Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Who is your customer?

“The road toward being successfully different usually involves one of three broad initiatives: leveraging a deeper understanding of customer needs; exploiting a deeper understanding of industry economics; or simply having the courage to challenge conventional wisdom-to overturn “the way we’ve always done it.” David Rhodes, Michael Ackland

On the surface this seems a trivial question. Everyone has a vague idea about who their customer is. Ask any business owner or entrepreneur and the answer will vary according to their respective businesses. Answers I hear often are, Small Medium Enterprises (SME), Multinational Companies (MNC), Teenagers, Baby Boomers or Technology Enthusiasts. A lot of the businesses then proceed to market and pitch to everyone in their market segment. Eventually they find themselves back at the drawing table wondering why their product/service is not selling. The fact of the matter is, many smaller and younger businesses hardly ever invest the time to research and find exactly who their customer is. Going after broad segments like SMEs or Teenagers is suicidal for most start-ups, this takes up a lot of resources and is unable to effectively cater to such a large target audience. 

When an organization is developing its Customer Value Proposition (CVP), this question needs to be talked about and researched in great deal. This will not only save time and resources, it will provide a foundation to effectively market and sell your product/service. Some key concepts to keep in mind when mapping out your target customer are:

1. Be specific: Targeting everyone, with limited resources, is a strategy with a low success rate. Evaluating your product/service needs in-depth analysis of those who will most benefit from what you have to offer. Being specific will allow you to zone into a segment, and develop a niche, in the long run this will also develop into a competitive advantage. Some key concepts to keep in mind when profiling your target segment are:

2. Understand who your target customer is: Say for example, your organization provides services related to alternative advertising. Your target customers are SMEs with a turnover of less than $2m with products targeting the 18-24 demographic. To successfully sell your services, not only will your organization have to understand the SME’s marketing patterns but will also have to understand who their target segment is. Failure to do so will create a mismatch between what you propose and what is required.

3. Understand your target customers needs: It is essential that you satisfy your target customers needs and requirements. Sometimes these needs will be lower prices, higher quality products, 24/7 customer service support, environmentally friendly products or other specific requirements. Not understanding your prospect’s needs,  will cause a gap in your selling strategy. These will in turn, result in low conversion rates and directly impact the success of your business.

4. Research your target segment: To truly understand your customer, in-depth research is vital. This research must include maximum data collection, ranging from company size, turnover, organization structure, decision makers, influencers, press releases and product/service information. I like to build customer market research files, in which we gather data on all major players in our target segment and document them on a single sheet of paper for easy reference. 

Successful profiling of your target segment is an arduous task at the start of a venture. Many questions will come to mind, such as, “Are we limiting our target segment too much?”, “Is this a profitable segment to be in?”, “Am I sure who my target segment should be?”  as well as other such questions. These questions are good, they show a conscious effort to find the answers to the questions at hand, it does take time and experience to find these answers . However, if you adopt a “see how it works” strategy, document all your feedback and findings. Once you have collected substantial data, convert it into finding the segment you should be operating in as soon as possible. 

So who is your customer? 

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The Customer

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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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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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Marketing Objectives

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

Using the opportunities identified in the situational analysis post, we will construct the next part of the marketing plan, which includes establishing objectives. These objectives will serve as beacons to be used as guides when developing specific strategies. It is important that these objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific. Without clearly identifying targets, is like throwing darts blindfolded. Listed below are some broad segments, for which specific objectives should be established:

1. Market Penetration: Using data collected during the research phase, should give an approximate idea of the market share held by the competition. Sometimes this data is difficult to come by, in the past, my teams and I have drawn up simple lists of our major competitors when adequate information was not available. The point of this task is to identify the competition, and set realistic targets of where you want to be on that list. The important part is setting a target. GE set targets of being number one or two in a particular segment or exiting the business line.

2. Marketing Metrics: When setting yourselves objectives, it is important to use key benchmarks which you can continuously compare yourself with. These objectives can be pegged to major activities such as website traffic, newsletter sign-up rates, number of queries, pipeline activity, deal closings or sales staff turnover. These numbers will be a reflection of whether your promotional strategies are paying off or not. More importantly you can develop your promotional strategies around these numbers as well. If your current website is attracting a 1000 visitors daily, what will it take to hit your website traffic objectives of 2000 visitors? When establishing these metrics make sure they are realistic and attainable.

3. Financial Objectives: The company CFO is always wary of the marketing budget. The reason being, there are often no clear financial objectives justifying marketing plans. This section of your plan should outline specific financial targets that need to be achieved when devising your plan. This would include turnover targets, profitability targets as well as improvement of product/service margins. At the end of the quarter or year, there should be justification for the expenditure incurred on marketing. It is important for a startup with limited resources to think this section through carefully. Usually the opportunity cost is high, it is imperative that it is used correctly.

It is upto the team to set objectives in such a manner, that responsibility for certain key metrics and objectives, is person specific. It is that individual’s responsibility to continually monitor  progress and provide feedback to the team. This will create a culture where responsibility will be shared, and more importantly, will help the team realize the importance of good marketing. If you have developed a business plan, use this section to support the financial objectives outlined in it and make sure that your marketing objectives are in sync.

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Situation Analysis

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” Confucius

Marketing was one of the more exciting classes I took at college. There was however, a part of the marketing course that required a massive amount of research and data collection. Looking at the title of this post, I remember vaguely, a class I took, where we talked about this topic at great length. I say vaguely, because in all probability, I must have tuned out when the word “macro economic factors” was used. Don’t get me wrong, finding out about macro conditions before entering a particular industry is critical. However, my only complaint was, the discussions were too detailed. I experienced this when we started writing our first couple of marketing plans as well. When you go into minor details, you begin to lose focus on the end goal, a balance needs to be maintained here.

Listed below are some of the critical things I look at when doing a situational analysis:

1. The Industry: Before going any further, you need information regarding the growth rate of the particular industry. What are it’s historic trends? What were the revenue figures for the segment? Have any major technological innovations taken place in it recently? Is the industry very segmented? These are some preliminary questions of interest and importance when looking at an opportunity in a particular industry.

2. Competitors: This is an important segment, one in which you need to document as many direct and indirect competitors in the market place as possible. Look at their teams, products/services, pricing and any other marketing collateral which you can find. Remain constantly vigilant about your competitors, this is a must for any company regardless of size. Create document files which can be referenced easily, this will come in handy during later sections, when you are positioning and promoting your product as well.

3. Distributors: Is the industry dependent on any major suppliers or distributors? If this is the case, then find out maximum information regarding their operations, team, pricing and discounting practices. Developing strategic partnerships with key distributors in the market place can become a very strong competitive advantage in the market place. Dell has executed this superbly in partnerships with Intel and Microsoft.

4. Internal Assessment: If you have already developed, or are in the process of developing a product/service line, this section will highlight where you stand in the current market place. Through this section, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is available. This analysis will also help identify your strengths, and pinpoint where you should avoid competing in the market place.

Using data assembled in this section, you will be able to identify, where you face major threats and where the most opportunities lie. It will also help you gauge market demand with a closer and more precise perspective. This step requires considerable searching and scouring for data, do this as a team,  it becomes a little more exciting!

Related Posts:

Market Risk

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5 Essential Facts about Revenue

“A computer can tell you down to the last dime what you’ve sold. But it can never tell you how much you could have sold.” Sam Walton

An organization can have a great product and a great team, without any revenue however, they have very little. Revenue is the life blood of any enterprise; it fuels growth, motivation and success. Every organization strives to develop perfect products/services, most of the time however, they are developed with inadequate attention to revenue streams. What follows are shattered dreams and expectations, because a business without solid recurring revenue streams has nothing to stand on. Over the course of this week I have shared some basic facts with you regarding revenue streams, I have re-capped briefly below:

1. Revenue & Business Models: If you are writing a business plan or, are in a new startup venture, identify your revenue streams as clearly as possible, and understand what resources need to be put into place to realize their true potential. The future of your organizations rests upon these strategic initiatives. The business model must be based on sound revenue streams in order to succeed. To learn more about revenue and business models please click here.

2. Revenue & Market Segmentation: Once identification of a business model has been made, correct mapping of its target market is essential. Having a strategy to aim a product/service at ambiguous market segments results in spreading yourself too thin, especially when resources are tight. Market positioning of products is of paramount importance for successfully generating revenue at a quicker pace. To learn more about revenue and market segmentation please click here.

3. Revenue & Investment: Investing in correct revenue streams can be the difference between an organization that succeeds and one which does not. It is critical that metrics are put into place to ensure that all revenue streams are closely measured. This will lead to informed decisions on whether it makes financial sense to continue investing in a particular revenue or to focus energies on another stream to ensure that financial stability is maintained. To learn more about revenue and investment please click here.

4. Revenue & Change: Our world is in a constant state of flux. We are living through a time where we need to become adept at forecasting as also adapting to changes taking place. This principle applies to all aspects of our lives, in the business sense, it has far reaching implications. We have to avoid becoming rigid at all costs to maintain a competitive direction in the global market place. Failure to do so will result in an inevitable downslide of your organization. To learn more about revenue and change please click here.

5. Revenue & Metrics: Metrics are mandatory components of any successful business. Measuring your revenue streams is essential as you need to be aware of the growth rate of your streams, how quickly your pipeline is being converted, what sort of market share you hold and how the industry you operate in, is changing. Such metrics provide information that will allow you to make informed choices. To learn more about revenue and metrics please click here.

In todays day and age there are a plethora of startups which have no clear business model, some are purely developed attractive acquisitions while others wait to see how they develop. My advice is, go in with a plan on making money from day one if you want to build a strong and well founded organization. When developing your streams ensure that you cater to each level of your market segment and create opportunities for scalability and cross selling. Doing so will put you in a favorable position to succeed. 

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Metrics for Revenue Streams

Every company has metrics that track performance. The key question is whether these metrics really provide visibility to performance as viewed by the customer.” Steve Matthesen

Working at a startup, there are always a host of things which need to get done. It is a constant battle with time to stay on track and achieve goals and targets. In the midst of this daily commotion, we are inundated with information from all sides. To keep abreast of all these developments, it is essential to develop a system which provides dashboard views about current standings. This is where metrics come into play. They need to be incorporated into every major business function to provide real-time statistics and keep the focus in the right direction.

The metrics for revenue streams used at some of the organizations that I work with, range from being very simple to relatively complex depending on the nature of the business. I have experienced that there are a few metrics which need more focus than others where revenue is concerned. They are:

1. Revenue Stream Growth: This metric provides data regarding development of each stream of revenue by quarter. It involves data which includes percentage growth numbers, pipeline activity and deal closures. These figures provide detail analysis on streams that are growing at a faster pace than others, the stages of revenue facing plateaus and how projected business is forecast in the coming quarters for each stream. 

2. ROI on Revenue Streams: It is one thing to have an extremely high turnover and a completely different story when that is not being converted into bottom line results. This metric provides data regarding the profitability of each segment and a break-down of investment into the stream, as well as marketing costs and cost of goods/services. Constant vigilance helps regarding which streams need to be promoted and which need to be ceased. 

3. Market Share & Industry Analytics: This metric keeps track of current growth trends in the industry the organization operates in. It constantly updates data regarding major changes on competition, government policies, economics climate and company position. This requires constant study to stay current with the rapid changes taking place. 

While keeping all the metrics in mind make sure that you take time out to compare them with related metrics to customers, vendors, suppliers and distributors. This will ensure a complete picture of the current situation. At an early stage startup, complicated metrics are not necessary, what is required however, is the ability to put these metrics into practice at basic levels. This will ensure that the position and development of the company is dealt with more effectively.

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Change and Revenue Streams

“The key to success is often the ability to adapt” Anonymous

Our world is in a constant state of flux. We are living through a time where we need to become adept at forecasting as also adapting to changes taking place. This principle applies to all aspects of our lives, in the business sense, it has far reaching implications. This story has been heard time and time again, companies become complacent and rigid about rapid changes taking place and soon find themselves compromised. A story, very much in the news these days is, Yahoo!. This company once dominated web search. Today, it finds itself in a messy situation involving corporate raiders and hostile takeovers. What went wrong?

Yahoo! pioneers and leaders of web search throughout the 90’s became complacent about changes taking place in their domain space. A new entry startup called google started to develop traction. Before you knew it, they became a formidable player in the search market. Yahoo! failed to adapt to this change and continued diversifying their business model into new markets. They failed to defend their primary revenue stream, including a missed opportunity to buy-out google for $3b. This is an example of how the pace of change can turn positions in a matter of years, even for such a large firm. However, this is not the first story of its kind, nor the last, these mistakes take place on a daily basis.

If your organization has developed revenue streams which have potential of exponentially increasing over the years, it is your foremost responsibility to protect fiercely. This is done by continuous improvement of the processes, as well as developing complementary assets as barriers around that stream. If done diligently, you will be able to protect yourself from inevitable complacency, which could lead to an unfortunate outcome. On the flip side if you are struggling with your current revenue streams and not being able to develop them further, pay close attention to changes occurring around you. If you are promoting a product/service which has no place in the current market, you need to rethink strategy, and, as soon as possible.

Incorporating systems to account for changes in domain, industry, economics climate and external factors is critical to success. Make sure you have them in place to avoid trouble !

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