Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Business Plan Development

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” Fitzhugh Dodson

Everyone talks about it and knows about them, yet I know so many businesses among friends, which just started over a cup of coffee when they thought they had that ‘Aha’ moment. Don’t get me wrong I am all for the level of enthusiasm which is so infectious at the beginning that it lifts the spirits of the team to stratospheric levels. However, you need to harness all that energy in a focused manner. That focus is best brought about when you actually sit down and identify the idea in a structured manner through a business plan. A good business plan helps you plan your product/service in great detail . The key sections that you need to pay attention to when developing one are:

  • Market Need & Potential: What is the need that you are wanting to fill? How big is the market that you are going to operate in? Are there a lot of players currently in the space that you are about to enter? At what rate is your target market growing? Are you limited geographically? Use this section to identify the market need that you are wanting to cater to and the size of the market.
  • Product/Service: In this section you break down the product/service that you are going to be offering into components if possible. You have to identify the key benefits that it is going to provide to the market. What are it’s features or unique components? How is it going to be rolled out? What are future developments that you want to incorporate into the product/service. Does your product have any sustainable competitive advantages? Is it protected by any patents or copyrights? By clearly defining your offering you will get a better idea of just how scalable it is and what its unique functionalities or features are.
  • Marketing Strategy: In this section you will break down how you are going to market your product/service. Outlining specific strategies and mediums will enable you to gauge how long and how much it is going to cost to get your product to market. This is a section where a lot of brainstorming needs to be done to make sure your approach will be unique if there are current competitors in the market. It should also focus on your value proposition and the most effective way of getting it across to your target market.
  • Operational Strategy: Product development, marketing, logistics, human resources, technology all need to be managed. Use this section to outline how you are going to go about achieving your objectives. All partners should look at this section to see how and where they can contribute. Once decided, a process flow can be developed to ensure that things work out in a smooth and efficient manner.
  • Financial: If you are pitching your plan to a VC or an angel this is the section where you will need to add detailed financial forecasts for the next 5 years. This will help you gauge facts like your pre-money valuation, ROI, IRR and other key indicators which investors are looking for. However if you are using this as a guide for yourself I would stick to simpler financial documents where you identify your expenses, forecasted revenues and a simple balance sheet so you get a clearer picture of how much it is actually going to cost you to setup and run the business.

Once done you will have a document which puts on paper what was just another ‘idea’. The whole process of putting it on paper helps to look at the idea from all angles and forces you to look deeper into it than the initial concept. It is also the initial project in which to see how your partners work, discuss concepts and contribute.

So next time you think you have the next big idea, put it down on paper before going full steam ahead into the unknown.

*I will have a dedicated week to business plan development in the coming weeks to provide greater insights on all the aspects of a good business plan.

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5 steps to ensure effective meetings

Boss Ramblings

Meetings are and have always been a critical tool to get the job done. All successful meetings have several common key factors. When we incorporate them into our daily meetings we will see a surge in productivity and efficiency. This will have a direct impact on the results and bottom line. Listed below are five key factors which should be incorporated into every business meeting:

  1. The Agenda: An agenda brings focus to the reason a meeting is being held. It outlines all the key factors which are going to be discussed and what is needed to be achieved during the course of the meeting. It helps the facilitator to decide who should be invited and why. This will help create a blueprint for the meeting and will also help keep it on track and to reach the required goal. To read more about how to create an ideal agenda please click here.
  2. Time & Focus: These two building blocks must be tracked meticulously during the course of the meeting to ensure that adequate time is allocated to each agenda item and that the course of the discussion remain in line with the agenda. Deviation from these two factors result in meetings where all the participants get frustrated and no consensus is reached. To read more about how to keep your time and focus in line please click here.
  3. Group Participation: Meetings are most productive when you have everyone contributing to the discussion. This results in a group generated consensus to be reached which is free from any sort of bias. A conducive environment needs to be maintained to get everyone to contribute. To read more about how to get participants to contribute more please click here.
  4. Decision Making: Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. It is essential that key steps are taken to ensure that everyones opinion on the topic are heard and a collaborative decision is reached. When there is resistance to a proposed decision it needs to be handled with care to ensure that there is no passive resistance which could jeopardize the project. To read more about how to reach decisions effectively click here.
  5. Minutes & Action Items: During the course of a meeting several topics are discussed and decisions reached. Each one of these needs to be recorded for reference purposes. Meeting minutes provide participants with an easily accessible document and reminds them of what tasks were delegated and to whom. Action items need to be delegated with clear instructions and should be time bound for optimal execution. To read more on how you can incorporate minutes and successful action item delegation please click here.

Meetings are a critical business component. To run them successfully will result in better communication. Once a team or a business is at a level where communication flow becomes more efficient and effective it will have a direct impact on its productivity and results. Incorporate these factors into your daily meetings and let me know if you have noticed better results or performance. Also if anyone else wants to share other factors which have helped them run more effective meetings please let us all know. Thank you.

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Minutes and Action Items

Action Items

Minutes are a critical aspect of any successfully run meeting. Before the start of the meeting a participant should be delegated the role of taking them down and emailing them out to the rest of the group after the meeting. This will provide all the participants with an easily accessible reference point. The rationale that everyone will remember all that is discussed during the course of the meeting is not valid and could lead to confusion in the future. Provided below are some of the key aspects which should be included in the minutes;

  • Details regarding the date, time, participants and primary objective must always be included.
  • Notes regarding every pointer on the agenda sheet provides a good framework for easy reference.
  • Clearly outline the decision or consensus which was reached during the course of the meeting.
  • List down delegated action items with proposed deadlines.

Another key aspect of successful meetings is the delegation of action items. When a consensus has been reached and an implementation strategy outlined action items need to be clearly and concisely delegated to members of the team. Some key points for successful delegation of action items are;

  • Clearly and concisely state the action item to the delegated individual. A rationale behind the item and methodology to be used is essential.
  • Action items need to have time constraints. It provides an outline in which the task needs to be completed in.
  • Follow up action needs to be allocated if the action item is complicated. This helps to keep the team in the loop regarding the implementation. It also provides checkpoints which provide valuable feedback during the implementation process.

It is the meeting facilitators responsibility to ensure that the minutes and action items are successfully delegated. Incorporating them into your next business meeting will ensure that the responsibility for these tasks is efficiently delegated and discussion points are created for future references.

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Decision Making

enforcing decisions

Meetings provide a forum to reach decisions on issues through a collaborative process. Decisions which are taken without the consensus of all the affected departments or individuals leads to confusion, frustration and an unhealthy work environment. Listed below are a few guidelines on how to reach decisions within groups or teams effectively.

  • Ensure that the meeting facilitator or any other participant doesn’t take all the limelight. This will lead to an extremely biased view which will not be well received by all the participants. Every person in the meeting has the right to voice his/her opinion and have them factored into the decision making process.
  • Maintain an optimal size and type of the group to ensure you don’t reach a deadlock. This requires you to be selective in who you invite to the meeting. Calling two aggressive participants with three passive individuals will not yield an optimal outcome.
  • To reach an effective decision make sure that all participants have clearly understood the problem or issue which is being resolved to avoid any sort of confusion. An incorrect perception of what is being discussed is common and should be clearly stated in the agenda sheet for reference.
  • Once all the solutions to the problem have been discussed a decision used should be reached by a consensus. A voting systems will clearly identify those individuals who are for the solution and against it, this can be later explored in individual meetings if time is limited in the group meeting.
  • When a decision has been made and has received a majority consensus those individuals who were not in favor of the decision should do their best to buy into the proposed solution. Passive resistance to the solution becomes a major threat in implementing the solution. If you are strongly not in favor of the decision you may call another meeting to convince key individuals, however if the rest of the team is behind the decision you must do your best to go with the majority.
  • The facilitator of the meeting should do a summary of the decision which was reached through consensus at the end of the meeting. This will outline the problem we tackled, the solutions and the groups choice. This provides a great time for participants to clarify any confusion that they may have had.

If senior management has already made a decision on the particular issue do not call meetings to re-iterate the decision. If you need input from some departments calling a “review” meeting about the option selected is a better strategy.

Good decision making skills is a critical success factor for all teams. By leading meetings where you can reach timely and collaborative decisions you will be able to help your team reach fantastic results. Poor decisions which do not have the buy in of the team will result in poor performance which has a detrimental impact on your team.

Help your team to start making better decisions today!

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Group Participation

Business Meeting Participation

Business meetings are productive when all the attendees are active contributors to the discussion. Without adequate participation a biased decision may be formed based on the input of only a few participants. As the facilitator of a meeting it is your job to make sure that you get everyone in the meeting to become active contributors. Being a facilitator doesn’t require you to be extremely knowledgeable of the discussion. The following tips will help increase group participation in your next meeting.

  1. Take a count of who is going to be attending the meeting. This will help you seat the participants in a manner where all the quiet individuals will not be isolated into a corner. It will also help you structure the list of questions, specifically when you are talking about certain agenda points. Lastly knowing the participants background and personalities will help in anticipating barriers which may act as impediments.
  2. Avoid times such as right before lunch, right after lunch or nearing the end of office hours. These are times when the participants are least attentive and will not be very willing to provide feedback. Choose your time wisely, early morning meetings or an hour after the lunch break are optimal timings for meetings.
  3. Introductions from all the participants helps break the ice and allows for free flowing conversation. This helps to create a friendlier environment to encourage participation.
  4. If the meeting has a technical focus do your best to keep the jargon to the minimum. This will allow all the participants to get an idea of what is being discussed and to provide their opinion or feedback.
  5. Ask open ended questions such as “What are you thoughts on this method?” “How do you think you would implement this process?”. If you do not get appropriate answers to your questions then paraphrase them to make the respondent understand the question correctly.

Everyone at a meeting assumes a certain role. These roles may be habitual or may arise during certain discussion. Examples of roles which may take place during meetings are, the constant nit picker, quiet listeners and yes men. Take a look at your participation in meetings you attended recently. Did you take on any one role in the meetings you attended? If you did, you need to fix this by bringing balance to the image you are portraying.

You have to remember that you were invited to the meeting to give your insights on what is being discussed. You have to take this responsibility seriously and make sure that you voice your opinions in a clear and concise manner. This will give you greater visibility in your organization as well as help you establish a level of authority on a given subject matter.

Do your best to be an active participant at your next meeting!

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Time and Focus

Time Bound Meetings

If there are two components which should be tracked meticulously in every meeting “Time & Focus” top the list. When we lose track of these two components is when meetings fall apart and after endless hours of debating and discussing an issue no measurable progress is made towards the goal. To keep track of these components special attention needs to be paid to them to ensure that you have effective meetings.

Keeping Time: Time encapsulates both, being on time to your meetings and running them in such a manner that they start and end according to the time stated in the pre-meeting agenda. A few pointers on enforcing time during a meeting are;

  1. If you are chairing the meeting make sure that you reach the meeting on time. It is your responsibility to set an example about punctuality. By the same token if you are supposed to sit in on a meeting also make sure that you arrive on time. Even if your company has a culture of being late for meetings you need to start with yourself. Punctuality is essential and a defining aspect of effective organizations. If you have a habit of being late for meetings I highly suggest that you make a concentrated effort to rectify this.
  2. Assign someone to keep track of time. Reminders can be provided at checkpoints, reminding the participants how much time is left to keep everyone focused on completing the required agenda in the stipulated period of time. Keep track of how many meetings go into overtime. This can be a key metric to analyzing and calculating the effectiveness of your meetings for future optimization.
  3. For participants who reach meetings late you do not need to do a re-cap unless critical. You can fill the participants in after the meeting has concluded. Demerit points can be assigned to individuals who are continuously late. This can be included in the individuals performance review and needs to be taken seriously.

Keeping Focus: Losing focus during a meeting is quite easy. Any off-topic comment can send the meeting on a completely new tangent which will have a negative impact on both the timing and quality of the meeting. A few pointers on enforcing focus during a meeting are;

  1. Use your agenda pointers to help keep track of the meeting’s progress. When discussing an agenda point, allocate a certain action to that point once discussed and cross it off the list. This will help  bring closure to the point and make it harder to come back to discuss the point again.
  2. Ask only relevant questions during the discussion. When an off-topic comment or question is asked it has the ability to completely derail the meeting from the agenda. If you are the facilitator of the meeting do your best to keep off- topic questions to the minimum.
  3. Keep distractions to the minimum. There should be no cellphone conversations allowed during the course of the meetings. This has to be taken seriously to remain focused on reaching the goal in the time allocated.
  4. If the meeting is scheduled to take 2 hours do your best to incorporate at least one break for 5 – 10 minutes to keep participants focused and attentive.

Once you are able to bring these two key components under control you will enjoy shorter and more effective meetings.

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Whats the Agenda?

Pre Meeting Agenda

Starting a meeting without a pre-defined plan results in confusion, frustration and is a waste of time. The agenda for a meeting has to be used as a guide to steer the conversation towards achieving the outlined goals. It is not good enough to have the agenda in your head and to go with the flow during the meeting. You need to have a clearly written agenda which should be communicated to all participants before the meeting. This allows everyone to do some preliminary research on the topics which are to be discussed to make it more productive. When setting up a meeting follow 4 basic steps to produce the agenda:

  1. Have a clear goal for the meeting: Every meeting should have a clear focus. Writing down this goal in a clear precise manner helps to visualize the outcome which is required. Some meetings may not appear to have a clear focus, especially in the early phases at a startup company. However you need to pinpoint quantifiable areas. When you are discussing the viability of your service goals for the meeting “Reach a consensus on which functionalities are viable and necessary in the alpha version of the service.” Writing down and communicating the focus of the meeting will create boundaries to work within and will result in more productive meetings.
  2. Determine the intermediate steps required: When you set an agenda for the meeting do your best to avoid generalization of intermediary steps. For example if you are in a meeting where the goal is “Select a vendor for a CRM solution” discussing “Advantages of CRM solutions” or “How CRM will impact the company” are not relevant to reaching the goal and if you want to assess advantages, disadvantages and impact of the solutions they should be categorized in specific manageable discussion points. You have to ensure that each of your intermediary steps helps you reach your goal. Keep goals as specific as possible to avoid irrelevant or vague discussion points.
  3. Select the right people to attend: Decision makers or those with a direct connection with the goal should be invited to the meeting. Inviting individuals who have no direct impact on what is being discussed, results primarily in wasting resource time, and may slow down the meeting causing digression into unrelated topics. If you are selecting a psychometric vendor; the IT manager, finance manager, head of HR should be invited. These will be key decision makers who will be able to arrive at a conclusion quickly and effectively. Calling someone from the quality control department may not be a wise choice. Simple as this may seem we still seem to be dragged into meetings where we add no value. Make sure each resource at your next meeting is adding value otherwise you are wasting company resources.
  4. Identify potential barriers before hand: Barriers and roadblocks are common in most meetings. Being an effective meeting leader will require you to forecast these barriers before the actual presentation. This will allow you to manage conflict between opinions more effectively. To handle this situation you will need to know the individuals who will be taking part in the meeting, their personalities, their respective departments and their temperaments based on prior meetings to keep the meeting running on time and moving towards reaching your goals. If you are pitching to a customer you can use past experiences with other customers to predict areas where resistance is expected.

Agendas are essential blueprints to having successful meetings. Make sure that you communicate a clear and specific agenda before the meeting and do your best to keep the discussion in line with the points. Following this will impact greatly on the productivity of your next meeting .

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Not another meeting!

Meeting Scheduling

Peter Drucker states in his book, The Effective Executive, “We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. We meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the knowledge and experience of several people.” However in todays workplace I feel that meetings have been overused and have reached a stage where they have become more of an impediment than a catalyst.

Effective meetings are critical to any business whether you are a 2 person startup or a multinational organization. They are the building blocks of effective communication throughout an organization. You can have three kinds of meetings, good ones, bad ones or unnecessary ones. Effective meetings are ones where there is a prepared agenda, focused and time bound, encourage participation, decisions are made and actions items are assigned with completion dates. These factors are the basis for any effective meeting.

Meetings are a direct cost to any organization. The hours which are spent by the participants in unnecessary or ineffective meetings add up. We have to ensure that even at a startup company meetings are well planned out as losing focus during a meeting is  simple if it is not controlled. Using these principles I have been able to achieve more effective meetings which have had a direct impact on efficiency, team morale and collaborative decision making. During the course of the following week I will highlight each factor in a lot more detail. I look forward to any comments or feedback along the way from readers who have been able to make their meetings more effective.

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