Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur


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

Looking Forward to 2009

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” John M. Richardson, Jr.

As I look back at 2008 it seems a bit of a blur. Everything moved so fast I can’t believe the year has already come to an end. I can clearly remember setting up this blog exactly a year ago and posting my first entry in the early hours of 2008. A lot has happened in these last 365 days. I am really happy that I was able to keep my resolution of blogging everyday and to tell you the truth, I am quite relieved that the pressure has finally been lifted today. However, what I have gained is hopefully a lifelong habit of documenting my thoughts in writing and also sharing them with the rest of you. The act of writing down your thoughts on a regular basis has been therapeutic and a great learning exercise. A lot of things have become much clearer and more importantly my thoughts seem to be much more structured.

Looking at 2009 I have not really had the chance to sit down and think about the resolutions I want to make for 2009. My life has been a bit of a tizzy these last couple of weeks with a lot of traveling and more recently being down with a nasty bacterial infection. However, I plan to use the next couple of days to reflect and think about what I want to achieve this year. There are many new ventures I have planned for the coming year which I will be sharing with all of you in greater detail in the coming weeks. There is an e-book I want to publish this year. Lastly I want to really improve this blog in 2009 and actually convert it into a profitable one with strong growth prospects. What I need to do with the goals listed above is to convert them into SMART goals. Ones which I will be able to measure and be specific about in order to reach them.

Unlike last year I do not plan on making any one major commitment without giving it adequate thought and research. This year my resolutions are going to be well thought out and be formed on the basis of some larger goals I want to achieve in the next couple of years. Keeping the bigger picture in mind when developing your goals is essential. We need to take these small steps in order to finally reach our destination. Expecting to make huge leaps is possible, but that is associated with enormous levels of risk. One of the things that this year of blogging has taught me is that slow and steady wins the race. We need to begin our journey somewhere to be able to make a impact. I will keep all of you updated on resolutions in the next couple of days. I want to thank all my daily readers for their continued readership. I look forward to serving all of you in 2009 and if there is anything I can do to help improve your experience on my blog please let me know. Happy New Year to everyone.  I wish all of you the very best of luck and success.

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5 steps to write winning business proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Establish Credibility

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

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

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

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

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

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Competitive Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Business Case

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

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

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

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

Steps to develop a business case :

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

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

3. Outline the deliverables at each stage

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

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Focus and Clarity

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

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

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

Three fundamental tenets of your business proposal should be:

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

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

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

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Business Proposals

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

After the pitch is made and stirred up interest the next request from your customer is , “Can we have a proposal?”. You have come a long way from identifying a customer to meeting them and this step is now going to decide whether you close the deal or not. I am surprised at the number of startup companies who do not think through their proposals before sending them out to target customers. This is when your professionalism, authority and commitment to the project is reflected and defined. Yet time and time again, copy pasted proposals are being sent out without taking into account the customer and their unique requirement.

Over the course of this week I will talk about basic strategies that need to be incorporated into business proposal writing processes to improve their rate of success. Some of the steps may appear to be simple and logical , yet , we overlook them. I have been through this phase till one of my mentors took a look at what I was sending out and I got back a proposal covered with red ink. It helped me see the business proposal process from a completely different perspective and resulted in better proposals which ultimately resulted in more deals.

Business communication is a critical element of any organization. You have to ensure that you present yourself in a consistent, professional and engaging manner at all times. You need to develop a central theme around your business that covers your company’s values and beliefs comprehensively. This in turn will help you develop a more committed relationship with customers as well as draw customers who share your perspective. So, next time you are writing out a business proposal, make sure the manner in which you pitch your message is consistent with the rest of your organization.

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