Friday, December 20, 2013

Time Out

Over the weekend Solomon and I had a great time.

I don’t mention my partner Solomon very often in my blog posts which he’s forever grateful.  But I have to just this once because of my business insight.      

On Saturday night we attended his company Christmas party.  I always look forward to these holiday parties because they’re well planned and filled with light energy and laughter. 

This party was extra special primarily because of the venue.  Sitting in the Hill Country, less than an hour’s drive from Austin, the gathering was held at Horseshoe Bay Resort Hotel; a beautiful facility, overlooking Lake LBJ and surrounded by manicured gardens.  His company gifted us with our weekend stay.   

Solomon and I had a great time and extended that great time by traveling on Sunday into the little towns and hamlets in the Texas Hill Country.    

As we strolled the streets, taking pictures of holiday tinsel and twinkling lights and visiting the little shops all adorned for the holidays, an answer to a business question simply popped into my head. I wasn't consciously thinking about business, but there it was, the perfect solution that would move my new business plan forward.   

So bright and early this morning I was back at my computer in the afterglow of my “feel-good” weekend.  It was then it occurred to me that some of my best business solutions have come during these periods of rest and relaxation. 

In truth, the entire business plan I’m currently implementing came while Solomon (there’s that name again!) and I visited another Texas town on a screaming-hot Sunday looking for treasures at a gigantic outdoor collectibles market.   

As entrepreneurs there never seems to be enough hours in the day.  Our to-do list is overflowing.  We’re organizing, prioritizing, and scheduling like crazy.     

I’ve always been so passionate about my work that it doesn’t feel much like work.  So because of that those around me have at times needed to pull me, kicking and screaming, away from my purpose. 

But this morning after my fabulous weekend I remember the power of rest and relaxation.  There is a time when I must turn the computer off. 

In those times what seems to turn on is a renewal of my creativity, imagination and inventiveness.          


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Seth Godin

Who am I to go up against a heavy-hitter like Seth Godin?? 

I’m the girl who just starting blogging about a year ago.  I try and write a post about once a week, but most of the time it’s about every two weeks.  

But then who’s counting. . . I'm certain my readership doesn’t keep Seth up at night. 

Don’t get me wrong Seth Godin is a marketing god.  His content is fabulous, his books are classics, he’s a great public speaker and he’s held in high regard by just about everyone; including me.     

However Seth keeps the bar set high for all of us.   So high in fact that coming close to the bar is damn near impossible, while actually clearing the bar and feeling any sense of victory is something I’ll probably never see in this lifetime, according to Seth. 

Let’s just look at a couple of lines from a few of his blog postings:
·         Just about all commercial behavior is banal. Even in movies that deal with business people, the characters don't dream nearly big enough about one's ability to change the culture or the enterprise.”
·         “Remarkable doesn't mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me. Am I going to make a remark about it? If not, then you're average, and average is for losers.”
·         The world is changing faster than ever and people aren’t adapting fast enough.”

I made this post all about Seth but he’s not alone in this, "yesterday-is-dead, content-is-king, good-is-not-good-enough world."  Everyone seems to have their own version of mastery.  And “master” we must.  Anything short of that is a half-effort that results in little or no reward, recognition or sense of accomplishment.    

In my humble entrepreneurial opinion, I say, give me a break.  Most entrepreneurs I know are some of the hardest working people on the planet.   I truly believe in giving your best plus 10% but I ask;  is it alright if I feel some sort of victory before the goalpost is moved. . .again?        

Vince Lombardi said (and I realize he died in the 70’s – which may as well be a million years ago)

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whatever we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

Is it just me or is that way of thinking pretty much dead? 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Master Your Emotions

Please excuse my absence.  I've been spending time in confusion. 

I’m in the process of making major, sweeping changes to my core business. 

The type of all-encompassing changes that herald in a totally new business model.  It’s a business model that still supports microbusiness but bears little resemblance to my daily activity of talking with entrepreneurs and writing business plans.    

During this upheaval my mind is like a 3-ring circus.  With a full performance happening in every corner and crevice, my brain is at maximum capacity. Not to mention, my monkey mind is also living up to its name, with constant prodding, poking and an incessant restlessness.    

But I’ve been an entrepreneur for years and while this unsettled time is surely not fun, it’s not entirely unfamiliar.  As they say in Texas, this ain’t my first rodeo. 

If I can settle the beast within and remember the purpose of my activity; to grow an impressively profitable business while solving a problem for my target market, I will get through this transition and flourish. 

And I will because I have an arsenal of secret weapons. 

My cache of crutches is a recipe really that consists of equal parts spiritual, transformational and motivational material gleaned from some of the best teachers over the past twenty years.   

Sometimes it takes me awhile to remember I possess the tools that crush my confusion and allow me to go about the business of building a business.  But like riding a bike or swimming a lap, my mental muscle memory guarantees my training to  kick in and make my crooked places straight again. 

I guess it’s possible for people to build successful businesses without having these cycles of fear and overwhelm followed by confidence and vitality but for certain that’s not me.  For me it’s about using rituals that limit fear-based down cycles and encourage an environment where ideas flourish.     

There’s tons of ways to change your emotional state and allows you to take back your creation energy.   You can always start with a Tony Robbins type thing.  Or pick the person, activity or thing that works best for you. 

Sometimes it’s really simple.  As simple as watching a YouTube video.     

See if this doesn’t help:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


My sister Cookie has decided to become an AVON representative. 

She’s an interesting character.  Highly educated (with an advanced degree in Public Administration,) compassionate (she is my 93 year-old mother’s principal caregiver) and one of the smartest people I know.    

She also has an almost religious relationship to multi-level marketing.  For those uninitiated folks out there, MLM or multi-level-marketing is simply a profit model where those involved can make money at several levels.  You are compensated when you privately make a sale, but also when others you're associated with make a sale.    

Her relationship with this model spans decades.   

She’s been involved in selling insurance policies and pots and pans.  Then of course there was the communications company that came on the heels of the cosmetic company.

I've had so many conversations with her around network marketing (which is another name for MLM) that I can hold my own when she starts discussing commissions, and bonuses, chargebacks and personal volume discounts.  I will admit however, that when we take the deep dive into the murky waters of up-lines and down lines I get a little breathless and feel the need to come up for air.

And even though she’s not found the financial success she thought was hers, she has stayed enamored with the business model.  And it seems with each company she pockets another piece of the puzzle and better understand what the success formula looks like.   

Which leads us to AVON. 

For certain, if I was a betting woman, I put my money on this newest relationship.  Not so much because it’ s AVON, one of the oldest most respected brands in the world, but because of how she is using her experience to create a different outcome. 

From the very beginning she picked AVON after first looking at several MLM companies and interviewing their representatives.  She didn't simply plunk down her payment and pick-up her samples.  Instead she developed a set of interview questions to be answered by what would be her up-line. She was looking and listening for compatibility, company longevity, business acumen, creativity and most importantly a financially successful track record with the company.   

After making her decision she made a commitment for success.  She’s now in the process of putting systems in place (including financial systems,) projecting her growth, working under marketing objectives and strategically growing her business. 

I'm impressed.  She’s excited and I'm excited for her.           
Cookie reminds me that it’s never too late to try again.  

And it’s never too late to get it right.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Developing New Products: The Critical First Step

A good first step in developing new products or services for your business is to ask your customers what they like about the old product or service. 

This seems so logical.  But many times we skip this step.  Instead of having the conversation with the customer we decide to play both parts by having the conversation with ourselves.   

This one person play is very dangerous.  And can be very costly.

Because in truth we're not as in-tune with our customer as we think we are.  We’re really not sure why they buy our handmade jewelry, our vegan cinnamon buns or our massage services.  Oftentimes we’re not even certain who we're attracting.  We think we know but do we really? 

Ask yourself a simple question.  Are most of your clients or customers, men or women? 

Most business owners would answer this question quickly, without hesitation. 

But the speed of our reply doesn't mean we're right.  Unless you're a gynecologist or the director of a sperm bank your reply is probably as reliable as that of an eyewitness.  

I suggest if your business or consultancy is small enough simply take a minute and actually segregate your clients by sex.  Or if necessary, pull a report from your database, or stand in your shop over the course of week and count men and women stopping in.   

Were you surprised by the outcome?

My advice is before you make any substantive change to your offering do your best to find out who’s buying what and why.  This is particularly important when you're creating new product or service strategies that change your core offerings. 

And the best way to find out is the old fashioned way. 



Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Say you're at a small dinner party.  You introduce yourself to your dinner companion.   She tells you she’s a doctor. 

As you chat each other up you're developing an overpowering urge to ask a personal medical question.  Before the chocolate tart is served you’re describing the itchy rash on your left arm, or if the humming in your right ear deserves medical attention.     

I’m no doctor but that scenario pretty much describes my life as a lifelong entrepreneur and micro business consultant. By the time I've graciously accepted the extra scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on my tart my dinner companion is talking about small business issues or an entrepreneurial idea. 

Not a problem; it’s a conversation I love having.  But because I have it so often I’ve for certain noticed patterns.

For instance; one is about money.  Usually it’s money versus social mission or social consciousness. 

Take last weekend. 

While listening to voicemail I hear the sweet voice of one of my really good girlfriends.  Apparently she’s had some fabulous “light bulb” of an idea and she’s simply bursting to share it with me. 

I can tell by her energy she’s not wanting “friend Penny” to return this call.  Instead, she’s dying to talk to Penny; the small business consultant.   

I return her call. She shares her idea.  As it’s explained the idea sounds totally mission-driven.  Basically it’s an idea that works to bring solution to difficulties and hardships within a population. 

So I start discussing for-profit versus nonprofit organizations.  I’m having conversation around using surplus revenue to achieve social goals rather than focusing on distributing profitability.                

I’m knee-deep in that conversation when I hear verbal bits and pieces coming from her that start sounding much more like dollar desire rather than the initial conversation focused on a people-helping-people program.

I have this conversation a lot. 

And I hate to admit it but it’s usually from women. 

For some reason we're still hesitant to admit we're as profit-driven as the next person.  And even when we are interested in assisting those in need, we want compensation for our effort. 

And the sad reality is that until we're able to own it (our money love,) we won’t be able to create it.     

Want to know the easiest way to resolve the profit/nonprofit problem and move forward on your business planning?   

Ask yourself a simple set of questions. 

If you received no financial compensation would you still do the work? 

Which comes first on a priority list; COMPENSATION or CAUSE? 

Let’s say there’s a nonprofit that already exists in your area of interest.  Could you simply volunteer your time?  Or would you still need your startup?     

If you never made a penny from your effort, would the idea still be exciting for you?    


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Business Plans Don't Work

The easiest way to make a business plan work is by working a business plan. 

That sounds simple. 

Until we remember that the fastest way to guarantee a diet will work is by working the diet.  The easiest way to write a book is to write a book.  And the easiest way to get in physical shape is by getting in physical shape.

All this makes us remember we don't do that execution part so well.

It seems that when the excitement around growing a business (or losing weight, or writing a book) starts to wane, discipline needs to kick in.

And that’s usually the kicker.   

I've been in the business of writing business plans for a couple of years now.  About 6 to 8 months ago I noticed a disturbing trend. 

My clients would be excited as I handed over the tightly-bound body of work, along with the thumb drive, containing their strategy for growth and profitability.  They were impressed with the sheer size of the finished document and realized that all of our meetings matched to all of my research and creativity had coalesced into this personal, particular strategy. 

But my guess is that as they read the plan they realized that I’d not handed them magic.  Success was not going to manifest by clicking their heels three times.    

On the contrary, with plan in place it was now time to roll up their sleeves and start the real work of growing a business.

And it’s at this point they meet with frustration.

Because the hardest part of any journey is the first step.  

I personally think it is part self-discipline and part prioritizing that fuels the inertia. Also many of the business plans I write are for clients that have busy businesses already and are looking to expand that  business – time may be an issue as well.      

So I came up with an idea.  I now add a separate document to every business plan I write and deliver to my clients.  I call it an Implementation Timeline.   

This implementation tool is the step-by-step blueprint that executes the plan and turns those financial projections into real cash. 

It’s very much like giving your day structure by creating a prioritized “to-do” list; an implementation tool will give you daily direction. 

Not sure how to create your implementation tool?

Try starting with your marketing objectives.  Your marketing objectives represent your success path. So when the objectives are satisfied through a step-by-step plan it’s reasonable to assume you have manifested your projected revenue. 

Ask yourself a series of questions to start creating the tool.  What do I need to do (every single step.)  When do I need to do it?  Who needs to help me? What resources do I need?  Etcetera 

Creating an implementation tool is arduous work.  But if you take the time to create the tool and the discipline to work the tool you're rewarded with success.

And, after all, wasn't success the whole point of writing the business plan?        

Monday, September 9, 2013

Run Your Own Mile

What does “one-off” mean?? 

My friend Tony was sitting in the Dallas airport and read a couple of articles on women and entrepreneurship.  Which made him think of his favorite entrepreneur; me!  So he sent the links. 

I just opened them.  One is on the top 25 women of Twitter – all looking very white and very professional. 

The other link was an article called Startup Diaries.  It was about an entrepreneurial woman who'd just won IBM’s Smartcamp in Dublin.  The article tells us that winning will help seed fund her company.  

So I'm reading this article and Vicky (owner of the winning company) states that because of her goals (“to build a high growth, global business”) she needs support that is beyond “one-off” technology boot camps.     

I stop reading and Google, “one-off.”  Turns out it’s chiefly British.  And it means something that is not repeated or reproduced; happening once.  So in regular speak, she needs more than a one time technology instruction to grow her global company.    

Sometimes when I’m simply living my fairly unglamorous day-to-day existence; attempting to grow my business and service my clients I am not motivated by these articles.  Actually they can be a little bit of a downer.  

How can I possibly “win” when I don't even know the vocabulary?  

But then I am reminded of the “rose-colored glasses” phenomenon and that these articles are never the whole story. 

Maybe even more importantly I draw back on what my wise son once said in reference to exercise, “Mom, don’t lose you in what other people are doing.  Run your own mile.  Stay in your own lane.”  

Sage advice.             

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Conflict and Cash

Scenario One 

I decided that Pinterest might be a good platform for my consulting business MARGIN.  So I added a board I named, “FOR THE ENTREPRENEUR.”     

On my personal boards my pins consist of things I liked or objects of desire. 

But with the entrepreneurial board I pin consciously because the pin is meant to share useful information.  Curated from corners of the web I attempt to pin material that is inspiring, profit-generating, motivating, problem-solving, strategy building and at the same time, visually entertaining.    

On the other hand I have a friend who is the queen of the “repin.”  Never leaving Pinterest to find board content - if she’s not seeing it on Pinterest already you won't see it on her boards.  Her effort is minimal, but she is quickly gaining momentum and her following is rapidly mounting.     

Scenario Two
I’m involved in a 13-week webinar supported by a nationally known nonprofit association.  Our instructor who owns her own consultancy is excellent as she plows through tons of information and online marketing concepts. 

Last week we spent a good amount of time discussing blog posts.  During that discussion she said something that had my full attention.    

She said we all get stymied occasionally when it comes to post topics.  Her suggestion was to find a relevant online article.  Copy and paste it as your blog entry while giving full credit to the original source. 

Next edit the article by giving it a new title and subtitles that enhance or optimize your website.  Add your name, address and phone number (nap) at the end of the post.  Blog post finished.  Done in less time than it takes to let your fingers find the home keys and create that snazzy new optimized title.   

I’ll admit to being just a little confused and disillusioned.  I’m looking for balance. . .and I'm not sure I'm finding it.   

Surely there’s value in the repin; you're sharing information with a new group of friends who possibly couldn't find the info on their own.  But never to take the journey beyond the site in search of fresh content doesn’t feel right either. 

The same goes for the cut-and-paste blog post.  Certainly there’s room for borrowing and sharing content, but I thought the whole notion of a blog was a platform for original thought. 

I know an artist with a form of Muscular Dystrophy who still pushes through the stiffness in her hands to create her striking black-and-white illustrations.   

With razor-sharp scissors, and an eye focused on perfection, my barber takes an hour trimming my hair making certain I leave with a perfectly sculpted afro.  

I know bakers who talk all day about whether they should use Mexican or Madagascar vanilla in their delicious, from scratch, cupcakes. 

And I know results-driven consultants who work tirelessly to deliver original product that gives clients innovative, solid strategies. 

Are these craftspeople relics?  Is it all about the shortcut; has the scenic route been oversold so much so that it’s lost its value?   

I suppose it drills down to a personal inventory.  How do I want to make a living?  What values and beliefs supervise our behavior and become our guiding light?      

As usual there’s no right and wrong.  And for certain on this one I don’t know the answers.   I'm just asking the questions. 


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Getting Rich is Easy

I travelled back to Austin late last Wednesday after a week-long trip that combined responsibility with a little relaxation. 

On Thursday I unpacked my suitcase and attempted to readjust to the screaming, oppressive moist heat of July in Austin.  In the late afternoon I was so totally wiped out I fell asleep in my desk chair almost slamming my head into the computer.  Decided it was time for full surrender so I took a two-hour sofa nap. 

By Friday I'd beaten the heat and the fatigue and was back to my early morning exercise routine.

But something else was going on and I could feel it gnawing around my emotional edges.  A dull flat feeling was starting as an internal whisper.   I know from experience if left to idle these random downer feelings will quickly develop into a full-fledged existential crisis and a real confidence killer.   

It was time to change the state of my inner entrepreneur.    

In my younger years I used to coddle these negative feelings by feeding them big doses of “victim talk” and washing it all down with cups of extra-hot Earl Grey tea.  Now I take charge by becoming my own “tough love” coach. 

Here’s my prescription for squashing the funk and getting back to feeling fine.  And the good news is it takes just a little time to make a world of emotional difference.

1.  Shift your focus by listening to your favorite motivational speaker.  Even though I love people like Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, the late Jim Rohn and the phenomenal Les Brown – the “who” really doesn't make a difference as long as they inspire you[1].       

2.  For times like these have at your disposal a stimulating, encouraging prayer, meditation, verse, or poem that you read aloud as many times as you need to.  You'll start feeling the feeling.

3.  Movement and posture seem to be important to the process.  Sit up straight.  Stand up tall.  Go for a short walk/run/bike/swim. 

But there’s a key to changing your emotional state. . .YOU'VE GOT TO DO IT!  

The motivational speaker Jim Rohn does this funny thing when referring to getting things done, making money, or living the life you desire. 

He’s says it’s easy to do it.  But it’s also easy not to do it.  The things that are easy to do are also easy not to do. 

I mention this because it’s easy to change your state.  It’s also easy not to change your state.  It’s easy to feel vibrant, full of expectation, excited about spotting possibilities and seizing opportunities. 

On the other hand it’s also easy to feel victimized, disappointed and confused.  And it’s even easier to stay in that energy while you attempt to “figure out the problem.”     

Vibrant and alive versus confused and depressed.

You decide which “easy” you want to live. 

[1] Have to give a shout out to Tony however – he talks a lot about changing your emotional state.    

Monday, July 15, 2013

What’s in it for me?

Sometimes I see websites with cute names and clever taglines.  The homepage is emblazoned with company copy; telling the visitor what awards they've won, how excited people  are with their services or how to find them all over the web.  They graciously invite us to sign up for everything. 

But I can’t or I won’t sign up until I figure out what’s in it for me. 

And this is the sales thing.  It’s so easy to forget that we're attempting to promote and sell our product to humans.  And as humans one question reigns supreme; how are my needs being met?  

It’s all about self-interest.  So where we love the pretty colors and clever company names it’s not enough. 

You'll get your target market’s attention if you remember to sell the benefit, not the features.  I know that’s really old school but it’s also proven.  Make the case to your customer or client that they'll feel smarter, healthier, prettier or wittier with your product or service and they'll follow your lead. 

Indulge me as I throw out one more pertinent old school adage; “Don't tell me what you do, tell me what you can do for me. “  

Hiding in plain sight. 

Now, let’s talk about finding your audience. 

I have a new entrepreneurial group I want to serve.  I have the information they desperately need and can deliver that information in a communication style that connects.  But I'm not certain where they hang out.  

How do I find them and grow the market? 

It’s really very easy.   Find someone within the market and ask them where they go for information.  Where online?  What magazines?  Radio stations, etc.  Interview people within the market and they'll tell you all you need to know.   

Then plant your seeds in that soil and prepare for a harvest.   

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Resist Temptation

There are so many gigantic decisions to make when you're in business it’s easy to go into overwhelm.   You probably have tons of examples but let me paint a picture.    

Let’s say you need to make a decision on something as important as a lease.  You see an appealing space but can't decide if the location works or if the square footage warrants a five-year commitment. 

You're thinking it might be a good strategy to share the space with other entrepreneurs especially in the beginning but you’re a little uncertain with regard to the type of arrangement you desire.   

It might also be a good idea to get a contractor in there to look at the space before you sign, especially because you're a little concerned about the leasehold improvements.  The landlord said she'd give you two months free for leasehold but still you're uncertain even about that deal. 

You're stressed, bewildered, crazed.  At times like this it's tempting to go shopping. 

If you're a baker you go to the nearest restaurant supply and buy stuff.  Baker’s racks, sheet pans, and bundles of boxes.  You make jewelry?  You need more wire, more glass, more everything.  Or you're a service business then let’s just go into the Apple Store and see what new piece of technology is promising magical returns.     

It’s really easy to rationalize this type of runaway spending.  You need this stuff.  Maybe not today (or tomorrow) but certainly the way your business is expanding it will all come in handy.  Right?

Well, wrong.  We've all done it.  But the net, net, net of this situation is that it ties up valuable cash.  And we know cash is king. 

When we're stressed and can't figure out the next right thing to do we have a tendency to zone out and do something that makes us feel in control.  But don’t find the false feeling of control with your wallet. 

In the long run it only serves to tie up your working capital.  So while you're in this fragile state of mind its best to stay away from the shops that carry the supplies and small equipment, the costly promotional items or the fun phones.   All that spontaneous spending may results in unnecessary inventory or needless gadgets.  Neither of which will pay the rent.   

Maybe I can help with the stress.  Well, not really me, Chip and Dan Heath.   These are the same guys who brought us that wonderful marketing book; “Made to Stick,” which is still in my Top 10 list of business books.  This is their newest title:

This should help but if it doesn't I have one more suggestion.  Change into your exercise gear.  Strap on your running shoes and go for a run.  It’s guaranteed to clear your mind and possibly allow the right answer to expectantly pop in.      

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

3 Unsexy Business Secrets that Work Every Time

It’s probably pretty obvious by now that I believe in planning. 

That wasn't always the case.  

It’s based on my twenty years of small business experience.  Especially the part of that experience we euphemistically refer to as “learning.”   The same “learning” that’s haunted my dreams and affected the very trajectory of my life (but let’s save that for another post, shall we?)    

Now that I'm older and wiser I believe the best shortcut in business is some sort of executable plan. *

Toward that end let me reveal my unsexy secrets.

1.  Define the business model.  Know what business you're growing.    

When I talk about business models what I'm really asking is, “Who does the business serve and how does the business make money?”  Of course those two questions create even more questions begging for answers.     
Think about these questions:
·         Who benefits from the activity of the business?
·         What problem do you think you're solving for them?
·         How do you find that customer with the problem?  How do you find more of that customer?
·         How do you communicate how remarkable you are with the customer?
·         How do you actually generate revenue?
·         How much does that revenue cost? (COGS/Overhead)
·         And what’s the margin?

2.  Create the Plan.  How are you going to communicate the model?

The answers you gave to the above questions matched to your creativity will support you as you develop the plan. 

Your plan works best if it’s a written plan.  It also needs some sort of time management, implementation tool. 

Even if you create a fairly simple document it will pay you back by motivating you, helping you identify top priorities while eliminating time wasters or wasteful processes.  And of course don't forget the financials.   

3.  Work the Plan.  What will you do tomorrow?  The day after?

This is where the implementation timetable is useful. 

I hate to use the “d” word but to implement the plan we have to show a little restraint; a little discipline.   As Austin Kleon writes in his book “Steal like an Artist,” "Be Boring; it’s the only way to get work done." 

So there you have it.   I'm the first to admit that some of this you've heard a million times.  It's like that magical (yet unsexy) combination of diet and exercise resulting in a healthy life. 

Most of us have to hear it a million times before we'll actually do it.                

*I've said it before in several other posts but it bears repeating; I believe planning has the most impact in existing and expanding businesses not necessarily at startup.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

How I Lost 10 Pounds WITHOUT counting calories

Complicated best describes my lifelong relationship to sugar. 

As a kid, against my mother’s strict order not to take candy to church, I defiantly filled my tiny kid-purse to the brim with jelly beans one Easter Sunday.  As she sat in the pew, clapping her hands in praise,  my spirit was lifted higher and higher too as I consumed mouthfuls of the super sweet candy.

As a teenager I may have complained about cafeteria meatloaf but I still remember my love of the cinnamon rolls studded with dark raisins and the tart cherry goodie sweetened with brown sugar. 

And as an adult woman with the full responsibility of marriage and twins I continued my relationship with the sweet stuff always finding time for circus peanuts, spicy gum drops and buttery caramel corn. 

Needless to say this lifelong sugar journey has a dark, shadow side.  The dentist loves me.  Often times my stomach hates me.  And I forever need to lose ten pounds. 

The strategy I usually employ to reduce my body weight has me counting something. Calories.  Points.  Carbs.  Fat Grams.  
A tremendous amount of counting.  Usually this lasts for about a month or so and I take off the extra pounds.  

Of course you know the rest of this story; in another month or two following all of this obsessive counting I've put back on most of the ten pounds and I start again. 

A New Approach

So about six months ago I had a conversation with my sister that focused on the newly padded Penny (in other words I had my ten pounds back) and I mentioned to her it was time to start counting.   

She’s younger (but obviously wiser than I) and suggested that maybe it was time for a new strategy. 

Her suggestion was to forgot the incessant counting and simply reduce my sugar intake.  A kind of non-diet diet. 

 Six months later I’m not only twelve pounds lighter I seem to have made peace with my sugar obsession.  

New strategy.  New outcome. 

So I ask you, what do you want and how will you get it?  If you've used the same strategy more than once or your implementation process has been used repeatedly and you're not winning then perhaps it’s time to make some changes. 

If you think the strategy may be flawed then change it.  If it’s around implementation take a look at a few key pieces:
·        Are you clear as to who in your organization is responsible for executing key strategic components? 
·         Is the plan too big? Is the plan “fluffy?”  Is the timeline realistic?
·         Is everyone on the same page?  Are you communicating?  Is there consensus?
·         Is the strategic implementation on “project status?”  Said another way is everyone involved accountable and fired up to deliver their part of the plan.      

Be bold and make a change.  Find a strategy or implement one that works for your business. 

Find the courage to win.           

Monday, June 10, 2013

Do it Yourself versus Done for You: PART TWO

Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages??

With this PART TWO post let’s pick-up where we left off by looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with copacking. 

·         Have you started to research how expensive it is to set up a food/bakery manufacturing facility?  The investment of capital is staggering.  Using a copacker will significantly reduce startup.  
·         Because you will be under contract with the copacker you will be able to better predict COGS.  With a copacker your COGS will be a fixed cost allowing you to more accurately predict margins.
·         It also helps in getting a product to market.  You will not need to put your attention on sitting up a facility, sourcing ingredients, cost accounting, etc.  If you choose the right copacker their company will already have processing lines, packaging and labeling in place.  You are simply placing an order with the copacker for your product. 
·         Oftentimes (if you pick the right copacker) the copacker will have more experience than you do creating your product because they have more practice and familiarity with creating your type of product commercially. 
·         The copacker will have the necessary regulatory certifications and insurance.  In some states however you will need to hold a health department manufacturing license.

·         The copacker may be able to get better pricing for purchasing supplies and ingredients and should have the proper facilities for receiving and storing ingredients. 

·         The big disadvantage to using a copacker for control-oriented entrepreneurs is loss of product control. With a copacker you don’t have the headache of getting production finished or dealing with employees.  But at the same time you no longer control the product and its manufacturing.  It can take a while to get used to that.  Many copackers will invite you to view the first product run.  After than not so much.
·         In some cases the same copacker you’re using could be creating a similar product for your competition.  Where there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s just a little close for comfort. 
·         How much does the copacker value your business?  Sometimes it can seem (especially when your order is small to the copacker) that your production is totally at the mercy of the copacker.  You’ll have to plan accordingly so you always have product. 
·         Your product will need to conform to the copacker’s equipment.  If you're currently using vintage jelly jars to pack your tangerine marmalade you may have to rethink your packaging.
·         Some entrepreneurs can never get passed the confidentiality issue no matter how many non-disclosure forms are signed.  In some cases you may need to share customer information, volume and suggested retail with your copacker.   Confidentiality can be protected to some degree but it is never completely assured.    

I trust this information will at the very least get you started.  In the spirit of full disclosure this discussion on copacking is incomplete.  I divided it into two parts when ten parts is probably what it deserved.   

I have so much info on copacking (what to look for, what can go horribly wrong, secrets to successful copacking relationships, not to mention how it impacts your margins) that I'm considering writing a little eBook on the topic. 

Would that be helpful??   


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Do it Yourself (DIY) versus Done for You (DFU): PART ONE

Let’s say late last year you were in the process of cleaning out your parents’ attic as they prepared to list the family home for sale.    Enduring the sweltering heat and inch-thick dust you not only discover your grandmothers’ cookbook, but between the worn pages on a scrap of paper was her blue ribbon recipe for cinnamon sugar snickerdoodles.  

You became nostalgic while fingering the fragile paper covered with her distinctive handwriting.  Sitting on your knees you fondly remember the 4th of July picnics and school lunch boxes featuring those buttery cookies.  

By the time you left the attic however you're no longer lost in the past.  Instead you're planning a future bringing these fabulous cookies to market. 

But first you need to decide who will make the cookies.  Will you go into the baking business and open a bakery?  Or is it time to start a relationship with a copacker. 

Just in case you're uncertain with the role the copacker plays let me define the term and its responsibilities. 

A contract packer (shortened to copacker) is an existing company that manufactures and packages food for their clients.  The copacker works (usually) under contract with the hiring company (you) to manufacture food as though the products were manufactured directly by the hiring company.

Now getting back to the above question; do it yourself or hire it out to a copacker, the short answer is; it depends.  There are advantages and disadvantages to either decision but know it is a big, complicated serious decision to make.  But then what else is new??

As you’re weighing the pros and cons it makes a difference if you're a startup or an existing company looking to expand.

STARTUP - If you're a startup company the first question you ask yourself is why you’ve decided to go into business. 

Hopefully it has something to do with a profitable solution to a problem – in this case you think the world needs another cinnamon cookie.  But there may also be an emotional component that figures into your decision.  For instance on a soul level do you take pleasure in the idea of making the cookie dough, hand scooping it onto parchment-lined sheets in preparation for the fiery ovens?  Honestly would you be interested in the business if time in the kitchen was not part of the promise? 

If taking the bakery kitchen out of the model doesn’t feel good then you're a prime candidate for doing your own manufacturing.

On the other hand does your dream center on sales?  If your vision focuses more on the distribution side as opposed to the manufacturing side you may want to forget the apron and start looking for a copacker.  

EXISTING BUSINESS -If you're an existing business involved in creating strategies for expansion you've probably already fulfilled your need to be elbow-deep in dough.   In other words you no longer need to make the cookies (or the widgets) to feel productive.  If this is the case it may be time to seek outside manufacturing (a copacker.) 

With startup or expanding  you have different issues; different considerations.  This first post was to represent the “softer side” of the issue.  The next post will be a touch more gritty.   

So stay tuned.  In a few days I'll finish this conversation with a pros and cons list that will help. 

In the meantime read E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber if you’re in startup.  The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox for existing businesses especially if you’re considering staying with your own manufacturing.       

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Business Plan vs. Bootstrapping* . . .does it really matter??

Pick the profile that best describes YOU:

Profile A
o   You live by your “to do” list
o   Part of the fun of a vacation is planning it down to the last detail
o   If I asked for your birth certificate and social security card you’d march without hesitation to your filing system, delivering the originals plus two copies
o   In your world, most projects require an electronic document and a three-ring binder at the minimum
o   You plan with eagerness.  You execute with reluctance. 
o   With regards to research some is good, more is better, and even more is best

Profile B
o   You take a different path home as often as you can just to keep life interesting
o   You wake with a bright idea, talk about it with a friend at lunch, and by dinner you're looking to launch.
o   No one can set their watch by your schedule.  One day you're up and productive before daybreak.  The next day you lounge in bed all day munching on Skittles and laughing at Arrested Development on Netflix 
o   When someone uses the word discipline you hear punishment
o   You trust luck.  You're confident of success and know with certainty you'll overcome any obstacles.

It’s probably pretty obvious that if you identify with Profile A you'd never consider taking on something as important as a business without first planning and then penning a business plan. 

On the other hand Profile B likes the notion of the free-spirited entrepreneur that fearlessly faces the marketplace finding opportunity and adjusting strategy on the fly.      

Is there a right or wrong way??

In my humble opinion the answer is no; there is no right or wrong.**

How you decide to start your business is based primarily on personality.  For some personality types, business is matched to planning.  For others it’s matched to action. 

Neither bootstrapping nor business plan guarantees success in startup.  Go with what makes you comfortable and keeps you excited.  What’s  important is not HOW you start but that you indeed START.     

Beyond startup?  Now that’s another story entirely. 

It’s so much fun to read online and in business print about all those renegade, swashbuckling companies that within just a few years of startup are fat with capital and marketshare that never took the time to plan.  As a matter of fact they sometimes boast there was no planning.    

But I know those stories don't give us the whole picture. 

At some point in the life cycle of the business, to seize the competitive challenge and scale the business takes a focused, strategic, executable business plan based on historical data, business fundamentals and creative understanding of the market.

I guess the good news here for Profile B is somewhere down the road when the business is crying out for a plan you'll probably agree that a plan is in order.  And if you don't want to write it you can always hire help.    

*It’s worth mentioning the term bootstrapping historically was used to describe how the business was to be funded.  Bootstrapping now seems to ripple out and frames a much larger entrepreneurial picture that includes a philosophy and actions based on that philosophy

**I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one caveat.  If your business idea has high liability (anything involving children for instance, anything that requires a license, etc.) or tons of your money is invested (whatever that means to you) then you might want to take a stab at scribbling something down for your own protection.  Just a thought. . .