06.30.15

Understanding Your Market

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To set your long range focus for your business, you must fully understand your customer base. You should know:

• Who are your customers?
• What are their needs and wants?
• What are their problems?
• Can you solve their problems?
• How much is a solution worth to them?
• Are they willing to pay for a solution to their problem?

One of the ways to discover the answers to these important questions is simply to ask your customers. As obvious as this may sound, many businesses do not ask their customers about their problems. There are many very effective and discreet ways of obtaining this information. For instance, if you own a retail store, talk to the customers. Ask them what you can do for them and listen to what they tell you.

However, be careful not to bombard customers with lots of questions. Restrict your questions to just a few. Don’t go the route of the Commonwealth Bank. This company recently sent me a ninety question survey. I have no intention of answering ninety questions. If they had asked me three questions, chances are I would have provided the answers, and so would most people.

One approach which has proven successful at obtaining customer preferences is to ask two questions a month. Customers usually respond well and are even happy that you are so interested in their needs.

I don’t find focus groups too useful either. Larger companies sometimes like them, and they are often recommended by market research companies. My caveat is that they seldom come up with anything new. When designed to test a particular product, focus groups are useful. Otherwise, in my opinion, they produce very little useful information.

Positioning

The concept of positioning your business is about how your market perceives your business and your products. Are you perceived as an expert in your field? Are you a low cost leader? Do you have niche appeal? You can position yourself to be anything you really want. Planning your business’s position involves considering issues such as:

• Competition – How is your business perceived compared to others?
• Market – How do you address the problems and needs of your target market?
• Uniqueness – What makes you different, or better, or unique in your field?

Positioning your business is especially important in fiercely competitive or crowded markets. Differentiating your business from the crowd becomes crucial.

To plan your position, first determine where you want your business to fit in your industry in the broad scheme of things. One strategy can lead you in a completely different direction than another. As you follow each positioning strategy through you need to consider the qualities of your business and products and what price category you want to occupy.

Next, tailor and fine tune your position. Identify any specific benefits your business or products offer your customers. These could be such qualities as reliability, safety, convenience, ease of use, etc. You can even choose two benefits and have a primary and secondary position.

Positioning Statement

To communicate your position, you need to develop a positioning statement. Properly developed, it should state in a single sentence or a few words the entire position for your business. This basic idea should exactly fit your business products and services. It should accurately reflect the needs of your customers and target your audience. A very direct relationship exists between choosing your position and communicating this position to your market and the success of your message. For example, don’t position your products and services to meet the needs of a high end market if your products are actually more appropriate for a lower end audience. In addition, once established, your company message should not change. You will be using it for your marketing messages, the design of your facilities, your web site and all your promotional materials. Choose your correct position carefully in the start and stay with it.

Business Identity

When creating the position for your business, you need to establish the identity or culture for your business. Your business culture combines your company’s vision, mission and position into a cohesive whole. Your culture should communicate everything about your company in your image and style.

Company Vision Statements

The story for your business or your vision statement guides your image and your contribution to society. This story is designed to evoke specific attitudes and images about your business in an emotional way. A great vision statement will enable your customers to understand exactly why you are in business and what you bring to the community. It should outline what you wish to accomplish with your business as well as your plans for contributing to and improving your market.

A very effective vision statement uses a story. It effectively communicates an identity and a history for your business in a unique and friendly manner. To create a story for your business, consider your actual facts. Did you have a dream that you made a reality? Do you have any specific training, experience, or background that you can incorporate as part of your story? Maybe you have a unique history or your business was handed down through your family from your great-grandfather to your grandfather, to your father then to you. Any of these make great stories. They appeal to customers, and build automatic relationships and trust. Customers identify with you and feel they already “know” you and your business.

Stories also have an educational factor. Clients like to be educated. They want to understand as much as possible about what they buy and from whom they buy it. This applies to every industry and every business. So, if you have a story, be sure to tell it. Make sure that your employees understand and can repeat it. If your story is less than compelling, look for ways to enhance it and build it into a better story. But develop your own unique history and company story.

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06.17.15

How Does Asset Allocation Work?

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06.16.15

Tools Used to Achieve a Work-Life Balance

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To achieve work-life balance several very effective tools can assist you in starting and maintaining a distinct work and home mode. One very useful technique involves time management. There are many time management tools out there and essentially, they all work… if you follow them.

Time management tools may fail for many people because instead of implementing an entire system and staying with it, they pick up a diary system, or a computer system, or some other sort of time management idea, use it for about a month and then they stop using it. Six months down the road, they have regressed back to their old ways and are no longer managing their time well. The following tools all work extremely well.

“Getting Things Done”

The first tool is a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. One of the key ideas it proposes is to concentrate on the next action. Define the next thing that you can do to move an idea or some work forward. If you cannot think immediately of what your next action should be, then procrastination tends to set in.

What “Getting Things Done” helps you do is divide all your work into projects. Projects are simply groups of actions. Once you define a project, at your next designated planning and thinking time, determine what your next actions will be to advance that project. You may have twenty projects that you have written down in separate files or folders, but the best way to move your projects forward is to concentrate on one project at a time. Get things done that are related to that project up into the point that you cannot move it forward any further then move on to the next project.

Time Chunking or Time Blocking

This just means that I block out some time just for a particular project in advance. I go into my diary typically on a Friday night and I look at the next week. I start designating time, or pre-blocking time for certain activities that I need to accomplish or certain projects that must get done before the end of the week.

Top Six

All you need to do is just look at the top six items you have prioritised and then have a list of everything else that you would like to get done. As long as you concentrate on getting the top six tasks done first, then you are free to do whatever you want for the rest of the day. Again, this comes back to the philosophy that you are only productive for two or three hours per day.

The key is to maximize your productivity time to work on things that are important. For this, you need to be able to identify what is important. What do you have to get done? Block out the time to do those things. Once those critical items are accomplished, you are free to do all the other stuff.

E-Mail Management

E-mail is one of the greatest time wasters I encounter in my day. Despite its convenience and value, it can be disruptive. The instant communication aspect of e-mail infers that as soon as a message comes in, you are expected to open it, address it and respond. If you have blocked out time to focus on an important task, this intrusion can be distracting. In reality, e-mail is often just busy work. It may relate to other issues you should address, but should not take priority.

My suggestion is to cut down the number of times you retrieve e-mail to only twice per day. For example, you could check e-mail first thing in the morning when you come in, and again when you get back from lunch. Limit yourself to only two times a day to retrieve, process, file and address issues in your e-mail. Allow yourself a specific amount of time for e-mail, then go and do your top six items.

There are certain situations where you must check your e-mail frequently, such as if you are working with an associate on a project and are e-mailing back and forth to coordinate your work. In such cases, look only at the e-mails that concern your project and either filter or disregard the rest until your designated e-mail session. The key is to stay focused and keep your priorities organised.

There is a book out at the moment called the “4-Hour Work Week,” in which the author Tim Ferris suggests that you only look at email once per week. He suggests that he is more productive looking at e-mail once per week than he would be looking at it once per hour.

There is a basic assumption underlying this philosophy. If you only need to look at your e-mail once per week, chances are you have a team of people that keep your business functioning for you. In such cases, you don’t have to be there making decisions and adding to the mix of e-mails. You can achieve this independence from e-mail when you have your business systemized. The more that you can systemize your business, the more you can keep work moving through your business without you having to be present. The side benefit is the reduction in the amount and urgency of e-mail you receive.

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06.2.15

Think Like An Investment Banker to Grow Your Business

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If your exit strategy includes plans for selling your business, you may want to reach this goal sooner rather than later. This often requires funding from outside sources to quickly maximize the potential for your business.

One way of accessing additional funds is to attract investors. These are people who invest money in other people’s ideas. There are very specific formats which are considered acceptable to most investors. Approaching investors properly means being prepared. You cannot just arrange a meeting, show up with some promotional materials for your business in hand and expect to come away with enough money for your purposes. Investors look for opportunities which have the best potential for success. They primarily look for the following criteria:

• A great management team
• A great business concept
• A dynamic growing industry

Only having one or two of these elements will seriously handicap you when seeking financial backing. Of these essentials, the most important is being in the right industry. If your industry is going places and you have the other two elements in place, you will have people falling over themselves to be an investor. Even if you have a top notch management team and a solid business idea, if you are in an undesirable industry, you may have to struggle to find backers.

Before they put money on the table, the investment world will ask some specific questions. They will want to know:

• Your objective for your business?
• Is it obvious what you have to do to achieve your objective?
• Where is the real value in the business?

In answer to the value question, you will need to show the areas of your business which indicate what the investor is “buying.” You will need to identify beforehand which elements of your business hold the most value. Is the value for your business:

• In the process?
• In the intellectual capital?
• In the customer base?

Once you determine where you value is located, you need to address some additional questions:

• Where is the leverage to capture that value?
• What can you do to multiply that value quickly? (For instance, if the leverage is in the customer side, can you market more effectively to amplify your customer base and use it as leverage for investment?)
• How was the leverage built?
• How are you going to use leverage and is it something that you know how to do?
• What does the business ultimately own?
• What does the business really earn?
• Does the business have the mechanisms to create value or not?
• Is everything done in-house or is some work out-sourced.
• Are the processes and ideas behind the business able to be franchised? (If not franchised, is the company ultimately scalable?)

It is not necessarily just bricks and mortar and a sound business idea that accounts for the value of a company. Different prospective buyers have various reasons for assessing a certain value to a business. For instance, a great strategy for a small business is to target a market dominated by a big company, and deliver something much better than the big company. If they can capture a significant percentage of the market and annoy the big company enough, the larger company will want to buy them out. For example, this scenario happens a lot in the cosmetic industry. A new product from a small company grabs a slice of the market and the big company has no option but to purchase the smaller company. In such cases, an investor’s assessment of the smaller company’s value may be much higher than it would be under different circumstances.

One final question from the investment-banking world is:

• Can the value that is found in your company easily be converted to cash?

Investors want to know just how they are going to profit from their investment, and so you as the business owner need to be able to figure out how to get to the wallet of your customer. This again requires your unique in-depth knowledge of your business and of your customers’ needs and how to best meet them.

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05.27.15

Have You Had Your Business Checkup Recently?

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The entrepreneurial quest is the understanding that the businessman’s path is really never certain. You try to mitigate that or even prevent that uncertainty by having security and being an entrepreneur at the same time. Know, though, that these are two different things and you can never really have both.

This desire to have both is often what leads you to become an opportunity seeker, or one who would immediately jump at a promise of being given what you want out of your business. So the big question about the entrepreneurial quest is this: are you willing to give you what you have to get what you really want? Your philosophy in life will guide you to an answer to this question. Reflect on the actions you took and didn’t take and that reflection will pretty much tell you what you want.

To be able to transform into the kind of entrepreneur that you want to be, you need to change how you wound up. One of the best steps to this transformation is using entrepreneurship as a catalyst on how you can be in charge of your life. You can do this by deciding what you want your business to be about. What niche are you going to take on? What is meaningful enough to help you transform into who you want to be? There has to be a reason for you to want to do all these! Sometimes, the reason could even be bigger than yourself!

Become an entrepreneur who is not afraid to take on bigger problems so that it would help you transform into who you want to be. What you can commit to your entrepreneurial life is what will make your seemingly meaningless life more meaningful. You want your business to have a purpose too and that is to resolve other people’s problems. To find that problem, you need to eclipse all other issues, concerns and competing commitments that could hinder you from transcending.

Think of it this way; each day you, as a brand or a business, are trending either positively or negatively. Each day, if you are brave enough to step into the unknown, you are also stepping away from the routine that have kept you from being who you want to be as an entrepreneur. Thus, each day you have the opportunity to break away from your past and build the business of your dreams.

Unlike everyone else, you are an entrepreneur. You have the ability to make your and other people’s lives more meaningful because you have the gift to define what you want your work life to be. You may not be able to change the world but you can definitely change the world of some group of people.

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