Category Archives: myjourney

Learn what I encounter in my own entrepreneurial journey where I share my thoughts and problems.

The One Question Your Business Must Answer to Survive

….notes from my own entrepreneurial journey.  Walk with me!

It’s been a year in my business thus far.  It’s been a hard year and one that has taught me more than almost any other year in my life.  Some lessons I wish I hadn’t learned but every one of the lessons are valuable in some way.

My initial planning was great. I knew how to build a business plan.  I was an engineer and loved to dig into details.  I took several months to create it.  It had all of the right elements in it.  I had defined what the business was, how it would operate, what services would be offered, how it would be sold and marketed, what the operating costs would be and how much we would make in the first year.  I even included a competitor analysis, growth plan for expansion and customer profile analysis.  I had all the information I needed.

After I put the business plan down, I began to work on the business case.  Why? I knew that selling my service would be difficult.  First, my potential customers didn’t know they had a problem.  So, I needed to define that before I began to sell anything.  My first attempt at this was from the financial perspective.  To define the issue, I identified the amount of money my customer should be getting from their efforts.  I was hoping this would prompt my customer to look at how much they were getting and compare it to what they should be getting (my analysis).  This should have launched salvos in their brains but it only worked for a very few.  Some saw the huge delta and realized there could be something they could be learning.  For most….nothing happened.  I thought it might have been that they didn’t trust my assessment.  This made sense as I realize they didn’t know me.  So I changed the assessment to reference all of the official sources of data that I used.  It identified the authorities in their field.  The data and analysis were solid.  I used the data and mathematical methods from the experts in their field.  Easy sell, right?  Unfortunately, it did very little for the customer but it did solidify the case.

So maybe they needed to see the business case from a cost perspective.  The financial perspective essentially said that their processes were inefficient and that they could make more money if they did things differently or better yet, let me do it for them.  Perhaps they needed to understand what the cost was for their inefficient process.  I prepared a benefit cost analysis that illustrated their cost to perform the same functions that my company does.  Yes, you would expect that we were less expensive.  And, we are.  Our processes are automated, electronic and keep track of everything.  These are the benefits I shared with them, along with the fact that we are a fraction of the cost they are.

I took this new analysis and threw it in front of potential customers.  It was met with disbelief.  I soon realized they had never seen any analysis like this before and weren’t sure what they were looking at, although they realized that it didn’t paint an efficient picture of their process.  Eventually, discussions would go off track.  Once I started to see that customers were getting a little emotional about the topic, I realized that this discussion no longer hinged on the merits of the argument.  We had transitioned from the idea of what’s good for their company to what’s good for them.  It was clear that this was becoming a personal decision.  More importantly, my customer is apparently struggling with the “what’s in it for me” question.

I’ll have to admit that I should’ve seen this coming and that it should have been the first question I should have addressed.  No matter who you talk to, you must be able to convince them that your efforts are worthy of further discussion.  The challenge always comes with figuring out what interests they want to serve first: their own or the company’s.  Never assume any one is looking out for the greater good first.  Also, this is a never ending process.  As you move up the chain from contact to contact, you have to keep asking that same question.

Now, I’m embarking on a journey to figure how to assess what personal needs people are most interested in.  Do they want to look like a hero, avoid embarrassment, etc?  This will probably be the most difficult part of my journey as I’m sure to meet all kinds of people with various interests.  The challenge comes in developing a process to filter contacts into specific categories where I can have a process on how to deal with them.

Stay tuned!  This will be fun.

A NEW DEFINITION OF TIME

One of the most noticeable differences between working for someone else and starting your own company is the personal definition of time.  As I look back on my many years building someone else’s dream, it’s very clear how much time was wasted during the work day.  In this post, I want to share my revelations from my own experience in the hopes that you will find some appreciation or recognition of this transformation in your own definition of time.

Time for an employee.  Working for someone, it always seemed as if my time was dictated for me.  It was hard to really grasp control of it.  There were two major factors that devoured my time each day.  The first, and the greatest thief of my time, was my leadership.  Meeting after meeting, we spent so much time and energy talking about the work that needed to get done.  My managers mostly held meetings to keep themselves updated, not to provide direction. For example, they would gather everyone in a meeting room every week, providing me the opportunity to listen to a lot of people talk about what they are going to do for the week.  Since our tasks didn’t overlap any, this new information didn’t have any value to me.  It was just for the manager to keep up with what was going on in the company.  You would always hear people mumbling “what a waste of time” as we left the conference room.  But this was part of the ritual time wasting activities that occur daily in established businesses.

The second force that targeted my available time for work was myself.  When I became well entrenched in my roles and responsibilities, I didn’t always feel pressured to get everything done as quickly as possible.  I realize time is money but when I was building someone else’s dream, and they were the biggest user of my time, I couldn’t really understand the value of time (at least not by their definition).  They spend my time like it was unlimited.  I would spend hours and hours every month listening to other managers talk about their projects.  Their projects weren’t my responsibility and the requirement to attend a full day of these updates provided no value to me.  With my leadership so eagerly burning time, I began to wonder if they really understood the impact this has on their employee’s definition of time. You see, with such time wasting activities, real value added activities would take longer than necessary.  The average time to perform services offered by the company kept growing.  The danger with this is that employees begin to accept that things will take longer, so there’s no rush to get things done.  Remember, time is money.  We always wasted both.

Time for a startup entrepreneur.  Starting up my company, time is defined by two factors: me and my customers.  When you’re in startup mode, you have considerably more actions to accomplish than time to complete them. The idea that time is money is what I live by.  It’s not anything like it is when working for someone else.  The longer I take to complete the actions to get my business off the ground, the longer it might take for cash to begin flowing in.  The impact of time has a more immediate and noticeable impact on me.  The faster I contact potential customers, the faster I can sell my service.  When they ask questions, I answer them right away.  All of my actions are now driven by my new definition of time, meaning that I must move as quickly as I can to bring in money.  The other definition of time that an entrepreneur must abide by is the customer, who is always right.  My potential customers don’t feel the same sense of urgency as I do and it drives me crazy.  I’m, at times, driven to push a little harder than I should.  Sometimes, my customers are nice enough to tell me to slow down a bit and yet others feel threatened or bullied by the constant barrage of communications and simply shut down.  To my customers, I’m new to the industry and have to learn their ways.  While I may bring something new that they haven’t seen before, I must be respectful and honor their ways of doing business.  When you’re just starting out, time can be the biggest hang up and a huge source of stress. But if you have a solid product/service and you know your customer likes it, it becomes an opportunity to develop patience.  Yeah, I know, nothing easy about that.

In bigger companies, time isn’t such a priority as actions are completed through the collective actions of many employees.  It’s easy to feel that when you’re working with someone else.  You’re in a meeting and the boss says, “let’s get this done in the next week or two.”  With big companies that’s tolerable, but startup mode seems to apply significant time pressure.  Startup entrepreneurs measure time in dollars.  Once the dollars are gone, so is time.  Actually, you can see this intense pressure in bigger companies when they begin to burn their backlog or fail to meet sales goals for a few quarters.  It often forces irrational behavior, such as signing contracts with financially distressed customers, further plunging the decline of performance due to lack of payment from the customer.

My suggestion in dealing with this time pressure is to understand your customer’s definition of time.  You do this in your planning phase; that is, when you put your business plan together.  Your chart showing cash flow should provide a reasonable timeframe that has been validated through interactions with potential customers.  If it takes them 8 months to approve a contract with you, then you must reflect that in your plans.  To think you can do that any sooner is risky.  You’ll have enough stress starting out so there’s no need to intentionally add more.

These are the ramblings of Todd during his walk into entrepreneurship.  Hopefully, you can relate to this.  If you want to share your experiences with us, contact me at todd.rhoad@blitzteamconsulting.com.

My Entrepreneurial Journey: My Startup’s Brand

When starting out a new company, it’s important that you establish the purpose of the business in the customer’s mind.  Surely the purpose is to make money and no one will argue with that.  But what does your customer think?  Do they understand what your business is trying to do for them?  Not only does your brand tell your customer what you do, it also helps communicate direction and focus for your efforts.

When I began creating my business plan for the company, I added a section for the brand.  This section wasn’t heavily detailed but it was critical for providing some initial direction and focus.  It begins with a simple identification of what we are trying to do.  When it comes to companies, here are a few reasons they exist:

  1. A better way to do it.  We know people (and companies) are creatures of habit.  Once a process is put in place, it stays that way until it fails.  This leaves opportunity to create something better, especially as technology is developed.  Most often, a better way usually reduces operating costs or provides some other unique benefits to the company.

My potential customers:  There is a process in place for the service I provide.  My customers either don’t do it or do it poorly.  My service will replace the customer’s need to use their inefficient process with additional benefits that reduce cost.

  1. Something completely novel. In this case, a company provides a product or service that didn’t exist.

My potential customers: Since a process already exists, I’m not really creating something new to the market but I am creating a new solution for the customer that has financial benefits.

  1. A solution to a problem. Your business should always be solving a problem or filling a need.

My potential customers:  They don’t know they have a problem, which could be challenging for me.  I’ll need to educate them first and then sell them on the benefits of the service.  This will need a strategy all by itself.

While there are other business purposes, these three represent the majority of my purpose.  Some companies will use “transparency” as a purpose.  However, I consider that to just be a part of business.  I know there are proprietary things in the business but the way I conduct my business should be very clear.

With my purpose identified, I can use this information to identify my target customer.  I know they may or may not already do the service I’m offering.  I also know, through research, that they are not very good at it.  I have also found that many of these customers have financial problems, which makes the benefits of my service all the more desirable.  The key factors that define my customer:

  • Do perform the service I offer but aren’t doing it efficiently
  • Do not perform the services I offer
  • May be unaware of the problem
  • May have financial issues
  • May desire to create change in their current processes

Now that I have some idea of my customer, I can begin a little research by contacting potential customers by asking probing questions that can clarify my above assumptions.  After gathering a little information, I can prepare marketing information that speaks directly to this customer.

While this isn’t a complete development of a brand, it does provide considerable direction for me while defining the purpose of my company to the customer.

Disclaimer:  These posts are general ramblings from me concerning my own startup experience.

Selling Your Dream

If you’ve been reading our latest posts about the Plan-for-Planning process, you should now have a good business plan to kick off the next phase of your life.  Having done this a few times, I want all newcomers to entrepreneurship to be aware of the impact your new dream will have on your environment, especially those around you.  Read on to learn from my own experiences.

First, enjoy the excitement you have in your business vision.  You should be very passionate about it and eager to get started.  You’ll need every bit of that energy as starting a business isn’t for the weak minded.  It will be one of the largest investments you’ll make in your entrepreneurial journey and you need to take it seriously.  The reason I want you to feel the excitement is that every person you talk to about your business should feel your energy and passion.  I remember a discussion with my plumber when he stopped by to make a few repairs.  He asked what I was doing and I seemed to bubble over in my joy in just talking about the business. He said he could “feel the passion.”  I really hadn’t begun the business yet but the plan was in place and I was obviously ready to start.  That passion is critical at startup.  When it comes to selling your dream, people must believe that you believe in that dream 100%.  If they don’t feel it, they won’t buy it.

After you’re convinced you’ve got the best thing since sliced bread (or a really good business plan), you’re next step is to begin motivating your support team. These are the people around you that will support you physically, spiritually, mentally and any other way you need it.  You will want them to have the same amount of passion as you do, but this is unlikely.  Remember, this is your dream.  When I say YOU, I mean YOU.  No one will have the passion you do for this little idea.  Not even your wife or kids.  I started a business recently and it’s just beginning to take off.  It took a little longer than I expected but it is gaining some serious momentum (more on that later).  Do you think my wife and kids had complete faith in the idea? Not at all.  You see, the world isn’t full of dreamers, like us.  Some people just don’t like to take risks.  They are happy with a paycheck every two weeks.  Well, that’s my family.  I’m the starry eyed dreamer and risk doesn’t bother me at all but my wife saw it as a big risk, at least until contracts started coming in and the business grew.  Success was the proof that it was a good business idea.  Until success came, I had to bear the stress that I was on this journey alone (or so it felt).  Sure, everyone thought it was a good idea but they weren’t ready to jump on the bandwagon with me until it was a certainty.  This behavior by your loved ones isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s normal. My risk-taking is out of the ordinary.  Don’t get me wrong, my friends and family were supportive but they didn’t want to invest any energy into it until there was sufficient evidence of its success.

The hardest audience in selling my dream was my customers.  After all, if your family isn’t “ALL IN” then it’s going to be difficult to convince complete strangers to buy the service.  But, you already know that it will be difficult.  That’s why most people don’t start their own company.  Before I began reaching out to customers with my dream, I tried to create a brand around the service I was offering, which identified three key features that essentially made the question of buying the service all too easy to make.  I was figuratively laying a brick of gold on their desk and saying “this is yours at no cost.”  Strangely, no one touched it.  I was confused.  It’s free money and no one wanted it.  I soon figured out that two things were missing: understanding and trust.  These two factors were intertwined and stopped them from even considering grabbing the brick of gold.  They didn’t know me so they didn’t trust me, even when I cited the specific laws that clearly articulated the legality of their right to the money.  Trust was muddled by their lack of understanding of our service.  I had assumed that many customers understood what we were offering, but they didn’t.  Certainly, not in the detail I know it.  So, I began to work on these.  I got to know my customers better and created documents to explain the whole situation in detail (i.e. the problem and the solution).  Here’s where I ran into another barrier.  My customers didn’t realize it was a problem.  They didn’t even know this option existed.  Again, I put my nose to the grindstone and created more information to help my customers understand, specifically I captured information on how other customers were doing with this service so that they had a reference for the improvements it would make.

Eventually, they understood but the layers of mistrust were still as rigid as ever.  At this point, I thought I had them sold and they would grab that brick of gold off the desk.  But they didn’t.  Something else was holding them back. But what could it be?  The decision is a “no brainer.”  It wasn’t trust or knowledge of the service.  It had to be personal. But, I began to see this from many potential customers.  What personal reason could be stuck in the minds of so many people?  This was very strange to me. How could something so easy be personal?  These questions bounced around in my mind for months.

Then, I began to think about it from their perspective.  If I’m the customer, why wouldn’t I want my service?  There are two circumstances where I might be worried. First, what if I buy the service and it turns out to be a disaster? Second, what if I buy the service and it turns out to be a huge success?  The first question is easy to answer.  The customer wants some assurance that it will work. This is where my references and existing customers come in.  They can connect with potential customers to share their success stories.  The second question is a little harder.  My customer may worry that they will come under scrutiny for NOT hiring our service earlier if it turns out to be really successful.  My customer would never share these thoughts with me as it may make them feel vulnerable.  So, I began to help them see how to create their success story.  When I say “see their story”, I mean I put it in a visual process flow map that shows how we’ll sell the idea up the management chain while providing information that will answer all of their concerns, including why this wasn’t done earlier.  This process of brainstorming all of the possible barriers my customer can face, even the personal ones, has become a big part of my selling process. I include it in documents and presentations that I carefully share with my customers.  I make sure to paint a clear picture of how this decision will impact their reputation or how others see them.

That’s it for now.  Selling the dream once you’ve developed it will be challenging.  You have this great vision in your head that no one else can see and you have to find ways to help them visualize it.  And, of course, you’ll run into numerous barriers to materializing the dream.  Many of these barriers I would have never dreamt of but luckily a continual push has brought them to light.  Once you see the barriers, you have to resolve them.  Your customer’s issues are your issues.  The quicker you solve them, the faster you can get to the sell. Remember, business is always personal.

If you’ve got a story to share, send it to me at info@blitzteamconsulting.com.