Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.” William Joseph Slim

Over the course of this last week I have talked about the decision making process. This process can help us in making difficult decisions. The process forces us to take action and to move from one step to the next in a continuous flow. Standing still has to be avoided at all times. From a business perspective, not being able to make critical decisions or to keep delaying them, will eventually lose you any competitive advantage you may have had. The world unfortunately does not wait for us to find the right time or right opportunity to make a decision. Listed below is a methodology I use for decision making:

1. Objective Clarification: The first step when making a decision is to look at the larger picture. Decision making is not an isolated process of just meeting specific needs, it is one in which broader goals and aims have to be taken into consideration for the future. It is only after clarifying what we hope to gain or learn from the decision we take, do we move to the next step. To learn more on how to clarify objectives behind a decision please click here.

2. Data Collection: The second step involves getting all the facts and figures required to make a decision. This could include, research, surveys, feedbacks or any other form of data collection which would provide us with information to help make a decision. The truth is, it is not possible to have all the facts and figures specially in a time bound situation. Life is about making optimal choices based on, often incomplete information. One must not let lack of data hinder us from making decisions. To learn more about data collection please click here.

3. Listing Options: Once we have adequate data about decisions we have to make, the next step in the process is to develop a list of alternatives. The purpose of this list is to put down on paper different options available.There will always be several possible alternatives available when one has to make a decision.Making an endless list of possible alternatives is not wise, and frankly, will waste a lot of time. Be specific in what you want and develop your alternative list accordingly. To learn more about developing an option list please click here.

4. Evaluating Options: I use a simple model which helps rank options according to our objectives and weight-ages given to specific factors. This enables us to rank each option in an unbiased manner and helps to gauge how they compare against each other on a holistic level. This model is developed on the basis of the prior 3 steps discussed. To learn more about the model and how to use it for your decision making process please click here.

5. Making a Decision: After successfully completing the four steps outlined above, we reach a point where we should have enough information to make a decision. Most of the time, we will not have all the information required, life is all about making optimal choices based on incomplete information. We should not let this affect our decision making process. Once a decision has been made, one needs to take responsibility for it and ensure follow through. To learn more about the final step in the decision making process please click here.

If one were to look back at life, there are bound to be decisions which, in retrospect were not the correct one. The important thing to remember is not the fact that one made a wrong choice, but whether we learned from the mistake or not. We should not let past failures inhibit us from making similar decisions in the future. If one were to take such an approach,  very little progress forward would be made. As mentioned earlier, life is short, we need to have the courage of our decisions, confidence to trust our gut instincts, and keep moving forward. I wish you all the very best on all your life decisions in the future.

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Can you make a decision?

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt

After weighing all possible alternatives, a decision making point is reached. This stage in the decision making process is where many individuals face problems. Some of the reasons I come across quite regularly for this are; there is inadequate information, I have received mixed reviews from feedback which has further confused me, I want to put this decision off for a while to think about it more, I cannot make this decision alone and, what if I make the wrong decision? These are all valid reasons to put off making a decision. However, if this becomes a recurring pattern in life, then, very little progress would be made when a difficult problem arose. 

Once our homework is done, and we believe we have adequate information about the decision at hand, we have to take a leap of faith. Waiting for the perfect situation, the perfect business opportunity or the perfect partner will invariably hold you back. We have to be proactive and want to move forward, this not only increases confidence, it provides invaluable experience and feedback. It is in moments of decision that we find out who we really are, and what we are made of. Use these opportunities to showcase your skills and abilities rather than shying away from taking responsibility. 

Once a decision is made, the next most important aspect of this entire process is, follow through. We have to be a 100% committed to the decision we make, and take full responsibility for it. This is not a time for excuses or getting cold feet. We must prove to ourselves, as to those affected by the decision that we have what it takes to execute the decision. If one makes a habit of changing one’s minds after taking a decision, this reflects poorly on character and value systems. In business, such a person would be deemed unreliable, and lacking the confidence required to take responsibility. Hence, next time you are put in a position to make a decision, do your homework well ,and when ready, make the decision and follow through. As an added benefit, the feeling one experiences after making a correct decision is amazing, and should be the end goal every time!

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Ranking your Options

“Choice of aim is clearly a matter of clarification of values, especially on the choice between possible options.” W. Edwards Deming

 Once we have developed a list of alternatives, the next step in the decision making process is to rank them. The ranking process requires basic elements to keep it simple, yet effective. The first element required is developing a criterion list to assess all your possible alternatives against. Listed below, you see an example alternatives list I have created for the laptop example I mentioned yesterday. For this example I singled out what I felt were the most important factors. The same example can be adjusted for just about any decision. Whether you are assessing a new car, business idea, partner, employee or a potential investment opportunity. Develop a list of criterions against which you can assess all the available alternatives. It is important to rank all the alternatives against chosen criterions. 

The next element that is required is, assigning weight ages according to your preferences. I used a 10 point scale for this example, however, there are other ranking scales, and I have personally used a 100 point scale as well. This depends entirely on the complexity of the decision, and the number of criterions being used to assess each alternative. The next aspect is to assign specific scores to each option, based on the criterion. I have used a 5 point scale for the assessment in the example below, 5 meaning, very satisfied and vice versa. After you grade each criterion, multiply the scale score with the assigned weight-ages. Finally, add each options total score, and you have a decision based on resulting total scores for each alternative.

Laptop Rankings

A further complexity to the model above,  particularly when making business decisions, is to add a risk component. I left this component out of the above example to make it easier to understand. Adding a risk component can help you weigh the risk-reward ratio of each alternative. This has been very helpful to me when assessing different business opportunities. The model described above, brings together all the factors we have spoken about in the last couple of days. It is important to understand the logic behind each of the components, and the manner we arrived at this stage. Once we have a total score, we are ready to move to the last stage of the decision making process.

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Developing Alternatives

“The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Henry Kissinger

Once we have adequate data about decisions we have to make, the next step in the process is to develop a list of alternatives. The purpose of this list is to put down on paper, the different options available. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the options floating in one’s head and translate them into a tangible option. This helps put perspective on the decision at hand by giving an overview of the options available. Many individuals like to write down as many possible alternatives as possible at this time. I think this complicates the decision unnecessarily.

The point of adding structure to your decision making process is to streamline it and make it more efficient. When we don’t do this, decisions take longer because of the incessant processing going on in your head. This ends up not only confusing an individual, but also significantly prolongs the time it takes to reach a decision. Therefore, when you develop a list of possible alternatives, only jot down those you are seriously considering and which fit the larger objective behind the decision process. For example lets say you want to buy a new laptop. You have been to the stores, got all the brochures and now sit down to make a list. If your list contains 20 possible laptops you are interested in, the decision will take forever to make. I had to make this decision a couple of months ago. I needed a laptop which was aesthetically pleasing and highly portable. I took a look at a couple of alternatives, the choice came down to a Sony or an Apple, I then made  a decision and settled on the Apple.

I think many of us make the decision making process a lot more complicated than it actually needs to be. There will always be many possible alternatives available when one has to make a decision, like choosing a college, a car, a computer or a mobile phone. Making an endless list of possible alternatives is not wise, and frankly, will waste a lot of time. Be specific in what you want and develop your alternative list accordingly. If for some reason one cannot find enough alternatives or an alternative that fits your criteria, it is possible to delay making the decision. However one should not use this as an excuse to be complacent or avoid making a decision. Once we have our list of alternatives ready, we can move to the next step of the process. 

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Getting your facts right

“Trust your hunches…Hunches are usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” Dr. Joyce Brothers

Carl Jung did the foundational research behind the very popular MBTi personality type test. One of the capabilities of the test is to assess the manner in which we process information and reach decisions. On one extreme of the scale, you find individuals who require all the facts and figures to help them make a logically correct choice. On the other hand of the scale, you have individuals who trust their intuition, and tend to make what may be perceived as more emotional decisions. I happen to be one who trusts intuition a lot more than depending on facts and figures. There have been times this decision making process has got me into trouble, however, the times that things have worked out in my favor outweigh them. What it comes down to is personality type, and our values and belief system. One needs to be comfortable with whichever path one chooses to take.

The truth is, it is not possible to have all the facts and figures specially in a time bound situation. Life is about making optimal choices based on the often incomplete information. One must not let lack of data hinder us from making decisions. If one finds oneself delaying making difficult decisions or finding ways to avoid making such decisions, we need to ask ourselves the cause of such behavior. Confronting this head on will help enable us to progress in life. Life is too short to run away from making decisions which need to be made. We need to have the courage and confidence to trust our instincts and if we make a mistake, to learn from it. A conscious decision needs to be made about actually living life rather than just spectating it from the sidelines.

When in doubt or with little information to base a decision, consult others who may help guide you. This helps get a different perspective on the matter and may make it easier to make a decision. I have spoken about mentors in great detail, and how they have consistently helped me in decision making relating to both my life and business. Sometimes it just takes that little bit of re-affirmation, and at others, it may require a radical point of view. Either way, if we do not ask others for feedback and advice, we are not allowing ourselves to grow as individuals. Once you have your facts, figures and gut feeling, it is time to move to the next step of the decision making process.

Related Articles:

– How do you process information?

– How do you make a decision?

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Decisions and Goals

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” H. L. Hunt

In life we all come to inflection points where difficult decisions have to be made. We all have different ways of analyzing situations, and then moving through the decision process. Some of us move through the process based on gut feel, while others need all the details first. Depending on the complexity of decisions, some of us are able to make decisions faster than others. What is important is to be comfortable with our thought process and rationalizing techniques. However, emphasis has to be laid on reaching a consensus when adequate time to think and reflect about the situation has been taken. 

The first step I usually take when making a decision is to look at the larger picture. Let us say for example, our business has some available cash to invest in a product range. At this point we have to look deeper into the decision making process. What primary objective do we achieve by investing in one of these product ranges? Is it increased short term profitability, long term cash generation potential, increased exposure or does it need to replace our existing ranges? On a broader level, we need to establish the current business position and what it needs at this point of time. Upon understanding present business needs, it is time to zoom into the selection process. 

In life we often have to make decisions which have much wider implications than are initially apparent. Whether you are deciding what you want to do in life or selecting which business to start, it all comes down to asking yourself “What do I want as an end result when I make this decision?”. Is it to be happy, make money or get satisfaction? Identification of the end goal is by far one of the most important factors needed to evaluate a decision. Decision making is not an isolated process of just meeting specific needs, it is one in which all the broader goals and aims have to be taken into consideration for the future. Think long and hard about what you want and what the business needs and goals are. Once these factors have been identified, it is time to move to the next step.

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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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5 Common Entrepreneurial Frustrations

“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is to — act as if it were impossible to fail.” Dorothea Brande

Lets face it, we all have days when things do not go as planned. We only know they did not go as planned, because we have something to compare them with…… days, everything went right. To experience life to its fullest we have to see it from all perspectives. The way we handle difficult situations shapes the course of our lives. Some of us choose the easier option, and do not experience life to its fullest, by preventing ourselves to be placed in vulnerable situations . If you are contemplating taking the path of entrepreneurship,  handling being placed in these awkward situations is what it is all about. Below I have listed five common frustrations which I  have experienced on my journey;

1. Idea Generation: This process can be extremely frustrating for individuals or teams if dragged over a long period of time . This is an important stage and opportunity, to gather all those thoughts in your head, put them onto a piece of paper and make sense of them. This process requires continuous action, it cannot be limited to a conference room! To read more about the frustrations of idea generation please click here.

2. Lack of Resources: Managing limited resources in a startup is always a challenge. When this challenge begins to hinder your drive and motivation to move forward,  is when frustrations set in. The idea of managing your business with an unlimited budget is an attractive one, it also comes with its own set of challenges. We have to stop blaming the lack of resources as the only reason for lack of success. Success depends on having a good team, good ideas, in the right market. To read more about managing frustrations due to a lack of resources please click here.

3. Team Dynamics: A major sources of frustration for startups arise when teams stop working well together. This often happens with a misalignment of value systems and goals. Couple this situation with poor leadership, and frustrations are bound to run high. Team development from the onset is a very important aspect of getting the success formula right. To read more about how to handle frustrations caused by team dynamics please click here.

4. Lack of Sales: If you have been through the arduous task of writing a business plan, getting a team together, and, despite every effort, have been coming up short, frustration is inevitable. However, if you let this frustration bog you down, it will convert into a continuous downward spiral which could result in eventual failure for your organization. Focusing energy on analysing why this situation occurred will result in more positive and constructive discussions and could solve your particular predicament. To read more on how to handle frustration caused by a lack of sales click here.

5. Time Management: If you constantly feel that you do not have time for the important aspects of your life, there is something very wrong here. The misallocation of precious resources often results in being frustrated, grouchy and generally not very happy about life. We need to learn how to allocate this resource more intelligently to enjoy life. This will only happen when we prioritize aspects which are important to us and allocate time likewise. To read more about handling frustration caused by misallocation of time please click here.

 Letting frustrations bring us down, means, we are essentially giving up on our dreams. It is easy to throw in the towel and blame everyone else for why success is not coming our way. It takes a lot more courage to face adversity head on and tell yourself , “I am going to get through this”. Thats what entrepreneurs are, anomalies in the system, who have the extraordinary ability to adapt and change according to circumstances. The word “quitting” does not exist in our vocabulary, if we decide to get something, then there will be little rest till we reach our end goal. Team squabbles, resources or unfavorable circumstances are tests which we must overcome. The next time you feel frustrated and ask yourself “Why”,  decide what you can do about it, rather than what it is doing to you!

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