Business & Finance

The Three Profits of SME's WCP 2013

YOUR CHECK LIST FOR RAISING CAPITAL

As check lists go this one has been kept pretty minimal, see it more as a thought starter for a list of your own! 

Check your must do list!

 

  • Have all your legal documents prepared and in order including all of your corporate information (ABNs, taxation summaries, core financials, assumptions, insurance, contracts etc) centralised and easily accessible so that it can be supplied to potential investors upon request.

  • Ensure the information you provide to potential investors is easily understandable, clear and accurate. The business may seem simple and straight forward to you but remember it may well be complex to them. Keep your presentation simple but ALWAYS have every detail close to hand for the investor who asks that curly question. With cloud storage solutions and tablet mobility there can be no excuses for poor preparation.

  • If successful you will end up in a relationship with these investors, so make sure your new partners and you both have the same goals (equity splits, exit strategy, founders’ roles etc) and that the culture is right.

  • Be prepared to negotiate and give some ground to get a deal done.

 

Understand your don’t do list!

 

  • Don’t think you have the investor’s cash in the bank until it’s in the bank

  • Don’t be cocky. You need to show investors that you not only have a good idea, but are willing to listen and learn off them. Most of the time, they are investing 80 per cent in you and 20 per cent in the product.

  • Don’t hold to an unrealistic goal on valuation – its always better to have 10 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing.

Yes it’s a very small list, perhaps the missing advice is that wherever possible seek experienced professional advice, yes it will cost you but long term it will prove to be a very sound investment.

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By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

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Transition - WCP 2014

Strength Through Diversity & Change

Diversity and Change are catalysts to growth and development, to new ideas and to improvement throughout the world in which we live. Darwin’s evolution of the species demonstrated how through diversity and change the world is able to constantly evolve and improve.

Why then are so many of us suspicious of both diversity and change, why do we fight to protect the status quo? Is it as simple as a fear of the unknown? It brings to mind Franklin D Roosevelt’s famous speech “….the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself”

If we are to get the best outcome from any human endeavour we require continuing diversity and change at all levels. Diversity of age, experience, education, gender, race, outlook and expectation, imagine a team encompassing such diversity tackling the big and complex issues within your business. Can you envision the team’s potency and its potential to drive change?

Increasingly business is global, multi-cultural and can no longer assume the gender of decision makers on either buy or sell side transactions. Successful teams and organisations need to reflect this diversity and change to embrace it.

Managing change requires both vision and courage but the rewards are enormous, when we think of Apple today we think of iPhone’s and iPad’s first and computers second. This reflects their ability and capacity to change and yet it still overlooks their leading edge position as a global leader in integrated retailing.

The days of proud “national manufacturers” are a fading memory as global organisations position differing operations in the global location most suited. R&D may take place in California, IP is held in Ireland, manufacturing close to the source of labour or raw materials. Management and staff are drawn from universities and institutions from all points of the globe and across many faculties.

A modern corporate board is just as likely to include a female graduate in PP&E as a male holding an MBA. Shareholders are increasingly focused on “whole of business” concept as opposed to the out dated “short term profit” position. The CBA board must now be wishing it could wind back the clock a few years to avoid its current publicity.

Change isn’t always good, some mistakes will always be made but hand in hand with diversity we are now more open to the faster assessment of ideas and their success or failure and prepared to act quickly to recognise mistakes, clear them out and move forward.

Don’t just accept diversity and change, embrace them, use them and remember:-

“….the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself” – Franklin D Roosevelt    

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By, Neil Steggall

 The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-ji

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Why is my business stalling?

Business Stalls - WCP 2014

If you were to receive a substantial capital investment into your business would you engage outside expertise to help further develop and improve your business? There are few business leaders I know who would seriously answer no to this question, which if you really think it through is very odd.

Why is it odd? Because if you need help after receiving a substantial capital investment you needed it even more before that receipt!

The conundrum is the reluctance of small to mid-cap businesses to spend money on the sound professional advice which they need. Within larger organisations external advice is sourced as a matter of course; marketing, strategic, structural, legal and accounting advice is outsourced on a regular basis.

A recent Forbes article stated:-

  1. 98% of Small-Caps or Start-Ups seeking equity investment fail to attract it

  2. Over 95% of Small-Caps or Start-Ups fail to proffer a business or investment plan suitable to allow a measured investment decision or to attract funding.

These statistics hurt because for a relatively small investment these businesses could have been funded.

As an example at WCP we are frequently sent IM’s or funding requests from entrepreneurs seeking to fund growth or a start-up and after reading  through pages of technical and product detail we seriously have to ask: “what exactly does your business do and how are revenues generated?”

The idea may be sound but the presentation is poor. I and many others like me simply do not have the time to invest in learning what potential might lay behind a poor document. As a consequence I miss out on making good investments and the entrepreneur misses out on a capital raising.

A very high percentage, 90%+ of new client enquiries we receive at WCP are from businesses which have generally:-

  1. Left their approach to us too late

  2. Lack a sufficient skill base or framework to meet their business goals

  3. Run perilously short of working capital

  4. Failed to develop a professional support structure

Most of these businesses are sound, most of the entrepreneurs are intelligent, most can be helped but why did they not seek professional external advice from day one?

After asking the question many times over the past 25 years there are two main answers given:

  1. There are so many shonky “consultants” we were sceptical

  2. We did not think we could carry the expenditure

Both easily addressed! Take the last question first; you simply cannot afford to build your business in the dark, budget for professional assistance and let that assistance enhance your revenues. As to the first question do your research, how long has the consultancy been in business, will it provide testimonials, what are its core competencies, which team member will handle your business and how good a fit is that person?

Good professional advice should be a self-funding proposition. Seeking advice and engaging a consultant is not an admission of failure it is the corporate equivalent of using your doctor, dentist, tailor or hairdresser – you use them to stay on top!

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By, Neil Steggall

 The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-iV

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Connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Wardour Capital:

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Rotten Apple

Loyalty, respect and support for team members are values instilled in us from childhood and they are certainly amongst the key attributes of successful leaders. A recent review has caused me to recognise that at times we may carry loyalty too far and we risk severe consequences by doing so.

In a recent review of two unrelated corporate failures I realised that each business suffered enormous damage as a direct consequence of disenfranchised and under performing senior managers. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that it is possible that if these managers had been removed 12 months earlier each company may well have survived.

Why are such managers retained? It is likely that their shortcomings have been recognised and discussed with them during performance reviews or following poor management decisions or errors of judgement. When faced with the prospect of dismissing them their line manager has almost certainly taken into account:

  • The monetary cost of replacing them

  • The productivity loss from replacing them and retraining a replacement

  • The disruption within the team or business unit

These are rarely valid arguments a bad manager will cause a disproportionate level of problems which may well lay hidden for months before something finally breaks. Further a bad manager is fracturing the team and negatively influencing others.

What are the solutions?

  1. Only recruit the best: By recruiting the best possible people you are taking primary responsibility for quality – you dramatically reduce the risk of future problems.

  2. Always Reference Check: When recruiting don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions of current or ex employers, yes we need great technical and educational skills but what about their interpersonal skills. Are they team players, do they play favourites or get involved in office politics.

  3. Formal Process: I have a policy that senior people are employed on the understanding that they will face a 180 day performance review – fail that review and its sudden death.

  4. All or nothing: Being mostly a team player is like being “slightly pregnant”; it’s just not on and it’s not going to work.

Now it may sound tough but if one of your apples is looking bad throw it away and do it quickly. Your team will thank you and your bottom line will prosper.

By, Neil Steggall

 The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-ip

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Connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Wardour Capital:

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A Great Mind Map - WCP 2014

 

Mind Mapping: let it work for you.

MIND MAPPING

Some of us think better in pictures etc. Before thinking through a big idea, I usually visualise it as a diagram. I have always “solved problems” graphically. Sometimes entirely within my mind and then A1 sheets of paper, followed by whiteboards, and eventually computers. Now I use a combination of all three. I called it mind mapping long before the phrase became popular – it just seemed to fit..

Basically mind mapping is the task of transferring thought and ideas, group or individual into a written form. I find brainstorming sessions are so much more powerful if there is a mind mapper in the group and especially so if that person is good with pen, paper or the whiteboard.

Are you a mind mapper? Are you able to get those amazing business ideas you toy with when driving or in bed down onto paper? It’s a skill but not a hard one to acquire, it can be fun and importantly the results can really change your business.

WHAT IS MIND MAPPING?

A mind map is a powerful way to generate and visualise new ideas, analyse problems, brainstorm, plan, show or research, complex ideas. Isn’t this just good old fashioned “brainstorming” under a new name? I hear you ask. No, mind mapping is a more structured approach to analysing and solving problems.

We now operate in a world where graphic representations are used more frequently and our brains are responding well to graphic analysis. Here are a few handy tools you can use to incorporate mind mapping into your business process.

WHITEBOARDS

The most basic tool you can use for mind mapping is a whiteboard. If you have a whiteboard you can start mind mapping individually or as a team to solve problems or to formulate new ideas. Today life is so easy, when you have the whiteboard full of ideas, take a picture of the whiteboard with your phone and upload it to your computer and share it with the team. Sometimes I get the original whiteboard data on the 60 inch screen in the meeting room so the whole team can see it and we start again on the whiteboard testing out our earlier ideas. This is a great way to mind map as a team.

THE BIGGERPLATE MIND MAP

If you want to up the ante and introduce a little more structure and sophistication into your sessions there are now several free or inexpensive mind mapping programs available.

Biggerplate’s mind map should meet most of your needs. In this extensive mind map collection, you’ll find templates for almost every task and challenge, including business mind maps, training mind maps, and general mind maps which you can use in your everyday life. The Biggerplate templates include everything you need from SWOT analysis (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), time management matrix, project management, task management and even tracking objectives.

If you and your team are struggling to get the mind mapping started, the Biggerplate templates can lead you into and through the process. I enjoy looking through Biggerplate’s top 10 mind maps just to see which templates other professionals are finding useful.

MINDJET

Very easy to use and inexpensive to buy Mindjet is an easy to use program designed for a variety of tasks, including mind mapping and brainstorming, Mindjet has flexible features which can be used in a variety of tasks including mind mapping, strategy development, marketing, sales and information technology.

MAPS FOR THAT!

The title just about says it all. Maps for That is great if you’re looking to share the mind maps you have just created or if you want to browse mind maps submitted by other teams or team members. It comes with amazing features and includes user-submitted mind maps in a variety of categories; including business, analysis, management, education, entertainment, events, and productivity, just to name a few.

If you’ve created a mind map you think others may find useful, upload it to the Maps For That site so that other users of the service can share. Initially just sign up for a free account, you can download and upload mind maps, comment on other users’ mind maps, and rate the mind maps you find the most useful.

MOBILE APPS

If your business uses smartphones or tablets as a way to communicate or work on projects, check out the mobile apps available from Mindjet. These apps allow you to create, edit, and view mind maps while you’re on the go or away from your computer. Available for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, these mobile apps can be downloaded free of charge directly to your smartphone or tablet.

If you haven’t started using mind mapping in your business, you may be missing out. Mind mapping can be used to create new business ideas, solve complex problems, and brainstorm with other team members — whether you’re in the office or on the go.

As I said at the start we all think and work differently, I enjoy mind mapping, let me know what you think.

Neil Steggall

http://wp.me/p401Wv-b8

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite!

www.wardourcapital.com

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Communication 2

The Power of Great Communication

And……..How-to-become-a-great-communicator.

Often after first drafting a speech or an article I look through and ask myself the question “what would my wife cut out of this?” Invariably its 60% or so of what I have written. My wife, I should add, is a successful author, journalist and historian and she can paint amazing mind images with such economy of words.

What I realise is that with discipline I can and do communicate well but I am not a natural. As I commence a story around the family dinner table the “children”, largely grown and successful now, groan and shout “make it quick or we are leaving” or “oh not that one again.”

Whilst not comparing myself (lol) with great communicators such as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela and Paul Keating I do occasionally wonder how Sunday lunch went down at their house.

Peggy Noonan was presidential speechwriter for most of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and she explains why Reagan’s presidency had such an impact on the world stage.

“He was often moving, but he was moving not because of the way he said things, he was moving because of what he said. He didn’t say things in a big way; he said big things … Writers, reporters and historians were in a quandary in the Reagan years. ‘The People,’ as they put it, were obviously impressed by much of what Reagan said; this could not be completely dismissed.”

Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator”, yet it’s a nickname he didn’taltogether agree with.  In his farewell address to the nation and to the world, in his own humble way, he redirected the praise by saying:

“In all of that time I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator.’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

My take on this is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a president or a manager – your success will depend heavily on your communication skill.

What are the key actions of great communicators?

Engagement

Communication is just that, it’s a two way flow of information. Great communicators know how to give and take and understand its importance. They not only initiate conversation, they steer the direction of and encourage others to join in the conversation.

Connection

Great communicators know that people won’t listen unless they connect both intellectually and emotionally. Know your audience and start by conveying emotional stories that connect to their heart. It’s all about the quality of the relationships the leader has with the people they communicate with.

I know several tough and very senior Australian business leaders who have met Bill Clinton on separate occasions both in Australia and in the US, each was impressed. In my post meeting discussions with them each said that when Bill Clinton talks with you, he makes you feel like you are the only person in the world. Wow. Show your listeners your empathy let them feel it and know you value their importance.

Humour

Great communicators are skilled in relaxing those with whom they communicate. An audience is often suspicious or defensive from over-communication and perhaps afraid of being “sold something”.  Great communicators show genuine interest in the other person and use humour and authenticity to come across as understandable and authentic..

Clarification

If you overwhelm your listeners, you will lose them, they will tune you out from boredom or confusion. Reagan was best known for being simple and clear. Never assume just because you understand what you’re saying that your audience does as well. Great communicators find ways to simplify though issues without being condescending.

Reinforcement

Great communicators know that an audience will retain only ten percent of what they hear, and therefore they are skilled at subtly reinforcing key ideas. They re-run their message throughout their presentations, speeches and writings. It is all about context and repetition.

Well I reckon that given the chance “my editor” would have pulled 15% of this and yet I think we are communicating OK!

Neil Steggall

http://wp.me/p401Wv-b0

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

www.wardourcapital.com

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Shhhhhhh!

4 Words to Avoid 

 

I have never really believed in New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps because as a child I constantly resolved to behave better the next year only to be involved in further mischief the first day school resumed.

 Move forward many years and I find myself contemplating change and wondering how I can improve myself in 2014.

Along with many others I need to be more positive, to look at the stars again and see just how brimming with opportunity life is and yet without realising it we have a tendency to introduce negatives into our thoughts and everyday conversations and getting rid of some of these negatives is my resolution for 2014.

So what am I proposing?

Really big resolutions always fall by the wayside so let’s consider something smaller; eliminating the use of just four simple, yet negative words, from our everyday vocabulary. Hate, Cannot, Never and Impossible.

These words are rarely used in context, rarely make sense and rarely if ever contribute to anything positive.

Let’s look at the words individually and see what we think:

HATE: “A transitive verb; to dislike somebody or something intensely, often in a way that evokes feelings of anger, hostility, or animosity”

Now this is a very strong, negative and unpleasant word and one I would like to see disappear from use. If you are like me you probably don’t actually hate anything and yet this word creeps insidiously into conversation…”oh I hate the idea”…..”oh I hate Social Media”, “I hate this project”.  Do you really?

Interestingly when reading or listening to stories of Holocaust or Kokoda Trail survivors they had most often realised that to survive and move on with life it was important not to hate their captors.

Most great achievements in history have followed periods of struggle and complexity and I am sure that at times Pythagoras was frustrated by his formulae but did he hate them?

Let’s change our thinking to “not sure I am in love with the idea but let’s think it through” or “I just don’t get Social Media!!”

We have still let our feelings show through but in a positive way.

CANNOT: “a model verb used to indicate that it is impossible for something to be done or made use of in a particular way

In our everyday lives is there really anything that we cannot do? Accepting that we must abide by society’s rules, we are then able to do pretty much anything we put our minds to.

When you are next tempted to say “I cannot get this report finished in time” or “I cannot get to the gym today”, think of the Para-Olympics and the CAN-DO attitude in use and on display each and every day to do what many would say “Cannot” be done.

So often cannot is used where “don’t want to” or “it will be hard” should be used.

Let’s become a can do person. Let’s consider the task and look at the different ways it can be approached and remember. You CAN do it, you WILL do it and soon you HAVE done it!!

NEVER: “an adverb indicating that something will not happen at any time, or that somebody will definitely not do something.”

Never is not so aggressively negative and yet in real terms what does it mean? I always see never as never really arriving and therefore non-existent, but it slides quietly, and negatively into our conversations….”that will never work”….”we never do it that way”…….”she will never work out/fit in etc”.

What does this mean?

Just by saying never we are limiting our possibilities. We may for whatever reason not be able to do something this minute or this day but who knows what tomorrow or next week will bring.

Perhaps we should be thinking “how is that going to work?”……”can we do this another way”…..”how can we help her fit in”

Interestingly never can be turned around…..”I will never rest until I achieve this” but that’s a different story!

IMPOSSIBLE: “not able to exist or be done”

We never know what is “possible” until we really try. Quite often we achieve the “impossible” just because we didn’t know it was “impossible”…..yes think on that!

Imagine waking up from an accident to hear the surgeon say you will never walk again or never talk again. This is a situation faced by accident and stroke victims around the world and yet against all medical evidence people move forward and do the “impossible” they walk again, they talk again!

Let’s think of these people and take our lead from them, yes the task is tough, we don’t know how but we do know we can do it!

Every day in large and small ways someone, somewhere does “the impossible” and that is one of the enduring features of being human and being successful.

So you know what I am up to in 2014

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-aO

Startups Wardour

5 Tips for a SUCCESSFUL Start-up

Starting a new business is an exciting and challenging task, one in which success brings a variety of rewards and yet failure can be a painful and damaging experience. Despite this there are 2.0 million SME’s in Australia and new start-ups opening every day.

This is the entrepreneurial drive at work, the human need to try new things and to stretch and grow. The SME is the economic life force and breeding ground of business. Of the many small start-ups some will go on to become multinational corporations, this isn’t everyone’s choice, or objective and statistically most start-ups will fail within the first three years of operation

Understandably starting a new business is full of challenges and I am often asked how I went about starting my first business and what tips I can offer. Starting a business for most entrepreneurs means a huge amount of sacrifice, hard work, risk and belief in your concept.

My first business came about via a combination of accident, hope and “nearness” to opportunity but if I was to start again I would take these points into consideration:-

1.       Think carefully about the business you choose:

Last week at a conference I was asked the question “what business would you choose if you were starting again?” A very good question and yet one I felt confident in answering. I would choose:-

  1. A high volume established industry with proven customer demand
  2. An industry with a relatively low cost of entry
  3. A location very close to an established business in the same industry
  4. I would price my product at the market price or slightly higher
  5. And this is the WINNER I would out-service and outperform the competition in terms of customer satisfaction.

2.       Market your business well – Marketing is your cash engine

If you have taken my advice and set up your business virtually next door to an existing similar business you already have potential customers passing your door so how do you convert them. You need a plan of attack:-

I.             Check out your competition and look at weak points in their product offering, customer service, display, staff training, customer handling etc. Then do the reverse and observe their strengths.

II.            Build your strategy around out servicing your competition; choose customer service and customer satisfaction as your point of difference. A company we have worked with “Chilligin” is a successful on-line and pop-up retailer of fashion accessories, scarves, handbags etc. Chilligin’s founder and director Nikki Gilhome decided from day one to offer Chilligin customers great products, at affordable prices and to package every item whether ordered on line or in store beautifully. “I wanted the customer to have a lovely surprise when they open their home delivery, or for in store customers something to look forward to when they return home” says Nikki. Small details such as carefully designing wrapping paper, stickers and ribbons, tags etc turn the ordinary into an occasion.  Effectively the customer gets a double hit of pleasure first the purchase decision and later a beautiful package to unwrap.

III.           Train your sales staff to meet and greet customers with genuine warmth, use quiet times to rehearse the perfect approach.

IV.          Wherever possible over deliver on customer expectations, the more a customer enjoys doing business with you the more they will return

3.       Employ the best staff: 

When starting a business we need to be careful of costs but a really good staff member is a key asset and a valuable part of your strategy. Don’t cut costs here.

Chose staff who share your vision, who want to grow, who will absorb your training and guidance. Respect and reward them. Encouragement and respect are amazing rewards, how do your competitors reward staff? There are many ways to reward beyond the pure financial and most people I know would rather work for a little less in a great environment than for more in an uncomfortable environment.

4.       Review Progress and Question – Can we do better?

If your business strategy is to outperform your competition by offering better service and customer satisfaction you must work hard at it to keep at the top of your game. Constantly check your competition, both locally and via the internet, overseas. Read everything you can find for new ideas, engage with your customers, listen and learn. Constantly review every single aspect of your business questioning how you can improve the customer proposal, to satisfy and engage more closely.

Your stock and services must always be current and adjusted as closely as possible to your customer needs. Use stock analysis tools so that you know which items are moving and which are slow. Respond very quickly to avoid wastage, move quickly to special out and move any slow stock. Slow stock is dead money and loosing you sales. Buy more of the fast moving items and consider expanding that part of your range with more options.

Change your web presence or store displays daily to build and maintain customer interest. Collect email addresses via direct questions as you input receipt data, small competitions, draws etc. Communicate directly with your customers, be innovative, informative and “the place to go”.

5.       Think carefully about finance & assistance:

Most businesses will involve you assuming responsibility for some level of debt, make sure you understand the obligations here and your responsibilities. Debt isn’t just a loan, it includes your supplier credit, your rental or lease obligations etc.

It’s important to know which type of financing is right for your business and always try to hold three to six months cash in reserve. Are you willing to give away equity in exchange for cash? Are you looking just for an investor or also for a mentor? Is your business plan solid enough to secure a bank loan?

All important questions to consider and remember with an investor you often gain an experienced mentor as well. If I was starting out again today I would look for an experienced investor who could guide and mentor me over any other form of external funding.

 

 

We are fortunate to live in an age when so much information, knowledge and experience is available for those who want to search for it. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said: “There’s a new way to do marketing, and it’s to do it with numbers. People do marketing to bring in revenue, to have an impact, and with these new systems you can measure this. The technology the internet brings means you should be able to measure almost everything.”

If you are thinking of a start-up read and absorb, plan and then follow through and your chances of success are high.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-au

 

Business-development

5 Tips for Business SUCCESS!

 

1.       Business Development Is Not Increasing Sales

Managing the development of your business has a lot in common with conducting an orchestra. It’s a case of encouraging and leading the various differing components of your business forward, in harmony, to the same point at the same time to produce an extraordinary effect. You need to develop your unique product or service to meet the highest level of customer expectations and you must do so at a price representing fair value and at a cost which generates a fair profit.

2.       Understanding profit does not equal cash

Profitable businesses fail every day. Many small business owners chase growth and revenues forgetting the basic facts of cash management. Profit equals Revenue – Costs but until you have received payment you are in a cash negative position. Ideally you would ensure that you have sufficient cash reserves to meet three to six months of costs. In the early days of a business keep fixed expenses as low as possible, use a virtual office and work from home if possible, keep full time staff to a minimum, pay cash or do without non-essential plant and equipment. This helps if you have a quiet month or even two.

3.       Intuition Versus Fact

Don’t build a business around a product or service you like or you would buy. Undertake sound quantitative research to determine what your prospective customers want and buy then see if you can develop an even better product or service at a price they are prepared to pay. Don’t be tempted to compete on price alone. If company A has been making its product for many years and you realise you could source and sell that product at a good profit for less that’s a good value proposition to you not your customer. The market is less willing to change supply on price alone but if you can offer a better value/service proposition where they get a better product and improved customer service you will have a much greater chance of success.

4.       Business & Financial Planning

There is an old saying “if you don’t know what you want you will probably never get it” and that’s certainly the case in business. A well thought through and documented business plan outlining your core objectives, market analysis, product development, marketing strategies and detailed financial budgets is essential. This is an area where you should consider the use of a mentor or an external consultant to help you get it right. Your financial plan should include linked budgets for P&L, Cash Flow and Balance Sheets. A beautifully bound business plan kept on a shelf is a waste of space it has to be a living breathing document understood and read regularly, reported against monthly and the strategies varied as needed to meet your actual versus budgeted position.

5.       Respect all Stakeholders

 A successful entrepreneur understands that the stakeholders in a business are not just the shareholders. The stakeholders include employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and advisors and they are vital to the success of failure of your business. Spend time with each stakeholder, respect them, listen to their ideas, take their ideas, discuss your plans and your position with them. Take them on your journey as partners. Keep them honestly and openly informed and they will join your team and give you their full support. Again many businesses fail because they don’t earn the respect and support of their stakeholders. Building a successful company is hardit requires a lot of commitment and courage as well as a little luck and of course having a great product and team. Watching your idea become a product and a product generate revenue that becomes a successful company makes it all worthwhile. Working with your stakeholders and mentors, following and constantly updating your plans and finances will go a long way to ensuring success.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-ao

Marketing Redefined WCP 2013

Marketing Redefined

Think, Change, Grow, Prosper!

 

In the dark distant past when coffee came without froth and computers were kept in sealed rooms and operated by bespectacled men (sorry ladies its true) in white coats, I spent a few years climbing the corporate ladder which included a stop off in the Marketing Department of a major multi-national.

We saw marketing in aggressively military terms of war, battles, and campaigns, all fine-tuned through tactics, strategy and whiskey.

Statistics and information was gathered from the market and analysed, products were designed, costed, tested, refined, manufactured, advertised and sold, hopefully, at a profit.

Much thought and combative discussion was applied at each stage, key objectives were established, strategic marketing plans, short term tactics, placement attacks and budgets were drawn up and approved before being committed to endless reams of paper. Weekly meetings were held to gauge progress and we wrote up even more notes in pencil before dictating them to our “girl”, sorry PA, to be typed up.

Much time and efficiency was lost in the process and very few really great ideas came out of it.

When I attend marketing meetings today the mood is less combative and the whiskey has unfortunately disappeared  yet I fear just as much time and efficiency is being lost in the discussion of SEO’s, word place rankings, the placement of hash tags and how well the product will look on mobile devices. I leave the room bored and just a little concerned that no one is actually marketing the product.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine MARKETING.

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

– David Packard, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard

When you own the show you can make such bold statements! However, if we ask any ten business leaders today to define marketing we will probably get ten different answers. Marketing its function and its purpose appear to have entered a management grey zone.

I was fortunate some years ago to meet the father of modern management, Peter Drucker, on a number of occasions and his view was: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

So, what is marketing and are we moving closer to a definition? The Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former Intel executive Bill Davidow said, harking back to warfare, “Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments.” The man should know. He wrote the seminal book on high-tech marketing.

Interestingly Davidow didn’t learn marketing at university as he studied electrical engineering. Steve Jobs, another brilliant marketer, dropped out of school. These guys and others like them demonstrate that great marketing skills can be developed.

So how do great marketers learn about marketing? I am convinced that great marketing skills are best learnt on the job. Doing the hard yards.

SME’s and Startup companies are great places to learn and develop marketing skills because they’re all about developing innovative products and getting customer traction – and not much else. Further they’re always strapped for cash and needing people to wear multiple hats.

Interestingly as an engineer by training I also learnt marketing on the job.

Its been a long and complex journey but here are THE SIX KEY LESSONS  I learnt along the way:

Marketing is Hard.

It has been said that “Marketing is like sex: Everyone thinks they’re good at it”. Well I’m not getting into that one but on observation there are more posers in marketing than most other fields, probably because the demand is so strong and the supply of real talent is so weak, and it’s easy to fake. When discussing a Telco acquisition with an American banker some years ago he started to tell me how the marketing model needed to change. When challenged he answered “Bankers like to think that they are marketing geniuses. We really do.” He said, this is because “we can fake it far more convincingly than in other areas …” It’s worrying but it’s out there, be warned.

Understand People.

It’s about determining what customers want, often before they know it themselves – look at Sushi-Sushi and how they got everyone eating raw fish. If you’ve got a knack for that sort of thing, trust it. Be your own focus group of one. And while it’s tempting to think of markets as amorphous virtual entities, remember that, even in the B2B world, every product is purchased by a human being in the real world.

Marketers don’t reinvent the wheel.

Some people are great inventors. They come up with wild concepts that nobody’s ever thought of. But great marketers tend to be innovators who turn inventions into things people can use. Marketing thrives on reusing ideas in new ways. Most modern Japanese industry was based on this premise. Steve Jobs didn’t invent he moulded inventions into products people wanted to use.

Marketing is too important to leave to the marketing department.

It really is! Marketing is the hub of the business wheel. It’s where product development, manufacturing, finance, communications, and sales all meet. Marketing’s stakeholders are every critical function in the company. Every member of the leadership team is an adjunct of the marketing department. SME or Giant Corporation it’s all the same.

Marketing Really Counts.

Contrary to today’s popular feel-good wisdom, in business, winning is everything. Every transaction has one buyer and one seller. If you do it right, buyer and seller both win. All the other would-be sellers lose. The real world is brutally competitive. Be different to win.

Great Marketing Ideas are Rare.

By executing the right communication strategy, great marketers can create a groundswell of customer excitement and viral demand for a company or product that nobody’s ever heard of. And it can be done on a shoestring budget. Steve Jobs was a master at maintaining secrecy and controlling exactly how and when anybody learned anything about Apple’s products. MacDonald’s are turning bad press about fast food into selling points through its new menus and PR.

The truth is that great marketers are few and far between. Which begs the question, who exactly are you trusting the most important aspect of your business to? Something for you to think about as you take your SME global.

Finally my definition of marketing is to “take something useful and turn it into something desirable”

 Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://www.neilsteggall.org

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p401Wv-9O

 

imagesCAP6MTH4

High Profits & About to Crash?

A relevant question for SME Management.

“How important is profit?” this question in one form or another is one of the most common questions we receive from new SME owners or potential start-ups and surprisingly it’s not a simple one to answer.

Some time ago I sat down for a chat with a highly intelligent friend who had recently joined the board of a mid-sized family SME. “I just don’t get it” she said “everyone tells me the business is booming, sales are up, profits are up yet from what I read the company is broke”.

My friend had sat down with the half year results and looked at the first two quarters performance against budget. Revenues were up by around 35%, Gross Margin was tracking, as a percentage, around 5% better than budget and operating expenses were around 11% lower than budget leaving a very healthy EBIT compared to budget and management applauding themselves all round.

Where is the problem? I hear you ask.

Cash or rather the lack of it was the problem. As revenues and revenue projections grew the funds allocated to the raw materials and finished goods needed to service such growth had increased exponentially as had the debtor’s ledger.

Yes the SME was producing more at lower cost and selling every item produced at a profit but amongst the excitement no one had calculated the impact on future cash flows.

If you achieve an EBIT of 20% (which is on the generous side) it means you have to outlay costs, in advance, of at least $0.80c in every dollar of anticipated revenue. You may offset this to some extent by negotiating an extension to trading terms with your creditors but that is a very slippery slope and best avoided.

If you sell your product to a major retail chain, they will look to pay you in 60 days from the end of the month in which you invoice them. So you could easily wait 60 to 90 days for payment. For every $10 of widgets you sell them each month your cost is $8 and if you carry that and the subsequent monthly sales until you are paid, you are out of pocket by $24 before you receive a cent. On top of which you have had to lift your finished goods to 60 days stock to meet varying demand and raw materials by 45 days so you are roughly $50 out of pocket as you wait for the $10 to be paid of which you retain $2 profit or EBIT.

Yes you are still profitable but your short term cash burn is exceeding income and without a rethink your fast growing, profitable enterprise is going to crash.

My friend could see where the company was heading whilst the sales manager was elated by high revenues, the production manager proud of the COGS and the operations manager satisfied by the low level of OPEX.  In all business management not just SME’s good cash flow management and budgeting is essential.

There were several funding options available to secure this company’s future once the threat was identified. But within 60 days the company may have been in turmoil and no funder wants to lend into a panic.

So in answer to the question; profit is very important but it is just one of what I call “The Four Pillars of Business”: Revenue, Cost, Profit and Cash; and always remember that whilst the first three are very important CASH IS KING. 

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-9D

Banks

Are Banks Funding SME’s?

 

A good deal has been written recently regarding the attitude to SME lending by the major banks. On the one hand we have SME owners frustrated by their inability to attract bank funding and on the other we have the banks advertising and talking up their preparedness to fund SME’s.

Why do we have this disconnect of views?

It is clear that since late 2008 and the commencement of the GFC, banks have been more wary of lending. The financial crisis – caused largely by risky lending and banking mismanagement – combined with subsequent higher liquidity and capital requirements have made for a far more risk adverse approach.

However, banks are lending and they are increasingly keen to do so. They are lending less than they used to and looking for tighter security, but the idea that they won’t lend to anyone is simply not true, but you must submit a well-reasoned, structured, quality application.

This myth is not only hurting the banks, but it is hurting SME’s. A problem is that we hear so many negative stories of loan applications dragging out for weeks before amounting to nothing and of bank BDM’s being excited by your application only to have it knocked back by credit that many established businesses with sound bankable propositions are not even applying  for funding

Other SME’s will get a rejection from one bank and assume they fall into the ‘do not lend’ category, and give up – whereas in a more positive  climate, they might keep trying. This is slowing business growth and therefore the growth of Australia’s economy.

Why is everyone saying that ‘banks aren’t lending to SME’s’?

To answer the question we need to understand the lending process and rationale applied by the banks. Decisions are no longer made by your local manager who in days gone by would have known you, your business and the state of the local economy in which you operate. Lending decisions are now centralised and subject to stringent internal rules, guidelines and matrix ratings.

It is possible in this centralised and semi-automated system of credit approval to fail simple because you can’t “tick” a given box. So let’s look at some of the actions you can take to improve your chances of success:

Credit History:

In tough times banks require a near perfect credit history with no defaults, judgements or slow payments showing on your credit history. The reporting agencies make mistakes and many suppliers make mistakes so it pays to request a copy of your credit file from the main agencies such as Veda or Dunn & Bradstreet and check that it is accurate.

Recently our Credit Manager brought a large monthly trading account application to me for approval, the applicant trades nationally and is at the upper end of the SME definition. On the credit file were two very small sums of money showing as outstanding for over two years to a major utility company. Had I been a computer I would have rejected the application but as a reasoning person I could accept that such small sums were inconsequential against the annual revenues of the applicant. A quick conversation with the applicants CFO satisfied me and the application was approved.

For a relatively modest annual fee the reporting agencies will provide you with email notification of any changes to your credit file and provide a fully detailed up to file each year.

Portfolio Risk:

Most banks from time to time place a limit on the amount of funds they will advance into a certain business sector or avoid some sectors all together. In late 2010 we had a client with a strong business case and sound backing who wanted to acquire assets in the wine industry. At that time none of the major banks would lend to any “non existing” wine industry clients. Don’t be afraid to question the banks BDM as to their attitude to your sector and if the BDM doesn’t know ask them to find out.

Business Plans, Budgets & History:

Being able to table a well-constructed funding application supported by a current business plan, detailed budgets including P&L, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow will help enormously and if you have maintained accurate records of plans and performance over the past three years even better.

The plans and records don’t just show how your business has performed and how it may perform in the future they speak volumes about you as a thinker and manager.

It’s relatively easy for you to know how you stand from a profit and cash position on a monthly basis and you may question the time and investment required in maintaining such detail but believe me it will pay you dividends time and again to do so.

Management Team:

Provide information about your management team. This will be a key consideration for any lender. You need to show you have a team that can develop the product, market and sell it, and just as importantly, manage the finances. If you have gaps in your team, try and fill them get one in place before you apply.

Interest Rate Cover & Security:

The banks will calculate how many times cover your current net profit will give to the total amount of interest payable and they will want that cover to be 2.5 – 3.5 times as a minimum. For additional security the banks will look at your stock and debtors and advance funds against that security, again they will be conservative and depending on the age and condition of stock may lend 60% of cost and up to 80% of debtors. The bank will also look to take a charge over the various assets of your business.

As a general policy you should, wherever possible, avoid giving personal guarantees or security over your family home and always seek professional advice before executing any loan documentation.

Amortisation & Exit:

An often over looked point which the banks will be very interested in is how quickly can you repay or amortise the loan and how you plan to do it.

The banks don’t want open ended facilities and they want to know you have more than one option to repay, irrespective of anecdotal reputation banks do not enjoy having to collect on defaults.

Hopefully you will be able to demonstrate an ability to amortise the loan over a reasonable period whilst still leaving sufficient cash flow to cover your interest ratios.

In summary the lending market is constantly changing and hard to keep up with. For this reason it’s often  worth engaging one of the companies that specialise in SMS funding as they will have strong relationships with a variety of lenders, understand each banks current requirements and how best to structure and present your application to provide the best prospect of success.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-9q

SME's Out of Cash - WCP 2013

SME’s: Starving for Cash

Just how much cash does a start-up need?

In my experience the simple answer is “a lot more than you think”. The lack of cash to fund SME growth is the single biggest cause of SME failures and yet it need not be so.

With a proper understanding of business dynamics and risk, cautious budgeting and the regular monitoring of your performance against your budgets you are already a long way along the path to securing your future.

So How Much Cash Does an SME Start-up Need?

THE FIRST STEP

Be totally honest with yourself when assessing your business plans, don’t plan on what you hope will happen, don’t even plan on what you think will happen. Plan on what you know you can achieve and then allow for the unexpected.

Over the span of a long career I would estimate that 80% of the start-up budgets I have seen, over estimate sales and cash flow, whilst under estimating costs and cash burn.

This will possibly frighten you but you should have sufficient cash on hand at the start of your business to cover at least six months of total costs and operating expenses and you should maintain this cover throughout the growth of your business.

If your business concept is realistic and your business plan and budgets well thought through you will almost certainly succeed but be very realistic when budgeting.

THE SECOND STEP

When writing your business plan and establishing budgets calculate the cash needed in year 1 to meet your three key areas of expense; Cost of Entry – or Capital Expenditure (CAPEX); – Cost of Goods Sold – (COGS) and finally Operating Expenses – (OPEX).

If after careful consideration and budgeting the sum is higher than you thought, see what if anything can be scaled back, without losing sight of your concept and what cash is really going to be needed to deliver the objectives.

Do not despair if the cash needed is more than you thought or indeed more than you have available. The cash needed is the cash needed so plan for it.

In respect of Revenues employ caution in the quantum of sales you project. A mistake here will cost you dearly and don’t expect your customers to pay you on time. Most “good” debtors pay in 30 days but it is usually 30 days from the end of the month in which you invoice and if they are savvy buyers they will order in the first week of the month thus getting almost 60 days to pay.

THE THIRD STEP

The business plan and budgets are written and after due and diligent consideration you feel you are short of cash “Stay Calm and Engage Stakeholders”.

The stakeholders in your business include you, your family, your investors, your staff, suppliers and customers.

If your business plan is sound and well-articulated and explained, each of these stakeholders will support you. Your family will probably support you best by understanding long hours worked and tiredness at home.

Your investor in making the decision to back you and your idea has the most to gain by supporting and helping you meet goals. The investor is probably experienced and can be a great mentor and sounding board for you so use the relationship and value it.

Your customers and suppliers both stand to gain through your business success so engage them, show them your plans and discuss the terms on which you need to trade. Treat them with respect and they will return the favour in heaps.

SUMMARY

We are yet to answer the big question: Just how much cash does a SME start-up need? It’s a bit like the question; how long is a piece of string and the answer is the same……it’s as long as it is, or it needs as much cash as it needs.

Don’t be worried by this, in almost 30 years of SME experience I have always had access to more investor cash than I have had to good ideas and people to back.

If you have confidence in yourself and your plan and need an investor, speak with local accountants, financial planners and lawyers, they will almost certainly know someone looking to invest funds in a sound idea.

Most importantly if you think you need $8.00 ask for $10.00 it’s much easier to return funds with a little interest than to ask for more. Again if you think your first years profit is going to be $10.00 write it up as $8.00 and come in ahead of budget. Everyone loves a winner and success spreads!

Follow these simple steps and you should be set for a successful future with loyal stakeholders willing to follow you into your next bigger venture.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-9k

 

 

The Three Profits of SME's WCP 2013

The Three Profits of SME’s

 

Most SME operators tend to think that good management, innovation, hard work and productivity will result in a profitable business, well they should but that’s not the whole story.

Not all profits are created equal and indeed some are much more valuable and more quickly and easily attained than others. Ah there must be a catch I hear you say; there is no catch but understanding the Three Profits of SME will make a significant difference to the way in which you view and manage your business.

The First Profit

The First Profit of SME is the easiest profit you will ever make and could account for a substantial amount of the total profit your business generates over its lifetime. The First Profit flows directly from your cost of entry.

Once you decide on starting or buying a business be it a hardware shop, bakery, call centre, IT service or a property development, do your research. Look around for a similar business in distress or even facing or in administration or receivership. There are many reasons businesses fail but most often its insufficient cash or poor management, if you are a good manager and you have cash get out there and buy well.

Most businesses fail within the first two to three years. I have bought near new businesses out of distress for less that 10% of the cost of establishing that business. Plant and equipment as new, some customers in place and ready to go. If you can run that business and cash flow it you make a 900% profit in your first 2 years because well run the business should be worth at least its true set up costs.

The Second Profit

This is the only profit some people think of; the operating profit that flows from good management, business planning, innovation, hard work, productivity and sales effort. The Second Profit most importantly sustains your cash flow, pays the bills, allows you to further develop the business and should leave you with a healthy profit after drawing your wages.

The real key to the just how large The Second Profit is relates to the lessons of the First and Third Profits. Put simply the keys to strong operating profits are how well you control the cost of the goods and services you offer and how well you price them.

Do the maths. You are much better off and your business is stronger selling a lower number of products or services at a higher margin than going for volume at a discount.

Look for ways to offer a significantly better service to your customers than your competitors are and lift your prices. Treat cost controls and buying as seriously as sales, manage your stocks to achieve maximum stock turn at minimum inventory. Establish and monitor your KPI’s. Motivate and reward your staff. Build a happy and united team.

The Third Profit

This Third Profit if planned carefully and executed well will bring you a profit as relatively easy and large as your First Profit. We are talking here of your exit strategy, the day you sell your business. Whilst this seems a long way off when you start your business you should be planning and working towards the exit every day.

The Third Profit will directly reflect the desirability of your business to a potential buyer. That buyer will need to be very comfortable with your business if you are looking for a premium priced exit.

From day one work to a detailed financial budget and business plan, report against it monthly; draw up detailed monthly accounts, (it’s so easy today), hold monthly board meetings with an agenda and minutes, even if the directors are you and your wife. File all tax returns and corporate documents on time and constantly update your corporate register. Imagine how comforting 3, 5 or 10 years of such well-maintained records are to a potential buyer.

Lock as many customers as you can onto long term supply or service contracts and do the same with your key suppliers. Look after, reward and motivate your staff so that your retention rate will be high. Another three prospective purchaser concerns answered.

Typically a purchaser will offer a multiple of earnings (EBIT) plus stock at valuation as a pricing mechanism. If the accounts, customers and staff look ad hoc the multiple offered is going to be between 1 and 2 times earnings and stock over one year old will be discounted to $0.10 in the $1.00 and over six months old $0.50 in the dollar.

With solid accounting, tax and corporate records, good budgeting, a regular stock turn, sound supplier and customer relationships, and loyal staff a potential purchaser is going to look much more favourably on your business and a multiple of 4 to 6 times EBIT plus SAV at full cost is a likely outcome.

Another strategy is to approach your major competitor; a consolidation of the two businesses could bring about significant efficiencies and cost benefits thereby lifting to value of your business to a multiple of 6 to 8 times EBIT.

I hope you take on board The Three Profits and prosper from them. Good Luck!

Neil Steggall.

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

1 November 2013

http://wp.me/p401Wv-8E

 

www.wardourcapital.com

Logo Small wcp 2014

Power Press IronyOne for me and one for you.

Why do the Rich and Powerful think rules are for

someone else?

The airwaves and social media are throbbing with outrage about politicians claiming allowances for private trips and businesses using bribes to win valuable work.

This is the kind of behaviour that most people know they would never get away with – even if they wanted to.

What makes it worse, in the mind of the average person, is that the people being exposed are already so privileged and powerful. Tony Abbott can easily afford to fly to Wangaratta for the wedding of a colleague, why would he charge the taxpayer $1094.64 for the trip?

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Fitzsimons made a good point over the weekend, when writing about Attorney-General George Brandis charging the taxpayers for the cost of a trip to a radio host’s wedding.

Brandis had justified his actions with the comment that, with the wedding guest list dominated by media people, most of the time was spent “talking about politics”.

Retorts Fitzsimons: “Exactly. And surely the guiding light on such matters is whether or not you’re talking policy, not merely politics. Politicians pay for the politics, and we pay for the policy development, would [that] seem to be fair?”

It is notable that the Labour opposition has not exactly been shouting from the rooftops about these “wedding cashers”, leading to the suspicion that this sort of practice has probably been commonplace in Canberra.

But all this is small change compared to the allegations that Leighton Holdings had paid multi-million dollar kickbacks to win work – and claims that the then CEO, Wal King, had approved it.

And then there are the ongoing investigations into the business activities of the former NSW Labour ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, as well as questions about why the new NSW Opposition Leader, John Robertson, did not report the offer of a $3 million bribe by businessman Michael McGurk, who was murdered in 2009.

Of course, these are just the cases that are in the media today and many of them may not account to actual illegality or corruption – no such findings have been made in the travel claims allegations or against Leighton Holdings, Wal King or John Robertson.

But the frequency with which such allegations are made about our leaders makes you wonder about what goes on that we never find out about.

The big question is: why do they do it? What makes successful people more likely to bend, break and flout the rules? It is not like they don’t know what the rules are – they generally make them.

Hypocritical tendency

To investigate whether power corrupts, or if power merely attracts the corruptible, Joris Lammers at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University, in Illinois devised an experiment that suggests that power promotes a hypocritical tendency to hold other people to a higher standard than oneself.

According to a report in The Economist: “These results, then, suggest that the powerful do indeed behave hypocritically, condemning the transgressions of others more than they condemn their own.

“But another everyday observation is that powerful people who have been caught out often show little sign of contrition. It is not just that they abuse the system; they also seem to feel entitled to abuse it.”

“People with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want. This sense of entitlement is crucial to understanding why people misbehave in high office.”

Another interesting finding from another study is that people tend to think that rule-breakers are powerful.

A study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal says when people have power, they act the part.

“Powerful people smile less, interrupt others, and speak in a louder voice. When people do not respect the basic rules of social behaviour, they lead others to believe that they have power . . . ”

“Norm violators are perceived as having the capacity to act as they please”.

In this way, we law-abiding people play our part by unconsciously colluding with the rule-breakers, admiring them for their chutzpah and not taking them to task when we should.

If you have already read my previous rant on those wonderfully powerful people at the Reserve Bank of Australia and their minor and quite understandable transgressions I apologise but……………..

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

9 October 2013

http://wp.me/p401Wv-5k

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The Perfect Storm

(A Modern Horror Story)

Because it Rains in Paradise

Why be so negative?……. well let’s use  Paradise as a metaphor.

Because It Rains in Paradise…….!!!!!! 

Come along take a short ride on this little thought wave, let’s see Paradise as a metaphor for a well-run business, a prosperous and growing concern and let’s see the rain as a metaphor for an approaching economic storm.

How well protected are we in terms of our ability to weather the storm? We have our business plans to hand but they make no mention of a storm. Have you been through a storm before? What changes? How do we survive? How bad will be storm be? Can we rebuild post storm?

So many questions and yet so far so few real life answers.

Breath deeply, let us relax together and read a little story……….

At times business can appear a lot like paradise, it’s a great place to be, and everyone wants to be there to enjoy life with you, to know you and to bask in your reflected success. You are the visionary, the hard working, creative, entrepreneurial brain who made this all possible, your adrenaline flows, your energy and ideas come together, your staff are happy, motivated and successful, they respect you, the cash flows in, you drive a nice car, dress well, you eat at the best restaurants, you fly at the front of the plane, you speak at conferences, and…….ahhhh you sit back, relax and you reflect on just how good your life is.

One day, a small cloud passes between you and the sun, sending a slight shiver through you, but it quickly passes. Utilizing your latest smart devices you send a few more ideas, instructions, queries, emails and more pictures of Paradise to your office, you check your bank balances, transfer a few funds here and there and it’s not yet lunch time.

The sun still shines but the palm leaves rustle again this time with an unsettling sound and in the distance the ocean appears darker, are those clouds, building in the far distance or a trick of light on the horizon?

Far, far away from Paradise and way over the horizon is The Land of Plunder (LOP). A terrible, bleak, dark miserable environment that draws the humanity, skill, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit out of you like a black hole draws energy from its surrounding universe…..no profit, not even a scrap, ever escapes its clutches.

Populated almost entirely by wise and educated sages such as investment bankers, credit providers, speculators, derivative traders, stock brokers, securitization specialists, short sellers, long sellers, fund managers, promoters, actuaries, lenders, accountants, auditors, receivers, managers, liquidators, lawyers, barristers, regulators, and their shiny suited minions oh it’s a soulless place to exist yet alone to live.

The problem is that in the Land of Plunder no one actually makes, grows, manufactures, produces or sells anything. Nothing. Not a single thingamajig or even a widget. Not a single truly commercial activity in the whole land. Yet its population consumes the funds made in Paradise, it lives to play games with those funds converting them into concepts and instruments called spreads, market sectors, cash, gold, minerals, fuel, pork bellies, red bean futures, long and short positions, options, shares, derivatives, differentials, margins, rates of interest, rates of exchange, incremental ROI, leveraged positions, contingent assets and equally contingent liabilities. Perhaps the favourite game of all, played only by the most knowledgeable of sages, is the interpretation and discussion of meanings…..net, gross, before, after, on or off the balance sheet, earnings brought forward, deferred debt, provision for, contingent, or not and most importantly the holy grail itself………THE BONUS.

That night as you lay back in your king size bed, sipping a final glass of Comte de Taittinger, the wind rises and the palm leaves rustle, indeed as the tree trunks bend under the increasing force of the wind you get to thinking about The Land of Plunder. Who actually pays them and what for? What happens historically? Doesn’t the LOP like totally fuck up at least once every generation? And what happens when they do? Could it damage your business? What could you do to protect your business and the thousands like yours?

Another perfect day in Paradise dawns and already your CFO has confirmed that your cash registers are still singing caa-ching, your revenues are up, your staff are motivated, your customers are happy, your suppliers are on time and on budget and your R&D team is about to make yet another technological breakthrough and yet that lingering fear niggles away at you. How would I get by if the LOP was to get it all wrong?

Much of your new day is given over to this dreadful thought, and with the help of your laptop you reflect on history’s greatest LOP fuck ups. Dating from the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s disaster in the fourth century to those wicked Medici’s and their Pazzi Conspiracy and the subsequent Banking collapse of the fifteenth century, to the collapse of the Spanish economy in the mid sixteenth century….oh how could the wise sages have got the gold price so wrong? Of course no one within the LOP’s Dutch branch could have imagined that one day a Tulip Bulb would be worth less than its weight in gold but alas it came about. All of this further distresses you.

You of course realise that in the eighteenth century the sages came up with a brilliant plan, they sold the South Seas Company the exclusive rights to trade with and to import gold and other untold riches from South America. Sadly the sages didn’t actually clear this with the owners of South America, (Spain) or even mention it in the prospectus, small oversights they later realised and thus came about the South Sea Bubble. To date this is still history’s largest corporate collapse. Those damned Spaniards just didn’t play Cricket, did they, the sages were heard to mumble.

Racing forward, you find we have the sages of the LOP, engineering a convenient double act, in the Railroad and Silver collapse in nineteenth century America. Again the sages were ever so slightly wrong. More rail road carriages and rail roads were built than there were people and stock to travel on them. Some railroads went to towns and cities yet to be built. Proving that a double act was possible, the sages funded one or two, or was it ten or twenty, US silver mines to be opened on virtually the same day and surprise, surprise, the silver price fell through the floor. The US economy plunged into recession, jobs lost, families homeless, Railroad stocks crashed and companies failed but God Bless the sages……they still had their fees.

Still good hardworking entrepreneurs just like you were soon back at work in Paradise building their businesses, making and selling thingummy bits, widgets and the many whatnots needed by the people of Paradise. The sages were so impressed they decided to buy shares in these solid enterprises and trade them at a profit in LOP, whilst of course charging fees and profitably clipping tickets along the way.

Alas the shares were oversold and overpriced and in 1929 the entire global monetary system collapsed causing the worst depression, loss of jobs, homelessness, self-respect and starvation the world has ever known. In fairness some of the sages did feel quite bad about this and threw themselves out of their Towers of Babel to the pavement below. Though not many; and for the few that fell it was often as close to reality and real people as they ever came. One could go on and on mentioning the sages doing so well out of the provision of two glorious sessions of twentieth century global war debt, the Credit Squeeze of the early ’70s, the stock market collapse of 1987, the Banking Crisis of the early 1990’s and that monumental fuck up of 2008, but by now you really need a drink;

More importantly you need to recognise a the pattern, call in some real people and plan!

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October 2013

Neil Steggall

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The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!