GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE

In the last week of the year, my son and I took off down I-75 towards Tampa, Florida for a Lacrosse tournament.  Just a few hours into the trip, I noticed a common trend that lasted the whole 8 hour trip.  I looked over to my son and asked him to tell me what he saw.  He stated “everyone is in the far left lane.”  I reminded him that the far left lane is the fast lane and designated for the drivers going a little faster than everyone else.  But why would almost everyone flock to the fast lane?  As we moved over into the fast lane, we quickly noticed that traffic was actually slower.  The cars in the other lanes were traveling faster, with the exception of a few cars that forced drivers to work their way around them.  But they had two lanes to maneuver in so they didn’t have any problems getting around the slower cars.  The fast lane was a different story.  The only way to move forward was if someone moved out of the way.  Even though we were all going slower, we were in the fast lane and drivers remained there despite our speed.  Sound familiar?

fastlane

So many of us do this with our career.  It’s a sick version of the herd mentality.  We do everything people tell us to do but only seem to get the same results most everyone else gets.  That is, we are stuck in line waiting for the person ahead of us to retire, transfer, quite, get promoted or simply kill over before we get a chance to move up.  “Get out of the fast lane,” my son said.  “We’ll get there faster.”

Many people stay in the fast lane because it’s easy, doesn’t require any thought and you always know where you are (i.e. stuck behind the person ahead of you).  It’s like being on autopilot.  You’re moving but you aren’t sure if you’re getting there because you can only see taillights ahead of you.  Still, it doesn’t require much effort, so we drive on.

Scientists at the University of Leeds discovered that it takes a small minority (just 5%) to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95% follow without even knowing it.  I know, moving over to the slower lanes would require you to make decisions constantly because there are slower cars that you will have to move around.  It gets to be a lot of work moving in and out of the lanes.

Staying in the fast lane may just be your problem with achieving the success you desire.  Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by those around them, rather than rely on their own instinct. As the fast lane slows down, so do you.  As it speeds up, you speed up.  You do what they do.  As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment.  Let’s say that the fast lane is full of MBA aspirants.  They haven’t noticed that the corporate world is full of them already and many of them have gained no flexibility in their career by earning the MBA.  It does little to improve their upward mobility.  If only a few people in the fast lane aren’t paying attention to the population of MBAs in their industry, they’ll stay in their lane to earn the degree and fall into the same situation as the others.  Everyone else will follow.  While the fast lane population may have dreams of getting into management, the MBA isn’t the only way to get there.  Get out of the fast lane.

So why do so many think the MBA is the only way to get there?  Social learning may be the reason.  It is likely that many aspirants are surrounded by a few people who believe it’s the answer.  Of course, once you go on campus, everyone will tell you it is the answer.  With so much bias towards the degree, aspirants will forego any analytical processing and go directly to the analytical response.  This does happen and was proven in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which found that a strong social bias may very well decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace to accept without thinking.  Well, I do remember something about us all thinking the world was flat, until that 5% of scientists convinced us it wasn’t.

What are other ways to get into management?  You can always start a company or join a startup.  Small companies offer the opportunity to learn more about management, since there is less of it.  Outside of these options, you might find yourself waiting in line for a long time.  Of course, you might occupy that time by building a nice list of credentials that you can put on your resume. Then, when somebody moves over, you can hit the gas and move into a new position.  Or….you can get out of the fast lane!  Some say “success is a choice.” Well…this is one of those choices.

If you’re considering taking the entrepreneurial route, let us know.  We’ve got plenty of folks who can help you with your idea.  Contact us at info@blitzteamconsulting.com.

The Plan-for-Planning Process – Step 4

Step 4 – How are we going to get there?

Typically called – “Strategies” – this section/chapter lays out the strategies that the company has developed to grow revenues and profits for implementation during this business planning period. You’ll want to answer all of the questions for each strategy to ensure full consideration.

The format for this section is (for every strategy):

  1. What the strategy is (a description of the strategy)?

2.  What the rationale is for the strategy (why we are implementing this strategy)?

3.  Who is responsible for implementation (a specific manager)?

4.  How long is the implementation going to take and what is going to be accomplished quarter-by-quarter (specific activities by quarter)?

5.  How much is going to be spent on each activity each quarter (a quarter-by-quarter listing of expenditures)?

6.  What is the expected return on the successful implementation of each strategy (the ROI for the strategy)?

When completed, this section should present a clear picture of what the management team plans to accomplish to continue to grow the revenues and profits for the company, and how much that will cost.

This section is particularly important because it lays out the quarterly strategic milestones that have to be reviewed on a quarterly basis, so that depending upon the success or failure of the expectations for each strategy for that quarter, decisions can be made as to how to continue to proceed strategy-by-strategy. And how to continue to allocate investments based upon these results.

This way management can better control the investments in the company’s future depending upon the levels of success or failure of each strategy on a quarterly basis.

OUR RESOLUTION

We’d like to thank you all for following us this past year.  We are truly grateful for your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.  Reflection, communication and interaction are the tools for changing the world.  Thanks for being a part of our world.

In an attempt to share more with you, we will be adding some things this year that will hopefully improve your experience with us.  This is our resolution for the new year.  We want to share more and learn more from you.  To do this, we are bringing more things in different formats so we can connect with you.  Here’s what we’re planning.

  1. We’ll be adding a new column called “Career COLD facts.”  This column will share some advice, experiences and lessons from the business world for all of our professional readers seeking that corner office spot.  This stuff ain’t what your parents or professors told you about.  It comes from the real world and is designed to wade through the BS to show you how things really work.   We all know the truth but are afraid to say it out loud.  Well….we’ll be saying it out loud!
  2. We’ll be adding some audio for those who’ve requested to hear us rather than read from us.
  3. We’ll also be adding some visual effects (e.g. videos, presentations) to help motivate us all in the new year.  Some of these we’ll make ourselves.  Some are made by others and we just like them (so we’ll share them).
  4. Lastly, we’ll be sharing our thoughts and opinions on some of the career and academic news that is published by mainstream media.  You may not believe this, but sometimes they get this stuff all wrong.  It’s time we challenge them a little.

We’re always open to suggestions.  Just go to our Contact page and send us your requests.

Again, thank you for this past year.  It has been a great learning experience for us (and hopefully for you too).

We wish you great SUCCESS in the new year and hope we can be a part of it!

Step Three – What are we going to do it with?

Continuing with your business plan – the story about your business:

Step Three – What are we going to do it with?

Typically called – “The Marketing Summary” – this section/chapter identifies the products/services that the company offers, and their plans for each during this business plan period.

The format for this section is:

  • A description of the product/service, and the market(s) that it competes in.
  • Where the product is in its product life cycle (E,G,M,A).
  • How much it contributes to the profitability of the company.
  • The specific marketing strategies for this product/service.
  • Any plans for modifying this product/service to meet changing customer requirements, and by when.
  • Any concerns about competitive threats.

When completed this section should present a clear picture of where the company is in its life cycle and the individual products/services positions in their life cycles that support and contribute to the overall company life cycle position.

Ideally, this should be summarized in a table-like presentation:

Product  Life cycle position  Projected sales  Profit contribution

A                G                                    Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3         Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3

B                M

C                 A

D                E

Company        G

As you can see this simple presentation gives the reader a complete picture of how each product/service contributes to the total projected sales and profits of the company for each year of the business plan period, as well as where each is in their product life cycles, and the company as a whole.

In combination with the narrative for each product/service you have a complete presentation of “what we are going to do it with”.

Stay tuned for Step 4!

As always, send us your questions for Dr. Business to info@blitzteamconsulting.com.

The Plan-for-Planning Process – STEP 2

In this week’s post, Dr. Business continue with Plan for Planning process by discussing STEP #2:

Step Two – What will help or hinder?

Typically called – “Key Problems & Opportunities” – this section/chapter identifies short term (within the next year) problems that the management team must deal with/resolve, and short term opportunities that can be exploited over the coming year.

Problems and opportunities also come from the SWOT analysis described in Step One. Every company has short term problems and opportunities that need to be described in their business plan. To have a well done and complete business plan theses issues have to be highlighted with the actions planned to deal with them discussed in detail.

The format for this presentation and discussion is:

  • Description of the problem e.g. Training and development of sales personnel.
  • Action plan: Contract with a professional sales training company for quarterly one day detailed seminars on professional selling techniques.
  • Measurement: Individual salesmen’s improvement in their selling techniques as measured by: 1. Increased sales, and 2. Feedback from customer surveys.
  • Description of the opportunity e.g. Implement Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) system.
  • Action plan: Research CRM systems for the one best suited for our business/marketplace during the first quarter.
  • Evaluate and select a system during the second quarter.
  • Begin implementation during the second half.

When done well this section/chapter of the business plan describes management’s proactive plans to deal with the problems and opportunities identified in the SWOT exercise. It represents positive actions that are being taken to deal with issues of critical importance during the first year of this business plan.

It should reinforce stakeholder’s confidence in the management team and motivate them to delve further into the longer range plans outlined in the business plan.

The Plan-for-Planning Process – Step 1

One of the major reasons businesses fail is either because they do not have a business plan, or have not updated the plan that they once developed.

A business plan is a story about your business: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? And, most importantly – How are you going to get there, and by when?

After helping hundreds of company’s develop business plans and teaching business strategy for many years, I explain my five step Plan-for-Planning Process in my book.

Step One – Where are we now?

Typically called – “The Executive Summary” – this section/chapter explains where a company finds itself  at the beginning of a new planning period in terms of:

  • Their sales and profitability at the end of last year.
  • Their position in their marketplace vis-à-vis their competitors.
  • The results of the most recent SWOT analysis.
  • What their unique value proposition is.
  • Management’s description of their vision for the future of the company.

This section can only be completed after the management team has gone through an evaluation of the current situation the company finds itself in. This encompasses an honest SWOT analysis. SWOT being:

  • Strengths – What is our core technology i.e. what do we do better than our competition?
  • Weaknesses – What don’t we do well i.e. in terms of execution of our strategies?
  • Opportunities – What immediate options do we have that we need to implement as soon as possible?
  • Threats – What can cause us to lose customers, and what can we do about it?

Since a business plan is a story about a business, and as a story it has to be interesting and motivating for stakeholders to want to know more. Think about the introduction to any good book that you have read – hasn’t it encouraged you to want to read on?

Another important value to a well done business plan is that it can be shared with all the company’s stakeholders to give them confidence that they are part of a growing successful and profitable business. The most successful companies broadcast their unique value proposition, as well as the implementation of  well thought through strategies that support their vision for their future.

A well done business plan is akin to reading the annual report of any successful public company wherein the company explains: where they are now, where they plan to be in the next 3 to 5 years, and the strategies they expect to implement to get to where they want to be. The continuing ability of the management team to achieve their goals supports and grows the brand equity of the company. This should be the goal for your business plan, too.

How to Win Support for Your Entrepreneurial Dream

Your business should begin with a business plan and financial projections.  Dr. Business mentioned this in his posts some time ago.  These are valuable tools because they help us capture our dream and put it down on paper.  Without this clarity, most people will think you’re still in the creation process, molding your idea into something actionable, and will be reluctant to lend a hand.  Here are two things you need to create to turn the excitement you create in others into support for your dream.

Clarity of Vision.    Before you do anything with your entrepreneurial dream, you first need to paint it with enough clarity that you can describe it in detail beyond the normal person’s level of patience.   In a recent business venture, my partner brought me an idea of the business he wanted to start.  Initially, the idea was fairly simple and would be realized within a year.  Thinking this idea had merit, I decided to take a good look at it.  For me, it took about two months to fully vet the idea.  I looked at everything.  When I was done, I created a new vision for the company that was considerably different from the original idea.  The service offering was the same but the customer base was much broader and had a growth plan that spanned geographically and across different markets.  Another modification to the plan was the elimination of competition from other service providers by the new choice of the customer base.  Lastly, I created a technology plan to that was aimed at optimizing the processes through the use of technology that would eventually make it a hands-free process.  After my review, there was little I didn’t know about this plan.  I could easily talk for 3 hours on the new plan.  This is well beyond what anyone would want to hear in any one sitting. Granted you may not have put this much time into your idea, you need to be able to visualize and verbalize two main ideas; that is, what you are doing now and what you’ll do later.

What are you doing right now?  This is an extremely important question.  Imagine someone hears your idea and wants to invest in it (not a VC or angel investor).  You need to be able to tell them what you’ll do from day 1 through the first year.  Interested parties will want to know what actions you’ll take.  If you can explain those, then they will assume you’ve made a fairly good analysis of your idea.

Where do you see this going in the future?  This answer communicates the amount of time you’ve put into your plan.  If your answer is “I don’t know,” then most people will have serious concerns about the potential for this idea.  But if you can provide an answer that outlines the actions in year 2, year 3 and beyond, your audience will take further interest in your dream.

Market it to them.  One thing you know is that accomplishing your dreams all by yourself is almost impossible.  You need others to take a real interest in what you are doing.  Most startups fail.  This is a known fact.  Why?  Vision and support.  Without a vision, you won’t win support.   Without support, you’re on your own (and that’s really difficult).  Gaining support isn’t that hard.  It all starts with expressing your dream in a way that inspires others to want to be a part of your dream.   In fact, sharing your dream to inspire others must be one of your goals.  The key to soliciting support for your endeavors is to articulate your dream in a way that is clearly visible, tangible and palpable.  You can sell your dream without anyone ever even knowing it.  Here’s what you need to show them.

Vision. If you don’t have a clear picture of the future you want to create, no one else will either.  This means they can’t figure out how to help you get there.  The picture doesn’t have to be in extremely high resolution, but the more definition you can provide the easier it is to see.  Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, Sam Walton, Oprah, Bill Gates and many others have built an empire from nothing.  It all started with a vision.

Drive.  If you want to motivate people to action, they have to feel a sense of purpose.  In this case, it’s your purpose which must ooze out of every pore in your body, fall on the floor and splatter onto to others, infecting them with a strong sense of purpose.  There are plenty of examples.  Steve Jobs helped create Apple, then he was kicked out of the company he helped start.  He then created Pixar, which led to his return to one of the greatest companies in the world.  Steve wouldn’t be held down.  Now, that’s drive.

Passion.  Have you ever been around someone who without a doubt believed in what they were doing?  You could sense the excitement in their tone and body language.  After a few minutes of listening to them, you felt excited.  The love you have for your dream is what fuels your efforts and people should be able to sense that.  They should be able to see it, hear it, feel it,  and most importantly, adopt it.

Who are you marketing to?  Anyone who can help you move your goals forward.  I sell my dream to my mentors, friends, neighbors and anyone who takes an interest in it.  When I start talking about one of my businesses, I act like a kid in the candy store.  I’m full of excitement and energy and have the ability to ramble for days about the plans I have for them.  I share my dream constantly so my speech is well practiced and rolls of my tongue effortlessly.  Most people respond with a “slow down” comment somewhere in our conversation.

Here’s how I gauge my success in selling my dream.  In a recent startup of mine, almost everyone I spoke with wanted to become a part of the business.  I would ask someone for help and they would turn it into a job interview.  That’s how you know you’re on the right track and that your dream is so deeply embedded that it shines brightly in all you do.  In a phone conversation with a friend, he wanted to know what I was doing.  It had been a while since we last spoke.  After a few minutes, he asked me to call him on another day to understand my latest endeavor in detail.  He wanted to be a part of it.  He stated that “anything you do is surely well thought out and likely to be a big winner.  I’m in.”  I wasn’t really asking him for help.  I was just talking about my dream.  Now imagine you get an offer of support from everyone you talk to.  You’re almost guaranteed to be a success.

Remember, your success hinges on your vision and your ability to sell it.  Once you define and believe in it, things will begin to fall into place.  The world loves dreamers.  We want someone to follow.  Dreamers provide inspiration for us to follow our own dreams or become a part of theirs.

That’s it for now.  The burden is yours.  What will you do?  Wish it or build it?

Are mentors important for entrepreneurs?

In this week’s question, we ask Dr. Business “Are mentors important for entrepreneurs?”

Dr. Business says:

“Entrepreneurs are techies of one sort or another, and typically have never taken any courses on the fundamentals of running a business. As a result they need help and mentors are the ideal individuals to guide them during the critical start-up of their new business. They can help right from the beginning by sharing their feelings about the commercial viability of the entrepreneurs idea. Many entrepreneurs have great ideas that just will not fly either because there just aren’t enough customers, the cost are prohibitive, the technology too complex for the current market, or the competition too great.

If the mentor feels the idea has merit then the best that they can do for the entrepreneur is to guide them through the development of a business plan, and most importantly the break-even analysis for their first year of operations. The business plan is critical for two reasons (1) as a much needed education for the entrepreneur, and (2) as the basis for explaining and justifying the value proposition for potential investors. The break-even analysis lends even more credibility to the presentation to prospective investors.
Other types of mentors are accountants who can also help entrepreneurs understand the value of developing timely financial statements and budgeting. And, lawyers are essential to any business, and especially start-up’s who need help with a variety of contracts. Lastly, mentors who are experts at marketing can be very helpful in the current era of social media and mobile marketing.
The best advice I have for any entrepreneur is to establish an Advisory Board of mentors as soon as possible before launching your new business. They will save you from yourself.”
Thanks, Dr. Business.  As always, if you’ve got a specific question you want Dr. Business to address, email it to us.

A GUIDE BOOK TO PLANNING

Starting a business is never easy.  If it was, everyone would be doing it.  The challenge for most is the unknown.  When you haven’t started and run a business before, you really don’t know what to look out for.  This is where many turn to the Internet for answers.  We will spend hours searching from site to site to find the best advice.  I know.  I’ve done it many times myself and I’ve started a few businesses that way.  In fact, I started a new one this summer and am still in startup mode.  There are two ways to start a business: planned and unplanned.

My first business I thought I was very smart and could figure out everything I needed to know when I came to it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.  There were many legal, insurance and finance questions I couldn’t answer.  I had to stop the business to understand what these issues meant.  It really became a nuisance when I would have to stop selling my services to go figure something out.  It took me a couple of businesses to figure out that you really want to plan out your steps as much as possible before you start the business.  There’s nothing worse than having to hold a customer off while you go obtain some certification or license so you can offer them your service.  Planning early allows you to focus on selling the business when you start.  After all, that’s where the money comes from.

In my most recent business, something outside of my expertise, I decided to do the right amount of planning prior to kickoff.  I’m actually selling services to the government so I can’t afford to be unprepared.  So, I chose a detailed planning process to prepare the business.  Since this business was outside my expertise, I needed a guide to help me keep from wasting so much time figuring things out.  I’ve worked with Robert Donnelly for years and chose the guidebook he released some years ago, entitled “Guidebook to Planning.” It is a great start, complete with examples, illustrations and even forms.  Donnelly has a lot of experience in entrepreneurship.  In fact, some of the information from this book has been utilized in training classes he developed for BUSINESSWEEK and INC magazine.  This guidebook is a compilation of a lot of experience and will save you considerable time developing that invaluable plan for your startup.

While my latest business is still in startup mode, I haven’t had to spend any time going back to setup something I missed in the beginning.  Right now, I spend my time selling the services to potential customers. It’s exactly what I want to be and need to be doing.

Check out Donnelly’s Guidebook at Amazon.  Get the book.  Use the process.  Then, contact him to answer questions that still plague you.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.  Remember, you can always do things the hard way.  Why not take the time to give yourself a great start?

guidebook to planning

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