Category Archives: Starting a Business

Consulting for Case Study

Hubspot suggests that “Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a struggle. Before you can even begin to expect to earn their business, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver on what your product or service promises. Sure, you could say that you’re great at X, or that you’re way ahead of the competition when it comes to Y. But at the end of the day, what you really need to win new business is cold, hard proof.

One of the best ways to prove your worth is through compelling case studies. When done correctly, these examples of your work can chronicle the positive impact your business has on existing or previous customers.”

It can be advantageous to use a consultant to prepare the case study. In addition to saving your time the consultant will be objective.

Kissmetrics describes why a case study can be effective:

“People enjoy reading a story. A great case study will allow someone to really get to know the customer in the case study including:

• Who is the sample customer and what do they do?

• What were the customer’s goals?

• What were the customer’s needs?

• How did you satisfy those needs and help the customer meet their goals?

A final thing you could do is simply follow up with the customer in the case study and update your case study a few months down the road to show how your products / services are continuing to have long term benefits for the customer. This would give readers the opportunity to see that your goal is not only to help with immediate needs, but also to ensure long term results.”

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.

Business Services for Self-Employed

An important consideration in setting up a new business is to set up an accounting system which is easy-to-use but robust enough to contain features needed for a well-managed business.

QuickBooks is the accounting system of choice of many professionals.

Mariette Martinez discusses the pros and cons in terms of the features required by small businesses. She focuses on “a newly self-employed individual also referred to as a 1099 Independent Contractor in a Service-Based profession with limited need for invoicing and no product selling.

Based on this type of individual, I have learned that there are 5 Key Elements for an accounting solution to best fit this individual’s need:

1. Anytime, Anywhere Access –This type of individual is usually on the go

2. Pricing – As first-time self-employed, low-cost solutions are best; Free Trial is a PLUS

3. Bank & Credit Card transactions import capabilities – Bank feeds (i.e. automated bank transaction import) are the future of efficient bookkeeping; No More manual entry

4. Reporting – Basic financial reports are essential for year-round profitability analysis & preparation for year-end taxes

5. Mobile App Capabilities such as Receipt Capture & Auto Mileage – If the accounting solution can provide additional features that can eliminate the need for MORE APPs, that’s a PLUS

6. Your Accountant’s BIGGEST Request – Shared Access to Your Books

After researching several online accounting solutions that met all of these qualifications including QuickBooks Online (Simple, Essentials, Plus), QuickBooks Self-Employed, Wave, Xero, Zoho Books, FreshBooks, Kashoo & Sage One, I have narrowed my TOP 3 Choices to QuickBooks Self-Employed ($5/mo.), QuickBooks Online Simple Start ($13/mo.), Wave (Free) (in no particular order).
Please use the above list of programs as a good reference for other great accounting solutions that may better fit your business’s unique accounting needs.

Advantages for ALL Top 3 Apps:

• 100% Cloud Based Accounting Solution – all solutions are web-based with mobile app capabilities (mobile features vary per app)

• Very Simple to Use – all solutions have dashboards and easy to navigate tool bars that are simple to learn and intuitive to use

• Ability to Separate Business vs Personal transactions – newly self-employed individuals may not have opened a separate business account yet or he/she is still getting used to using the business account for only business purposes (i.e. no comingling); the ability to separate business vs personal transactions is a great solution to fix these mistakes

• Ability to import multiple bank & credit card account transactions – adding/importing a new bank/credit card account to the system and assigning the income and/or expense type to the transaction is super simple

• Basic Accounting Reports – throughout the year, it’s important to keep a close eye on your income & expenses so you have an idea on how your business is doing; even more important is the ability to estimate your income for the year since as a Self-Employed individual, you are responsible to PAY self-employment taxes

• Pricing- all apps provide a FREE trial period and are less than $15/month

• Receipt Capture – as a newly self-employed, keeping track of your receipts in one place is more important than ever to take advantage of the tax benefits of business expenses; the mobile app for all solutions has the receipt capture capabilities which will attach a picture to a transaction.”

Note that two of her top three choices are versions of Quickbooks. The other choice, Wave is free. All have a free trial period so you may want to take a look at more than one.

Selecting a Venture

Craft an entry strategy. What type of business could best seize the chosen opportunity?

The basic rule is simple: “Find a market need and fill it”! The process of finding the need, and the method chosen to fill it are where the difficulties arise.

Based on our opportunity scan, does the market need a product or service that is not currently being provided? Is there a needed product or service currently being provided in a less than satisfactory way? Is some particular market being underserved due to capacity shortages or location gaps? Can we serve any of these needs with some competitive advantage?

Remember that a business idea is not a business opportunity until it is evaluated objectively and judged to be feasible. You may wish to choose two to five of the ideas that seem most promising for more detailed study. Trying to consider too many would spread your time, energy and focus too thin. At the same time, if you focus too early on only one business idea, you are more likely to become “attached” to it, and could lose your objectivity.

Testing the feasibility of your top business ideas involves time and effort to collect key information. A first pass might consist of consulting recent journal articles that evaluate the market of interest; most libraries have computer-based indexes of periodical articles, such as InfoTrac. Other useful library resources include industry trade books, directories, and other sources of industry statistics.

Data collected from industry sources and journal articles is often referred to as secondary data, in that it was collected for purposes not directly related to our specific venture. Sometimes this can be sufficient, though we may find the need to fill the gaps with primary data. Collection of primary data can be very expensive. It generally consists of conducting market surveys, in person or by telephone, of a statistically significant random sample of our prospective clientele.

Craft an entry strategy. What type of business could best seize the chosen opportunity? Would taking in partners with complementary skills enhance my chances for success? What would be the optimum location? Whom would we serve, and how? Would my chances be improved by buying a franchise or an existing business, as opposed to starting a venture “from scratch”?

A small business is the usual product of entrepreneurship. Can a person start a large business? Only 4% of businesses employ over 20 people at start-up. What kinds of businesses are the larger start-ups likely to be? My sense is that most would be food service businesses, and many of those would be franchises.

Over half of business start-ups consist of 1 or 2 employees. What kinds of businesses can you enter with only 1 or 2 employees? Most would probably be considered professional practices (medical, law, accounting) rather than commercial businesses.

Small businesses are characterized by independent management, closely-held ownership, a primarily local area of operations, and a scale that is small in comparison with competitors. Many are small by design, or are “lifestyle” businesses, where the primary objective is employment for the principals.

Many are intended to be more “entrepreneurial ventures,” with the intention of generating substantial growth in scale of operations and profitability. Successful entrepreneurs craft such an idea into a business concept that, hopefully, fills a void in the marketplace. You should enjoy your concept and be excited enough to relay your feelings to your market.

Your concept does not need to be a major breakthrough. It could simply be an improvement to an existing product or service. The improvement could be as simple as better service and/or quality than is currently available, a faster or otherwise better method of delivery, or a technological improvement.

Solicit input from friends and other consumers of the product as currently offered. Ask questions like: Is there a need? Would YOU buy it? What price would you expect to pay for it? Is there a better way to provide it?

Check out how the competition is providing the product to the market. Determine what makes your concept different from the competition. Why would the market be better off doing business with you? What can you give the market to improve their experience with the product? Does your product or service exceed the expectations of the market?

Define the needs of your market by listening to the customers and understanding how your product might fill that need. Is there something more you could do, to make it more attractive to your market? Is your product a solution to a problem in your market? How will you handle customer service complaints? What are your guarantees to your customers?

Statistics show that 80% of company sales come from repeat orders and referrals from satisfied customers. Exceed your customers’ expectations and they will be back, and they will refer you to others.

Refining and improving your concept is an ongoing process. Maintain a high profile in your community to develop relationships that help promote the product and serve as a referral and constructive feedback network. This involvement will only produce these benefits, however, if you are sincere in your willingness to work hard for the community you live in. If you don’t the available time to offer your community, perhaps you could give your product as a gift to local charities or sponsor a local event where your community would benefit.

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

Evaluating an Opportunity

A brief case study in entrepreneurship is presented to demonstrate how opportunities can be evaluated.

Business opportunities are often based on broad trends, such as:

  • Demographic, such as the “graying” of America (creating opportunities in health services, for example);
  • Sociological developments, like the “green” movement, with its emphasis on recycling and environmental sensitivity, and;
  • Cultural changes caused by changing economic conditions and technological developments.
  • Opportunities can also frequently be found in current and developing business trends such as:

  • The globalization of business,
  • The need for outsourcing created by downsizing, and
  • The burgeoning service economy.
  • The Internet and rapid growth of e-commerce have certainly created changes in the process of buying books and CD’s, trading stock, delivering information, and bidding on collectibles. Where do you see the next process to be transformed in a major way by the Internet?

    Let’s do a brief case study in opportunity:

    Neighborhood Coffee Shop

    I live in the eastern section of town, which is growing rapidly, and food and business services are not quite keeping up. The “East” is fairly isolated from the rest of the city by water, an interstate highway, and an industrial park, forming a separate and distinct market. “People” are saying that the East desperately needs a good coffee shop. (Who are these people? Are they just in our immediate circle? Are they representative enough of the area to extrapolate from?)

    Let us analyze some factors which indicate the opportunity potential of an idea:

  • The “window of opportunity” is opening, and will remain open long enough.
  • We cannot be the only entrepreneurs that perceive these opportunities. How long before the need becomes compelling enough for others to jump in?

  • Entry is feasible, and achievable with the committed principals.
  • Two friends want to be partners with me in a venture; one is managing a coffee shop across town, and willing to manage a startup. Between us, we could muster the capital for a coffee shop.

  • The proposed venture has some competitive advantage.
  • We were among the first to locate in the new area, and are very active in the local business community. We know of an ideal site, and the building manager is a friend. She is willing to sub-contract the beverage and light-meal/dessert services the building provides tenants.

  • The economics of the venture are “rewarding and forgiving.”
  • Materials costs are a small percentage of revenues; site preparation and equipment costs are minimal.

  • We can break even at what seems to be an easily achievable volume.
  • We may even want to consider a more upscale atmosphere based on what some say is the difference between a “coffeehouse” and a “coffee shop:” About two bucks a cup… A coffee shop is a place to grab a quick bite and a cheap cup of coffee.

    Eric Gerber of the MSN Network’s Sidewalk suggests that “A coffeehouse is a place to wax philosophical –
    Mozart or Bach, Faulkner or Fitzgerald, Xena or Hercules? – while seeing just how complicated you can make a simple drink like coffee: double latte espresso-chino with half decaf Jamaican Blue Mountain dark roast, extra low-fat foam and a Frangelica drizzle, please.”

    The conditions for starting a neighborhood coffee shop seem favorable, but there must be more that we can do to critically evaluate the venture while improving our chances of success. That “more” is market research, and do not leave the business launch pad without it!

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” and “The Entrepreneur’s Fieldbook” and co-author of “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital,” now in its second edition.

    Business Ideas

    The process of creating or
    seizing an opportunity is less the result of a deliberate search than it is a
    mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to business
    opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity while it is still
    taking shape.

     

    Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records and
    Virgin Atlantic Airlines, may be better known for his efforts to circle the
    globe in a hot-air balloon than for his business successes. He suggests that
    “Being an adventurer and an entrepreneur are similar… You’re willing to go where
    most people won’t dare.”

     

    But it is still generally accepted that entrepreneurs are
    skillful at knowing which risks are worth taking. “In everything I do, I examine
    the downside, the danger, what can go wrong,” says Branson. When he started his
    airline, he only bought one plane, with an agreement with Boeing to take that
    back “if things didn’t work out.”

     

    Are there any safeguards against failure? No! Even the best
    conceived and implemented business ventures can become market experiments that
    simply did not work. Our goal here is to follow a planning process that can
    minimize risk. That is the best that we can do, and the degree to which we can
    enhance our confidence about a venture must enter into any decision about its
    pursuit.

     

    The best approach requires patience, and to a commitment to
    preparation well in advance of start-up. This could be a long-range process of
    getting to better understand one’s strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, and
    setting about filling knowledge and experience gaps. During this period, we
    should constantly generate ideas with the potential of becoming real business
    opportunities.

     

    Where do business ideas come from? The best source is what
    you know. Often, ideas come from work experience or from personal interests,
    such as hobbies; other ideas can come from friends and relatives, and our
    educational background. Ideas may be easy enough to generate, but an idea is not
    necessarily an opportunity! Building a "better mousetrap" does not insure
    success; other factors include fit, timing, and resources.

     

    Jeff Timmons, in his book
    New Venture Creation, suggests that “An
    opportunity is attractive, durable, and timely and is anchored in a
    product or service that creates or adds value for its buyer or end user.
    Opportunities are created because there are changing circumstances,
    inconsistencies, chaos, lags, or leads, information gaps, and a variety of other
    vacuums, and because there are entrepreneurs who can recognize and seize them.”

     

    The process of creating or seizing an opportunity is less
    the result of a deliberate search than it is a
    mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to
    business opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity while it
    is still taking shape. This frequently relates to the prospective entrepreneur’s
    current profession or interests, where he or she perceives:

     

    *
    a process that can be more efficiently performed,

     

    * an attractive new service or improvement of an existing
    service, or

     

    * some business or geographic "niche" that is being
    underserved.

     

    There are often localized opportunities, based on
    geography, natural resources, human resources in local abundance, and the like.
    Can you think of any for your area?

     

    Once an idea is thought to represent a real opportunity,
    one must be able to research the market, know what data is important and how to
    gather it meaningfully, and know what actions this information indicates. This
    can then be worked into a rather detailed plan, and then refined into a
    blueprint for success.

     


    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than
    40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He
    founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “
    8 Steps to
    Starting a Business
    ,” and “The Entrepreneur’s Fieldbook”
    and co-author of “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital,” now in its second edition. 


     

     

    Defining your Elevator Pitch

    An elevator pitch is an overview of your business that can be conveyed within 30 seconds (30-80 words) during a ride on an elevator with a prospective stakeholder. It should leave your listener wanting to know more. Elevator pitches can be written for products, people or businesses.

    Why would you want an elevator pitch?

    There are a variety of advantages in defining your elevator pitch or mission of your small business and much of your marketing efforts will be based around this. Without one there is a chance to miss out on vital opportunities for business when you network and it’s very easy to miss the point with your marketing copy.

    Even if you don’t feel like you need to do this with your business, if you haven’t done it already, go through the exercise anyway just to reaffirm your mission. There could well be something that you learn from this that hasn’t been obvious in the past.

    Advantages of defining the elevator pitch

  • You will be fully prepared and will know what to say if for example you meet an old friend or if an unexpected business opportunity arises in conversation
  • You will be crystal clear about what you business is about – and this is at the core of all of your marketing efforts
  • Business cards, email signatures, profiles, articles and your about page will all have clarity
  • It will be easier to create your tagline
  • It will be easier to write content for your website or blog
  • Optimizing your site for the search engines and gaining traffic will be improved if you know what your keywords are and for whom you are writing
  • Media contact will be improved
  • Business partners and other bloggers will have clarity
  • How to Define Your Elevator Pitch

    Solve a problem or need – basically the internet is a huge answer machine. Which questions and needs will your business answer?

    Who is your audience – what is your demographic? Consider what they need to know.

    Why would your client choose your business or want to know about it – what will they get from you or how?

    Be clear and precise – don’t leave people wondering what you mean.

    Be passionate and convey some energy

    If possible inject some humor or personality into your pitch.

    And once you have your pitch?

    What else do people need to know – ready yourself with the next level of information so that if people ask more, you already have it ready. Here is an example:

    “Hi! My name is Jay Beavy.

    Our company Formulis has been advising clients on how to produce eye-popping custom websites and creative internet marketing since 2003. Can your website and online marketing program use a boost?”

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has more than 40 years’ experience as an educator, manager, entrepreneur, and strategist. He founded and ran a highly successful business for 20 years. He is the author of “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available at Amazon and directly from John at a significant discount. Contact John at: info@jbv.com

    How to Write an Irresistible Business Proposal

    1. Find out about your potential partner by talking to them, reading their mission statement and researching them – as well as learning how they make decisions. This will reveal the “buttons” that you’ll need to press as you describe the benefits of the partnership (i.e. more profits, something new to offer their clients, giving their business a new edge on competition, etc.).

    2. Make an offer they can’t refuse. Again, this will also take some research, but within reason, you should bend over backwards to accommodate your potential partner and make it as profitable for them as possible. Remember that the clients you acquire from a joint venture will purchase from you again and again – and it’s usually the “back end profit” after the JV where the real money gets made…

    3. Make it as easy as possible for them to say “yes”. People in general are obnoxiously lazy. Many of proposals have been rejected simply because they either seem too complicated – or it sounds like too much work, regardless of how lucrative they are. Simplify your proposal, and if necessary, take on the majority of the workload – remember that you’re sitting on a goldmine!

    4. Show them the money. Don’t be vague when it comes to potential earnings. Logically explain to your prospect how much they could reasonably earn from the partnership. It is very important that you do not simply make an “educated guess” – base your predictions entirely on your current marketing stats, sales conversion rates and other real data. This is likely the most overlooked – yet crucial – part of any given JV proposal.

    5. Be personal. A “canned” or impersonal proposal likely won’t even make it more than ten seconds before getting tossed in the garbage. Relate to your prospect and emphasize their values by validating their interests, goals and passions. Also, if you want to really make an impact, send your proposal as a hard copy via FedEx. Email is simply too easy to ignore, erase or forget about.

    6. Add a real sense of urgency. You want to subtly hint to your potential partner that you won’t wait long to hear back from them – which is true, because if they say “no you’ll have to find someone else anyway. Word this in such a way that it compels them to action either way – but don’t be overbearing, deceptive or unrealistic.

    7. Build rapport with your prospect. You must understand that the majority of business people – especially those that are very successful – would much rather work with someone that they know, like and trust than a complete stranger. In fact, it’s crucial that you do this before you even send them a proposal…

    8 Steps to Starting a Business

    About 8 Steps Can entrepreneurship be taught? Many of the skills of successful entrepreneurs can be taught, and sensitivity to business opportunity can be sharpened. A thorough and orderly approach to business planning allows us to assess whether an opportunity exists, and to chart the best way to take maximum advantage of that opportunity.

    From there, a hardy individual can decide, with a little less uncertainty, whether or not to pursue that opportunity. A feature of this book is that it is centered on the business plan. After some basic concepts are treated, and an opportunity is selected, its evaluation and refinement are treated in the context of the appropriate section of the business plan. It has been my experience that this approach gives a structure to the planning process that makes it less intimidating, and more effective.

    Case studies are integral to achieving our objectives. After some market research we discuss (often through minicases) the concepts applicable to some stage of the entrepreneurial process; the full cases then "drive home" these concepts by demonstrating them in action. One of these case studies threads its way through the entire text, describing the consequences of decisions made at various stages of a business on its later fortunes over a period of 20 years; not coincidentally, I was intimately involved in those decisions. I hope these cases help your entrepreneurial development as much as they have mine.