Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to go from geek to rich and cool

The word, entrepreneur is a very sexy word these days. We love the swashbuckling stories of start ups and burnouts. We read about how entrepreneurs and business owners cut the apron strings and took the plunge into the deep to survive by their wits, charm and intellect and how it feels to jump . . . and land. 

We are amazed by those who possess the ability to envision something and make it happen. We love to read about people like the now deceased Steve Jobs who shot the apple out of the sky, or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who went from geek to rich and cool. 

Whether it's iPhones, social networks or the desire to produce a new widget, it takes 2 things to bring an idea to life: words and money.  Words  and money are the key ingredients in a business plan. 

So, here you are. An entrepreneur with an idea and a desire to  --------- (fill in the blank).  You may be a company of smaller proportions than your idea, doing everything from accounting to communicating and delivering.  You need a plan that can help you attract customers and markets, money, and the support of the community or suppliers.

It`s 3 AM and you are sitting in front of your computer, fingers poised.  Your plan template is at the ready.

It wants to know about your vision. So you might google great visions on the Internet and find examples that promise to take the company to the moon, or to find a cure for cancer. You will find pages and pages about how `craft` a vision.

So now I have to be a wordsmith too, you say to yourself.  You write something to appease the template just like you did when you were in high school hoping to win marks for partially getting the answer right.

Next comes mission. You start to play word games at this point. `Your mission, should you chose to accept it . . .`. Template closes and you vow to come back to it another day.

Part of the problem is language as it comes out of old military strategy philosophy and is heavily coded. The other barrier is that you are in your own way.

Here are some things to help you break the code and hopefully the frustration.

Photo credits: Riley Stewart, Sara Armstrong
1. Get out of your own head and get help: The thing that text books and templates do not tell you is that you have to get out of your own head, and your own way in order to plan the way ahead.  You need  a business planner, someone who can listen to everything that you are thinking and help you distill the key message that describes exactly what you are envisioning so that others will see it too.

2. Describe the big idea:  Instead of `vision`, think of it as a big idea and why this is important. Describe the need in the marketplace, and who specifically will benefit from this and how it will make a difference in their lives. Write down in your own words and forget the template. Some of the best ideas are written on napkins and toilet paper. Speak from the heart and be impassioned about your vision because that's what makes a vision compelling.

3. Describe what you do:  Instead of mission, think of it as the things that you will deliver to your customers.


4. Think about ordering pizza:  Understanding customer expectations leads to product and service design and delivery.  In the pizza business, first customers expected cheese only, and everything else was an add on. Then competitors starting adding more to the pie, raising the bar, and the costs for their competitors. Then someone invented the little table that sits in the centre of the pizza so the box lid does not touch the top of the pizza, and again customer expectations were raised, as were costs. In your business, think about the base expectation of customers, what it will cost you to deliver, and how you can rise above your competitors to attract customers to you.

5. Get real about capacity:  Consider where are you now, and what you have to do in order to be successful. Do you have the skills and talent to make it happen. Do you have the equipment to make it happen. Do you have the resources to get from here to there.

Photo credits: Lynn Armstrong

6. Look ahead with your eyes wide open:  Seeing the opportunity and the downfalls helps you to move ahead with your eyes wide open.  Think about what you need to do to address these possibilities and potential risks.

7.  Map it out:  Determine what you need to do and how much money will that take. I like action plans and supporting budgets.  For example, if you need to invest in a piece of equipment, it needs to be identified as to when and how much. You may want to invest in communications and marketing services to help you establish a brand, or get your message across to your customers, so you will need to know what the cost will be.  You may need supporting technology or equipment, so determine the costs and timing. The action plan allows you to see if you are planning beyond what is reasonable so that you can prioritize.  This includes supporting strategies such as a communications, marketing, and technology etc. Plan and budget for what you can do, and move the rest ahead to the next year.

8.  Sell it: They say that to move ahead quickly, move alone. But to move ahead and make a difference, move with a team. Share it with your banker, investor, your partners and your employees if you have them. Listen to objections - things that you might not have seen and tweak it if it makes sense.

9. Implement it: Do what you say you were going to do.

10.  Review it and share successes.  Plan again.

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