Tag Archives: Competition

Venture Capital Criteria

Most venture capital firms concentrate primarily on the competence and character of the proposing firm’s management. They feel that even mediocre products can be successfully manufactured, promoted, and distributed by an experienced, energetic management group. They know that even excellent products can be ruined by poor management.

Next in importance to the excellence of the proposing firm’s management group, most venture capital firms seek a distinctive element in the strategy or product/market/process combination of the firm. This distinctive element may be a new feature of the product or process or a particular skill or technical competence of the management. But it must exist. It must provide a competitive advantage.

After the exhaustive investigation and analysis, if the venture capital firm decides to invest in a company, they will prepare an equity financing proposal. This details the amount of money to be provided, the percentage of common stock to be surrendered in exchange for these funds, the interim financing method to be used, and the protective covenants to be included.

The final financing agreement will be negotiated and generally represents a compromise between the management of the company and the partners or senior executives of the venture capital firm. The important elements of this compromise are ownership and control.

Ownership

Venture capital financing is not inexpensive for the owners of a small business. The venture firm receives a portion of the business’s equity in exchange for their investment.

This percentage of equity varies, of course, and depends upon the amount of money provided, the success and worth of the business, and the anticipated investment return. It can range from perhaps 10% in the case of an established, profitable company to as much as 80% or 90% for beginning or financially troubled firms. Most venture firms, at least initially, don’t want a position of more than 30% to 40% because they want the owner to have the incentive to keep building the business.

Most venture firms determine the ratio of funds provided to equity requested by a comparison of the present financial worth of the contributions made by each of the parties to the agreement. The present value of the contribution by the owner of a starting or financially troubled company is obviously rated low. Often it is estimated as just the existing value of his or her idea and the competitive costs of the owner’s time. The contribution by the owners of a thriving business is valued much higher. Generally, it is capitalized at a multiple of the current earnings and/or net worth.

Financial valuation is not an exact science. The compromise on owner contribution’s worth in the equity financing agreement is likely to be lower than the owner thinks it should be and higher than the partners of the capital firm think it might be. Ideally, the two parties to the agreement are able to do together what neither could do separately:

1. grow the company faster with the additional funds to more than overcome the owner’s loss of equity, and

2. grow the investment at a sufficient rate to compensate the venture capitalists for assuming the risk.

An equity financing agreement with an outcome in five to seven years which pleases both parties is ideal. Since the parties can’t see this outcome in the present, neither will be perfectly satisfied with the compromise reached. The business owner should carefully consider the impact of the ratio of funds invested to the ownership given up, not only for the present, but for the years to come.

Control

The partners of a venture firm generally have little interest in assuming control of the business. They have neither the technical expertise nor the managerial personnel to run a number of small companies in diverse industries. They much prefer to leave operating control to the existing management.

The venture capital firm does, however, want to participate in any strategic decisions that might change the basic product/market character of the company and in any major investment decisions that might divert or deplete the financial resources of the company.

Venture capital firms also want to be able to assume control and attempt to rescue their investments, if severe financial, operating, or marketing problems develop. Thus, they will usually include protective covenants in their equity financing agreements to permit them to take control and appoint new officers if financial performance is very poor.

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.

Approaching the Venture Capital Market

Many of today’s new ventures, particularly Internet startups with their enormous cash requirements, high risk, and high potential return, require approaching the venture capital marketplace.

What Venture Capital Firms Look For

One way of explaining the different ways in which banks and venture capital firms evaluate a small business seeking funds, is expressed by LaRue Hosmer as: “Banks look at its immediate future, but are most heavily influenced by its past. Venture capitalists look to its longer run future.”

Venture capital firms and individuals are interested in many of the same factors that influence bankers in their analysis of loan applications from smaller companies. All financial people want to know the results and ratios of past operations, the amount and intended use of the needed funds, and the earnings and financial condition of future projections.

Banks are creditors. They look for assurance that the business service or product can provide steady sales and generate sufficient cash flow to repay a loan. Venture capital firms are owners. They hold stock in the company, investing only in firms they believe can rapidly increase sales and generate substantial profits.

Venture capital is a risky business, because it’s difficult to judge the worth of early stage companies. So most venture capital firms set rigorous policies for venture proposal size, maturity of the seeking company, requirements and evaluation procedures to reduce risks, since their investments are unprotected in the event of failure.

Size of the Venture Proposal

Few venture capital firms are interested in investment projects of less than $1,000,000, and this threshold is even higher for the major firms. Projects requiring less are of limited interest because of the high cost of investigation and administration.

The typical VC firm will quickly reject on the order of 90% of the proposals received, because they don’t fit the established geographical, technical, or market area policies of the firm, or because they have been poorly prepared. The remaining plans are investigated with care. These investigations are costly, and generally reduce the candidate pool even further.

Maturity of the Firm Making the Proposal.

Most venture capital firms’ investment interest is limited to projects proposed by companies with some operating history, even though they may not yet have shown a profit. Companies that can expand into a new product line or a new market with additional funds are particularly interesting.

Companies that are just starting or that have serious financial difficulties may interest some venture capitalists, if the potential for significant gain over the long run can be identified and assessed. If the venture firm already has a large risk concentration, they may be reluctant to invest in these areas.

A small number of venture firms specialize in “start-up” financing. The small firm that has a well thought-out plan and can demonstrate that its management group has an outstanding record (even if it is with other companies) has a decided edge in acquiring this kind of seed 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.

The Strategic Plan

Small businesses are not scale models of big businesses; they are characterized by resource poverty and dependence on a fairly localized market. Their greater vulnerability to the consequences of a lack of focus stresses the importance of their strategic plan.

The strategic plan defines the company’s “competitive edge,” that collection of factors that sets the business apart from its competitors and promotes its chances for success. It requires a clear evaluation of the competitive business climate and an intimate knowledge of the market for the entrepreneur’s product.

The foundation for the strategic plan is a clear mission statement for the venture. Addressing the following questions can assist in developing this statement:

What business am I in? The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. A good example of an industry group that failed to take a broader view is the railroads. If they had viewed their business as transportation rather than trains-and-tracks, then the airlines would be named Union Pacific and Illinois Central.

Who is our product intended to satisfy? What customer needs are being satisfied? How are these needs being satisfied, that is, by which of our methods or products?

An important strategic option is in how we price our product (as a price leader, value leader, or prestige product). Other options include the way in which we differentiate ourselves from the competition and the particular “niche,” or subset of the market, we seek to serve.

Once we have set internal objectives, we must examine the external and competitive environments in which we will be trying to achieve them.

The external environment consists of those factors that are largely outside our control, but affect the market for our product. Examples of these factors include general economic conditions, regulations, technological developments, and consumer demographics and attitudes. This environment is very dynamic, but some attempt must be made at projecting its changes.

Analysis of the competitive environment must begin with consideration of whether there are any barriers to the entry of a new competitor into the market. How strong is consumer loyalty to existing brands? How important are economies of scale; can a small independent firm compete? Are capital requirements prohibitive? Is there some proprietary technology that puts prospective entrants in a serious competitive disadvantage? Is access to raw materials or to distribution channels limited in some way? Are new entrants limited by permit restrictions or regulations?

The competitive structure of the industry is another important consideration. Are there a few dominant firms, or is the industry fairly fragmented? Will current competitors attempt to “punish” new entrants, such as through a price war, heavy advertising, or exercising their clout with key suppliers? Is there some geographic niche we can serve? What factors create cost advantages or disadvantages? How important is a firm’s position on the learning and experience curves? How are prices set? Is demand rising, even, or falling? Are there exit barriers that raise the risk of entry?

Relative strengths of our strategic partners must also be considered. What is the bargaining power of suppliers? How wide is our choice of suppliers? Is it costly for us to switch? Can our suppliers compete with us for the same customers? How important is our industry to our suppliers?

Do buyers have a wide choice of vendors? Can they make our product themselves? Are there less expensive or superior substitutes to our product in some segments of the market?

These are certainly not easy questions to answer, but performing the research to make better informed decisions, and addressing these questions “head-on” can improve our chances of success.

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.

Taking Stock

Back when I owned an inventory-based business, one of my better customers had a clever barb in his repertoire. If we were out of anything he needed in his order, he would say “You know, this would be a great place to open a supply house.”

But supply, we did for 20 years on my watch. We were in a smaller market, handling about 10,000 separate items, so we enjoyed few economies of scale. We competed with some large distributors and did very well largely due to our focus on inventory control.

At the time we used integrated management software that included an inventory control (IC) module. What made our system work so well was our commitment to keeping accurate inventory on a real-time basis, which necessitated “cycle counting.”

Wikipedia.org defines a cycle count as “an inventory management procedure where a small subset of inventory is counted on any given day.” In our case, this meant that, instead of taking a physical inventory once a year, we counted 2% (one-fiftieth) of our inventory each week up to the fiftieth week of the year. Using this method errors are caught more quickly, and extra counts can be performed on error-prone items.

With that introduction, let’s talk about the steps you can take to get your inventory under control:
Evaluate your IC “infrastructure.” Are you ready to automate IC? If you are using a management software package, is the IC module adequate for your needs?

Is your inventory layout conducive to administering a “real-time” IC? Can your staff take on the extra duties involved? While getting such a system going can require a lot of initial attention, IC systems save time, by allowing you to know what’s in stock without having to go to the warehouse, by quickly detecting any possible theft, and by lowering rates of stockout (lost sales) and overstock.

Set a target for customer service level. Measures can include percent of orders filled completely, or percent of items delivered to items ordered. The primary constraint on reducing inventory is, of course, customer service level. What’s an acceptable service level for you? 95%? 99.5%? IC software generally uses such a figure to determine how much “safety stock” you need to meet this objective.

Learn industry norms to aid perspective. While it should seldom affect your behavior, it is “nice to know” what the industry norms are for businesses of your size. You can probably get these from your trade association, or go to the “Annual Statement Studies” by the Risk Management Association, or “Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios” by Dun & Bradstreet.
What if the industry norms are 90 days of inventory on-hand, and you only keep 45 days’ worth? What if you keep 120 days’ worth? No action may be necessary, but this gives you a greater context and perspective as you fine-tune your system.

Use “best practices.” Minimum overall inventory is not the end of the story. Ascertain whether a reduction is advisable. Even at a good overall level of stock you may still have many items out of balance, over or under. So our efforts should be about “best practices” that minimize quantities required, while raising the quality of your inventory.
Clean house! In my most recent turnaround consulting appointment, a plumbing wholesaler, we started by identifying all the items that our IC system identified as overstock. We went from thinking we needed more warehouse space to having about a third of existing space available.

Of course, much of it went straight to the trash heap, but some was recent enough to send back to the manufacturer. In between, we sold some at two garage sales we held, and donated the rest to a local housing agency.

Implement “Just-in-Time. “ JIT includes a set of actions that work together to squeeze slack out of your processes. Do you enter received material as soon as it arrives? Can your key suppliers commit to shorter lead times?

Zero-base SKUs. Take a hard look at the realistic contribution of every item in inventory. You may need to keep some losers as “service items,” but you will be amazed at how many of your items are break-even or worse.

Partner strategically. Can you narrow your number of suppliers by getting more items from the “majors?” You may currently split up orders to save a penny here and there, but the vendor left standing would probably meet or beat the other’s prices for a greater share of your business. More from each vendor means more frequent replenishment, and more opportunities for JIT.
These are a few actions that should apply to continuous improvement programs at most inventory-based businesses. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”

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.

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

Market Research Plan Consultant

Market Research Plan Consultant

From an ad for Ground Floor Partners (https://groundfloorpartners.com/market-research/ )

Accurate market research is the foundation for every business or marketing plan (https://groundfloorpartners.com/marketing-plans/) Ground Floor Partners can help you gain a much deeper understanding of:

• market opportunities

• existing customers

• prospects

• competitors

• employees

• industry trends

• environmental or regulatory risks

We Help You Focus

Large market research firms research specific industries and generate standardized industry reports. The problem for most small businesses is that very few of them fit neatly into these industry categories. That’s where we come in. Instead of generating canned industry reports, everything we do is customized for each client.

• Effective marketing is all about targeting and focus. Better targeting means less waste, lower expenses, and higher profits. Some more examples of the kinds of market research we do for our clients:

• Conduct a comprehensive market opportunity assessment – Assess your markets and current market positions (market size and share of market, channels, growth trends, threats, and opportunities)

• Identify customer needs and determine which market segments hold the most, and least, attractive profit potential.

• Find out what customers and prospects think about your new customer service procedures, your sign-up process, your newest product, your new tag-line, your invoicing process, etc.

• Identify regulatory, political, and demographic trends that could create problems – and opportunities – for your business.

• Develop a thorough understanding of competitors – Who leads and who follows in this space? How much market share does each player have? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they differentiate themselves? How does their pricing strategy compare with yours? How do they market their products and services? How does their brand equity compare to yours?

• Identify opportunities to use your strengths and exploit competitor weaknesses.

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.

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.”

Business Planning Overview

The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

The successful entrepreneur is generally more inclined, once a business idea is selected, to sharpen the concept by a detailed planning process. The result of this step is a comprehensive business plan, with its major components being the marketing “mix”, the strategic plan, operational and logistical structures, and the financial proposal. The purpose of the business plan is to recognize and define a business opportunity, describe how that opportunity will be seized by the management team, and to demonstrate that the business is feasible and worth the effort.

The business plan is the “blueprint” for the implementation process. It focuses on the four major sub-plans: marketing, strategy, operational/logistic, and financial. While the business plan often goes through some revision, it generally represents a rather advanced stage in the planning process. The primary product or service to be offered, based on the results of the market research, should be determined.

Whether the business will be a start-up, purchase of an existing business or a franchise should certainly be firm at this point. Often, a specific business location is indicated, or at least a rather specific area.

Time estimates in a business plan should allow for meeting all the necessary regulatory requirements and acquisition of permits to get to a “customer-ready” condition. The amount of funding required and a general approach to raising these funds should be determined. Marketing mix issues focus on how the product or service is differentiated from the competition.

A business can differentiate itself on any of what are often referred to as the “four P’s” of marketing: product characteristics, price structure, place or method of distribution, and/or promotional strategy.

Strategic issues relate broadly to the company’s mission and goals. Every venture must continually assess its strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities to be seized, and any threats to the success and plans of the business. Operational issues relate to company structure, and the scope of the business. The operational plan addresses tangible items such as location, equipment, and methods of distribution. Decisions on these issues largely determine startup costs.

The financial proposal includes an estimate of the amount of money needed to start the venture, to absorb losses during the start-up period, and to provide sufficient working capital to avoid cash shortages. It projects sales and profitability over some period into the future, generally 3 to 5 years. Where outside funding is sought, it also describes distribution of ownership of the venture and methods of debt repayment and/or buyback of partial ownership.

Where implementation of the plan requires participation of lenders and/or investors, the plan must clearly and convincingly communicate the financial proposal to the prospective stakeholders: how much you need from them, what kind of return they can expect, and how they can be paid back. Many entrepreneurs insist that their business concept is so clear in their heads that the written plan can be produced after start-up; this attitude “short-circuits” one of the major benefits of producing the plan. The discipline of writing a plan forces us to think through the steps we must take to get the business started, and, to “flesh out ideas, to look for weak spots and vulnerabilities”, according to business consultant Eric Siegel.

A well-conceived business plan can serve as a management tool to settle major policy issues, identify “keys to success”, establish goals and check-points, and consider long-term prospects. The plan must realistically assess the skills required for success of the venture, initially and over the long run, and match the skills and interests of the team to these requirements. Test the plan, and an accompanying oral presentation, on friends whose business judgment you value. Let them assume the role of a prospective investor or lender.

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 www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business”, available on Amazon.