If you’re super busy and you’re using hand-written forms or checklists, but you have a smartphone, pad, or laptop, I’m going to show you how to create an easy online replacement for those paper forms. As an example, let’s say that you own a golf cart maintenance company that uses paper carbon forms to record all the information for service and maintenance done on each cart you service. I actually just created this type of online form for one of my customers and it took less than 60 minutes to create, test, and send them the links.
I’m going to show you how to create the online form using Google Forms. It’s free if you have a Google account, and you have a Google account if you use Gmail. Even if you don’t use Gmail for your business, it’s totally worth it to get a free Google account just to gain access to all the great free features. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Google sales person, there are lots of other ways to put your paper forms online…just very few that are totally free and this easy.
Once you’ve logged into Google, you want to select the square matrix in the upper right corner. This gives you a drop-down list of all the Google apps. Then select “Drive”. This will bring you to your “My Drive” where you’ll store all your files. If you haven’t used Google Drive before this will be blank. If you have used Google Drive, then you can skip ahead.
To create a new “form”, select the “NEW” button in the upper left corner. This will give you a drop-down list of the styles of documents available for creation. To get to “Forms” select “More” and select “Google Forms” at the top of the next drop-down list. This will open a new Google Form for you to work on.
First, let’s select a background color scheme by selecting the color palette in the upper right-hand corner. Let’s change the color scheme to blue. You can also select a photo or picture from Google’s library or download one from your computer. Let’s select the sailboat picture. Your form is looking better already.
The form has two pages: “Questions” and “Responses”. The “Questions” are where you put in all the information that you want on your form. We’ll discuss “Responses” later.
You want to name your form. Select “Untitled form” and type in the name you want. This will rename the file also. You can also type in a form description below the title if you would like. If you leave it blank, it will not show up in the final form.
Next, let’s create the body of the form. Enter the title of first information you want filled in by selecting “Untitled Question”. You can always go back and change any of the pieces of the form later. To the right, select the drop-down list to change the type of answer you want filled out. Let’s use “Short Answer” for this question. Let’s go back and change “Customer Information” to “Customer Name”.
On the bottom right corner of each “question”, you’ll see “Required” with an on/off switch. If you want the person filling out the form to be required to fill in that particular question, turn the switch on (to the right). Next to “Required” is three vertical dots indicating a drop-down list. Selecting the drop-down list gives you the choices of “Hint text” and “Data validation”. Hint text is the text below the Title of the Question that instructs the person how to answer. “Data validation” is used if you require a specific type of answer such as an email, a phone number, or a text answer of a certain length. You can see that the choices for each drop-down list are descriptive by just moving your cursor over each. If you decide you don’t want either, just go back to the three vertical dots drop-down list and un-check what you don’t want.
To the far right of the form, you see a vertical list of symbols. The “plus” button is to add additional questions. The “Tt” button is to add additional an Title and Description. The “photo” button allows you to add pictures and photos from your library or computer. The “play” button allows you to add videos from your library or computer. And the “equals sign” button allows you to add a new section which shows up in the form as a new page.
Now let’s add a new Title and Description called “Section 1 – Quarterly Maintenance Requirements” and a description. Then, let’s add another question and call it “Quarterly Maintenance Checklist”. Let’s make this a checklist and type in all the tasks that are potentially required for the checklist. Pardon my typing. Now let’s add a comment or notes question at the bottom.
Reviewing your form creation, you just realized that you need more customer information at the top. So let’s go back to the top and add questions for Service Date, Reason for Service, Address, and Golf Cart Identification. You can see how you can move back and forth in the form to add questions and sections where you need them.
Again after reviewing your form, you realize that it would be clearer to have the customer information in one section and the checklist in another section. So let’s make the checklist in a different section. You see that all you have to do to delete a question or section is to select that area and then select the “trashcan”.
Now let’s make a couple more sections. These easiest way is to select the three vertical dots drop-down list and select “duplicate section”. Then just change whatever you want to in the new section. By now, I think you’re getting the hang of it. It’s really easy.
Now let’s look at the “Responses” page of the form. Click on “Responses”. On the right side there is a three vertical dot drop-down list. This offers choices of where to save your responses. If you select “Select response destination” you can choose to have a Google Sheet created automatically to keep all the responses for you with the same name you gave the form. This is recommended and the easiest. Or you can save your responses to an existing spreadsheet if you already set one up.
On the right below the drop-down list is a switch called “Accepting responses”. If this is one, the form can be filled out and the responses recorded. If you switch this off, when someone tries to fill out the form they get a notification stating that the form is no longer accepting responses. This is a good feature to have to be able to notify people who may not be using the latest form, or if you are using the form for time sensitive responses.
If you would like to see a preview of what your form looks like as you’re working on it, click the “eye” in the upper right corner of the form. This opens a preview of the form in a new tab in your browser. You can even test it by entering information and working your way through the form. You can see that if the person filling out the form does not enter information in the “required” questions, they will receive an error message and will not be allowed to continue through to the next section.
When you’re done with all the sections, just click “SUBMIT” at the bottom and all your responses will be saved in the spreadsheet your created. In addition, a link will be provided to fill out the form again. This is useful in situations like this example, however, if you want to you can turn this off.
If you switch back to the tab with the form, you will see on the “Responses” tab, a general summary of the answers that you have received. For a more detailed look at the answers, go back to your “My Drive” and select the Google Sheet with the same name as your form. This spreadsheet provides a time-stamp showing when the person filled out the form, and all the responses to all the questions.
To provide a person with the link to be able to fill out the form, just right click on the form file name, and select “Get link” from the drop-down list. A popup will show the link and you can just copy and paste it into an email, text, or other document, or social media, or website.
That’s all there is to it.
Mahalo and much success,
The short answer is…really, really important. All businesses have a culture, whether you recognize it or not. And that culture reflects on everything from how your employees treat each other to how they treat your customers to how you treat them. A strong, positive, healthy culture can improve your company’s reputation, productivity, quality, employee and customer retention. While a negative, in-congruent, unhealthy culture can lead to your company’s eventual demise.
Culture in business can be defined in many ways. However, Josh Bersin’s definition seems the most succinct “culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization”. This basically means that everything that goes on in your company and between your company and your customers and vendors defines your company’s culture, and in essence makes up part of your brand. It’s what people “feel” when they interact with your company. Which supports the answer to the question about how very important culture is for your company.
Unfortunately, if you think you may have a culture that is not helping your brand or meshing with your mission or values, you need to work to change it. And changing a company’s culture is no small task. The first step is understanding and defining your company’s culture so you know where you stand, and how much work you have in front of you.
We offer a free cultural assessment to help you do just that here.
Once you have a grasp on what your culture looks like, you can take steps to begin to transform that culture into one that matches your goals, mission, and values. And in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced business environment, even small companies need to understand that “it’s not about who’s bigger, better, brighter, or faster; it’s about who is empowered to leverage the power of culture to optimize an organization’s bottom line” (Denise Pirrotti Hummel, Oracle). In other words, you need to care about your culture, and take care to groom your culture to keep your company competitive, locally or globally.
Mahalo and much success,
Bersin, J. (2015, March 13). Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2015/03/13/culture-why-its-the-hottest-topic-in-business-today/
Groth, A. (2013, January 22). Workplace Culture Is More Important Than Anything Else. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/workplace-culture-is-important-2013-1
Hummel, D. P. (2012, May). Understanding the Importance of Culture in Global Business. Retrieved from Oracle.com: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/profit/archives/opinion/050312-dhummel-1614961.html
Luanne Kelchner, Demand Media. (2015). Importance of a Healthy Corporate Culture. Retrieved from SmallBusiness.Chron.com: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-healthy-corporate-culture-20899.html
Morgan, J. (2015, January 23). The Importance of Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/01/23/the-importance-of-corporate-culture/
Vaishnavi, V. (2012, September 26). The Importance Of Maintaining Company Culture As Your Business Scales. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickvaishnavi/2013/09/26/maintaining-company-culture-as-the-business-scales/
Happy Holidays to all…
…no matter what holidays you celebrate…Lynn, Bob, Niele, Koa, and Seppe wish you all the happiest holidays and most successful New Year ever!
Mele Kalikimaka & Hau’oli Makahikihou!
Lynn, Bob, Niele, Koa, Seppe
If you’re wondering why you need a budget for your business and how to create one, you’ve come to the right place. A budget is s roadmap that guides the future of your business revenues, expenses, and profits. Without a budget, it would be like driving a car knowing where you want to go but not knowing how to get there and not having any gauges to tell you how fast you were going.
A business budget is essential for planning how to reach your goals, understanding your potential, and measuring your success. A budget can not only help you keep your expenses on track, but also help monitor your expected versus actual revenues.
A balanced budget is when revenues equal expenses, which equals zero profits but also zero losses. When revenues exceed expenses this is known as a surplus or profits. When expenses exceed revenues this is known as a deficit or losses. As business owners, we always want to aim for a surplus or profits, but sometimes, especially if you’re just starting out, you will have losses and you’ll have to manage them effectively to move to profitability.
To create a budget, you can start by using your income and expense reports from your current and previous years. You will also need to do some research into your market and the overall economy to do some estimates which is called forecasting. You should look at what competitors are offering and compare pricing and value, as well as potential market demand and conditions to determine future sales and sales volumes. Make sure you take into account any pending contracts or proposals as well as any plans you may have for changes or increases in your business. You will need to estimate or forecast both revenues and expenses preferably for one year.
Next you will want to use an online template or spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. It’s super easy to find ready-made templates online and just edit them to meet your needs. You can also create your budget on paper, but with all the free technology available, it’s so much faster to just use it. When you create your spreadsheet, make sure you leave at least one blank column next to the column where you put your estimates, so you can go back and review your budget against your actuals and record them to show your progress towards your goals.
When you fill in your spreadsheet and do your forecasting, you should estimate your profit margin first.
Target Profit Margin = Forecast Revenues – Forecast Expenses
You may have developed individual profit margins when you developed your products and services, however this target profit margin will be used to help you forecast your revenues and expenses for the year’s budget. You can then use your budget to refine the expected individual profit margins on your products and services, and adjust as needed. For example, if you determine that you need to have a target profit margin of 40%, and you have done your research and have forecast that your expected total revenues will be $50,000 for January, then you can compare this to your expected total expenses for January and see if that is realistic.
To determine your expected expenses, you need to consider your fixed costs, variable costs, and semi-variable costs.
Fixed costs = these are costs that do not vary as your sales and sales volume increase or decrease such as rent, insurance, and property taxes.
Variable costs = these are costs that vary directly with you sales and sales volume such as raw material and inventory.
Semi-variable costs = these are costs that may vary with your sales or sales volume such as employee related costs, fuel, utilities, internet, and phone.
Once you have all your expected revenues and expenses (costs) listed, then you will total all the expenses and subtract them from the totaled revenues…just like for your income and expense report.
Forecast Profit (or Loss) = Forecast Revenues – Forecast Expenses
Your Forecast Profit should be equal to your Target Profit Margin. If your Forecast Profit is less than your Target Profit Margin, you will either need to re-evaluate your forecast revenues or expenses, or both. You want to make sure you have a fairly realistic forecast, especially for your expenses. Your budget will be your dynamic tool for gauging your control over your expenses as well as meeting your expected revenue. It’s best to review your budget against your actuals monthly and make course corrections that create a positive impact towards meeting your goals.
Mahalo and much success,
Beesley, C. (2013, June 3). How to Build and Use a Business Budget That’s Useful All Year Long. Retrieved from SBA.com: https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-build-and-use-business-budget-thats-useful-all-year-long
Benoit, J. (2009, May 14). How to Create a Simple Budget. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/201670
How to Create a Business Budget. (2015). Retrieved from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Business-Budget
How to Start a Busniess Budget. (2015). Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/encyclopedia/businessbudget.html
There is saying by Yogi Berra, famous baseball legend, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. This is so true in life and in business. And no business owner wants to end up in the “Cemetery of Failed Businesses” (Alan Hall, Forbes). Personally, I’ve started businesses without goals and planning and with goals and planning. Which do you think was more successful? But it’s not too late if you never thought about your goals for your business. Or if you never developed a plan to reach your goals. So let’s start now. Here some suggestions that you might find useful.
- Talk to Your Customers
You most likely have a relationship with your customers already, and if you don’t now’s a great time to start one. Your customers will likely be willing to tell you what they like, don’t like, and what they want to see in the future. This is also a good time to discuss innovations, technology, products, services, pricing, delivery, warrantees, and customer experience with your customers. Communication is a great tool to obtain information to help shape your goals for your business.
- Define Your Goals Using Specific Details
Once you’ve brainstormed what is important to you, what you value, and what your priorities are personally and for your business, make notes on which things motivate you the most. Then develop these ideas and thoughts into goals. One of the most effective methods to develop goals is to use the “SMART” system.
SMART system is defined as:
Specific: use clear, concise, and exact terminology to describe each goal. The more specific the better. Define who, what, when, where, why, and how for each goal.
Measurable: define exact, tangible criteria that can be measured for each goal. You will need to be able to measure your progress effectively, so the better you define the conditions that describe success, the easier it know that you have succeeded each step of the way.
Attainable: you will want to breakdown the goal into smaller steps to that are easier to accomplish and measure for completion. It’s a good idea to make sure you word each step in the process of goal attainment in a positive manner to encourage motivation.
Realistic: your goals and steps need to be realistic. In other words, make sure the goal and each step is something that you can actually accomplish. For example, if you set a goal of increasing your sales by 50% in 3 years, you can realistically take steps to reach this goal. However, if you set a goal of selling your company for $10 million and retiring in 6 months, even if you plan carefully, this is an unrealistic goal (unless you can invent an amazing technology that just happens to fulfill an immediate need in society and creates disruptive change).
Timely: you want to assign a time line to your goal that is not only a reasonable and attainable timeframe, but also one that pushes you a bit to create a sense of urgency so you don’t get complacent and unmotivated.
It’s also good to split your goals into strategic and financial goals. Sometimes these may overlap, but start out by separating them. Strategic goals are related to your markets, customers, competitors, products, services, employees, resources, and processes. Financial goals are related to your revenues, margins, expenses, profits, and industry financial ratios.
- Include Your Employees, Partners, and Managers
I highly recommend that you involve your employees, partners, and managers in goal development. You can start them off with your vision for the company and some ideas for direction, and then let them be involved in determining the company’s goals and the steps to reach those goals. Including your people will also develop a sense of ownership and accountability which will help you and your employees, partners, and managers communicate expectations and assignments to reach the goals.
- Develop Both Long- and Short-term Goals
It’s best to determine your long-term (5-10 years) goals first. Then, with these long-term goals as a framework, develop your medium- and short-term goals (3-5 years and 1-3 years, respectively). Use your short-term goals to develop your plan of attack for prioritizing and accomplishing each of your goals.
- Develop a Plan “B”
It’s always best to have a contingency plan. This means that you have a backup plan in case things happen that are out of your control, such as a downturn in the economy, or a natural disaster, or an unexpected illness. Sometimes you can plan for certain “unexpected” occurrences. For example, in Hawaii, it’s always good to plan for the “unexpected” tidal wave or hurricane by making sure you have insurance, provisions, and a backup generator among other things. This is true for your business as well. You want to plan for an “unexpected” event such as a new technology that makes your product obsolete, and brings an unexpected drop in sales.
- Be the EDITOR© of Your Plan
As we describe in our video and website, use our EDITOR system to evaluate, develop, implement, test, observe, and repeat to assist you in your goal creation and completion. It’s a straightforward method to evaluate the state of your business, and where you want it to be, develop yours goals and your plans to achieve those goals, and follow through in completing your goals by implementing your plan, testing it, observing and measuring your results, and repeating and reassessing.
Mahalo and much success,
Bos, P. V. (2010, June 29). How to Set Business Goals. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/06/setting-business-goals.html
Creating SMART Goals. (2015). Retrieved from TopAchievement: http://topachievement.com/smart.html
Hall, A. (2012, December 8). 6 Steps to Insanely Successful Business Goals for 2013. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanhall/2012/12/08/6-steps-to-insanely-successful-business-goals-for-2013/
How to Set Realistic Goals. (2015). Retrieved from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Set-Realistic-Goals
The Mind Tools Editorial Team. (2015). Golden Rules of Goal Setting. Retrieved from MindTools: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_90.htm
As a small business owner, I’ve run across instances where I needed a proposal and where an estimate would work. What’s the difference? Simply stated, an estimate provides the product or service and its cost including any labor, taxes, or other fees. You normally provide an estimate for a customer or potential customer that has asked to know how much it would cost for your product or service. On the other hand, a proposal is more of a sales document – an estimate on steroids to convince the potential customer that you have the right solution to meet their needs.
While you can easily come up with an estimate, a proposal requires a bit more effort to succeed. Sometimes potential clients will submit a “Request for Proposal” which is an official document requesting businesses to “bid” on solutions to their problem. But many times, a potential customer may simply request a proposal from you and you might not even know they have asked other businesses for the same thing.
Since a proposal needs to convince the potential customer that your solution is the one to solve their problem, you need to plan your proposal by following the steps outlined below. Even if your proposal is only a couple pages, following the basic plan and doing your research may make the difference between getting the job and losing to the competition.
- Carefully study the requirements or the customer’s “issue”
It’s critical to clearly understand your customer’s “issue” and what’s important to your customer. In evaluating the issue, also make it a point to understand the underlying causes of the issue or problem and if any other solutions have been tried before. Did these solutions work or fail? Why did the issue arise again? Is there a cause that is being overlooked? Is there an attribute that this customer is looking for that other companies aren’t understanding?
- Research and understand the customer
To be able to ensure that your solution not only solves the problem at hand, but satisfies the customer’s needs and wants, you will have to find out more about your potential customer. Is cost most important to the customer? Or is quality or a warranty more important? Or is customer service the most important? Researching these customer needs may take some investigation such as asking other companies that may have worked for this customer previously in another industry. You can also ask the customer or their employees’ questions that will help you develop an understanding of the customer.
- Develop your approach
You know how to solve the problem, but you need to sculpt your solution to meet the expectations that you researched in 1 and 2 above. Use the information you identified to develop the wording, pricing, and scheduling for your definition of the problem and discussion of the solution.
- Evaluate your solution
Test drive your solution against steps 1, 2, and 3 above and make sure you are the solution the customer is looking for based on your findings. If there is any doubt, re-evaluate your approach and fine tune your solution.
- Know your competition
Make sure you research your competition. Even if you don’t know if other businesses will be submitting proposals, it’s best to see if any other companies have solutions and how yours compares. If you find that the competition offers a better value to the customer, evaluate if your solution offers more value, or if you can adjust your solution to provide more value.
- Write it
Your proposal should include an executive summary which includes: a) a summary of the basic issue(s); b) a succinct description of the proposed solution; c) the expected results including the goal, the expected outcome, the solution overview, and a call to action (to choose you). In the body of the proposal you will expand upon these sections and provide facts and proof why your solution works and why it is the best choice for this customer.
- Edit it
Ruthlessly edit your proposal. Even if you have to ask a friend or employee to assist you. It’s amazing how much power a misspelled word or improper grammar can have on a customer’s decision even if your solution is superior to the competition.
The method of submittal for your proposal is normally described in the “Request for Proposal” (RFP). However, if there was no RFP, use your research regarding the customer to determine the most effective way to submit your proposal. This additional touch will help show that you understand your customer and what they are looking for.
Mahalo and much success,
Clayton, S. (1996, January 31). 7 Steps To A Winning Business Proposal. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/21834
How to Write a Proposal. (2015). Retrieved from wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Proposal
James, G. (2014, February 26). How to Write a Winning Proposal. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-write-a-winning-proposal.html
Turak, A. (2013, February 18). How to Write a Plan or Proposal That Rocks. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/augustturak/2013/02/18/how-to-write-a-plan-or-proposal-that-rocks/
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we all know this is very difficult. No matter whether you’re working full-time and running a business or running a business full-time and juggling a family and friends, managing your time so you meet all your business and personal goals and objectives is one of the most difficult things you’ll face.
When I was running my dressage training business, I was also working full-time as an engineer for an aerospace company. My idea of time management was to focus on my engineering career for 50-60 hours per week, and use all my other time to run my training business. After 16 years of that kind of stress, I was beyond burned out…and didn’t even know how much fun a “vacation” could be.
No matter what you’re situation, I highly recommend using the following tips to manage your time effectively so at the very least you don’t burn out, and at the very best you employ a balance that will increase your creativity, effectiveness, and accomplish your goals while enjoying life as much as possible.
- Define what is truly important, what are your goals, and what makes you happy
Understanding what is important to you and knowing your goals for your business and personal life will help you focus on where to spend your time. Clearly define what makes you happy, and what doesn’t. Work up an initial plan to prioritize your goals and define work times and personal times in a schedule. Make sure you schedule in time for things that make you happy even if it’s just 10-15 minutes a day.
- Understand yourself and your patterns
Take the time to really understand your patterns and how you work best. If you’re an early riser and do your best work in the morning after a good workout and light breakfast, then schedule your most challenging tasks for that time. It’s also a good idea to put a little stress on yourself by not being too generous with deadlines. If you are the opposite type of person, and everything is urgent, try using a system that allows you to prioritize tasks and allow yourself more than ample time to complete them. You will develop a better sense of accomplishment and completion which will lead to more positive planning and an increased ability to push tasks out of the “fire” and in line with your goals.
- Delegate when possible
If you’re have employees or a virtual assistant, delegate. If you give the right work to the right people, you will allow yourself time for the tasks that only you can do. You really don’t want to do it all yourself if you have options and can delegate some of it. This is true for business and personal life. For example, if you can afford to pay to get your car washed, do it. You can use that time for something that is much higher on your priority list.
- Manage your environment
This is critical. I’m so guilty of not effectively managing my environment I could be the poster child for this. I’ll have my priority list for the day, go to my office and start working and then start playing with the dogs, put the laundry in the washer, take out the vacuum, feel guilty, and stop everything and go back to work. Not only is this terrible for my concentration, I get so much less accomplished. So don’t be like me. If you work at home, schedule time or days for household chores, your family and your pets. If you are a phone or email checker (you know who you are), schedule specific times each day to check the phone and your emails. If you have an open door policy at your business for your employees, ensure that you have “office hours” for them so that they don’t constantly distract you. It’s good for your employees to learn to plan their time as well. And unless the building is burning down, there isn’t usually anything that is so life-threatening that it can’t wait until specific office hours.
- Separate work and personal times
When you plan your daily time and your weekly and monthly schedules, it’s really important to include your personal appointments and schedules as well as your business appointments. I used to be in the habit of scheduling all my business and work tasks and appointments, but I never scheduled any time for family, friends, or even exercise. You can imagine where that led. It may seem really tedious and time consuming at first…that’s the excuse I used to use. But it’s so important and incredibly helpful.
- Remember why you work so hard
Mahalo and much success,
Chapman, A. (2015). Life Balance, Happiness and Life Change. Retrieved from BusinessBalls: http://www.businessballs.com/life_balance.htm
How to Get Your Work-Life Balance Right in 2015. (2015). Retrieved from xero: https://www.xero.com/us/small-business-guides/business-management/work-life-balance/
Kanarek, L. (2010, December 20). 10 Ways to Balance Your Work-From-Home Life. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217996
Pisolkar, K. (2014, February 26). 5 Easy Ways to Balance Your Business and Personal Life. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-pisolkar/5-ways-to-balance-business-and-life_b_4854882.html
Pollack, B. W. (2013, January 22). Balancing Work and Personal Life with Your Business. Retrieved from SBA: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217996
According to the US Census Bureau in 2013 there were 400,000 new businesses created and 470,000 existing businesses were closed. That’s approximately 117% termination rate! In today’s connected and technologically advanced world, where the tools are so readily available to start, run, and be successful at business, I’m astounded to hear those facts. I bet you are too.
Of course you and I as business owners are thinking “well that’s not me, those businesses must have made huge mistakes”. Right? But when you look into the research, here are some common causes. See if you can relate to any of these.
- Lack of funds
There are numerous reasons your business could fall short on funds. The annual report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development indicates that 37% of experienced business owners fall short of the cash they need to cover their expenses. That could be you if you don’t see the warning signs.
Consider these potential warning signs for your business:
- Over-extending or growing too fast.
- Not starting with a minimally viable product or service (MVP or MVS).
- Expenses becoming too costly such as labor, marketing, supplies, office space, and equipment.
- Unprofitable business model and revenue streams.
- Inability to attain additional funding from outside sources (such as loans, venture capitalists, angel investors, or personal funding).
- Competition and customers
Both underestimating the competition and not understanding your customers can be a large factors in the ultimate demise of your business. A 2014 study by Accenture revealed that 66% of consumers in 1 out of 10 industries changed to a different company due to customer service issues. And 82% of consumers felt that the company they left could have done more to prevent them from switching companies.
This could be you, especially if you don’t ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you know who your competition is and what differentiates your products and services from theirs?
- Do you know how your customers feel about your products and services?
- Do you have your feelers out for new technologies or advancements in your industry that are attracting consumers?
- Are your competitors implementing changes or technologies that you have overlooked?
Another aspect is the overreliance on too few customers. Some small businesses are completely reliant on one or two large customers. If you have all your eggs in one basket and the basket decides to get up and go somewhere else that could be the end of your business. Yikes!
It’s critical in today’s hyper-fast-paced business world to not only research and understand your competition, customers, and your market, but to quickly react to changes that move your business to the front lines. Even if you think you’re in a very steady and reliable market with plenty of customers and very little competition, it only takes one competitor with one great product or service that resonates with your customers to rock your boat.
- Operational inefficiencies
Now is the time to flush out operational inefficiencies and focus on a lean, mean business machine. But what exactly are operational efficiencies? Operational inefficiencies can be broken down into a number of more specific areas such as:
- Wasting money, time, supplies, inventory, and products.
- Repetition and/or replication of tasks, duties, services, and paperwork (duplication of effort).
- Paper vs online everything.
- Inefficient or ineffective communications…this is a huge waste of time and money!
- Imbalanced workload. Too many employees doing too little, or some employees doing too much and others not enough.
- Owner and/or managers having to redo the work of employees not performing properly.
- Inadequate or unorganized inventory management system.
- Inadequate or unorganized bookkeeping system (tracking expenses, receipts, usage, inventory, etc.).
- Owners and/or managers doing the majority of the work, and not training and delegating to their employees.
- Paying for marketing that is not generating a sufficient return on investment (ROI).
- Inability to negotiate terms for rent, labor, and materials leaving with higher costs.
These are just a few areas to address, but major players in becoming an efficient, lean business and increasing your bottom-line.
- Dysfunctional management/leadership
While leadership and management are not technically the same, both play a huge role in a company’s performance and ability to succeed. Especially in today’s economy and employee landscape, it’s essential for management and company leadership to not only present a united front, but provide a model for the company culture, focus, and vision. The following list represents some areas where management and leadership need to concentrate to provide a solid foundation for company success.
- Owners and/or managers with lack of focus, vision, planning, communication skills, and motivational techniques (all stick, no carrot).
- Owners and/or managers lacking standards and values, consistency, non-partiality, inter-personal skills, foresight, and conflict resolution skills.
- Lack of succession plan: nepotism, power struggles, poorly qualified replacements.
- Owners and/or managers using conflicting messages and communications (for example: lecturing employees about cutting costs, then bragging about their new expensive vacation or house).
- Owners and/or managers without management skills or training. This is true for many entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs aren’t always great managers of people, they can be, but not always. They are often better leaders than managers.
- Owners and/or managers that can’t get out of their own way. They are stubborn, risk averse, conflict averse (need to be liked by everyone), perfectionists, greedy, self-righteous, paranoid, indignant, insecure, etc.
- Owners and/or managers not taking enough participation in the accounting/bookkeeping side of the business. It’s critical that the owners and managers are very involved in the pulse of the business including the income, expenses, profit, and loss.
- Owners and/or managers more closely involved with front-of-house or back-of-house versus overall focus. This can be seen as favoritism, or worse lack of knowledge in that particular area. A manager that is perceived to lack knowledge in the area he manages (which would be all areas if you’re the owner) can be huge cause of disengagement in employees.
Changing your own behaviors and that of your managers can be one of the most difficult aspects of owning a business. Start by recognizing the behaviors or actions and work from there.
- Disgruntled employees
Herein lies one of the most elusive aspects of business. And it’s not just disgruntled employees, but all variety employee issues. And if you fall into the dysfunctional management category above you might not even realize you have disgruntled employees.
- Disgruntled employees
- Unengaged or dispassionate employees
- Untrained or insufficiently trained employees
- Unchallenged and/or over-challenged employees
- Under-utilized and/or over-utilized employees
- Inability to hire or attract qualified employees (and in some cases any potential employees at all)
So there you are. Based on these five categories of potential reasons, even if your business is doing great, you may need to reflect potential areas of concern. It doesn’t hurt to consider the potential hazards presented here and do some analysis and planning to make sure you are ready when and if these issues pop up. Feel free to use our EDITOR process model to assist you in determining if you have any of these potential problems and developing a plan of attack to stop “failure” from happening to you and your business.
Mahalo and much success,
Goltz, J. (2011, 1 5). Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from New York Times.
Pofeldt, E. (2015, 10 13). 11 Common Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from CNBC.
Thorpe, T. (2014, 7 17). The Top 5 Reasons Small Businesses Fail. Retrieved from Inc.
Wagner, E. T. (2013, 9 12). Five Reasons 8 Out of 10 Businesses Fail. Retrieved from Forbes.
Zimmerman, E. (2011, 1 5). How Six Companies Failed to Survive 2010. Retrieved from New York Times.
If you’re like I was when I started my first business, I started the business and was knee deep into it before someone finally said “do you have a business plan”? And even though I wasn’t looking for funding, I wish I had taken the time to at least write a simple plan. It would have been very beneficial through various crossroads along the way. So if you haven’t taken the time to write even a simple business plan, here’s why it’s important and some creation tips that might help.
One of the biggest benefits to having a business plan is to help you stay on track. This includes the direction of your intended products and services as well as how to successfully change directions when needed. A perfect example of this is when I had grown my dressage training business to the point where I had practically outgrown the facility we were at. But like I said, I never did a business plan, and I definitely didn’t track my growth or my customers, or market, or any real business data. So when I planned to move to a larger facility, I didn’t really have a “feel” for things like how much to spend on what type of marketing or even if my customers would want to move, or what kind of clientele the new facility would attract or if my pricing and training options were appropriate. Needless to say, my move was a very expensive lesson in what not to do.
Another important benefit is that researching and monitoring your sales, cost of sales, marketing ROI, and business processes against a business plan will allow you to make course corrections and future decisions much more effectively than relying on your “gut”. It will also help you with your planning and prioritizing in areas such as growth, management, and financial health. Determining milestones, or due dates, will help you stay on track and understand how long it actually takes to meet your goals.
A business plan will also help you break down your dreams into short-, medium-, and long-term goals. You’ll be able to more clearly determine if you’re meeting your objectives when you need to expand, hire, or cut-back. You’ll learn to be more proactive instead of reactive, which is always better for becoming successful. And your plan doesn’t have to be super fancy or complicated.
So how do you write a business plan? First, do some research. Determine what your goals and objectives are for your business. It’s important to breakdown your goals into short (1 year), medium (3-5 years), and long-term (5-10 years) goals. Next, crunch some numbers to define what your financial needs will be over the same time periods. If you need to do some additional research to get more concrete values for costs, expenses, and potential revenues, make sure you write down where you got your information (for future reference). This type of information will be known as your “assumptions” if you don’t already have existing numbers to use.
Once you’ve done some background research, crunched some numbers, and laid out the basics, you want to write an Executive Summary. This will be an attention grabbing description of what you do and why the reader should read the rest of the plan. Many times the executive summary is the only part of the plan potential partners, investors, or backers will read. Start with an enticing statement about what your company does and why it’s important.
The next section is a detailed description of your business, your industry, information on markets in the industry, and a present and future outlook on those markets. This section also needs to include any new products, services, or developments in the market that may positively or negatively affect your business.
The third section will included market strategies including a detailed, thorough market analysis. The market analysis should include the results of your detailed market research and a definition of your intended target market.
The fourth section is a competitive analysis. A common method of creating a competitive analysis is using a SWOT analysis where you analyze your company’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on your market research in the proceeding section.
The next section will describe your products and/or services and your company’s development plan with respect to production, marketing, and budget. It’s best to use charts and graphs that clearly show your short-, medium-, and long-term plans.
The next to last section will be the operations and management section. You will describe how your business functions including operations, logistics, management team and responsibilities as well as your capital and expense requirements. Again, it’s a good idea to use graphs and charts to clearly define these parameters.
Your final section will be your financial plan. This section will define how much external funding your company will need from short- to long-term. You will need to clearly describe where and how the funds will be used and what assets will be required.
Now that you know why you need a business plan and a general overview of how to write one, let’s discuss why it’s important to stick to your plan. Simply stated, it’s not. What’s important about having a business plan is to use it as a tool. As with any plan, it’s meant to be a tool that guides you through a process…the process of developing your business along your defined goals. Therefore, you need to regularly track your progress against the metrics defined in your plan and re-evaluate your plan and make adjustments to meet your goals. That is the most critical part of having a plan.
Another example of using a plan as a tool comes from my experience as a dive instructor. We were always taught to “plan our dive and dive our plan”. And many times that was exactly what happened. But we all know, especially if we dive, things happen, and as dive instructors, we were highly trained in effectively dealing with these types of “things”. So even though we “planned our dive”, and did our best to “dive our plan”, when “things” occurred that weren’t in the plan, it was imperative to reassess the method of achieving the goals of the plan, and adjust accordingly. That’s the key! And, of course, to enjoy the dive along the way!
Mahalo and much success,
Barry, T. (2015). A Simple Business Plan. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/78610
Berry, T. (2013, September 6). 10 Business Plans Benefits You Might Be Forgetting. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228220
Berry, T. (2014, February 24). When and Why Should You Stick to the Plan? Retrieved from SBA: https://www.sba.gov/blogs/when-and-why-should-you-stick-plan
Bert Markgraf of Demand Media. (2015). Short-term, Medium-term, and Long-term Planning in Business. Retrieved from Chron: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/shortterm-mediumterm-longterm-planning-business-60193.html
Business Plans: A Step-by-Step Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247574
Create Your Business Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from SBA: https://www.sba.gov/writing-business-plan
Lavinsky, D. (2014, January 30). How To Write a Business Plan. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelavinsky/2014/01/30/how-to-write-a-business-plan/
Markowitz, E. (2010, September 15). How to Wrtie an Executive Summary. Retrieved from Inc.: http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/09/how-to-write-an-executive-summary.html