A young entrepreneur who is starting a business in the IT project management market is experiencing difficulty getting his business off the ground. He has not been able to attract clients and senses that this may be due to his marketing strategy or market research.
This is a very common problem. Many professionals, often in IT, accounting, HR or marketing, would like to open their own businesses rather than work for big companies.
The questioner thinks that his market research or marketing strategy may be at fault and he is probably right. Many people in his position ask friends and contacts to consider using their services if they start their own business, and they get positive answers. But this is no guarantee that there will be enough work from this source when they do take the plunge.
In classic marketing theory, the questioner needs to identify unmet needs, and then provide products and services to meet those needs. So instead of asking colleagues if they will support him, he should ask them what they are not getting from their current suppliers, and then plan to plug those gaps. This also tells him where his target markets could be, such as organisations like those his contacts work for, where there are unsatisfied needs.
His initial customers will be whoever will buy from him, because the business needs an income. But, getting out of the survival phase will mean going after the customers most likely to require his services. That implies identifying the target markets and then developing promotional plans to make them aware of his company and inviting them to do business.
Marketing promotions need not be expensive. His best opportunities will come from networking with people in his target markets, both in person and on the Internet, using forums like LinkedIn and other social media. He needs a well written profile, a web site and business cards, and he should take every opportunity to talk to groups of people – giving them free advice when he does so.
He needs to consider that there are thousands of IT companies, and most of them offer similar products and services. He must differentiate his business from competitors, and I suggest he does not simply say that he will give better service than others, because everyone claims that – it is not a differentiator.
He can set himself apart with unique products and services or by superior customer relationships and I suggest this is the area he should focus on. Most start-up businesses will rely on the technical expertise of the founder, hoping to grow by gaining business through word of mouth. A better plan is to learn the skills he will need to identify, sell to and retain customers. Yes, I am suggesting that this professional takes a sales course or buys some good books on sales and account management.
He needs to learn how to find prospects to talk to, how to make an approach, write a proposal, present his value proposition, uncover unmet needs, close a deal and all the other techniques of a skilled salesperson. Then he needs to learn about account management and customer relationships – it may sound like heresy to him right now but these may be more important skills for his business than his technical expertise in his field.
At some point he will be confronted by the awkward question of whether to go it alone immediately or build up his business part-time while remaining employed. If he decides to dive right in he should make sure he has a lean lifestyle or a big savings account to cater for the bad months. Get rid of the gas guzzler with the expensive repayments, pay off debt and pay the mortgage bond in advance. There will be tough times ahead.
If, on the other hand, he decides to start gradually, I suggest he should discuss it with his employers. This is not how most people would work, but it usually pays to be honest. He will have to make sure that his work for the employer is not affected by his start-up; by contrast he should redouble his efforts on behalf of his employer so that he becomes even more valuable. Then, when he does leave, the employer will give good references, and possibly even become a customer. Lastly, I would urge him to take this plunge. The world of entrepreneurship is uniquely exciting, challenging, scary and fulfilling, and he will only experience this wonderful feeling by joining in!
Developing A Business Model That Works
Use these six tips to create the financial section of a business plan that will get your company off the ground.
The following excerpt is from Scott Duffy’s book Breakthrough.
What’s the first step in figuring out how to execute your big idea? Creating a working model for your business.
We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that the best way to do this is to sit behind our desks and write a long, detailed business plan. You know the kind: It starts with a fancy cover and your mission statement, then describes your team, market, product, competition, and so on.
Most entrepreneurs spend a lot of time and resources writing their plan. Too often, they get feedback from all the wrong people. Their friends and family want to support them, but they’re telling the entrepreneurs only what they want to hear — that they have come up with the next Google or Apple or Tesla (keep in mind, none of this feedback is coming from customers).
By the time the entrepreneur gets to the last section in the business plan — the financials — he’s totally sold on the idea. Sometimes the financial section is left unfinished or dropped entirely as the business is launched.
And why not? We’re passionate. We’re committed. We know we can’t fail. So what are we waiting for? Let’s go!
Here’s the problem: Most entrepreneurs change their business model six times when working through the financial section of their plans. While running the numbers, they identify key distinctions with regard to income and expenses. They gain a deeper understanding of what it will take to break even and how to achieve free cash flow. As a result, they come up with better-informed strategies for attaining their desired financial outcomes.
The most important part of the initial business planning process, and the one people most often neglect, is getting your numbers to tell a story that makes sense for you and your investors. If you start at the beginning of the plan only to learn that your assumptions about the business don’t add up once you reach the end, you’ve lost valuable time and money.
Regardless of whether you’re in startup or growth mode or moving to the next stage of your business, mistakes can be costly, so here’s what I recommend:
1. Start with the last page first
Once I have a basic understanding of what I’d like to build, the market, my target customers, the business opportunity, and the product, I dig right into the numbers and create a simple one-page spreadsheet that clearly identifies how the money flows. Basically, I write business plans backward. I’ve learned that once the numbers tell the story you want, the rest of the plan will write itself.
2. Don’t wait
Don’t make this process more difficult than it needs to be. Limit your model to one page. Create the simplest, most basic spreadsheet you can that identifies income, expenses, breakeven, cash flow, and the capital required to achieve your outcome. Use conservative assumptions, and don’t rely on best-case scenarios.
3. Get out of the office
You’ll learn more about your business by getting into the market than you ever will sitting behind a desk. At least 50 percent of your time should be outside the office gathering information that can be applied to your plan. That means contacting industry insiders to learn more about the market, talking to prospective customers about their needs, and testing your competition’s products and services.
4. Be careful who you listen to
When we have an idea we passionately believe in, we’re convincing. It’s easy for our family and friends to tell us we have a winner on our hands because they want to be supportive.
But when you’re modeling your business, the people whose feedback matters most are current and potential customers. Listen to what they have to say and apply what you learn to your model. Let their feedback, and not your enthusiasm, sway your projections.
5. Don’t throw out negative feedback
Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb negative feedback in a constructive frame of mind because we’re so close to our projects and have so much on the line. We start rejecting and deflecting feedback that isn’t in line with what we believe.
But honest, educated feedback is like gold — use it to open your mind and ask tough questions about your assumptions. You must be obsessively committed to asking what you can learn from this feedback and how you can apply it.
This is especially important for people entering new markets where they don’t have prior experience. Getting feedback from others who’ve lived in the space will add to your perspective. Sometimes you’ll learn that there are things you don’t know as a newcomer that would significantly impact your financial results.
In fact, this holds true throughout your business’s lifetime. The entrepreneurs I know who’ve built the most successful and thriving businesses are obsessed with getting constant feedback from the marketplace and adapting their businesses based on evolving market needs.
Related: Developing a Stable Business Model
6. Be open to what the numbers tell you
The worst thing you can do is try to manipulate a model to match your assumptions. You need to approach your financial model with a completely open mind.
Recognise that it will probably take longer than you initially thought to get to market, generate revenue, create profits, and accumulate the cash flow you need to operate and further invest in the business. By being open, you’ll be able to make distinctions, apply them to your business, and set yourself on a path to success.
You need to be clear on where you want to go and put a simple and adaptable plan in place to help you get there. The clearer your vision is upfront, the easier it will be to back a plan to help you get there. Being obsessed with customer feedback will enable you to tweak strategy in a way that evolves with the market and helps keep you on top of the competition.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
4 Types Of Business Models To Suit Your Business Concept
There are four main types of business models, see which one suits your business concept.
Different types of business models suit different types of businesses. A business model is the way that a company sells products to its customers. It describes how a business creates, delivers, and captures value.
What type of business model should you adopt?
A business model defines how the enterprise delivers value to customers, gets them to pay for that value, and converts those payments to profit.
There are four basic types of business model that any for-profit business will fall into:
How To Pick The Business Model That Works For You
So, you’ve picked your lane. You’ve decided what you want to do and why you want to do it. You’ve picked something you’re good at. You’re convinced the world needs and values it. You now need to decide how to make money. That’s where business model design comes in.
There are plenty of business model options for the same idea. For example, let’s say your idea is to offer historic tours of Cape Town. You could either do it yourself or hire professional guides to do it. Or you could use mobile technology to provide DIY walking tours. You could charge per tour or you could charge a membership fee. There are so many options. How do you pick the model that works for you?
The Lean Canvas is a great tool for entrepreneurs who are faced with this question. Adapted from The Business Model Canvas, it provides a simple, one page framework for brainstorming possible business models, prioritising where to start, and tracking ongoing learning. It walks the entrepreneur through the business model process logically and ensures the key elements of a successful business are considered.
My co-founders and I have used the Canvas extensively at Simply – for designing our business model, and for communicating it to partners and investors. The only thing you know with certainty when you start a business is that it’s not going to turn out as you expect it to. The Canvas evolves as you go – it was, and continues to be, a very useful guide in our journey.
Recognising an opportunity for disruption
We figured there was an opportunity to do something disruptive in the SA life insurance space. It was clear to us that lots of people were either not covered or getting a rough deal. Guided by the Canvas, we defined our first Customer Segment as adult South Africans, aged between 25 and 45 and earning between R5k and R30k monthly.
We then identified the 3 big Problems – specific to that segment – that needed solving:
- Most of the people in our segment have some form of funeral cover, but very few have life or disability cover.
- The cover they do have is often expensive relative to the benefits provided (i.e. a very small % of the premium goes towards the risk costs).
- There is no simple, intuitive way to buy good value life, disability and funeral cover online.
Developing a value proposition
Next came the Value Proposition. We believed we could use technology, digital marketing and human-centred product design to deliver simple, online life, disability and funeral insurance at a great price. We felt we could be for life insurance in South Africa what Takealot has been for retail.
We thought the world was moving far faster than incumbents realised; that millennials were ready to buy life insurance online; that we could build for the digital world and be in the right place at the right time.
And the rest flowed from there. I don’t have the time or the space to walk you through the other elements of the Canvas here, but you can probably fill in the blanks. Suffice to say, the process was invaluable and enabled us to build our business around a clearly considered business model. It’s early days, but the signs are good – we’re making a positive impact, having fun and keeping our investors happy.
Creating a Lean Canvas
So, how should you go about sketching your own Lean Canvas? The team at www.leanstack.com suggest the following approach:
- Sketch a canvas in one sitting. While a business plan can take weeks or months to write, your initial canvas should be sketched quickly.
- It’s okay to leave sections blank. Rather than trying to research or debate the “right” answers, put something down quickly or leave it blank and come back to it later.
- Think in the present. Business plans try too hard to predict the future which is impossible. Instead, write your canvas with a ‘getting things done’ attitude.
- Use a customer-centric approach. You may need to sketch one Canvas per customer segment. Start with the Customer Segment and go in sequence.
The Canvas has brought clarity and a common language to our business model design process. It’s enabled us to agree upon and communicate our business model effectively – both internally and externally. It’s also allowed us to tune and adjust our model as our story has unfolded – an inevitability for entrepreneurs. I highly recommend the Lean Canvas as a tool for designing your business model. Give it a try – I think you’ll like it.
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