Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Components to build Trust

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This series started with a post regarding how the trust I had in PayPal was shaken when my account got compromised. In life, our trust in people and businesses will often be tested. That is life, and we have to accept it. The fact of the matter is, without trust, we would not get far in life. The trust building process comprises of several components. Each of them plays a vital role in the process, and provides us with  benchmarks to help achieve the level of trust required. 

1. Integrity: Integrity is based purely on the actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Three measures to use to benchmark our own level of integrity are ; firstly, are we congruent in our thoughts, words and actions? The second one is, do we honor our promises and commitments to ourselves and others? The last one, do we possess the courage to stand up for our values and beliefs in the face of resistance? These questions can serve as a guide to learn more about personal and business integrity levels. To read more about trust and integrity please click here.

2. Competence: Competence is a pre-requisite for the process of trust building. An individual or business is deemed competent in a particular skill set when they have proved themselves adequately. However, for a new startup, without a track record, this is a challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. Using academic credentials, talents and skill sets or references can be used to help prove a younger team’s ability and capability. To read more about trust and competence please click here.

3. Consistent Communication: We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. This includes the alignment of senior management’s agenda, marketing strategies as well as how customer service representatives are supposed to interact with clients. To read more about the importance of consistent communication and trust please click here.

4. Genuine Concern: An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. It is important that we get a deep understanding of our clients needs and wants and craft our strategies around them. It is only when we are able to communicate the importance of this component to the rest of the team in the form of actions will we actually notice results. To read more about trust and genuine concern please click here.

5. Results: Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. Therefore, as young entrepreneurs, we must pay a great deal of attention to proving ourselves and showing tangible results. These can be in the form of academic achievements, extra curricular achievements or projects where we have documented results. It is important to become result and action oriented. When an individual has a reputation of getting the job done well, the ability to gain the trust and confidence of peers, investors and customers is enhanced. To read more about trust and results please click here.

Building and maintaining trust is a challenging task. It requires constant attention, and the slightest of slips in our behavior has severe negative impact on the level of trust. As we all know, once a vase is broken it can be put back together, but it will never be the same. The components talked about in this post are foundational elements in the trust building process. When we have the trust of a customer or friend it dramatically changes the dynamics of the relationship, to one where a lot more can be achieved. As entrepreneurs, we must strive to develop a reputation of one who can be trusted. This will have a phenomenal positive impact on the level of business as well as your life. 

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Results

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

As a young entrepreneur, some questions you hear repeatedly from prospective customers are, “Who is currently using your product/service?” or “How many users do you currently have on your system?”  These questions are asked with the aim to establish whether the prospect can trust your business to deliver what you are pitching, and whether the team has the appropriate capabilities and skill sets. Not many individuals want to be the first customer to test a brand new product/service, it is hence up to the entrepreneur to convince the customer why they should use their product/service. The question that arises is “How does an entrepreneur convince a customer to trust him to deliver on his word?”. I believe the fastest way to do this, is to reference past performance and results, and use them as benchmarks to make a convincing argument. 

Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. For example, take an individual with high levels of integrity, extremely competent, communicates consistently and has a genuine concern for what he/she is doing. However, if this individual does not have a track record of delivering when given a task, chances are that they are not going to be given a chance to step up to the plate. Therefore, as entrepreneurs, we have to constantly look for ways to prove to customers, stakeholders, investors, employees and the media that we have what it takes to succeed. We cannot wait around for things to happen or wait for the ‘right’ opportunity. Action needs to be taken, and positive results need to follow. Will we always get the results we want? Unfortunately not. However, if we persevere and pursue what we want to achieve relentlessly results will follow.

Some areas where younger entrepreneurs can display results they have achieved are:

1. Academics: This works well when you are raising early stage angel or venture funding. If one has achieved success in the form of honor rolls, awards or other recognition for academic pursuits, they should be included in some way in your pitch. From a customer’s point of view, having someone with deep theoretical knowledge about your product/service adds great value.

2. Extra Curricular: Including any information about areas such as sports, debate societies, student unions or charitable efforts one has been part of, also adds value.  A personal example is,  when I co-founded an entrepreneurship society at university, which has since grown from 10 members in Singapore, to over 2500 spread across all of Asia today. It was through this platform that I gained a valuable network, and built trust with many of my mentors today. Other examples could be contributions to charitable organizations and events, and funds you may have raised for them.

3. Projects & Initiatives: Results can only be achieved when you take initiatives and actions. Highlight areas where you took an initiative, such as, starting a blog, a website, a store on ebay, freelance projects or any other example where you have documented results. Such projects go to show that you are willing to go the extra mile to reach you goals. 

Once the business has established customers, continue to track results through all business processes. Take responsibility for all the results you get, be they positive or negative. I have found that the learning process is specially instructive when we do not get the results we want. I have repeated this many a time, there is no failure, only feedback. Once you have established a solid track record, and have been identified as a result oriented team member, the level of trust your peers will have in you, will sky rocket. 

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Genuine Concern

“If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” Buddha

An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. We have all encountered situations where a business, restaurant, hotel or individual went out of their way to assist you and remember the impact it had. This could be something as small as having your laundry picked and dropped to your house free of charge or giving you a complimentary meal when your food did not arrive in time. These gestures communicate genuine concern for the customer, and an honest aim to make sure they are completely satisfied. 

When a business puts making X amounts of money in a calender year or achieving a certain amount of ROI every quarter as the only aim, they tend to miss out on this factor. Therefore, to build an organization which takes into account the aim and will to ensure that each customer is looked after to the best of the company’s abilities is a challenging task. It has to begin with senior management, they must lead by example. A couple of days ago, I had a prospective customer email me regarding taking some psychometrics courses. Unfortunately, his email got buried and I completely forgot to respond. When I uncovered his email a week later, I promptly sent him the information along with a free test to apologize for the delay. We must always remain vigilant of our intentions, attitude and actions from the customers point of view. 

As a startup it is important that a culture for genuine concern is developed from the onset. Listed below are a few steps to help you get started in the right direction.

1. Listen: Understand your customers in as much detail as possible. Learn what their goals, objectives, threats and concerns are when dealing with vendors, who may be providing similar services to yours. Armed with a thorough understanding of their needs and wants, we will be better equipped to cater to them.

2. Communicate: This needs to start internally in the business, the team must be made aware of the focus, agenda and achievement targets of the company. How the company plans to achieve targets as well as the necessary actions that need to be taken. Such information empowers the workforce as can be seen at Southwest Airlines, the company has the best service standards by far in the industry. We also need to communicate our agenda to the customers. This helps create transparency and removes suspicion from the customer’s mind.

3. Actions: We have to lead with examples and empower our workforce to go beyond the call of duty to help a customer. Ritz Carlton gives employees a discretionary budget in case of an emergency or incident with a customer. At my local Starbucks, the servers know me by name as well as my daily order. When a customer receives such service they are bound to let everyone know, and this will not only help create goodwill but also secure a loyal customer base. 

Financial goals are important metrics for any business. However, I believe that businesses should have metrics for the softer side of the business as well. How many satisfied customers did we serve this year as compared to last year? How many customer complaints were received this year as compared to last year? Benchmarks must be created for quality of service too. Genuine concern for your customers is positively correlated to better quality of service, this results in more customers and higher levels of trust.

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Consistent Communication

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. Another example, marketing slogans promote 24/7 customer support yet, there is no one to answer the phones at 3 am in the morning. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. Such a culture will act as a catalyst in the development of trust and creating a level of loyalty to your product/service. Failure to do so will have a detrimental impact on your business as a whole, and it will be very difficult to retain and nurture existing customers. 

Several key areas where consistency of communication is of utmost importance are:

1. Senior Management: This group of individuals is responsible for the creation of a culture where candor is promoted through the ranks. They need to lead by example by keeping their word, and being upfront and honest with all employees, vendors and customers. This is manifested in the little things, how many times have you told your secretary or colleague to make up an excuse when you don’t want to speak to someone on the phone? If one promotes honesty and consistency in the organization such actions clearly conflict with the message that you are sending to your employees and colleagues. Inconsistency of communication is usually the result of a breakdown from senior management. This group needs to be extremely vigilant of their actions and words. 

2. Customer Service: How many times have you called a support department and felt like slamming the phone down because of the level of service you received? I know I have wanted to do so many times. This is the result of the gap in communication between middle and senior management. When this level is not clear about the level of communication the organization stands for, what their role is, or why it is important that they act and behave in accordance with the principles of the organization, they will not be able to communicate this messages to the end customer. I understand that in todays world, doing this while outsourcing these activities to third party vendors is going to be a difficult task. However, it is of vital importance that creative solutions to this problem be developed to facilitate the trust building process.

3. Marketing: Seth Godin wrote an interesting book called “All Marketers are Liars”. It uses various examples to drive home the point that the most successful corporations are the ones who have consistent and honest marketing. Today, we are bombarded by millions of advertisements, many of them use deceptive tactics to stir curiosity. I am sure many people click the pop up banner which says you have won a million dollars. Often a company will promise features and capabilities which they may not possess. Most of these companies will never be able to develop any trust with their target customers. As a startup, use marketing as a tool to tell a compelling story, which is rooted in honesty. 

Consistency of communication must be developed through the entire business. When mistakes are made do not attempt to cover them up and embellish the truth. It only takes a single act of inconsistency in your message to destroy any trust which may have been developed between your partners, vendors or customers. 

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5 steps to write winning business proposals

“You can never quit. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Ted Turner

Proposals are a critical component of business. They are the medium for promoting  your company with the objective of convincing clients to buy your product/service. To achieve higher levels of success in writing winning business proposals you need to put in substantial work. This will not only refine your own thought processes, it will help your client to better understand your proposal and make a more informed choice. I have listed five basic components which should be covered by every proposal. I will be doing a week on advanced components for proposals in the near future as well:

1. Focus & Clarity: When a client requests a proposals they require a document which clearly identifies a plan to help them reach their goals. They do not want flowery complicated writings and diagrams to complicate their decision further. Understand your audience , their requirement and the purpose for the proposal and write clearly.To learn more on how to plan this, click here.

2. Business Case: Understanding the client’s current position and where they want to be is more than 50% of the challenge. You need to correctly identify the client’s need , then create steps and action points to achieve those goals and highlight the benefits it will accrue. To learn more please click here.

3. Methodology: When creating a proposal you need to keep things simple and clear. You need to develop a methodology to guide the client through a clearly understandable process which defines your plan and implementation process. Identify major objectives, create detailed action items, set time frames and clear deliverables. To read more please click here.

4. Competitive Analysis: Clearly identify how your offering is superior and more beneficial to the client as compared to others in a fair, ethical and passionate manner. Help solidify your position in the clients memory so he is able to identify where you will be able to add the most value. To learn more please click here.

5. Establish Credibility: The customer will always ask him/herself why they should choose your firm over others. You have to use this section to highlight your team, customer testimonials, industry experience and value proposition. You have to do your best to help your firm stand out from the rest and prove that your firm will be the most apt and beneficial choice for the contract.To learn more please click here.

Proposals are more often than not, deal makers or breakers in the business world. It is hence, a responsibility to continue to strive to improve the processes so that when the next proposal goes out it is a clear reflection of who the company is, what it stands for, how it will cater to a need and why the client should choose them. The extra work goes a long way. I strongly suggest spending more time on evaluating the next proposal you send out.

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Establish Credibility

“The more you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions, the more credibility you will have.” Brian Koslow

There will always be competition, you will hence need to establish credibility in your proposal to the client, which will highlight your strenghts as well as, why they should choose your firm. This is a challenge,  because as young startups there is usually not too much experience or a big client list to vouch for you. If there is a prior client you should definitely add their testimonials or appraisals of your service in your proposal. If you have worked previously in that particular industry, that work must be highlighted.

In your proposals, build on your team as much as possible. Include all possible and valid information about your team, in particular their specific domain knowledge, to provide the client with enough data to swing the contract. In this section you should add any industry advisors who may be your mentors or your corporate investors, with their permission. This will add credibility and establish a comfort level in clients.

Just remember this entire proposal is geared to answering the question, “why should I choose you?”. This is a section where copy pasting your profile is not recommended, rather, you should be building on it to help establish a level of trust and credibility in areas specific to your clients needs and requirements. This is where you should direct the clients focus to concentrate on your company and help set it apart from the pack. This section is way too valuable to rely on copy pasting .

Customer lists and references are built gradually, they do however have to start, somewhere. If you are still looking for that elusive first contract make sure your pitches are aligned, focused, competitive and credible to make the selling process easier. Just keep plugging in there with your head held high, I have no doubt  you will succeed with that particular valuable proposition.

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Competitive Analysis

“The person who figures out how to harness the collective genius of his or her organization is going to blow the competition away.” Walter Wriston

Competition, this is a word that excites me rather than conjure up images of losing a deal. It wasn’t always like that. You begin to appreciate this a lot more when you repeatedly get into the David vs Goliath scenarios. From the very beginning of my forays into business,  I have learnt that the one thing which keeps you on your toes even more than your customers, is your competition. Complacency is a word which should not be in an entrepreneurs dictionary. If you want to win, then you have to do everything you can to go out there and fairly, ethically and passionately convince the customer why they should choose you. Jack Welch had the same philosophy at GE, it was either striving to be 1st or 2nd in the industry or quitting the business if you didn’t have the necessary competitive advantages.

Your proposals must reflect this attitude. I have received proposals where the competition has blatantly bad mouthed or down played competitors. Others have conveniently and completely forgotten to mention them. Unfortunately, your client may share a very different perspective on the competition. The proposal has to include counters to your competitor in a clear and precise manner. You have to highlight your strengths in relation to your competitors.

If your firm is much smaller than the competitors use your agility, speed and client focus as advantages. If you are large, then leverage on your size and resources. Play to your strengths with both your customers objectives and achieving those in relation to your competition. In one of my earlier print media based business there was tremendous pressure from larger players who were bidding for the same university contract. However we had an office based in the university campus and had the ability to designate resources to work closely with the client. Even though we weren’t the cheapest alternative, we won. If there is one thing I learnt from that business was NEVER get into a price war. It is not in your clients or your interest in the long run. Focus on developing value and your client will pay.

Use the competitive analysis section of your proposal to help draw lines on how your offering differs from your competitors. If it doesn’t, then that, is something you need to build upon; focus on customer support, the internet, human resources or your supply chain to help you develop that competitive edge. There is no room for complacency, do whatever it takes to win.

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Methodology

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

In the last post, we discussed objectives being the building blocks of a proposal. Once you have identified these blocks you need to put into words a plan to achieve your objectives. These have to be in the shape of action steps that need to be taken. It may appear to be a simple step , however this is where the “copy paste” functionality is used the most.

For example, if a client requests a psychometric assessment proposal for their organization, the methodology would be different for every company. The reason for this is, that methodology is directly influenced by objectives and given that the objectives of each organization are unique this calls for different set of action items.

When setting action items, make sure you outline them clearly and define each step to the next. The reader may look at them and  think that the process is either simple or missing critical steps which may lead to confusion about the process. This could in turn, lead to the proposal not being accepted or creating expectations which may not be met.

For a methodology to be successful in relating to the client, the exact process to achieve the outlined goals needs to identify major objectives, create detailed action items, set time frames and clear deliverables. This process is often overlooked or not given the attention it needs for creating a successful business proposal. By developing a clear and focused methodology you make it easier to outline actions that need to be taken and allows the client to understand how you plan to achieve your milestones and targets.

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Business Case

“The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get.” Jim Rohn

The concept of purpose which was discussed in my prior post deals with the ability to create a compelling business case surrounding the objectives of the client. In most cases the client has reached a situation where they require some assistance to take them from their current position to where they want to be eventually. To get to that final destination several deliverables will need to be met and, as a result of them the client will enjoy certain benefits.

The tricky bit here is to firstly understand the clients current position and then, where they eventually want to be. Lets take Innovo as an example , I deal with the psychometrics division of the company. A lot of the time I get calls from prospects who may have heard of us and want to integrate psychometrics into their company. There are times when the client is clear as to how they want psychometric evaluation to help them decrease the time of the recruitment cycle by eliminating 2 interview rounds, other times the clients want psychometrics to help their recruitment cycle but are not sure how and some times the client just wants to integrate psychometrics without any end goal.

From a business point of view you could sell to all 3 potential clients and make money. However it is client #1, who is aware of the limitation of his current scenario and wants to achieve a certain result using our tool, that we take on. It all comes back to the concept of value creation and delivering tangible results to the client. You need to help identify the potential clients position clearly and decide precisely what the final outcome will be.

Steps to develop a business case :

1. Identify your client’s current situation (any problem or opportunity)

2. Clearly define clear results which will be required at the end of the process

3. Outline the deliverables at each stage

4. State all the benefits which will accrue along the way.

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Focus and Clarity

“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” Anthony Robbins

One of the cornerstones of maintaining focus and clarity of vision when writing business proposals is to understand your target readership and what they are looking for in the proposals. Use a mind map or any other visualization tool to help you outline your discussions with prospective clients clearly and highlight the area where he/she puts the greatest emphasis on. The last thing the prospect wants to see from a proposal is one which briefly touches a multitude of topics and achieves no real impact.

Just the other day I requested a proposal for an in-house motivational training package for our sales personnel. I had a long talk with the program director and told him the specific areas we wanted the training to help us with. However, I was most disappointed when I got the proposal. It started off highlighting all the training packages the company offered and had conducted. It then went right into the training material for the course I had requested. It went into much complicated detail and then concluded with some benefits and an overview of the course. As you can imagine, it was most unhelpful. You have to develop and build your idea in a gradual manner to introduce the reader to the concepts, preferably one at a time. You need to do away with all the complicated and flowery vocabulary and keep things simple. Keep the customers needs and requirements at the forefront of your pitch. In this way the customer will be able to keep pace with the developments and be able to fully understand the value of your offering.

Three fundamental tenets of your business proposal should be:

1. Know your audience:
Keep in mind your proposal’s readership and the key areas they have requested emphasis on.

2. Purpose: Why are you writing this proposal?. What is your primary objective?. By answering these questions you are able to develop a framework to work within, in order to best address the situation.

3. Clarity: Keep things simple by not using complicated language and diagrams. Have a clear theme running through your proposal to get your message across.

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