Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Writing a Marketing Plan

“As real estate is location location location, marketing is frequency frequency frequency.” Jay Conrad Levinson

Marketing is a critical component of any business strategy. Unfortunately, it is not often given the importance it deserves. This is due to a multitude of misconceptions. For starters, it is treated as a cost instead of an investment. Using this stance, it is often one of the first things to take a cost cut when controls becomes tighter. Secondly, younger organizations hardly ever commit to long term campaigns with consistency, primarily because of lack of instant results. Along with a few other misconceptions involving lack of expertise and experience, marketing is often left on the back burner. If you are a startup or an upcoming organization, please bring this component to the fore.  Listed below are five steps to get your marketing strategy in place, with a plan.

1. Situational Analysis: Prior to starting any marketing campaign, it is essential you do a thorough analysis on the industry you want to operate in. Facts such as market share, growth, trends and economic policies are critical pieces of information. Next, find out about the entrenched competitors. Who are they ? What is their market share ? How fast have they been growing? Find out about major distributors in the industry, discounting policies, strategic alliances and any other information that may help you get a better understanding of where you may want to take a stance. To read more about doing a thorough situational analysis please click here.

2. Marketing Objectives: Every plan needs to have specific goals and targets that it wants to achieve. Use this section to plan what your organization’s major marketing objectives need to be. This could include market share, customer acquisition, customer retention, website traffic or expected ROI on certain marketing tactics. These need to be thought through, and be strongly linked to major objectives set out in your business plan. To read more about setting marketing objectives please click here.

3. Marketing Strategies: This section is a major component of the entire plan. The marketing objectives outlined in the previous section, need to be translated into strategies now. This is best done by segmenting the market, and identifying areas that can be most effectively targeted.  Correctly positioning yourself in the market place, and ensuring a differentiation strategy to the entrenched competition will be an added help. To read more about correctly formulating marketing strategies please click here.

4. Marketing Tactics: After formulating broad strategies regarding marketing stance and positioning, we need to convert them into executable actions. These can be done effectively using the 4P’s structure, which helps identify executable strategies for the product, price, placement and promotion. Each section can have specific strategies to help market the product/service and reach designated targets. To read more about specific marketing tactics please click here.

5. Marketing Budgets & Controls: The last section requires the marketing budget to be structured. This budget must be strongly correlated to marketing objectives and be allocated accordingly. There needs to be a strong focus on controlling costs and creating feedback loops to ensure that relevant information is being gathered, to help identify the most effective tactics. This budget must be treated as an investment and should therefore be pegged to ROI figures. To read more about marketing budgets and controls please click here.

These five steps constitute a simple marketing plan. The entire objective of this exercise is to bring structure to marketing activities, as well as to have clearly defined goals for what we expect it to do for our organization. Marketing is not limited to super bowl ads or billboards in Time Square. It requires you to be creative with the limited budget allocated. It must be used in such a way that activities are continuously monitored and tracked, and at year end, provide a significant ROI. Just make sure you stick with the marketing plan and do not bail out halfway through. Two things your plan should incorporate, consistency and SMART objectives. Best of luck!

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Marketing Budgets and Controls

“An important and often overlooked aspect of operational excellence is regularly comparing actual costs to budget assumptions – not just the numbers in the plan. Understanding assumption deviations will help improve the accuracy of future forecasting.” Bob Prosen

Budgets are a necessary evil, they draw boundaries to ensure we know how far to go with the marketing plan. With entrepreneurs , the boundary perimeter is often small and limited. This calls for ingenious tactics to make full use of creative and deal making mindsets. The budget of a marketing plan is directly correlated with objectives set by the team. The progress towards those objectives, must be monitored constantly by using control measures. These measures act as feedback mechanisms to help identify each tactic’s input. There are a few things I like to keep in mind when in the midst of setting budget and control measures:

1. Are our objectives and marketing budget in sync?: For a new business, it is important to outline realistic and attainable marketing objectives. I am all for optimistic and large goals, however, often these objectives are set without necessary resources allocated for realistic follow throughs. When discussing numbers, this is a good time to go back to objectives, and see whether attaining a 3% market share with your marketing budget, is a realistic target.

2. Have we committed more than 35% of our budget to one particular tactic, if so, is it justified?: I once had the misfortune of committing a large part of my marketing budget to running print ads in a particular magazine, specific to my target market. Unfortunately it didn’t go as well as planned, since then, I have made sure that committing a large part of the budget to one tactic or promotional activity is based on substantial research.

3. Have we established tactic specific controls?: As entrepreneurs we do not often have access to a lot of funds in our marketing budgets. It is hence essential, to ensure that control measures are established for every tactic, to maintain monthly or quarterly monitoring. If you notice the tactic is consistently not delivering as planned , adjust the plan accordingly. Having control measures in place also forces the responsible individuals to provide constructive feedback.

4. What is our expected return on investment (ROI) on our marketing budget?: This is a complex topic, and has been written about widely. To keep it simple, we have to look at our marketing budget as an investment rather than a cost. Whenever we make an investment, we look for a certain ROI to justify it. We must do the same for our marketing budget. Keep tracking your investments meticulously, and see how to improve on your investment to ensure your expected ROI. This must be discussed with the finance people at the company. I have found, they remain impartial and are able to see the forest from trees.

A well defined marketing budget can be the difference between, a good and a great result. If you have not developed one for your company, there is no better time than, now. It is important to keep in mind, that funds are wisely invested, and that you have the ability to adapt to feedback along the way.

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Marketing Tactics

“We can never have enough strategies. We have enough tactics but not enough strategies.” Matthew Dowd

After all the research and strategizing is done,  the strategies need to be translated into executable actions. It is important to remember that without the effort that goes into correctly identifying strategies for your business, marketing tactics will not work. Their success is largely dependent on how clearly and thoughtfully the strategies have been laid out. Once you have established goals, objectives and marketing strategies based on segmentation, positioning and differentiation,  selection of marketing tactics can begin. The first thing that comes to mind about tactics, the 4P’s ( Product, Price, Placement, Promotion ). The next thing that comes to mind is the lecture I had regarding them, then it becomes fuzzy.

I am all for structured frameworks, however, structured frameworks should enable you to develop executable strategies. If they become roadblocks, you have a problem. So keeping the 4P framework in mind you can devise tactics to drive sales and push your company further. These are four questions I like to ask when determining marketing tactics:

1. What is unique about our product/service that our customers should know?

For example, the MacBook Air did really well ( I really admire Apple’s corporate branding efforts). They brought out an ultra portable laptop and when it was revealed to the world, it came out of a manila envelope. Such a simple, yet effective introduction, made this product the talk of the town.

2. What is our price point strategy and why?

As mentioned earlier, competing on price is a losing strategy, one which entrepreneurs frequently use unfortunately. The inability to set correct price points can make or break a business. Pricing strategy must be based on comprehensive market research and comparison. Take a look at the competition,  then take a decision on how you want to be perceived by the market. Use pricing as a strategy to help slot you in a particular segment in the customers mind.

3. How are we going to get our product/service to our target segment?

According to objectives regarding volume, there needs to be identification of channels, to reach those targets. Do a thorough analysis of available channels of distribution, target those which can be used most cost effectively. However, keep in mind, the more channels you open up, the more resources required. Choose your channels carefully, focus on developing them to reach their potential.

4. How best can we promote our product/service to our target audience?

This is the segment that entrepreneurs need to get creative about. We usually don’t have large marketing budgets at our disposal, hence need to come up with ingenious ways to promote ourselves. One book which I would recommend to entrepreneurs with tight marketing budgets is “Guerrilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson. It is full of ideas which can be used by organizations on tight budgets.

These questions should help spark conversation,  and get you to think about marketing tactics to be used. Remember, remain focused on bottom line objectives, it is easy to slip into heated discussions about specific tactics and forget about end goals. Marketing can be simple and complex, it is advisable that at the onset of your entrepreneurial ventures, to keep things simple!

 

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Marketing Strategies

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Sun Tzu

Strategy and tactics formulate the heart of a marketing plan. What happens is, these two sections are often thought of as one. This is a critical error. These two segments are interlinked closely, they do however, serve two very different purposes. The marketing strategy segment, uses marketing objectives discussed earlier, as end goals, which need to be achieved. In order to reach those goals it is not however advisable, to start planning how many brochures you require to be printed, or your next marketing seminar. Before you go into any of these detailed tactics, you need to take time out to think through the best ways to reach your goals. Some important points to keep in mind when developing your marketing strategies are;

1. Market Segmentation: Identify a niche in the market where you will be able to use your strengths to their maximum potential. I know first hand, treating everyone out there, as a potential customer is appealing. However, as a startup with limited resources, you need to focus on one segment initially. This will allow you to consolidate your efforts and resources. It is true, putting all your eggs in one basket may appear risky, but experience says, a startup needs to be focused from the beginning, getting distracted by other potential opportunities usually gets you into deeper water than can be handled.

2. Positioning: Once you have identified the segment you will be operating in, the next step will involve a most important aspect of your marketing plan; positioning. Who is your target customer and why? What benefits can you provide to them as compared to taking a completely different positioning stance? For example, If you are developing a new media company, have you positioned yourself in a manner which provides a certain segment more value?  Positioning will be a reflection of your organization identity. Make sure you do this step correctly, it has long term impact.

3. Differentiation: Once you have selected a segment, and certain market positions, you are likely to find direct and indirect competition. This is the time to think how you are going to differentiate yourself from the others. For example, if you selected the educational segment of the market for your company events and positioned yourself to specialize in planning graduation ceremonies, what will set you apart from other events and companies who provide the same services? Some differentiation points could involve the development of a unique alumni website or specialized gifts for every graduate. The last thing you want to do is, differentiate on price!

Use this section to develop a strategy which will complement the objectives that you have set for yourself. It is very important that these go hand in hand to ensure desired results. By selecting a narrow niche or one too overpopulated with strong competition, will make reaching your targets that much more difficult. Once you have outlined a strategy, you are ready to drill down to specific tactics through which your strategy will be deployed.

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5 nuggets from ‘The Alchemist’

“If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man “ Paulo Coelho ‘The Alchemist’

‘The Alchemist’ is a story about the journey of life. It follows a boy who slowly discovers himself and what his true calling in life actually is. Through the story several fundamental topics such as life, struggle, love, money, courage, fear, sadness, success, death and destiny are discussed. When I re-read this book recently, several of these topics related to me on levels which I had not thought about before. I was able to put myself into the boys shoes and actually relate to some of the experiences as an entrepreneur. I decided to outline 5 key topics from the book in this week’s blog series;

1. Personal Legends: What is it that you always wanted to be or do? Are you currently doing it or have you chosen a completely different path in life? Finding one’s true calling and following it is not as difficult as it seems. You need to have an open mind, free yourself from external voices, which constantly tell you what you can and cannot do and then figure out what you want to spend every single day of your life doing. To read my story please click here.

2. Your Heart: When was the last time you just did something because it felt right? We all face an information overload in today’s world. It causes us to over analyze and rationalize to an extent that is completely unnecessary. Along the way we lose ourselves and the reasons why we chose one pathway over another. We need to keep the conversation between our heart and our brain at a healthy equilibrium to help us reach more rounded decisions. To read more please click here

3. Fear: Venturing into the unknown gives the best of us cold feet sometimes. What is important to remember is that this is a natural emotion and one which we need to learn to recognize , face and work our way through. We need to understand where it stems from and deal with the core and root issues instead of fighting it blindly. To read more please click here.

4. Courage: An essential quality, one which everyone should focus on developing. It provides a strong foundational base to lead a richer and more meaningful life. You will continue to find yourself in sticky spots in life, be it pertaining to business, career or your personal relationships. Each of them will require you to standup for yourself and face them head on. To read more please click here

5. Tests: From the simple to the complex, we will face a multitude of tests during the course of our lives. How we deal with them and what we learn from them is of the essence. Some will be so severe that every waking minute of your day will revolve around them and it is in these tests that we truly discover ourselves and who we really are. To read more please click here.

Everyone derives different meaning from ‘The Alchemist’ and what it meant to them. These were some of my interpretations on a few of the book’s core issues and how I was able to relate to them. If you have read the book and have any insights which you would like to share I would really appreciate that.

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Tests

“…before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved towards that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm tree’s have appeared on the horizon.” Paulo Coelho

Tests are points of inflection which determine the course one’s life will take. They come in varying degrees of intensity from the simple such as sticking with your diet plan to the complex such as risking all your life savings for a business you believe in. How we cope with these battery of tests moulds our life and has a direct impact on our level of happiness, success, health and stress levels. We go through a mix of emotions whenever we are put through one of them and go into this internal dialogue which weighs out the pro’s and con’s and attempts to make sense of the situation. 

At times we are confident how we will deal with them as compared to others when we stay up all night wondering why out of all the people in the world, it is we who have to go through this. It is during these complex tests that we develop the ability to look deeper into ourselves and see all the steps which have lead up to this point. For example, if you have ever started a company you will know that getting that first big client is just about the biggest test a startup goes through. Day and night the team does its best to identify, convince and close that deal. Yet weeks and months go by and no deal is closed. It is at this point that each and every team member is tested on their commitment, belief and faith in the company’s offerings. Do you quit or do you go back to the drawing table and figure out why you have not been successful? 

In the book ‘The Alchemist’ the main character has to pass through several tests before he reaches what he truly desires. Along the way, life tempts him with the easy way out,  tells him to settle for less than he knows he deserves and at multiple times leaves him with nothing to hold on to to gauge how badly he wants to reach his goals. We will undergo everyone of these tests on our journey to fulfilling our personal legend as well. There have been times in the past when I was starting out that quitting and heading to the corporate world was often on my mind. It was a time when I really had to ask myself “What is it that I truly want?” and “What was is it that makes me truly happy?”. It was an intense time in my life but I got through it and am happy with the path I took. 

Everyone will face similar tests, whether you are an entrepreneur or not. At times we may just give up hope and take the easier way out, doing that is human so don’t beat yourself up about it. If anything, look back at that time and figure out why you took that decision, was there anything you would do differently now? Learn from those tests and they will help you overcome the future ones with a more ease. 

The next time life puts you in a bind keep your chin up, stay focused and follow your heart. 

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Courage

“Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.” Paulo Coelho

To overcome your fears you need to first have the courage to face them. You need the will and strength to break down all the barriers, be they physical or psychological. Taking that first step requires courage, the need to believe in yourself, your personal legend and your ability to move forward. The beginning of this process is a difficult and lonely place, for this is a decision that has to be taken on ones own . This one decision will impact the rest of your life in ways you have not even begun to fully understand. As you develop this virtue and inner strenght you will tread further on the path to accomplishing great things. 

When I started business, it was an uphill task getting our product line ready, to the day we had our first customer meeting. Everyday is a test of courage and committment and continues to be so even a couple of years down the road. Over time I have been able to overcome some obstacles, but I am still fighting to overcome others. To gather courage and use it as a concentrated force has to come directly from your heart. In the ‘The Alchemist’ the main character is in continuous strife with his heart. There is a constant struggle between the rationalization of the brain and the urgings of the heart to go with his gut to fulfill his personal legend. You can sense the anguish he feels when torn between the two and the inner peace and joy he feels when he goes with his heart.

Being an entrepreneur you will find yourself in this conflicting state many a time. It could be in the shape of standing up to your team when you believe the right actions are not being taken, giving critical feedback, admitting when you are wrong and changing your ways when it is so required. You will experience doubt and reservations specially when you move outside your comfort zone. I still get this feeling when I push myself to go further than I have before. It is however most invigorating , makes me feel alive and keeps me in touch with the world. Start developing this virtue , it is one that will take a lifetime to master.

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Fear

“Don’t give in to your fear….If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” Paulo Coelho 

Embarking on a journey of fulfilling your personal legend and following your heart can be quite scary at times. This is often because you are embarking on a course which breaks away from tradition and are going down the path less travelled. The first step in this direction is usually the hardest you will ever take. Your brain will be rationalizing against it and will be in continuous battle with your heart leading to a most confused and scared state . The worst thing you can now do is fight these emotions, instead , accept them for what they are and learn to understand what is triggering them.

The more we fight them the greater the urge to rely on logical decisions. We hence often miss out on the human element because we are suppressing what we truly want, alligning it instead to what society deems acceptable. When the human brain can reference past experience with tangible outcomes the fear of the unknown is greatly reduced and it becomes relatively easier to make that first step. When I got out of university I had to cross this personal Rubicon. On one hand there was a high paying job with stability and repute and on the other was this blur with our business plan being the only guiding light. I took the latter because deep inside I knew that the startup route was the one for me. 

I sought advice from many people before I embarked on this route. A lot of entrepreneurs shared the good and the bad times which they had experienced, highlighting some of the common problems I would have to face when starting out and ways to handle them. All of this helped subside the fear and the blur began to take shape. Trust me, this was still a difficult first step to take, however, once I had done so, every subsequent step become that much easier. We have to accept fear as a natural reaction which everyone experiences at one level or the other. Instead of fighting it , understand where it stems from and do you best to overcome the barriers.

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Your Heart

“…Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find treasure.” Paulo Coelho

I used to be of the opinion that the brain dominates all rationale behind decisions we make in life. Over the last couple of years I have begun to change this opinion and do believe it is actually the heart which is in constant communication with you and helps process our thoughts through the brain as a filter. The brain uses logic and the past to determine whether a certain action or thought is worth pursuing. If the brain becomes too rigid a filter, most of the communication from the heart gets subdued in the process. The longer this continues the more we lose touch with ourselves, our desires and our wants. Life becomes increasingly more inflexible and we find ourselves on a path which is very different to the one we originally set out on.

The problem is, that there is a stigma attached to decisions made through the heart. They are said to be emotional, not well thought out and impulsive. I agree with this to a certain extent, but to make decisions without input from the heart will have you relying too heavily on the tangible . Finding yourself in this predicament as an entrepreneur means you are losing out on much needed human elements.  Experience shows this element is a critical one and losing out on it, may have you doing or saying uneccessary things.

The Alchemist covers this element in some detail and talks about how, no matter how hard we try to bury the communication from our hearts, it continues to remain in your sub conscious. When you are making decisions, whether to start a business, select a partner, hire an employee or close your business make sure you are making a well rounded decision. It has helped me feel a lot better and happier when I have approached situations from a balanced position, making sure that I am not missing out what is happening between the lines.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and eternity.” Paulo Coelho

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Personal Legends

“It is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.” Paulo Coelho ‘The Alchemist’

As a child I knew I wanted to go into business. Maybe it was my father’s influence , my interest in related subjects at school came naturally. It is one of those mysteries of life which are hard to explain but deep down inside, you just know this is the way to go. However at twelve years of age, no dream is large enough and no hurdle too high. Then, between the ages of thirteen to nineteen, different things happened which changed my life.. I learned the hard way for one so young that business was not always a bed of roses, that people lose a lot of money while in it . On the other hand, I also saw that investment bankers have a glamorous lifestyle through which they get to be involved in business, whilst not having to assume any risk.

Social media also played a part, and by the time I was in high school the concept of being a businessman got buried under all of these influences. So much so, that I changed my mind and was now getting ready to become an investment banker and live the good life. I got into business school and everything was going as planned till…..my first internship at an Investment Bank. I quit three days into the job. There was just something wrong  for me with this environment . There was an obvious disconnect, we were on different wave lengths. I took this as a sign and went back to the original plan. Switched from business school to study Economics and decided to get to know more about the ‘real’ world .

I made a lot of friends who shared a similar passion and soon each one of us was helping the other get to fulfilling our dreams. Along the way we faced many challenges which tested us, it is not easy to say no to  high paying jobs straight out of college and working for minimum wages building something from scratch.  The few of us who remained true to our dreams are still fighting through daily challenges to get to where we want to be. In the book the Alchemist tells a boy a story about how, leaving the path of your Personal Legend will soon arrest all the signs for this on this new path, life will consume and cover you with all its activities and soon you will find yourself doing something very different from what you had originally planned on doing. Instead, trust your instincts, and do not be afraid of pursuing what you really want in life. I know it is easier said than done but my experience has been more than worth it.

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