Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Used-Book Case Study

This is a case study to sharpen your skills at forecasting and break-even analysis.

Dwight Payne and Gary Heap reside in Santa Barbara, CA, where they attend college and pursue their mutual hobby of science-fiction book collecting. They pooled their book collection of over 4,000 volumes, and sci-fi magazines going back over twenty-five years. All neatly cataloged and indexed, they estimate it would cost $20,000 to assemble the collection today.

Payne and Heap decided that, at the end of this school year, they will dedicate the summer to getting a used-book store started in Santa Barbara as a means of supplementing their income year-round. Heap’s uncle owns a storefront near the University, and agreed to rebuild it as a used-book store. He also co-signed an inventory loan for $4,000 for some start-up working capital. In exchange he gets 25 percent of store sales for two years.

In addition, they bought a collection of over 10,000 paperbacks, magazines, and comics for $3,500, and some used shelving for $1,500. These purchases required borrowing the money from some fraternity brothers.

Provide business strategy planning advice to Dwight and Gary (There is no one right answer).

Decide on days of the week and hours the store will be open. Estimate staffing required and hourly salary costs. Do Dwight and Gary really work for free? What is a reasonable expectation of customers per day? Average purchase per customer? What are pessimistic and optimistic values of these estimates? How much will they have to spend on advertising and promotion to meet these estimates?

What will they pay, on average, for each book? How much can they get, on average, for each book?

Put together a projected (often referred to as pro forma) income statement. Relate the estimates developed above to monthly sales (pessimistic, expected, and optimistic), cost of goods, and expense amounts for wages and promotion. We should add 25% to wages paid for the payroll estimate, to account for taxes, sick days, etc. Debt service payments may be assumed to total $400 per month. Estimate rent and utilities and any other expenses that you feel might be incurred.

Conclusions: Find a break-even sales estimate, that is, the value for sales that produces a Gross Margin just equal to Total Expense. When gross margin generated equals expenses, profit/loss is equal to zero; this sales level is called the break-even point.

Would you do it if you were they? Why or why not? What kind of a test is this where you can’t look up the answer? It’s an entrepreneurship test; learn to be comfortable with your best estimate. If you are not comfortable with this seek consulting services for small businesses.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Using Break-Even Analysis

A significant advantage of some business ideas is that the venture can break even at what seems to be an easily achievable volume. A technique for quantifying that volume, called break-even analysis, examines the interaction among fixed costs, variable costs, prices, and unit volume to determine that combination of elements in which revenues and total costs are equal.

This article is drawn from our Entrepreneurship Knowledge Services series.

Fixed costs are those expenses necessary to keep the business open, and are not impacted by sales volume. They will include such things as rent, basic telephone expenses and utilities, wages for core employees, loan or lease payments, and other necessary expenditures. An entrepreneur should also include a living wage for himself/herself as a fixed cost.

Variable costs include those expenses that change as a result of sales volume. This can be a relatively simple relationship, as in cost of goods sold, where for example the variable cost of baked goods sold at a coffee shop is what we pay the baker for them, $0.30 each. Variable costs can also be very complex; for example, higher sales in one area of our business may increase long distance charges. Labor costs may be fixed for full-time employees, then, as sales increase, some overtime is incurred until additional personnel can be justified.

Generally, an initial break-even analysis focuses on a relatively narrow range of sales volume in which variable costs are simple to calculate. The variable cost in a coffee shop is simply the cost of goods sold. For a pizza delivery operation, it might be the cost of ingredients, and some cost allocated for operation of the delivery vehicle. A general term often used for the difference between selling price and variable cost is “contribution margin,” or the amount that the unit sale contributes to the margin available to pay fixed costs, and generate profit (we hope).

Now let’s take a look at how break-even analysis can be helpful to us. For this example, let’s assume we have determined that the level of fixed costs (salaries, rent, utilities) necessary to run a coffee shop on a monthly basis is $9,000. In addition, a cup of coffee that we sell for $1 costs us $0.25 for the bulk coffee, filters, and water.

The contribution margin of a cup of coffee is, therefore, $0.75. We can now calculate how many cups of coffee we have to sell to cover our fixed costs:

Break-Even = (Fixed Costs) / (Contribution Margin)

= $9,000/$0.75 = 12,000 cups of coffee per month

Let us say, further, that the fixed cost estimate was based on being open 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. This converts roughly to 200 hours a month, so we have to sell 60 cups an hour. This is a cup a minute for every minute we are open.

Does this seem feasible? Let us assume not, and evaluate some options.

(1) Cut expenses

Remember that we are still in the planning stage here, and experience has shown that prospective entrepreneurs almost always underestimate expenses. Let’s pass on this approach.

(2) Raise prices

We could plan on charging $1.25 per cup from the beginning, for a contribution margin of $1 per cup. The arithmetic is easy; to cover $9,000 in fixed expenses we need to sell 9,000 cups of coffee per month. The most important factor here is what the competition is charging.

(3) Broaden our product line

For the sake of clarity in demonstrating relationships between price, cost, and sales volume, we have considered a simplified version of how a real coffee shop might operate. The market severely constrains the amount we can charge for an ordinary cup of coffee, and a one product shop would have limited appeal. Perhaps we could also offer gourmet coffees, which cost us $0.50 per cup to brew, at $2.00 per cup. We could also offer baked goods, which cost us $0.30 each, at $1.30.

Suffice it to say that the break-even calculation now becomes a bit more complex, and outside what we are trying to accomplish here. Feel free to try it on your own.

This has been a very brief overview of how break-even analysis can be used in helping the entrepreneur better understand the relationship of the financial factors involved in measuring the feasibility of a proposed venture.

From a preliminary analysis of selling prices that the market will bear, prevailing costs, and reasonable expectations of sales volumes, the entrepreneur can avoid making serious mistakes and may discover significant opportunities.

If the business is feasible but beyond the entrepreneur’s reach the challenge becomes raising entrepreneurial capital.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Venture Research Service Provider

If you are considering buying or selling a service industry business you need to start with an evaluation. This can be very complex and the use of a venture research service provider can often give you a value that you can easily defend. The following article outlines the process, and is extracted from FBB Group Ltd: https://www.fbb.com/company-information/recentarticles/how-to-value-a-service-business.

Service businesses run the gamut, from accounting firms, to drycleaners, to janitorial services, engineering, public relations firms, and many other options. Despite their disparity, they all have one thing in common: offering a service to clients.

Valuing a service business involves many factors – a tidy, one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t exist. That being said, sellers should recognize that buyers will be particularly interested in certain characteristics for most service businesses. This, again, is where a venture research service provider can come in.

Normally, valuation is based on several criteria, including: history of profitability, cash flow, overhead, intellectual property, company reputation, number of years in business, opportunities for further growth and added profits, stability of key employees/management team, and customer diversification.

Crucial areas for valuation include intellectual property, ongoing relationships with clients, and having a good team in place – ensuring the company will retain its competitive edge, even when the seller (who typically drives new and repeat business) leaves.

Without significant capital assets, key customers and employees are critical. A strong management team adds to the value of a service business (often more so than in manufacturing) and, conversely, it can detract from value when there’s a poor or inexperienced team.
Another measure of value may include the amount of market share. Companies that provide a niche service and don’t have much, if any, competition will command higher multiples of value.

Cash flow is “king,” so the primary consideration for bankers is a buyer’s ability to stay current on loans for acquisitions and working capital. Banks focus heavily on reliable cash flow for service businesses, given that there is little, to no, collateral within the service business itself.

Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell, understanding the various considerations of valuation for a service business will make the process smoother and increase the probability of a more successful transaction.

Dr. Vinturella, has over 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site https://www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business. “ See https://www.jbv.com/8steps, available on Amazon.

Entrepreneurial Career Consulting

The following is excerpted from Careers in Entrepreneurship, http://careers-in-business.com/en.htm. If you find it overwhelming, consider entrepreneurial career consulting. There are sources of free consulting such as SCORE, http://www.score.gov.

Entrepreneurs start new businesses and take on the risk and rewards of being an owner. This is the ultimate career in capitalism – putting your idea to work in a competitive economy. Some new ventures generate enormous wealth for the entrepreneur. However, the job of entrepreneur is not for everyone. You need to be hard-working, smart, creative, willing to take risks and good with people. You need to have heart, have motivation and have drive.

There are many industries where wealth creation is possible be it the Internet and IT, personal services, media, engineering or small local business (e.g., dry cleaning, electronics repair, restaurants).

But there is a downside of entrepreneurship too. Your life may lack stability and structure. Your ability to take time off may be highly limited. And you may become stressed as you manage cash flow on the one hand and expansion on the other. Three out of five new businesses in the U.S. fail within 18 months of getting started.

It’s important to be savvy and understand what is and is not realistic. The web is chock-full of come-ons promising to make you rich. Avoid promotions that require you to pay up front to learn some secret to wealth.

Look for inefficiencies in markets. Places where a better idea, a little ingenuity or some aggressive marketing could really make a difference. Think about problems that people would pay to have a solution to. It helps to know finance. It’s a must to really know your product area well. What do consumers want? What differentiates you from the competition? How do you market this product?

A formal business plan is not essential, but is normally a great help in thinking through the case for a new business. You’ll be investing more in it than anyone else, so treat yourself like a smart, skeptical investor who needs to be convinced that the math adds up for the business you propose starting.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Franchise Business Consultant Service 2

A franchise is a continuing relationship between a franchisor and a franchisee in which the franchisor’s knowledge, image, success, manufacturing, and marketing techniques are supplied to the franchisee for a consideration. This consideration usually consists of a high “up-front” fee, and a significant royalty percentage, which generally require a fairly long time to recover.

Here are some statistics about the industry (http://www.azfranchises.com/quick-franchise-facts/):

• There are an estimated 3,000 different franchisers across 300 business categories in the U.S. which provide nearly 18 million jobs and generate over $2.1 trillion to the economy.

• Franchises account for 10.5 percent of businesses with paid employees; almost 4% of all small businesses in the USA are franchises.
• It is estimated that the franchise industry accounts for approximately 50% of all retail sales in the US.

• The average initial franchise investment is $250,000- excluding real estate; the average royalty fees paid by franchisees range from 3% to 6% of monthly gross sales.

Franchising offers those who lack business experience (but do not lack capital) a business with a good probability of success. It is a ready-made business, with all the incentives of a small business combined with the management skills of a large one. It is a way to be “in business for yourself, not by yourself.”

Franchises take many forms. Some are simply trade-name licensing arrangements, such as TrueValue Hardware, where the franchisee is provided product access and participation in an advertising cooperative. Some trade name licenses, particularly in skin-care products, are part of a multi-level marketing system, where a franchisee can designate sub-franchisees and benefit from their efforts.

Others might be distributorships, or manufacturer’s representative arrangements, such as automobile dealerships, or gasoline stations. It could be Jane’s Cadillac, or Fred’s Texaco; the product is supplied by the franchisor, but the franchisee has a fair amount of latitude in how the business is located, designed and run. The franchisor will frequently specify showroom requirements and inventory level criteria, and could grant either exclusive or non-exclusive franchise areas.

The most familiar type of franchise, however, is probably the “total concept” store such as McDonald’s. Pay your franchise fee, and they will “roll out” a store for you to operate.

The advantages can be considerable. The franchise fee buys instant product recognition built and maintained by sophisticated advertising and marketing programs. The franchisor’s management experience and depth assists the franchisee by providing employee guidelines, policies and procedures, operating experience, and sometimes even financial assistance. They provide proven methods for determining promising locations, and a successful store design and equipment configuration. Centralized purchasing gives large-buyer “clout” to each location.

The large initial cost can be difficult to raise. The highly structured environment can be more limiting than it is reassuring. Continuing royalty costs take a significant portion of profits. You may wish to use a franchise business consulting service. Several small business periodicals evaluate and rank franchise opportunities. There are now several franchise “matchmaking” firms who can assist in the evaluation process.

How do you choose among all the available franchises? Does it complement your interests? Even if you hire someone to manage the business, expect to spend a lot of time with the operation. Is the name well known? If not, what are you paying for? Is the fee structure reasonable, and all costs clearly described?

Is the franchisor professional? Evaluate them on the clarity of the agreement, and how well your rights are protected, the strength of their training and support program, and their commitment to your success. Be sure to talk to current franchisees about their experiences. Beware of a franchisor committed to a rate of growth that exceeds their ability to manage; they may not be sufficiently interested in the sales they have already made.

Is a franchise a sure path to instant riches? Is it the only hope for independent firms in today’s market? Can Jerry’s Quick Oil Change compete with SpeeDee? Does the franchise deliver business that we might not have gotten anyway? Is it really entrepreneurship; did I go into business or did my money?

This is excerpted from “8 Steps to Starting a Business.” See https://www.jbv.com/8Steps

Franchise Business Consultant Service 1

Franchising provides a way for franchisors to grow their businesses more quickly than they could on their own. For franchisees, it reduces the probability of failure. Substantial personal resources are required to pay the franchise fee and all the other costs associated with start-up. The franchisor may or may not provide assistance with financing.

Often entrepreneurs engage a franchise business consultant to help evaluate and select the best fit to the buyer. Franchise models, investment, and requirements vary widely, so it is imperative that the potential franchisee conduct thorough due diligence before proceeding.

Franchising provides the entrepreneur with an opportunity to enter the world of small business without all the risks usually associated with starting a business from scratch. In most cases, the costs of entering a franchise are less than the costs of buying an existing business. If dealing with a reputable franchisor, buying a franchise represents the acquisition of a proven business model, thus reducing the odds of failure considerably. Franchises are big business. Franchises are very important to commerce accounting for 45% of retail sales, or $1.55 trillion in total revenue in 2010, according to American small business counselors at SCORE. One in 12 businesses is a franchise, across 75 industries and numerous subfields among them. Just a few of the well-known franchises are Krispy Kreme, Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Baskin Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop, and Motel 6.

Franchises exist worldwide. The European Franchise Federation estimates that 8500 distinct franchise brands are operating in the European Union, compared to about 2500 U.S. brands (2009). The franchise industry is particularly strong in the United Kingdom, with the number of franchise units increasing by 44% over the last decade. Franchising accounts for 10.8 billion annually in sales. The personality type of the successful franchisee is that of a person somewhere between an entrepreneur and an employee. The hard work and drive associated with the entrepreneur are still needed for a successful franchise, but the typical franchisee neither needs, nor typically has, the vision and constant pursuit of new ideas that are typical of most entrepreneurs.

Excerpted from “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital,” by Vinturella and Erickson.

Business Strategy Planning Advice

The following is excerpted from “Tips for Better Strategic Planning,” By Erica Olsen. It is part of the Strategic Planning Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet, http://www.dummies.com/business/strategic-planning-kit-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/

Before you get too far into your strategic planning process, check out the following tips — your quick guide to getting the most out of your strategic planning process:

• Pull together a diverse, yet appropriate group of people to make up your planning team. Diversity leads to a better strategy. Bring together a small core team — between six and ten people — of leaders and managers who represent every area of the company.

• Allow time for big-picture, strategic thinking. People tend to try to squeeze strategic planning discussions in between putting out fires and going on much needed vacations. But to create a strategic plan, your team needs time to think big. Do whatever it takes to allow that time for big-picture thinking (including taking your team off-site).

• Get full commitment from key people in your organization. You can’t do it alone. If your team doesn’t buy in to the planning process and the resulting strategic plan, you’re dead in the water. Encourage the key people to interact with your customers about their perception of your future and bring those views to the table.

• Allow for open and free discussion regardless of each person’s position within the organization. (This tip includes you.) Don’t lead the planning sessions. Hire an outside facilitator, someone who doesn’t have any stake in your success, which can free up the conversation. Encourage active participation, but don’t let any one person dominate the session.

• Think about execution before you start. It doesn’t matter how good the plan is if it isn’t executed. Implementation is the phase that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals. The critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive business growth.

• Use a facilitator, if your budget allows. Hire a trained professional who has no emotional investment in the outcome of the plan. An impartial third party can concentrate on the process instead of the end result and can ask the tough questions that others may fear to ask.

• Make your plan actionable. To have any chance at implementation, the plan must clearly articulate goals, action steps, responsibilities, account abilities, and specific deadlines. And everyone must understand the plan and his individual role in it.

• Don’t write your plan in stone. Good strategic plans are fluid, not rigid and unbending. They allow you to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to change your plan as necessary.

• Clearly articulate next steps after every session. Before closing the strategic planning session, clearly explain what comes next and who’s responsible for what. When you walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand what he’s responsible for and when to meet deadlines.

• Make strategy a habit, not just a retreat. Review the strategic plan for performance achievement no less than quarterly and as often as monthly or weekly. Focus on accountability for results and have clear and compelling consequences for unapproved missed deadlines.

• Check out examples. Although you can’t borrow someone else’s strategy, you can find inspiration and ideas from the examples of others. Here is one website with a catalog of example strategic plans by industry: OnStrategy, http://onstrategyhq.com/samples/ . Check it out for quick access to ideas.

Business Valuation Service Industry

If you are considering buying or selling a service industry business you need to start with an evaluation. This can be very complex and the use of a consultant can often give you a value that you can easily defend. The following article outlines the process, and is extracted from FBB Group Ltd: https://www.fbb.com/company-information/recentarticles/how-to-value-a-service-business.

Business Valuation Service Industry

Service businesses run the gamut, from accounting firms, to drycleaners, to janitorial services, engineering, public relations firms, and many other options. Despite their disparity, they all have one thing in common: offering a service to clients.

By their nature, service businesses don’t have much in the way of tangible assets, making EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), for larger businesses, or SDE (Seller’s Discretionary Earnings), for smaller businesses, multiples typically lower than manufacturing businesses. Generally, the smaller the service business, the lower the SDE multiple.

Valuing a service business involves many factors – a tidy, one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t exist. That being said, sellers should recognize that buyers will be particularly interested in certain characteristics for most service businesses.

Normally, valuation is based on several criteria, including: history of profitability, cash flow, overhead, intellectual property, company reputation, number of years in business, opportunities for further growth and added profits, stability of key employees/management team, and customer diversification.

Further consideration goes to whether the company can add more services. Value increases when a service business offers something unique, especially in a growing industry or market. These industries include rapidly growing service sectors, such as: internet/web-based or cloud-computing services and information technology. Relocatable, internet-based businesses with low overhead are particularly attractive due to scalability. Also, the ability for a business to be operated from anywhere increases the number of prospective purchasers – which increases the business value due to higher demand.

In addition, companies with a large recurring monthly revenue stream (for example, when a high percentage of clients are signed up for automatic bill pay each month) will command more value. Examples include alarm companies or website/email-hosting companies that have monthly auto bill pay from clients. Such a consistent revenue stream impresses both buyers and lenders alike.

Other crucial areas for valuation include intellectual property, ongoing relationships with clients, and having a good team in place – ensuring the company will retain its competitive edge, even when the seller (who typically drives new and repeat business) leaves.
Without significant capital assets, key customers and employees are critical. A strong management team adds to the value of a service business (often more so than in manufacturing) and, conversely, it can detract from value when there’s a poor or inexperienced team.
Another measure of value may include the amount of market share. Companies that provide a niche service and don’t have much, if any, competition will command higher multiples of value.

Within the industry, B2B (business-to-business) companies generally command more value than B2C (business-to-consumer). For both, however, client-base diversity commands value – more medium- or small-sized clients being preferable to a few large clients. With low customer concentration, financial risk is reduced. If one client, for instance, cancels a contract or goes out of business, the service business remains financially viable.

Although contrary to an owner’s instinct, businesses command higher value when they’re not dependent on the owner’s personal relationship with clients. If the owner generates a substantial amount of revenue versus the other employees in total, the business could be at risk after the sale. Service businesses are more valuable when customer relationships are readily transferrable: as customers of a drinking-water delivery or HVAC service business don’t usually care who the company’s owner is, for example. Also, keep in mind that seasonal businesses, due to their cyclical nature, have lower value.

Cash flow is “king,” so the primary consideration for bankers is a buyer’s ability to stay current on loans for acquisitions and working capital. Banks focus heavily on reliable cash flow for service businesses, given that there is little, to no, collateral within the service business itself.

Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell, understanding the various considerations of valuation for a service business will make the process smoother and increase the probability of a more successful transaction.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Raising Entrepreneurial Capital

This writer, with Dr. Suzanne Erickson, is co-author of the book “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital.” The second edition of the book is currently published by Elsevier.

Raising Entrepreneurial Capital guides the reader through the stages of successfully financing a business. The book proceeds from a basic level of business knowledge, assuming that the reader understands simple financial statements, has selected a specific business, and knows how to write a business plan. It provides a broad summary of the subjects that people typically research, such as “How should your company position itself to attract private equity investment?” and “What steps can you take to improve your company’s marketability?”

Much has changed since the book was first published, and this second edition places effects of the global recession in the context of entrepreneurship, including the debt vs. equity decision, the options available to smaller businesses, and the considerations that lead to rapid growth, including venture capital, IPOs, angels, and incubators. Unlike other books of the genre, Raising Entrepreneurial Capital includes several chapters on worldwide variations in forms and availability of pre-seed capital, incubators, and the business plans they create, with case studies from Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim.

Here is how one reviewer evaluates the book:

“I have been an entrepreneur, venture investor or venture capitalist most of my 30-year professional business career and have been involved in the startup of over 40 companies, some very successful and some not so successful. After reading Raising Entrepreneurial Capital, my only regret is that I did not have access to this book of business knowledge at the beginning of my career. Most of the lessons I learned on the job (many the hard way!) trying to raise money, every way known to man, are in this book and I find it amazing how much of it is accurately covered in depth by the authors. It will be a great textbook for teaching entrepreneurial finance. I have never seen a book that covers everything one needs to know in such great depth. This book should be required reading for anyone thinking about starting up a new business. It will save a lot of wasted time and heartache for a new entrepreneur.”

— Kent L. Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director, Alexander Hutton Venture Capital, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Seattle University’s Entrepreneurship Center.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Entrepreneurship Knowledge Services

For many businesses their competitive edge lies in their knowledge. Entrepreneurship Knowledge Services offer a way to maximize your advantage. The Canada Business Network expands upon this concept:

What Is Knowledge In a Business?

Using knowledge in your business isn’t necessarily about thinking up clever new products and services, or devising ingenious new ways of selling them. It’s much more straightforward.
Useful and important knowledge already exists in your business. It can be found in:

• the experience of your employees

• the designs and processes for your goods and services

• your files of documents (whether held digitally, on paper or both)

• your plans for future activities, such as ideas for new products or services

The challenge is harnessing this knowledge in a coherent and productive way.

Existing forms of knowledge

• You’ve probably done market research into the need for your business to exist in the first place. If nobody wanted what you’re selling, you wouldn’t be trading. You can tailor this market knowledge to target particular customers with specific types of product or service.

• Your files of documents from and about customers and suppliers hold a wealth of information which can be invaluable both in developing new products or services and improving existing ones.

• Your employees are likely to have skills and experience that you can use as an asset. Having staff who are knowledgeable can be invaluable in setting you apart from competitors. You should make sure that your employees’ knowledge and skills are passed on to their colleagues and successors wherever possible, e.g. through brainstorming sessions, training courses and documentation. See the page in this guide: create a knowledge strategy for your business.

Your understanding of what customers want, combined with your employees’ know-how, can be regarded as your knowledge base. Using this knowledge in the right way can help you run your business more efficiently, decrease business risks and exploit opportunities to the full. This is known as the knowledge advantage.

BASIC SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE

Your sources of business knowledge could include:

• Customer knowledge – you should know your customers’ needs and what they think of you. You may be able to develop mutually beneficial knowledge sharing relationships with customers by talking to them about their future requirements, and discussing how you might be able to develop your own products or services to ensure that you meet their needs.

• Employee and supplier relationships – seek the opinions of your employees and your suppliers – they’ll have their own impressions of how you’re performing. You can use formal surveys to gather this knowledge or ask for their views on a more informal basis.

• Market knowledge – watch developments in your sector. How are your competitors performing? How much are they charging? Are there any new entrants to the market? Have any significant new products been launched?

• Knowledge of the business environment – your business can be affected by numerous outside factors. Developments in politics, the economy, technology, society and the environment could all affect your business’ development, so you need to keep yourself informed. You could consider setting up a team of employees to monitor and report on changes in the business world.

• Professional associations and trade bodies – their publications, academic publications, government publications, reports from research bodies, trade and technical magazines.

• Trade exhibitions and conferences – these can provide an easy way of finding out what your competitors are doing and to see the latest innovations in your sector.

• Product research and development – scientific and technical research and development can be a vital source of knowledge that can help you create innovative new products – retaining your competitive edge.

• Organizational memory – be careful not to lose the skills or experience your business has built up. You need to find formal ways of sharing your employees’ knowledge about the best ways of doing things. For example, you might create procedural guidance based on your employees’ best practice. See the page in this guide: create a knowledge strategy for your business.

• Non-executive directors – these can be a good way for you to bring on board specialized industry experience and benefit from ready-made contracts.

EXPLOITING YOUR KNOWLEDGE
Consider the measurable benefits of capturing and using knowledge more effectively. The following are all possible outcomes:

• An improvement in the goods or services you offer and the processes that you use to sell them. For example, identifying market trends before they happen might enable you to offer products and services to customers before your competitors.

• Increased customer satisfaction because you have a greater understanding of their requirements through feedback from customer communications.

• An increase in the quality of your suppliers, resulting from better awareness of what customers want and what your staff require.

• Improved staff productivity, because employees are able to benefit from colleagues’ knowledge and expertise to find out the best way to get things done. They’ll also feel more appreciated in a business where their ideas are listened to.

• Increased business efficiency, by making better use of in-house expertise.

• Better recruitment and staffing policies. For instance, if you’ve increased knowledge of what your customers are looking for, you’re better able to find the right staff to serve them.

• The ability to sell or license your knowledge to others. You may be able to use your knowledge and expertise in an advisory or consultancy capacity. In order to do so, though, make sure that you protect your intellectual property.”