Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Evaluating New Business Ideas

Chances if you've managed the birth of a successful business, you want to have another. Like a parent, during your start-up phase you'll agonise how your business is going to grow. As it does, you'll wonder if it will ever fulfill the dreams you have for it. You will spend many sleepless nights giving it your all and you'll be happy, ecstatic even, when it succeeds. Like most parents too, you'll soon find yourself wanting another.

At least that's what most entrepreneurs tell me but If it's one thing I've learnt during the hours I spent dreaming of either owning a restaurant or traveling to Italy to buy shoes at trunk shows, it is that when it comes to evaluating a new business idea, research should be your best friend.

For every great business idea there are scores of others that just won't work. I've seen my own friends try to give birth to their own entrepreneurial dreams and for every 1 that makes it, there are nine that don't

If you have a big idea and want to know if to move forward or pull the brakes, begin with the following questions:

1. Ask your friends and associates to help you evaluate the concept. If you know successful entrepreneurs, ask them what they think of your idea. Chances are, they'll think of problems you are likely to encounter. You may be willing to face those obstacles - or you might decide that some of them are insurmountable.
2. Ask potential customers how much they'd pay for your product or service. Their answers will help you focus on your potential market, and will give you a sense of how strong that market is. Once you have some answers to this question, you can begin to estimate your potential revenues.
3. Figure out if you are truly excited about the idea. Will you actually enjoy the work that will be required to make your venture a success?

If not, move on.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Lost in Tanslation

I couldn't help it but Judy Collins' song 'Both Sides Now' kept filtering through my head as I sat in Bat & Ball yesterday having lunch with IABC T&T incoming presidents Maria Mc Millan (2008) and Nicole Duke Westfield (2009) and advertising gurus James Smith, Patrick Johnston and Mark White. All three along with Astra Da Costa (of Ample) have accepted IABC's invitation to speak at its November meeting "Lost In Tanslation: Bridging the Gap between Advertising & Corporate."

As communicators we know that advertising is involved in our product development cycle, sometimes from very conceptualization of the brand. Still even as we engage with advertising fraternity in the shaping of our products, reputations and markets we know that there is need for improvement in the way we engage with each other, that both sides need to listen, understand each other's perspective and deliver more on the client agency promise so as to have really effective relationships.

James Smith asked an important question at the end of the lunch: " What will people walk away with?'My immediate response is,understanding.

I will be posting more on this topic this week.

Why should I do business with you?

A phone call I received this morning reminded me of a question I once read from William Taylor’s blog; he’s the founder of Fast Company, that great business and entrepreneurial magazine. The question: ‘Why should I do business with you?’ is perhaps hands down, the most thought provoking inquiry for which every entrepreneur should have a ready made, passionate answer.

This brings me back to the phone call I received this morning. As I sat crawling in a traffic jam that was longer than Rumpunzel’s hair I answered my phone and on the other line was an entrepreneur who said he wanted to sell his services as an art connoisseur to one of my clients, a new hotel who is just about to open for business. He would view the spaces the hotel offered, consult with my client to decide the themes for each room and of course connect us to the various artists who could interpret the theme visually. Alas that was my interpretation of what he was saying because during our conversation he was hardly that clear. The voice on the other end instead was rambling, inattentive (he asked me the same question over and over again) and couldn't get to his value proposition quickly enough. I told him we weren't interested and perhaps he could call me back early next year.

My mood as I disconnected my cell phone was somber. It’s not that I meant to be tough, or demanding but I figured if you can't tell me why I should be doing business with you in the fist 2 minutes our conversation then you’re wasting my time and yours. This brings me to back to where I started with William Taylor and what has to be my favourite entry on his blog.

Here, Blake relates a story of a consultant whose firm conducted thousands of "mystery shops" and interviews with front-line employees at retail banks. During those visits researchers always asked bank employees a simple question: "As a customer, why should I choose your bank over the competition?" And two-thirds of the time, he said, front-line employees had no answer to that question-they simply "made something up on the fly."

Amazing isn’t it? I am not sure how any business can expect to outperform the competition when their own employees can't explain-simply and convincingly-what makes them different from the competition? This question isn't just for bankers or even large businesses. It is applicable to small business owners too. Gary Hamel, the influential strategy guru at the London Business School, makes the case that most companies, in most industries, suffer from a kind of tunnel vision: They chase the same opportunities that everyone else chases; they miss the same opportunities that everyone else misses." The point is many entrepreneurs can't sell their idea or their products and services simply because they can’t answer the most thought provoking question they may ever be faced with.

The traffic in which I was tangled allowed me time to ponder on some of my favourite businesses, one that who I patronise time after time because they offer something unique and best of all they know it. They include the fishmonger in the Port of Spain market who sells not only the freshest tuna steaks but makes a spectacle of his fish cutting talent, or the people at Haggen Dazz in Maraval where scooping ice cream takes on new meaning, or Continental Airline whose staff are so apologetic and kind if flights are late that you forget how angry you are. Sure these goods and services are eclectic but with all of them, their value proposition is articulated clearly to me.

So ask yourself, as you think about growing your company, why should anyone buy from you? What makes you different? What do you have that you want other to see?
All those bank employees couldn't answer any of those questions very convincingly. Could you or your employees?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Unconferencing' in Tampa

IABC’s Southern regional Conference in Tampa was my fifth (international conference) for the year. For the past twelve months, I journeyed to Toronto (three times) San Diego, New Orleans, and New York. In between, I attended several workshops at home. By the time I reached Tampa, I was all ‘conferenced’ out.

It’s not that I hadn’t learned a lot, met great people and got booster shots of self esteem. (next year, I will speak at the Leadership Institute in San Antonio) I simply felt something was missing from these conference as I dashed from room to room, map in hand trying not to be late at my sesions (I learnt that my regular 5 inch heels don’t work well on the conference circuit)

I had no clue about what I didn’t quite like until another Heather Gem Ible, my friend and fellow communications entrepreneur from Trinidad commented that while she felt the learning was great in Tampa, the networking was lousy (her words were not quite as strong though) That was my aha moment. Gem was right if only because from the time you get your conference bag at the registration table, a real marathon begins. You check your schedule, keep looking at your watch, race around to find your right room and pace yourself so you’re not entirely exhausted juts trying to keep up. In al of that though conversations with fellow delegates are superficial at best, real networking is zero and coffee breaks allows you to cluster will people you already know.

With Gem’s comments swirling in my head I decided to ‘unconference’. On Friday, I checked my schedule felt I had a good grasp on the topics and invited a well known Bajan communicator, to the hotel lobby for a chat. We spent the entire 3 hours talking about our personal and professional lives. We were later joined by the immediate past president of IABC Jamaica, Cloreth Greene as well as a Stacy Wilson, President of Eloquor Consulting in Denver.

As we munched on free pretzels and olives in the lobby of the Rennaisance, , I couldn’t help but think how some of the best networking can happen unexpectedly and how sometimes the side show, is equally as important as what goes on centre stage. By early evening, I had gotten exactly what I had come for.

Those first sixty seconds. You first impression can have powerful implications for your career

Can you judge a book by its cover? Apparently you can, or so says body language communications expert Tonya Reiman. At a recent IABC southern regional board meeting in Tampa Florida, Reiman had us, a group of communications professionals, describe how we perceived each other within one hour of our meeting. For the most part, all of us were strangers but Reiman did an extraordinary activity that had me convinced that body language is perhaps the most influential way to communicate and navigate successfully toward a desired outcome.

Here’s what Reiman did. She asked the fifty or so board and chapter leaders gathered in the room to pin a white sheet of paper on our backs so that others could write their first impressions. So there we were, all 50 strangers scribbling adjectives on each others backs. Like Curious George, I was anxious to see what impressions I had created and dragged my paper off the second the exercise was over. Whew. What relief! My peers and I were on par. Many wrote that I was creative, innovative, ideas driven, fun. Yet no one got that I was also focused, persistent and business savvy.

What was the bottom line? I learned that the first few seconds you meet someone counts. And we are judged on everything including what we wear, how we speak, the way we fold our legs and even how we sit. It is imperative therefore to get those first impressions right. According to Reiman: “Each time we meet someone we take a small slice of their personality, a tiny sample of their entire life, and form interpretations. In essence, we assume it is a 100% portrayal of their personality. Once we form an attitude or belief about someone, it takes a lot to change it. In fact, it is almost impossible to reverse a first impression.”
The research bears her out. Studies show that if you make the wrong first impression just once you can counteract it, but it will take heaps of positive interactions to change those initial perceptions. The pain may be worth the gain. Positive first impressions will get Jane the job, Joe a deal on a car and Jasper a home away from the dog shelter. Reiman advises that upon walking into a room full of strangers you should think about if you are smiling the right way, walking the right way, standing in a confident position, shaking hands the right way, sitting in the right position, making enough eye contact, nodding your head at the appropriate times.

Sounds confusing? It really is not upon if you think about it more closely. We’ve all had those moments where we judged someone subconsciously and taken actions based on those first impressions. I fell in love with my husband the minute I met him. I judged my dear friend Nadine Johnson to be wise the minute she opened her mouth and I thought my new neighbour obnoxious the second he pulled into driveway in an SUV blaring loud music even though he knew we were having a family thanksgiving. Those first impressions have remained the same even today.

When I came back from Tampa, it’s not that I was self conscious but I figured if first impressions count so much I was going to be in control of shaping my own. One week later I clipped back one side of my Afro that I would normally allow to go free and wore a black business suit; I left “my work will always speaks for itself” attitude at the door and went after a big account; I was determined to look a particular part. I didn’t win, but I obviously scored some good points because my firm was called back to work on another great project.

All of this of course raises some important questions: What image are you projecting? Do you send a professional image to the business world? Your first impression is a statement of who you are. Become self aware. Self perception is a big part of communication. It's how we see ourselves and how we allow others to see us.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Everyone wants to be successful. How do you define success?

Everyone wants to be successful. But how would you define success? Judette Coward Puglisi

Bear with me as I recount my week. I have a point or two to make about success. Last Monday, an editor of a global communications magazine went on my blog saw a posting I had written about work life balance and asked me to submit an expanded piece on the same topic to the publication. On Tuesday, I opened my email and shining like a golden egg among 65 banal other emails in my Inbox was a request to speak at a leadership conference in the US. But it was on Wednesday that received a question, the most surprising of them all from a bright, young journalist, whose Facebook chronicles I have been following with some amusement and wonder.

Rhea Simone Auguste posted a question on my wall that had me thinking about the two opportunities that came my way on Monday and Tuesday as much as it had me thinking about success, failure, opportunity and sacrifice.

“What” questioned Rhea, “was the secret to my success?” I confess. Questions seldom stump me trained as I am from my days as a journalism student on the firing line doing mock interviews, but this one did. And to be honest, I never replied to Rhea until four days later, marinating her question in my just so I could deliver a helpful nugget of information for which I felt she was searching. In her post, Rhea told me that she had opened a publishing company but that she never got the results she was expecting. She was also toying with the idea of doing an MBA but wasn’t 100 percent sure of that decision. So I knew my answer couldn’t be coy: “ Rhea I am not so successful, there are ‘soooo’ many people more successful than I am, have you checked them,” or cliched: “ Well Rhea, it’s all about the hard work, you know it’s the point where perspiration meets inspiration.”

Rhea’s question forced me to look back (at some of my mistakes) as much as it caused me to think about what I wanted from life. And my thoughts were stewed in some harsh realisations, like this Sunday will be the third Sunday in a row that I’m working; that I’ve persuaded my husband that we should try for baby next year and that I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars three years ago on a business venture that never really got off the ground. Success sometimes demands its own harsh price.

That being said, yes, I am successful. However, my appreciation of that fact is not because I’ve arrived at a particular ambition: to grow the best PR firm in the country, (and the fact that I can say that even blows my mind) but that the journey to get there thrills me. The fact that my personal and professional goals mostly parallel each other, that I enter my office every day and work with people who I truly enjoy being with and that my journey to evolving is strewn with a terrific spouse, good health, loved ones and great professional opportunities makes the Toyota that I drive seem like an Audi

To answer your question Rhea, like others I dream, sometimes impossible dreams. Unlike most, I spend some time thinking about how to constructively put the right resources ( both human and otherwise) together to make the impossible, possible. And then I leap. And perhaps this is my distinction I am better than most people in bouncing back after failure. If I fall (and believe me I’ve had some knocks) I pick myself up, look around and say: “Okay, next!” I prepare myself to go again. If there is any secret, it is just that.

Thoughts about success

Your idea of success may be quite different from that of another small business owner's. Your neighbor's personal and professional goals may not parallel your own.

How you define success today may be different from how you define it tomorrow. In the real world, life changes, businesses evolve, and the shooting "success star" you may be reaching for alters its course.

As a single person with no family obligations, your definition of success may be quite self-centered. You may be financially driven. The personal challenge of running a business may be your ultimate reward.

A married small business owner with a family may have the intention to make a substantial living, but his or her personal definition of success may revolve around the family. Finding a happy balance between all aspects of life is often the driving force.

Before you outline what would make your business a success, take a moment to think about your own definition of success — both personal and professional. Remember, you are on a journey. Your success may be found in that journey. Success is not simply an end point; once you reach one goal or benchmark, there will be others to pursue.