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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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Business Vitality: Preventing Adversities Before They Occur

by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman with telescope

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“Panic” and “chaos” are not what one should undergo in business. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are caught off guard more often than necessary when operating their business. In his book “The E-Myth Revisited”, dynamic author Michael Gerber states that a business person ought to work “on” his/her business, rather than “in” his/her business.

Start-ups have a leg-up if they launch and persevere on the “right track.” The appropriate definition of these two words together imply following a proper course of action. The analogy which can be applied to a business well-being is our own personal state of formidable health comprising of a healthy diet, frequent exercise and undergoing an annual physical. The objective is to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Remaining diligent and active as opposed to reactive

Entrepreneurs may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as prohibitive, thus solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Moreover, when drafting a business plan as the road-map, include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) matrix and “what if” scenarios — which will reveal and prepare one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, as well as coping with various challenges which can arise. In addition, consider plotting a business model as a prelude to the business plan. It makes you think through your business plan, which in turn communicates the business model. Both should synchronize. Make certain a short term (less than 12 months), medium term (13-30 month), as well as a long-term plan (30-60 month) have been conceived.

Savvy business people – whether new or seasoned entrepreneurs or CEOs of large corporations possess:

  • Insight and foresight;
  • Strategies and execution competence;
  • Alternative plans with an exit strategy in case situations turn awry;
  • The perception to take “calculated” risks rather than dive into the abyss;
  • Openness to third party advice;
  • Focus and consistency to achieve their goals and objectives;
  • The ability to see opportunity before their competition does and act upon it in a timely manner.

Negligence with current enterprises

Growing pains in any organization require a formidable administration to keep the business operating efficiently which includes customer front & center, profitability and more than adequate cash flow. Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo.
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/under-capitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to swiftly confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. It must also have preventive systems in place in anticipation of issues which may arise.

For its clients to receive stellar service, the enterprise must have its house in order. Besides structure and an efficient operation, employees should be trained and empowered to do their jobs efficiently.

Companies that disrespect their employees and shut-out clients get willfully isolated and have a short life span through an erosion of market share and significant loss of revenue. Thus, a company’s goal should place emphasis on serving its people properly and fairly. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities hinder that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives.

Superman Businessman

Operational prevention: Implementation of systems and risk management

To preventing operational problems before they even occur requires anticipating them through operational intelligence. The purpose of risk management is to identify potential problems before they occur. To do so entails early and in-depth risk analysis through the collaboration and involvement of all parties involved in running the business. It’s where brainstorming occurs about potential problems regarding the product(s), service(s), market(s) etc. to search for and foresee issues, as well as create solutions in advance – eluding the element of surprise at some point in time. Risk management is comprised of: 1) Identifying, outlining and analyzing potential risks; 2) A course of action in handling the identified risks, as well as the implementation of risk control/elimination plans when/where necessary.

Business leadership should contemplate allowing constant flexibility to adjust strategy when necessary if the initial one isn’t effective.

There should be continuous checks and balances – especially with regards to internal financial controls through various procedures implemented to reduce errors or possible embezzlement by staff. Trust but verify ought to be the organization’s mantra and actual implementation.

Perhaps you can consider a risk analysis software such as a SAS platform whose practical use offers best practices to help the company establish a risk-aware culture through various enterprise risk models and forecasting. We note examples of aircraft pilots who diligently prepare prior to a flight – or ship captains making their plans prior to voyages at sea.

When all is said and done – avoiding pitfalls

Companies with inept leadership usually fail in the first or second year, but even established companies can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

To be a successful and sustaining entrepreneur requires vision, strategy, execution and constant diligence – along with plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

Well-run companies thrive no matter what and learn from their mistakes – making certain they don’t repeat them. However, never give failures a second thought. There are no dress rehearsals in business either.

Onwards and upwards!

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Bold Leadership: 10 Ways to Eradicate Organizational Politics

by James D. Roumeliotis

Office Politics 1 of 2

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When the boss of the company for which, we will call Erica, worked for was trying to create rift between her and her immediate superior, by sneaking around and creating misunderstandings, the situation worsened to the point that the manager eventually felt the need to resign from the company. Many similar unethical situations occur every day at most businesses anywhere on the planet.

It is human nature that when dealing with people you’re up against various personality characters – partly innate and partly as a result of the person’s upbringing. In the study of psychology, there are five personality traits which are used to describe human personality. They include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

That said, it’s no wonder why it can seem as a challenge when dealing with some colleagues – in particular if their character differs from yours and their selfish goals are front and center. This applies to all types of organizations/workplaces whether for profit, non-profit, private or public. With the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, one of the most widely used psychological instruments in the world, the outcome can be one of 16 distinct personality types amongst which included are “The Doers” and “The Idealists.”

One reason organizations fail to reach their potential is the overwhelming presence of internal politics.  The organization’s leadership should be held accountable for allowing this to flourish, let alone exist. Likewise, the situation can cause career crisis for those who are victims of this organizational plague.

What are internal/office politics and why do they even exist?

Essentially, politics result when several or most of the employees of an organization are behaving in an awkward way through their attitude, and actions that misalign with the best interests of the organization. As a result, productivity gets stifled, morale drops to low levels, and various close-knit groups are formed ‒ all of which compete with each other in a negative sense. To use the analogy of energy, it’s like several forces pulling in different directions.

Office politics constitute several forms amongst the staff including:

–          Backstabbing

–          Disrespect for colleagues and superiors

–          Resentment

–          Jealousy

–          Insecurity

–          Hatred

–          Selfishness

–          Power struggles

–          Favoritism/injustice

–          Nepotism

–          Gossip and rumours

–          Tight knit groups

–          Malfeasance

–          Possibly bullying as a result of aggression

According to a recent Inc. magazine article by Janine Popick, at her email company, she identifies 4 “office politicians” that will poison your culture. They are, the bully, the ass-kisser, the information withholder, and the squeaky wheel. You can read about their characteristics in detail here.

Office politics exist in various intensities and for several reasons, though it starts with people ‒ all of whom are of different origin, background, personality type, come to work with personal baggage and have their own agenda. The business lacks cohesiveness amongst its staff and leadership. The blame for this outcome goes squarely to the organization’s management which is either oblivious to the fact or negligent in eradicating it. Therefore, accountability begins at the top of the organization, department or division. Incidentally, politics don’t solely exist in large companies but in mid-size and small enterprises too ‒ though more prevalent in larger companies due to the number of employees and managers.

What initiates it in the first place and subsequently makes it thrive are:

–          Deficient direction from the top,

–          Lack of teamwork amongst the staff and management ‒ not everyone is in sync,

–          Negative vibes within the organizational culture, and

–          A lack of communication.

Office Politics 2 of 2

Eradicating it from the status quo

For reasons specified above, internal politics shouldn’t be tolerated. Some would argue it’s a fact of life at work and ought to be regarded as a necessary evil, so just play along with it. Those same people have not understood or concerned about the negative effects it causes an organization.

The solutions that can be implemented to minimize politics require initiative and conscientious effort. It’s also not a onetime effort but an ongoing monitoring process. This is where bold leadership makes an impact.

Consider the following:

  1. Hire employees with the right attitude rather than focus solely on skills;
  2. Concise job descriptions, proper on-boarding and continuous training along with shared organizational values;
  3. Putting in leadership positions, those who are respected, competent in their role and can empower their subordinates;
  4. Avoiding any means of favoritism ‒ total equality;
  5. Avoid any form of nepotism ‒ most notably in in smaller organizations;
  6. Develop and implement a sound communication strategy ‒ replace confusion with clarity and uncertainty with certainty;
  7. Seeking creative ways to boost morale and make every employee feel as if part of a cohesive family working together in a positive team spirit for a common goal;
  8. Offer incentive compensation arrangements which reward performance and teamwork, hence are aligned with the goals of the overall organization;
  9. There should be no direct reporting to anyone the employee has a personal relationship with.
  10. Make it clear, with constant reminders, that there is zero tolerance for animosity amongst the staff. Everyone should be in sync for the good of the organization.

Finally, encourage openness with an open door policy along with the ability for the staff to discreetly convey their complaints and labor disputes to a third/neutral party, as well as encourage suggestions for improvements.

Consider this typical scenario as an approach to minimizing politics at your company. If you’re in a situation when you meet with one of your staff members, perhaps a direct report, he/she might start criticizing a colleague in subtle ways so as to indirectly give his/her best appearance. This is a sign of political play. The most effective way to put an end to it is by tactfully explaining why it’s not morally correct to speak behind anyone’s back. Rather, urge this person to discuss or assist his/her colleague head-on despite requiring some courage to do so.

In conclusion ‒ confronting the disease head-on with conflict management

Internal politics are a detriment to any organization. It’s up to the leadership to identify and stamp it out through its policy of intolerance. It is, after all, management’s responsibility to monitor the culture, morale and productivity of the staff, otherwise the situation may become too misaligned overwhelmingly affecting the bottom line.

There is no such thing as “ditty” office politics. Its mere existence is adequate to cause strain to the organization and its employees – regardless of stature. It is unethical behavior. If there’s a conflict, stop it in its tracks by going to the source of it. This should be done in person, and if necessary one-on-one in a private setting. Perhaps some coaching along with talk straight may be necessary to discuss how to work well with the other individual and encourage this person to talk to each other.

At the end of the day, office politics is the direct result of a lack of focus and lack of teamwork. Someone has to take responsibility for it and not allow it to thrive, let alone exist. Encourage your staff to work in harmony and keep an eye out for the office politicians. Politics is a human dilemma. If you can’t eliminate it, at east contain it. Consider conflict management in your human resources arsenal.

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10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

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Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Adult Lemonade Stand

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Business-Success

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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Overcoming Adversities | Recoveries – Turnarounds | Growth Strategies | Sounding Board | Shadow Management | Interim Management | Sales Management Outsourcing

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