business of communication a far simpler task.  

Most importantly, building the value of communication –  in and of itself –  into your business’s ethos will serve to further reinforce good practice.  In essence, bringing people with you is easily done by… [wait for it] communication.

Now, let’s go back to those first few statements again – and think about why they might be problematic for your organisation. Well, for one – if someone doesn’t know what you do, they’re going to have difficulty using your service or buying your products.  Think about the other challenges posed… if your team don’t understand what it is they should be doing, or more importantly why they should be doing it, that’s hardly a good thing?

Communication is a crucial – and simple – art to master.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming it will just happen in your organisation – set the right foundations for it and ensure it’s a key value which everyone operates by.

Images: ”Tiny people communicating through a vintage megaphone  / Shutterstock.com

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What Will 2014 Bring You? https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2014/01/11/will-2014-bring https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2014/01/11/will-2014-bring#comments Sat, 11 Jan 2014 13:00:04 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=7821 2014. A New Year brings new opportunities... what will 2014 bring you?

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The New Year is always heralded as a perfect (opportune) time to assess, review and reboot things – both professionally and personally. A new year is a time of renewal, opportunity and reflection – it’s also a time of waistline regret following the excess of Christmas – and undoubtedly it sees gyms and other health related businesses doing very well!

So, speaking of business – have you thought about what 2014 will bring you? Opportunity is sought out, and it only ‘knocks’ if you’re ready and waiting – so what opportunities do you see as critical to your business this year?

Look to the past

Knowledge and awareness of your past successes, over the last year or several years, and understanding the role they have played in your business’s trajectory, is critical. Without this information, it’s hard to plot the course forward – how do you know where you’re going if you have no idea where the destination is? I’ve often referenced the importance of having a road-map (strategy or plan) in the context of business success – and a new year is the perfect time to assess how relevant, focused and realistic – yours is.

If it’s broke – fix it.

There’s a well-known quote (some would say well-worn!) of Henry Ford’s “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. Bearing this in mind, what’s working or not working in your business, its strategy, resources, markets and so-on? Remember my point about the destination: don’t be a rudderless ship.

Look to the future

Appraise the future state with conviction and courage: don’t be half-hearted or limp in your approach, your results in the long-term will be just the same otherwise. To make change and create opportunity, you need to be honest with yourself… evading facts or reality isn’t an option.

Communication is key

Always remember this. When it comes to change, opportunity or growth – bringing your people with you is one of the steadfast rules in successful delivery. Oftentimes, sadly, it’s left to the last moment or is simply forgotten altogether and becomes an afterthought. Without leadership in communication, and how information is disseminated, plans are badly actioned, staff and stakeholders become disengaged or disenfranchised, and results are, at best – passable.

Don’t leave yourself open to failure, examine your communications processes and understand how to best utilise them to inform all the relevant parties. Engage and ask for feedback, meaningfully, not as a useless exercise. Bringing people with you means making them part of the change, which also makes them feel valued and engaged in decision-making.

Finally: learn something new.

As often as possible. People who consider business ownership or management as an existence which doesn’t require learning, are very much mistaken – the less open you are to new ideas, approaches or technology – the less open you are to opportunity.

So, what will 2014 bring you?

Images: ”White tags with 2014 on blue background / Shutterstock.com

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The Trick To Making Sales Easy https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2013/10/08/trick-making-sales-easy https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2013/10/08/trick-making-sales-easy#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:00:44 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/?p=9220 Selling is an art which has to be carefully, gently mastered and it is different for every type of product or service.

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I’m not a sales person per-se, but inevitably in every job I’ve had (and indeed, in my role of ‘master of all trades’, e.g. being self-employed), sales and the capacity to sell well has played a central role. Selling is an art which has to be carefully, gently mastered and it is different for every type of product or service.

As a large percentage of my clients are service businesses, and predominantly, we work on the key elements of strategy and communications in business – sales figure in this matrix strongly and sales processes often require definition and redefinition over time.

Rule # 1.  Know your product, know your customer

I would argue (well, I would, wouldn’t I?) that without a strategy behind any action in business it’s a waste of time. I’m sure many would share this view, and probably as many won’t, but arguably without having a defined level of clarity surrounding targeting a particular client, segment or market, for example, could be a little bit thoughtless (and moreover, a big waste of time).

I’ve made a pitch for clarity many times on my blog, and this comes from some simple homework any business-person can tackle: some of it is instinctual; some of it is observational; some of it is scientific. However, getting to know your customer, their habits and needs (remember NOSE?) makes closing sales a lot more straightforward. Why? Well consider the round-peg-into-square-hole issue – most sales professionals would tell you they can sell to anyone… the reality for the SME? They need to sell to those who want to buy. This means an effective, clarified sales process should be to the fore of how they do business.

Rule # 2.  Mind your message

Keep your message clear. Yes, it aligns firmly with Rule #1, and here’s why… communication is critical in the selling process; in fact, selling is all about communicating. So understand your proposition and in non-industry terms (keeping it simple) what it’s value is to the customer.

Rule # 3.  Keep it simple and strategic

Have a straightforward, tried-and-tested sales process which works. Don’t spend hours and hours, or days, aiming to convert sales that just won’t close. Why? Do you really need me to tell you? Develop a systematic approach to how leads are dealt with, which will quickly (though not abruptly or impolitely) stream them into the right category of client and / or product offering (remember productisation?).

Have the ‘cost of customer acquisition’ in mind – e.g. what it is costing you to acquire the customer. Avoid losing valuable, productive time on a lead which will not be right for your offering – this is where your process is critical.

Rule # 4.  Stay focused and manage your leads!

Finally, keep your leads in check… for many start-ups and SMEs, collection of potential, ongoing and closed leads is something that is managed on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis.  Which often translates into ‘not managed at all’.  Keeping tabs on where leads are ‘at’, categorising them and clarifying their position is key to positive sales management, and indeed, building and maintaining a pipeline.  It may seem obvious, however this is a critical issue many businesses forget or, as I said, manage badly!

Images:  ”Mercury in a sales thermometer rises past expectations and bursts through the glass /Shutterstock.com

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Service Providers….Time For Productisation? https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/08/22/service-providers-time-for-productisation https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/08/22/service-providers-time-for-productisation#comments Thu, 22 Aug 2013 13:00:13 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=6841 Productisation for business growth in service businesses

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Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many service businesses – through both acceleration programmes and enterprise support sessions. The one core issue I see them struggle with? “Boxing up” their services into products. Why? Because often service providers are fearful of the ‘cutting the nose off to spite the face’ factor of culling or repackaging their offering to appeal to a wider or more sustainable target audience (and drive a more sensible, profitable revenue model).

Having battled through the pain barrier several times with growth-focused businesses and high-potential start-ups, this initial moment of panic stems only from one thing: (to borrow a phrase from my US colleagues) decisioning. The reality is this: without a proper ‘shelf of products’ any business is going to spend an inordinate amount of its time chasing client orders, delivering to all sorts of unmanageable demands, and, ultimately, struggling to achieve or develop a tangible growth model.

Decision-making

This is where the truth of decisioning (or decision-making) comes to the fore. Service businesses, in some ways, can shadow their colleagues in product-based businesses – for in a lot of instances, it’s the simple analogy of developing a ‘line of products’ out of your service offerings that will create ultimate scale possibility. When you walk into a supermarket or store, and you know what you’re there to buy – you simply head to the section of the market you know the item will be found. It’s that simple. Herein lies the root of the analogy – knowing your customer well enough to be able to define your services’ productisation clearly to resonate with their requirements.

Which brings me, nicely, along to … So, what drives the decisions you need to make? Well, you need to be paying attention to:-

  1. your customers (current, past and future), their habits, needs (refer to my comments on NOSE of old!);
  2. your market-place, trends, upcoming legislative / other changes etc; and
  3. bear all this in mind in line with your own business’s vision. Thinking about these few questions – where are the opportunities potentially, going to surface from?

Related: Eyes Wide Open for Opportunity

Strategy reviews

Another key driver in moving to productised services for business development, is the role regular strategy reviews play – how often have you (or do you) spend on analysing or paying attention to service demands and their trends? Which ones are rising and which are falling? How are revenue projections and sales forecasts performing versus their real outputs? Or are you simply like that exhausted hamster on its wheel, continuing on the same track with no real sense of what’s going on around you – either good or bad?

Finally – when you sit back and assess these realities – what are they telling you? Are customer trends, demands, the market-place conditions and your own strategy review revealing what your ‘product line’ should look like? If not – why not? Remember that your customer should be at the centre of every decision you make regarding your business, especially when it comes to your business model. So listen carefully to their feedback and keep their, aforementioned, NOSE in mind at all times.

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Growing Pains: The Pinch Points Of Starting Up https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/07/04/growing-pains-the-pinch-points-of-starting-up https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/07/04/growing-pains-the-pinch-points-of-starting-up#comments Thu, 04 Jul 2013 14:00:42 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=6738 The Pinch Points of Starting Up and How to Manage them While Your Business is Growing. Simple Steps to Manage the Growing Pains of Starting Up.

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A subject I write about regularly, and I suspect, will continue to do so… The pinch-points of start-up and how to manage them. However, on this occasion I’ve decided to call on a friend and colleague to provide her insights – and I’m delighted to be co-writing with

I asked Orlaith what she considered to be the key ‘pinch points’ for start-ups and SMEs, and how to best manage their impacts.

The Knowing … and the Not-Knowing!

I do feel for people who take to the Den’s floor to pitch – it takes a certain brand of craziness to put yourself out there, no-holds-barred and await a grilling. Reality television likes the barmy or the brilliant, and not much in between, so there are many good ideas that don’t showcase well.

However, there’s a lesson to be learned here; and that is the fact that you have to know your business inside-out and upside-down before you attempt to pitch it anywhere, let alone on television. Why? Because in every area of business, awareness of your product, service, pricing, message, growth plan, target-markets [to name but a few!] are key drivers in successful business development. Only fools rush in, and taking the time to research, clarify and strategise your business offering are wise ways to dodge some major growing pains.

Sweating the Small Stuff…

.. but not paying attention to the big picture. As start-ups and SMEs in growth stages, there is often a propensity to obsess. About everything. And yes, I understand that everything has to be ‘just right’, but do you know what? You can end up spending so much time on tweaking the logo – one. more. time. – that you miss out on a great opportunity to showcase to a potential client, make a new connection or produce a good proposal. Understand what matters, and move on.

Getting “Hung-Up” Online

Apropos the last point, I have come across start-ups where the owners have given huge chunks of their lives to designing a wonderful website and establishing a social media presence without a customer base. You are not in business until you have customers, and when you have customers you need to mind them, and give them the required time. I am a huge fan of social media, but it has to be corralled into small windows in the working day. It should work for you, not the other way around.

What’s Your Vision?

I know Olwen talks a lot about strategy, something I’m also a fan of – but we share a very strong view on the importance of vision [pardon the pun!]. Developing a small business or start-up requires determination, focus, drive and an unerring commitment to do what it takes to succeed.

Business can be testing at times and you need to have a vision which keeps you on-track, tests you and drives you onwards when the going gets tough. Most true entrepreneurs believe that the world can’t do without their product – it is what keeps them motivated in the lean times.

Scream for Help!

Don’t ask for help, scream for it. Believe it or not there are lots of people a bit further up the ladder than you are currently who remember what it was like and are willing to share a few shortcuts. You don’t have to plough a lonely furrow all the time – use networking events to connect with the right people in your industry and ask for advice. One short conversation with the right person might save you a lot of time and money.

Find a Mentor

Mentoring is increasingly being recognised as one of the key factors in determining the likely success of a start-up. A regular mentor can provide expert advice, experience, a sounding board, and above all a requirement for accountability. Until you are ready to form a non-executive board of directors, to facilitate some serious growth, a mentor can do wonders in getting a new business well established.

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Staying ‘Ahead Of The Curve’… And In Step With Your Growth Plan https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/05/09/staying-ahead-of-the-curve-and-in-step-with-your-growth-plan https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/05/09/staying-ahead-of-the-curve-and-in-step-with-your-growth-plan#comments Thu, 09 May 2013 12:00:56 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=6655 Managing the careful act of remaining adept, focused and aware of opportunities, before they arise and being absolutely prepared for them. You're well-connected to your market by listening to your customer, client, or whomever you service. In fact, you're so well 'tuned-in' to them that you know what they're likely to want before they want it.

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… sometimes it’s risky business… other times it’s the best thing you never did… and often, it’s absolutely what you should do. Especially if it makes you feel a little nervous…

As you’re all very aware, I’m one of those folk who use [with abandon] proverbs related to the SME world. I’m quite candid in being a touch self-deprecating in this sense also…

So, this months’ proverb is one which has been used regularly as a book-title, presentation-header… and in plenty of boardrooms, meetings and countless other places.

What does “Staying ahead of the curve” mean to my business?

Loosely, it means that you’re managing the careful act of remaining adept, focused and aware of opportunities, before they arise and being absolutely prepared for them. You’re well-connected to your market by listening to your customer, client, or whomever you service. In fact, you’re so well ‘tuned-in’ to them that you know what they’re likely to want before they want it. You’re designing, developing and strategising your business’s service or product by anticipating the next potential market “swing”.

“They’re always ahead of the curve”

The oft-heard comment [sometimes with a loaded-tang of frustration]… Just how do they manage it?
Retaining and nurturing a culture of innovation in your business – whether that means just you or your team – is key to staying ‘ahead of the curve’. Recently I’ve heard a lot of commentary on the importance of supporting ‘intrapreneurship’ in larger corporations – well, here’s the thing, why don’t you foster that approach in your small business? Actively engaging your team [big or small] in looking for better, more customer-focused, more ‘forward-thinking’ solutions?

Are you in risk of becoming a dinosaur?

Because we all know what happened to them. Growth doesn’t just happen – you need to support it. How? By understanding your route to growth.

  • New products?
  • New services?
  • New markets?

What does growth look like for your business? If you don’t know – find out. Businesses trundling along in their current market, with very little vision of future growth, or what it looks like, are often the first casualties when market changes – seen or unseen – happen.

Don’t leave yourself at risk of being a hostage to fortune. A constant systematic review process [I am a fan of three-monthly, however more regular is even better] ensures your business model is performing, monitors successes and appraises opportunities as they arise.

Remember to have a sense of humour

Not everything goes to plan. This is an absolute reality of business. Sometimes it can be catastrophic… oftentimes it’s simply that an unseen or unknown factor causes an obstacle / road-bump along the way. One of the key factors in business success is resilience [aka bouncebackability], being able to move on from a situation and taking the time to understand why it didn’t go to plan.

When push comes to shove… push back!

I’ve already blogged extensively about ‘growing pains‘… remember that in growth, there’s always pressure and at times, a somewhat testing experience. Be prepared and understand the hurdles of growth. Remember the reward will be achieving your business’s growth vision, and worth the incidental discomfort!

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Looking Back And Learning: The 5 Lessons Of Start-Up https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/03/26/looking-back-and-learning-the-lessons-of-start-up https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/2013/03/26/looking-back-and-learning-the-lessons-of-start-up#comments Tue, 26 Mar 2013 17:28:51 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/growth/?p=6571 There are lessons to be learned from the experience of starting up. Some are simple things - the 'shoulda, woulda, coulda' actions that would have saved time or resources.

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Having worked with start-ups and SMEs for many years now [not mentioning the years I worked in them!], I can say, undoubtedly, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of starting up. Some are simple things – the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ actions that would have saved time or resources. Other lessons might have made more defining impacts on the trajectory, focus or growth of the business…

Much of the posts written about business development, planning and strategy, focus on looking forward [which is a good thing!] however a lot can be learned from what has or hasn’t worked, and why that might be the case. I’m a big fan of Eric Ries’ “

Based on many of the conversations I’ve had with SME clients, here are the top five “if I had my time over again” reflections, which, hopefully some of you might recognise [and act on!] or for those of you starting out, utilise as a starting point for your business plan/ R&D.

The 5 lessons of start-up

# 1. Spent time on carving out a tactical research project [without becoming obsessive]

Typically, there are four areas start-ups simply despise at the outset:

  1. research
  2. financial planning
  3. marketing
  4. and business planning.

Research is normally #1 on this list. Why? Because it involves subjecting yourself to an uncomfortable set of objectives – asking the questions of your target audience you may not want to know the answer to… doing surveys… desk research… and analysing competitors. The reality with research? It is a VERY necessary evil. Why? Because what you don’t know will always hurt you. Often start-ups head in one of two directions: either into an abyss of obsessive research [which has no start or end], or the ‘head-in-the-sand’ stance [my business doesn’t need research, it’s just that amazing].

My advice? Don’t become a research obsessive; do carve out a simple, strategic plan to conduct research which is relevant, targeted and clearly identifies the defining answers you need to determine your market scope, size and long-term potential.

# 2. Refined the USP

Here’s one most businesses battle with at start-up, and during growth. What is it, exactly, that makes us unique, different and what’s the value-add for my customers…? Well, the answer is: if you don’t know, how do you expect your customers to know?

Frequently businesses define, redefine and refine their USP – which can also change with time, depending on new offerings, products or services – revising your business model can also change your USP.

Where should I start? Think about ‘NOSE’ – customer needs and outcomes, and your solutions and evidence – what is compelling about your offering? Start with ten words and whittle it down. Remember: your USP should be succinct and impactful.

# 3. Done the number-crunching [and sought the right financing]

A tough one, and certainly a topical issue these days. However, not digging deep and ensuring your business has enough financial fuel in the tank could stress it beyond recovery. Many businesses at start-up spend time on ornate, fancy spread-sheets [sometimes not developed by the people involved… tsk, tsk] which bear little or no relationship to the business’s actual finances – its projected income and outgoings.

You don’t need to be an accountant… get down to brass-tacks and understand what your business’s financial income and outgoings are going to look like.  On the subject of projections – suffice to say, you should be conservative in your projected income [based on research and planning] and somewhat more generous with your projected outgoings. Do get help, like all other areas of start-up, if you don’t know how – ask for help from a mentor / consultant. It’ll be worth it.

# 4. Thought bigger

This sentiment often comes with experience – and the realisation that your goals may have been set a little lower than was justified…

Get yourself some audacious aims… if your long-term vision doesn’t make you feel a little jittery, it’s probably not big enough!

# 5. Built a growth plan / strategy

Often the idea of ‘growth’ at start-up is considered too “far off” – it really isn’t considered… wrong. Growth is the very essence of business development, and you need a plan / strategy to achieve it.

Even when you’re just getting going, know what growth looks like… and build a plan to guide you along the way.

… and finally, remember the key for any business: plan, do, review.

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The Possibility Of Business Failure https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2013/02/11/the-possibility-of-business-failure https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/2013/02/11/the-possibility-of-business-failure#comments Mon, 11 Feb 2013 13:51:35 +0000 https://tweakyourbiz.com/management/?p=7435 More and more in recent times I’ve found myself turning the notion of business failure over in my mind. Mainly because, even at the pinnacle moments of success, we all still have that little pinch or pang of fear that it might just go wrong. In some respects, this isn’t always a bad thing – indeed I would be an advocate of nurturing a little edginess to stay sharp... however, the extreme fear factor is one to watch.

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More and more in recent times I’ve found myself turning the notion of business failure over in my mind. Mainly because, even at the pinnacle moments of success, we all still have that little pinch or pang of fear that it might just go wrong. In some respects, this isn’t always a bad thing – indeed I would be an advocate of nurturing a little edginess to stay sharp… however, the extreme fear factor is one to watch.

Last year,

Fear of start-up failure

In 2010, the SFA reported that one in five people feared starting a business on the basis of failure and bankruptcy. Given that SMEs are held as the ‘backbone’ of the economy – this aversion to start-up on the basis of failure points to a deep concern regarding the ramifications of business closure. And why would this be? Well, for starters, entrepreneurs with business failures / closures are ‘virtually ignored’ [Irish Examiner, 2012], and in most cases suffer being tarred with a ‘failure brush’ which means they are bad news for financiers, banks and other institutions.

I must make it clear that this is not to suggest that financing every business idea with absolute abandon and zero due diligence is the right attitude – however, a more clear understanding of the nature of SME development is key. For an attitudinal comparison, it’s worth noting the fabled ‘unique nurturing environment’ of Silicon Valley, which provides a very different attitude to failure [Brown, 2008]. In this context, it is highlighted as exemplary in the view that “attitudes to financial risk and the acceptance of the possibility of failure are vital ingredients for innovation”.

Cultural attitudes

There is no ignoring the fact that entrepreneurial capability is strong in Ireland, but our cultural attitude, on the other hand, is not so strong.

What follows is my aforementioned colleague, Kehlan Kirwan’s story of possibility in failure. I think it’s a brave and clear testament of just why change is paramount, in our attitude to the possibility of failure:

“I came back from England to start a new business. A business magazine designed just for SMEs. In hindsight it was the wrong time. It was 2010 and advertising in the media was going through its worst slump ever. Eventually we had to stop and put an end to it.   But in that time we started doing podcasts on our website to generate more content for our readers. Along with a good friend, Conn O’Muineachain, we developed a podcast series.

Fast forward to today, where I produce and present the Small Business Show alongside Olwen and Brian. It’s broadcast every Saturday and has grown to over 21,000 listeners a week. Would we be here if the magazine didn’t fail?

I have never seen the magazine closure as a failure. It gave me new insights and new avenues to explore. We are now looking at re-branding and introducing a new style of video presentation for businesses to use on their website, social media or Youtube accounts.”

Learn from failure

When your business fails, you are not a failure. It can be difficult to believe that failure can bring you somewhere better, but it can. We learn by failing not by getting things right all the time.

Here in Ireland we have an inherent belief that people who fail in business are themselves, failures, destined to forever be failures. But when we look at other countries, like the USA, in many circles failing in business is a badge of honour. Offered up like a cup coffee – ‘Yeah I failed, but look at what I learned’.

Leadership and Communications Consultant, Susan Tardinico, offers an insight into this. She says that failing is about taking stock and learning:

“Look at the failure analytically — indeed, curiously — suspending feelings of anger, frustration, blame or regret. Why did you fail? What might have produced a better outcome? Was the failure completely beyond your control? After gathering the facts, step back and ask yourself, what did I learn from this? Think about how you will apply this newfound insight going forward.”

Unless we learn to embrace failure in Ireland, we cannot foster ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. We need to help people recycle their entrepreneurial talents into new ventures, startups and ideas. It brings with it a new way of looking at problems, from new angles and with renewed impetus . We need to learn from our failures, not hold them against people like damaged goods. Failure is only failure when you fail to learn from your mistakes.

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