CategoryBusiness

The 5 Master Steps to Business Excellence – For Sustainable, Profitable Growth!

WHY BOTHER?

Business Excellence simply means being the best you can possibly be as an organization. The intent of this article is to outline what is involved if your organization decides to undertake this never-ending journey. When implemented properly, business excellence yields immense benefits to private, public and not-for-profit organisations.

However, let me issue a warning here… as a result of running my own businesses plus facilitating or advising on practical implementations for approximately 1,000 other businesses over the past 35 years, I have found that the traditional recommended implementation approaches are just not practical enough for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This overview is therefore written for any SME aspiring to excellence and is built on 3 foundations: Simplify; Integrate; Sequence.

THE 5 MASTER STEPS – Overview

Not surprisingly after some 60 years of application and testing, there is now a high degree of alignment between the nationally advocated frameworks for business excellence from around the world. But there are 3 major problems for an SME when trying to implement any one of these frameworks:

  1. Typically having 7-9 criteria for success, these frameworks are proving too complex for people to remember off by heart.
  2. There is no recommended sequence for addressing all the criteria over time.
  3. The recommended approach is to begin with a comprehensive review of the organisation’s current performance against each of the 7-9 criteria and then to address the highest priority areas for improvement – but this takes significant time and money and doesn’t involve all the employees.

We have found that a simplified framework is essential to integrate all the implementation activities. This framework is consistent with the internationally recognized frameworks but has only 5 Master Steps (instead of 7-9 evaluation criteria). We have also found that these 5 Master Steps should be implemented in a logical sequence. With Customer Focus as the overriding driver, the 5 Master Steps (all of which are prerequisites for Business Excellence) are:

  1. Shared Strategic Direction
  2. Process Design & Imnprovement
  3. Performance Measurement & Feedback
  4. Knowledge Capture & Leverage
  5. Leadership & Management of Change

1: Shared Strategic Direction

With customer focus as the all-pervasive fundamental driver, the first prerequisite for business excellence is a Shared Strategic Direction – effectively enabling every individual in the organisation to ‘pull the rope in the same direction’. The essence of strategy is to move everyone from where we are now to where we wish to be at some future point in time.

The evidence of great strategy is a clear and consistent pattern of decisions actually made by the organization as a whole!

2: Process Design & Improvement

Since all work is done through processes, it follows that Process Design & Improvement must be the second prerequisite for business excellence. In other words, Process Design & Improvement is HOW we will achieve our Shared Strategic Direction.

This Master Step usually yields the greatest net benefits for the organisation!

3: Performance Measurement & Feedback

As time goes by, of course we will want to know whether we are achieving our Shared Strategic Direction and whether our key processes which will get us there are healthy! Hence the next prerequisite for business excellence must be Performance Measurement & Feedback.

It works best when we measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for a) achievement of our agreed Strategic objectives and b) for the health of our Key Processes that together make up ‘Operations’. Best practice is to limit the resultant number of KPIs to only those that are considered to be essential. This minimizes the effort required to keep them up to date and to present the information to those accountable.

4: Knowledge Capture & Leverage

Knowledge Capture & Leverage has become increasingly important over the past 40 years as organisational assets continue to become more knowledge-based and less finance-based. There are 3 compelling reasons why an SME needs to harvest its knowledge efficiently:

  1. Dramatic technological change (Internet; email etc) has enabled competitors to capture and leverage their knowledge with increasing ease.
  2. Globalisation demands that we keep on top of industry developments in order to remain competitive.
  3. Mobile Workforce – employees tend to take their knowledge with them when they leave unless we do something about it.

5: Process Design & Improvement

Finally, Leadership & Management of Change is critical because transformation towards business excellence can occur only if all your people are keen and able to participate in the changes.

Let’s now further explore each of the Master Steps in the recommended implementation sequence…

MASTER STEP #1: SHARED STRATEGIC DIRECTION

The organisation’s Strategic Plan is predicated upon having an agreed high level (1-page) Process Model for the entire business of the organisation. If any of the organisation’s Key Business Processes are sufficiently ‘broken’ to warrant being ‘process reengineered’ (ie from the ground up!) during the planning period (typically 3 years), then the organisation must incorporate these reengineering priorities in the Strategic Plan. This is because reengineering projects are so fundamental that they are strategic in their nature and impact.

This can be achieved readily via the following simple planning methodology reflecting the four ‘perspectives’ of Kaplan and Norton’s ‘Balanced Scorecard'(1).

The Strategic Plan is developed from the top down using a 1-page graphical format – headed by the organisation’s long term, customer-oriented Vision statement.

The Finance Objective is first identified, consistent with the organisation’s Vision for the planning period.

The Customer Objective(s) come next since customers are the source of the organisation’s revenue that governs ‘Finance’ success. Customer Objectives usually address what Products / Services (new or existing) are destined for what Markets (existing or new).

The Process Objective comes next since the Key Business (value-adding) Processes deliver the organisation’s goods or services to its Customers. All that needs to be done here in this simplified approach for SMEs is to identify the agreed highest priority Key Business Processes that must be reengineered (from scratch) over the planning period. By reengineering only 1-2 such processes per annum, excessive change management challenges can be avoided, while at the same time ensuring that no Key Business Process is ever allowed to get more than about 7 years out of date. Best practice suggests that every Key Business Process should be reengineered once every 7 years for competitive advantage!

Finally, the People & Infrastructure Objectives are formulated to enable the organisation’s processes to be brilliant. People and infrastructure (eg IT infrastructure; factory or office accommodation) form the foundation of the Strategic Plan. This final ‘People & Infrastructure’ perspective can be used to address anything strategic which does not fall within one of the other three perspectives above it in the 1-page Strategic Plan.

There are several important features of this simple, direct approach to developing the organisation’s 1-page (graphical) Strategic Plan:

  1. The ‘Finance’ perspective is at the top because financial performance is the ultimate lag indicator for the organisation. If ‘Finance’ is not healthy, the organisation cannot invest properly in any of the other three perspectives.
  2. The arrows connecting the Objectives are pivotal to the logical ’cause and effect’ flow of the diagram – from the bottom (causes) to the top (effects). The lower layers of the diagram are thus prerequisites for the organisation to achieve the ‘Finance’ Objective(s) and hence the overall Vision.
  3. If the Strategic Plan is to be easy for all employees to memorise (to enable day-to-day decision-making!) and keep current via monthly monitoring and review, it should contain no more than 7 (total) Objectives.
  4. Every Objective should be about fundamental change – not about the status quo. For example, no Objective should begin with the words: “Continue to… “
  5. Every ‘layer’ should contain at least 1 Objective so that the overall Strategic Plan has no logical omissions. For example, a Strategic Plan with 5 ‘Finance’ Objectives but no Objectives in any of the other 3 layers cannot be implemented readily. Such a Strategic Plan would be naïve – akin to “an emperor without any clothes”.
  6. The ‘bullet points’ for the ‘Process’ layer simply reflect the top priority Level 1 process reengineering candidates from the organisation’s agreed 1-page Process Model! To avoid over-burdening the organisation, a maximum of 1-2 process reengineering projects should be planned and executed per annum for a 3-year planning period. Ideally, every Key Business Process should be reengineered every 7 years to prevent it getting out of date.
  7. Every Objective must be measurable via at least one (and preferably only one) KPI which should be monitored regularly to track progressive achievement of that Objective.
  8. For each Objective, typically 6-8 Actions should be formulated and scheduled to achieve that Objective in full by the end of the planning period. Individuals should be assigned to lead (ie project-manage) each Action and an Objective Manager should also be assigned to report regularly on overall progress of the Actions and on the respective ‘achievement’ KPI.
  9. For a large SME organisation, the same language and format should be used for ‘cascading’ the corporate Strategic Plan to all Divisions, Departments etc. This greatly simplifies the process of ensuring strategic alignment and getting employee buy-in to the overall shared strategic direction.

MASTER STEP #2: PROCESS DESIGN & IMPROVEMENT

Why is Process Design & Improvement such an important part of business excellence?

It all starts with a simple and comprehensive definition of a “process”… a sequence of activities that converts some form of input into some form of output for some customer (internal or external). Given this broad definition, it follows that all work is therefore done through processes.

Furthermore, it follows that every organisation doing work is already executing a vast range of processes.

An organisation’s current processes may be described in a variety of ways. For example, some processes may be well designed – others poorly designed. Some may be well documented, and others poorly documented. Still others may be totally ad-hoc, whereas others may be carefully orchestrated. The point is that if any organisation wishes to be excellent, then it must first agree on what are its most important processes. Next it must ensure that these key processes are designed properly and then improved in order to be as healthy as possible.

In summary, proactive Process Design & Improvement is a critical competency for any organisation aspiring to business excellence. An organisation can “get by” without proactive and professional Process Design & Improvement tools and techniques (most do!), but it will never be excellent.

None of the above can take place unless the organisation identifies its key processes as part of strategic planning and deployment (Master Step # 1). And it is here that we can learn from those around the world who have already been down this path. They have found that it is much easier if we separate the key processes that deliver products or services to external customers from those key processes that service the internal customers (ie our own employees).

They have also found it helps to have the resultant high level ‘process model’ of the organisation’s key repetitive processes depicted on a single page. Once we have agreed on our repetitive Key Business Processes and our repetitive Key Support Processes, it makes sense to allocate overall responsibility for maintaining the health of each to a designated (senior) Process Manager. That person will be vitally interested in setting and monitoring the KPIs which will validate the process health on an on-going basis.

Once the process health metrics are available, it is a simple matter for the Process Manager to decide if the process needs fundamental redesign or just process improvement off the current base. The Process Manager then sponsors the necessary Process Improvement project(s) as required to fix the key process.

The simple truth is that processes can be improved dramatically by the people who work within them. Indeed, a well-targeted process improvement program usually yields a much greater return on investment than any other type of investment.

The benefits are often huge (ie Benefit to Cost ratio > 10) because most targeted processes have tended to evolve in an ad-hoc manner over many years – without the benefit of any formal methodology for design or for process improvement. For years, people working in such processes have been working exclusively IN the system (of processes) and not ON the system (of processes). In effect, they have become victims of an intransigent ‘ad hoc’ work system in which the process outputs and outcomes exhibit rampant and random variation. In a modern world of rapidly changing customer requirements, this is no longer acceptable to any organisation intent on performing as well as it possibly can.

So, people can achieve remarkable things with respect to their processes – if only we give them the chance and the ‘on the job’ tools and training to do so. An organisation literally cannot afford to ignore this stuff because its best competitors will be doing it!

Let’s now take a look at how best to improve any repetitive process in the simplest and most direct way possible…

Process Improvement Methodology

Approximately 90 years ago, Walter Shewhart invented today’s most popular methodology for improving processes. This methodology continues to be the most efficient and effective one for process improvement teams around the globe. This methodology can be applied to any process that is repetitive. It is important to note that it should not be applied to any process that is non-repetitive (ie occurs only once – eg “Reorganise the business within the next 3 months”). In the latter cases, the ubiquitous Project Management methodology is the most appropriate one to use.

A huge handicap for the majority of OECD organisations is that they are not sufficiently aware of the power of the world standard Process Improvement methodology, and hence apply Project Management by default to every problem in the organisation – including those problems that relate to repetitive processes! The sad reality is that for the average employee, approximately 95% of their work involves repetitive processes, and so application of Project Management to solving these problems is grossly sub-optimal!

The big difference is that Project Management is a linear technique (involving Gantt / Bar Charts, precedences etc), whereas Process Improvement is a circular, iterative technique aimed at getting permanent process improvements with the minimum possible effort. The methodology involves simple, structured techniques to get quickly to the root causes of the process problems. The methodology also ensures that the root causes of the ‘disease’ of process variation are fixed permanently before the Process Improvement Team undertaking the project is disbanded.

In order to raise organisational performance over time in either small steps or big steps, metaphorically speaking we need two ingredients:

  1. A ‘Wheel of Progress’ capable of being pushed up the hill of business performance improvement (by the nominated Process Improvement Team) one notch at a time against the ‘gravity’ of resistance to change!
  2. A Wedge (properly referred to as “Quality Assurance” or QA for short) which constitutes everything the organisation must do to make absolutely certain that this newly-improved process will never again be done the old way. In other words, the Wheel of Progress will never be allowed to roll back down the hill. Note: This means that QA must include the minimum necessary documentation, training, measurement, celebration. Any more than the minimum necessary would of course add waste to the new process. The team must not disband until it has arranged all the necessary QA, encompassing Documentation; Training; Measurement; Celebration.

Clearly, ‘Wheel without Wedge’ is a sub-optimal way to go, as is ‘Wedge without Wheel’. Unfortunately, many western countries have far too many organisations at both ends of this spectrum. Only the few (< 4%) best performing organisations have the Wheel and Wedge working in total harmony – and understand their mutual dependency. Colloquially put, the idea behind Process Design & Improvement is to “Go up a notch – and whack the wedge in to sustain the improvement”! In this context, participating in QA for ‘their’ processes is everybody’s job (including a CEO) and cannot be delegated to some central person “responsible for QA”.

So, if we are clear on QA and its purpose, what then is a “Quality Management System” (QMS)? A Quality Management System is the term used to describe the aggregated QA effort across all the organisation’s processes! It makes sense to have some degree of standardisation in the way QA is done by each individual process improvement team or work group. It is for this reason that the world’s Standards Associations entered the arena decades ago to suggest how a QMS might best be developed. For example, in Australia and New Zealand, the latest version of the QMS standard is known as AS/NZS ISO 9001:2008. Like most of these standards world-wide, it focuses more on the standardised documentation aspects of QA rather than on the equally important training, measurement and celebration aspects.

The Wheel of Progress (PDCA Cycle) has 4 quadrants and is based on common sense. That is the reason why it is so successful and widespread. It goes like this:

  1. If you want to design or improve a process, you need to Plan it!
  2. Then you need to Do it – ie execute the Plan – but as an experiment, not full scale – because your Plan might be deficient in some way.
  3. Next, you need to Check (by measuring ‘before’ versus ‘after’ the experiment) to see if the experiment was successful.
  4. Finally, if the Check proves to be positive, you make a note to Act to ‘wedge’ the variable(s) you changed in the experiment. Then you may go again to the Plan quadrant of the PDCA Cycle in order to make further improvements (if considered necessary). On the other hand, if the experiment fails, you bypass the Act quadrant altogether (apart from capturing any learnings) and begin the next cycle in the Plan quadrant.

The idea is to go round this PDCA cycle one or more times until you have made some major improvements to the target process. Then when you think you have gone far enough (or the available time has run out), you finish the Project by ‘wedging’ all the improvements you noted along the way. In practice, going round the PDCA cycle once only is sufficient to improve the process significantly!

Developing the Plan is best done by a full-time team of the process participants. After all, can we afford to have a critical process remain broken while we undertake an extended part-time planning effort? Orchestration of part-time team planning efforts also sends the wrong message to employees about how important process design and improvement efforts really are to the organisation’s well-being.

Facilitation skills (preferably available in-house) are also necessary to help each team stay focused on the task and also to help with team dynamics.

These PDCA + QA techniques are so simple that everyone at any level of the organisation can participate – even a CEO.

The pivotal role of technology in process improvement demands that a technology scan be undertaken by the team at an early stage during the Plan quadrant. While business needs normally drive the application of information technology, knowledge of the current state of the art of information technology can also enable a team to find exciting new ways of improving the target process!

As the Project Sponsor, it is the Process Manager’s responsibility to ensure that an appropriate Project Brief is prepared for each Process Improvement Project. Time spent in clarifying the Project Brief is well spent because it helps the team avoid wasting any of their precious time. By following the PDCA Cycle, the team can also begin its work immediately (not so if they were to attempt to use the sub-optimal Project Management methodology!).

This raises the obvious question of what process performance targets should be set in the Project Brief for the improvement? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is not always “cost reduction!”

Cycle Time Reduction – the main target for process improvement!

Reducing cycle time is the key to what the world refers to as Lean Thinking – pioneered by Toyota in its pursuit of business excellence. Cycle time is always measured in calendar time (not work time) because calendar time is what the external customer cares about! The customer is not interested in how many shifts we work or whether we have rostered days off!

The world’s manufacturers have long since recognised that cycle time is of the essence in manufacturing (hence “Just-In-Time” or JIT programs!). The world’s leading service sector organisations have also recognised that the same is true of their endeavours. After all, some 60-85% of service sector business costs are in employee salaries, and the only ‘currency’ for all these employees is the time they make available to the organisation to execute its processes!

The advantages in targeting process cycle time as the prime variable to get under control become evident once we realise that the penalties of poor processes are wasted time of one form or another! If we are to apply our time at work to maximum effect, ie creating value for our external customers, we need to minimise the cycle times of all our key processes!

A separate discussion paper entitled “Cost Time Profiling” (available on request) presents a method for quantifying the combined time and cost impacts of process improvements in a service organisation. As they say in the classics: “Time is Money!”

As a result of thousands of Cost Time Profiling projects conducted and documented by the Westinghouse corporation over the past 50 years, we now know that in a service organisation if we can reduce the cycle time by 50% on average (readily achievable!), the costs automatically reduce by some 10-15% on average. The employees will have fun doing so, provided of course that they are not laid off as a result of their efforts. This is a far better way to reduce costs than by cutting the budget or head count by 10-15% (which does zip for process capability)!

So, with cycle time reduction as the prime target of Process Design & Improvement efforts, the customer wins (they get the right goods or services quicker) and the organisation wins (it does it cheaper) and the employees win (because they have fun making the improvements and they no longer have to live with poor, outdated processes). Everybody wins!

It should be noted that cycle time is drastically affected by organisation structure. The ideal structure has each senior executive / manager directly responsible for all the people necessary to execute one or more agreed Key Processes ‘from end to end’. Naturally, this cannot be done unless there is senior team prior agreement as to what are the Key Processes of the business. An excessive number of vertical reporting layers in the structure will also have a dramatic adverse impact on overall cycle time for the end customer. This is the main reason why world class organisations tend to be very ‘flat’.

MASTER STEP #3: PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT & FEEDBACK

There is a familiar old saying that: “You get what you measure”. In pursuing business excellence, we need to measure only two categories of performance:

  1. How well we are changing the business (via our Strategic Plan)
  2. How well we are running the business (via all our Key Processes)

As part of Master Step #1, you will already have specified at least one (and preferably only one) Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for each of your 7 or less Strategic Objectives. Also as part of Master Step #1, you will have specified at least one (and preferably only one) KPI to measure the ongoing health of each Key Business Process and each Key Support Process of your organisation’s 1-page Process Model.

No other KPIs are necessary! Performance against these KPIs must be updated each month and reported in a highly visible (graphical!) format to those accountable. These days, you should have an easy-to- use software-driven Executive Information System (EIS) fed by your Objective Owners and your Process Managers and capable of updating and presenting these KPI data every month.

MASTER STEP #4: KNOWLEDGE CAPTURE & LEVERAGE

Since all work is done through processes, it follows that the knowledge that needs to be captured and leveraged across the organisation must be related to processes. This realisation enables clear priorities to be set for an organisation’s knowledge management initiatives.

The first cut involves determining which of the Key Processes in your process model require knowledge to be captured and shared the most in order to outperform the competition, or to ‘do more with less’. Having prioritized the Key Processes in this manner, you can then dig inside each one and identify exactly where and what knowledge capture and sharing is most critical. These are the initiatives to work on first.

Today’s graphic support tools (eg SmartDraw) readily enable knowledge flows to be linked directly to process flows.

MASTER STEP #5: LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT OF CHANGE

By the time you get to this final Master Step #5, your people will already have become adept at leading and managing change. However, you will need to be aware of two key aspects…

Impact of Leadership Styles

The collective impact of the leadership styles of individual managers needs to be raised as an issue worthy of considerable attention when seeking to institutionalise business excellence.

If we wish to have employee behaviours which are attuned to Process Design & Improvement, we need to ensure that the primary weighting of our collective leadership styles is more towards humble Coaches and Enablers rather than ego-centric Directors and Heroes. Coaches and Enablers tend to embrace team activity as required for effective process improvement projects, whereas Directors and Heroes tend to prefer employees to do as they are told (Directors) or to step aside (Heroes).

In his seminal study of “Good to Great” transition companies in the United States, Prof Jim Collins(2) confirmed that this same humble leadership style is particularly needed at the very top (CEO) of the organisation – paradoxically combined with an iron-hard will to get the right things done, no matter what.

Impact on organizational culture

Using these 5 Master Steps to business excellence, the resultant culture of the organisation (= the way things are done around here!) will reflect the following transitions:

FROM / TO

Win-Lose / Win-Win

Do it my way / Teamwork

Blame the people / Blame the process

Treat the symptoms / Treat the root causes

Suppress feelings / Express feelings

Save face / Learn

Conflict / Collaboration

Barriers / Problem solving

Undiscussables / Discussables

Aggression & submission / Assertiveness

Fancy footwork / Directly observable data

Assumption & inference / Effective communication

Unempowered people / Empowered people

EPILOGUE

Far too few SMEs are pursuing business excellence! Although hard data is scarce, it has been estimated that only some 4% of all SMEs throughout OECD countries have a well structured approach to business excellence and hence are reaping the net benefits.

It is my hope that by encoding a proven consulting methodology into a comprehensive self-help website and making the details available at very low cost, we can at least double the number of participating SMEs within 5 years. This would have a significant impact on the national productivity of your country.

But even if you don’t care about the national interest, you owe it to yourself and your own organisation to pursue excellence. Not to do so will severely handicap your competitive positioning and potential for sustainable, profitable growth.

Funding Sources for Your Home Business

Funding your business is simple not easy. True it is easy to get money when you have a traditional business. You will find it hard press to get the banks to give you a loan for your affiliate, network, direct sales, or internet marketing business.

If you are a licensed professional like a real estate agent, insurance agent, or certified financial planners good luck on traditional funding sources.

This guide will give you 21.5 ways to funding your home business. Looking to raise between $500-$10,000? Then this is for you. You may want to offer top-tier products and get paid higher commissions. But you don’t have the money to invest in your business to offer top-tier services. I give 21.5 ways to fund your business.

Here are 21.5 ways to fund your business:

Quick Funding Sources

1. Personal Savings: The simplest way to fund your home business. You are investing your personal savings into a cash flowing business that will give you mega returns. You must think like this to succeed. You are not spending your savings you are investing it.

2. The 3 F’s: Family, Friends, and Fools. It’s tricky borrowing money from family and friends. Especially if you have a history of starting and quitting businesses. If you have borrowed before and failed to pay it back you are up a creek. Then then are fools. There is someone out there who will give you money. I have raised over two hundred thousand dollars from friends, family, and fools.

Be sure to draw up a written agreement saying when you will pay the money back. Offer a high interest rate so the person will not feel like a “Fool” when they are giving you their money.

3. Credit Cards: Use your credit cards to get started. This is easy when you need less than $300 to start your business and becomes difficult when you want to sell top-tier products that pay higher commissions.

Use your credit cards or someone else. This is where the 3 F’s come in again. I started my company, gave my friend 5% equity, and had her get business credit cards. I then borrowed $5000 for my internet marketing business. It took me 18 months to pay her back but now she gets her car note paid every month plus a nice dividend check at the end of the year.

4. Short Term or Payday Loans: If you have a job you may want to try short-term or pay-day loans. You can borrow up to $2500 with some of these institutions. This is high risk and make sure you are in your home business for the long haul. Their interest rates are atrocious.

5. Personal Lines of Credit: use your personal lines of credit from your bank. I prefer to use credit unions because they are a little more lenient and offer better rates. Plus they have favorable repayment terms.

6. Personal Assets: Borrow against your home, car, or stocks. Borrow enough to start your business and keep it running. Borrowing against your assets will keep you committed to your business.

7. Insurance: Cash out your insurance. This is how many entrepreneurs start. Check your policy’s conditions on you cashing out.

8. Your Retirement Accounts: You can borrow from your 401k plans or IRA’s. Just make sure you borrow enough to cover 3-6 months of business expenses. Most people only borrow enough for the start-up. They forget about marketing and fixed monthly costs.

9. Your Job: This is a slower process and sacrifices have to be made. Need to invest $5000 for your home business? Then save $500 for ten months. Saving a portion of your job income is a smart move because you will not owe anyone and your bills will still be paid. Plus you will have the time to learn your business.

Creative Funding Sources

10. Your Customers: Yes, your customers. You can pre-sell items to fund your business. I promoted marketing system before it was even launched. I sold a new blogging platform before it came to the market.

11. Partnered Up: When I started my real estate career I did not have the money for my license, Realtor dues, or investing. I partnered up with agents and sent them my clients. I got a referral fee. I took finders fee on distressed properties. This ides works well in certain niches.

12. Boot Strapping: You only invest the money you make from your business. This may be the only way to raise funds for your business if you have poor credit, no friends, or family who will lend you a dime. You may have to sell small items and upgrade when enough sales come in. The advantage of this is you are learning while you are earning.

13. Sell Your Crap: Yes your crap that stuff you don’t need anymore that is taking up space. I have had several members of my team sell their cars, furniture, clothes, and other items to fund their home business. They used eBay, Craigslist, Back Page, and garage sales.

14. Mobile Advertising: Turn your car into a moving advertisement. Some companies pay up to $300 per week. You are driving anyway might as well get paid.

15. Sell Your Body: No, not like that. Sell advertising space on your body. Options include wearing signboards, t-shirts with company logos, or temporary or permanent tattoos.

16. Windfalls: Use your tax refunds, lotto winnings, settlements, and gifts. You can expand your business every year with your tax refunds.

17. Medical Research: I have a teammate who raised money by participating in medical research projects. This may be extreme but he got his money and has a profitable business. Search online for medical research projects in your area.

Non-Traditional Lending

In my membership site there is a training that teaches you to raise $500 to $10,000 in 30 days or less. Here are the funding source we teach:

18. Crowd Funding: is the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. You can use crowd funding resources GoFundMe, Fundagreek, and Fundly.

19. Peer-to-Peer Lending: is the practice of lending money to unrelated people, or “peers”, without going through a traditional financial intermediary such as a bank or other traditional financial institution. This lending takes place online on peer-to-peer lending companies’ websites using various lending platforms and credit checking tools. Sites like Peerform can help you with this process.

20. Investor Loans: Lending Club and Prosper.com connect borrowers and investors. Borrowers get their funding and investors get a nice return on their money. Please check out these sites for more information.

21. Micro Financing: Micro Financing is a form of financial services for entrepreneurs and small businesses lacking access to banking and related services. Mission-driven lending organizations give micro-loans (between $500 and $50,000) to businesses not eligible for traditional bank funding.

21.5 Prayer: When all else fails pray that you will get the divine wisdom to raise the money you need. In fact this should have done this first.

You now have 21.5 funding sources. You can raise money for your home business. Take action on these funding sources and excel in your home business.

Charles Fitzgerald Butler, is an entrepreneur and expert in internet marketing. Charles has a passion for helping people start and run successful home businesses. You can partner with Charles and start building multiply income streams from your home. Charles’ goal is to help all who partner with him achieve cash flow and profits from their business.

Top 3 Reasons Small Businesses Fail

Before You Say “I Do”

Before you say I do, before you make the investment, before you hang the sign, before you set up the company, there is something that you should know. Small businesses are similar to a marriage – no one goes into the venture thinking that it won’t work out. Yet a significant portion of small businesses fail. According to the Small Business Administration, as many as 30 percent of small business startups fail within the first two years of the honeymoon – and up to 50 percent within the next three years. Do the math and you’ll come up with a staggering 80 percent failure rate among small businesses within the first five years. The odds are stacked against you, but our business model is based entirely on helping small business owners maximize growth. To avoid the pitfalls that cause other businesses to fail, you’ve got to understand what business failure is, the reasons why small businesses fail and what it will take to be part of the remaining 20 percent that achieves success.

Lack of Business Acumen

Making the transition from an employee to a small business owner can be extremely difficult. The disciplines that you have developed as an employee are totally different than what you will need when you step into the owner’s shoes and start running the show. The reality is that many owners’ expertise lies in accounting, law, medicine or some other discipline unrelated to day-to-day operational concerns. Don’t assume that you can just open a business and find clients or patients lining up outside your door. It takes skill and experience to drive business your way. Identify the areas where you lack expertise and look for consultants, partners, professional services or employees to fill in the gaps.

Inadequate Resources

For small business owners, relationships mean everything. The right relationships result in a strong foundation, but incompatible or incomplete teams translate to inadequate resources. What team resources can you leverage to balance your own strengths and weaknesses? Too often, new business owners attempt to do it all themselves. This strategy may work in a one-man operation for someone whose goal in life is to only work by himself, for himself. Unfortunately, it’s an ineffective strategy for running a full-scale business. Instead, you need the right team and the right advisors. One of the most powerful tools you can use to increase your chances of success is to learn where to turn to get the right resources to fit the needs of your business. That won’t necessarily mean consulting with your best friend or hiring a former co-worker. Your selection process should extend beyond friends and family. Looking for the lowest price may also not be the best decision-making criteria. The truth is you get what you pay for. Locating and utilizing the best resources possible is one of the keys that will differentiate your future between dissolution and success.

Insufficient capital

The number one reason why marriages fail is because of money issues, and small businesses are no different. The amount of capital available to you at the time you establish your new business is a critical determinant of the success or failure of your business. Simply put, your available capital is the sum of your cash, lines of credit or trade credit for the business. For most start-up businesses, the costs incurred within the first two years far outweigh income – except in the case of acquiring a business that provides income on day one.

One of the largest and most common problems is muddying the line between business expenses and personal expenses. Separate your personal life from the business. Resist the temptation to remove cash from business accounts to satisfy a shortfall in your personal budget. While it’s true that the business should provide income to the owner, too-frequent personal withdrawals cause undue hardship. Plan withdrawals that are sufficient to maintain your household needs and stick to the plan.

In order to flourish in business, you must be accountable to yourself, your employees, your family and your clients. You must be able to grow right along with the growth of your business. If, as a small business owner, you take the same “’til death do us part” commitment pledge taken by a newlywed, and commit to sticking it out through thick and thin, you will increase your chances for success. Don’t give in to the temptation to wander off and explore the next, newest thing. Focus and commit to your business and eliminate failure as an option.

How to Start a Coffee Shop or Coffee Business

So you’ve decided to get into the World of Coffee! Coffee can provide a multitude of opportunities and can also apply to anyone wanting to start up a Sandwich Bar, Cafe or Deli. Infact anyone wanting to open any business that features Coffee. Many types of business serve coffee these days, with either a Traditional Espresso Machine or automatic Bean to Cup Machine. Bookshops, Bicycle Shops, Motor Cycle Dealers to name but a few. Any business that attracts like minded people who share common interests is a great place to start a Coffee Shop. It gives people the chance to socialise and talk about their shared interests. This business diversification also provides an additional income for these businesses that are not “out and out” Coffee Shops.

Like any business that people want to start up, it’s usually because they have an interest in some element of their chosen business idea. It’s always a good idea to do something you like doing or have a skill at, otherwise what’s the point? However, just because you have a “passion” and a dream of setting up your own Coffee Shop doesn’t mean that it will be automatically successful. The same rules apply for any business – Doesn’t matter how good your idea is, you need to make sure there is a “need” in your town or geographic area. This research will form part of your “Business Plan”. A business plan is more than just putting a few figures together to get finance. “Your Business Plan” is just that. It’s about getting your thoughts and ideas down on paper and creating a plan of action for business research, marketing research, project managing and forecasts for getting your business open. It should also be business planning for the future to make sure you stay open! There is an old saying in business; “If You Fail to Plan You Plan to Fail”. It’s a known fact that a large proportion of new businesses fail within the first 3 Years.

Get a clear vision of what you would like your business to be. Try and picture it in your mind. Where would you like it to be? What does it look like? What’s the decor and style? Who are your customers? Apart from Coffee what other offering will you have? What is your USP (Unique Selling Point)? Basically, you have to identify how you can be a bit different from any competition that will also appeal to your potential customers. The most important thing to find out from as many people as possible within your “market place” is; Do they agree with your “vision”? and; Are they prepared to become a customer and pay for it? Put a questionnaire together and go and talk to as many people as you can to find out if your coffee business idea is what they would spend their money on. Also ask open questions about what “they” would like to see in their area. They might suggest some things you never thought of. They may also criticise some of your ideas, don’t take it personally. If their criticism is valid learn by it. Remember, it’s not about what you want. Give them what they want and they will spend their money with you rather than someone else. Check out other Coffee Shops to see how they do it. Not only your local “competition” but further a field. Make several visits at different times of the day if possible. Also, try and look at them from a customers point of view. Make notes of not only the things they seem to do right, but what you think they do wrong. Do they have a steady stream of customers all day or just at lunchtimes? Make a note of prices. Once you are aware of the costs of products then you can guess their “mark up”. Do you think they have the customers they need to make a good return from their prices? Of course, this is not the whole profit story. You have to consider overheads and staff wages etc. You will have a better idea once you “cost out” your own business which we will come to shortly. Correlate all of the “plus” points you have found in the competition and combine them with your USP and VISION for your business and see if you think you can do things a bit better.

Once you have a clear picture about your business then apply what is known as the “Four P’s of Marketing”. Product, Price, Place and Promotion. This can expand to the seven P’s for the service industry. There’s lots of information online but basically all the P’s have to match to get the right “Marketing Mix” for the product and/or service. For example: A high cost perfume couldn’t be sold on a market stall. It’s unlikely that the correct pricing could be achieved and there’s a good chance that shoppers wouldn’t believe the perfume to be the “real” thing anyway. The “marketing mix” is all wrong. If you consider the four P’s when seeing how an expensive perfume is sold you will see what I mean. The Product (a top brand), Place (where – high class perfumeries and shops in some of the worlds most exclusive Cities). Promotion (TV, Cinema, Product placement and the Worlds most exclusive media magazines). Therefore the Price is set according to the social and financial level of the customer being promoted to. Basically, it’s that old saying that “If you have to ask the price then you can’t afford it”. The fours P’s match and you have the right marketing mix. Decide what market sector you want your Coffee business to fit in to. If you want your business to be “classy” with a “stylish” decor and serving a range of “top quality” goodies served by immaculate, polite and efficient staff (Product) then to get the “Price” you need or want then you will have to ensure you are in the right upmarket area or Town (Place) that has an upmarket level of customers. The way your business looks on the High Street and your high level of service that would be expected by your upmarket clientele is the correct Promotion in itself. People tend to mix in the same circles as themselves thereby promoting your business by “word of mouth” within an exclusive group of people. These days this process is strengthened with “social media”.

So where do you find all this information if you don’t really know the area where you want to set up? Within the UK, County Councils will have a wealth of information available within the NATIONAL CENSUS reports for the area. For example it can tell you property values and where they are. Socio Economic Groups (A, B, C1 etc). What their Income levels are and where they live in the area. It can tell you the age groups, how many in each group and where they live. All this information and more can be used to find out where to locate your business for the market sector you are looking for.

Time to look at yourself and any partners there might be. You need to determine everybody’s “Strengths and Weaknesses”. Make a list under each heading. A strength doesn’t have to be a fully fledged “Barista” at this stage. You can be trained in that area – more on Barista Training later. However, for now, coffee making skills might be a weakness until you receive training. For example; a strength is any quality or skill you may already have that can be applied to your new coffee shop business. You might naturally be a good organiser and have great “people skills”. These are great for managing your business and staff. People skills are pretty important in a “hospitality” business! The same theory applies to your “Weaknesses” list. If you are a disorganised person then you need to be able to delegate to someone who is a good organiser or learn the skills required to discipline yourself into the everyday management of your business. “People skills” is a skill that can be learnt. There are many courses and books available in this are of personal and business communications, customer service and hospitality industry courses. In general, analyse yourself and partners to determine if there are any qualities, knowledge or skills that are lacking to run your business then get the training you need. Don’t forget Accounting skills. This seems an obvious skill that a business needs but can easily get brushed aside in the midst of excitement about starting a new business. No matter how big your dream is of being part of the “Cafe Culture” you need to know how to look after the “pennies” and control your “Cashflow Forecasts” and “Profit + Loss” Accounts. Continue building your list of Strengths and Weaknesses with anything you can think of that will be required to run your business. If you’re not sure how to think about, and compile your list, then once again guidance is available in many business books etc.

Before discussing Barista Coffee Skills; an area which you need to explore depending upon your location and the nature of products that you may sell is food hygiene. Check out the relevant Food Standard Authority in your geographic location. In the UK it’s the Food Standards Agency. See You need to consider Food Hygiene training and learn about the regulations in this area. Back to making coffee; You don’t need to be a fully qualified Barista before you can make excellent Espresso based coffees and have customers flocking back for more. However, if you have no previous experience, you will need some training and time for some practice before you open your door to customers. With my business, you would be taught some basic skills at the time of your Espresso machine installation. This would involve training on the machine and coffee bean grinder; how to operate them and “best practice” use of the equipment. Day to day maintenance and cleaning schedules will be explained to ensure trouble free use of the equipment. The next step is to show how to prepare a range of the most popular speciality coffees I.e. Lattes, Cappuccinos, Espressos, Latte Macchiato, Mochas etc. including Steaming and Stretching the milk to obtain the perfect micro-foam. Once you get some work experience and have an understanding of the processes then you can take advantage of more advanced Barista Training if you feel the need.

I’ve already suggested you visit other Coffee businesses in your area for market research and gathering vital intelligence on the competition. At the same time decide if you need other “Coffee Shop Skills” by being a “customer”. If it’s a good Coffee Shop then observe the general skills that the staff have and how they attend to customers. Now we come to the cost!

So you now have a clear vision of your business. You can now see your “dream” more vividly in your minds eye but can you afford it? Your initial SET UP costs are going to be for “Premises” – Lease costs. Rent will be a “Fixed Cost”. Property renovations and fixtures, fittings and equipment and potentially uniforms with be “Set Up” costs. Make a list of ALL the equipment you are going to need. Not to mention a Coffee Machine and all related coffee equipment. If your business is to be a Coffee Shop, Coffee Lounge or any business dedicated to the excellence of coffee then you will require a Traditional Espresso Machine set up. If it’s going to be Fast Food, Takeaway etc where staff are doing several jobs at once. McDonalds staff for example, then a Bean to Cup machine would be a better choice because of operational needs. See my article on How to Choose Commercial Coffee Machines – Espresso Machines, Bean to Cup, Bulk Brew . If you are starting from absolute scratch you are going to need counters, chilled display cabinets and serve over counters. Food prep equipment (Stainless Steel tables etc.) Grills, Ovens, Refridgerators, Water Boilers, Dishwashers; the list goes on and will be specific for your business. All will have to be “commercial” specification as opposed to domestic equipment. FIXED COSTS, surprise, surprise, are those costs that will hopefully not change too much and are not related to sales. The “cost” of sales is a “variable cost”. Fixed costs are Shop Rent, Business Rates, Insurance, Electric and Gas services if arranged on a fixed monthly plan, Staff Wages, National Insurance (check out all costs relating to employment). Don’t forget your own wages! Telephone Rental, Broadband tariff, WiFi costs – you get the idea. VARIABLE COSTS are related to the cost of producing and providing anything that you sell. For example: Coffee beans, milk, sugar, coffee syrups and sauces, disposable cups. Crockery cups would be a fixed cost but that would depend upon if you and staff have “butter fingers”. All other drinks, food and any other consumables that are used as a result of you making “sales”. Other variables that are not quite as obvious are Advertising and Promotion. It may not be something you do all the time therefore it is “variable”. Please note that any advertising and promotion should be monitored to establish success of campaign and cost per customer. Over time you will have an idea of your customers average spend. Relate that to the average cost of getting a customer and will be able to evaluate if your “campaigns” are worthwhile. All these “variable” costs need to be built in to your Financial Projections which should be for at least 12mths and beyond. Financial Projections should be in the form of a “Profit + Loss” spreadsheet. This is important in assessing the viability of the business. A “Cashflow” Forecast is also very important in the real world, not only for your initial projections but also as a working “day to day” document once you get your business open. There is plenty of information available in business books and online on how to put these projections together. If you have an Accountant, discuss all things financial with them. There is an old business saying that “Turnover is Vanity”. Make sure you are always looking at the “bottom line” of Profit in any financial figures you put together. As mentioned; your Business Plan should extend into the future. A 5 year plan is a good idea. Outline your ideas and vision for future growth. Set business goals and evaluate if you achieved them. Your Business Plan should be a “dynamic document” to respond to the “marketplace” and your ideas. If you you don’t know where your going how will you ever get there!

For those just starting out in any business, I hope this article has given you some insights. Good luck with your future ventures and please feel free to contact me.

Why Business Plans Don’t Get Funded

Failure is guaranteed if a man does not understand the formula for success and apply them correctly. I say this without any hesitation and I speak from experience in this area. You can be assured that there is a formula for success in all endeavours of life and ignorance of the law is no excuse. The fact that some of us are wise in areas of our success and foolish in other areas where we experience failure goes to show that we all have something to offer each other. The same principle applies when it comes down to raising securing funding. If you do not know what the secrets are for raising finance successfully, then you will need to get an expert to help you learn and master the techniques to obtain a well-grounded knowledge for future success. One thing is certain, you do not wish to become like the masses that are unconsciously incompetent in this subject, often running to the banks and investors with poorly prepared business plans only to be faced with failure. In this article, I will now provide you with an insight into the world of writing an effective business plan for funding to help you raise finance successfully and to do so very quickly. The key to raising finance successfully is your business needs to be ‘Investment Ready’. Unless you have green traffic lights on all these areas I will soon be covering in this article, you will be met with numerous challenges and not be able to raise funding.

The secret for raising finance successfully for business growth was revealed to me whilst working for many years with financial institutions awarding funding to businesses, in my role as a Financial Advisor & Appraisal Manager, spending 50% of my time reviewing and analysing business plans for funding and the remaining 50% managing clients’ relationships post funding to ensure they comply with financial covenants. I can honestly tell you that many of the businesses that were consistently raising funding, used the same tried and tested systems. Those who frequently had challenges were using a multitude of different systems and hardly understood why they were unsuccessful often using petty claims to support their ignorance. You are being warned not to fall into the category of the latter group and, reading this article will put you one step ahead of the pack.

These are the five top reasons why a business plan will be rejected for funding:

1. The marketing strategy shows the business lacks competitive edge in its industry or the business lacks a robust marketing strategy and is likely to fail.

2. The management team is inadequate and in some cases lack the competencies required for business success.

3. The business strategy is unclear with the risk of exposing the funder’s capital to losses.

4. Financial projections are based on a rather optimistic assumptions, which when stress-tested show that the business will fail if the most likely outcomes in the marketplace materialised.

Unless your business has a plan to address all the above problems if they emerge in your business you are guaranteed to fail in your bid to raise funds. The reason is simple; the business plan is a management tool that funders use to carry out their due diligence on businesses that need their hard earn cash. Funders have a range of tools that they use to assess the viability of a business for funding and sadly many small businesses are clue-less about these evaluation techniques for funding decisions. This means that many businesses are not investment ready when they approach a funder and are shocked that their time and money producing the business plan has been wasted. Unless small businesses understand how they are evaluated for funding, the risk of businesses being unable to raise finance for growth even with the proliferation of government backed loans will continue to increase.

In conclusion, before you as a business owner or manager approaches lenders or investors for funding, you are advised to ensure you take on board the points I have shared in this article with you, very seriously. If you are challenged with the technical details of business planning, by all means, seek professional help from experts, as you are more likely to obtain the funding you need, with the right business support solution than attempting to go it alone and be faced with rejections.

I wish you great success with your business funding journey and do keep reading my articles in this subject area and management issues in general.

The Eight Most Important Checkup Questions for 2021

Are you happy with your business this year? What are you going to do differently? How can you hire the right people to support your vision? Sadly, many small business owners do not spend enough time planning for the future. It’s quite understandable. Managers must keep pace with the daily demands of their businesses, including payroll, taxes, product/service delivery, and customer expectations.

Fortunately, the end of the year is the perfect time for a comprehensive evaluation of your company. Your business needs a checkup. Most people can relate to a checkup with their local doctor, depending on their background and personality characteristics (age, sex, family medical history). The doctor will conduct a variety of tests, including blood, vision, heart, and hearing.

In fact, one element like an individual’s weight is not the only indicator of overall good health. Likewise, small businesses could benefit from a good checkup too. Successful entrepreneurs think strategically when engaged in a hostile, global environment.

After 27 years of managing projects and conducting over 100 organizational evaluations of business organizations, I realize that both large and small organizations struggle in implementing their operations effectively.This article examines how small business needs to ask themselves in an effective checkup.

Welcome to the New Normal! Yet, nearly a year after this pandemic, the full impacts on the U.S. economy is not unclear. According to recent studies, more than four million Americans have left the workforce, and nearly 10 million are now unemployed compared with last February.

In fact, the number of unemployed people continues to rise. According to a business study conducted between March 28 and April 4, 2020, small businesses have been heavily damaged by the lockdowns due to Covid-19.

This research more than 5,800 small businesses reaching a network of 4.6 million small businesses.The results showed evident damage of the pandemic. At this juncture, 43% of businesses had temporarily closed, and nearly all of these closures were due to COVID-19.

Respondents stated that they had temporarily closed, largely pointed to reductions in demand and employee health concerns as the reasons for closure. In fact, the businesses, on average, reported having reduced their active employment by 39% since January.

All industries have been impacted. However, retail, arts and entertainment, personal services, food services, and hospitality businesses showed significant employment declines exceeding 50%. Some businesses hope for assistance from the government.

According to a Babson’s Goldman Sachs report, 88% of U.S. small business owners have already exhausted their Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan; the Small Business Association gave these loans specifically to help businesses keep their workforce employed during the pandemic. These loans were helpful.

Yet, these successes do not diminish the fact that more than 32% of PPP loan recipients already have laid off employees or cut wages. In fact, Forty-three percent of Black small business owners reported that their businesses’ cash reserves would be depleted by year’s end due to Covid-19.

Today’s small businesses and entrepreneurs must retool themselves, given the potential impacts of Covid-19 have the necessary capacity to change their way of thinking because of their passion. However, small businesses must be willing to evaluate their current operations and make the required changes.

For example, customers have largely gone online to purchase services due to the lockdowns. If a business does not have an online presence now, this company does not exist. Internet pioneer and CEO of PSINet Bill Schrader explains the significant of online visibility: “Almost overnight, the Internet’s gone from a technical wonder to a business must.”With the appropriate diagnosis of an organization, a business can develop more sustainable success. Thus, the right checkup is critical.

Below are some critical questions to help you conduct your own self-checkup:

  1. Do you have a clear vision for your business? What is it?
  2. Do you know why your customers buy from you and why others do not buy from you?
  3. What results are you getting from your marketing? Do you have an effective online presence on the web?
  4. Are you collecting data or the right kind of data on your customers and competitors?
  5. Are you keeping pace with your industry trends? If so, what are the key trends?
  6. How are you measuring results (i.e., key performance indicators like cash flow and revenue)?
  7. What are your key competitors’ marketing strategies?
  8. Have you evaluated your strengths and weaknesses (i.e., SWOT Analysis)?

In summary, successful global businesses, like IBM and Google, have continuous systems in place to evaluate their performance. Let’s call this process an organizational checkup.

Small businesses that want to succeed in this global and technological climate must be able to conduct this self-evaluation or checkup. This article demonstrated the relevancy of a good checkup to help improve a business by asking probing questions. In many cases, small businesses do not have to take on this organizational checkup along.

There are various organizations like the Small Business Administration and local universities that can assist in this process. Have you conducted a checkup for your business this year? It’s not too late. Start the new year with a healthy business checkup.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Business Plan

Do you need investors? Looking for a loan? Do you want to apply for a grant? Or has the time just come to do a self-analysis of your business? Are you expanding your business? Looking for new markets? Seeking the next level in your business? These are all times that you need a business plan? What are the nuts and bolds of a business plan?

All business plans have more or less the same sections some even have the same content.
However, when they arrive at the investor’s or lender’s table some remain where they are and others pass to the “I’ll read them later” pile or worse still the trash can! So how do you make your business plan readable and memorable for all the best reasons.

Let’s look at what really is at the heart of a business plan. A business plan is a methodology that defines and integrates the activities that are necessary for a business idea to become a company and provides expectations that prove it will be profitable. In other words, it is the hook to get an investor and tell them that your idea is innovative and will be very profitable. Note those two important words: innovative and profitable. No investor will be interested in a company that is not going to be profitable enough to give them their investment back plus a very healthy profit. Now the what could be an interesting word – innovative. For a company to be successful it must have something that is different to all the other companies working in the same market. After all if your company is going to be the same as all the others, they are hardly going to move over and let you take their customers. No, your company needs to have something different that will attract these customers away from what they buy all the time. So innovative in some way, be it products, business model or service.

Lets add another word that your need to prove within your business plan – viable. Your investor or lender wants to see that you company is going to be viable. If you do a Google search about the “Internet Bubble” of circa 1995 you will see that thousands of investors invested and lent to new fangled internet companies that promised to make them millions of dollars in easy profits. Memories are long and now investors look to see that new companies are going to be viable for the for seeable future so that they continue to receive an income stream and have a good chance of getting their loan or investment back.

Your business plan should be a communication tool selling an original idea that serves to attract and convince people that you have the ability to implement the plan by establishing and managing the company.

At the beginning we highlighted other reasons for business planning. In addition to raising funds, your business plan is also the best tool for you to assess the viability of your business.

So that is the NUTS of a business plan, lets look at the BOLTS that hold it together:

Professional: Internally it should be well structured with an index, page numbers, headings and bulleted paragraphs that explain complex matter. Plenty of graphics break up the boredom of too many words. Externally it should be expertly bound and have a colorful and attractive cover page. It stands to reason that full company details and contact information should also be on the front cover.

Tempting. Written in a way that encourages the reader to assess the possibilities of entering the business. Take care of the writing style, be concise but not brief and certainly not so wordy that tiredness beckons. Keep to the point, zwoding extraneous information that does not support your business planning or business model. Avoid jargon and if you must use initials ensure that the first example is spelt out completely with the initials in brackets afterwards.

Dynamic. You have to be creative, but with some restraint. It is best if you tell a story but not one that is found in the fiction section of a library. If the business you propose does not invite big flourishes, save them. It can be counterproductive to distract the reader. Creativity is important as long as you highlight something about the business and is there to keep the attention of the reader. Creativity must only be used to paint a picture of how the business will operate in the future.

Accurate. Clarity is fundamental, but so is accuracy and truthfulness about the current state of your company and its future aims. A little bit of license is offered by the reader but they do expect you to be truthful about your figures, customer numbers and state of the production of your goods.

Ordered. Guide your reader through your business plan and put supporting documentation within the appendix of the report. Although the key information should be in the main sections of the report, in the appendices you can include secondary data, market study results, resumes of professionals and any letters from recommendation or favorable report.

The last big BOLT that will hold your business plan together is CARE. Your business plan is not just something you have to rush through in order to get your funding. It is the description of what your business looks like now and what you want it to look like in the future. Most business plans start at about 20 pages long for a small business setting out in the world to a maximum of 50 pages for a business seeking major funding. Whatever the size of your business plan, and please practice writing complex ideas succinctly, it should be written with care – after all a good business plan is a roadmap to company success!

Success Factors

There has been a lot of buzz about Outlier’s: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell so I decided to give it a read. Basically the material is a compilation of anecdotes and short stories about success and some of the surrounding patterns.

I’m not going to review the book here, but expand on the main theme of what makes someone successful. The book tells what has been engrained into many of us – hard work, perseverance, resilience and opportunity are all factors that help determine success.

While it isn’t always the case, generally someone that has significant experience is better versed and qualified in a subject than someone with less experience. Gladwell cites that mastery on any topic requires 10,000 hours of practice. He provides examples of successful musicians, athletes and technology changing leaders this applied to. I can say the most qualified and successful technology professionals I have worked with started at a young age, experimenting with networks, building and rebuilding computers and writing applications out of intrigue. If they happened to get started a little later in life, they threw themselves into the topic and applied a strong drive to become an expert, accelerating their hours of practice and reducing the timeline needed to excel. However, does experience alone make the difference? There are other qualities and traits that I believe help determine someone’s level of success.

  • Intelligence – intelligence matters to a point, beyond a reasonable level, studies don’t seem to indicate that much of a difference. Gladwell’s book shows those who have intelligence high enough to be accepted and complete college is generally the baseline and minimal requirement.
  • Mindset/Confidence – a person has to be interested in learning, bettering themselves and advancing. Success, as most things, can be a self fulfilling prophecy. If one doesn’t believe they have the ability and lacks the desire, little will be accomplished.
  • Curiosity – learning requires analysis and those who are more inclined to question things are generally more inclined to broaden their knowledge.
  • Perseverance/Drive/Passion – we all face setbacks, but those who truly prosper are those who don’t allow disadvantages to prevent us from reaching our goals. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh and many other successful inventors and leaders in our history had impairments. The key to their success was the will to overcome these obstacles. General interest and care for what is being done is important. We are all more successful when we have an interest in what we are doing and the desire to be the best we can be. We are generally good at what we like and like what we are good at.
  • Social Awareness – understanding our environment, how others perceive us, social and cultural norms are all important to interacting with others and navigating our success.
  • Timing/Opportunity – Gladwell’s book shows that opportunity matters. Being in the right place at the right time does have an influence on what is made available. For example, the material describes a situation where historically certain time periods allow for a better education, because of the low attendance at colleges.
  • Environment – while all other bullets have a direct influence on success, I strongly believe environment is the most influential factor to someone’s success. While a certain degree of aptitude, interest and opportunity need to be present, I don’t think anything can replace strong role models and both formal and informal instruction.

There are many citations and theories on whether the traits above are innate or something that can be acquired. I believe it is a combination of factors. Our past shapes our future and a challenge or hardship we face often times turn the hands on our future, creating a strong will to change or prove ourselves otherwise.

Experience Matters

I recently attended a PMI event on the age old question of what makes a project more successful than another. The discussion started by stating the obvious need to focus on the 5 W’s, but also the importance of ‘how’ things are done. The discussion was primarily philosophical, asking us to each think of the differentiators.

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to success, and while checklists and “best practices” are helpful, I believe it’s the team’s application and foresight that goes into the application of a tool or method that determines success. Sure, guidance from other sources is helpful, but the ability to apply experience and intellect is what makes it all come together.

They say you need 10,000 hours experience in an area to become an “expert” and the more experience and diversity in your background, the more scenarios you have encountered. Armed with our own experiences, we must be magnets for knowledge from others. Knowing how to learn, identifying areas needing growth and knowledge in ourselves and knowing where to go for the answers is very important. I think formal education helps in this area and helps build resourcefulness. It is impossible to always know all the answers. The ability to find the answers and make timely decisions based on the information available is what really matters. Awareness of a better way and for continuous improvement in all we do is what sets apart those with stellar results compared with those with mediocre and just satisfactory results.

Below are some tips I recommend for setting yourself, and your projects apart from your peers:

  • Develop an Inquisitive Nature – Search for a better way to do everything.
  • Experiment & Grow – The more we do, the more we learn.
  • Self-Reflect – Take the time to analyze events as they occur.
  • Identify a “Watch-List” of High Performers – Find a group of people that you deem as successful and respect and observe the behaviors and attributes of this group.
  • Research High Performing Organizations – Research successful organizations and the factors leading to their success.

Knowledge work requires us to always be anticipating events, bettering ourselves through continuous learning and applying our lessons learned to all we do. The more projects we have under our belt, the more situations we have seen. This exposure allows us to identify and anticipate events those with less experience may not have yet encountered.

Common Questions About Machine Learning

In this article, we are going to talk about machine learning. We will answer a lot of common questions that most people may have on their minds. Without further ado, let’s get into details. Read on.

1. What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a type of (AI), aka Artificial Intelligence that empowers a system to learn and make decisions itself without being programmed. These algorithms make the computer smart enough so that it can make choices on the basis of the data it has without any human intervention. The primary aim is to make algorithms that allow a system to learn and make their own decisions in future, based on the past data.

2. Why do we need Machine Learning?

Given below are some of the reasons we use these in the here and now.

2.2. Prediction while Traveling

We all have been using GPS system while traveling in our lives. Whenever you book a cab it tells you the approximated fare and time required to reach your destination. How does your smart phone do that? The answer is machine learning! It calculates the velocities and location of our vehicles. based on this information, it even tells us if there is traffic jam on this road. The programmers did not program the computer to tell you that there is a traffic jam, but they designed a system that makes smart decisions on the basis of past and current events of people who passed by that area. Plus, it warns you about the traffic jam.

2.3. Search Engine Optimization

web search engines automatically show you the accurate results based upon your location and past searches. Programmers don’t program it to show you those results, but it gives accurate results within seconds according to your interests and recent searches.

2.4. Spam Mail Classification

In our email boxes, the system automatically classifies some emails as spam or junk mails and some mails as primary mails that could be very important for us. The system is never wrong and it is all possible with the help of these learnings.

3. Types of Machine Learning:

The basic idea of machine learning is the same for all types but it has been further divided into 3 following types:

3.1. Supervised Learning Supervised learning is one of the most popular types of machine learning and it is easy to understand and implement. In this type, the algorithm is trained on given data but and the data needs to be labelled. You allow the system to predict the data and you make corrections if the predictions it makes are not accurate enough.

3.2. Unsupervised Machine Learning

Unsupervised machine learning works without any labeled data but you have to provide a lot of data so that the system understands the properties that provide a base for the decision it has to make. This can improve the productivity in a lot of fields.

3.3. Reinforcement Learning

It is based upon trial and error methods. The system makes mistakes and learns from them in order to avoid these mistakes again. For example, in a maze, when the system fails to find a path, it won’t go on the same path again because it knows that the path doesn’t work. It labels positive outcomes and negative outcomes and runs on the basis of these outcomes.

In short, these were some of the common questions about machine learning. Hopefully, the answers to these questions will help you get a deeper insight into this field of science.

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