BizDev blog introduction

Welcome to this blog of occasional articles for business owners. Aimed at stimulating ideas that improve businesses.

Organise, collaborate, collect, manage - Trello can be used for all of these (for free)!!

Trello was dreamt up by the very successful Joel Spolsky.

He worked for Microsoft way back - and when he ran a customer survey of users of Excel he found that "most" people used it for making lists.  

Making lists!  Can you imagine how that must have felt for a high powered developer grafting away at adding math and programming features to the spreadsheet the world uses?

But evidently he filed away this bit of feed back.  And a long time later invented Trello as a list maker.

If that sounds dull, unnecessary and limited, then you may not have thought through the function of "lists" and "tables".  A list is at the heart of so many applications.  To find things we have indexed lists - to decide what to do we have "to do" lists - to communicate we often format our thoughts in a list and project management is a list of lists that are monitored.

Take some time out and subscribe to Trello, read their helpful introduction notes and start a "board" that will be useful to you.  I guarantee that you will have seen "something new" that is easy to learn and may inspire you in some surprising way.

OR you can ask me to invite you to one of my "boards" to see how I use them.  I maintain a Publishing and Writing Board and a number of writers have subscribed to it because it is a "repository" of links to useful articles about those subjects.  No more hunting through browser bookmarks - just add a "card". If you write books, articles or blogs and want to join this Board then email me.

AND if you are in business I urge you to read Joel Spolsky's article about the original idea and development of this great on-line application. You'll find it at http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html  Lots of "startup" good sense and advice.

Pricing for Profit 4 - more cases and a summary

Rounding up this series of notes on the important topic of pricing.  We hope the summary at the end is a useful checklist for your business. 

The Wholesaler’s Story

An actual instance where lower prices did produce profits (eventually) is the case, some years ago, of a client company, who operated in a "crowded" market place. Goods and quality of service were much the same and they decided that the only way to build market share was to compete on price.

They had a distribution unit. The two partners and three staff were highly committed to hard work and endeavour. The business started on a shoestring and though the customer base expanded rapidly - attracted by competitively low prices - it was clear that a loss was being incurred.

Should they increase their prices like the retailer? On analysis it seemed that if the on-take of business continued at the same rate the business would reach "break-even point" - that is cover their costs - in a further 8 or 9 months.

But, vitally, after that point had been reached, any increase in sales would - in their case - feed additional profit almost straight to the net profit line. (They had ample capacity within the existing business costs to cope with a lot more business without the need to increase premises or staff.)

Like a lot of business plans (or most business plans?!) it looked like a case of "jam tomorrow" - but we were convinced that the odds were on the side of the clients achieving their goal.

The bank was not convinced. There were trials, tribulations and a change of bankers which held up progress by several months - but in the end the projected pattern of business - and profits - substantial profits - materialised.

There is no Magic Formula

A lot of businesses are required to quote for their work on an order by order basis. In our experience the majority of such businesses use a fixed formula to work out their prices - sometimes called "on cost" or "standard" costing.

We hate these formulas. They are the cause of more losses and more lost contracts than any other business technique (probably!).

Among the key profit factors that need to be "guessed" is the level of productivity of a business. Generally speaking the more productive it is, the more flexibility it has to be in its pricing policy. This is because, for many concerns, the basic fixed costs - such as premises and administration - do not change significantly whether the firm is busy or slack. However, the profit contribution normally varies in line with the level of activity.

Information and more information

It is vital that such businesses have immaculate financial data systems to enable a constant detailed review of costs and work projections. By constant we mean at least weekly and ideally there should be "real time" data available to track profitability of current work and modify the financial forecast.

Without this it is impossible to achieve the "double target" of:

  • pricing to get the work and

  • winning the mix of work that will produce the maximum profit

We have been retained by such businesses where a fresh approach to the whole method of costing quotations has totally reformed their profitability (even after paying our fees!).

When the price quote has been calculated using such a relatively sophisticated costing appraisal system there is still the necessity to "stand back" and consider the "value" of the work being quoted for.

Value versus Cost

An organised client computed a quote to make several hundred items for a large company.

He was thinking initially in terms of the total value of the potential contract.

However, by looking at the quote from the point of view of the "cost per item" produced, he realised this was £8.50. Knowing the use the customer was going to make of the products, he made an intelligent guess that they might well be regarded as worth £12.00 each. It turned out that on this occasion he was right and won the job - and made a "super profit". Happiness all round!

What do People Really Cost?

Finally, for those businesses that sell peoples' time, a reminder that the cost of productive time is often far more than it seems.

Guessing at the proportion of unrecoverable time and monitoring those guesses against the actual performance is essential to profit management.

The attached sheet (available at the drop of an e-mail) shows a simple example of an employee being paid £8 per hour but actually costing over £12 for each saleable hour he or she works - that is £12 before any profit at all is earned. This sort of ratio is fairly typical and often ignored. Self-employed people who sell their own time might well apply the same exercise to themselves - substituting what they regard as a reasonable target "salary".

We need a summary of all of that – read on.

In conclusion

To sum up this "fly past" of some of the practical issues of “Pricing for Profit” you might wish to work through the following check list:

  1. What are your profit targets?

  2. What are the business objectives - short and longer term?

  3. What effect would the 5% and 10% changes have on your business?

  4. Are there other ways of exploiting demand by a different pricing strategy?

  5. Do you need to be afraid of price competition - from all sources?

  6. Can your product/service be pared down? or

  7. Spruced up - with "added value"?

  8. Have you guessed the effect of a complete change in pricing structure - just to see what thoughts it inspires?

  9. Can you "test" a price increase?

  10. Should you have multi-level pricing?

  11. Are your prices too low anyway?

  12. Should you consider "buying" market share through low pricing?

  13. Is your standard pricing "formula" due for an overhaul?

  14. Do you get the financial and sales data you need for fixing prices?

  15. Do you know the real cost of the productive time of your people?

Do you need help ..........................

We have a wide experience of advising owners wishing to develop their businesses. We have developed a number of business planning models that help to predict the outcome of price variations and other key decisions.

For more details speak to Clifford Peat on 07967 180615 or email clifford.peat@informbusiness.co.uk

Pricing for Profit 3 - More stories about demand and value

 

Price and demand

Now let's look at the big "if" referred to before. Judging the effect on business volume of a price change - either up or down - is very difficult.

You will be familiar with what economists call "elasticity of demand" - which is simply "how far can you push the market on price before the demand for your product goes up or down?".

But ask yourself the question - how do you know that your present price is the "optimum" price which will produce the greatest profit from the market?

Lower sales at higher margins might produce a greater profit - or higher sales at lower prices might.

For an established business this really is one of the most interesting aspects of decision making.

Attracting by price

Market research might help to establish the reaction to a price change - but for the smaller business this is both potentially expensive and common sense suggests that the outcome may not be reliable.

For "minor" upward price changes of up to 15% we would suggest that there is a case for a "suck it and see" strategy.

Our experience shows that an objective "outsider" opinion can help overcome an understandable timidity to "upset customers".

A case in point: Before the recession a client company was doing very well and the directors were happy with the profit. During the recession they set their objective as keeping the turnover level up - and being good at their job, they achieved this. However all the costs - including the wages of a staff of 8 - had carried on going up.  The book-keeping was OK but no "accounting" was being done and the reserves of cash - which had kept them going - were suddenly exhausted. They had been making small losses over a period without realising it.

The one success was keeping the customer base - and they were very hesitant when we said that increasing their charges was the only option they had.

We eventually all agreed that the standard "man hour" charge of £14 would be increased to £16. Our view was that an average invoice to customers of about £72 included materials of about £30 and the labour increase would mean this would only increase to £78. We doubted that customers would "notice" and, given the quality of the service, would almost certainly not go elsewhere for such a small overall increase.

Finding the Break Point

You have probably already seen where this is going - even at 50% efficiency - the 8 employees were each contributing an additional £40 per week towards profit - £320 altogether - and, of course, productivity was better than 50%.

The price increase was one of a number of fine tuning changes to the business. In the event, the clients believe that they lost no customers - and the financial recovery was dramatic.

The Retailer's Story

Another example of judging whether the customer base will "stand" an increase in prices, is illustrated by the case of the retail shop in one of the MK local centres some years ago. The proprietor sold a "necessary" product, at a budget price, his shop was always busy and he worked very hard - but was only scraping a living.

To the suggestion that he might put up his prices to the level of shops in the City Centre he was adamant that this would "destroy the trade" and that his customers would go to the Centre instead of shopping locally.

We asked him just three questions -

  • Are your customers happy with what you supply? - Yes, very
  • Why do they shop with you aside from the price? - I'm convenient
  • If you were a customer would you shop in the Centre, not to save money - but to pay just the same? - No

We persuaded him to raise his prices for just a week on the basis that he could reverse the situation and limit the damage if this proved to be a mistake. Well it wasn't and he didn't have to - and enjoyed the benefits, at last, for his considerable skill and effort.

We know what it "costs" but what is it "worth"?

The little "market survey" we conducted at the outset of the presentation was designed to illustrate that for some common place purchases there is a very wide difference in price expectancy caused by differing perceptions of value.

It is worthwhile looking at one's products and services to see if there is any way that value - or perceived value - can be added to it.

Some ways of doing this include "prestige" packaging - for instance this might include an attractive and useful item such as a decorative tin or wooden box. If the perceived value can be enhanced to command a price higher than the cost of the box, then there will be profit added as well as value. The problem is to know whether the potential customers for the "unadulterated" version of the product will still buy at the higher price or whether one is replacing one customer sector with another. Marketing techniques such as developing exotic brand names can achieve similar results - everyone knows that Häagan Dazs is a made up name and for a clever psychological reason it automatically commands a higher status than "Lyon's Maid". In this specific case it is likely that the objective was to "position" the product to appeal to a particular market sector - which is probably different from and separate from the "choc ice" buyers.

Another common technique is used by the electrical goods industry which supplies "peace of mind" along with the Hi Fi - by selling product maintenance insurance. We understand that a large part of Dixons profits are derived from this.

In today's business environment it is dangerous to link the concept of "quality" with that of higher prices.

To take an example - the software producers, Intuit Inc., offer a book- keeping system called "QuickBooks". This is sold for £100 (1996) but has features that many systems costing 5 or 10 times as much do not have.

The pricing strategy has evidently been fixed to get the product into the market place at a very accessible - or irresistible price. The software company has in the past, and is likely in the future, to produce upgrades and new products. It is now well placed to achieve substantial sales to a satisfied and large user base but with relatively low marketing costs.

Is this principle one that can be applied in the case of a smaller business? Well, it requires a first class "sector beating" product or service - and it also does need skilful market research - otherwise it becomes simply a gamble.

Pricing for Profit - Stories 2

Prices and strategy

Price setting cannot be considered separately from the whole question of the business objectives.

Most commonly the broad strategic objective of a business will be the earning of a profit that is "satisfactory" to the owner, to compensate for the time, effort, risk and capital put into the venture. One person's satisfactory might be 10 where another's might be 100. Decide what YOU want to achieve.

In our experience it is clear that many people are not aware of the high levels of profit that can be achieved by businesses and set sights too low.

We would guess that most readers want to increase their net profit while maintaining business stability and sustainable growth.

The Squash Club

But consider the case of the Squash Club some years ago (during the boom) which had a waiting list of 1,200 prospective members and which was bought by some "city types".

You might think that here is an ideal case for expansion by building some additional courts and improving social facilities and thereby increasing the paying membership and ultimately profits.

The clean up

What actually happened was that they simply doubled the membership fee. A lot of members left but, with the queue waiting to join, they had no trouble in filling the "gaps". The owners then sold the club at a premium price because of the vastly increased profitability.

They had clearly focused on their main objective which was to produce a profit to enhance the value of the business so that they could realise a short term capital profit.

If you are lucky to have a high demand for your products/services then it is worth considering the alternative ways of exploiting the situation.

Another case concerned a business where the owners were coming up to retirement age. In their particular sector, businesses were valued not so much by the profit they achieved but by the number of "live accounts" they had.

In the run up to selling the company the owners fixed their prices at very competitive levels in order to increase the number of accounts even at the expense of the margin of profit. This worked and they were very satisfied with the deal they achieved.

Objectives again

So, having decided what the key business objectives are, what are the key factors which affect pricing policy?

Let's start with the Market place competition.

Depending upon what sort of business you are in, it can be difficult to establish exactly what the competition is really charging for their products and services, but generally one will have a good idea of "the going rates".

Customers (bless 'em) will generally fall back upon "price" as one of the key criteria in the purchase decision making process - even though "research" sometimes indicates that quality, service and other factors figure higher up the scale.

Well, for attracting "new" customers let's start with the assumption that the price has to appear to be "competitive".

The competition

Consider first of all whether you can offer your products or services in such a way that they cannot be directly compared with the competition.

This is a common ploy in areas such as mobile telephones and savings schemes (financial services - dread phrase).

Why be paranoid about the low prices of competitors? Your customers are not going to be perfectly informed about all the prices of the competition. And if your sums show that you cannot come down to the competitors’ price consider whether the competitor is actually a fool and working at an unsustainable loss.

Does this sound far-fetched? Look at the record of business failures in the last fifteen years in Milton Keynes alone - some of these were due to uncontrollable outside forces such as the economic recessions - but many were caused by financial ineptitude (which is a less offensive word than stupidity).

An example which might give a bit of confidence to some:

The painters brush with reality

Many years ago, a commercial painting company went to the wall just when it was half way through one of the biggest factory painting contracts it had ever landed. It transpired that this customer had accepted the company's tender price (which was way below that of the next lowest tender) knowing that it was "impossible" to do the job at that price but reckoning that if the painters got half way through the work and a new contractor had to come in, it would still be cheaper than accepting the next higher tender. And they had built in performance clauses so they would not have to pay if the job was not completed!

This may be regarded with some distaste - after all it is the cynical exploitation of the naiveté of a supplier - but there is no law against it.

So, it may be that the competitor that you cannot beat on price, may soon disappear.

Next, if you have to compete on price, look again at your products and services to see whether they can be "re-designed" to achieve cost savings.

The starting point in this exercise is to revisit the fundamental and core touchstone of all business - Defining what the customer wants.

Are there unnecessary features - cheaper materials - cheaper packaging - features that can be sold as add-ons instead of incorporated? (Blue Ocean thinking before the book was written!!)

Airlines are a good example of tailoring the basic service of "personnel transportation" so that you can fly the same distance - in much the same time and sometimes on the same plane but have a choice of whether to pay £100 or £600 for the flight - the difference in price being accounted for by often fairly minor (and psychological, about which more later) variations in service, comfort and status.

"Designing" to a price

A local law firm offers a standard tariff of services on a "you get what you pay for" basis but knowing that often one thing leads to another and a client will often choose to "buy" additional "bespoke" advice.

If this sounds as if we are straying into "marketing" territory - well of course we are. The straight jacketing of the business "disciplines" has to be thrown out of the window. For many small businesses the owner combines all the functions anyway - but when setting price levels never take the accountant's advice in isolation from a consideration of the real business environment in which you have to work.

more on Monday ....

Pricing for Profit - introduction 1

INTRODUCTION

This brief paper supplements a presentation to the BUSINESS2000 group on the subject of "Pricing for Profit"

The Business 2000 group was mainly business owners who want thoughts and ideas of practical application to themselves.

The theory of pricing can be studied in any standard economics, business or accounting text book. Our purpose here is to outline some of the practical issues as they affect the owner controlled business. We also share some of the instances where clients, over the years, have applied pricing techniques successfully.

All the illustrations have been modified sufficiently to ensure that individual client cases cannot be identified.

The underlying assumption is that business owners want to be more profitable. So here we are concerned with profit making.

It is also assumed that most readers work hard and are good at what they do. Being so close to our day to day businesses we sometimes need to stand back.

We hope that this article might provoke a fresh look at some of the fundamental issues that relate to Pricing and Profitability.

What is "PROFIT"

Profit for our purposes can be expressed as a simple equation. It is:

  • The number of products or services sold times

  • the selling price of each product/service

  • less the direct cost of each product/service

  • less the overhead costs.

In business there are many things you just cannot forecast accurately ….

and unfortunately two of them are in this equation. For most businesses the unknowns are the "number" sold and the "price" people will be prepared to pay for them.

Intuition, trial and error, observation, psychology, kidology and a little bit of maths all combine to help us come up with some "best guesses" - but that is all they are. Creative thinking - a willingness to abandon conventional wisdom - and a touch of gambling spirit are all required.

We hope to give some ideas about how to become better at "guessing" in the business context. And we will be looking at some examples where those guesses have "come off" (- and we will be ignoring any cases where they have not)!

So here goes.

Let's first have a detailed look at the influence of the selling price upon the NET PROFIT of the average business.

Using the "formula" for profit at the head of this article it is obvious that the profit will be affected by

  • Selling price

  • Volume of sales

  • Cost of production or procurement and

  • Overheads.

Prices and Profit

In almost all circumstances, an increase in selling price - if (and a big elastic "if" it is) - if it does not result in lower volume of sales - will result in the greatest relative benefit upon the final net profit.

We even have an "accountantish" table of figures to illustrate the point (If you want a copy of this please e-mail us).

Double your profit

A "typical" business might achieve a net profit of around 10% of total sales revenue.

If the selling price is increased by 10% the profit doubles!

Or triple it

If the direct costs are reduced by 10% and the overheads are reduced by 10% and the price of sales increased by 10% (without triggering any extra costs) then you end up with a net profit of more than 3 times the original figure - WOW!!

OK - just double it

If all the increases are just 5% the profit doubles - WOW again - TWICE THE PROFIT FOR ONLY 5 PERCENT!

All of which is staggeringly simplistic and unlikely to be achievable in many business situations - but the point is that it will be achievable in some.

It is worth every business owner examining their own figures to see what can be achieved.

More tomorrow:

Business/Under 13 cricket - spot the difference

Having just prepared some basic notes for the local under 13 cricket training session it struck me that so much of the guidance applies equally to business!

So I reproduce it here - what do you think?

START:

Cricket [Business] is a team game that relies on each member to do as well as he or she can.

To do well at anything requires practice.  You already know this.

It is important to build on good technique – because continually to practise bad habits makes it harder and harder to break those habits and improve.

But the game is played for FUN.  Most of us enjoy competing and the possibility of winning spurs us on to work hard and get better.

REMEMBER:  There are the important three “Cs”

Concentration.  

When batting the mind needs to be clear and focussed only on the bowler, his/her arm and run and then the ball.  The eyes have to follow the ball intently.  With training and practice the body will respond to the eyes and brain in milliseconds and do what is necessary (defending or attacking – and, yes, sometimes ducking!).
When fielding observe the way the batsmen play the ball – where they are strong and where weak.  On every ball you must expect to be involved – and if 39 balls are bowled without it coming your way - you must still be alert for the 40th.
The bowler needs to focus on line and length.  He/she also needs to observe the batsmen and decide how to break through their defences.  The bowler is also responsible with the captain, for setting the field.

Control.

Physical strength and fitness helps the brain make the body do what you want it to do – consistently.
Practice makes many of the cricket reactions and responses more or less instinctive – it will seem as if you don’t have to “think” what to do – you just “know” what to do.
Being tense or thinking about other worrying things reduces our ability – a state of alert, controlled relaxation is what we aim for.

Confidence.

Everyone can improve their skills.  That’s a fact.  On the “bad days” (which we all have) just remember that.
The nets and other training is the place to try new things – making mistakes and learning from them is GOOD.

And EVERYONE in the team counts!  Australia have just beaten England in a one day match because the Oz number 9 batsman knocked up a quick 60! 

So everyone should learn to bat AND bowl AND field as well as they can.  Every team has its “stars” but during a game EVERYONE needs to do their best.  For the team and for themselves.

Ask “why” AND “how” whenever you are unsure of what you have to do to improve – or the purpose of a training exercise.

END

Start-up reading list to go with the Business Model Canvas videos

Are you thinking of starting a business or changing your existing business?

Can I suggest you invest time in watching Strategyzer's new set of 6 short videos -

"From Idea to Business - Animated Series" (link at end of this blog)

These are animations with a sensible story line and well written narrative.

The narrative clarifies how the Business Model Canvas (BMC) can be used.

It's a framework for modelling your proposed business

Not as a static statement:  but as a dynamic developing hypothesis

The BMC is updated when the business "guesses" are tested, validated or revised

And here is the spoiler - the final model produces a successful and scaleable business.

The audience cheer and you may feel a burst of optimism.

(If you don't like happy endings I'm sorry!! but just get over it.)

To fully understand the principles referred to in the videos you need to read these books (at least)

  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  • Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur 
  • Four Steps to the Epiphany (Customer development) by Steve Blank

All of them are very readable and tell stories of "real" businesses.

The Amazon links are in the sidebar on this page - or simply search Google

If you want to discuss any aspect of Business Modelling just call me

(UK) 07967 180615 

Cliff Peat FCA

Link to the Videos:  http://bit.ly/GOU9YZ

What do we want our logo to achieve?

Effective and positive recognition by:

  1. target-market decision makers and
  2. their support staff
  3. potential future employees
  4. potential future commercial partners

Factors to consider if this recognition is to be achieved

  1. The colour(s) should be distinctive
  2. Multiple colours should contrast and be memorable
  3. The shape should be distinctive and simple
  4. The shape should be memorable
  5. The logo should be as recognisable in black and white tones as in full colour
  6. The logo should reflect the qualities and standards of the product and services the business sells.
  7. It must be versatile.  All instances where the logo would be used in a business should be considered and it should “work” without major change for all of these.  Which might include:
  • Emails
  • Print – gloss or matt
  • Letter heading
  • Photocopies in b&w
  • Business cards
  • Web
  • Brochures
  • Posters
  • Signage
  • Exhibition stands
  • Uniforms
  • Cuff links etc. etc.

A factor that is (almost) irrelevant -  Whether it is “liked”

How to achieve a suitable logo:

Route A:

  1. Choose an experienced logo designer
  2. If a designer starts talking about a logo “inspiring trust, recognition and admiration” say you are paying only for one of those or get a new designer (The logo doesn’t inspire trust or admiration – it’s our work that does that!)
  3. Brief designer on the objectives and the nature of the business and its target customers (and influencers)
  4. Make clear that effectiveness is the key criterion to choice (based on factors above – inter alia)
  5. Review drafts and select not more than 3 possible choices. 
  6. Have these printed in random alignment to each other and in different sizes on sheets of A3 or larger paper. 
  7. Distribute these “pages” around the offices to blue tack onto walls and doors.
  8. Ask everyone to simply “notice” in passing
  9. At end of 4 or 5 days remove the pages.
  10. 2 or 3 days later randomly ask 3 people into a room and ask them each to choose and draw one of the logos from memory – adding any information such as colours etc. by text.
  11. Make a decision

Route B:

  1. Use an online logo design competition service such as http://99designs.co.uk/
  2. When final choices are made use an A/B testing service such as http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/
  3. Copy the instructions at http://www.startupbros.com/how-to-get-the-perfect-logo-designed/

 

 

Clifford Peat

Inform Business Services Ltd

07967 180615

Clifford.peat@informbusiness.co.uk

 

20 September 2013

An entrepreneur's short story - and some questions for you, dear reader.

Some time ago you set up a new business.

It was exciting, sometimes frightening but you learned new things, got customers, took on staff and started making some money.

You had invested in it.  Long hours and money and guarantees.

Your family had invested in it.  Their support and putting up with not seeing much of you.

But then things started to go wrong.  Was it one day or did it creep up on you? 

Why did you lose that important customer?  The cash position was under pressure - staff were letting you down and things at home were showing the strain.

So you worked harder, took risks, swallowed your pride. But to no avail. Things got worse, not better. You lost confidence and with it inspiration and finally, motivation.

That was the story to the point that you contacted [adviser/mentor/name etc.]

And [he, she or name] shook your hand, looked you in the eye, smiled and said - "now let's write the next chapter together".

OK - so this is the working-up of a website "pitch".  Aimed at stagnant, moribund or ailing businesses.  Offering support to business owners who need re-energising. (And with details of skills and credentials on the website)

The "story" is structured in the way suggested by Emma Coats who was a story editor with Pixar and worked on Toy Story. Daniel Pink in "It's Human to Sell" included the idea as one of six ways to pitch for business.

Did you read the story?

Did it resonate with reality? 

Do you think it might stimulate the "call to action" - i.e. of the target business owners emailing or phoning the advisor?

FREE! - Business Modelling Course Notes

Interested in the practicalities of effectively modelling a new business venture?

If you click on the IBS logo (below), a new pop up screen will show a pdf version of the short workshop course notes.   This is an introduction to using the Osterwalder/Pigneur approach to defining and validating a business model.  Feel free to download and share.

 

 

Please feedback any thoughts and comments. 

Why business modelling is vital

Opportunities are parallel

Our lives are linear

Deciding on how we spend our finite time is crucial

Modelling assesses business opportunities and matches resource

Better decisions are made

And we move towards being effective.

Vital and priceless.

Key resources - you may have more than you think!

There are physical resources - things that can be seen and are reflected on the balance sheet.

Then there are the “invisible” resources

What you know

What you have done

What your people know and have done (go back to their CVs and surprise yourself!)

The time the business has existed

The fact of being known

The attention that you can command from customer, partners, suppliers and those whose paths you have crossed

The invisibles are what make a business. . The “Value Propositions” reflect them

The value of these resources depends on how they are used

And deciding upon that requires analysis, creativity and hard work
 

Business Modelling?

Why a “model” comes before a “plan”

A Model examines what a business does – or might do.   A Plan shows how that model will be executed.

A Business Model is normally the creation or project of more than one person – so it needs to be easily communicated. It also needs to look at the whole of the business.

The process of modelling lends itself to (or some would say requires) creativity – to identify opportunities and match with the required resources. 

Planning includes the detailed evaluation of the Model and devising a method for how it will be monitored and adjusted in the light of future events.

The evaluation starts in terms of process and resource which leads to evaluation in terms of money.

A Model is strategic and should be subjected to regular review.

The plan spells out the tactics. Who is going to do what - using which resources. The costs and income and required financial backing are estimated. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are identified and quantified. Then the plan is measured and monitored against them.

  1. Model the business. The Business Model Canvas is an excellent tool for this. Test and validate the model as far as you can.
  2. Plan the execution. This process may call into question assumptions used in the model. If so go back and change the model.
  3. Execute, measure, revise plans (and model if necessary).

 An ambitious start up looking for venture capital funding would do well to begin any presentation with a well thought out model.  A model that the entrepreneur(s) can explain and validate with confidence.  That is what the proposed business will be judged on first of all.  

If the Model makes sense then the Business Plan and the rest follows (and will be read).

The Business Model Canvas is the subject of the upcoming seminar/workshops in November.  More details here.

Checking the heartbeat of your business!

Without a "Value Proposition" there is no business

The Value Proposition could be called “What you sell” – but, as we shall see, it is more than that.

Defining your present “value proposition” (VP) can be more challenging and ultimately rewarding than it seems at first.

Let’s start with some clarification:

A VP is likely to achieve one or more of:

a) Solving a problem or difficulty
b) Fulfilling a need
c) Fulfilling a want or desire

These objectives need to be reviewed in respect of each VP.

Let’s apply this. The seminar workshops (see "events") get a number of minds on the process which is much better than just one. But what follows is to show you the process.

We will review a simple “chimney sweep” business that wants to grow and be profitable. (One probably regarded as a declining sector in this age of fewer domestic open fires). 

In “real life” research of customers, competitors and all the other Business Modelling aspects would be researched before this exercise is started. So bear in mind that these are one person’s first thoughts:

Let’s identify:

The Problem that’s solved

1. Removing soot from chimney
2. Improving efficiency of fire
3. Improving safety with reduced risk of chimney fire
4. Other?

The need

(At some point) efficiency and risk become critical. The householder may not realise that ”need” at the point when efficiency is reduced and/or risk increased.

Want

Householder wants efficiency and reduced risk and may think this can be achieved by simply by regular “sweeping” (i.e. on a “hit and miss” basis).

The context

As we are providing a “service” let us also consider why the customer has a fire that requires our services. It probably is for the heat and the comfort that brings, along with the ambience – and, perhaps less importantly (though it is necessary to find out), for the decorative “look” of the room(s)

At this point it is important to restate that an owner would conduct this exercise with a greater knowledge of his/her “real” business – though they would almost certainly benefit from the input of others in the next part of the exercise.

Deeper analysis

If we drill down into the essence of what is – or could – comprise the “value” of the VP we find:

1. The “sweep” knows how to measure the risk and determine when a chimney needs cleaning
2. He/she also knows how to measure the efficiency loss relating to the chimney state (and also, probably, the state of the fire mechanisms)
3. He/she knows how the fires (or many of them) operate
4. He/she knows all about different chimneys and flues
5. He/she knows about different fuels and their effect on cost, efficiency, fire risk and possibly health.
6. And, of course, he/she knows how to clean the chimney effectively and with minimum disruption or mess.

After the first “sweep”

7. he/she has the valuable knowledge of the particular chimney/fire – the problems, the potentials and the customer.

Possible changes to be evaluated

Now that we have dissected the elements of the service from the business’s point of view - how might the VP be changed or re-focussed (for the better) in the future?

A. Offer an “efficiency and risk” assessment service to new and existing clients – stressing that this might avoid unnecessary “sweeps”. This might be “free” or at a fee that is set off against next sweep service. Customer gains peace of mind and appreciates the expertise at his/her disposal
B. Maintain a service record with photos and description of any relevant issues so that any other member of the business workforce can carry out operations effectively. (Also potential for future franchising?)
C. Analyse soot and advise on efficient and effective fuels
D. Become agent/introducer for fire upgrades
E. Become an agent for fuel providers

All of this is just a “mind exercise” until it involves the business owner AND other commercially aware advisers/supporters.

Possible outcomes:

1. Change the perception of the customer to the business
2. Increased contact with the customer
3. Thought of by customer as a source of information and supplies for anything to do with fires
4. Improved relationship likely to lead to personal recommendation

Summary

So, that is an example of one approach to a review of the VP of a simple service business. Your business may be much more complex but the same process – with informed and impartial additional input – is almost certain to reveal additional opportunities for you.

Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas system of business review comprises 9 related segments and though the Value Proposition is very important, the changes will impact on the other segments which need review in their turn.

The next 10 minute blog will look at “Customer Segments”
 

Thoughts from the barber's chair (Value Propositions)

I was thinking about what “Value Proposition” really means.

Whilst having my hair cut.

Is VP-  “what someone pays me for”?

No it is more than that.

It requires harder thinking.

Do I just want shorter hair on my head or is there more to it than that?

And thinking of business development – “could there be something more"?

I want the comfort of no hair in my eyes when walking on a winding day.

I want short hair so that showering is quicker.

I have a self-image that I want to restore – or, more personally, I want others to see me as that image.

There are utility factors at play here – but also vanity and social factors.Then there is the whole experience – the “barber experience” for good or bad.

Just a few thoughts then:

  1.  Why am I satisfied with looking at the mirror image of myself when that is what no-one (but me) sees?
  2.  Is it pride, vanity or want of confidence that makes me want to “look OK”? If so, then should the barber be offering other services and goods that support that desire/need?
  3. Is his “domain” just the top of the head or should services and goods target the whole head/face (or more!)
  4. He has my attention. For 20 minutes the customer (me) is a captive – sitting in one place looking at a small area in front of me which as well as containing a mirror could show objects or images of objects that I might buy.

I need a comb –or two or three so that I can lose and find them easily in normal life. I keep thinking I should get a new brush too. I buy cheap shampoo from the pharmacy or Tesco but would happily “stock up” after a haircut. Facial treatments, soaps, shaver, razor, hair dye (!) zit cream, sun block and how many other “head related” things - might interest me? Face lift - plastic surgery?

And a further thought – there are people waiting in the shop.

Would seeing me buy things influence them?

Would theirs encourage me to think of buying something? I think so (probably).

Finally, would price levels of the “add-on services and goods” be critical to the buying decision. I think “probably not”. If quality specialist brands are offered, the location can add the authority of “specialisation” and (perhaps, again) premium margins might be sustainable.

But our conversation didn’t stray much away from football and holidays and weather.

Not a significant part of the “value proposition” for me.

So you may have to - no - you do have to ask your customers what they think your Value Proposition is - and continue the conversation to winkle out what it could be.

Then change your business for the better.
 

Virtual Exhibitions

Newdate2Working on reviving an idea that was shelved in 2010 and now really counts as a start-up.

Various options going forward but will need good quality web build, web design and general design skills together with marketing strategy and implementation.

A functional website has been written but needs considerable presentational  improvement.

The business model is being reviewed using Strategyzer and some numbers have been put on an outline business plan  - assumptions all need testing.  Trello will be used for managing the project.

Lots to do but this may "have legs".

Lean development and iterations once MVP (minimum viable product) is ready.

Upates here as we progress.

Business development

If you are the owner of a business you may agree that there are four particular "states" where development planning is critical:

  • Start up
  • Ambitious growth
  • Stagnant or worse (survival mode)
  • Disposal and exit

Inform Business (IB) is here to work with owners in the review process and implementation of plans; to help drive businesses forwards to define and achieve realisable goals.

Each of these "states" requires its own approach.

We use a robust theoretical framework to understand any business "in the round". Rather than examining (or creating) a "Business Plan" we first of all look at the main nine aspects of the business and create the first version of the Business Model.

The model is a drawn representation of the Business as we understand it from our initial review. This is then the basis for further in-depth review with the business owner and key members of their team. For the review the 9 building blocks are literally drawn on a white board with the discovered data/information added.

The advantages of this approach are that it is highly visible - the inter-connections between the nine business aspects can easily be drawn in - it is rigorous and lends itself to cooperative review in whole or part.

The aspects are:

  1. The Value Propositions - or what you sell.
  2. The channels to your markets
  3. Your customers - markets and segments
  4. Your customer relationships
  5. The key activities undertaken to product the "Value Propositions"
  6. The key resources of the business
  7. The key supply side partnerships with external parties such as suppliers, contractors etc.
  8. The cost structure
  9. The revenue streams

The building blocks build up into a template - a picture of the business as it is.

Then the whole Model then requires critical collaborative review to identify opportunity, possibility, waste, profit and potential changes.

Until this exercise is done any partial review is likely to overlook the impact of the relationships between these building blocks that make up the business.

This Business Model approach and the "canvas" has been developed by Alex Osterwalder and others and we have used it in a number of different business environments.  For more information please contact us on 07967 180615

The short introductory videos below give a flavour of how this approach is used in practice: