Winning at Entrepreneurship: Innovative Strategies for Small Business Success
by Moya K. Mason
And they did so profitably. Nevertheless, each, she writes, instinctively grasped the fundamentals of earning long-term customer trust and loyalty. Even though they didn't all use the word 'branding,' these three entrepreneurs knew that 'If we build it, they may not necessarily come. This meant appealing to them. Engaging them. And then, once consumers had initially tried their product or service, earning their repeat business and their loyalty by creating trust between the product, the company, and the consumer.
To me, that is the strategic essence of a great brand: For a company it creates distinction, sustainable, defensible, and value-added differentiation. And clearly, that is what Wedgwood, and Heinz, and Marshall Field used it for. When you are making a market, who you choose as your initial customers and whom you decide not to market to is critically important in defining what the brand and company will become.
And he did it by listening to consumers. Wedgwood, Heinz, and Field all understood that they needed consumer feedback. Success wasn't based on just what they offered as it came out of their factories or-in the case of Field-onto their sales floor.
Small Business Strategies For Entrepreneurs
Wedgwood conducted some of the first focus groups on record with aristocrats and gentry about new vases. Henry Heinz went door to door, or grocery store to grocery store, saying, 'What do you think about these pickles? As each of these entrepreneurs gathered consumer feedback, they adjusted their product and services accordingly. Effective brand creation and management have a vital interactive component, and this two-way communication served Wedgwood remarkably well.
The ability to translate individual creativity into sustained organizational capabilities is a key success factor for entrepreneurs, says HBS professor Nancy F. Second, they also had the commitment to bring their offerings to large numbers of people, to make a market. A third important factor in understanding how these entrepreneurs created such successful products, brands, and organizations is their individual knowledge of the products. Successful entrepreneurs all know an extraordinary amount about the goods and services they are offering.
A fourth factor has to do with recognizing talent. Somewhere along the way-and there is no single defining, easily discernible, moment-each of the six entrepreneurs in Brand New also developed the ability to identify ability in others: organizational and strategic talent, as well as commercial imagination. Lauder, Schultz, and Dell-like the three entrepreneurs in the past-shared a willingness to delegate responsibility to talented people, to learn from these people, to institutionalize the capabilities they were helping to develop, and create a company from them.
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So in making the transition from the garage to company headquarters, one very important issue is dedication: the wish to see a start-up become an institution. There is also the talent for choosing other great institution builders, and the inclination and willingness to give them the power to do this.
You must learn, as Howard Schultz once said, that successful businesses cannot sustain themselves on exhilarating ideas alone. They require a healthy balance between the forces of vision and motivating passion and those of process, structure, and efficient systems. These questions relate to the four factors critical to the success of every new venture: the people, the opportunity, the context, and the possibilities for both risk and reward.
The questions about people revolve around three issues: What do they know? Whom do they know? As for opportunity, the plan should focus on two questions: Is the market for the venture's product or service large or rapidly growing or preferably both? Then, in addition to demonstrating an understanding of the context in which their venture will operate, entrepreneurs should make clear how they will respond when that context inevitably changes. Finally, the plan should look unflinchingly at the risks the new venture faces, giving would-be backers a realistic idea of what magnitude of reward they can expect and when they can expect it.
A great business plan is not easy to compose, Sahlman acknowledges, largely because most entrepreneurs are wild-eyed optimists. But one that asks the right questions is a powerful tool. A better deal, not to mention a better shot at success, awaits entrepreneurs who use it. First, understand your true talent and what value you bring to an endeavor.
Too often, entrepreneurs don't value the work others do, and they tend to overestimate their own contributions. Second, don't wait to get started. No matter what, however, you must always be a careful spender. In every business I've started-whether backed by venture capital funds, family investors, or my own bank account-I've arranged my affairs so that on short notice I can afford to live without a salary for a year. The final and most important lesson every entrepreneur must learn is this: You are not your business. On those darkest days when things aren't going so well-and trust me, you will have them-try to remember that your company's failures don't make you an awful person.
Likewise, your company's successes don't make you a genius or superhuman. To avoid this ego trap, first you should consider the difference between pushing a tidal wave and riding one, and second, you should accept that every business faces challenges beyond its control. Obviously, these are difficult points to remember when you're heading for a rough patch, but I tell you from experience, business failure is not the end of the world.
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Few people start a business with all of these bases covered. Honestly assess your own experience and skills; then look for partners or key employees to compensate for your deficiencies. A business plan precisely defines your business, identifies your goals and serves as your firm's resume. Its basic components include a current and performance balance sheet, an income statement and a cash flow analysis. It helps you allocate resources properly, handle unforeseen complications, and make the right decisions. Because it provides specific and organized information about your company and how you will repay borrowed money, a good business plan is a crucial part of any loan package.
Additionally, it can tell your sales personnel, suppliers and others about your operations and goals. Number one , I want a concept that's been around for years or more.
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OK, maybe less than years. The important thing is that it's an established concept, one that everybody understands. It's not something new and revolutionary. Because there is nothing more expensive than educating a market. I found that out the hard way when I took my delivery business to Atlanta in the early s. At the time, companies there handled deliveries by putting a secretary in a cab and sending her off with a package. The secretaries didn't want our service -- they liked having time out of the office -- and the companies didn't know they needed it.
Of course, if you're going to compete, you have to be able to differentiate yourself with customers. Which brings me to the second criterion : I want an industry that is antiquated. I don't necessarily mean "old-fashioned. Maybe the customer's needs have changed and the suppliers haven't paid attention. Maybe they're not up-to-date on the latest technology. In any case, there has been a change, and the industry hasn't followed it.
That gave me my third criterion for a successful new business: a niche. In fact, having a niche is critical to every start-up, but not for the reason most people think. It has to do with those high gross margins you must have to make sure your start-up capital lasts long enough for your business to achieve viability.
If you're the new kid in town, you can't compete on price, because you'll go out of business. On the other hand, you do have to get customers. That means offering them more value at the going rate. I don't mean to discourage the visionary geniuses out there. I'm all for advances in technology and the creation of new industries.
Go right ahead. Change the world. They are methods and strategies. The question we should be asking: Is this Better? Specifically, what will you be able to offer that has the most potential to be bought by prospective customers, in large quantities? Your offering, and the way you position it, has to scratch an itch that consumers are experiencing, sometimes without even realizing it. What will determine the success of your business is how you manage it, from concept to launch, whether the market has a need for it, and then selling the heck out of it.
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