Friday, July 31, 2009

Start-up Tip - Do You Need a Mission Statement?

I just saw another business plan with a mission statement, and I thought, "How '90s!" Mission statements can be useful, but they really have become passe.

A good business plan should focus on answering the questions investors, creditors and strategic allies ask most often. And "What is your mission statement?" is not one of those. Better to spend your time writing about your value proposition, your management team, your relevant market, your business model (how you'll make money!) and your exit strategy.

A credo or mission statement can be a good way to express your goal for your business and how you'll conduct your business. It can go hand-in-hand with your vision for what your business will become. It can be like a rock that you return to in a storm. But it really doesn't have to be in your plan at the outset.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Business Tip - Deliver Great Customer Service

When I deal with a company of any size, I want to be treated well. I want polite and intelligent salespeople, customer service reps. and tech. support experts.

When I write business plans for start-ups, I always ask what the plan is for customer service. To me, customer service is a key component of your business and marketing plans. You can have all the advertising and PR in the world but drive customers away with poor customer service. Not only that, but you'll gain great word-of-mouth advertising, if your customers are happy. That's because customers are more likely to sing your praises when satisfied and tell everyone they know how much they dislike your company when dissatisfied. They'll even tell people they don't know by broadcasting dissatisfaction on the Internet. Just think of the songwriter who put a song about United breaking his guitar on YouTube, or the current diatribe about cell phone companies in the NY Times.

You want great PR - great viral marketing - great word-of-mouth recommendations.

Zappos is a company that has become incredibly successful because of its great customer service. Business Week and Advertising Age have both run articles about Zappos's customer service recently. I highly recommend the articles: Zappos essentially brings the shoe store to you via the Internet.

So as you plan how you'll start up or how you'll grow, remember to build in a plan for terrific customer service.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Pro-Goldman Article

I've always liked James Stewart, who writes the Common Sense column in the Wall Street Journal. His latest is why we should not hate Goldman Sachs for making money. Good food for thought. But, then, so is Krugman in the NY Times, who says what Goldman is doing with risky investments is bad for the country.

Another Hurdle to Health Care Reform: Too Few General Practice Doctors - Knowledge@Wharton

Knowledge @Wharton has a good, balanced approach to the pros and cons of the new health-care overhaul. Worth reading.

Another Hurdle to Health Care Reform: Too Few General Practice Doctors - Knowledge@Wharton

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Health-Care Questions

I listened to Obama last night, and he was so persuasive. Then I thought back to what I'd read about the details of the health-care overhaul in the Wall Street Journal, and I went back to having doubts.

My biggest problem is what the plan will do to small and growing businesses, burdening them with more taxes, penalties and mandates. It will also place a greater burden on the poor working class, forcing them to purchase insurance they can't afford. That is what has happened to my daughter, who is a part-time nursery school teacher in Massachusetts. The state will not approve her application for state-paid insurance because she currently has personal insurance, but she can't afford her premiums. If she drops her insurance, she has to pay a fine to the state. Her employer doesn't cover her. What a mess! Not only that, her insurance in Massachusetts is twice what it was in Connecticut because the insurers in MA must take everyone. Our federal insurance will be a mess like this.

Meanwhile, how can new and small businesses grow or simply stay in business with the sudden new burdens of paying for expensive plans or paying fines? What will part-time workers do? Pay a fine and stay uncovered? How does that help anyone?

I went looking for answers in The Wall Street Journal. Good reading. But it didn't make me feel any better.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Start-up Tip: Set Your Time Line for Growth

You've heard the expression, "It's all in the timing." That can be applied to a lot of things, hitting a tennis ball, catching a wave when you're surfing, starting new plants in the spring, or starting a business and growing.

Most entrepreneurs are surprised at how long it can take to start a business. But think about it, there are many, many details that have to be worked out and executed after you have the big idea. That's why a detailed plan can help you get on -- and stay on -- the right track.

Begin with the end in mind. Where do you want to be in five years? Three? Two? One? Work backward from that and think about all the milestones you have to hit in order to arrive at your idea of success. Write up the milestones and outline a plan for meeting each one. If you're working with other people, make sure that you are all on the same wavelength and share the mutual goals and the methodology for meeting them. Figure out how long it will take to meet each one. Make a time line.

If you have investors or creditors, make sure that understand your milestones and time lines and buy into them. Most investors or creditors will be willing to put more money into your business (or expect payback) when you reach mutually agreed upon milestones.

While you're setting the milestones, set up metrics by which you'll measure your progress toward meeting them. This could be sales figures or other hard data about your consumers or customers and their response to your service or product.

Keep your eyes on the goal, and go for it!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Start-up Guru: Y Combinator's Paul Graham, Venture Capital Article - Inc. Article

I just read this article about Paul Graham and his start-up incubator on Inc.'s Web site. It's a fascinating look at a successful entrepreneur who is passionate about helping others start tech-oriented businesses on a shoestring. Indeed, Graham makes the entrepreneurs be frugal. Sounds like a great lesson to me.

The article is long, but it's well worth reading.

The Start-up Guru: Y Combinator's Paul Graham, Venture Capital Article - Inc. Article

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Help the MacLeod family turn the page - Susan Campbell | Fear, itself

I wrote the PR that was sent out to build awareness of MacLeod's plight. I'm excited that a blog picked it up and is disseminating the information. It's an important, sad story.

Help the MacLeod family turn the page - Susan Campbell | Fear, itself

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Start-Up Tip: Execute Your Plan

One of the start-up companies I've done plans for just died after three years of existence. I am really sad. When I was talking to the former CEO who had hired me to write their plan, he lamented that they had deviated from their plan just before execution. That was the beginning of their end.

One board member got cold feet because of a comment from a social media expert. He suddenly lost sight of his passion and his vision. What a pity. The vision had been great. They had raised several million dollars to execute it. Then, two weeks before the national roll out, they deviated from the plan and the vision. It was chaos from then on. I helped rewrite their plans, but they kept not executing. They kept changing things or not executing as well as they could have.

Eventually, professional managers took over from the founding entrepreneurs. That was the true death knell.

You've seen it on a national scale. Jobs had to return to Apple to get the company back on track. But Bezos never left Amazon or Gates, Microsoft, while he was building the business. The visionary has to see the dream through to fruition. He or she has to keep that focus and execute the plan.

So get a great plan that has focus, vision and passion. Then, execute it. Don't lose heart. Don't listen to the naysayers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How to Hire and Manage

Teach for America is shaking up American education. In an interview with the New York Times, its founder, Wendy Kopp, talks about how she has learned techniques that work for her in hiring and managing. I thought it was a terrific article with really good insight.

Charisma? To Her, It’s Overrated
Published: July 5, 2009
Wendy Kopp, who started Teach for America, believes that teachers must have perseverance as well as the ability to influence and motivate others in a sophisticated way.

Eradicating Mud Cookies: Global Executives Try to Connect Profit to Social Good - Knowledge@Wharton

Eradicating Mud Cookies: Global Executives Try to Connect Profit to Social Good - Knowledge@Wharton

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