Business Planning & Strategy

Strategic Plans
Financial Plans
Financial Modeling

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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Crowdfunding - WCP 2014

 

Raising Capital is a lot like Internet Dating!

Raising capital is stressful and incredibly time consuming. It’s a full time job. So if you embark on a money raising mission, make sure your business is at a stage where it can survive (and hopefully flourish) with minimal input from you. The capital raise will demand most of your time and attention for the next little while.

It’s actually a lot like internet dating. You write a profile (information memorandum) you go on a first date (swipe right), you decide if you’d like to see each other again, (thank-you text), one party plays hard to get (valuation), meet the parents (due diligence), buy a ring (appoint lawyers), ask the question, (term sheet) and get married (settlement).

Once you’ve got a little seed money to work with, it really then becomes an issue of timing. If you go to the market looking for money before you have a concept or product, you don’t have as much leverage with investors and could potentially be beaten down on your valuation. So founders are generally better off building the product and getting as much traction as possible before courting significant further investment to reduce the risk profile of their venture.

The longer you can hold off, the more leverage you have with investors. But the longer you wait, the more risk there is that your competitors will land funds and get the jump on you. And it can be hard to play catch up.

Preparing the business for a capital raise correctly is critical. My advice is to find yourself someone who knows what they are doing, has experience in the area and importantly is respected by the VC community.

A skilled and trusted advisor is worth their weight in gold, they provide invaluable advice on how to groom the business for a capital raise, such as having an attractive shareholders agreement, employment agreements, and commitment from the founders in place.

Once you have a data room prepared with an information memorandum and financial model  hit the pavement and talk to investors.

Let your advisor’s line up 10 or so meetings, target verbal commitments from these early potential investors. The best way to describe this part is that no one is ‘in’ until they sign a term sheet. Have one of these prepared and printed in your back pocket. Don’t be afraid to put it in front of them to sign. You’ll quickly work out their position.

If you are aiming to raise $1.5 million the hardest part will be getting that first chunk signed away. No investor wants to be the first $50,000, they want to be the last $500,000. So it’s important to lock down some foundation investors, and use them and their name to secure other investors. It’s all part of the gamesmanship and you need to have your strategy down pat before you got out to market.

Once you’ve locked down the funds, management now becomes a priority. Most investors don’t just hand over cash and then walk away. They will set benchmarks, timelines and other KPI’s. You need to keep them in the loop, so regular corporate updates are critical. Ask them what they want to know and how often if you are unsure. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from them, leverage them and their networks as much as possible. You’ll sometimes be amazed at how much of their time they are willing to give.

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By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

http://www.neilsteggall.org/?p=1235

Business Advice with Bite

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businessmanagement1

How to structure your startup for investment

Most Australian startup’s will never raise a first round of funding. The recent Startup Muster survey puts the number at just 14%. For those startups that do raise a seed round, the chances of securing VC funding at Series A is even lower. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand what potential Angel and VC investors will want to see from a legal standpoint before investing. This article will set out some of those requirements.

 Incorporate!

You’re not going to raise money unless you’re running your business through a limited liability company structure. Better yet, set up a holding company/operating company structure. Investors will invest in the holding company, which will own 100% of the operating company. This structure can protect the assets of the business from risk of seizure, should the operating company be sued.

A small number of more experienced Australian founders are now setting up their company structure in the US, even if they’re running the business from Sydney or Melbourne. If you’re looking to secure investment over in the US, this approach can make a lot of sense. That being said, it’s definitely only worth doing if that’s your goal.

Founder vesting – sensible for founders and investors

The reality is that a startup isn’t worth much, particularly in the early days, if the founders leave. It makes no sense at all to issue yourselves with equity that doesn’t vest over at least a couple of years, and investors know this. The standard startup-founder vesting structure is a four-year vesting schedule with a one-year cliff, meaning you get nothing if you leave before you’ve been working in the startup for at least a year, and you earn the rest of your equity over the four years.

Many VC investors will require founders to “revest” upon investment. This means that even if you’ve been working on your startup for a couple of years before securing funding, you’ll have to work for another four years to get all of your shares.

Founder vesting obviously make sense for investors; they don’t want you ditching the startup two months in, but it also makes sense for founders. If your co-founder leaves the business with his 25% stake fully vested, the business is pretty much guaranteed to fail. You’re either going to end up working away building up the value of his shares while he chills out on the beach, or you’ll end up quitting too. Vesting means he’ll leave with a smaller amount of shares, which is much more manageable.

Preference shares

VC investors will often only invest through preference shares. The basic idea behind a preference share structure is that it gives investors a liquidation preference in the event of a sale. Preference shares are a way of ensuring that investors get repaid their initial investment before founders and employees get anything.

Obviously if you can avoid issuing preference shares, and simply issue ordinary shares, that’s great for you and your co-founders.

Employment contracts

No one ever bothers putting together an employment contract when they first launch their business. Why would you? You’re probably not even paying yourself!

If you’re looking to raise a round, you need to sort out your employment contracts for a couple of reasons. First of all, investors will want to know you’re not just pocketing their hard earned cash; they’ll want you to set out a small salary etc. Most importantly, though, they’ll want to ensure that you’re entering into a non-compete with the company. If you don’t get on with your investors, they don’t want you quitting and setting up a competitor business the next day.

To conclude

Investors are a diverse bunch, so they’re not all going to be looking for the exact same structure before investing. If you’ve got a great team on board and you have significant traction, you might be in a position where you can dictate terms. Unfortunately that’s not very common! It makes sense to structure things professionally and to be pragmatic about what you’re going to offer investors. It might just help you end up as one of the 14% of Australian startup’s who raise a round!

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By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

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Added Value

Do you know the true value of your customers?

 

Customer numbers, revenues and retentions are in many ways the rocket fuels of business success. Certainly if you wish to impress bankers, investors and the market in general with corporate growth under your leadership and management you had better understand and pay homage to this important trilogy.

Do you know the true value of your customers?

What is the key metric you use to measure and drive your business?

When asking this question I find that most answer with “EBIT”, “margins”, “revenues”, ROI or some other fairly common KPI, however, I believe “Customer Lifetime Value” (LTCV) is perhaps the most significant measure to indicate the general health, sustainability and true value of a business. It is one of the most overlooked and least understood KPI’s or metrics in business, and yet it is one of the easiest to quantify.

Why is this particular metric so important? Because truly understanding it will deliver rewards, it will give you an accurate indication of how much repeat business you can expect from a particular customer, which in turn enables you to accurately forecast, cost and develop your business.

The value of LTCV in determining marketing spend and direction is immeasurable as it will not only help you to decide how much you can afford to spend to “buy” each new customer for your business, it will also motivate you to grow your business by showing you when and when to spend.

Once you understand how frequently a customer buys, how much they spend and for how long you retain them you will better understand how to allocate your resources to optimize customer growth and retention programs.

An easy calculation to estimate CLTV is to insert actual or estimated (if you’re in the planning stages or just starting out) numbers into the following equation:

(Average Value of a Sale) X (Number of Repeat Transactions) X (Average Retention Time in Months or Years for a Typical Customer)

A simple example would be the calculation of a service subscriber who spends $20 every month on a 3 year average retention. The CLTV would be:

$20 X 12 months X 3 years = $720 LTCV

We can see from this hypothetical example why so many successful businesses offer a free or discounted service to attract new customers and grow their business. Savvy entrepreneurs know that as long as they spend less than (say) one year’s revenue of $240 to acquire a new customer, the customer will quickly prove profitable and add a further CLTV to the business.

Further refinements can be made by calculating the margin value of each customer and the cost/benefit of a stronger customer service and or retention program.

Once you can demonstrate the multiples of CLTV you place your business in a very strong position should you later require additional funds for expansion from banks and financiers or equity from investors

Growing your CLTV

Once you have some idea of the lifetime value of your customer, you have two Targeted Marketing options in deciding how much to spend to acquiring each new customer:

  1. Allowable acquisition cost: This is the maximum amount you’re willing to spend per customer per Targeted Marketing campaign – In this instance ensure the cost expended is less than the profit made on the first sale. This is an excellent short-term strategy for an emerging business or one in which cash flow is a concern.

  2. Calculated Investment acquisition cost: This is the calculated cost you expend per customer in Targeted Marketing where you know that you will take a loss on initial and occasionally subsequent sales as you have pre-determined that you have the available cash resources to fund your marketing investment. This is a longer-term strategy ideal for mid-life to mature businesses looking to consolidate growth patterns and market share.

Marketing: Expense or Investment?

This is an interesting question which all entrepreneurs should resolve very early in their careers. In my assessment marketing must always be an investment with a measurable ROI. Understanding the LTCV of your customers provides you with such an ROI, a metric easy to establish and measure.

You will struggle to develop an optimal marketing budget unless you know what the return on your investment needs to be. This knowledge is essential as it will lead you to make sound marketing decisions based on the reality of sound and supported metrics rather than the ethereal promises of a new media promotion or program.

Understanding your LTCV’s provides you with specific knowledge as to how, or if, you can discount or offer incentives to attract new business. It will help you avoid the potentially disastrous effects of discounting when your business needs cash flow to survive. In addition, you will find innovative ways to build value upfront and create offers that drive enough volume to support and eventually increase your overall LTCV.

Think this through and take some time to calculate the LTCV equation as it applies to your business no matter if you are established, growing or just starting out. This is the metric for everyone.

In summary, the LTCV will determine the planning and frequency of your marketing spend, the ultimate success and thus the ultimate value of your business.

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By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://www.neilsteggall.org/?p=1216

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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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Crash - WCP 2014

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

“A profitable business without a cash flow is dead in all but name!”

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 businesses 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 ALWAYS KING.

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By, Neil Steggall

 The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-iL

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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 Paradox - WCP 2014

The Business Planning Paradox 

Some years ago I sat on the Australian board of a major US consumer goods company when the news came through that our regional boss in the US had retired and was been replaced by a newly retired US Army General with no business experience – imagine our misgivings!

Our new boss, let’s call him “Bud” arrived in Australia three weeks later to sit in on the presentation of our revised and much changed 5 Year Strategic Plan. He sat patiently through two days of presentations, projections, detail and the final summary asking pertinent questions and seemingly agreeing with our logic and direction.

On the third day, in our windowless board room, he kicked off the questioning by asking me “Son, how much faith do you personally have in this plan, would you bet your career on it?” I was confident in our team’s research, logic and the plan presented so I answered in the affirmative with: I am confident Bud and yes I would bet my career!

“Son I am saddened because you must be a lot dumber than I was thinking” was Bud’s response!

This was a bit of a downer to say the least. Bud continued:-

“Son I served in supply in Vietnam can you imagine starting your day at 5.00am not knowing where your troops were going that day, or how many would be alive or wounded that night, but knowing that wherever they were they needed mess tents and hot food, field hospitals, beds, fuel, ammunition, and vehicles to replace the damaged ones and if I let them down I let America down”

“Now Son my enemy was a lot harder to handle than your “competitors” so how helpful would a 5 day plan never mind 5 years have been to me?”

I assumed this was a rhetorical question and asked Bud just how he did plan his supply chain – I was incidentally impressed by the complexity of his logistics.

Bud’s response was to answer “Son I’m asking the questions today so let me ask you this; how far can you turn your head to each side?” around 90° each way, I answered, about 180° in total. “And how far can you lift and lower your head?” mmm, around 90° degrees each way “BULLSHIT!” he roared “you are very lucky if you can get a true 170° and let me tell you problems  will come at you from 360° and spherically so better be prepared!”

I may have made Bud sound like a difficult character, he wasn’t, he was different and we became friends and remained so for many years.

He had developed his famous 4 point plan to “Succeed in Everything” and here is the paradox: it was potentially an 8 Point plan! Let me explain:-

“The 4 point Plan to Succeed in everything”

RULE 1:

a)      Develop  a detailed written plan

b)      Don’t be too “stuck” to your plan

RULE 2:

a)      Calculate, Calibrate & Measure everything

b)      Don’t be bound by numbers, always look beyond

RULE 3:

a)      Constantly seek information, input and advice from others

b)      Follow your own heart & instincts

RULE: 4

a)      Delegate wherever possible

b)      Always retain control

Developing a detailed plan of where you want to be and how you plan to get there is to me absolutely essential to good management. Done well it involves bringing the whole team together to focus on the challenges and opportunities facing the organisation and the plans progressive development forces you and your team to think through each point, to question, determine and build a strong team vision.

 Don’t be too “sticky”! I like to think of a plan as a road map to guide us from point A to point Z, a very useful document without which many long journeys would fail. However if along the journey a bridge has collapsed or the mountain pass is blocked by a slide we have to put the map to one side and handle the blockage. So it is with business plans!

Calculating & Calibrating:  Peter Drucker said “What’s measured improves” and I am a huge Drucker fan. I am a bit of a numbers nut, I find spreadsheets akin to soothing pictures; when I sit down to review a business I enjoy dissecting the market, the innovation, the competition, the costs, expenses, cash flows and projections…….they can all be reduced to numbers and measured.

There is also a common corporate condition known as “Analysis Paralysis” this is the stage at which you can no longer see the wood for the trees. KPI’s are great but they can hide the bigger picture, so step back occasionally and look beyond the numbers – you may be surprised by what you see.

Seeking information, input and advice from others has long been a hallmark of good leadership and a strong indicator of an organisations culture and attitude. Until we strive fully understand every aspect of the market in which we operate, our relative position within it, our products relative positions within it, our financial position within it and the markets overall direction, wants and needs we are operating an incomplete structure, perhaps one lacking a vital component.

 A strong CEO or leader asks many questions in meetings or planning sessions but is careful in placing forward their views; they listen to, consider and weigh the advice, they read through the detail of market and financial analysis and then make an effective decision based upon their experience and their heart or gut instinct. This is what makes them leaders.

Delegation is another common denominator of strong leaders. Delegation not only provides leaders with more time to lead but it empowers subordinates whilst building their leadership and the organisations culture. It’s a wonderful, internal win-win!

A really good leader delegates on an 80/20 principle which I call “Loose, Tight, Management”. In effect 80% of decisions are safe, that is if the wrong decision is made it’s not life threatening to the Corporation but 20% of decisions are crucial and by keeping control over this 20% you always retain control of the whole.

A strong leader never criticises a poor decision or a failure arising out of delegation, these are valuable lessons for subordinates and each lesson well-handled builds the person and enhances the corporate culture.

The lesson I took from Bud was that there are few if any absolutes in an ever changing world and that the key to good planning is to understand exactly where you want to be whilst retaining the flexibility and the ability to change to adapt to changed needs and conditions.

The lesson was well taught and conveyed and as a consequence planning improved, I improved and the corporation improved and that is what “A Plan to Succeed in Everything” should deliver.

By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-gz

 www.wardourcapital.com

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Perception - WCP 2014

The Importance of Market Perception

Perception Marketing has become big business and until recently I had applied little thought to the question of Perception versus Reality. People apparently now build entire careers around Perception Management, they are not involved in Product Development and Product Improvement, their mission in life involves changing us! Changing our Consumer Perception!

My regular readers are familiar with my commitment to Peter Drucker as the essential marketing guru. His definition of marketing is: – “to take something useful and turn it into something desirable”. I believed I understood this, yet recently I have encountered some surprising and strangely lasting, examples of perception marketing driven desirability.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a product discussion with my son, the CEO of a US based FINTEC company, and I offered the opinion that the product (under discussion) was crap! He answered promptly, “I know that, you know that, but the market perception is different and the market perception is reality”.

At first I was disturbed by this, isn’t it wrong to sell a substandard product, even if the customer is satisfied?  Well let’s think again before we decide.

New Scientist magazine recently published an article describing how researchers at Harvard tested a new painkilling drug as well as placebos on migraine sufferers. The placebos, despite their lack of real painkilling ingredients, were remarkably effective. “The placebo… accounted for more than 50% of the drug effect,” the scientists found.

To most of us this is hardly news; drug trials routinely incorporate control groups who are given placebos to assist in identifying results that are outside the standard placebo effect. Other drug trials have shown that tiny placebo pills can have stronger effects than large ones because they are perceived as especially potent. Placebo colour can make a difference, too.

I had to ask myself are placebos “my crap” or “market reality”?

The lesson for marketers is that our experiences are shaped by our expectations

Do we have other examples of “placebo marketing”?

Until recently we had a substantial investment in the wine industry. Wine is the ideal product to illustrate how marketing perception affects consumer experience.

Most of us and even those within the industry don’t have the honed palate of a master of wine, and how we enjoy wine is heavily influenced by what we think we know about the wine.

Perception marketing experiments showed that the same wine thought by a taster to cost $45.00 rated better than when it was thought to cost $5.00. Not only was this a win for the perception marketers, it actually lit up a wider area within the pleasure centre of the taster’s brains. In other words the perception became reality, it really did taste better to them.

It’s an example of consumers really believing “You Get What You Pay For” – yet again Marketing Perception has trumped reality.

This brings me back to Peter Drucker’s quote. Desirability may not be a product of quality but of expectation.

By, Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SMS Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-eC

 

www.wardourcapital.com

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Positive Pricing WCP 2014

The Power of Positive Pricing!

And how to use positive pricing to double your profits $$$

 

When discussing management theory some subjects are greeted with much more enthusiasm than others and recently I addressed a group of SME owners on “Improving Profits” a subject dear to all and a topic pretty well guaranteed to ensure rapt audience attention irrespective of the speakers skill.

Yes profit was in everyone’s mind and the subject was greeted with enthusiasm, yet as I probed, few participants really understood what profit is, how it is calculated and what profit really means.

After some general discussion I threw open three questions:-

  1. Do you know what your profit was last year?

  2. Do you know how to define or calculate your profit?

  3. Do you want to double your profit next year?

Let’s leave question 3 aside for now as I reckon you can guess the answer. Disappointingly however, few participants could provide a clear and accurate answer to questions 1 & 2, so we spent some time discussing the calculation and meaning of Gross Profit, Operating Profit, EBIT and finally Net Profit.

We covered off a little basic accounting and financial theory before agreeing that for everyday use EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) was perhaps the most relevant and practical “measure of profit” and that most companies operate within a rough ratio of EBIT of to revenue of between 5% and 20%. SME’s tend to perform a little better (in my experience) at between 10% and 20% and so we chose 15% as our optimum target.

Obviously question 3 brought about an enthusiastic if predictable response…….everyone wanted to double their profit! The reasons for wanting to increase profit were many and varied spanning those who were currently unprofitable and struggling to those who saw profit as the ultimate measure of success – more on that later!

So given the enthusiasm for the subject the doubling of profit was discussed as a group and the group ideas noted. Those ideas or suggestions for improving profits emerged in roughly the following order of importance:-

a)      Reduce costs

b)      Lift sales

c)       Spend more on marketing

d)      Use social media to drive sales

e)      Improve/increase product range/service

f)       Buy better/lower costs (stock, raw materials, etc)

g)      Improve efficiencies/productivity

h)      Expand/take on more staff

We work-shopped these 8 ideas until we collectively agreed that lifting profits this way wasn’t as easy as it looked and so I asked a very simple question.

“What would happen if you increased your selling prices by 15%”?

The consensus was nothing much. It may lose some customers but by focusing on service standards and a strong customer contact and communication program customer loss could be minimised if not overcome altogether.

Let’s return to our earlier accounting theory and take the example of an SME with revenues (sales) of $500,000 pa.

After wages, costs and overheads, that hypothetical business will generate an EBIT, as discussed, of approximately 15% of revenues –so let’s say $75,000 per annum.

If we applied an across the board price increase of 15% the hypothetical business would generate additional revenues of $75,000 which if costs are stable (as they should be) w ould flow directly to EBIT thus doubling your profit.

If your selling price was lifted by only 5% then your revenues would be $525,000 and EBIT $100,000 giving you an increased profit of 33.33% and so on.

Surveys demonstrate three consistent failings in SME profits:_

         i.            A reluctance to charge what the job or service is really worth – remember your EBIT or PROFIT is only 15% of revenues the rest goes to cover wages and costs

       ii.            A willingness to discount by 10% or 15% when asked. This “wipes out” your profit – why give it?

      iii.            A failure to pass on cost increases as they occur. This means your profit is slowly eroding by at least CPI and possibly more.

The money you retain or take out of your business each week to feed your family and pay the household bills with isn’t profit. That is your wage.

Given the risk, stress, long hours and commitment you dedicate to building your SME you need to see a profit over and above your wages!

Your profit can be fine-tuned by attending to some of the points raised in a) to h) above but addressing your price points will give you the fastest and most efficient profit improvement.

Earlier I mentioned that some SME owners see profit as the ultimate measure of success. Profit is perhaps better seen as the fuel that can be used to build your business through:-

  • Improved conditions and training for employees

  • Providing the highest possible and most up to date services to your customers.

  • Allowing access to quality advisor’s and advice

  • Employing and retaining the best people

These four points will lead to the achievement of sustainable profits and when you come to sell your business sustainable profits are very valuable indeed!

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SMS Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-dA

www.wardourcapital.com

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Winning WCP 2013

The Power of Marginal Gains

I first heard of the power of marginal gains as a student. Back then “the power” of ideas such as marginal gains, marginal pricing,  marginal costing, marginal probability and compound interest were all being used in business studies to show how something didn’t have to be “wiz, bang, new, fast and you beaut” to make a difference. It was power man!

Compounding interest has continued to fascinate me and occasionally I while away the odd hour on Excel running compounding options. Truly fascinating…..really! The largest deal I ever closed was when as a young executive I convinced the board of a major American company to supply us on the basis of marginal costing.

Recently on a quiet Saturday (I know it’s sad) I googled “The Power of Marginal Gains” expecting to find a plethora of MBA theses on the subject but instead I found page after page of British cycling triumphs and a guy called Dave Brailsford – Now Sir Dave all thanks to his marginal gains!

British Cycling…….Why?

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), that’s what Brailsford was asked to do.

His approach was simple.

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as the “1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years’ time.

He was wrong. They won it in three years.

In 2012, Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. That same year, Brailsford coached the British cycling team at the 2012 Olympic Games and dominated the competition by winning 70 percent of the gold medals available.

In 2013, Team Sky repeated their feat by winning the Tour de France again, this time with rider Chris Froome. Many have referred to the British cycling feats in the Olympics and the Tour de France over the past 10 years as the most successful run in modern cycling history.

And now for the important question: what can we learn from Brailsford’s approach?

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.

Almost every habit that you have — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions over time.

And yet, how easily we forget this when we want to make a change.

So often we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there is some large, visible outcome associated with it. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, travelling the world or any other goal, we often put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.

Meanwhile, improving by just 1 percent isn’t notable (and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially over time.

And from what I can tell, this pattern works the same way in reverse (in other words an aggregation of marginal losses) a 1 percent decline here and there — that eventually leads to a problem.

In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1% better or 1% worse. (In other words, it won’t impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t. This is why small choices (“I’ll take fries with that”) don’t make much of a difference at the time, but add up over a period.

The Bottom Line

Success is a few simple disciplines, practised every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.

Most people love to talk about success (and life in general) as an event. We talk about losing 50 pounds or building a successful business as if they are events. But the truth is that most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. Aggregating these marginal gains makes a difference.

There is enormous power in small steady wins. This is why the tortoise usually beats the rabbit, the system is greater than the goal.

Where are the 1 percent improvements in your life?

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite

http://wp.me/p401Wv-di

www.wardourcapital.com

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SME's Going Under WCP2014

HELP! – I am out of cash & going down!

At which stage do you accept that without a cash injection your business is probably doomed? Looking at the ABS statistics they show that in any three year period around 42% of registered SME’s fail. So the answer is that we should look for and accept cash and or help a lot sooner!

It is very hard when investing the enormous time, energy and focus needed to start and build an SME, to then find the time (and to provide the mental distance needed), to properly analyse and re-assess your management and direction. Being naturally entrepreneurial, SME owners have a tendency to fight on, often to a very bitter end.

When I left the corporate world to start my first SME I got to the end of year one and realised I was emotionally drained, failing and down to my last eight weeks or so of cash. Everything I had was on the line and I had no answers.

Recognising that I was no longer thinking straight I bundled my worried wife and two noisy young children into the car and we headed off for a long (and very cheap) weekend by the beach. It was mid-winter and raining; you can imagine my despair.

Late in the afternoon of our second day I took a long walk along the beach, in the rain and asked myself three questions:-

  1. Is the business concept viable

  2. If its viable have you managed it well

  3. If you had sufficient resources available what would you do differently

My answers were 1) yes 2) fair 3) build a team to leverage revenues.

I returned to the shack motivated and excited for the first time in weeks and when back at work I went about raising the cash and partners needed. It was surprisingly easy and within a year we had a happy and booming business.

Lucky bastard! I hear you whisper. Not really. In a now long career in and around SME’s I have realised a few truths about human nature:-

  1. By and large people want to help you

  2. There are more investors looking to invest than there are good ideas

  3. If your business is a good idea and you are honest, fair and hardworking you will find funding

  4. Investors are usually older, experienced, have suffered and recovered from failure – they understand your position

  5. By understanding your position and taking positive action you earn respect from your stakeholders.

So when do you put up the red flag and shout for help?

Assuming your business concept is viable and you are offering a product or service your customers want then consider the following danger signs:-

  1. Your business is growing, you are profitable and yet you are always short of cash. This happens in growing companies as to service higher sales you need more stock, labour, materials etc and your debtors ledger expands as sales grow. This all eats cash.

  2. You have more potential customers than you can handle and you are falling behind on paperwork and starting to knock back new business. At this stage you need to employ and or outsource more resources but how do you do this when cash is so tight?

  3. You know you could win larger more lucrative contracts and strengthen your business if you had more people, plant and equipment.

  4. Your debtors are slow payers and it is impacting on your ability to meet your payments as and when they fall due.

  5. The bank offers you an overdraft but only if you provide the family home as security.

If you are experiencing any one of the above your business is at risk, if you are experiencing any two you are in trouble and should seek help quickly.

In our company we see so many businesses fail which are fundamentally sound and indeed held so much growth potential.

When we analyse them we invariable find a point beyond which they had insufficient cash to maintain the business. Corners start getting cut, staff numbers are reduced, marketing budgets cut, bills go unpaid, staff morale falls, the staff start leaving and eventually an administrator or other court appointed official is installed

Possibly as many as 90% of the failed businesses (assuming no underlying fraud etc.) we look at could have been saved had appropriate action been taken early enough.

So what should you do if you are at risk?

First of all have an open and frank discussion with your advisors including your accountant and lawyer. Walk them through your business plan and figures and explain your concerns and the amount of investment you think you need to achieve a turnaround. Not only will they offer advice but they may well know of potential investors.

Look on line for SME Turnaround Specialists – a good specialist company should have all of the in-house skills you need and access to numerous investors. You may be able to negotiate an hourly rate or a fee based upon their success or a combination of both. A preparedness to complete some or all of the work on a success fee tells you a lot about their level of confidence!

What will I have to give away to attract an investor? Less than you think. A savvy investor will want to see you remain motivated and happy so as to help build a return on investment. If you are both fair, reasonable and above all offer each other respect you should enjoy a profitable relationship which sees the business turnaround.

Once you have an investor on board start to build a team of business mentors. Many SME’s have an advisory board of a couple of specialists who meet as a regular board would and help you analyse and guide the business forward.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

Article Shortlink:  http://wp.me/p401Wv-cb

www.wardourcapital.com

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Integrity 2 WCP

Leading with Integrity

Leadership goes hand in hand with the power team of Trust and Respect. To build a reputation for Trust and Respect you need to demonstrate a high level of Integrity and unfortunately integrity can be a contradiction in today’s workplace.

Some years ago I had to dismiss a team member who was great at his job and he and his wife had become good family friends. The reason was simple; he had made a fatal error of judgement and in doing so had, to the wider team, lost his integrity.

The label of integrity is hard to earn and yet it can be lost in a single action. I am not even sure it is something we consciously look for in someone but we notice when it is missing.

It is only after we have considered our own actions, evaluating how they align with our personal values, intentions, and deeds, that we are most likely to make a contribution of integrity to the world.

We are each responsible for our own integrity and the best leaders create cultures that nourish the integrity of others.

At its root of the word integrity we find; to “integer” and “integrate”, it speaks of unity and wholeness. We still think of the word in this original sense when we talk about “structural integrity,” the quality that enables a building to stand and that, when lost, lets a building collapse under its own weight.

As US Rabbi Jonathon Omer-Man said, “Integrity is the ability to listen to the place inside oneself that doesn’t change, even though the life that carries it may change.”

Most of us evolve and develop throughout our journey as leaders. Our character and our integrity are remembered long after the glitter of the deals has faded.

Having integrity leads to the building of trust as we practice honest conversations with others. Integrity is a positive deposit in the bank of our connections.

Trust is an inherent part of integrity. People need to trust that leadership is serving everyone’s best interest and leadership needs to trust that team members are fulfilling their own responsibilities.

HOW DO WE IMPROVE LEADERSHIP INTEGRITY?

This possibly varies person to person but the following points, in my opinion, cover integrity within leadership.

  • Respect – practice integrity with others by treating them with respect — even when they do not live up to your personal expectations of them. Recognise that your own standards can be subject to question. We get and give the best of each other in a culture that supports respect.

  • Reliability – This is a more functional definition of integrity and a basic practise of a natural leader. It includes showing a little humility, keeping promises, meeting important deadlines and being there when people need you.

  • Sharing – It’s important for leaders to clearly articulate their values and expectation of integrity. Share these values as a culture-building objective as to how we collectively define integrity.

  • Responsibility – We need to acknowledge our responsibility for every one of our actions. It demonstrates that we are not using other people or external events as the cause of our problems. Wherever possible blame no one, accept the behaviour of others and the circumstances of an action as a given, and move forward.

  • Considered Actions – This is the leader’s obligation to take the right action. It means embodying our integral principles and accepting the consequences for our actions.

  • Thinking 360° – Think of the whole not just this one problem or decision, integrity can be viewed as a culture of wholeness, of being able to support all of the components for the long term good of all.

I have to admit that I have on numerous occasions made decisions or taken a course of action that would not withstand scrutiny of the points above. This is where self-awareness comes in and that question; “What is the correct course?” and remember life is a journey, good and bad……we can only do our best as we see it at the time!

Corporate responsibility and integrity make strange if not incompatible bed fellows and over the years have formed much discussion over the dinner table. In this article I am really only trying to examine questions of integrity in leadership.

Examining integrity at an intellectual level seems to raise more questions than answers. Mistakes will always made and occasionally poor judgement will be shown. Importantly we are now aware of some of the questions and it’s what we learn and how we adapt to our mistakes that we should now contemplate.

Neil Steggall

http://wp.me/p401Wv-bj

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite

www.wardourcapital.com

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e Business WCP 2014

HELP!! – SME’s: need “e-business!”

To be “in the right place at the right time” is always seen as paramount to winning the lottery. Unfortunately most of us only realise later that we had been in the place and time doing nothing in particular.

Training and assisting SME’s in understanding the wide range of computing, internet and social media options now open to them is huge. It’s a huge opportunity because a real yet solvable problem exists today and the statistics suggest those SME’s who don’t acquire and use the skills will not be around in 5 years.

In 1995 when the first Sensis e-Business Report was published 91 per cent of SME’s surveyed had heard of the internet, but few were connected or had any intention of connecting, with two-thirds of those not intending to connect saying that they could not see a business benefit for it!

Only five per cent were connected and just over a quarter of those surveyed did not have a computer. In fact the biggest technological talking point at the time was the fax machine.

The 2013 Sensis e-business report showed the enormity of the change in internet use. Not surprisingly, 98 per cent of SMEs now have a computer, with a fast-rising 69 per cent (up 10 per cent since 2012) having a notebook computer and 41 per cent owning tablets. Internet connectivity increased over the previous 12 months from 92 per cent to 96 per cent, and 26 per cent of those with a connection intending to get a faster connection within the next year.

Sensis also found that 68 per cent of small business owners have smartphones and, on average, they spend $6,200 annually on technology hardware and $4400 on software.

That’s some change in just less than two decades. However, the first thing SMEs need to realise is that while technology is enabling the change, it is actually the customers who are driving it.

While Sensis have been researching SMEs’ adoption and attitudes towards technology since 1995, they extended the research to include the general population in 2005.

The 2013 Sensis e-Business report showed that 91 per cent of Australians have a computer and 96 percent use the internet. And, when asked about their usage of the internet, the most popular activity was ‘looked for information on products and services’ (87 per cent of all Australians), followed by ‘looked for suppliers of products and services’ (82 per cent), with ‘paying for purchases or bills’ (78 per cent) and ‘ordering goods/services’ (74 per cent) also being prominent.

So the stats are telling us that people are using the internet to search for and purchase products. So if SMEs want to connect with potential customers they need to be easily found in the places people are looking.

Consequently, a digital presence will become essential for all successful SMEs. At present, 66 per cent of SMEs have a website and 72 per cent of those reported increased business effectiveness through the platform. We predict the number of SMEs with websites to increase as a result.

As with websites, it is inevitable that the use of social media will increase rapidly as SMEs better understand the benefits and imperatives of close customer interaction. The social media revolution makes the possibility of customer engagement almost an expectation: people increasingly want to comment on their experience – either through praise or pillory – and if the business does not have a social media outlet for that interaction then the customer may find another outlet where the business does not have the opportunity to directly engage.

Mobility is another reality that SMEs are slowly coming to terms with. With mobility, businesses are less connected to the physical location so business becomes an activity, rather than an address. SME’s are slow to adapt to technologies which could save or earn them more money.

As an example, in the days before Christmas we changed the flyscreens in our house. The contractor had been out some weeks earlier to take measurements and the price was agreed. After fitting the screens the contractor said that will be $x thank you, it was the agreed price and I reached for my debit card to pay. “Oh I only take cash” was his comment. It’s a long time since I carried that much cash and I realised that we have no cheque books at home.

I had assumed the contractor would have a mobile merchant terminal and that by the following day at the latest he would have my cash in his bank, all accounting completed except for the monthly bank reconciliation etc. Nah they cost too much he told me; oblivious to the savings and efficiency they offer.

Sensis 2013 research of SMEs found that the percentage taking orders online rose five percent to 56 per cent, and of those taking orders 59 per cent reported that they mainly sold to customers in the same city or town.

SME’s may now have the equipment and they have demonstrated that they will spend on technology, though few are yet fully mobile, they do not have the knowledge or skills to bring the “whole” together, to integrate and utilize the digital opportunities to build profits and cut costs.

Late in 2013 a client was looking to raise equity to take his “eConsultancy” national we looked at the model which was excellent, looked at the market and then discussed the equity needed with clients. Investors are usually Savvy and the equity was raised on day one which has to tell you something!

Neil Steggall

http://wp.me/p401Wv-bd

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

www.wardourcapital.com

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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

Logo Small wcp 2014

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

 

Wardour Capital Meeting #2  2014

10 Tips to Organize a Successful Business Meet

What do you do to ensure that the business meet you organized doesn’t fizzle out?

As a top entrepreneur in the lead, you must take the initiative to arrange business meets to connect with others. But that isn’t all; you need to create an event that people enjoy. Not something they dread!

If you create a platform where entrepreneurs share their thoughts, views, opinions and crises. It helps you earn the trust and respect of your fellow entrepreneurs. And it boosts that collegiate  feeling. You just need to make it a success. But it is easier said than done.

Let’s take a look at 10 simple but effective things that can help you achieve your goal.

Take Your Time to Plan Every Detail

You cannot wait until the last minute to send out the invites and think everyone will turn up. Decide the time and date, select the venue and inform the business meet group members about it in advance. They have to fit it into their busy schedules too.

Check Every Important Aspect In Advance

How will you feel if the audio doesn’t work when someone’s making a presentation? Reach the venue and double check every detail. Make sure the space is adequate for all and the audio-visual equipment works.

Make It An Exclusive Event

Identify the niche you are in and create a group with a strong focus on the core concept. When you make it an invite-only event, you generate interest about it among the entrepreneurs in the niche to participate. This also encourages the aspirants to be part of the community.

Make Introductions Easy With Name Tags

It isn’t easy to remember the names of hundreds of entrepreneurs at an event. Create name tags. It will make introductions a breeze! You can also add their business name and relevant details to it.

Adhere To Your Goals to Meet Expectations

As an organizer, you need to have a clear idea about what the meet is all about. Make sure this is in keeping with the image of your business. For example, if you are into apps development for educational institutes, educational meets are more suited. Plan the meet according to the purpose.

Organize Topics to Keep Everyone Engaged

What do you want people to talk about? Decide the things you want to interest people in at the meet. Use the topics to initiate conversations. You can also throw in some challenges to keep things in motion.

Offer Exposure for Start-ups

You may also incorporate talks, events, quizzes and such other elements into the business meet. But when you let a start-up offer a demo at the meet, you add to its interest. It supplies food for thought for the entrepreneurs present and gives them an excellent topic of discussion.

Give Conversations a Direction

Don’t let the conversation die down. Place your contacts at opportune points to keep it going. With this simple tactic, you will create an environment where people learn new things without a hitch.

Foster Relationships

A business meet is all about the relations entrepreneurs create. And the community they build. It is possible to boost entrepreneurial efforts when people have the support of their peers. Don’t just keep it professional. Let entrepreneurs connect with each other on a personal level. Social hangouts can help you with this.

Keep It Confidential

No entrepreneur will open up unless they are sure that their secret’s safe with the attendees. This is possible only when you assure that it remains within the group. Open and frank discussions will be possible only if you do this.

It isn’t difficult if you are aware of how to keep things in motion at the meet.

With a little planning and effort, it is possible to organize a business meet where the group members can share their stories, offer others positive challenges, help others get back on track and create a strong community.

 And what do you get out of it? Well, you become the proud organizer of a business meet that isn’t another monotonous hour of long conversations between people who don’t even connect with each other. But something that gives everyone their fair share of exposure in the community and ample food for thought.

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-az

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

images[3] (2)

 Communication Drives SUCCESS!

Communication is the #1 single skill needed at every level of business from a one man SME to multi-national corporations. To gain the most out of our lives we need great communication skills and yet I find a great deal of confusion as to what constitutes good communication.

I have written in the past about the importance of SMILES; perhaps the earliest and most basic form of human communication. Communication can be simple good manners. On a recent weekend enjoying the spring sun over an outdoor breakfast my wife and I smiled and nodded at the couple on an adjacent table to us. A simple communication opener which was just as simply reciprocated. The real communication occurred later when my wife asked questions of our new table neighbours …”and what do you do?”

Suddenly not only did their fascinating lives come alive but so did an exciting potential joint project between them and my wife.

Now remember we were just relaxing, careful not to intrude, enjoying Sunday breakfast but we understand communication is human and we are open to communicating. People sense this.

Communication is not what we say; it is who we are and what we do, that creates the impression, or as was said in the Australian movie, The Castle…..”It’s the Vibe”.

A US expert and communication authority Dr John Lund uses an interesting quote; “Don`t communicate to be understood; rather, communicate so as not to be misunderstood.” What a great way to put things in perspective regarding our efforts on how to improve our communication.

Dr Lund has explored the way in which we interpret communication from others.  He also reveals some very interesting statistics on communication.

When someone is speaking with us, we interpret their message based predominantly on the following three factors:

•55% is based on their facial expressions and their body language.

•37% is based on the tone of their voice.

•8% is based on the words they say.

Dr Lund states that his findings are the average taken across both males and females collectively, but that if you looked at women alone they would even give greater weight to the facial expression and body language and even less on the words.

This tells us that it is critical that we become very self-aware of how our body language is speaking to others as well as the tone we use.

Read my article on smiles! That smile comes through in your tone of voice over the phone. It works wonders on how well you come off on a phone call, trust me!

Smile: Shortlink:  http://wp.me/p401Wv-4x

Early in my career I worked for a hugely intelligent man who used to very gently ask me questions after a meeting. He would listen patiently to my answers and say “Neil listen to what they mean and what they need, not what they say”. At first this confounded me until I slowly realised that it may on occasion be difficult, embarrassing or even offending to state what you mean or need.

Once I learned to look beneath the surface, communication and business became easier, more productive and far more enjoyable.

The next major change in my thinking was when I realised that 10 different people see the same thing in 10 slightly different ways. And importantly women see things as differently again from a man which is why mixed sex teams work so well in obtaining balance.

To get your thinking moving look at the graphic below and tell me how many squares you can see?

af07704a-5559-11e3-ba35-12313b0d285f-large[1]

I will leave the answer for the end of the article but in warning I will let you know that in a recent study 96% of Telstra management got this wrong!

Getting back on theme, in the study men occasionally and women mostly want to know three things before they are willing to enter into a business conversation with you:

1.  Is what you want to talk about going to be painful?

2.  How long is it going to take?

3.  When you are done talking, what do you want from me?

If they don’t know these three things up front, they will make excuses to avoid your call or to avoid talking to you on the phone.  The same applies if you come into contact with them in person.

It’s fair to assume that your manager or client in a work setting will always want to know those three things in advance of agreeing to a conversation as well.

It comes down to an ingrained human need to want a strategic exit from difficulty.

These are acquired skills which roll easily off the tongue of experience; however this terrified me early in my career. If in doubt as to what to say or do remember that a show of genuine respect will always help in establishing a rapport, if you are terrified say so, the person you are communicating with will respond positively.

How to successfully conduct a conversation in business:

Success in business is greatly impacted for better or worse by the way in which we communicate. Happiness in our personal lives is also greatly dependent on this very same skill. If you don’t believe me just look at any married couple and work it out!  Becoming a good communicator takes practice and consistent attention and effort on our part, and it is a skill that we cannot afford to overlook.

Remember “don`t communicate to be understood; rather, communicate so as not to be misunderstood.” And always, always allow room for respect.

Now as to the “squares” there are 9 individual small squares; 5 2×2 squares; 1 4×4 square and one 3×3 square. A total of 16.

I hope you worked it out. Whatever your answer think on what it means about how we see and communicate ideas.

By; Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-ag

www.wardourcapital.com

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Winning

How to make a Winning pitch for your Business

We are often asked to assist our SME clients in preparing a “pitch” for major new business or for a new equity investment and it’s an area where our approach surprises the client as we strongly believe that the key to a winning pitch is “less is more” but the content and presentation must be perfect!

If you’re pitching your SME, whether for major new clients or investment, it’s crucial to present in the best possible way.

If you are regular followers of our SME articles you know that we liken the SME operator or CEO to the conductor of an orchestra as he brings his team together at the exact moment to create great harmony and success.

Open with impact – a pitch is like a performance and first impressions are crucial.

Pitching to major potential clients or investors is critical to any growing SME. Yet it is a changing environment the more sophisticated buyer or investor is returning to the time tested value of looking at and listening to the individual and placing less emphasis on or even discounting lengthy PowerPoint presentations and the use of props.

Respect your potential buyer or investor and show that respect from within. If you believe in your pitch and truly respect the potential buyer or investor it will shine through. Smile and be human small points matter.

The Objective: Without a pre developed written objective you won’t know your true criteria for success, so don’t pitch without one. Try and establish before the pitch exactly what the client really wants both in terms of specification and service and as importantly what the client needs. This may be different to what they want. If pitching for investment always use a third party to identify the investor’s guidelines and “hot spots” before you meet. Finally include in your written objective exactly what you want to achieve in the meeting, ask yourself would I buy this? Ask your mentors what they think, rehearse your pitch, the first time you do it you may feel embarrassed but it pays off so stick with it.

Your team: Take the team that is most appropriate. The CEO doesn’t have to be involved, though they can confer valuable status if you’re pitching to a larger organisation. But do make sure your team includes the person who will be doing the work if you win the bid. If pitching for investment have the SME’s “engine drivers” present, investors are usually going to back the people ahead of the figures. Allow time for each team member to shine. An investor will look closely at your team dynamics and how well you relate. That said don’t take a football team if you are pitching to an individual.

Their team: It’s reasonable to ask who is on the panel and evaluating the bids, though you probably won’t be told. If you do find out, do your research and match your team by having people who complement their skills. If their finance director will be present, make sure your team includes someone who can answer financial questions. If the investor brings along his lawyer or accountant be aware they will ask questions if only to justify their fee, so be prepared.

First impressions:  Be yourself and relax, this is your pitch and you are proud of it. Allow five minutes of small talk – it’s all part of getting to know one another. Then open with impact. Really plan and rehearse this opening.  A presentation is like a performance, so be sure to entertain as you inform. Be anything but boring. Do something at the front end that gets everyone’s attention.

If you’re pitching a game-changer for your SME, say so; or find a great quote or an arresting image. If pitching for investment it’s probably because you have already invested every cent you can. Say so, demonstrate your passion and commitment, tell the investor why you are going to make this business work. Again seek out a winning quote or image to imprint in their mind. Mentally invite and bring them on board as stakeholders from that very first meeting, show you like them.

There’s a lot you can do beyond PowerPoint, samples brochures etc – but if you must use them, use just one word on each slide. Hand out the presentation at the end, or everyone will just leaf through it and jump directly to the price. If pitching for investment show only headline figures and be prepared to leave the detailed figures with the investor at the conclusion of the meeting. Don’t just leave printed figures leave a USB with the work sheets open so that an investor can “work” the figures, show trust.

Finally don’t ask the investor to sign a CA, if a regular investor they probably see several opportunities a week, if they wanted to replicate your business they would already be out building it. By definition they are not interested in running a business any more – their USP is now their capital.

Observe: Have an ‘observer’ on your team who watches and notes how people respond and takes detailed notes. If meeting an investor at night say up front “I know you must be tired we will only take 30 minutes of your time”. Let the investor relax.

The Q&A: When do you take questions? Do you let people interrupt as you go or ask evaluators to hold questions till the end? Allowing interruptions can completely hijack a presentation. I like to ask that they save the questions, as they may well be addressed during the presentation. But if it’s really burning, deal with it quickly and don’t get side-tracked.

How did we do? You don’t want to walk out without feedback on how you’ve done. So ask: “Has this addressed your needs? Did we drop any clangers? Is there any further information you need?” If the feedback is that you didn’t answer something sufficiently, you can always follow up with supplementary information.

The goodbye: The most revealing moment of all. When all the formalities are done and the performance is over – that’s often the most telling moment. You’re walking out to the lift, shoulders are relaxed, guards are down, and you’ll get nuggets of feedback via body language, a smile, a comment such as “‘you did really well” (a big thumbs up) or “you might want to go back and sharpen your pencil” (lower your price).

Listen and observe that chemistry. At that moment, you will know whether or not you’re in with a chance.

By: Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

Business Advice with Bite!

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

www.wardourcapital.com

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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

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Teamwork

A STRONG TEAM

IS

VITAL TO SUCCESS

Early in my career it was noted that “I didn’t suffer fools gladly”. At the time I took it as a compliment as I couldn’t understand why some of the people in the organisation just couldn’t grasp the problem, yet alone see the solution and fix it. Clearly they were fools!

As I travelled around the organisation from city to city reviewing performance I was unbeknown to me leaving a trail of emotional disaster and disharmony. One day the CEO sat down in my office and declared that if he could lock me in that room, push problems under the door and wait for me to push the solutions back out some time later, we could change the world. Yes this was the pre computer age and I had to change.

Whilst I had grasped problem solving I had little idea of or interest in the team. I was just so absorbed with problems and their solutions.

I am now much better, though still not good, at team work but I have recognised that a good team is both high performing and exciting to work in. Results flow from great teams.

Cerebral loneliness is a very real problem, I need the companionship of strong thinkers to challenge and spark my own mind. Brilliant ideas are rarely born in isolation, and successful projects stem from a strong, collective team. Without the spark of companionable challenge I find I can become almost self-destructive in my thinking.

In other words, to do great work, you must surround yourself with great people.

It’s an interesting exercise to define what this means for the type of thinkers you want on your team. I find that my best work comes from interaction with people who think differently than I do – and differently from each other. A diversity of mental profiles yields the richest results. Here are six personality types I would have on my dream team.

1. The dreamer: This person never ceases imagining what’s not, what’s next and what’s possible. They think big and hopefully, stretching the bounds of what is considered achievable. They never stop asking, “what if?’ and supply your team with an electric and optimistic creative energy.

2. The debater: Debaters question your assumptions, call out your leap of faith logic and point out the flaws in the plan. They see problems long before others, and they keep everyone grounded and prepared. Their questioning nature forces you to strengthen the rigor of your arguments.

3. The disruptor: The disruptor challenges the status quo and breaks others out of their mental ruts and insular perspective by bringing fresh and far-ranging perspective. My favourite disruptors are intellectually curious, lateral thinkers who are first to spot latent competitors and untapped opportunities in the market.

4. The driver: Drivers are natural leaders, bringing a crusading, concentrated vision to all work and supplying forward momentum when everyone else is losing steam or motivation. They are positively relentless in pursuing an idea, galvanizing political support for it and keeping it on track. They can be fantastic advocates for the customer, and at times hard drivers keeping the team focused on the problem you’re here to solve.

5. The detailer: This type digs into every facet of a project. Detailers focus on practicalities and save everyone else from silly mistakes and fatal design flaws because they think through all the angles and implications. They identify what’s missing in even the best-laid plans and can diagnose the precise point when something could break or be improved.

6. The doer: The doer is the wonderfully resourceful team member who gets stuff done, no matter what. Doers roll up their sleeves and find the practical solutions to delivering products services and “what-nots” on time and on budget. They are great colleagues to those who devise the grand strategy because they get it delivered on time, all the time.

Do you recognise your team members here or see gaps in your own team? Do you think of attributes that I may have missed. Let me know or post your comments below.

Neil Steggall

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with bite!

http://wp.me/p401Wv-7N

www.wardourcapital.com

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October 22, 2013

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!

Please lets us know your thoughts, ideas and feedback. Contribute to this debate is both free and important to do so!

Post your thoughts below and………………….give some bark to your thinking!!!

October 2013

Neil Steggall

http://wp.me/p401Wv-aS

The Barking Mad Blog

SME Advice with Bite!