Thursday, May 27, 2010

Starting & Developing Your Business

Blue Point Strategies Chris Gattis will lead a workshop on June 26, 2010 for the Leadership Empowerment Resource Group.  The workshop, located at the Kingdom Builders Conference Center at 2049 Max Luther Drive, Huntsville, Alabama will run from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM.  The registration fee is only $20, but seating is limited.  Call (256) 326-0824 or (256) 270-8594 to register before all seats are filled.  The workshop, Starting & Developing Your Business will cover entrepreneurship, the mechanics of starting a business entity, writing a business plan and securing financing for your new business.  The workshop is suggested for any would-be business owner thinking of starting a business.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Michael E. Gerber Visits Huntsville

Michael Gerber, business author (The E-Myth Revisited) and small business guru visited Huntsville the week of May 11th.  We enjoyed several promotional events in preparation for his event on September 15th at the Von Braun Center.  Michael and his wife Luz Delia are super people and I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with them.  At age 74, Michael still has amazing energy.  If you are interested in attending the event on September 15th, visit the Women's Business Center of North Alabama web site at 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Competitive Intelligence For Startups

One of the key questions in the business planning process is determining what’s happening in your market.   Trying to determine who your real competition is and what their strengths and weaknesses are can be a real challenge.  Where you stack-up against your competition will be a key to your success in the market.  Competitive intelligence is the process of defining, gathering and distributing information about the products, services, customers, strategies and capabilities of your customers and the market environment in which you operate.  Once collected, this information must be compiled and presented to management to make strategic dedicions for your organization.  Just collecting the information isn’t enough.  If you file the data away in a folder on the server or in a file drawer never to see the light of day, you’ve wasted your time and efforts.  The information is only valuable when used as a tool to better manage your own organizations strategic efforts.

Competitive intelligence is about comparing your company to that of your competitors.  You are trying to collect actionable data that identifies risks and opportunities before they become common knowledge.  Positioning your company to act first or react quicker to changing market conditions may be the edge you need to succeed.  Keep in mind that some of the information you gather may not be true.   Just because you find something in print on the internet, does not mean it’s factual.  Evaluate the source of the data and don’t let your group chase a single piece of bad data down a path or no return.

Competititve intelligence has been used by the largest companys for many years.  It’s thought to be an expensive proposition not available for small business and startups.  In fact, I teach C.I. to every would-be entrepreneur and startup class, we just call it by another name; market research.  So exactly what should a startup or small business look for in the way of market research or C.I.?

Define Yourself – Before you can realistically hope to gleen information about your competitors and their strategic operations, you need to understand your own goals and objectives in the market.  Have a well defined business model with goals and financial projections.  If you don’t have a baseline on yourself, how will you know what kind of information to collect and what will you measure against?
Define the Who – Which competitors are really directly involved in your market?  Which indirect ones pose a real threat to your plan?  Pick a small group of competitors to watch.  You can only watch a limited number of competitors, so pick carefully.  And don’t spend all your efforts on the largest competitors and miss the new startups that may take your industry by storm.
Define the What – Determine on what to focus your intelligence gathering efforts; goals, management team members, growth objectives and direction, available resources, technological advances.  You can’t watch everything.  Most companies focus on strategic and capability oriented activities.  Most information is just noise.  Focus your attention on the few things that really matter in your industry.  The data you collect must be useful to your management team in making strategic decisions for your company.  If the information is not actionable, it’s not going to be very useful.
Define the How – The growing on-line world makes much of the data gathering effort easier than ever before.  Using news services to search for articles and news releases that contain certain keywords can automate the process.  Fee providers like Dunn and Bradstreet, or First Call collect data on physical location, management, history and financial performance.  Other data sources can typically be accessed from your larger public libraries or university libraries which carry subscriptions to fee based databases and services.  Discussion groups and message boards will entertain discussions about every topic you can think of relative to a company’s products, service and customer service habits.  While you have to take some of this data with a grain of salt, the boards will serve as an indication of how they operate and respond to customer compalints.

And then there’s the old-fashioned method of actually talking to people.  Networking and industry trade associations and trade shows can be an excellent source of the most current information.  Companies tend to send their best people to trade association meetings and shows to speak.  In addition, the job boards will reveal the kinds of talent a company needs or holes in their organization that must be filled in order to head out in a new direction.  Good talent is hard to find so companies must be aggressive in touting their vacancies and needs.  Some reading between the lines will be very useful for analyzing a growing company. 
Define the Process – Who will collect the data?  Where will you store the information?  Which employees and departments can access and add to the database?  Most importantly, how will you use the information to better manage your own business?  The data should be used to further your understanding of the competitive landscape and to drive strategic action.  Collecting data just to fill a database is a waste of time.  Have a plan for management to regularly review the information.  Change what you collect and how you collect it over time to fine tune the kind of information that your management needs to make strategic decisions. 

Business moves a breakneck speed and a nimble company can change direction on a dime.  How will you respond and more importantly, how long will it take you to figure out what they’ve done?  While this type of information is especially important in the business planning stage as you try to determine the feasibility of a business model, don’t forget to keep at it once you’re in business.  The business world doesn’t stop once your business gets it initial funding.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Michael Gerber Visits Huntsville

Best-Selling Author Michael Gerber
Best-selling business author Michael Gerber visited Huntsville last week to help promote his WBCNA-Library Foundation event scheduled for September 15, 2010 at the Von Braun Center.  In the picture above, Michael paid a surprise visit to the Women's Business Center of North Alabama FastTrack New Venture Entrepreneurship class.  He spoke to the class about his E-Myth principles and how to apply them.
Tickets to the September 15, 2010 event are available on-line at

In the picture below, Michael Gerber visits the WBCNA's Entrepreneurs Book Club, who are currently reading his book, The E-Myth Revisited.  Michael is pictured with APEX Business Center's Kellie Andrews.

APEX Business Centers Kellie Andrews poses with Best-Selling Author Michael Gerber

Monday, May 10, 2010

12 Strategies for Dealing with Job Loss

In the previous post, we looked at the stages of grief in the job loss or any other process.  Knowing what to expect or just being able to label your feelings in a known and understood system makes it somewhat easier to deal with the stages.  But knowing the names of the stages doesn’t help you get back on your feet and into the business world.  My own experience, plenty of research and work with actual coaching clients has led me to develop the following strategies for dealing with job loss.

  1. Keep a personal journal.  Your emotional rollercoaster has begun.  Be aware of your feelings and emotions and record your thoughts in a journal.  The key is being honest with yourself in recording your thoughts.  Sometimes just the act of writing down your anger or fears allows you to release them.  When you see your fears reduced to words, they don’t seem so bad, or better, you see them for what they are.  Remember that grief takes time.  Processing your emotions by writing them down will help keep a check on your stress, which will be a tough challenge.
  2. Develop a networking list.  Create a master list of everyone you know from your personal life and your business life.  Whether you decide to get a job or start a business, you’ll need to network to be successful.  Don’t start calling these people yet, but do start making a list.  Once you’ve determined which direction your career will take, you’ll have a ready-made list of contacts. 
  3. Create an elevator pitch for unemployment.  Why aren’t you at work?  You need a story to tell.  Start crafting your explaination for why you lost your job.  I’m not saying to make up a fairy tale, but don’t let when someone asks you for the first time be the first time you’ve thought of what you’ll say.  It will be awkward and not having a reasonable story to tell will make you even more uncomfortable.  Be honest, but tell the story from your perspective.  After crafting your message, try it out on your friends.  Saying it out loud to someone else will help you get the message right.
  4. Identify your fears.  Fear and panic are the second stage of grief.  Unless you are independently wealthy and don’t really have to work, you are going to have some concerns about your finances and the well-being of your family.  Many of these fears are baseless nightmares created in your mind.  By listing them on paper, you can fairly evalute them.  Many of your fears will probably turn out to be creations of your mind with little or no likelihood of coming true.  Discuss your list with your spouse and when appropriate, your family.  Don’t hide unemployment from your kids.  They know something is wrong and an honest discussion will quiet their fears of the unknown and help explain why schedules have changed and things are different.
  5. Create a new schedule.  Your new job is working on you and your career.  It’s time to get back in the saddle and take control of your schedule.  You’ll need to create a schedule that works in your life.  Unless you have a home office where you can close the door and get away form the kids and dog and other distractions, you’ll have to find a schedule that allows you to work with the family that’s also occupying the house.  In fact, they’re used to being there and doing their thing unimpeeded by you.  Create a space and gather all the necessary supplies and furniture necessary to work.  If your best time is early in the mornings or late at night, go with whatever works.  But it’s important to create a regular schedule to work and not allow yourself to become addicted to daytime TV or other non-productive activities that don’t help you move your career and financial future forward.  Whatever your schedule, treat this time like a job.
  6. Brainstorm your joys.  Now that you’ve worked through the bad stuff, set-up your office area and created a schedule, it’s time to get to work.  Think back on your career and about all the times when your work or related activities brought you joy.  Include civic and religious activities as you create a list of those activities that you really enjoyed.  You may remember thinking that you’d continue doing these things for free if only you could keep them going.  If you are relatively young in your career, include those activities from college or high school that really made you happy or brought you joy.
  7. List your accomplishments.  Looking back on your work career (including civic and religious activities), make a list of your greatest hits.  What are the accomplishments and activities of which you are most proud?  If you’re having trouble with the list, talk to your spouse or a couple of close business associates.  Identify those times when you were really in the zone and making things happen in your organization.  Remembering the good times will help you reaffirm your worth and self-esteem.
  8. Create career vignettes.  Using your lists of joys and accomplishments, create vignettes of those activities that will form the basis of the talking points for future job interviews or business creation work.  When you can identify  the activity, accomplishment and emotions involved in those stories, you’ll start to see patterns.  These patterns of activity or behavior should serve to guide you in your decisions about your future direction.  Whether that pursuit is in forming a new venture or working withing an existing organization, your brainstorming and analysis of joys and accomplishments will help guide you into directions that best suit your personality and values.
  9. Brainstorm your strengths and weaknesses.  An honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses will help guide you evaluate opportunities and necessary skill and technology training.  After creating a list of strengths and weaknesses, have a spouse or trusted colleuge assist you in completing the lists.  Examine your weaknesses and determine which items on the list need work.  If some of the items are holding you back, determine the best way to resolve those weaknesses through education, training or other appropriate means.  Look at the strengths and determine which items you can exploit to your advantage.  Are some of your strengths not strong enough?  What can you do to improve your overall situation?  Make a habit of learning something new every week or every day.  Take advantage of your time to expand your horizons and improve your mind. 
  10. Determine your new career objective.  Items six through nine should help you determine your new direction.  Will you become a business owner or remain an employee.  Starting a business isn’t for everyone.  You’ll need capital, patience, a never-ending supply of energy and an ability to deal with rejection and triumph, without taking any of it personally.   Maybe you can get a job while you start planning for your eventual transition into a business of your own.  Or perhaps you’ve identified your skills as a salesperson and you just need to find the right firm and product line.  Whatever your new objective, try to clearly identify the objective and narrow the focus.  Many people opt for the shotgun approach thinking it gives them more options, when in fact, it does just the opposite.  Use the rifle approach of pinpointing a single objective and crafting all your plans and strategies around that objective.
  11. Set goals.  With your singularly identified objective clearly written, it’s time to set some goals.  Start with the end in mind.  Identify where you want to be and in what time frame.  (HINT: For short-term goals, use a big calendar on the wall in front of your desk to constantly remind you of the coming deadline.)  What are the specifics of your plan in terms of time, money, resources, and position?  What are emotional benefits of accomplishing your goals?  Close your eyes and visualize your success.  What does the organization look like, feel like and how does it operate?  Create an organization chart of your organization to help identify the specifics of and serve as a goal for your success.  What are the accoutrements of your successfully accomplishing your goals?  Create and document a vision of your future.  Write it down!
  12. Make a plan.  What do you need to get there?  Starting at the end, work backwards and create a plan to help you achieve each milestone along the way to your ultimate success.  What resources do you need?  What training and skills?  What other people or organizations will be required to help?  Focus your activities on accomplishing goals and moving your plan forward.  Activities that don’t relate to accomplishing your goals and forwarding your plan should be pushed to the back and contemplated only when you are ahead of schedule or have free time.  Don’t let other people’s agenda sidetrack your plan.