Friday, August 31, 2012

Eat the Live Frog First

          “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen           to you the rest of the day.”   ~Mark Twain

I've been thinking about my morning routine lately. Lots of gurus have published papers, talks, video series and workshops about being more effective in your work day. One of the most famous, Tony Robbins, created the Hour of Power, a workday starter that includes exercise, motivational reading and even a gratitude exercise. Lots of others have similar programs to get your day started on the right foot.

One common theme, especially important for today's modern world, is not starting your day with email. Most of these workday effectiveness programs recommend not looking at your email until your first segment of the day is complete. That segment looks different for each program, but mostly involves getting a handle on your priority list of the day and completing that one big important item on your list. Hence the quote above. 

As our business grows and the work increases, it becomes more important to prioritize our work and remove distractions from our day. Becoming a better, more effective leader and business manager means handling our days with more effectiveness. The better you are and more effectively you run your business, the more people will want a part of your day. That's just natural. What's not natural, is finding a way to see the people you need to see to keep your business growing while not letting the distractions overwhelm you. 

I struggle with this just like everyone else. 

Do you have a strategy for managing your day more effectively? If so, why don't you share it with us.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

What's In A Name?

How do you pick a company name? I get asked this question frequently. It’s actually fairly simple in principal, but not so much in practice. Follow these 6 steps to help you come up with an interesting name for your business.

1. Keywords
Start with your keywords. Using Google AdWords or other SEO tool, figure out what keywords are right for your business. Rank the top 15 – 20 keywords and keep them handy whenever you are thinking about profiles, domain names, blog posts, or web content.

2. DOT Com Availability
With some general ideas in mind and your keyword list handy, use a URL registrar such as GoDaddy, to see what URLs are available in a ‘.com’ address. While there are no specific rules that say a .com is better than a .biz, the SEO experts I’ve asked about this all concur that a .com will rank higher than a .anything else.  However, finding a .com will be difficult, since most of the .com names that also follow rules 3 – 5, have been taken.

3. Easy to Pronounce
Don’t pick some name that your target customer can’t pronounce. If you’re in France or the middle of Louisiana, then picking a funky sounding Cajun word will be fine. Otherwise, pick a name that average customers, namely your target customers, can easily pronounce.

4. Easy to Spell
Akin to #3, pick a name that can easily be spelled. If people can’t spell your name, they won’t be able to find your website, nor will they find you in a phone book. Yeah, there are still a few folks around, like my father, who still depend on the yellow pages to find your business. Don’t pick a stupid and/or incorrect spelling trying to be cute. Your customers may not get the joke. Then you’re just creating a situation where you have to spend your marketing budget teaching your target audience your name instead of why your business is so cool.

5. Short
Choose a name that is as short as possible. If your business name has 68 letters, nobody will be using their smart phone to look you up. And since that’s how the majority of people will find you, make it easy on them. Of course by making it easy on your customers, you help insure that they actually find your business.

6. URL & Sign are the Same
Your business name, as it appears on your sign, should be, if at all possible, the same as your URL. Remember, it’s difficult enough to get people to remember you, if they have to remember two different names for your business you’re cutting your own throat. Just like in rule #4 above, don’t cut your own throat.

If you need some help naming your business, creating a brand or marketing strategy, give us a call.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

3 Steps to Business Idea Evaluation

In the last post, I spoke about evaluating a business idea to determine whether it's the next Pet Rock, or sinking like a rock.

There are 3 basic steps for determining top-level viability. You want to determine if this idea is reasonable before you spend months of time and potentially lots of money. There's no sense doing all that extensive research, building relationships with potential partners, and spending money on anything, if in the end, the financial results don't meet your needs.  This is not a complete business or marketing plan. Don't go saying that Chris said this is all you have to do. I'm not saying that at all. It's merely a first round go/no-go evaluation. It's the first of many before you decide to launch a business. 

These are the basic steps:

1. Understand the Market
2. Consider your Marketing Strategy
3. Calculate the Profitability & Cash Flow

If the profitability and cash flow don't meet you needs, go back and modify the business model and see what affect that has. If you can't achieve the level of financial success that you want, then abandon the idea and move on the the next one. 

So these are the area's you'll evaluate, but what questions, specifically, are you trying to answer?

1. Market: Are there enough potential customers in the market?
2. Marketing Strategy: How will you convince those potential customers to buy from you?
3. Financials: Do the profitability and cash flow results meet your needs?

If the answers to these questions support your goals, then keep going to the next step. As you continue learning new information that changes anything significant piece of the evaluation, then run the three step process again. Keep moving forward with your research and evaluation, partnership building and business plan writing as long as the three questions continue giving you answers that meet your needs. 

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Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Evaluate a Business Idea

You've got a great idea for a business, well, you think it's good anyway. How do you know? How do you evaluate a business idea and when in the evaluation process do you decide whether to move forward or ditch the idea and look for another opportunity?

I work the idea viability analysis as a continuous pass-fail process. What I mean by that is I continually evaluate the idea and make it pass, or move on. For folks who are looking, there are way more ideas than time to evaluate them. So it's important to be honest with yourself and pass on everything that doesn't meet your evaluation criteria or your needs.

When evaluating a business idea, start by doing a little research. Understand the market, how business is conducted, and the competition. Consider how the current trends in the industry will affect how business is done in the future. Identify your target customer and determine if the market is large enough to support another competitor of your size. 

Next, think about how you will position your company and products in the market. Determine how much budget you'll need to accomplish your revenue goals and create a basic marketing strategy.

Now comes the hard part. Based on your preliminary research and marketing strategy, how many units of revenue do you expect to achieve? Create a sales projection for a couple of years, by month. Yes, I realize that anything past about 3 or 4 months is a guess, but at least it's an educated guess. You need to understand the profitability and cash flow model in order to evaluate the idea. So, give it your best guess. Make sure to consider how normal industry or seasonal cycles will affect your projections. Don't take a yearly projection and divide it by 12. Think about what the revenue will look like each month. 

The rest is just math. How big an organization is needed to support a business with that revenue level? Subtract the cost of generating that kind of revenue, subtract it from the net sales to get gross margin. Then, subtract operating expenses to determine net income. Next, figure out the cash flow implications. If everything seems to make sense, then continue with your evaluation. If not, abandon the idea and move on.

This is a quick and dirty top level evaluation to determine whether to move forward with an idea. It's not a business plan. It's not a full-fledged marketing plan. It's just a go/no-go first evaluation, before you spend weeks or months working out the details, forming the partnerships and spending money building a business idea into a company. 

If you need help evaluating your great idea, give us a call.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Huntsville: Engine Capital of The World?

Huntsville has long been know as the 'rocket city' and by some the space capital of the world. But Atushi Niimi, the Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corp. says he hopes to make Huntsville the engine capital of the world. He was quoted in a November 2011 article in Business Alabama magazine.

Toyota will add 4-cylinder production to the 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder production already in use at their North Huntsville manufacturing facility. The plant employees about 1,000 people and provides a significant economic stimulus to the Tennessee Valley. The addition to the Toyota plant also marks a significant investment to the growing auto industry in North Alabama and South Central Tennessee. 

As a right-to-work state, Alabama is an interesting location for industries traditionally burdened by oppressive unions. Alabama also had a robust state economic development effort guided by the ADO (Alabama Development Office) out of Montgomery as well as a unified Madison-Huntsville-Madison County effort to drive economic growth in the area. After many years of fighting between the cities and county, we now have a team all working on the same goals. Instead of fighting with each other over jobs and opportunities, the three groups are working together to promote the entire area. The results have been easy to see.

There's lots of good reasons to pick the greater Huntsville area to locate business. But did anyone forsee that North Alabama would be hub for the automotive industry? I sure didn't. And I'm not suggesting that cars and parts manufacturing will take the place of defense and aerospace here. The most recent BRAC has elevated Redstone Arsenal in importance within the defense arena with the transfer of many important commands, like the Army Materiel Command. 

Having a more diversified economic base is almost always a good thing. Cuts in defense budgets that are looming will mean cuts to jobs. Having other industries to pick up the slack is good. Who would have dreamed that the industry that killed Detroit's future will be the a bright spot in ours?

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