Once upon a time, all business models were relatively similar and relatively simple. You bought low and sold high. The more you could repeat this simple recipe, the richer you would grow. But the world has become more complex and more competitive.
New technologies have opened up many different ways of doing business and most companies are no longer competing just with the business down the road, they are competing with entities from across the globe. In this environment of increased complexity and heightened competition, a firm’s business model has become a critical source of competitive advantage.
The entrepreneurs and managers who have taken the time to understand what a business model is and how to innovate around their own business model have found new sources of profit and growth. By contrast, those who have failed to adapt their business model have found themselves languishing and giving way to their more inventive rivals.
What is a business model? What is business model innovation? How can a business model be a source of competitive advantage? How can refining a business model drive growth and profit within an enterprise?
Let’s look at the concept of a business model and see what tools and insights are available to enable entrepreneurs and managers to innovate with new business model designs. In doing so, we’ll be drawing on the concepts captured in the recently released book Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.
What is a business model?
Quite simply a business model is a description of the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers and captures value. A business model describes how a company creates an offering, gets it to customers and generates profit from the transaction.
The research of Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur suggests that a complete description of a company’s business model can be broken down into nine elements:
- Value proposition: A clear description of the company’s offering and how it solves problems or creates value for customers.
- Customer segments: The specific group of people that the organisation aims to serve.
- Channels: The means that a company uses to reach its customer segments to communicate with them and to deliver products and services to them.
- Customer relationships: The methods used to maintain relationships with customer segments.
- Revenue streams: The income generation and collection mechanisms in the business.
- Key resources: The most important assets that the company needs to make the other elements of the business model work.
- Key activities: The most important things that a company must do to make its business model work.
- Key partnerships: The network of suppliers and partners that make the business model work.
- Cost structure: The major costs that need to be incurred to sustain the business model.
These nine business model building blocks can be captured in a single diagram called the business model canvas. It sets the value proposition at the centre of the business model as the primary focus area. The customer building blocks (customer segments, channels and relationships) can be found to the right of the value proposition and infrastructure building blocks (resources, activities and partners) to the left.
The finance-based building blocks (revenue and cost structure) can be found on the lower portion of the diagram.
Building & refining a business model
The nine building blocks and the business model canvas are excellent tools (1) for understanding your current business; (2) for refining a business to make it more profitable; and (3) for designing a new business model.
The process of applying the business model canvas to define or refine a business model is relatively simple but extremely powerful.
Gather the people you want to participate in the process. In a business it is useful to get the entire management team involved. Different people bring new perspectives and insights and therefore having a broad base of participants is often an advantage.
Once you have all the participants gathered together, you should present a copy of the business model canvas and explain to people what the different components of the canvas mean.
Map out your firm’s existing business model on the business model canvas (note, if you are designing a business model for a brand new business, this step can be skipped). The mapping of the business model will give all participants in the process a common understanding of the company’s current operations.
Brainstorm ideas for different ways of doing things within the business model. If you’re designing a new business model the focus will be on how you build up the different elements of the business model to create a valuable enterprise.
If you are refining a company’s existing business model then you can work though each of the nine building blocks and ask the following questions:
“How could we do things differently?”
“How can we create more value for customers?”
“How could we be more efficient?”
As you go through the process of brainstorming ideas for each of the nine building blocks be sure to:
- Encourage everyone to participate:
- Keep asking questions
- Record all ideas:
- Don’t judge ideas immediately, write them down and judge them later
- Be visual:
Put the business model canvas up where everyone can see it and record the ideas in such a way that all participants can see them. One useful way to do this is to draw the business model canvas on a very large sheet of paper or project board, stick it on the wall and then use post-it notes and markers to record all the participants’ ideas in the respective blocks.
Identify the good ideas. The challenge is to create a way for the group to decide on the best ones. One way to do this is to give the individuals in the group a pack of adhesive stars and get them to vote on the best ideas. Another way is to get the people to vote on paper if you prefer.
Bring the best ideas together in a coherent business model. To do this you can give each participant a clean business model canvas and get them to create a new business model for the company, using the best ideas generated in the session. Each person can then present their new business model back to the group. From this a new business model can be devised.
Plan for the implementation of the new business model. Create a set of action steps and allocate responsibility for the implementation of the steps. The process described above, or some variation of it, will provide an entrepreneur or manager with a practical, meaningful and productive way to design a new business model.
Examples of innovative emerging business models
To understand how business models are evolving and to get inspiration for designing an innovative new business model, it is worth examining some of the new patterns emerging. Over the past 20 years we have seen a proliferation of these.
Many new business models are built around the Internet, yet it’s not an essential ingredient of business model innovation. Below are some examples of emerging business models as identified by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.
Long tail business models
In long tail business models a company sells lower quantities of more types of products to very niche groups of customers. Traditionally business looked to create ‘hit’ products – products that would appeal to the largest segment of mainstream customers.
Because the cost of finding customers and producing and distributing products in many industries has decreased, some businesses have emerged to service small, dispersed groups of customers.
Global example of a long tail business model:
Publishing industry: Lulu.com
Previously the goal of a book publishing company was to find the next best-seller – Harry Potter and the like. Lulu.com, an emerging book publishing business, turned this model on its head. Instead of focusing on best-sellers, they created a platform that enables any amateur author – you, me or the person next door – to publish a book.
They make their money by providing authors with the tools to self-publish and they also provide a platform for people to buy and sell self-published books.
Other examples of companies that employ a long tail business model include CD Baby (music), Springleap (T-shirts) and Netflix (movies).
Additional reading on long tail business models:
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, by Chris Anderson, 2006.
Multi-sided platforms bring together buyers and sellers. They create a space where people can transact. The platform creates value by facilitating interactions between different groups. A multi-sided platform becomes more and more valuable as more and more people use it.
Local example of multi-sided platform business model:
Real estate sector: Private Property
Private Property has established a platform that brings together buyers and sellers of real estate on the Internet.
By making it easy for sellers (including traditional real estate agents) to load property descriptions, pictures and videos onto their site and by making it easy for sellers to search and save properties, they have created a business model that has transformed the way many people find property to buy or rent.
There are many industries, local and global, that are being transformed by businesses with multi-sided platform business models. Examples include eBay (auctions), Craigslist (classifieds), Apple App Store (software applications), and Google (advertising).
Additional reading on multi-sided platform business models: Strategies for Two-Sided Markets, Harvard Business Review, by Thomas Eisenmann, Geoffrey Parker and Marshall W van Alstyne, 2006.
‘Free’ as a business model
Many businesses are finding it possible to deliver a product or service to a substantial customer segment at no cost; non-paying customers are financed by some other portion of the business.
Because people are naturally attracted to offerings that are free, many businesses find benefit in providing their offering at no cost to generate demand and create interest in what they are doing. They then find ways to get certain customer segments to access additional services and to pay for those services.
Global example of a free business model:
Anyone with friends, family and acquaintances living abroad has probably discovered the magic of Skype. If you and your friend both have an Internet connection you can call each other at absolutely no cost (except for the Internet bandwidth that you might be paying for).
Skype does this to get people to start using the network. The more people that are on Skype the more valuable it becomes for users. As people depend more and more on Skype for their daily communication needs so they discover that there are a whole lot of additional services that are worth paying for.
You can pay to call people directly on their phone or to set up premium services with all sorts of additional features. I started using Skype as a pure free user and I now spend about $10 a month to access additional services. As more and more people follow this trend it will become an incredibly profitable business.
Other examples of businesses that incorporate free into their business model include Dropbox (online storage), Google (search), Youtube (online video), and Facebook (social networking).
Additional reading on free as a business model:
Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson, 2008
Bait & Hook
The bait and hook business model is the practice of luring a customer in with a relatively cheap upfront purchase but then making money off them with more lucrative ongoing servicing. The most famous example of the bait and hook business model is in the razor blade industry.
Gillette will sell you the actual razor for next to nothing but then make huge margins every time you replace the disposable blade.
Local example of the bait and hook business model:
Motor Industry: BMW Financial Services
BMW retailers in South Africa give their customers very good deals on cars but then get them to utilise the BMW Financial Services package as a means to finance the car. They make the real money on the purchase through the ongoing interest payments that you make in paying off your vehicle.
Other examples of the bait and hook business model include: HP (printers and printer cartridges), cellphones (cheap handset but expensive ongoing contracts), Multichoice (pay TV – give away the decoder but charge high monthly fees for customers to get value from the decoder).
These are just a few of the interesting new business models that are emerging to create value for companies. One of the real challenges is that successful business models are often replicated and after being copied too many times, they are no longer valuable.
Gary Hamel said, “…all too often, a successful new business model becomes the business model for companies not creative enough to invent their own.” Most times the first mover – the firm that comes up with the business model that transforms an industry – benefits immensely from their innovation.
A new business model can be a source of competitive advantage for many years – Southwest has maintained its advantage with the low-cost airline model for over three decades and Gillette has done the same with its bait and hook razor blade model for just as long.
The challenge for today’s entrepreneurs and business managers is to be creative enough to invent a business model that is radical so you can attain advantage in your industry for decades to come. Don’t just copy what others have done. Use the tools provided in this article to help you create something that is new, different and transformative. Good luck!
Business model generation source book
Business Model Generation, by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, is available from Kalahari.net
Disruptive new business models are emblematic of our generation. Yet they remain poorly understood, even as they transform competitive landscapes across industries. Business Model Generation offers you powerful, simple, tested tools for understanding, designing, reworking, and implementing business models. It’s a practical, inspiring handbook for anyone striving to improve a business model – or craft a new one.
The book will teach you powerful and practical innovation techniques used by leading companies worldwide. You will learn how to systematically understand, design and implement a new business model – or analyse and renovate an old one. Business Model Generation also has a tightly-integrated, visual, lie-flat design that enables immediate hands-on use.
- Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal; By Mark W Johnson; Harvard Business Press; 2010
- Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape; By Henry W Chesbrough; Harvard Business Press; 2006
Organisational Design Disruptions Do Not Occur In A Vacuum: Future Business Models
What is the shape of the world in which models need to operate and how do they come together to build future value?
In today’s ever-changing world, organisations are using a disruptive business model design to build unique approaches to creating value and organisations that are ready for the future.
At all scales, from micro-enterprise to multinational, operating in multiple settings and contexts, rethinking business models has become one of definite ways of offering customers something truly better than what already exists.
To ensure sustainable business growth, businesses need to navigate modern economic development and societal issues and in so doing articulate what meaningful, inclusive and enduring value looks like. In the past, a linear approach to business model design may have sufficed – inputs enter a logical process that creates outputs of value.
Today, to truly deliver a value proposition that can flourish, an understanding of the way that complex adaptive systems come together to create both outputs and outcomes is required. ACCA identified12 characteristics that organisations are combining as they build new business models. The full model and characteristics can be read here.
The accountancy profession is well placed to support the growth of business models of the future that help build resilient, inclusive and prosperous societies, by leading in strategic roles. In order to be ready to make the most of these opportunities professional accountants will demand new skills. Financial acumen, technical knowledge and ethical judgement are attributes that the accountancy profession can uniquely bring to support business model innovation across the three spheres of value proposition, value creation and value capture.
But to navigate the contours of a changing economy, new mindsets are required. These include the ability to:
- think like a system
- understand how to capture and assess new sources of value
- build creative capabilities to think differently and problem solve
- adopt a long-term mindset.
Business models of the future: Systems, convergence and characteristics attempts to answer fundamental questions; why does business model innovation matter? What is the shape of the world in which models need to operate and how do they come together to build future value?
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:
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