Category Archives: Business planning process

Manage Your Top Line & Your Bottom Line Will Take Care of Itself

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

“Manage your top line and your bottom line will take care of itself.”

I heard Steve Jobs say this in a previously recorded video that was resurrected shortly after Steve announced his resignation as CEO of Apple Computer.

I worked for Apple for almost 8 years – during the time that Steve was not there.  I heard stories of his genius and his temper and experienced first-hand, the most fun and innovative culture I’ve ever worked in.

His statement “Manage your top line and your bottom line will take care of  itself”, really resonated with me.

I’ve been focusing recently on what it takes to land larger, higher-paying clients and the positive impact that can have on a company‘s profitability.

Steve cited 3 things that must be attended to in managing your top line.

The 3 things are strategy, people & products.

Here is my take on how to focus on those 3 critical elements.

1. Strategy
A strategy is an overall plan to achieve specific, generally long-term, goals. It’s an approach, a broad, general roadmap, a way to go about doing business.

A strategy defines how an organization intends to get from where it is now to where it wants to be in the future, perhaps three to five years out.  Pursuing Whales to grow revenue is a strategy.  Going global is a strategy. Penetrating a specific industry is a strategy. Increasing visibility to raise awareness about a product or service is a strategy. A strategy may include time frames but typically they are ‘end point’ dates.

Focusing on strategy charts the course for the organization. It helps yes/no, go/no-go decisions get made in the short term. Positioning and pricing are outcomes of strategic decisions about what markets to pursue and how.

2. People
The best strategy in the world will fall flat on it’s face without competent people to carry it out. Implementing strategy requires a multitude of interdependent decisions to be made. Discerning judgment (a human skill) is a combination of intellect, knowledge, values and intuition. Having the right people in the right positions doing the right things right, can make a strategy come to life and catapult a company to wild success or oblivion.

3. Products
The third leg of this stool is comprised of the products an enterprise offers. Great strategy and great people can make the most of mediocre products. But great products can overcome (at least for a while) weak strategy and ordinary people. Of course, it’s hard to produce great products with mediocre strategy and people.

Apple likely wouldn’t have designed and produced the iPod, iPhone and iPad without great people. But there was a time, pre-‘i’ era, when those great people churned out lackluster ‘also-ran’ products.

When all great components are present, revenues rise because the company is delivering what the marketplace wants. great people make wise decisions about marketing, research, manufacturing, administration and financial matters. Great products continue to be delivered positioning the company as innovative with a commitment to quality.

Profits rise.

Jobs brought a unique perspective and vision to Apple.

So the questions are, What do YOU bring to your firm?

What’s YOUR strategy? Do you have one?

Are  you staffed with the right people in the right roles doing the right things right?

Is what you’re offering a match to the market as it is today or tomorrow? Are you even in touch with market needs or are you developing offers in a vacuum and wondering why sales are lagging?

As I’m finishing up this article, I see a tweet that Apple’s stock hit an all-time high today: $411 and change.

Clearly the strategy Jobs espoused is taking the company in the right direction.

Make sure your three legs of this business stool are sitting on solid ground.

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How to Accelerate the 3 Stages of Business Growth

For the last several months, I’ve been constructing a model for building a highly successful business.  Based on what I’ve done to build mine over the years and harvesting the wisdom of brilliant mentors I’ve studied with, I’ve outlined a comprehensive, yet simple model for success.

The model extends well past theory and includes 7 practical steps business owners must take if they want to thrive and enjoy life rather than being consumed by the ‘job’ they’ve created for themselves.

Today, using the metaphor of how bamboo grows, I’ll share with you the 3 stages you must master to enjoy massive business growth.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet, spurting at times, almost 4 feet in a single 24-hour period!  At the beginning though, it appears to be growing (on the surface) quite slowly.

There are 3 stages of bamboo (and business) growth: sleep, creep and leap.

1. Sleep
During the first year of a young bamboo plant’s life, most of its energy is devoted to

laying a strong foundation via the root structure.  Plant shoots peak out above the ground and underground rhizomes shoot out horizontally.

2. Creep
As the foundation builds, the plants continue to grow but most of the ‘work’ is still being done underground.  The roots branch and spread even further.  They provide water to the leaves and the leaves use sunlight to produce food that the roots need to expand further and stock up on energy for next year’s shoots.

3.  Leap
Once the foundation has developed (and this may take years) the above-ground plants grow rapidly.  Each year, as the stand of plants matures, the diameter of each new cane that develops, is generally larger than those that were ‘born’ last year.

So, as with your business, the huge bamboo stand of plants isn’t built in a single year.   But once the foundation is laid, growth seems almost miraculous.

Here are a few of the steps you must take to enjoy miraculous business growth.

In the Sleep phase, you dream.  You envision and clarify your ideal clients, your ideal work day and your overall ideal day.  Without this step, you’ll feel unfocused, frustrated and stressed.

You also clarify what you’ll be offering to the market place and how to best distinguish you and your business from all of the other vendors with similar offers.  You work on branding and understanding exactly how people or companies benefit from working with you.

You define your ‘product mix’, create revenue goals, set prices, deterimine sales channels and schedule your major marketing activities.

In the Creep phase, you launch your marketing efforts in a focused and aggressive manner.  You identify what you need to run a successful business from an internal perspective and from an external marketing perspective.  You implement your marketing plans and measure your success.  If you skip this step or do it poorly, you’ll feel scattered and leave money on the table because you miss opportunities that are right there in front of you.  You’ll use the wrong approaches and waste precious time and money.

In the Leap phase, you work on leveraging your success. You work ON your business not just IN it.  The focus here is on time mangement, automating and systemitizing. You document and delegate, work to continually delight your customers and build internal financial metrics and controls.

You also start to convert your ‘secret sauce’ into products that you can use to build revenue that is not dependent on you actively working with clients.  You build raving fans, referrals, affiliates and perhaps joint venture partners. You enhance and expand your online marketing efforts. NOw that you’ve got your systems in place, you aggressively drive traffic to your website to generate qualified leads.

During this phase, you’ll probably encounter more leadership challenges so you’ll also work on improving yourself while managing the issues of leading a team of employees or contractors.  You may even decide to pursue bigger, better and more well-heeled clientele.

If you don’t Leap successfully, you’ll survive but miss out on the mega-growth that you probably dreamed of when you first launched your burgeoning empire.

While I’ve laid out these 3 stages sequentially, you’re almost always working on some aspects of each of them.  At various phases of your own evolution, you make focus on different aspects of this model. You may elect to restart the process at stage 1 if you decide to revamp your business.  You may jump in at Stage 2 if you love the clients you have and the work you do, but the model isn’t generating enough cash.

And as you grow, you’ll need to work on Stage 3 to Leap into an even more prosperous future and create the lifestyle of your dreams.

How to Position Yourself for the Economic Recovery in 3 Simple Steps

The economy is showing signs of recovering.  It may be a slow rebound but there are things you MUST be doing now to make sure you participate in the recovery when it comes.

I talk to many business owners who are either hunkered down themselves waiting for the economic ‘storm’ to blow over or they’re trying to sell their products or services to those who are hunkered down.  Either way, not much is happening in the small business world.  Even the executives I speak to in corporations are still being a bit cautious about the investments they’re making in people, products and services.

1. Improve systems

Now is the time to make sure your internal engine is running properly.  Evaluate your sales, production, service delivery and administrative processes.  Determine how well they are functioning.  Do this even if you are the only person in your ‘company’. Ask yourself and your team if you have one where breakdowns happen. Who’s not getting the info they need?  What’s taking too long to happen?  What can be automated or streamlined? What needs to be documented so others can carry out the task when a transition occurs?

I helped one of my clients and his team eliminate the breakdowns between the office and field functions.  Right after that, his business exploded.  While we didn’t work directly on sales, he confided to me that if we hadn’t fixed his process breakdowns, they would have not been able to handle the onslaught of work and would have looked like “complete idiots”.  Save yourself from that potential business-killing embarrassment.

Improving systems improves your profitability.

2. Improve you

When you’re trimming expenses, it’s tempting to cut training.  Large and small companies often make the mistake of eliminating training when budgets are tight because the ROI on training seems slower and in some cases, hard to measure.  Yet, It’s during times of trouble that you MUST make sure everyone is functioning at their optimal level…including you!

You and your staff are your company’s most valuable possession. You might have some trademarked or patented processes. But even still, you and your people are carrying them out. No people or ineffective people, no profits.

Times are changing.  Even when the economy recovers, nothing will be quite the same again.  Make sure you and your team are mentally ready with the skills and attitudes that will carry you through the next iteration of the global economy. Invest now and position yourself to trounce the competition.

3. Improve sales

When you do the first two things, it’s likely that your sales will increase on their own.  However, here are a few tips for increasing sales even more.  Get feedback from clients about what you’re offering them and they need now.  Make sure you’ve adjusted to the current environment.  Consider flexible payment terms.  Cater to a different (hungrier or higher-income) crowd. Offer new products, programs and services. Talk to more people.  If you’re not having a number of sales conversations every day, you’re leaving money on the table.

Focusing on these three simple steps will help position you well for the recovery. Don’t sit around moping.  I’m sure you heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” when you were growing up.  Implementing these steps is one way you can help yourself. Get to work!

How Strong Is YOUR Will to Survive?

While the economy is showing signs of recovery, many business owners are still being cautious about their investing and spending. Last year was a real challenge for many.

As a business yourself, you may be experiencing the results of this with reduced revenues for your own business.

DeadDandelionLast week, while I was gardening, I noticed how persistently the weeds were continuing to grow in spite of my efforts to spray the life out of them.  (On a spiritual level, it bothers me to kill anything but in the case of crickets in my house and weeds in my yard, I make an exception).

Anyway, I noticed that even after the poison had taken effect and the bulk of the plants were brown and decaying, the seeding process seemed to get stronger than ever.  Have you observed that?

It made me wonder if my business owner friends were being as tenacious about their marketing and sales efforts as these weeds were about their own survival and propagation.

Sales, after all are the most critical aspect of having a thriving enterprise.  And even in a slow economy, we can’t afford to just sit a back and wait for the storm to blow over.  Companies that choose that option likely won’t be around to enjoy the recovery when it’s in full swing.

So, last week as a reminder for the topic of this edition’s article, I snipped off some unopened buds from one of my victims.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in my office a few days later and found that these unopened …and detached…buds had continued their maturation process and produced seed ready to fall to the earth and begin life anew!

How persistent are you?

Are you acting like your life depends upon your ability to press forward even when you’ve been poisoned by the economy…crippled by being cut off from that which sustains you…denied the things you believe are most important to your success?

If this is true for you, even just a tad, WAKE UP!

You are in more control than you think.  The key is, you have to TAKE that control. Get on the phone. Connect with people. Add value to your community.  Invest in your business. Invest in yourself.  Do what you know works. Try something new.  Stay focused on your purpose. Take decisive action.

Not out of desperation, but out of a keen sense of survival and will.  Allow yourself to be guided to new opportunities and act on them when they arrive.

Here’s a quote I found helpful.

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence.” Denis Waitley

Take it to heart and plant your seed everywhere it belongs.

Why You Need a Backup Plan for Your Backup Plan

Having a back up plan might not be enough to save you from grief.

Listed here are the 3 critical reasons you need to have a backup plan for your backup plan PLUS 7 serious tips you must keep in mind when switching to your new environment.

When my computer crashed 4 years ago, I lost everything that wasn’t stored on a floppy disk. (Am I dating my(tech)self?)  I was devastated and swore I’d never be in that position again.

I bought an external hard drive to back up my data locally and subscribed to a remote backup service for even more safekeeping.

For the last several years, I was proud of myself for my foresight.  At the same time, I was pushing my computer to it’s limits with all the files I accumulated on my hard drive and the multiple applications I always had open at any one time.

I purchased another external hard drive to hold my pictures, videos and audios and had begun to think about what my next computer would be but didn’t feel any urgency until that fateful day, March 19, The Day My Computer Crashed. I swear, I could make a full length movie out of what has transpired since then.

Here are the critical three reasons you need a backup plan for your backup plan.
1.  Because technology is moving so rapidly, your original backup plan won’t have anticipated all of the new things that could now go wrong.

2.  Things will go wrong that you hadn’t accounted for.

3.  Getting back up to speed will take WAY longer than you expected.

Here is the first of the seven serious tips.

1. Understand the data restore process and find out how long it takes to restore your data.
I had (erroneously) assumed that once I was ready, I would click some remote button and my stuff would magically and almost instantaneously appear on my new computer.  Not! So I waited to request the restoration until I figured out which computer I would buy and got it set up in my office. Bad mistake!

Because I had so much data backed up from my original computer, even after five days of waiting, by big “packet” of everything was still not available.

I was able to download individual files as I needed them and that process only took minutes so I wasn’t completely out of luck.  But I’m impatient and wanted all of it.  After waiting the five days for the ‘all of it packet’, I requested a smaller packet of the stuff I really needed.  But even that took several days to arrive!

Then, once it was available, there was another step to extract all of the compressed packets of data into the actual files that I could use.  That process took several more days! And finally, even though I downloaded entire folders of documents, all of the documents didn’t make the voyage.

LESSON: Had I known then what I know now, I would have started the restore process the moment we knew my hard drive was dead and requested my documents, files and folders in much smaller increments. Verify that everything you thought you downloaded actually makes it to your computer.

2.Check the status of your backup process regularly.
As mentioned in the video, I was rather cocky because I had built in redundant backup processes: one local on a hard drive, one remote.  I discovered that the local backup process had not successfully completed since mid-January.

To make matters worse, the software that ran the local backup wouldn’t work on my new computer (way more about that later).  Since most of the stuff I was anxious to get my hands on were my more recent creations, I abandoned the idea of upgrading to the newer version of local backup software since it wouldn’t produce the files I needed right away.  So I waited…

LESSON: Check your backup status weekly

3. Keep a printed list of the software/tools you download from the internet.

When you get a new computer, you’ll need to reinstall all of your software.  If you have the installation CDs, you’re good to go (although this process is also time-consuming.

The thing I had not anticipated was that all my cool tools I had found online would also be gone and I would not have a CD to reinstall them.  This is particularly important for software you purchase.  You might get the vendor to give you another download link, but you’ll need the exact date of purchase and/or the ‘key’ code to verify your purchase.

I was able to find one of my purchases (once Outlook was filled with all my history again), but it would have been great having a handy list.

LESSON: Save the ‘.exec’ files in a safe place (perhaps the Downloads folder on your computer). Rename them so you know what they are (Vendors often abbreviate them beyond recognition.) Maybe save the emails with download links or the download url address.  Periodically print out your list of tools and purchase dates.

4.  Before you purchase anything, identify your hardware and software/operating system needs and research your options.

Talk with some technical advisors from whom you cannot purchase anything to get an objective opinion.  Tell them how you work.  Let them make recommendations. You can go to stores to see the things in person, but the technicians in the stores will only tout the stuff they have on hand.

Here’s a compilation of what I heard from My PC Techs and My Computer Works. (Love them both; they’re lifesavers!) “Stick with HP and Dell.  Buy Intel inside.” (Windows 7 was tested on Intel.)

I went to four stores with my requirements in hand to check prices and was glad I did.  I spent a little more than I wanted but am happy with my purchase.   If you have the time or can plan ahead online purchases can be cheaper, but I was strapped for time and as you know, impatient.

LESSON: Use professionals who can guide you and help with the process.

5.  Wait 18 months before buying the newest operating systems.

Windows 7 does have some really cool features and works noticeably faster, but I’ve heard developers launch products when they’re ‘good enough’ then rely on customer feedback to work out the kinks.

LESSON:  In my research phase, I did notice that there were some computers that came loaded with Windows 7 plus a ‘rollback’ option to XP.  That would have gotten me up and running more quickly and avoided the pain of Tip 6.

6.  Figure out if your software will run on the operating system you buy.

Part of the reason for waiting is because when new operating systems are rolled out, all developers may not have revised their products to work in the new environments.  Even if they have, you may have to pay for upgrades in some cases.

Also, there is a difference between Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit.  As much of a geek that I am, I didn’t think about (nor do I totally understand) that difference.  I do know that some of my tools would have worked on the 32-bit version of Win7 but not the 64-bit that I got.

7.  Buy from a company with great support.

This was really important for me. With the specs I received from my advisors, I could have purchased a computer from local geeks who build them.  But I know that I need to be able to pick up the phone and say “XYZ isn’t working.  Help me” and then get that help.

I don’t have an in-house tech department and rely on the two companies I mentioned  above.  I have been thrilled with them and the support they provided in this transition.

I’ve also been impressed with the support from HP and Sprint (e.g. trying to get my phone to synch with my computer since the USB cable doesn’t work on Win7. ) They guide me through issues and do remote interventions for me.

They have even called me back to make sure everything is still working! I wasn’t expecting that.

Yesterday, when my phone successfully synched my new appointments and contacts using Bluetooth technology and my wireless printer didn’t go offline when it did, I finally felt like I was coming out of the dark.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you and prepare you for your next tech transition, planned or unplanned.  I encourage you to plan ahead however.  This was tedious process!

Please share your tips and stories here.