Category Archives: Strategy

How Do You Plan for Business Expansion? Five Factors

Situation: A company has built a very successful single site business, and wants to expand geographically. They are investigating where it makes sense to duplicate operations in new sites and where it makes sense to consolidate operations. The company’s secret sauce is in their system and procedures. How do you plan for business expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at the shared services piece and the cost/benefit tradeoffs. What services are best centralized, and what are the critical on-site services that you want duplicate in remote sites?
  • Other companies use remote offices for field personnel, but centralize all shared services. Centralized shared services include invoicing and collections, financial reporting, telemarketing, anything dealing with trade names and print or trade-marked collateral, and an array of other services which would be too expensive for individual sites to duplicate, or where leaving things to the individual sites might result in inconsistency of service and erosion of the brand.
  • How do you replicate key talent? Consider whether key talent can be retained in the shared services side of the business, not the cloneable service delivery sites. Typical franchise operations have people who are difficult to replace or replicate so most do not try to include these roles in the service delivery operations.
  • You will need to provide for a sales role in your remote offices as business development will be critical to early success of new sites.
  • In the transition from “successful small” to “successful large” most businesses find that the medium stage is the most difficult. Issues to consider include:
    • Does your direction match your expertise – do you have support of individuals knowledgeable about franchising?
    • What are the margin differentials within the business? Do you want to clone the high or low-margin areas of the business? Develop profitability models for your central and remote sites, and assure that the sites will have sufficient profitability to assure their short-term success. This will make it easier to proliferate the remote sites.

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How Do You Plan for Market Evolution? Three Suggestions

Situation: A tech company competes in a rapidly changing marketplace. The companies they serve constantly evolve their platforms. The company must respond rapidly to assure compatibility with both hardware and software innovations. Users adapt to new platforms at different rates, and the company must address their needs, as well. With so much time spent tending these diverse needs, how do they plan for market evolution?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the market you serve you must constantly reinvent yourselves as technology changes. Some platforms make changes on a 5-year cycle, while mobile platforms are currently on a 6-month cycle. This may force choices as to which platforms to serve. You also may want to focus on platforms where what you bring to the table is most useful.
  • You have made the strategic choice to tie the future of your company to a few large companies that dominate their markets. It is imperative that you cultivate close relationships with the technology as well as strategic leadership of those companies. This will give you more advanced insight into their plans, and they may even involve you in discussions about how the market evolves. If so, you will have positioned yourself for that evolution. These relationships may also become your exit strategy.
  • Businesses run on cash, or access to cash. As you cultivate relationships with your key customer companies, look for opportunities to invest in developing markets on a subscription basis which will provide ongoing annuity revenue. Figuring out how to leverage advertising or positioning options into your offering offers an additional revenue stream.

What is a Fair Revenue Split? Five Pieces of Advice

Situation: A professional services company is constructed as a network of members. The company’s contract specifies that if a member of their network goes to work for a client – even a client that the member brought to them – the client owes the company a fee of 50% of either the member’s salary or the annual consulting revenue paid to the member. This is onerous. What is the best way to respond? What is a fair revenue split?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This does seem like an onerous provision. It is unclear whether the bite is as fierce as the growl.
  • Consult a lawyer. If you quit the network and go to work for the client, what is the level of risk that the company will successfully sue, and what you can do to mitigate this risk?
  • If the offer from the client is appealing, quit or avoid using this company’s services. Given their cut to your revenue you will see a net gain in your own pay for services rendered.
  • If several members agree that this stipulation is onerous, team up and start your own network with better terms. This can provide you and the others with an annuity revenue stream.
  • Integrity in professional circles is everything. Whatever course you decide on, be up front.

What is a Reasonable Broker Commission? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has contracted with a broker to sell the company. At the minimum acceptable sale price to the founder, the commission would be 2.5%. Is this reasonable? How should the founder think about earn-outs, residual payments, and role post-sale? What is a reasonable broker commission?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The proposed commission structure looks reasonable. To validate this, ask merger and acquisition experts what they think reasonable commission rates on a sale of this size looks like in the current market.
  • Beware of earn-outs – don’t take them if offered, at least not without a fight. The challenge with earn-outs is that it may tempt the buyer to report the books in a way that minimizes your share. This will depend upon the terms, but experience advises against this alternative.
  • Similarly, you don’t want a residual payment conditioned upon your remaining with the company for a period following the sale. The buyer will ask because they see you as important. Counter with an employment agreement at twice your current salary.
  • Your job following the sale is assuring a smooth transition, not company growth. Growth is the new owner’s responsibility. They wouldn’t be talking to you if they didn’t see a growth opportunity.
  • Understand that their vision for the company is not yours. Accept this gracefully. Once the company is sold it is no longer your company.

How Do You Rebuild a Company? Nine Strategies

Situation: A CEO is in the process of rebuilding the firm following a period of inactivity. Historically their marketing was word-of-mouth. How do you reestablishing a network which has been dormant for a period, find new clients and communicate an updated value proposition? How do you rebuild a company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Track down and visit old customers and contacts. Let them know that you are rebuilding the company and ask for their advice and help.
  • Use LinkedIn to find and reconnect with old contacts. Have breakfast or lunch with them, even those who are retired. Reestablish old connections and ask for an update on their companies and activities.
  • Focus on your knowledge base and the results that you’ve produced historically. There are more technology choices available now than there were in the past. Help old and prospective new clients to navigate the array of choices.
  • Development assessments to show your prospects where they are and where they need to focus their effort.
  • Many have built companies on their own – without professional assistance. The results often look good on the surface but lack a solid foundation. You have the perspective and expertise to bring it all together in a coherent and cohesive strategy.
  • Rejoin professional associations and networks that you may have dropped.
  • Go virtual – use virtual assistants to manage expenses while you rebuild.
  • Do webinars, and give talks on developing and executing a successful plan.
  • Create some pro-bono or low-cost programs for charities. Your target is the Board Members who may become future clients.

Should a Start-up Focus on Team Dynamics? Four Thoughts

Situation: An early stage company is wrestling with team dynamics and coordinating the achievement of critical milestones. The strategic picture seems to change on almost a daily basis. New employees who have big company experience want to see formal job descriptions and role definition. Older employees are jealous of the attention that newer, more highly qualified employees are receiving. Where should the CEO be focusing. How should she be handling these challenges? Should a start-up focus on team dynamics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • At this point, the company is in start-up stage. The most critical issue isn’t team dynamics, it’s getting a product to market and demonstrating that you can sell it. If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a company.
  • Your top 4 areas of focus for the next 3-6 months should be:
    • Get the product out.
    • Close 3-4 good customers – preferably customers that you can reference.
    • Securing the funding – partnership or investor – that will get you to your next key milestones or to positive cash flow.
    • Build your organization and keep planning.
  • As an early stage company, distinct roles and job definitions make no sense. Your strategic picture is currently very dynamic. You need good people who can flexibly wear several hats and fill diverse roles.
    • If employees with big company backgrounds press you on job descriptions and role definitions, tell them that as a small company you must be quick on your feet, and that you need them to fill flexible roles. As you grow beyond 35 employees then roles will start to become more clarified. Ask for their patience.
    • If they continue to struggle with loose role definitions, then they aren’t the right people for an early stage company.
  • Employees who started with you early were great for the beginning. However, they may not be the best for you long-term. They may feel hurt as newer employees with deeper expertise and resumes start to replace them. In the interests of the company, the game is not longevity with the company; it’s about quality and putting the most competent people in the most critical roles.
    • If you are playing pick-up basketball, you play with whoever comes along.
    • If you decide to form a team and to compete, you need quality players. Some of your pick-up players won’t make the cut and need to go find another pick-up game.

How Do You Change Suppliers for a Key Product? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company buys several important components from a single US supplier. They are considering an offshore source for one of these components which makes up a large portion of what they purchase from the supplier. Does off-shoring make sense in this case, and how do they mitigate the risk? How do you change suppliers for a key product?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key consideration is the off-shore partner’s ability to reliably make the component at the price promised. If they can, why not outsource offshore?
  • The decision depends upon two additional factors: the amount that you stand to save by off-shoring your source, and the potential cost to you of inconsistent or unreliable components from the off-shore supplier.
    • If the cost of failure is high, a modest savings is less valuable. You may want to wait until you have higher volume and higher potential savings before looking at off-shore sources.
    • In the US, we assume – with some security – that a pilot run predicts a large run. Historically this has not been shown to consistently apply to offshore suppliers.
  • Can you afford to invest and potentially lose the amount that it would cost you to secure your first production order from the off-shore source?
    • If the answer is yes, invest the time and effort to visit the supplier, and secure resources to monitor their production – your own or a trusted partner’s. Your presence and interest are very important.
    • The principal challenge will be quality and consistency of raw materials, and varying age of production equipment used to produce your components.
  • Are you concerned that your current supplier might cut you off?
    • The CEO is not sure, but has identified this as a risk.
    • If this is the case, start now identifying second sources for other components made by this supplier – if only to keep them honest in price, quality and delivery.

Does It Make Sense to Promote a Relative? Four Perspectives

Situation: The CEO of a company has a niece working in the company on a project basis. The niece is has helped to develop a strategic plan and has performed well. She now wants to move from part-time to full-time and to receive a raise. Does it make sense to promote a relative?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you are pleased with the individual’s work, don’t worry about the family relationship – go ahead and hire her. This is especially true if she can play a significant role developing the strategic plan and help you to improve your sales organization.
  • Give this individual a set of responsibilities, a budget, and a time line to do the jobs you want done.
    Evaluate her performance just as you would any other employee. Don’t compromise your standards for a relative.
  • This may offer the opportunity to improve your sales. Have your niece work and travel with your sales people as a systems engineer. This will allow her the opportunity to learn your products, customers, and process – and will provide you with valuable input on how your sales team is performing.
  • You are really addressing two problems:
    • What is your niece’s passion? Don’t make work for her simply because she’s related and available. The work must serve your and the company’s needs.
    • Do you have holes in your business? Put your best people on these If your niece is one of these people, then give her a chance but don’t play favorites.

How Do You Find Your Sweet Spot? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company’s sales are bumpy. The CEO thinks that this may be due to a mismatch between products that they offer and their customers’ needs. They currently use online surveys to capture customer needs and input. How do you determine customer needs? How do you find your sweet spot?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important first step for a smaller and growing company is to clearly identify the customer niche that they serve. This must be a niche where the company can out-serve their competition.
  • There are two types of niches to consider:
    • A product/service niche focused on a specific set of products and services – one where you can offer a differential advantage over your competition and become known for this, or
    • A customer niche – a specific set of customers that you dedicate yourself to serve in a way that provides a differential advantage.
  • An example of the product model is an individual who started an e-commerce site for lacrosse equipment – products not commonly stocked in sports stores. They offered a wide range of lacrosse products, built an online community, shared articles, etc. and became THE place for lacrosse players to get their equipment.
  • An example of the customer niche model is to focus on a population and build a concierge or member-only service. The niche here is the buying group. This can be employees of specific companies or government workers as examples. Costco grew using this model.
  • For an early-stage company, survival is about single pointed focus on that niche where you can provide better products/services or better serve your customers than anyone else. As you grow you can diversify based on the reputation and loyalty that you gained early on.
  • Look at competitors – how are they gathering customer preference information?
  • Look at your passion – is it products or people? Choose a niche that fits your passion.

How Do You Expand Internationally? Five Suggestions

Situation: An early-stage software company is expanding internationally, both offering services to international companies from their Silicon Valley base, and building a presence overseas. What land mines should they avoid? How do you expand internationally?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Be more strategic than opportunistic. Europe is very interested in start-ups. Investigate potential locations thoroughly. For example, Luxembourg and Spain are not the most reliable markets or locations for basing a business.
  • There are already good networks in Europe that you can plug into so that you don’t have to build everything yourself.
    • There is a European organization called Open Coffee Club that attracts high tech and social media start-ups. You might consider either partnering with them or buying into their network.
  • You can set up a corporation in Cyprus to leverage tax advantages and build a network covering Europe.
    • To have geographic reach across Europe, you probably want two locations in Europe and one in Russia. Look at Ireland and Romania.
    • Many Russian oligarchs have their investments in Cyprus and may provide a source of investment funds.
  • Investigate the European Investment Fund and their sub-funds like the JEREMIE Holding Fund. This is a large government-funded investment pool focused on technology, innovation and start-ups.
  • Foreign companies are attracted to the US because we have the right ecosystem for technology development. However, a bridge strategy for European companies who want access to US funding is tricky. The key issue is visas which have limited duration and may be difficult to renew. Also, immigration frowns on foreign business people who visit the US too frequently.
    • Have you considered helping start-ups build through their early stages – reducing risk of early failure – before helping them come to the US?