Category Archives: Business

Do You Need a Business Plan Ideas

downloadWhen I am asked to explain why business planning is so important, my first inclination is to quote Lewis Carroll. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road and asks:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

For me this scene encapsulates perfectly the problems of not having an over-arching goal and plan for your business. Without a plan, or using a cookie cutter business plan template a business is essentially rudderless, and day-to-day activities are likely to be haphazard and reactive, in stark contrast to those businesses implementing a well thought out business plan.

The following represents a list of my top five reasons a firm needs a business plan.

1. To map the future

A business plan is not just required to secure funding at the start-up phase, but is a vital aid to help you manage your business more effectively. By committing your thoughts to paper, you can understand your business better and also chart specific courses of action that need to be taken to improve your business. A plan can detail alternative future scenarios and set specific objectives and goals along with the resources required to achieve these goals.

By understanding your business and the market a little better and planning how best to operate within this environment, you will be well placed to ensure your long-term success.

2. To support growth and secure funding

Most businesses face investment decisions during the course of their lifetime. Often, these opportunities cannot be funded by free cash flows alone, and the business must seek external funding. However, despite the fact that the market for funding is highly competitive, all prospective lenders will require access to the company’s recent Income Statements/Profit and Loss Statements, along with an up-to-date business plan. In essence the former helps investors understand the past, whereas the business plan helps give them a window on the future.

When seeking investment in your business, it is important to clearly describe the opportunity, as investors will want to know:

  • Why they would be better off investing in your business, rather than leaving money in a bank account or investing in another business?
  • What the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for the business arising from the opportunity is?
  • Why people will part with their cash to buy from your business?

A well-written business plan can help you convey these points to prospective investors, helping them feel confident in you and in the thoroughness with which you have considered future scenarios. The most crucial component for them will be clear evidence of the company’s future ability to generate sufficient cash flows to meet debt obligations, while enabling the business to operate effectively.

3. To develop and communicate a course of action

A business plan helps a company assess future opportunities and commit to a particular course of action. By committing the plan to paper, all other options are effectively marginalized and the company is aligned to focus on key activities. The plan can assign milestones to specific individuals and ultimately help management to monitor progress. Once written, a plan can be disseminated quickly and will also prompt further questions and feedback by the readers helping to ensure a more collaborative plan is produced.

Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

The New Year is synonymous with resolutions and promises of making changes. If you are an entrepreneur, this time of year offers you a perfect opportunity to take stock of your business, as emails are probably at an all-time low over the holiday period. Here is my checklist of priority resolutions for all entrepreneurs for the New Year:

1. Review your business plan
One of the most important requirements for any entrepreneur is a business plan; not one that lives in their head or one that is consigned to an office cupboard- but a living business plan. If you have never written one, now is the perfect time to do so. If your business plan is in a drawer, take it out, read it and update it accordingly. Without a business plan, your business is essentially rudderless and you run the risk of not focusing on the key activities that need to be undertaken to bring you success.

2. Run through the numbers
For many people, numbers are not necessarily their strong suit and in small companies without dedicated in-house accounting departments this can result in serious problems. There is an old saying that what gets measured gets managed. So if you are starting a business, it is worth revisiting some of the fundamentals that are vital to your business. If you do not have any metrics in place, now is a perfect time to set them. These can include key financial ratios as well as customer and Web based metrics, e.g. £ value per customer, conversion rates, etc.

Topics to brush up on include:

  • Break-even Point
  • Profit Margins (Gross and Net)
  • Cash Flow Forecasts
  • Profit and Loss
  • Sales Forecasts
  • Cost of Sales
  • Creditor and Debtor Days

It is tempting to delegate the maths to others. However, you need to understand these concepts so you can manage your business effectively. For example Insolvency is one of the biggest threats to companies in the UK, yet cash flow management is an area which many entrepreneurs neglect. By understanding the numbers that are relevant to your business you can ensure that you are giving yourself every opportunity to grow and prosper.

3. Optimise your website
Most businesses set up a website when they start, but many entrepreneurs then ignore it. It is essential that websites are maintained and are mined for information. Where are your customers coming from? What are they looking at? What is the conversion level for visitors? All of these questions, and more, are easily answered using free tools such as Google Analytics. If you have not done anything with your website for some time, you should implement Google Analytics so you can understand more about your customers. Armed with this knowledge you can then tailor your website for the audience you attract and help achieve the objectives that the website was designed for in the first place.

Great Business Ideas

For some people, buying an existing business is a better option than starting from scratch. Why? Because someone else has done much of the legwork for you, such as establishing a customer base, hiring employees and negotiating a lease. But if you want to buy a business, you’ll need to do some thorough research to make sure that what you see is what you’re going to get.

What type of business should you buy?
The kind of business you should buy depends on the types of work you’ve done in your life, classes you’ve taken or perhaps special skills you’ve developed through a hobby. It’s almost always a mistake to buy a business you know little about, no matter how good it looks. Not only will you have to struggle up a big learning curve after you buy it, but you might not know enough about the industry to determine whether a particular company is a good value.

In addition to buying a business in an industry that you know, try to choose one that you love. It’s less difficult — and a lot more fun — to succeed in business when you enjoy the work you’re doing.

Finding the right business
After you’ve decided what type of business you want to buy, you’re ready to begin your hunt for the perfect company. Consider starting your search close to home. For instance, if you’re currently employed by a small business you like, find out about the present owner’s circumstances and whether she would consider selling the company. Or, ask business associates and friends for leads on similar businesses that may be on the market; many of the best business opportunities surface by word of mouth — and are snapped up before their owners ever list them for sale.

Other avenues to explore include newspaper adverts trade associations, real estate brokers and business suppliers. Finally, there are business brokers — people who earn a commission from business owners who need help finding buyers. It’s fine to use a broker to help locate a business opportunity, but it’s foolish to rely on a broker — who doesn’t make a commission unless he makes a sale — for advice about the quality of a business or the fairness of its selling price.

Research the business’ history and finances
Before you seriously consider buying a particular business, find out as much as you can about it: thoroughly review copies of the business’ certified financial records, including cash flowstatements, balance sheets and debtors and creditors, employee files, including benefits and any employee contracts, and major contracts and leases, as well as any past lawsuits and other relevant information.

This review (lawyers call it doing “due diligence”) will tell you a lot about the company you’re buying and will alert you to any potential problems. For instance, if a major contract doesn’t allow the current owner to assign it to you without the other party’s permission, you should enlist the owner to help you obtain the other party’s consent.

Don’t be shy about asking for information about the business. Here are some other details you should determine before you commit yourself to buying a particular business:

  • who holds title to company assets
  • whether there is any potential or ongoing litigation
  • whether there have been any workers’ compensation claims or unemployment claims made by company employees
  • whether the company has consistently paid its taxes, and any potential tax liabilities
  • whether any commercial leases and major contracts can be assigned to the new owner
  • whether the company has given any warranties and guarantees to its customers
  • whether the company owns trade secrets, and how it protects them
  • whether the company owns patents and copyrights
  • whether the company holds registered trademarks
  • whether business licenses or tax registration certificates are transferable
  • whether the business is in compliance with local zoning laws
  • whether there are any toxic waste or environmental problems, and
  • if the business is a franchise, what it will take to get the necessary franchisor approval.

Lets know more about Forecasting Your Sales

Developing your sales forecast isn’t as hard as most people think. Think of your sales forecast as an educated guess. Forecasting takes good working knowledge of your business, which is much more important than advanced degrees or complex mathematics. It is much more art than science.

Whether you have business training or not, don’t think you aren’t qualified to forecast. If you can run a business, then you can forecast its sales. Most people can guess their own business’ sales better than any expert device, statistical analysis, or mathematical routine. Experience counts more than any other factor.

Break your sales down into manageable parts, and then forecast the parts. Guess your sales by line of sales, month by month, then add up the sales lines and add up the months.

The illustration gives you an example of a simple sales forecast that includes simple price and cost forecasts which are used to calculate projected sales and direct cost of sales and estimate total pound value for each category of sales.

Use text to explain the forecast and related plans and background
Although the charts and tables are great, you still need to explain them. A complete business plan should normally include some detailed text discussion of your sales forecast, sales strategy, sales programs, and related information. Ideally, you use the text, tables, and charts in your plan to provide some visual variety and ease of use. Put the tables and charts near the text covering the related topics.

In my standard business plan text outline, the discussion of sales goes into Chapter 5.0, Strategy and Implementation. You can change that to fit whichever logic and structure you use. In practical terms, you’ll probably prepare these text topics as separate items, to be gathered into the plan as it is finished.

Sales strategy
Somewhere near the sales forecast you should describe your sales strategy. Sales strategies deal with how and when to close sales prospects, how to compensate sales people, how to optimise order processing and database management, how to manoeuvre price, delivery, and conditions.

How do you sell? Do you sell through retail, wholesale, discount, mail order, phone order? Do you maintain a sales force? How are sales people trained, and how are they compensated? Don’t confuse sales strategy with your marketing strategy, which goes elsewhere. Sales should close the deals that marketing opens.

To help differentiate between marketing strategy and sales strategy, think of marketing as the broader effort of generating sales leads on a large scale, and sales as the efforts to bring those sales leads into the system as individual sales transactions. Marketing might affect image and awareness and propensity to buy, while sales involves getting the order.

Forecast details
Your business plan text should summarise and highlight the numbers you have entered in the Sales Forecast table. Make sure you discuss important assumptions in enough detail, and that you explain the background sufficiently. Try to anticipate the questions your readers will ask. Include whatever information you think will be relevant, that your readers will need.

Sales programs
Details are critical to implementation. Use this topic to list the specific information related to sales programs in your milestones table, with the specific persons responsible, deadlines, and budgets. How is this strategy to be implemented? Do you have concrete and specific plans? How will implementation be measured?

Business plans are about results, and generating results depends in part on how specific you are in the plan. For anything related to sales that is supposed to happen, include it here and list the person responsible, dates required, and budgets. All of that will make your business plan more real.

How to Be an Entrepreneur

download-2In a world increasingly affected by globalisation, increased competitiveness and maturing products, the need for creativity and entrepreneurship has never been greater. Luckily, the attractions of becoming an entrepreneur have never been greater either, especially since a shift from a predominantly manufacturing- to a service-based economy has lowered the cost and barriers to entry for entrepreneurs. The British government has moved entrepreneurship (and support for it) to the top of their domestic agenda. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship has become a hot topic, with conferences, exhibitions, and even TV shows, such as “Risking it All” and “The Dragons’ Den” evidencing the popularity. But while the environmental conditions may be attractive, entrepreneurs still need a workable idea that is commercially viable. This article endeavours to assist wannabe entrepreneurs (wantrepreneurs) in coming up with ‘the plan’ so as to enable them to finally take the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship.

1. The environment

Before deciding on ‘the idea’ it is worth assessing the landscape thoroughly so as to consider the broader context and the impact that trends or changes may have on it, i.e. whether it is future-proof, etc. There are three main trends to look at – global trends, national trends and local trends.

Keeping up to date with global developments via The Economist or the BBC will certainly give you a good base to start from. However, to gain a more in-depth understanding of global changes from a business opportunity perspective, websites such as Trendwatching (www.springwise.com) are very useful. In an increasingly homogeneous global economy, it is obvious that what works well in one market can easily transplant into other ones with the minimum of localisation. Between them, these sites give a more in-depth insight into some of the latest emergent business ideas and can be considered in tandem with macro trends affecting us all, like environmental challenges, the increasing cost of oil, volatile currencies, etc.

On a national level, there are a number of trends that we are all familiar with in the UK: increased ubiquity of broadband access, the fact that as a population we are aging, increased expected life spans, growth in the number of single-person households, and so on. The key with all of these trends is to focus on the opportunities associated with these demographic shifts and trends. For example, it is safe to predict that an aging population will increase the demand for certain goods and services, such as home-help services, medication, nursing, and glasses, and that the growth in single-person households will increase the demand for convenience food products and more economical white goods such as smaller fridges and washer/ dryer all in one’s.

On a local level, there are also numerous resources we can use in assessing the local environment and, in particular, the likely demand for our goods or services. Websites such as ACORN (www.caci.co.uk/acorn) and UpMyStreet (www.upmystreet.com) provide extensive free demographic data about areas based on UK postcodes. These enable you to build up profiles of the local population and are ideal when you are looking to set up a shop or service to serve the local community specifically. Of course when it comes to local opportunities, these need to be assessed in conjunction with plenty of ‘on-the-ground’ research: walking in and around the area targeted for the new enterprise.

2. The options

The big idea

Whilst the majority of new businesses are replicas of existing businesses, some entrepreneurs will strive to create something completely unique. One of the most powerful things the Internet enables us to do is to search for solutions to problems more efficiently than ever before. Goods and services are designed to fulfill the needs of people. In other words, goods and services solve people’s problems; and while your proposed solution may be unique, it is likely the problem is not. Hence, an Internet search focusing on the problem your solution is trying to address is likely to highlight substitutes and competitors, which may all help to shape the nascent idea.

Using the Internet, you can often assess the potential demand for your service by gauging the number of people who search for a term related to the problem that your good or service satisfies. For example, our company, Palo Alto Software, produces business planning software. One way people find us online is by searching for help for their problem: their need to write abusiness plan. Using the Key Word Assistant on Overture, we can find out how many times “business plan” and other related terms were searched for in the previous month. This data can help us assess whether business planning is a significantly more popular term than “business plan”? If so, we might consider renaming our product “Business Planning Pro” instead of  Business Plan Pro.

How to Avoid Business Plan Mistakes

The importance of business planning is widely documented; however, guidance as to what constitutes good business planning is less clearly defined. This article aims to redress that imbalance by describing 10 of the most common mistakes that occur in business plans.

While the business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile pursuit, most business plans are produced for a specific purpose. The plan is used as a means to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, e.g. securing funding. Hence the plan needs to be tailored with the audience in mind, and good knowledge of their requirements will help shape a winning plan.

For example, the requirements a Venture Capitalist will have in assessing a plan seeking to secure a million-pound investment will differ considerably from those of a local bank manager who needs a plan to support a small-loan application. While the former will be primarily looking for capital growth, the latter will be more concerned with security. Regardless of the specific purpose of the plan, these following business plan lessons will apply.

1. Incredible financial projections

One of the key areas business plan readers will focus on will be ‘the numbers’. Specifically, they will concentrate on the projected Income Statement or Profit & Loss. The fact that numbers are projected does not mean that those figures can be included without due rigour or process. They need to be credible, defensible and consistent. Of course forecasting is not an exact science, and the use of proxies can help the author ensure that the figures included are plausible and consistent with the story being told in the other areas of the business plan. The figures must also show an ability of the company to generate free cash flows so that the business can be run profitably while satisfactorily servicing their debts at the same time.

All costs should be recorded including salaries to owner managers who run the company. It is not credible to generate P&L projections where expenses such as salaries are omitted to demonstrate managerial commitment or to artificially reduce losses, etc. By the same token, no investor will be prepared to fund a business where the projected salary payments are excessive. While dealing with finances is not everyone’s strong point, there has to be someone on the management team who is cognizant with the maths. A business plan will need to include everything from break-even projections to proposed return on investments to cash flow forecasts, and one of the key players will have to converse on these subjects in a convincing manner. They will also need to justify the numbers.

2. Lack of a viable opportunity

A business plan needs to not only describe an opportunity, it must also detail how the opportunity can be exploited profitably and demonstrate the company’s ability to deliver what is required. In recent years there has been a significant increase in plans that are inaccessible to the average reader because they are couched in technical jargon and unfamiliar terms. If the reader of the plan cannot fully grasp who the prospective customer is, how that customer will be targeted, and the prospective benefits from the proposed solution, the reader will not invest. In an increasingly time-pressed world, people crave simplicity. Many business plan recipients will only scrutinize the Executive Summary and the financials, using these as the decision points as to whether to read further or not. Hence it is of paramount importance that both the executive summary and the wider plan describes the opportunity in readily understood terms, such as:

  • What is the issue or pain point?
  • What is the proposed solution?
  • What are the benefits of the solution?
  • Why are these benefits compelling?
  • Who will benefit the most from these?

Once these are detailed, there will be greater transparency regarding the viability, or otherwise, of the proposed opportunity in terms of the company’s ability to profitably serve the target market.

3. No clear route to market

All opportunities are only prospective ones without evidence that the target market can be accessed profitably. Many entrepreneurs are inherently product focused, concentrating their energies on ‘the idea’ to the exclusion of many other important elements such as how they intend to access their customer base. The growth in popularity of the Internet has certainly helped niche producers find geographically dispersed customers, making many more ideas commercially viable. However, it does not come without its challenges, as creating awareness online is both costly and intensely competitive. The business plan must include a comprehensive and credible analysis of how the company intends to secure access to their target market in a cost-effective manner. The low cost and barriers to entry for websites have resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of sites. Ensuring that a site stands out from the crowd is easier said than done. Knowledge of who the customer is and how they buy is very important, but identifying them and accessing them on an individual basis is much more

How to Get Top of Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan can seem a daunting challenge. However, this skill is a vital requirement for any entrepreneur or business seeking to increase their chances of survival. Here is a list of my top ten tips for writing that winning plan:

1. Write from the audience’s perspective

The starting point for any business plan should be the perspective of the audience. What is the purpose of the plan? Is it to secure funding? Is it to communicate the future plans for the company? The writer should tailor the plan for different audiences, as they will each have very specific requirements. For example, a potential investor will seek clear explanations detailing the proposed return on their investment and time frames for getting their money back.

2. Research the market thoroughly

The recent Dragons’ Den series on BBC 2 reiterated the importance prospective investors place on knowledge of the market and the need for entrepreneurs to thoroughly research their market. The entrepreneur should undertake market research and ensure that the plan includes reference to the market size, its predicted growth path and how they will gain access to this market. A plan for an Internet café will consider the local population, Internet penetration rates, predictions about whether it is likely to grow or decline, etc., concluding with a review of the competitive environment.

3. Understand the competition

An integral component to understanding any business environment is understanding the competition, both its nature and the bases for competition within the industry. Is it a particularly competitive environment, or one that lacks competition? How are the incumbents competing—is there a price leader evident? Finally, including a thorough understanding of the bases on which you intend to compete is vital; can you compete effectively with the existing players?

4. Attention to detail

Make the plan concise, but include enough detail to ensure the reader has sufficient information to make informed decisions. Given that the plan’s writer usually has a significant role to play in the running of the business, the plan should reflect a sense of professionalism, with no spelling mistakes, realistic assumptions, credible projections and accurate content. The writer should also consider the format of the plan, e.g., if a business plan presentation is required, a back-up PowerPoint presentation should be created.

5. Focus on the opportunity

If you are seeking investment in your business, it is important to clearly describe the investment opportunity. Why would the investor be better off investing in your business rather than leaving money in a bank account, shares, or investing in another business? What is the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for the business? Why will people part with their cash to buy from you?

6. Ensure all key areas are covered in the plan

Undertake research on what a business plan should contain; one good place to find this is atBplans . Include sections on the Company, Product/Service, Market, Competition, Management Team, Marketing, Operations and Financials. The plan should also take on board the readers’ various preferences for viewing data. While many plans are predominantly textual, the plan should include some simple colour charts and spreadsheets.

7. Do the sums

The numbers will be subject to particular scrutiny. Costs should be documented in full and sales predictions should be both conservative and realistic. While costs are more certain and predictable, a crucial factor in the success or failure of the business will be the level of sales. If you are not particularly comfortable with maths, have someone assist you in preparing a simplecash flow and break-even chart. This will help the reader understand how many sales you must make to cover your costs, and also how much financing you must raise to start up successfully. Remember, at the beginning, there are a lot of start-up expenses in a period of uncertain sales volumes. If sales are on credit (including via credit card) it may take up to four weeks for you to receive the cash.

How to start up for business planning

One of the greatest misconceptions about business planning is that a business plan is useful only for start-ups. While start-up companies are indeed one significant segment of business planners, business planning is being utilised by an increasing number of companies as a means to manage growth better, to ensure new ideas have been assessed for commercial viability, and to value a business on exit.

Secondly, the importance of the business planning process is often under-emphasized relative to the primary focus on the final output, the business plan. The very process of producing a business plan enables management to take a holistic view of their organization. It helps them give due consideration to the various factors that mesh together to create the opportunity they are seeking to explore, as well as the resources required and the key drivers needed for success. This article aims to justify a more expansive remit for the business plan, by highlighting a number of key areas where its application is of considerable benefit for all companies.

1. Intrapreneurship
Companies are increasingly encouraging employees to create new growth opportunities as competition intensifies in their core (mature) business lines. Mature invariably means competitive, so the focus on growth opportunities is via innovation and creativity, especially in emergent areas. The term intrapreneurship thus refers to “inside entrepreneurs”; where intrepreneurs personify the key characteristics of an entrepreneur, but do so within the company bounds.

Intrapreneurship is not new – 3i, a venture capital/equity investment company, has been one obvious practitioner for many years – and its application of intrapreneurship has helped to spawn a number of new products. Google, a company renowned for innovation, operates a 70 percent rule, whereby employees are expected to spend 70 percent of their time on the core business, 20 percent on related projects, and 10 percent on unrelated new business opportunities. While the generation of new ideas is paramount, ensuring their commercial viability is of critical concern, and writing a business plan is one key way to assess the merits of an innovative proposal in a more rigorous fashion. The plan can thus be produced for an internal opportunity as if it were a stand-alone entity, with the author being required to detail both the opportunity and the resource implications of pursuing it.

2. Managing performance
A business plan can also be used as a management tool to assess ‘actual results’ against ‘planned results’. Using these figures in conjunction with an assessment of year-on-year performance can ensure that managers reflect on performance not just based on the previous year’s achievements, but also in relation to the original planned figures. This enables managers to analyse deviations from plan so as to understand what figures are materially different from the planned ones and what drivers shaped the disparities. It also helps to shift the focus away from solely historic comparisons –instead the manager is tasked with planning for the year ahead and hence there is an agreed goal up front and greater transparency on a month by month basis when ‘actuals’ can be compared with ‘planned’.

Such analysis helps to enhance a manager’s understanding of the changes that have impacted recent performance. If planned results and actual results are considered on a monthly basis, this analysis may also help the manager take remedial action in a more urgent time frame.

3. Planning strategically
The process of business planning is, in and of itself, a worthwhile pursuit as it forces the authors to remove themselves from the day-to-day tactical/responsive mode in which many managers operate. The planning process forces any manager to consider the future. In particular, they must take into account the resources at the company’s disposal and plan to maximise the return on capital, as limited by the wider context.

For many companies, a desire on the one hand to maximise the return from the existing product/service revenue stream, needs to be balanced on the other by a desire to develop new additional revenue streams. By putting a business case together for a particular course of action, a manager ensures that the proposal is financially robust (i.e., worthy of pursuit), that the goals are kept in focus and that resources are allocated accordingly.

Hence, a business plan can support a company’s focus on exploiting a particular market segment, creating a new product, promoting a new use for a product, etc. Once the plan is committed to paper, it is easier to ensure that there is consensus, ownership of the plan, and a breakdown of tasks, milestones and deliverables to help achieve the goals set out in the plan.

4. Preparing for a future exit
At some point in the life cycle of a business, the founders/investors may decide that they want to cash out of the business. The exit strategy will typically focus on extracting the highest value possible from the sale. An up-to-date business plan detailing the opportunity for new buyers will support any valuations put on the business by its current owners.

Before a company reaches the point of sale, it is important to get everything ready by making sure that all historic accounts, cash flow statements and business plans are up-to-date. It is generally accepted that thorough preparation for a sale, well in advance of the sale date, improves internal management focus, aids performance, and ultimately serves to increase the final valuation.

Once management identifies the key drivers for a typical potential acquirer, a business plan can be put in place to focus the minds of employees and ensure that the sale value is maximized. For example, if the general bases for valuation for the industry are focused more on cash generation than profit, a company can drive short term revenues by undercutting sales prices of competitors by selling at cost + 5%. While such activity may not be sustainable in the long run, it can serve to help cash flow when a sale is being considered and prospective acquirers are reviewing performance. While some managers are not that comfortable with planning and projections, the preparation of a thorough business plan plays a vital role in extracting the maximum value from a sale.

Business Internet Products Tips

Starting a business is an incredibly exciting time for any entrepreneur; however it can also be stressful with so much to do in so little time. The start-up phase is also characterized by significant expenditures against a backdrop of uncertain income. However, there are a number of products and services that can help you maximize your chances of success while also saving you considerable time and money. This article aims to introduce you to some of the less obvious ones that are available via the Internet. These products and services can help you set your business on the right path from Day One. While these recommendations will not be appropriate for all, those who need to bootstrap and build their business the hard way will benefit the most.

1. Create a website

Regardless of whether you intend to sell online or not, all new start-up businesses should secure a domain name and create a website as soon as they can. Thankfully, the cost of getting a site set up has fallen significantly over time and there are now a host of different packages and providers to choose from.

2. Download a profile of your industry

The factsheets, reports and guides from Scavenger are essential reading material for anyone starting up a business in the UK. The Business Opportunity Profiles are downloadable reports on specific UK industries. With over 800 reports in total, the range includes everything from ‘Children’s Day Nursery’ profiles to ‘Coffee Shop’ profiles to a profile on ‘Wedding Planners’.

Where: www.scavenger.net Cost: Individual reports cost around £5.

3. Set up your company accounts

One of the big challenges start-up companies face is managing cash flow. Insolvency is one of the main causes of failure for entrepreneurs in the UK. However, with some careful and appropriate financial planning, cash crunches can be avoided. While this in itself is an important reason for buying a bookkeeping package, there are countless other reasons ranging from the ability to manage invoices through to managing payroll. The two main recommended introductory packages are QuickBooks® Simple Start from Intuit® and Sage® Instant Accounts. View online demos before you purchase.

Where: www.sage.co.uk and www.quickbooks.co.uk Cost: From £43.97 at www.amazon.co.uk

4. Download business planning software

When you start up it is important to write a business plan to ensure you adequately plan the future of your business. The very process of creating a plan is beneficial, not least because it forces you to take a holistic view of your company. Business Plan Pro is the best-selling business-planning software available. It is easy to use, saves time, and has over 500 sample plans to get you started. It is also available via download so you can get instant access to it and hence pay no postage and packing.

Where: Business Plan Pro is available from www.paloalto.co.uk Cost: RRP is only £79.99 for the Standard version and £129.99 for the Premier.

Talent Management Talk About

Every CEO claims to struggle with the challenge of getting the right “talent,” but what does this really mean? Their real concern is:  Do I have the people who will understand my agenda and be able to really change how work gets done, at pace? This is the wrong question.

Individuals can make a difference in an organization, but a social system — particularly in large organizations — is always stronger.

Fundamentally, organizations domesticate people—they condition people to work in certain ways, and they inadvertently perpetuate the status quo. People get tagged as “talented” when they fit in (or pretend to). This ends up exacerbating conformity and fear, and perpetuating the very problems that the CEO is hoping to solve.

Real change requires understanding three dilemmas about “talent management” systems:

They are tribal.

Despite the size of modern organizations, people are still very tribal — they maintain and seek out small groups of “like minded” people with whom they find comfort, and it’s through these tribes they define their work. Talent thus looks a lot more like currying favor than any deeply analytic meritocracy, even when it comes to senior team ascension. Too often, CEOs say they’re looking to promote talent but end up promoting familiarity.

Smart senior leaders understand this, and they tend to fight and work to get the exposure and familiarity to executives from their “tribes.”  Until senior leaders understand their complicity in this problem, and how the tribalism of their talent conversations contributes to it, their talent systems will continue to cripple them.

They reward compliance, not creativity.

While senior leaders promote and protect their “tribes,” once you get two steps outside of the C-suite, the problem becomes worse.  Talent identification becomes about minions. Leaders often promote and protect the people who make them look good; too often, there are also the people who don’t challenge leaders. “Minions,” if you have not seen the movie, are cute and dependable, but they’re not about to create your future.  I have worked with talent in dozens of organizations on multiple continents, and they’re typically bright, confident, articulate people.  I would propose, however, that they’re not vastly distinct from the masses that work around them.

 Most of them ignore the importance of context.

Some of the most storied “talent factories” in the world — companies like Exxon, General Electric, Goldman Sachs — say that they focus on the best people, but what they really mean is that they focus on people who thrive in their context, and in their social system.  All of these companies have a distinct “type” that they look for –which brings its own risks.  Becoming a talent factory isn’t about hiring or promoting the best people, it is about understanding the DNA of your social system, and building from that baseline.

Understanding your social system and the people who thrive in it is exponentially more valuable, particularly if you want to drive high performance. But let’s not confuse this with “talent.”

To start, spend your next “Talent Review” writing down the descriptors used to label individuals. Here’s an example from an executive team of a global company that was trying to drive stronger execution:

  • “I’ve heard he is not very popular”
  • “She has a very strong personality, and creates too much tension”
  • “How is his attitude these days? In the past, he was pretty negative and pushy?”
  • “He seems like a resister”
  • “He has a nice personality”
  • “____ was very impressed by him”

They realized that the talent that they needed were pushy, demanding and delivery-focused, that their system that had a bias for privileging “niceness” and non-confrontation. The organization, even at the senior-most levels, was inadvertently reinforcing the organization’s status quo.

This happens everywhere.  Organizations cultivate in their talent systems toxic ways of policing the status quo, and then they wonder why they can’t change.  Smart organizations, and truly aspirational CEOs, need to own this reality and spend their resources and energies differently.  Broadly, the talent lenses and approaches we use, drive us toward the wrong, backward looking, conclusions.