Simple Business Case Disciplines Can Save You From Yourself.

The “she’ll be right” era is gone; it is no longer good enough to make business decisions based on gut and napkin calculations.

Does your business use formal business cases to make major decisions?

“Just Do It” – Doesn’t cut it any more

In an economic environment of tight margins, rapid change and competition, there has never been a better time to put in place some improved business discipline and robust decision making. Many businesses are actively growing in this climate.

One of the easiest ways to de-risk your business and make better decisions is to business case out all major decisions. This does not have to mean bureaucracy overload. Give yourself the benefit of an independent review panel to critique and provide feedback before progressing on major investments. The process of writing a business case will in itself create a better investment choice.

Future stock market player

A project business case should stand up to robust debate, albeit from your board, bank manager or life partner before expending your time, passion and money.  Some major decisions that warrant a business case are: starting or purchasing a new business venture or product line and rationalising your product offering to improve focus or buying a major asset. Create a business case when failure of the project is going to hurt!

Too many business owners continue to fund projects without calculating true payback and considering long-term implications of their business.  Many of these become “the living dead”, “throwing good money after bad”.

 Ignore the value of money over time at your peril.

 Let’s take an example: your IT manager just approached you with a $100,000 project offering $20,000 savings each year over the next 7 years. Basic maths says YES, spend $100K to save $140K, so “let’s just go for it”. BUT what about the cost of that money over time?  If your opportunity cost of capital is over 13% you are actually going to make a loss on this project.

If you invested $100K for 7 years with compound interest you would expect more than $100K back including interest, so you should with your IT project, or business itself. Check the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) or net Present VALUE (NPV) functions in Excel Help. With a little bit of help, you can use these calculations to automatically calculate for you the “true cost”.

As a business owner, or custodian for the business (Managers), it is your responsibility to create shareholder wealth and protect the long-term sustainability of your business, identifying and eliminating risk to your best ability.

Pre-mortem Reviews

 Many businesses perform post-mortem reviews on projects, analysing what did and didn’t work in projects.  How about having one of these meetings before the project begins? By publishing your project budgets, plans, risks and assumptions in many cases you can actually improve the project by simply asking “what could go wrong?” Given the chance, people will help you avoid disaster before it happens.

Our very enthusiasm for an idea will drive us to success, but equally so unchallenged we can quickly be over consumed with that euphoria to our peril.  Do a basic investment test now.

4 Point investment test?

  1. What evidence (trends & market validation) do you have of the long-term need for your product /service? (Strategic Market Opportunity)
  2. Have you calculated what the “true” return for your investment will be, including the cost of capital (Financial Business Case) i.e. will you make money from it?
  3. Have you clearly communicated to your team what you do and do not do? (business /project plan) i.e.  will your team be able to stay focused on the task ahead?
  4. Do you have a clear and succinct message to engage customers and stakeholders (Your pitch) i.e. can you sell it?

Common mistakes made in businesses cases

 Check that you are not falling into common traps for business owners prior to making business decisions:

  • Not creating a business case or having a 3rd party review it
  • Overly optimistic projections: delivery times, customer acquisition times etc
  • Inadequate budget for sales and marketing – budget at  least 10% revenue
  • Not accounting for the value of money over time – use NPV and IRR calculations
  • No market research / validation to de-risk savings, or projected revenue.
  • Underestimating the impact of competitive response
  • Lack of stakeholder commitment or talent
  • Not dreaming big enough – what could you do with twice the investment?

Don’t think of business cases as just approval mechanism, but more so as a mechanism to reduce investment risk. Business Cases provide an opportunity to clarify thinking, get input and focus for the project delivery team around clear outcome.

New training workshops for 2013:  I am now also delivering workshops under the Auckland Chamber’s Vital Training programme.

If you would like to know more about tool’s and techniques to simplify business decision-making and gain greater clarity in your business, then you should attend my  Auckland Chamber Vital workshops: Business Planning, Business Cases and Pitching More information is on the Vital Training Website   The next Business case workshop is 4th April at the Auckland Chamber – register here

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Your Business is Customer Centric – Yeah Right!

Ineffective websites – not talking the language of customers

Most businesses in NZ suck at marketing.  They under invest in sales activities and in many cases waste marketing spend creating campaigns, websites and newsletters that do not appeal to their target audience.

Too often the “just do it” drive and focus on “pretty” means businesses do not take the time to extract a powerful core message, “story” and purpose to drive their business and marketing campaigns. All this results in what I call “crap in – crap out” marketing and business planning. Evident by the number of company web sites that have weak selling messages and non- focused businesses selling to everyone.

What I am suggesting is slow down long enough to analyse your customers world and re-purpose your business on what’s important – your customer.

Most web design companies do not have the capability to extract your core marketing messages; they lack the breadth of business and market knowledge. Like any process the better the input  (the design brief) the better the output – you need to own the brief.

When asked – most if not all businesses will proclaim they are customer centric.  If you asked all of your staff “what does our business do?”, how many unprompted would mention the problem you solve for your customers vs how you solve it or what your core “craft” is.

An emphatic focus on the customer and solving their pain is crucial element of all business success.

Ask a business that creates software, what sort of business they are and they will invariably come back with “we are a software company”.  This is not surprising, given they spend most of their life thinking and creating software products.  The reality is their customers do not care at all about the software, they primarily care about what the software does for them (how they measure success).  No matter what your craft is whether it’s: software, science, baking cakes or fixing bicycles it is never about your craft for the purchaser.  Your customers are primarily interested in WIFM (what’s in it for me) and that will include how they measure success.
In the B2B environment more often than not customers want increased sales, productivity or cost reduction. In the B2C place in many cases it comes back to some form of “experience”. What pain or problem are you solving for your customer? What is your customer’s measure of success?

 Successful businesses base all their business activities around solving customer problems, continually reference and reinforce their key selling points and how their customers measure success.

 iStock_000019619103XSmall

Make sure your web sites lead story is about solving the customer’s problem and the outcome they get, rather than how you solve it. Use the language of your customer not your internal how we do it language. Once you hook them with the what, then tell them how, not before.

Don’t forget the three most power tools for communicating customer success are: customer stories, contrast (with and without your product) and quantifying the outcome they get.

The better and more succinct the definition of your customer pain and your solutions outcome, the more powerful your marketing and other business activities will become.

Suffering “the curse of knowledge”, we are simply to close and pre-occupied with how we solve the problem, to articulate the new buyer trigger points. My suggestion is get a 3rd party who understands your craft to help unravel the customer need, to create a better creative briefs and core purpose to drive business activities.

This focus on customer equally works for your business planning and day to day operations. You can use the power of a succinct purpose to empower your staff to make better decisions on the fly.  Remember the Williams Formula One Team mantra – we make the car go faster. Any one on the team can make decisions on the spot: does this activity make the car go faster? Then lets do it!

 How does your business stack up?

 Customer centric test:

  1. Does your website use your customer’s language (outcomes) or yours? (Features or benefits)
  2. Do you begin customer discussions with how you will solve, rather than the problem or outcome?
  3. Have you asked current customers, Particularly repeat customers, why they buy from you? Have you included their response in your messaging?
  4. Do you use the customer problem to help decide what you do and don’t do in your business?
  5. If any of your staff were asked what do you do – will they give a customer centric response?

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.

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

Finding New Strategic Opportunities

 Take yourself out of your business and explore the industry view

 We all suffer tunnel vision when it comes to running our businesses. Even worse, when it comes to finding time to do some true “blue oceans” strategic thinking.

Too often our thinking is constrained by looking at our world from our own perspective rather than that of the customers and the industry eco-system we exist in.

We all got a great reminder of this when Kodak got into major financial trouble in Jan 2012. How could such a giant with 1000+ patents in digital photography screw it up so bad.  My take, they failed to adapt the culture (attitude) of the business to the new value chain and eco-system that emerged into the new digital age.

Real Strategy

Strategy is most probably the most miss used word in business. Strategy is about understanding the lie of the land, understanding the geography you are about to do battle in, assessing the enemies strengths and weaknesses looking for gaps and opportunities to capture a market.  Its not about what to do every day operating your business – alah business planning and execution.

Mine your external value chain for opportunities

If you are looking for investment, market or channel partners the best place to start is looking at your customers and end users. Then map all of their suppliers, customers and their influencers out on a huge mind mapped value chain. Documenting suppliers, to suppliers, to customers and so on. By reviewing all the players on this map e.g. who holds the power of influence, who owns critical scarce resources and who is making the profit etc you will uncover a raft of possibilities.

Include in your thinking competitors as well, most NZ business shy away from conversations with their competitors let alone doing deals with them to collaborate in the global marketplace.

Look for market trends that will uncover future change in your industry

Take the time to look for current trends across your complete value chain so you can spot hot spots or market opportunities to take advantage of.

 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.

_________________________________________________

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

7 Ways to Stop Wasting Time

Is your business focused on your Value Proposition?

How much of your business activity is focused around adding value to your clients – i.e delivering your value proposition. The base logic behind  Kaizen is removing waste, while optimising value to your clients.

Prior to commencing the valuable process of eliminating waste I suggest getting great clarity around your core value proposition and what target market you are taking on as well as your strategy to maximise it.

Kaizen or “Lean” has been popular in large business for some years now. Most of the evangelists like John Cook from Stainless Design in Waikato all come from the larger end of SME or big corporates.   After attending an inspirational seminar with Julie Hazelhurst (Kaizen guru), she has got me thinking about the implications of this thinking to the smaller end of SME.

Waste (Muda) comes in 7 forms

  • Motion – people movement, searching
  • Waiting – stalled customer processes
  • Transport – Information and material
  • Storage – Information and material
  • Defects – rework
  • Over producing – doing more than client pays for
  • Over processing – over engineering, more precision

Julie’s premise was “if you’re running short on time and money in your business perhaps you should tackle your waste first and maximise the value out of your talent in your team, before looking at taking on more staff”. She took us through the basic process of mapping your internal value chain and observing the “waste” processes  typically interleaved with the activities that your client values.

Its interesting that in Business Dominoes we use a similar focus on value chains to spot new market opportunities and strategic alliance partners outside the business, where Kaizen uses the internal value chain to focus process improvement.

7 common waste areas that I continually see SME’s wasting time on:

  1. Potential & current clients not in your target market Get clear about what is and isn’t an ideal profitable customer. Create a bullet list of their characteristics : eg revenue, location, ability to “get” your value etc
  2. Distractions of activities off “piste” Get clear about your business competencies and larger goals, then “stick to your knitting”. Too many businesses never achieve anything because their visionary leader is always chasing the next big idea. Put some structure around your business and then say NO to stuff that will not achieve your goal.
  3. Poor performing staff. Failure to deal with non performing staff will scare off the bets performers. Despite the hassles of our employment law – act now.
  4. Over engineering products and services, rather than selling Get the balance between engineering and marketing spend right. Know when you have that minimum viable product and then go sell, sell, sell. Craftsmen are never satisfied and continue to tinker with the machine when they should be bringing in revenue. If you have zero sales stop everything and validate your market before progressing.
  5. False economy of not having or having  a low performing professional service providers  Get some great outside help to challenge you on your big decisions and to have a shoulder to cry on as well as celebrate success with. If you have zero budget start with a fellow entrepreneur and meet them for a coffee once a fortnight.
  6. Inefficient accounting systems If you are not using auto bank feeds to avoid entering transactions – try Xero with bank feeds –use bank accounts that auto feed transactions into your accounting system -link your credit card as well. Learn how to do your own GST return, it takes minutes and you get a  great check point on your business.
  7. Outdated IT systems If technology is not helping your business you are doing it wrong – get a new IT supplier.  If you have less than 50 staff throw out your email server and replace it with office 365 (a great cloud computing service). Share electronic contacts and calendars around your organisation and embrace smartphone technology.

What’s your biggest area of waste?

Add a comment below with the big saving areas that you have made in your business.