Category Archives: entrepreneur

Shady and Dysfunctional Enterprises: Deceit, Greed and Short-sightedness in the Name of Profit and Market Share

By James D. Roumeliotis

Dysfunctional Company Hierarchy

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Businesses of all sizes normally develop various pain points. A seasoned entrepreneur has actually made a list of 100. In the end, pain is a motivator for action to turn things around. However, the key is in how to tackle each one and in a timely manner. Better yet, how many of them are ever anticipated — and as a consequence solutions readily available? What is not anticipated are repercussions from poor decisions made or deceit deliberately caused with or without knowledge from company authorities. As a result, denial sets in from the top with accountability being dismissed.

Needless to say, chaos reigns within organizations which for many results in bleak outcomes. Within, there is a lack of communication, trust, transparency and loyalty. Not a sincere and astute way to operate a business.

By all appearances, there are plenty of executives who are simply results driven at the expense of their customers, employees as well as with their vendor relationships. Remarkably, most of those companies are publicly traded.

Corporations lack trust from consumers

A survey conducted by JUST Capital’s of more than 40,000 U.S. participants and groups indicates that the nation’s largest corporations are “going in the wrong direction.”

Overall, only 41 percent of all Americans trust corporations “somewhat” or “a great deal,” while 50 percent of more conservative Americans trust corporations.

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Source: http://justcapital.com/research

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, as well as their shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regards to nutritional benefits and nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks are causes for frustration, suspicion and loathing.

Sectors notorious for constant price gouging coupled with despicable service include, but not limited to, a select number of pharmaceutical brands, banking/financial services, cellphone service providers, cable companies and airlines. Too add salt to injury, in the U.S. and Canada, pointless aggressive lobbying efforts by various industries yield their influence by means of generous contributions to political parties. They are also infamous for spending a ludicrous amount of money producing sly ads and propaganda which go against consumer wishes. Consider the soda lobbyists who, according to a NY Times article, “made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” Sadly for consumers and the city of Philadelphia, the tactics worked. Similar outcomes occurred in New York City and San Francisco. In the end, the soda industry’s rubbish of an astonishingly high calibre, comes as it does from the same producers of fatty chips to the pre-diabetic, semi-literate masses. Ornate language and ostentatious preening cannot mask the shameful practice of marketing for the kind pre-fabricated, chemically-calibrated food products that are making its mainstream market obese, thus unhealthy.

In certain types of large scale B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted to forego ethics in favor of making the deal. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are either uncovered by authorities, as well as not conceived with trust or respect.

Then there are the occasional devious companies that will do what it takes in the name of revenue and profit ─ disregarding authorities, customers and everyone who takes their trust for granted. Volkswagen’s blatant rigging of emissions tests with over 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally, 482,000 of which are VW and Audi brand cars in the U.S., is an ideal case in point. As a result of its mischievousness, the company known for its hard core corporate culture caused a great deal of damage to the environment. Their supposed clean diesel models have been spewing up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution. The recall is one example of a deliberate act gone terribly awry for a brand which wholeheartedly masterminded it with self-admission. Rather than sacking the CEO Martin Winterkorn, under whose watch this scandal occurred, and depriving him of his golden parachute, the supervisory board allowed the septuagenarian, Mr. Winterkom, to conveniently step down and take home a lucrative compensation package.

<For suggestions on how VW’s new leadership should tackle their mess, contact this author for his pragmatic and practical approach.>

Corporate governance or lack thereof

The term “Best practices” is not merely words but deeds. What is required is an efficient implementation of strategies, quality controls and delivering more than lip-service. Evidently, it is not easy, otherwise, many more businesses would be performing admirably.

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is where procedural decisions are shaped and executed. One would think and expect an entity’s leadership to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth. Conversely, there is a constant search for the “ideal” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

In the end, leadership ought to foresee and prevent any potential scandals, apply checks in balances, inspect what is expected, keep corporate structure layers to a minimum, and keep communication channels open.

Customers first, employees second — investors third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Chinese Internet-based businesses, made a public statement which may have surprised the investment community. He publicly stated that, “Our customers come first, our employees second, and our shareholders third.”  The highly regarded membership-only warehouse club COSTCO performs actions consistent with one’s claims as they too follow Jack Ma’s mantra. The impressive financial results year after year speak volumes as they retain the best intentions of their employees and customers.

It took Amazon quite long to finally earn a profit since its inception. Founder Jeff Bezos and his senior executive team dug in their heels despite outcries from many of their shareholders for continuously making large capital investments with no profits in sight. For a while, plenty of cash was spent for IT related infrastructure including Cloud computing and everything related to giving the company an edge over the competition. Customer service and the customer experience have been priority no. 1. In the end, shareholders who lingered learned that patience with their investment in Amazon is a virtue in the long run.

The attitude of the individuals in the boardroom had better be that if investors are impatient and eager for quick monetary results, they can take their money and invest it elsewhere.

Advice for start-ups: ‘Steady as she goes’

A well-oiled operation should consistently head steadily on its current course regardless of any obstacles that get in its way.

Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that nearly six out of 10 businesses shut down within the first four years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. 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.

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 among 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/undercapitalized (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.

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

Wish list of best practices should include but not limited to:

  • avoid potential scandals;
  • apply checks in balances in place;
  • inspect what is expected;
  • trust but verify;
  • retain corporate structure layers to a minimum, and
  • keep communication channels open.

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get — methodical, sustained growth with patience and lack of greed.

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

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Starting a Business Roadmap INFOGRAPHIC

Starting a business from the bottom up requires discipline, decisiveness, a roadmap along with structure from the get-go.

There is a plethora of advice on entrepreneurship and on launching a business out there but very little substance on a universal step-by-step guide or a turn-key resource.

The Roadmap

Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, a thorough research should be conducted, a meticulously plan set in place, and implementation performed flawlessly. Nothing should be taken for granted.

The following link takes you to a step-by step start-up roadmap infographic.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/4766874-starting-a-business-roadmap

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Branding Essentials for Small Enterprises

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Small Business Branding

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Entrepreneurs may possess an abundance of passion for their small enterprise, but when it comes to promotion, value proposition, and building a brand their enthusiasm wanes. Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.

No matter how small your venture may be, branding is essential. Branding is more than sticking a logo on a letterhead or business card.

Branding is the DNA of what you sell or do. Considering clients want to bond with a brand, you owe it to yourself to generate a story line. Buying today is so much more than a question of need. It is a question of relationship.

It is a given fact that a small enterprise will not have the budget or resources to implement a high powered show, outsource to an award winning agency or hire a PR/Marketing team to handle the ins and outs of this side of the business. However, what you do have or should have is creativity, innovative thinking, a sound understanding of your market, sweat equity and chutzpah.

Getting to grips with the differentials

The terms marketing and branding are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake in understanding. They are in fact two different concepts and should be understood as such.

Marketing is defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”.

Marketing provides strategic support to the sales function, by locating and nurturing qualified leads in order to reduce the cost of sale and shorten the sales cycle. To accomplish this, marketers use a variety of techniques, such as advertising, market research, and logo design.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as:
“A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

A brand is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. Any viable small business must embrace branding, have a clear sense of identity and value proposition. Many start-ups typically make a cardinal mistake by thinking that they are just selling products or services. The organization of the firm may be sound, but a strong grounding in branding will make your venture a pure success story.

Branding in essence is the heart and soul of your venture. It sets your products or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator. Competing just on price is a dead end game. The only firms who can win at this deal in high volumes and low margins. Small businesses cannot compete here. Service and experience therefore, should be added to the column of differentiators.

For example, local or neighborhood businesses which sell products with a reputable identity and favorable customer perception will invariably sell more and can command a better prices. Take the case of La Vie Claire in France. The franchise model has made these shops institutions in targeted neighborhoods. Most products are branded with the name of the store. Other brands are small or unknown. Sales at individual point of sales hinge on the service and advice of the resident manager. Given the price points of organic food, cosmetics, vitamins, mineral supplements clients seek a value added proposition to shop here on a regular basis. The key component is reliability, friendliness, and good products, which are fresh.

What is Branding - Green Board

Consider the following keys:

1) Begin by defining your brand
Their is a small mens clothing boutique in the ninth arrondissement in Paris. The name is Husbands. It is off a main shopping street, but you would need a reference to know it exists. The brand ID is classic English tailoring ready-to-wear with a rock ‘n roll attitude. Fabrics are top notch and there are subtle detailing common to bespoke. Prices are moderate. However, if you are a new comer to the store, the first question you would ask yourself is: What is the unique selling proposition?

The owner of this store, will be happy to oblige you by talking to you about his passion and why the clothes are good value for money. However, is Husbands a brand? To the client, the answer is no. The story line of the brand and the store should be clear without an explanation.

2) Positioning
What do you want your brand to represent? Examine text book examples of brands that work. Don’t copy. Just learn the lessons and apply them to your brand in the making. A good case here is Hackett. When Jeremy Hackett first started out on the wrong end of the Kings Road, he understood that his brand had to embody something. In his case it was the essential British kit. Everything about the original concept captured the elegance of British tailoring without copying Savile Row. The store was old school for a new generation. The moment the press talked about his venture, the shop was off to the races.

The concept of Hackett was clearly defined from the beginning. Everything and I mean every detail was bonded into the brand and the DNA was solid and clear in any client who visited the premises.

3) Visual Identity
Neglect this point at your own risk. Color, lighting, furnishings, logo, bags, and so forth must speak with one unified voice. If the voice is mixed or unclear, your brand is dead in the water. Online presence must support the bricks and mortar entity. If you just sell online, fine. Just make sure their is one storyline, coherent, defining, and engaging. If it is, clients will act as ombudsmen. If it isn’t, you won’t make a single sale.

Take the case of Atelier de l’Armee based in Amsterdam. The strength of the brand ID is workwear, vintage, military. The concept revolves around craftsmanship with a contemporary voice of high quality and style.

4) Articulate your messaging
Ensure coherent communications online and offline. Three brands come to mind worthy of your attention: Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, and DKNY. Each of these brands encapsulates a unique and distinctive vision. The products become the props to their fantasy worlds. The message delivery is always on target because they have been thought through with precision. Which ever value proposition you entertain, you must admit that the ID is engaging and speaks with its clients as valued partners not at them.

Advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management are only the tools of the trade. The right messaging spearheads each component in a contiguous manner, which everyone finds engaging and wants to be part of. Does your brand accomplish this? If not, better go back to the story board.

5) Obsession
Often I have this discussion with colleagues and clients. It is about generating an obsession. Almost sounds like a perfume brand. Successfully generating obsession is the best sort of brand loyalty. Clients are enchanted and as mentioned before on this blog constitute a magic kingdom.

A year ago, Entrepreneur magazine had published an article by author Paula Andruss titled “The Secrets of 7 Successful Brands.” In it, she wrote that regardless how long ago those brands were launched, they all share one thing in common: They have figured out how to work their way into customers’ hearts, minds and wallets. Companies include online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker, TED and Pinterest, amongst others.

Funny Law Firm Name

Branding for the private/professional practice

To develop a following requires a brand, and it doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, dentist, an accountant, or an attorney. All self-employed professionals should include it on their wish list. Your personal “brand” is what comes to mind when your “clients” are deciding whether to see you for the first or not.

Your credentials have much to do with your image in the consumer’s mind, so does your office ambiance and the courtesy (or lack of) offered the minute your staff greet the patient/client at the front desk. You may also be the doctor with bad breath or architect who is frequently late for appointments.

When branding your own private practice, you have the ability to carefully create a brand position that will appeal to your market and make your profession more successful through broader, or in some cases, very specific appeal. However, brand development requires time, energy, as well as a reasonable budget.

Personal brand positioning is the activity of creating an identity with a distinctive value in the target customer’s mind. For instance, when we think of an accomplished defense attorney, the first ones that spring to mind are those who have a reputation for having a high rate of litigation success – or cardiologists who are identified as utterly competent in curing most heart diseases and extending their patients’ life span. Essentially that is the position they occupy in your mind whenever you think of them.

Putting it all together

Branding significantly increases the overall value of brand equity. It’s proven that the brand value is ten times more than the physical assets of the company. It is more like investing in goodwill and this is priceless.

For a certain small businesses, the notion of marketing and branding remains unfamiliar territory. New business school grads however should approach this subject with eyes wide open. You can be a small fashion brand, boutique or even restaurant. Just examine the original Dean & Deluca, the gourmet food emporium, when it was located on Prince Street in SoHo, New York. The concept and vibe was pure branding genius.

Whatever path you choose, choose wisely. Create a brand with purpose. Give your audience a value proposition. Make them want to be part of your success story. Align your goals with an experience and the clients will come in droves.

Bonding with your audience also requires that you monitor the client’s behavior and the brand’s online reputation. Reputations can be fostered with either free or pay-for-service online tools such Google Alerts and Reputation.com. It is often advisable to conducting research among both your customers and employees. Timeframes can vary depending on your activity. Classic measurements take place either twice a year or annually.

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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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The Merits of an Advisory Board : Transforming your SME Forward

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The Short-sighted and Passive Business Leader: Reform or Descend

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Blindfolded Executive 

How often do we hear of CEOs who have been discharged for lack of performance? Contrast this with those whose Boards have kept them on the job despite controversy and/or inept leadership. The latter decision seems troubling. Consider Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and Mike Duke of Walmart amongst others.

It is my belief that the key issue here is organizational structure. Far too often, successful groups grow and get out of control. No organization should be too large. When it grows in size, inevitably it becomes overburdened and self-protecting. Incompetence is a guaranteed result.

The prime decision maker of the organization exercises a variety of leadership styles. Leadership is linked to personality. ‒ there is the empty, well compensated, well-tailored, neat and polite dapper boss; the absolutely lost and ineffective one; the barking, intimidating, eager for respect boss;  then you have the hypocritical and/or bipolar type ‒ one day treats you well, whereas, the next day treats you with utter disrespect. For the most part, there is the worship me and exceedingly charismatic kind in vast numbers who mostly got there because of that particular trait along with shrewd politicking each step on the way up.
What most, as described above, do have in common is incompetence. Despite all the act and ego stroking, in the end, they do what it takes to remain in their dynamic position.

Short term results at the expense of long term consequences

Shareholders and the Boards focus on quarterly earnings growth results. As a result, we often witness severely dysfunctional decision making with public corporate leadership. This includes irresponsible behavior, as well as lack of depth and vision. HP’s Board is a case in point. It has been notoriously dysfunctional in the ways it has governed itself which resulted in a spate of upheavals over the last few years.

There is tremendous pressure to perform in a short period of time. There are no silver bullets for quick results. Seeds need to be planted for the future and for the good of the organization.  Panacea creates decision making blunders which abound. At times it’s error in judgment and neglect. Every business sector is riddled with poor senior management. Here is a sample of some companies whose inept and/or negligent decision making have made headlines in unflattering ways.

–       KODAK: In 1975, engineers at the company introduced the first digital camera to its executives. Rather than embracing it, fearing it would cannibalize its lucrative film sector, the top brass asked that the digital camera be kept under wraps indefinitely.

–       WALMART: The company leadership has a long record of unethical behavior, from brutally exploiting workers to discriminating against women to bribing Mexican officials.

–       MICROSOFT: Its CEO has remained long enough in his position to wipe out shareholder value by falling asleep at the wheel rather than vigorously pursuing web and mobile based businesses which companies such as Google and Apple, amongst others, have remained ahead of the game.

–       JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Its former CEO who was employed at the company for 40 years resigned amid a series of missteps over the last few years of his tenure which damaged his and his company’s once sterling reputations. This included recalls of numerous over-the-counter well established drugs, including the largest recall of children’s non-prescription drugs, as well as medical devices. In addition, it was warned by the FDA about false claims it issued about its popular mouthwash, while another U.S. Federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, charged the company with bribing doctors in several countries to prescribe its drugs and medical devices.

–       ABERCROMBIE & FITCH: CEO Michael Jeffries’s snarl and insensitive remark that the brand’s apparel are solely targeted to the hip, slim, attractive and affluent “All American” teenager, offended many. As expected, it set off a storm of controversy. For someone concerned about his company’s image, the self-inflicted incident has damaged his and his company’s reputation. Even A&F’s investors are not pleased with the discriminatory statement which has negatively affected revenues and the stock price.

Organizational leadership is bestowed with the authority and accountability for creating value for customers, employees and its owners or shareholders. In spite of this, a significant weakness in running an organization is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. It’s my notion that the leader of many large multinational corporations, competence is not the primary value but rather the connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

The best-managed companies are constant achievers in their respective industries. They exude managerial excellence and financial performance is a reflection of capable management.

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.

Businessman with telescope

Identifying the shortcomings of incompetents

Regrettably, there are not many business leaders who make the cut. This includes those who also possess credentials from Ivy League educational institutions and/or oodles of charisma. A President or CEO grooming school doesn’t presently exist. Contrary to what many may think, there are no natural born leaders. In the past two decades, the average tenure of a CEO has halved. This is adequate proof how demanding the job is.

Our experiences and conditions shape who we are as people and as leaders. Leadership, like management, is not a science but a practice. The difference between the two, according to the late management guru Peter Drucker, is “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Telltale signs of poor leadership in an organization include:

  • in a state of denial about shortcomings – persisting with a dysfunctional status quo;
  • slow/delayed decision-making process;
  • lack of foresight for innovation;
  • short-term selfish driven decisions with no regard for long-term consequences;
  • no clear vision/strategy;
  • passive-aggressive;
  • unethical practices including apathy and lack of scruples;
  • irrational thinking/decision making;
  • an absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Chaos reigns amongst various internal departments which don’t function as a team;
  • narcissistic;
  • shielded from the lower ranking staff and the customer as he/she spends most, if not all of the time, behind the desk and perpetual committee meetings;
  • inflexible;
  • lack of transparency ‒ there is hardly any openness from management.

Anatomy of a competent boss: in search of sustainable leadership

A prime responsibility of leadership is the capability to constantly be one step ahead of their game, to envision what lies ahead, and in the process, be well prepared to lead the organization to great heights.

Effective leaders focus on long-term growth not short term decisions to increase or stabilize the company’s stock price. Furthermore, they should be open to ideas from lower level management not exclusively from their inner circle of “yes” men/women.

The following skills may appear as a list intended for a job description. However, they should be deemed a prerequisite for a leadership role regardless of the size or type of organization.

–       Bonds emotionally

–       Communicates well

–       Possesses character

–       Accountability

–       Humility, not ego

–       Foresight but with an open mind for feedback

–       Passionate

–       Can handle criticism

–       Tenacious

–       Articulate

–       Regard for people

–       Able and willing to delegate

–       Team player

–       Sales and marketing savvy

–       A disciplined and flexible individual who is not only open to change but a driver of change

Examples of highly effective business leaders who possess many of the above characteristics include Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Megg Whitman (HP), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Brad Smith (Intuit), Indra Nooyi (Pepsi), and Carlos Ghosn (Nissan), amongst others.

Public vs Private leadership ‒ and the authentic luxury enterprise

There is no doubt that the pressures and priorities of heading a private company differ as opposed to a publicly traded company. Different industry sectors may also require certain competencies.

Kellie McSorley, founder of SILK Search, the London-based boutique headhunting firm specialising in senior executive appointments in the luxury industry, explains the differences with the type of top executives sought in various sectors this way:

“For example, our Private Equity clients look for certain qualities in a person generally around urgency and result orientation whereas a Public company may place more value on other characteristics and competencies such as process, procedure and thought leadership. With Private companies there is a level of sensitivity and emotional attachment to the brand that any new hire absolutely has to understand, respect and harness, in order to succeed.”

Authentic luxury brands, on the other hand, operate by their own distinct rules as they do what it takes to retain their aura of exclusivity and cachet by focusing on production limits, premium quality and catering to UHNW patrons ‒ the antithesis of mainstream brands and products. For instance, Hermès has no need to deal with pressures of shareholders and stock analysts that are prevalent with corporate brands such as the LVMH luxury group. Instead, Hermès’ family stakeholders choose to keep the current business ethos along with their complete independence.

As for what the luxury sector desires in its future CEO, Ms. McSorley states this succinctly as follows:

“Historically C-Suite recruitment in Luxury was much more based on who you are, but now it is definitely about what you have done. Brands are looking for people with results, across industries, people that have proven themselves as key collaborators, innovators, people that can manage change.”

She further adds:

“We are noticing luxury brands really looking into other industries for both talent and inspiration. When you talk about digital, brands are looking to Google or pure play companies. In retail they are looking to hospitality for knowledge of customer service. Luxury fashion brands are also speaking about Apple when it comes to best in class service and customer engagement.”

Woman - Business Leader

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get.

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The Business Model: Prelude to the Business Plan

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Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Traditionally, entrepreneurs know they need a road map we all call “The Business Plan.”  Some see this as a necessary evil and others welcome the concise texture of not launching a venture blind.

Average business plans describe the new venture’s offer to its target market. It also explains how the organization will reach its goals.

Such plans should include:
A) Brief bios on the key players
B) A section detailing the sales and marketing strategy section
C) The organizational structure of the project team or organization
D) Detailed operations description
E) Financial projections
F) Capital investment required to launch the product/organization

These days building a plan is simple enough. You can go to a bank or online and purchase a business plan template. You can even choose the option of hiring consultants who will set the plan up for you.

However, nobody can tell you what you want the business to be. No, I’m not referring to the ‘executive summary’, which is part and parcel of any coherent b-plan. It is my advice that prior to building your business plan, you need something else: call it a viable business model.

The Vision Thing

If the mantra in hospitality chants “location – location – location”, then an entrepreneur’s should be “vision – vision – vision”. Putting the vision on paper is crucial. It will help you secure financing, attract investors and even partners.

New Ventures need this to articulate how the new organization is going to achieve its operational, sales, marketing and financial goals.

Established Enterprises use this tool to depict their objectives in detail. There is a step-by-step engagement and procedure to move forward never forgetting the next level. I call this strategy the “Prelude to business planning”. You simply must have a model first. How can you test an hypothesis without a model? Simply put, you cannot.

Once this initial step has been accomplished, the business plan will be simpler to prepare as the foundation of the organizational structure can be produced. The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach.

The business model also makes it easier to visualize and analyze a business from the customer’s perspective. A simple illustration of an apparel retailer’s business model is to make money by selling a specific line of clothing to consumers whose taste and budget are aligned with the store’s offering.

Anatomy of the Business Model

What is a clear definition of a “business model”?

What does it entail?

According to Investopedia.com it is regarded as:

The plan implemented by a company to generate revenue and make a profit from operations. The model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs.

Dr. Alex Osterwalder, a sought after speaker and advisor with a particular focus on business model innovation, strategic management and management innovation, as well as co-author of the business bestselling book “Business Model Generation”, produced a more succinct definition:

A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value (economic, social, cultural, or other forms of value). The process of business model construction is part of business strategy.

Developing a business model seems to be an overwhelming and a somber task. However, to alleviate those concerns, Dr. Osterwalder is further credited for creating an ingenious and popular visual version of the conventional business model.

His consists of nine building blocks which focus on the big picture as follows:

1) Customer Segments: Describing who a company offers value to
2) Value Proposition: Describing a company’s offer
3) Channels: Describing how a company reaches its customers
4) Customer Relationships: Describing the relationships a company builds
5) Revenue Streams: Describing how a company makes money
6) Key Resources: Describing what capabilities are required to make the operation function including your suppliers
7) Key Activities: Describing what activities are required to make the operation function
8) Key Partners: The partners that leverage the business model (if applicable)
9) Cost Structure: Describing the costs of a business model


The first 4 (right half of the model) are portrayed as the ‘front stage’ of the business where the client experiences transactions, whereas, numbers 5 to 9 (left half of the model) are the backstage where the action takes place to make the right half (‘front stage’) work seamlessly. The client doesn’t see this part. It’s analogous to a performance in a theater.

The above business model can be sketched on the wall on what is referred to as the “The Business Model Canvas” (see sample image below). A business can turn up with several business models but choose the most ideal for its circumstance after having tested each one through brainstorming, simulations and/or by approaching its intended market for feedback.

Nespresso, the Alluring Business Model

If there is a business success story worth noting and plotting on a business model canvas as an attractive case in point, it should be Nespresso. This brand of high-end single serving espresso coffee systems is a standalone operating unit of the Swiss food conglomerate Nestle SA and its fastest growing brands. Reportedly, Nespresso sales have been increasing by as much as 20% on average for the last several years and earns 4% of Nestle’s total annual revenues.

Nespresso has registered numerous patents for concept including its signature colored capsules containing the ground coffee. Initially, Nespresso wasn’t much of a success with its original business model as its sales channel, back in 1986, was based on the coffee machine partners’ own sales reps touting the distinctive looking apparatus and capsules in the office coffee sectors of Switzerland, Japan and Italy. In 1989, their coffee system is introduced to the consumer/household sector which became a sensation and opened up a new category altogether in the single serving market.

Nespresso’s strategy circumvents the wholesalers and dominant supermarkets. It’s positioned itself as an exclusive luxury good. Taking a branding page from genuine luxury houses, such as Hermes and Chanel, Nespresso too controls its own distribution channels. though its machines are sold in department and fine retail stores, Its capsules are sold solely via online, by phone orders or at its more than 300 boutiques in prime locations throughout the world. This is by far its most successful business model as the company controls pricing and has an intimate relationship with its customers – most notably with regards to the total customer experience and its proactive customer service. Recognize George Clooney in its ads? He’s been a strong connection to the brand which seems to work – at least for the female audience.

Business Reassessment: Strategic Planning Tool

Business models don’t merely apply to start-ups. They equally vital for growing and established businesses which should re-evaluate their business model when revenues are dropping or when working on strategic planning.

An organization should not be operated as a static entity but rather as a progressive and innovative type with foresight to changing economic, technological and market conditions. This includes at looking at new distribution channels and revenue streams.

A case in point are the companies that make up the recording industry. For decades, they had an attitude of arrogant superiority until the day the digital download era came upon them. This development caught them off guard despite the imminent warnings, Having been built on a brick-and- mortar distribution model, they were too complacent to adapt despite the threats and decline in revenues.

Rather than re-evaluate their business model, focus on innovation and ultimately transform by embracing an opportunity, Time Music Group, and several other members of the recording industry, chose a path of least resistance. They decided to hire an army of attorneys and began to aggressively hunt and sue the illegal downloaders, including minors.

Through legal means, they successfully shut down websites such as Napster, BitTorrent and others. Meantime, online music start-ups such as Ritmoteca.com came along and conceived a novel way to distribute and monetize digital downloads. As of April 2008, the largest online music store is Apple’s iTunes Store, with around 80% of the market (source: theregister.co.uk).

https://i0.wp.com/techli.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/business-plan1.jpeg

Closing Memo

Whether starting a new business or moving an existing one to a new direction, a business model is the first strategy to consider developing prior to the business plan. The former is a proprietary method used to acquire, service, and retain customers. It makes you think through your business plan, which in turn communicates the business model. Both should synchronize.

The business model need not be a chore to design. By utilizing a creative one page visual orientation named “Business Model Generation”, developed by Dr. Alex Osterwalder, one can view the business holistically.

Several business models should be considered, their hypothesis validated in the real world and finally the most ideal model chosen.

It took Nespresso almost 30 years, since its first patent, to refine its business model.

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Entrepreneurship — in Quotes & Images

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Entrepreneurship is not for the insecure. It takes a good idea, a burning desire to execute it, and the right personal characteristics  including:

– At least some fundamental business knowledge

– Passion

– Drive

– Resilience

– Perseverance

– Persistence

– Curiosity and and open-mindedness

– Willing to take calculated risks

CLICK HERE for a collection of images that speak for themselves pertaining to entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.

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