Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Three Best Ways to Stay in Business - For the Long Term!

Inside Warehouse
According to statistics* 71% of all start-ups fail in the first 10 years.

That's not the scary number.

The scary number is that 25% of them already taste failure in the first year. Another one is that less than half make it to year 4.

And there are more, but this was supposed to be a helpful post, so let's see what a start up business can do to avoid becoming just another number.

The Danger of Product Multitasking for Start-Up Businesses

Putting aside for a moment basic incompetence, and lack of preparation, knowledge and so on, 30% of start up businesses fail due to over-expansion.

Sure, you have big ideas, or you wouldn't be an entrepreneur. But, especially in the beginning, try to concentrate on getting the process to produce a single, good, revenue generating product or service worked out, before you try releasing anything else.

As Barbara Cochran once said on Shark Tank - "You're moving too fast with too many things, and that's usually a formula for disaster in any young business."

She ended up investing, but only after making sure that the company understood that they had to concentrate on one product at a time.To pick another example - Levi Roots, the UK entrepreneur launched a single sauce "Reggae Reggae Sauce" on Dragon's Den.One awesome product.

So - product multitasking reduces overall quality, so make one awesome thing at a time.

3 Top Tips to Keep Afloat in Year 1, 2, 3...

Here are my own Top 3 Tips for staying in business long-term:

  • Tip 1 : Pick the right business, and the right business for you

There are certain businesses with a high failure rate - think plumbers and restaurants - and others with a very low one : like religious organisations.

Now, I'm not suggesting you go off and found a religion, but I am suggesting that if you choose to open a restaurant your heart had better be in it, and you'd better have the skills. Top aggregate reason for going out of business? Lack of knowledge, and wrong reason for going into business in the first place.

  • Tip 2 : Keep it Simple. Do one thing well. Not a hundred things averagely. 

I'm not the first to point this out, I'm actually paraphrasing from Sam Carpenter's excellent "Work The System". You should check it out if you're starting a business, or trying to live life to the full.

  • Tip 3 : Cut Out The Emotion. 

Okay, that's a tough one, because if you've picked a business that's right for you, as I pointed out in Tip 1, you're probably also going to have an emotional investment in it.

However, if you can make decisions based on numbers (and that's the purpose of having a system, as I pointed out in my last blog post) or other objective information, and remove the emotion from the equation as far as possible, those decisions will likely be better than if you are guided completely by your passion.

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*Source :

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Building a Solid Business Around a Solid System

Recently I was listening to an audio freebie that came with a Dan Kennedy book (No BS Marketing to the Affluent, link pops out, I recommend it, this'll still be here when you get back!) and he said something that struck a chord.

Now, I'm paraphrasing because I want to get this down and don't want to dig out the CD right now, but the general theme was around creating advantage in your business offering - commercial advantage, financial advantage, market advantage, and so on.

Some of these I'd expect most people to think of: You want to be the best in your market, or at least define a niche for yourself that has no competition; you want to be able to outlast the others in your market, even if that means waiting a long time to get your money back, or you want to be justifiably the most expensive in your market.

But then he said something that had echoes of a bunch of other bits and pieces of wisdom I've absorbed recently - systemic advantage.

The advantage of having a system.

As I was walking along, Dan continued his train of thought, but mine had spun off to other avenues (sorry, Mr. Kennedy!)

Here are some others who extol the virtues of a system - Dane Maxwell, creator of the 6-figure Recruiting Ninja business, and currently head honcho at The Foundation ( has a unique system that he teaches and which takes a market, creates a product based on feedback from that market, and then sells it before it's even available!

The system has been used by, among others, one Sam Ovens. Look him up, it's a worthwhile story.

Sean Ogle, the Location Rebel, has a collection of frameworks and systems. Dave Risely (of Blog Marketing Academy fame) has a system (which he calls the Blueprint) that can help you build a business from nothing.

The fast food industry is home to one of the most successful systems of all - McDonald's.

I could go on - Michael Senoff ( has a system for marketing consulting, Dan Kennedy teaches a system for creating sales letters, and works a system for selling his stuff, etc. - but you get the point.

The one thing your business needs to have, if it is to be successful, is a solid foundation, built on a system that can be deployed, used to measure results, tweaked to get better results, and followed when times are tough and you lose direction.

That's the advantage of having a system.

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Thursday, 10 October 2013

"Don't run away from price." - Dan Kennedy

If you're not familiar with Dan Kennedy, I advise you to do a search on the internet, your favorite MP3 search engine, or a well-known video sharing site, and prepare yourself for a lot of research.

The man is a genius, and even if he admits to borrowing a lot of his wisdom from the observation of the way that markets work, and the marketing that professionals in those markets do, it take a special kind of intelligence to join up all the dots.

That's how he can charge upwards of $1,800 per day. Per day. Upwards of.

One of my favorite quotes from Dan Kennedy is "Don't run away from price." Even in a recession, you should never try to be the cheapest, because there'll always be someone cheaper. The reason why is very interesting.

Why People Get Hung Up On Price

One reason is simple enough - to appeal to as many people as possible. Your potential market may well feel bigger if you're cheaper, as more people ought to be able to afford your goods or services.

That's only true if everyone in that market is shopping on price, which isn't true. Very few people in that target market shop on price, and those people will be the ones that cause the most problems.

There's a saying - if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. You can flip that around and say - if you charge peanuts, you'll get monkeys.

Two Ways To Charge More

That's the first way to charge more. Just do it. You'll become attractive to a market that expects to pay a high price, simply because they have the money to spend. They're also the clients who are less likely to cause problems, as long as you deliver to the value of what you are charging.

That deals with the willingness to spend money. But you still have to make the product or service attractive.

Doing that requires that you are different from the other offerings on the market - usually at all levels. In other words, you need to differentiate from the cheaper products as well as the same-priced or more expensive products.

This means having a good USP (unique selling point) or EVP (extra value proposition.)

That USP needs to fulfill a need or (better) solve a problem, offer a guarantee, with a specific limit (time, cost, etc.) This was made famous by Domino's Pizza, who nailed it with their slogan offering freshly cooked pizza, delivered, inside 30 minutes, backed up with the guarantee that if they failed, you got to eat it for free.

Any mention of price? No. They don't need to, because their USP is so strong and specific that they can charge pretty much whatever they want, within reason, and will only attract the least painful customers.

So, work on these three principles - not getting hung up on price, raising prices, and developing a great USP - and you'll build a better business.

What's So Smart About the Breathometer?

On a recent episode of Shark Tank, a neat little gadget called Breathometer received a lot of interest and investment. Daymond John (owner of FUBU, and notable Shark - and I mean that in a good way!) made a very shrewd statement:

"You're very smart. I like to surround myself with people smarter than me..." (check it out here)

Now, that's good advice. In fact, it's great advice. But what's so smart about Breathometer? After all, there are many breathalyzers on the market.

The technology isn't that new, but typical breathalyzers tend to be bulky.

What was so smart about the Breathometer is that its inventor, Charles Michael Yim, combined three very important pieces of the party-goers jigsaw:
  • breath analysis in a small packet, plugged into a smart phone;
  • an indication of the time it will take to sober up;
  • a link to call a taxi, right in the app!
The unique combination of a small adapter, plugged into a smart phone, capable of linking the reality of being over the limit with a need to get home (or at least know how long it might take to get under the limit again!) was the genius of the product.

That's what you need to be able to do with each end every product - find a targeted market with a problem, solve their problem, and give them an alternative - do that, and your products will be irresistible.

But, there's a problem.

Just because you have found a market, and a way to reduce its pain, that doesn't mean you can turn your vision into reality. We've got the answer - Total Outsourcing. Join the Business Start-Up Advice Inner Circle, and we'll help you outsource whatever you want!

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Friday, 4 October 2013

Give Your Business a Purpose with Event Based Marketing

Event based marketing usually comes in the form of a promise. That promise, in the guise of a specific business event, is designed to drive both potential customers to become paying clients, as well as to drive you, the entrepreneur to turn your idea into a product.

The purpose of the event is to give both sides a deadline.
Photo via

On the one hand it lets customers know when they might expect the product to be available, and on the other it gives the entrepreneur a watershed.

If they're late delivering on their promised event, they going to have to back down. It's no biggie - but usually the customers will expect (and deserve) some kind of discount, or benefit from your failure to deliver on time.

Why the freebie?

The answer is simple : event based marketing works best when the customer has already paid to be a part of your empire. They've given you money; money that you needed to get the solution built, but money that they were hoping to save by using it.

If they can't use it, they deserve compensation. After all, they've been tempted on board with the promise of availability, and if you don't meet up with their expectations, they will be very disappointed.

So, plan your event so that there's a reasonable expectation on both sides that you'll make it, but be prepared to give generously if you experience a delay.

In the long run, your customers will be happier that way.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

How to Start a Business with No Skills Down (Except One!)

I've been absorbing a lot of wisdom of late. If I had to name drop, and let's face it, in this day and age it's the only way to prove your paying attention, here are a few voices that have been filling me with inspiration of late - Dane Maxwell, Sean Ogle, Tim Ferris, David Risley, Sam Ovens, Rosalind Gardner...

I could go on.

What's become apparent is that there are two approaches to building (starting) a business : stick to what you know and follow your passion/hobby, and forget what your passions are and find a market with problems to service.

Pro-bloggers, for example, tend to fall into the former camp. Dane Maxwell and The Foundation fall clearly into the latter, and then take it one step further by pointing out that the real money is in just finding people to consume services (i.e. lead generation.)

I'm sitting on the fence, and boy is it uncomfortable.

I understand that people want to follow their passion, but I also understand from watching Shark Tank, Dragon's Den, and The Apprentice, as well as listening to the wisdom of those who have gone before me, that not everyone will share that passion. It's also possible (even likely) that not enough people share your passion to make a business out of it.

So, what do you do when you find that the market wants something that falls outside your skill set?

Easy - outsource! Tim Ferris started me off thinking about this, and Dane Maxwell backed up my initial hunch that the most successful businesses are going to be those where the entrepreneur isn't doing everything themselves, and uses skills of others to help them achieve true greatness.

Plus, by outsourcing everything, you remove yourself from the business, meaning that it will happily run along without you, needing only a firm hand on the tiller from time to time.

For most of us, this is great, because we have the attention span of butterflies, and often find it tough to concentrate on the same thing for any length of time. If all we have to do is manage a bunch of outsourced processes, we're happy as can be.

The main message this - don't worry about not knowing (for example) how to write good copy, or how to create an app, or produce a membership based web site and software as a service (SaaS) offering. There are people who can do all of these things.

All you have to worry about is finding the right partners, at the right price, and then managing them. As an entrepreneur you've likely got the skills to be able to do these things, all you need to do is unlock them!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Twitter, PayPal, IPOs, Dragon's Den and Shark Tank - How to Form an Exit Strategy

One of the questions asked on Dragon's Den (and the US variant Shark Tank) is often the deceptively simple "what are your plans for the future", or the slightly more unnerving "what are your goals for the business."
Photo via

I don't think I've heard anyone on BBC's Dragon's Den come out and ask "what is your exit strategy?", but I've heard those words uttered on Shark Tank, and seeing some of the deals that they do there, I'm certain that it's often at the forefront of many of the entrepreneur's minds.

Put simply, and exit strategy is often about maximizing the value that a company owner can take out of a company, whilst ultimately losing both control and overall responsibility for it going forward.

In many cases, an IPO is an example of an exit strategy.

Think about it - the entrepreneur builds something up, and then exchanges a large amount of their shareholding (if not almost all of it) in return for a proportion of cash.

It's like going on Shark Tank, and doing a licensing deal with Mr. Wonderful.Sure, you'll get your dollar per sale, but you'll lose any right you had to dictate where the sales are made, and to whom.

That just fits in with some people's idea of an exit strategy.

Value Based on Potential

Kevin O'Leary, if you asked him, would, I strongly suspect, say that he was offering a deal that is based on the potential of the product, and that his offer reflects that perceived value. And, like him or not, he's often one of the clearest-headed and fairest of the Sharks.

What was not fair, on the general techie population, was the valuation of PayPal at the time of their IPO.

Photo via
It set a precedent.According to C|Net, the share price made a 54 percent gain overnight following the IPO. They went on to say the following:

"Although PayPal is popular, it isn't yet profitable. In the quarter ended Dec. 31, PayPal lost $18.54 million on sales of $40.4 million, compared with year-ago losses of $41.9 million on revenue of $8.8 million."

This is a classic case of a value of a company being decided upon its potential to make money. One might be tempted to call is "style over substance" were it not for the fact that PayPal's been pretty successful over the years.

(They were eventually acquired by eBay, whose share price now trades in the 50 dollar per share range.)

Value Based on Performance

The other way to value is based on performance. This is what many Dragons and Sharks (and probably regular, non-TV investors) look for. They look at the current ROI (Return on Investment) based on some piercing questions about the balance sheet and profit and loss account, and decide what to offer in terms of equity.

Some fast reverse mathematics enables the viewers to work out what they're thinking.

Most of the time, the entrepreneurs have fallen into the trap of (a) inflating their company value by the value of the investment, and (b) using a multiplier that boosts the ROI to a point that their equity stake offering is way too low.

The point is that most IPOs are based on some proportion of Potential vs. Performance. In the build-up to the Twitter IPO, it's worth bearing that in mind : it's no PayPal, it's not a Facebook, but there is value hidden in there, and with current revenues in the 100 million dollar range, it looks like a good time to float.

How to Formulate Your Exit Strategy

So, even if your exit strategy isn't quite in the IPO league, you still need to decide how to dispose of the business you've worked so hard to build up. You still need to get the timing right.

For example - suppose you have a  business that can be run as a going concern and has a stable customer base that implies that it will run on for at least 5 years. The right value for such a company might be 5 times profits.

However, if the company has potential for growth, untapped customers, or the possibility to be geographically scalable, 5 times profits might begin to look a bit on the lean side.

On the other hand, a fading company in a declining market might be only barely worth the value of it's assets plus current profit, depreciated over 5 years. In such a case, it might have been wiser to sell up earlier, with the customer base still on the up, and realize a higher value albeit based on risk, than the market might otherwise expect.

This last is closely associated with risk. As always, it's a case of buyer beware - it's someone else's risk once you've sold the company - and picking the right moment when the ratio of profit to potential makes it look as attractive as possible.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Amazing Travel Hack and All-Round Cool Car Rental Service

Here's one for all you fans of travel hacks and ways to decrease business expenses in general. The FlightCar service rents out cars left by people when they're off traveling the world, to those landing at the airport and needing a car.

That's a great service, but they've gone one better with their FlightCar Monthly service, which offers people a flat fee in return for the use of their car for a month. If you need your car back within that time, you get 4 free days with your car, or one very like it.

This is great if you don't use your car that much, but need it for things like family vacations - or if you don't need it for a month because you're off on a long vacation yourself.

All in all - works well for everyone!

Lessons from Sean Ogle (Location Rebel) On Fast Learning

Sean Ogle has just released a video (looks like it's filmed in Central Park - correct me if I'm wrong!) that talks about the concept of rapid learning and how it relates to Location Rebel.I recommend that you watch it - it's just 2 minutes long - just to understand his mindset. The video can be found here.

Before you rush off and watch it, though, here's a bit of preparatory work : the key takeaway is in knowing what you don't know, and knowing what you need to know to fill that gap. Read that through again, watch the video, and read the comments that follow it.

Then come back here, because I have something else to share...

Being successful in business is often about learning. For example, to do business in China, it's going to help you to learn Chinese. But that's hard, right? Yes, of course it is. It's useful, so it will be hard.

Tim Ferris (author of the 4 Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body and The Four Hour Chef) spoke at the Entertainment Gathering about his experience learning Japanese, which is comparably hard. The video is here.

It's okay, you can watch it later - the key part of the message for me was that he, too, concentrated on what he didn't know. Ferris calls it Material vs. Method, and it comes up in his Four Hour Chef book, in the section entitled Meta Learning.

Even if you don't want to learn how to cook - and who doesn't? - the sheer discipline that Ferris applies is worth the cover price.

Come to that, it's worth heading over to Sean Ogle's web site, too, even if you don't plan on becoming a "Location Rebel" yourself, as there are many valuable business lessons to be learned just from reading through the blog posts.

My bottom line advice is to learn as much from these two as possible, as they've both had a dream, followed it, and had a great time along the way. They might not be billionaires, but they're leading the life that they always wanted, and you can't say fairer than that!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Think About Your Exit Strategy

I know that it feels a bit odd to think about your business as something with an end before you even get it off the ground, but the exit strategy is one of the more frequently overlooked parts of a fledgling business plan.

It's important in that investors who want to see a return, will want you to think about where that money is going to come from. Not to put too fine a point on it - it's unlikely that it will come from direct profits in the timescale or quantity that will satisfy all but the most 'angel' of investors.

In fact, many investors will force your hand, and sell out (or go public) at the drop of a hat, if the going looks good, just to turn around their initial capital investment.

You can preempt all of this by taking a few hours to consider, if you had to, how you would get out. Here are some options:

  • Retire - in other words, you leave the business when you've had enough, and either keep an interest so that the income can support you, or just never look back;
  • Sell Out Early - find someone willing to take on the company as a going concern, or sell to a competitor;
  • Float on the Stock Market (IPO) - this is interesting in that it can raise a lot of money an increase your personal wealth, but you may well find yourself deposed or sidelined as shareholder interest takes priority;
  • Wind it up - just cease trading, sell the assets (if there are any), and do something else.

There are other options, but these are the most common. There are also businesses that are created purely with the end goal to sell out to a bigger company, and which don't make any money in the interim.

For these kinds of business, the Exit Strategy is the business plan, and it can be a hard trick to pull off!

By thinking about your exit strategy, you may even show investors that you are also emotionally disconnected from (but passionate about) the business, and are likely to make good decisions. You will also be prepared mentally for the end, and it will help you to formulate a worst-case scenario, if it all goes horribly wrong.

To end on a more positive note - a successful business that is sold to a competitor, or complementary business, will make you rich, and free you up so you can launch the next big thing!