To the best of my knowledge, the drive-up service window belonged to the banking industry before anybody else latched on to it. But it accounts for a whole lot of the fast-food industry’s sales. It is also used by dry cleaners, beverage stores, video rental stores and florists.
In Las Vegas, one casino has a drive-up betting window for sports bettors. There are probably others using it that I haven’t noticed and still more who could and should be using it. Somebody in the fast-food business “stole” this idea. My vision is of a McDonald’s executive sitting in his car in the bank drive-through line on Friday afternoon when it hits him: “Hey, I don’t think we can fit the milkshakes in the little tube, but outside of that, this could work for us!”
Just about every great idea came from something already created or used. The enormously valuable Batman franchise – made into money via blockbuster movies, cartoons, comic books and merchandise – exists because a couple of guys borrowed pieces and parts from predecessor characters, notably The Shadow and Zorro. An entire genre of highly successful TV infomercials and direct-response commercials merely moved carnival, boardwalk, and country fair pitchmen and demonstrable products to television.
QVC is a Tupperware home party conducted on TV for a million people in their own living rooms – and Tupperware is even sold on the home shopping channel. Fractional jet ownership came from timeshare real estate. On and on and on. Somewhere, right now, outside your business and its industry and industry norms, in an apparently unrelated business, lies the moveable idea that could revolutionise your profits. Sometimes this can be about making the business something different, but not actually changing the business.
Scooter’s got its traction by focusing on delivery, not on pizza. Subway has made itself about weight loss and healthy eating rather than fast food. Apple remade itself, from “for nerds” to “for the cool kids.” And the money followed. A great business is always about something, by the way, not just a seller and provider of goods or services.This is a time for more practical creativity than ever. Just producing or providing good products or services at good prices is nowhere near enough to justify your existence and command and keep the interest of your customers in The New Economy.
How to be more “creative”
For business purposes, focus on “practical creativity.” Creative thinking guru and one-time leader in the development of Walt Disney World and Epcot, Mike Vance talks about it in terms of rearranging the old (tested and proven) in a new way, or “plus-ing” what already works. Walt Disney didn’t start Disneyland with a blank page; he started with already proven, profitable amusement parks and began subtracting things he disliked, adding things he thought could be done better, further plus-ing new ideas on top of the rearranged old ones. Alex Osborne, a dean of creativity and the father of brainstorming, filled his book with checklists to facilitate rearranging the old in new ways.
I talk about this in terms of bringing something from outside your field that is proven elsewhere, into your field. Or cutting and pasting from swipe files, whether stored in file cabinets or your subconscious. But you’ll never hear me talk in terms of starting with a blank slate. And catching me starting anything with a blank page is a rare event. For purely artistic expression, raw, out-of-the-ether creativity may be an essential ingredient.
But for commercial purposes, it is vastly overrated. Even if you look at the movie industry as a “creative” business, if you examine the biggest box-office successes of at least the past decade, you’ll find very, very, very few to be original, birthed from the blank slate. Many have been remakes of previously successful films. Some have featured well-established, successful, well-known characters from comic books, TV shows or sequels. Even a movie franchise like Star Wars is merely a classic western with a shiny new wrapping on it.
Five ways to find ideas
Here are five suggestions for where to get “beginnings” so you need not begin with the blank page:
Direct competitors occasionally have good ideas badly executed. You should keep a close eye on competitors, as well as leaders in your field outside your geographic market. You ought to keep a file on each of these, making sure you have their ads, mailings, etc. Visit their stores or showrooms, and call and play prospect at their offices.
This is a source of great raw material. A “comparable” is someone selling a totally different, completely uncompetitive product or service but either selling at your price point and/or to your customers and/or using the same media you use. If you ferret out successful “comparables” and carefully follow them, you’ll often find terrific shortcuts. Just for example, I’ve told a cosmetic dentist eager to attract affluent patients from all over the country to “play prospect” and answer the full-page ads run in airline magazines by cosmetic surgeons. These are not competitors, but they are comparable in many ways: the clientele, the geographic reach, pricing, the same marketing challenge. Set a goal to find, thoroughly research, and build a file on one new comparable a month. You’ll thank me.
News events beget opportunities, based on the Collier principle of “entering the conversation already occurring in their minds.” Ad man Robert Collier advised connecting your business and messages about it to the kitchen table, cocktail party or water cooler conversation occurring at the present moment. These days, we’re blessed with an arsenal of instant communications media, making this easier and cheaper than ever to implement, yet few marketers do it. Today’s news can hand you tomorrow morning’s marketing message.
In early 2009, when job losses were skyrocketing and consumers were justifiably panicked about the possibility of losing theirs, Hyundai created a new kind of warranty that permitted a suddenly unemployed car buyer to get three months of his car loan forgiven, and if need be, to return the car and end the finance contract with no penalty or damage to his credit. The dealer I spoke to about this reported his busiest and best two weekends of business when these TV commercials broke. This was a great example of using news – in this case, bad news – profitably.
4. Old ads.
Go back 10, 20, 30 years, take big winners and recycle them. I use my swipe file of these “classics” more than I use current samples. Think about it: The direct-response advertisers from the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s had to get consumers to write out and mail in cheques or go to a store or showroom; there were no websites. For most of those decades, there were no toll-free 800 numbers, no credit card ordering by phone. No fax. No overnight courier service. What they did then to get response and sales with such limited resources can work a thousand-fold better married to the modern ease of our buying environment.
5. Top direct-response copywriters’ work.
If you’re going to plagiarise, plagiarise from the best. Look for direct-response ads full of copy, running repeatedly in national media, from newspapers to niche magazines. Often a good ad that has nothing whatsoever to do with your business can still provide a “platform” to work on (rather than a blank slate). This is why you should scan magazines far outside your personal interests on a frequent basis.
Want To Change Your Business Model? Answer These 3 Questions
Here are a few pointers on figuring out the best way to grow your business and keep it sustainable for years to come.
To grow sustainably, is it better to take on projects that are frequent and reliable, or sparse but lucrative?
Q: I own a film and production company, and I shot 100 videos last year – 70 weddings and 30 corporate, totaling $330,000 in revenue. The corporate videos are more profitable, but weddings are always happening. I don’t want to turn off a constant source of revenue, but should I spend more time pursuing corporate events to grow my business? – Trevor R.
Welcome, Trevor, to the entrepreneur’s struggle! You build a great product or service, make good money and the next thing you know, you feel like you have to change your model. It’s the age-old question of scale: What’s the best way for your business to grow, and does that mean making less revenue now in order to have more sustainable growth for years to come?
Related: 4 Types Of Business Models
With the bulk of your time being spent on wedding videos, you probably feel stuck in the slow lane, watching better profits pass you by. But remember that scale is not just about margins.
Numbers can be deceiving, and you control what you charge for your services. While your corporate videos are more profitable right now, going all-in might not be the long-term answer.
To figure out the best route for your business, start with a clear vision of your ideal final destination. How much money – and profit – do you want to make per year? It might sound like a frivolous question (who doesn’t always want to make more?), but it will allow you to reverse-engineer your business model and help determine a practical answer.
Let’s say you want $1 million in gross revenue per year. At this time, it sounds like you charge about $5,500 per corporate video and about $2,400 per wedding video. That means you’d need to sell either 182 corporate videos or 417 wedding videos. (That’s a lot of videos!) Use those numbers to guide your vision. Next, consider scale, which depends on a number of growth factors.
First, creating value: Make sure you’re charging the appropriate amount for your services in order to reach your goals.
Second, anticipating growth: Where is the greatest opportunity, not just at the moment, but in the future?
And third, limiting expenses: How can you keep costs down so spending doesn’t outpace revenue?
Related: 3 Types Of Ecommerce Business Models
Answering honestly will help you create several business models. For you, Trevor, those models are (a) weddings and corporate, (b) weddings only or (c) corporate only. As a case study, let’s consider “weddings only.”
Last year, you worked 70 nuptials. Before you consider hitting pause on that side of your business, revisit those growth factors to figure out if you can make it more profitable.
- Should you charge more for each video?
- How many clients did you turn down last year?
- Could you have taken them on if you had extra help?
Weigh the costs, and consider adding another videographer to the staff. If that seems financially impossible, look for ways to at least maintain your current output while trimming production costs.
For a small business, profitability is a mad science of focus, projections, and getting out of your own way. What makes the most money on a per-item basis is not necessarily what will make you the most profit in the long run.
Consider Amazon: It created scale by focusing on smaller margins. It’s a helpful reminder that there are different ways to succeed.
Understand what you can charge, how you should save and who is most likely to buy from you in the future. By simplifying the complicated challenge, you can jump on the fast track to growth.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How A Clear Strategy Can Change The Game
Strategy seems to have this mystical aura surrounding it, but it is nothing more than applying some really deep (and perhaps objectively facilitated) thinking about five areas of focus.
At the point of creation, a new business has a strategy. There will come a time when that model is not as attractive as it originally was. Competitors may have entered the space, or upped their game, customers might be more demanding, margins may start coming under pressure, and you as the business owner might be working 12 hour days.
That’s the time when you need to have a formal strategy workshop. You need to think through what you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are doing it and what are its benefits. That’s not going to happen when you’re moving at breakneck speed trying to keep your head above water.
If your business is to succeed in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, then it must understand exactly where it plays in the market that you have chosen, and most importantly, how it intends to succeed in this space.
The challenge that most business owners face is that there is so much pressure to put out fires that very little attention is granted to the spark of industry-defining ideas. If you want to stay in business long-term, making the time to reflect and think deeply about the direction and competitiveness of your business is nothing short of essential.
Every business operates within a far larger matrix. We are affected – positively and negatively – through external events over which we have little or no control. Currency fluctuations, Brexit, trade agreements, economics, the political environment, tax rates, legislation and a host of other influences that impact our business environment.
In a strategic planning workshop, at least a morning needs to be invested in understanding how these external factors impact the business. A PESTLEID analysis can be undertaken, and this follows the process of evaluating the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental, International and Demographic landscapes.
This process is not a conversation, but rather an in-depth analysis of each of the PESTLEID factors, each of which is broken down into detail. Each detailed factor is ranked in terms of probability and impact. High probability and high impact factors are firmly placed on the firm’s radar, and scenario planning is completed for these events. Low probability but high impact events are allocated to accountable individuals for observation, and might be scenario planned depending on their severity.
By the end of this process, each person in the room must have a sound idea as to the context in which the business is operating, and what external factors the business is likely to experience within the next year.
Through scenario planning, each individual will also understand what the best course of action will be for the organisation should any of the high-impact scenarios come to be, and will be equipped to play their role in taking those actions in order to minimise business disruption.
The only person who can tell you what your customers want and need is your customer. It is a fatal mistake to believe that anyone in your organisation is qualified to speak on behalf of your most valuable assets.
Key customers can be invited to join you for a portion of your strategy workshop, or you can survey your customers beforehand and present the information on the day.
In this conversation, you are unpacking what it is that your customers want from you. But a note of caution that is magnificently phrased by Henry Ford when he said: “If I’d asked my customers what they want, they would have told me a faster horse”.
Remember that your customers can and will generally only tell you what they want and need given the same operating conditions for both yourselves and themselves. And that’s OK, because it defines the foundational sandpit in which you are operating right now.
Customers can tell you how your service ranks in comparison to competitors, how competitive your pricing structures are, their satisfaction with your sales process, how well your product performs, their experience of your service, and any gaps that might be sitting in your blind spot. This gives you the ‘as is’ situation and is an invaluable starting point.
It is important not to become so fixated on your competitors that you lose sight of your own direction, but you certainly want to know what your competitors are up to, lest you get blindsided by their actions.
Ideally, you would arrive at the strategy session understanding the market shares of your various competitors. In addition, you would know the share of wallet that they attract, and compare this to the share of market. Variances between the two indicate a pricing strategy that may deserve closer inspection. If accessible, a study of the competitors’ financial statements is never wasted as this indicates industry growth rates, profit rates, margin rates and the like for comparative purposes.
Then, a subjective analysis can be completed, but this can be done during the workshop. Here, the focus is on the offering and the softer skills that your competitors bring to the table.
- How strong are their customer relationships?
- How well do they sell against your products?
- How are they achieving their growth?
- What do they do particularly well where your performance is sub-par?
- What do you do particularly well, that outshines them?
The more heads that think through these issues, the more objective the information becomes.
What you’d like to achieve at the end of this session is a list of things that your customers insist you have in your offer, ranked against your competitors. Then, you’ll have a list of ‘order winning’ value added offerings, also ranked against your competitors. You’ll be able to see where you are performing better, and worse, than your rivals.
This is the time to review what your organisation does particularly well, that when combined in the larger context and when compared with that of your competitors, can create a meaningful and valuable differential for your organisation.
What you are seeking here is something that your business does that your competitors cannot match. Often, these are the things that become ingrained in your culture. They are not a process, they are not a pricing point, but rather are embedded into the way you do business. Think Apple, think design and functionality. Think Ferrari, think performance and exclusivity. When I think of your company, what should the association be?
If there is nothing that your business does that can differentiate it, then this becomes the part of the strategy workshop where you decide what skills your organisation needs to develop or acquire in order for it to effectively compete.
There are a number of frameworks that are useful at this juncture, but all of them ask what your organisation can uniquely bring to the market, and how long you believe this uniqueness is achievable. If your competitors are able to replicate your uniqueness quickly, then your competitive advantage can be eroded before its paid for itself. Where little differentiation exists in a market, the common point upon which to compete becomes price. Margins erode in the effort to win business. Either differentiate, or be prepared to become a low-cost producer.
Creating a Unique Space
This is where strategy becomes as much art as it is skill. The real end-game of strategy is to create a space that completely disrupts your industry, and where your organisation sets the rules of the game. Playing by rules set by others means that you are always watching and waiting, instead of setting the pace and direction.
Thinking of a realistic opportunity takes incredible focus, deep thought, creativity and imagination. At times, new industries are created where the borders of current industries exist so this is a good place to look first.
What Happens After All is Said and Done?
The chosen strategy should be captured in an Executive Summary of no longer than 2 to 3 pages. Anything longer creates confusion and apathy by those who are expected to wade through reams of inputs in order to reach the implementation section.
The chosen strategy must be presented to and worked through in a workshop with those who will play any part in its implementation. Ideally, small teams will be tasked with the implementation of certain aspects of the whole picture.
Remember that the contents of that strategy must form the conversation point of the executives from that point forward. If all you talk about is profit, profit is what the business will chase. If you focus on strategic delivery in each of your conversations, the business will deliver. And, when you’re tired of talking about the strategy, you’ve likely only done 10% of the job needed, so keep talking strategy.
4 Types Of Business Models
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:
A manufacturer takes raw materials and creates a product, or assembles pre-made components into a product (E.g car manufacturers). A manufacturer may sell its products directly to its customers, or it can outsource sales to another company.
A distributor is any business that purchases products directly from a manufacturer for resale either to retail outlets, or directly to the public. For example, a car dealership would purchase vehicles directly from the manufacturer and sell them to the general public.
A retailer purchases product from a distributor or wholesaler, and then sells those products to the public. A retailer usually has a physical location, but may also be an online retailer such as Amazon or Kalahari.
A franchise can be a manufacturer, distributor or retailer, depending on what type of franchise you purchase. Here the franchisee adopts the business model of that franchise.
Under these four types of business, there are various other ways of structuring your business model.
- A company that integrates a physical and an online presence. An example would be a retailer who allows customers to order products online, but lets them pick up their order at their nearest store.
- A company that deals with customers directly via the internet without engaging an intermediary.
- Direct selling to consumers making use of product demonstrations in the person’s home, for example. There are several cosmetic and jewellery companies that use this model in SA.
- The Freemium business model works by offering a basic Web service or product, for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features.
- Online auctions, which are held over the internet.
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