Strategies for Growth

To get market traction – we need to choose ONE strategy and do it well…

Growth in a business comes from either selling more to our existing customers or getting more customers. Either way we need to gain a position of strength and differentiation to grow our business.

In the jungle economy, if we are not growing and taking some one else’s customers, they will take ours. Equally so we have finite resources, so must choose a small list of things to do and do them well.

How do you get to “own your customers” i.e be the supplier of choice?

Too many businesses attempt plans that are incompatible with their balance sheet, their personal circumstance or even reality or worst still a potpourri of every possible strategy. My recommendation is choose one.

 Strategy Primer Questions

Strategic planning is about exploring and debating options in an iterative loop.  Before working out how to win customer mindshare you need to define what is your target market. A key step in this iterative cycle is to decide where long-term opportunities exist.

  • What is your long-term market opportunity?  Have you explored what’s going on in your industry ecosystem? What facts do you have that support your market will exist in 2 or 5 years time?
  • What is you competitive advantage or point of difference?  Is it a truly sustainable competitive advantage?  Do you have the skills to deliver this?
  • What is your strategy to maximise your competitive advantage?

Next you need to work out how you will get to “own your customers mind”, i.e begin your growth – to create a change in the market place.

 Unfortunately in the real world, we do not have unlimited resources – so despite ambitious intentions, we do need to make some choices of what do we do first and what takes priority. Most SME’s can only afford to invest (people & money) in one strategy at a time.

Strategic Priorities & Restraints:

  • What is your key strength?   Product, operational excellence (process) or customer intimacy
  • What is your no.1 priority? –  Market Share or Profit or Revenue (Prioritise these options)
  • What market segments are you going to take on and in what order? (geography, demographic, etc)
  • Have you got the make / buy split correct? Where do you add most value to your clients & yourself (who will you partner with).  Are some of your business activities a major distraction and not make you any money?

WIN THE RACE to OWN YOUR CUSTOMER’S MIND: – Choose one  

Strategy guru Michael Porter was of the belief that you only have two options to gain strength in a market Cost leadership or Differentiation.   

Winning market reach & share quick

  • Freemium (give your product or a cut down product away for free)– do a land grab then start charging or kick in alternative revenue streams later eg trademe
  • Partner with large organization – preferably corporate challengers rather than the giant that already has the customer, as they can up sell something “additional” to them (your product or service). Note Giants are typically too arrogant and do not need you
  • Merge – with other small players to increase efficiency and customer reach

Win the technology/product innovation race

  • Create products that others do not have and your customers will lust after – that have amazing customer pull eg killer apps
  • You may need to use a strong IP strategy that can not be worked around (trade secret) and patents or simply just obsolete your own products with new ones so people can not copy  (eg Apple, Microsoft)
  • In the services space this race is often influenced  with “thought leadership”

Create / Find a new market

  • Legislation change
  • Disruptive technology – new product paradigm eg MP3 players – ipod
  • Use existing technologies in a new way

Win the cost race

  • Make your product cheaper than all others. Organisational and cost efficiencies.
  • Warning – making products cheaper does not mean start a price war. Price wars in most cases become a race on who can hold their breath the longest.

Win the heart – BRAND

  • Build a brand experience people fall in love with – this may include service paradigm

What is your strategy to capture the mind of your customers?  – Is it one of the ones listed above or do you have another? Please share.

If you want a hand generating your strategy, how about coming along to a Business Dominoes workshop? We have just started running 3 day workshops that take in a weekend day, so you can have some tools to take on summer holiday.

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GMC Business Model Canvas V2

Clarity and definition of your business model is one way to give your business an instant steroid shot.  From a planning perspective it is also worthwhile exploring a range of “what if” scenario’s around applying different business models to your business. Prepare your Business as usual (BAU) canvas, then challenge yourself to look at new canvas mixes: different business models and make/buy combinations.

The business model canvas is a great way to brief new stakeholders who work with you including new staff, bankers, advisors and potential investors. Once developed it can be used with the GMC Guide to Saying No.

The original book “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder & Yvess Pigneur provides great examples of how to document business models, along with methods to brainstorm innovative changes in business models for existing businesses.

I have been using my own variant of the business model canvas for some time. I  have recently remodeled my GMC  variant and thought it was time a shared this.

Its great to see the Business Model Canvas is gaining wider use, many of the universities are picking up on it, using it as tool in their entrepreneurial programmes. 

(Click image to download pdf template)

The GMC Canvas Components:

Value Proposition (VP):
The value proposition (VP) must be at the absolute core of any business. When defining your VP it is worth while to also clarify your “Customers Problem” that they will pay to solve and make sure that your VP definition include your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

  • Is your value proposition unique to you, or would it work for any one else in your space?
  • Do you need to separate out the value proposition for the customer (the person paying the bill) from the end user of your product/ service?

 Market Segment (MS):
Define your market segment as tightly as you can. Often it pays to focus on your beachhead market  – i.e the market where you can make the most money the quickest.

If you have a planned phase approach to your go to market strategy list the markets separately.  Do not forget to include a psychographic (decision making priorities – traits) and behavioural definition if relevant.

  • Challenge yourself to narrow your definition so you can easily qualify out C grade customers (the ones you do not make much or any profit off)
  • Do these customers have budget to spend on solving your the problem you have identified?

Core Competencies:
What key skills and knowledge do you have? These will come from the strengths you have listed in your SWOT.

Have you listed the ones that enable you:

  • Create value for your customers
  • Acquire customers
  • Differentiate you
  • Generate profit
  • Sustain your competitive advantage

Assets:
Remember to include intellectual property, customer relationships, key contracts and brand if they are assets for you.

  • Don’t include items that can easily be replaced or that are low value

Key Partners:
List only KEY partners that help you build your product or service or reduce risk in your business.

  • If a partner competency is too crucial to your business highlight it perhaps and an arrow to internal competency list  (You may need to plan to bring in house or get a good contractual arrangement)
  • The make or buy decision will be represented by whether you list something in the key partners or competency box

Channel to Market:
 In this section include key pathways to acquiring customers and leads.

Cost Structure:
Split overheads and variables.  Explicitly list any major costs or contractual arrangements. List items from your P&L that equate for more than 20% of your overhead cost.  Show a reference metric eg % of cost.  Show raw cost (or margin) of and manufactured items that account for majority of your revenue.  Don’t forget to list any major debt.

Revenue:
Split revenue into major revenue streams – product lines/channels.

BHAG  (Big hairy audacious goal)
What is the BHAG that motivates people to join the cause. Refer BHAG post

  • Your BHAG needs to be more than a revenue target.

 Brand Essence / Values
What are the top 5 – descriptors of your brand essence and culture values.

  • Most HR issues stem from failure to adhere to core values. Makes sure they are explicit and all staff, understand how they apply to them.

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What’s Missing: 

If something is missing in your current canvas that should be there – eg your brand should be an asset but it isn’t add it to the canvas and highlight it in some way.

Create Multiple Canvases

Take the time to explore multiple canvases and then do a cost/benefit scenario analysis using a simple comparative matrix

Rapid Analysis of ‘What If’ Strategic Options

Too often we are stuck trying to evaluate a multitude of ‘what if’ options when it comes to strategic planning; trying to tabulate a massive matrix of all the variables.

Scenario Evaluation

A tool we use at Business Dominoes is to map out the different scenarios on a simple cost vs benefit matrix (click image below).   Simply referencing the centre point being business as usual (BAU) i.e what we are doing now. Then referencing the alternatives based on the relative cost and benefit.

Our brain has an amazing “gut calculator” that enables it to subjectively accumulate of all of the data to evaluate what does total cost and benefit accumulating a multitude of variables.

(click image for larger version)

This analysis will quickly highlight both quick wins and potential long term strategies, bearing in mind often you will need to adopt a couple of interim strategies to achieve your end goal.

Competitor Profiling

You can also use the same tool to compare your competitors. Remember it’s from your customers perception, not yours. The diagram below is an easy way to illustrate your market positioning.

(click image for larger version)

Business Dominoes – Strategic Development Programme

If you are after some fresh thinking around how to handle some major strategic decisions for your business and avoid being blind-sided by some giant guerrillas in the market I would suggest attending the Business Dominoes Programme. It’s a 4 day intensive boot camp, where you will be armed with and use a variety of tools to aid you strategic thought processes, make decisions and chart a lower risk path to success.

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Free Entry to MyBizExpo:

The My Biz Expo is running from 14-16 October, ASB show grounds, Auckland.  Business Dominoes will be on stand 2023Register online now at www.mybizexpo.co.nz and save yourself the $20 entry fee.

 Free 1 hr Seminars at Biz Expo
Monday 15th Oct 2pm

Creating Powerful Elevator Pitches

Tuesday 16th  Oct – 1pm
Funding Business Growth  – Tools and strategies to build a scalable business
Presenter  Mark Robotham

Foolproof: De-Risking New Ventures

Whether it’s a start-up or a product line extension, next to having the right team on board, validating your market prior to developing your product is the best way to increase the probability of your success.

Often I hear the cry “oh, this doesn’t apply to us”…. “We do disruptive technology like Steve Jobs… “our customers don’t know what they need till we show them”.

Truly successful disruptive technologists use research to back up and tune their visionary thoughts. They study their target audience’s behaviour to the point where they can create powerful product insights based on a combination of research and creativity to de-risk their investments. Without this behavioural research you are simply guessing.

It’s no wonder we have such a high failure rate with companies in this country when you hear facts like – “only 20% of companies approaching MOVAC for investment have completed market validation, which is a perquisite for us to invest” – Dion Mortensen

85% of those completing market validation will fundamentally change the functionality of their product, ultimately creating a product that will be more profitable and actually sell!

Jenny Douché has just released her latest book Fool Proof – How to find and test great business opportunities”.

“This easy to read book is full of great tips and guides, it should be compulsory reading for all new ventures and product managers”.

Jenny has included some insights from New Zealand entrepreneurs (Rode Drury’s Xero, Campbell Gower, Phil & Teds buggies, etc) and a few local investors who have experienced the fruitful outcome of performing market validation.

Foolproof is an easy light read, designed for entrepreneurs – 2 aeroplane trips should have it read with no bullshit or big theories. It will be one of those books that you will refer back to.

Unlike other books on this topic, Jenny actually gives you plenty of actionable content, rather than just theory, including lists of questions for all participants of market validation including: target end users, distributors, market influences and enablers. She covers both desk research and engaging with stakeholder groups, including how to talk when interviewing and surveying.

Too many entrepreneurs  fail to look at the wider macroeconomic factors that will influence their business both now and in the future. It’s amazing what insights you can gain from mapping and studying your market place’s value and supply chains along with current trends. (Note: value chain mapping is one of the key activities we do in Business Dominoes – strategy programme). By performing this type of research, you can save yourself the embarrassment of being blind sided down the track, or worst still investing in the world’s best mouse trap that no one will ever buy.

Just because what we have created is faster or better than the existing market alternative, it is not a right of passage to easy sales. As creators of new products, we easily forget the life of a consumer; where we are faced with better and newer products and services, yet we choose to ignore them and use what we consider easy, safe and predictable.

Clearly getting there is a balance between “no market validation” and “doing so much research you never do anything”. Either extreme is going to be a recipe for failure.

Some takeaways on Market Validation:

  1. Market validation before undertaking any major investment is an essential risk mitigation tactic
  2. If you are seeking investment, doing market research will put you ahead of the pack
  3. Do both desk and personal research – yes, talk to potential customers
  4. Map out your market place (value chain and trends), make sure you are not missing any opportunity or trend merging – a lot of this can be done by desk research and validated by contacting key industry commentators
  5. Engaging key stakeholders in the industry in market validation often builds loyal evangelists for you and your new business
  6. A quick prototype or sketch can help discussions
  7. Market validation is not a one-off exercise, it is a crucial part of improving your business and product over its life
  8. If you are developing disruptive technology then you need to be doubly sure of your target audience’s “pain” and more importantly motivation to change behaviour to adopt your new product. Do some behavioural research.
  9. Be warned if you have been in the industry or are a target user – you do not know enough.
  10. Doing market validation will often open your eyes to a better product than the one you have conceived by yourself.
  11. Buy Jenny’s book

I have already purchased 10 copies of the book and are handing them out to clients as compulsory reading.

Test your BHAG

What is the uniting force in your business? Running and working in high growth companies is hard work and we are often losing sight of what we are all about.

Daniel Pink in his book Drive he outlined three core drivers for people: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  (Note:  For those who have not read this great book watch the 10 minute animated summary)

Nothing binds a business like a clear and succinct BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and a clear purpose.  I am not talking about the traditional boring mission statements that lime the walls of corporate offices, full of: Corporate blah blah… typically lots of words taken from a corporate speak bingo competition.

What I am talking about is a mantra or Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) that is worth waking up for in the morning and going the extra mile.

Ingredients of BHAGs that work are:

  • Compelling and gripping: people understand straight away
  • Action orientated
  • Bold: bordering on arrogant and unattainable
  • Clear: who, what, where, by when
  • Types: target, common foe, role model, internal transformation
  • SUCCINCT: The power of message is inversely proportional to its length

Have a look at some of the founding BHAGs for some of industries great companies noting this is what they started with…

  • Microsoft: “A computer on every desk and in every home”
  • Amazon: “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds. Also: Earth’s most customer centric company”
  • Ford: “Democratize the automobile”  (1900’s)
  • Twitter:  “To become “the pulse” of the planet”
  • Giro Sport Design: “Become the Nike of the cycling industry”
  • Nike: “Crush Adidas” (1960’s)

Brian Gaynor spoke at Springboard this month citing “New Zealand  business owners, in comparison to Australian counterparts, lacked ambition”.  Check your BHAG against the above list. Do not fall into the trap of being another conservative Kiwi company without big ambition.

Here are a few ideas from local examples (note: not their actual BHAG)

  • Biomatters:  “Tools on every biologist’s desktop”
  • E-spatial : “THE location intelligence behind all major New Zealand enterprise solutions”
  • Sale finder: “New Zealand’s ultimate consumer research tool”

When it comes to purpose statements – these are just clear concise versions of your value proposition in the language of your clients. More on this later – a topic for another blog post.  In the meantime, you can read value propositions revisited, creating succinct messages, No value proposition = No business from old posts.

Example Purpose: Spike mail: “Building qualified and engaged buyers versus creating lists”  – note no reference to their core craft of email marketing.

Technician, Manager or Entrepreneur – E-Myth Revisited

Do you experience Exhilaration or Exhaustion daily?

What are you? Technician, Manager or Entrepreneur?

Too often people start businesses with great enthusiasm, then before you know it, the passion is gone and its just hard work.

Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited” book makes the point that to be successful in business we need to be master juggler of three functions Technician, Manager and Entrepreneur.

  • Technicians – live in the present: Experts in doing stuff, craftsman at their trade. Their ethos is captured by the statement “you want it done right, do it yourself”.
  • Managerslive in the past: Pragmatic in nature, planning order, creating predictability
  • Entrepreneurs – live in the future:  They turn a trivial condition into exceptional opportunity, true visionaries and catalysts for change. They are focused on the bigger picture continually questioning the business and its place as opposed to operating it.

The E-myth refers to the Entrepreneurial Myth that businesses are started and lead by entrepreneurs, rather than the truth, most businesses fail because the founders are technicians. Their entrepreneurial traits only appearing for a small moment in time at inception, to be quickly replaced by the dominant behaviour of a technician.

The acts of a technician lead businesses, inevitably lead to what Gerber describes as “entrepreneurial seizure, that point when the business has enslaved the owner”.

 The classic sign or precursor to this “seizure” being when the technicians abdicate tasks they dislike or do not have skills in, rather than delegating. Typically this plays out as employing someone for a while to do all the stuff they dislike. Slowly they become disconnected from the business they started and after a while the new manager they employed gets pissed off and leaves them in the poo (poo being my technical word not Gerber’s).

 “Too many entrepreneurs start out with passion and drive, to only find themselves with a lousy job a few years later, working their butts off for little or no reward.”

 The e-Myth Revisited is a great read and is available on Kindle well worth an afternoon on your deck chair.

More wisdom from Gerber … “A mature business knows how it got to be where it is and what it must do to get where it wants to go”. Shifting from adolescence to maturity as a business usually coincides with a crisis or getting outside help, you choose.

 The fact that these technicians (craftsman) are not strategists or skilled in some basic business skills, is very evident in the NZ landscape.

 How do you balance the technician, manager and entrepreneur hats?

Coincidentally, or not, I have recently just re-enthused a couple of businesses owners, who had lost their way, just as Gerber describes in his book.

Fixing this type of dilemma takes two steps best done with outside help:

  1. The Awakening – some form of strategic review and tool kit, where you can see your business from the outside looking in.
  2. Getting Clarity around how to best take advantage of this new strategic view point with a new simple strategy and mode of operation that recaptures motivation, clear direction and business opportunity. Rather than doing lots of more technical stuff.

So for pragmatists – some tips:

  • Work on obsoleting yourself from your business – “if your business depends on you, you don’t own a business you own a job”
  • Be conscious of your natural tendencies or biases towards being a technician, manager or entrepreneur. Challenge yourself to perform the two roles you do not have a natural affinity for. When was the last time you revisited your strategy? Who are you being today?
  • Delegate don’t abdicate: Do not abdicate tasks that you should have accountability for e.g. finance just because you don’t like it or don’t understand it.  Can you lay your hands on an up to date (end of last month) P&L and balance sheet within the next 10 mins? If not you have abdicated.
  • Learn some more business skills to complement your skills so you can delegate with full knowledge and respect for specific technical skills specialists provide. E.g. basic finance is not hard to learn.

PS:  I am on the hunt for a final year student to come work part time at GMC AKL to help me “delegate” and grow GMC. Apply here

Oh and I would be remiss to not mention

Milestone Map-Plan

Need to communicate your business plan to attention deficit stakeholders? … or perhaps just get smart feedback on your plan.

Creating a one-page milestone map-plan on a chart is a great way to keep you, your team and advisors focused. With a small list of tactics and key measures you have a far greater chance of achieving your desired end result.

Many business growth strategies fall apart at the transition point between creating key strategic themes and establishing a set of measurable tactical tasks and goals.  Too many businesses end up with huge lists of tactics, most of which will only get token attention, with the end result being  the plan never being executed.

This technique will force you up front, to prioritise and rationalise your tactical list of things to do. The milestone map-plan is a great way to succinctly communicate your business plan both past, present and future to all stakeholders of your business. Particularly when you are seeking intelligent feedback and buy-in from potential investors and staff whose attention spans are limited.

A fictitious example of a web company is shown below to illustrate the technique. (click the chart image for larger view)

Tips on using the milestone map-plan:

  • Limit yourself to max of 10 milestones per year – prioritise the top 10 that will influence or measure success
  • Split your milestones across different functional areas.  Add rows to suit your business but make sure you include at least finance, market, process and people.
  • List the last 1-2 years to help provide flow
  • Include additional boxes on key risks and your competitor’s response, both historic and forecast.
  • Do not fill the chart with activities that will naturally happen unless they help with the understanding of the plan
  • This is not a product roadmap –list only major product releases/events
  • Put it up on the wall by your desk for daily review

The milestone map-plan is great for helping all staff members focus on tasks that will help you achieve your goals, as well as showing the dependencies of tasks.

If you find yourself or your staff overtime not executing tasks on the plan then its time to challenge the map-plan and test out whether “the plan is still relevant”. If not change the map-plan otherwise re prioritise your work.

Put your plan up for continual challenge with advisors and staff. Do not be afraid to throw it out when the environment changes. Do not fall into the trap of “the law of committees”

If a committee is allowed to discuss something long enough, it will inevitably vote to implement their idea, simply because so much work has already been done on it.”

If the plan is no good say so and do something about it.

Succinct visual tools like this and the business model canvas, create powerful discussions very quickly and maximise interaction time.
More importantly they increase the probability of success.