Tag Archives: Cost

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Pitch a Blue Ocean Service? Six Recommendations

Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
    • How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
    • What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
    • If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
    • What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
  • Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
  • In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
  • Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
  • Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
  • Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.

Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.

How Do You Respond to Delivery Delay Requests? Four Points

Situation: A company negotiated a contract with a customer giving them a significant price break in exchange for a large committed order with extended delivery. The customer has now come back and requests additional time for delivery and payment on the order. The company has already procured extra material to produce the large order. How do you respond to requests for delivery delays?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Response will depend on the company’s history with customer. In the case of a long term customer who pays bills it is best to work with them. Explore solutions to meet them half-way.
    • Ask for a new commitment to take delivery by a date certain. Request consideration in return. For example, request partial payment up-front to help cover the cost of managing the delivery delay.
    • Keep the conversation going. Don’t get to point where you alienate a good customer.
  • If the customer is newer with less history but good potential for future growth, also respond flexibly but ask for additional consideration in good faith to cover your additional costs. As in the case above, request partial upfront payment to cover carrying costs – maybe a larger payment than for an established customer.
  • If the customer has been difficult in the past, or has been late with payments then the situation is different. There is no assurance that the customer isn’t just gaming the situation. Because the company has already committed resources to deliver the large order, demand an adjustment on price and terms in exchange for the delivery delay.
  • Whatever the history and situation, it is important to emphasize that you want to work with the customer.

Does it Pay to Share an Employee? Four Points

Situation: A company has an excellent bookkeeper. However, during slow seasons cash is tight and the bookkeeper is not occupied full time. The CEO contacted a friend at another company, and that company has hired the bookkeeper for 10 hours / week. This is working well for both for both companies. Are there downsides to doing this? Does it pay to share an employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you share an employee, share at your cost – your fully burdened cost per hour. For the company using a piece of your employee, this may be a significant hourly cost, but is much less expensive than a consultant and lower risk than bringing on an unknown individual.
  • Keep a short term perspective – once the economy improves you will want the individual back full-time. Make sure that this is well understood by the other company.
  • Make sure that this is not a burden on your bookkeeper. Ask whether the individual can handle two bosses. It helps to fully segregate the individual’s time with time rules – for example, by day or half-day with clean break points in time worked for Company A vs. Company B.
  • Overall, the apparent benefits of this situation outweigh the challenges.

What’s the Best Way to Renegotiate a Lease? Four Strategies

Situation: A company in a competitive real estate market has about 50% more space than they need at $2.80/sq. ft. per month – full service. The lease is up in 5 months with an option to renew for 2 years on the same terms. The company wants to both reduce its space and to reduce the cost per sq. ft. by about 25%. What’s the best way to renegotiate a lease?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Gather information from multiple sources on current and forecasted cost of space in your market. Sources may include: other tenants, real estate agents, similar buildings, and walking the neighborhood to evaluate conditions. Look at newspaper ads and Craig’s List for both space & furniture.
  • Ask other tenants in your building whether have excess space that they would offer to you under favorable terms, or whether they are interested in your excess space. In either case ask for both price and terms.
  • Be careful with the information that you gain from real estate agents. They have more incentive to keep prices up than to find you the best deal. Balance their information with information that you gather from other sources.
  • Success in negation often is a matter of which side is best informed. Line up all of your options. Present these to your landlord and see if you can get what you need without having to move. For many landlords, a good tenant at a lower price is better than no tenant.

How Do You Assess the Value of a Consultant? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company has relationship with a consultant. The consultant has approached the company for additional work with a higher dollar value. How do you assess the value of the services that are being offered? How do you assess the value of a consultant?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consulting is a competitive market. Look at the work being offered and tell the consultant that while you appreciate the value of her services and the relationship that she has with the company, you want to talk to others to understand the market rate for the additional services being offered.
  • Are consultants or contractors really much different from employees? How do you determine value when you are hiring? You determine this based on skills and market pay rate for skills. You’ll need to some homework to determine appropriate rates, but otherwise do the same here.
  • Look at your budget and upcoming expenses. If the proposed work is more important than other planned expenses, decide on a dollar figure and tell the consultant that this is what you’re willing to spend. If the consultant can convincingly pitch a higher value, you’ll listen.
  • Is the relationship with the consultant important to you? Is the proposed work important? If both are the case, sit down with the consultant and help them to craft a better offer.

How Do You Deal With a Deadbeat Customer? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company faces a difficult situation. One of their customers placed a substantial order for custom product a year ago. They have taken delivery of some product but the bulk of the order is still in the company’s warehouse. The company negotiated a cancellation fee with the customer, but they haven’t paid. What is the best option for the company? How do you deal with a deadbeat customer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Because the customer is unresponsive, be ready to take legal action. Get an attorney. The initial process to prepare for a suit may cost $5,000-7,000. Therefore be prepared to sue for damages plus legal fees, with the threat that liens will be put on the customer’s business during the settlement process.
  • Once everything is ready for a suit, talk to the customer – the message is either they pay in full what they owe or you’re ready to file a suit which will cost them much more.
  • The Uniform Commercial Code may cover you for custom product. Check this out. This is important so that the company won’t be exposed to a countersuit for filing a frivolous suit.
  • A route which may be less expensive is to hire a lawyer on a contingency basis. Contingency lawyers may want up to 40% of the settlement or judgement to take a case, and the value of the case has to be large enough to attract their attention.

 

Have You Hired People with Disabilities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is expanding. Some jobs that need to be filled are either utilitarian or don’t require full mobility. Labor through agencies runs $20/hour including agency fees. The CEO considering hiring the disabled including wounded warriors for this work. Have you hired people with disabilities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In San Mateo County California there is a group called Community Gatepath. They assess the work and work requirements and the company pays for disabled services a fair price piece basis. This worked well for sample product with simple packaging.
  • National groups include SourceAmerica.org and the Small Business Association which can assist with any regulatory questions pertaining to hiring the disabled.
  • Working with Easter Seals one company hired high functioning disabled individuals. For everyone involved, it was a very positive experience.
  • If you are interested in hiring disabled veterans, organizations like Hire Heroes USA provides both resumes and assistance. Tax credits are available for hiring disabled veterans.
  • There may be issues around how disabled workers process information or how they handle emotional situations that are different from non-disabled workers. Sensitivity among those supervising is important.
  • Interview and investigate the sponsoring organization and arrangements. Make sure that they are set up well for your needs as well as those of the disabled workers.

How Do You Introduce a Product to New Customers? 7 Thoughts

Situation: A company produces a high performance product which is priced modestly higher than competing products. They are finding customers resistant to cost increases, even when they acknowledge the advantages of the higher cost product. The company needs to develop a new way to position their product. How do you introduce a product to new customers?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t compete directly with existing technology. Position yourself distinctly, as a new solution to address unmet needs.
  • Sell your solution “for those times when you need to save time.” Once they start to use your product, they will find it simpler and easier to use than the old product and will convert themselves to your product.
  • Use the pitch: Book an extra client today because this will save you this much time. This plays to customers’ incremental revenue opportunities to justify the cost.
  • At conventions, conduct contests among attendees – try our product versus your old product. Those who can use it fastest, or below a set time have their business card placed in a jar for an iPad drawing several times a day.
  • Sell a lower priced “starter” kit – or provide a free sample with easy to follow directions. Once the customer is sold on the product’s advantages they will be less resistant to the modest cost increase.
  • Conduct seminars:
    • Local gatherings
    • Regional meetings
    • Larger companies
  • Focus on specialty functions within larger target clients – the functions that will benefit the most from your product’s advantages.

How Do You Manage Customer Change Orders? Three Suggestions

Situation: A mid-sized company has taken over management of the supply chains for several large customers. The products that the company manufactures have long lead times both for sourcing materials and manufacturing customer orders. Sometimes customers either ask for additional production on an existing order in process, or ask for deliveries to be spread beyond contracted timelines. Either situation has a significant impact on the cost of producing the order and company profitability. How do you manage customer change orders?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The issue is one of managing contracts and customer expectations. Because this is hurting the company, prime the customers now that things will need to change in the future. Depending upon the level of comfort the response can be reactive or proactive.
  • A proactive response: because this happens with some frequency, establish a change order schedule and share this with the customers. Your message will be that you are happy to accommodate changes in orders, but you need to recover the cost of these changes in order to be able to continue supplying the customer. Include the change order schedule in future customer purchase contracts. This may cause them to have second thoughts about requesting changes in orders.
  • A reactive response: the next time a customer makes these demands the response can be: “We’ll take care of you this time but when we draft our next contract we have to adjust the terms of the contract so that it is a win-win.”
  • The appropriate response depends on value of each customer’s business to the company – both revenue and profit – and your confidence in the relationship with the customer.