Bob Diener: Seven tips for entrepreneurs — How to reach success and know when to walk away

Bob Diener, CEO, Hotels.com and GetaRoom.com

Bob Diener, president and co-founder, getaroom.com

Success for a business can be fleeting. A wave of interest and customers can come in, but if the company’s business model or value proposition is not sound, then it’s difficult to maintain the momentum.

Once a business is moving along, most entrepreneurs will also reach a decision point as to when to move on from the company, whether it’s through a sale or simply ceasing operations.

Below are seven core tips for entrepreneurs who are looking to build a company and also some advice for those who need to leave their venture and create another.

Set realistic goals

A positive attitude and confidence in your business’ long-term success are vital. However, when it comes to setting goals you need to inject a dose of realism.

Manage your own expectations so that even if you reach modest success benchmarks, you won’t have any sense of disappointment. Set conservative goals that will allow you to grow slowly. Use market research to gauge the size of your market and set reasonable sales goals.

Doing this legwork on the front end will pay off by helping you see if your plan is flawed and needs tweaking.

You have to stand out

The attributes that make your product or service unique will be your main selling proposition.

Be honest about the true uniqueness and don’t simply trust your biased opinion. You need to be able to market your competitive differentiator, and it needs to matter from the customer’s perspective.

Set the value proposition

If your product’s special traits don’t offer value, then they won’t do you any good. Gather the advice of others to gauge if you are presenting true cost vs. value to customers. The value proposition is a core of the business, and without one it will certainly fail.

Implement and follow a sound business model

Do you have a plan in place for how the company will make money?

You should be revenue-focused right away and closely watch all expenses, especially your initial capital costs and any personnel salaries. Creating a full business plan at the outset will also protect you from overextending yourself or dipping too far into personal finances.

Know when to walk away

Ideally, you will walk away from your business on your own terms. Perhaps you have an offer to sell the company that will enable you to take time off or even retire early! If you think the company has reached its peak and cannot grab more market share, then you should consider selling.

Conversely, if your strategies are simply not panning out, then you need to know when it’s time to pull the plug. Don’t risk personal financial ruin pursuing the business. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit then there is always another venture.

When to begin again

If you walked away from your company and are in good financial shape, then you can explore starting another company. You should first have a reflective period where you look at the things you did right and wrong with your other business. Try to spot consistent issues.

Perhaps you overestimated the costs of production or the expenses incurred due to staffing? Don’t be afraid to take some classes to broaden your knowledge base. Once you have learned some lessons and adjusted your strategy, then you can dive into your next company with the right focus.

Find a niche

You not only need a product or service with unique traits, but you also need to identify a good niche within a decent-sized market. What’s a good example of a big market? Consider the hotel lodging business. It’s $500 billion. Think of any percentage of that sum and you have a hefty dollar amount.

Bob Diener is a pioneer in the hotel consolidation and online travel industry with more than 25 years of experience. Diener is the president and co-founder of www.getaroom.com and is co-founder of the Hotel Reservations Network, now known as Hotels.com. 

Paul Hammes – Five tips for a successful divestment strategy

Paul Hammes, Divestiture Advisory Services Leader for Transaction Advisory Services, EY

Paul Hammes, Divestiture Advisory Services Leader for Transaction Advisory Services, EY

Companies taking a “wait-and-see” approach to deal-making as economic uncertainty persists may be missing out on growth and value opportunities.

Many companies have looked to divestments to offset cash and credit challenges and to free up capital to drive growth. But this short-term thinking is shifting as companies plan for the long term and take a more strategic approach to divesting.

In a recent EY divestment study that surveyed almost 600 executives, 77 percent said they planned to accelerate divestments within the next two years, and 46 percent are planning to divest in the same time frame. As companies signal an increased appetite for divestitures, it’s important they understand and implement the appropriate steps to achieve greater value for shareholders.

Evidence from our study, combined with our work with clients, has shown that there are five leading practices that companies should follow in order to execute a successful divestment:

Conduct rigorous and regular portfolio management

Review your portfolio regularly. Companies can assess whether assets are contributing to strategic goals or if capital can be better used for other purposes.

Companies that use divestments as a strategic tool to enhance shareholder value or focus on core business strategies, rather than considering them as a reactive move to free up cash or pay down debt, tend to improve their divestment results.

Consider the full range of potential buyers

There is an intense amount of competition from buyers today for good, high-quality assets and they’re ready to transact. Appealing to a broad group of buyers can garner a price that exceeds expectations.

Companies should think about the buyer universe for a potential asset sale differently than they might have in the past, considering potential foreign buyers, buyers within different sectors and private equity firms. Each buyer may have different information needs that require a different planning process.

Articulate a compelling value and growth story

Sellers should provide tailored information about how an asset fits with the buyer’s business to help achieve strategic objectives. Develop an M&A plan for the asset or provide a view of synergy opportunities to buyers.

Prepare rigorously

Effective ongoing preparation can instill buyer confidence. As a result, companies can better control the process and realize greater speed and value. Half of the executives surveyed admit that certain changes to the preparation process could have made a significant difference during divestment.

Understand the importance of separation planning

Probably the most crucial aspect of a divestment is separation planning, yet 56 percent of respondents identified a clear separation road map as the most complex part of the divestment.

Other separation challenges include decisions regarding the completion mechanism, tax planning, estimating stand-alone costs and negotiating transition services agreements.

Every day a company waits to evaluate its capital strategy, someone else is making a change and gaining an advantage.

In heeding these five key practices, companies can take a more strategic and ultimately successful approach to divestments to ensure they get the most value possible and grow the bottom line.

Paul Hammes is the Divestiture Advisory Services Leader for Transaction Advisory Services at EY. Reach him at www.ey.com.

Matthew Figgie and Rick Solon: Energy and the future

Matthew Figgie, chairman, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Matthew Figgie, Chairman, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Looking to the future, every business can benefit by seeing what the trends are in the energy market and how those trends ultimately may affect business. As societies advance, they will continue to need energy to power homes, business, industry, transportation and other services.

By assessing the trends in energy supply, demand and technology, companies can make strategic plans and long-term investments that underpin their business strategy. Several key findings are relevant for all companies to consider when looking at macroeconomic views of the energy markets. This view must not only look at today, but years in advance.

One basic theme is that the appetite for energy will grow immensely as everything will be more electronic and driven by where we get energy from. Companies need to assess their growth strategy to suit their present needs and future consumption.

Here are some fundamentals:

Population: The population between now and 2040 will grow by 25 percent. In 2040, we will have almost 9 billion people on earth and it is anticipated that 75 percent of the world’s population will reside in the Asia Pacific and Africa. A country’s working age population, people ages 15 to 64, represents the driver for its economic growth and energy demand. After 2030, India will have the largest population, and 70 percent of its population will be in the working age population range.

Rick Solon, President and CEO, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Rick Solon, President and CEO, Clark-Reliance Corp.

Energy: Efficiency will continue to play a key role in solving our energy challenges. Energy demands in developing nations will rise by 65 percent by 2040, reflecting growing prosperity and expanding economies. With all of this growth comes a greater demand for electricity.

Computers, smartphones, air conditioners, microwaves and washing machines — these things all depend on electricity to work. And as the number of homes and businesses across the world grows, so does the need for power. The fuels we use to power our world are also evolving, with natural gas and nuclear power generation in non-OECD countries increasing by 150 percent.

Residential: As economies and populations grow, so will energy needs. By 2040, residential and commercial demand is expected to rise approximately 50 percent.

This is being driven by developing countries. There are about 1.3 billion people today who do not have access to electricity, and while demand is anticipated to increase by 50 percent, energy use per person is actually declining thanks to energy-efficient buildings and appliances.

Transportation: Transportation-related energy demand will increase by more than 40 percent from 2010 to 2040. Most of this demand is driven by heavy-duty sources (freight trucks, buses, emergency vehicles and work trucks), but as personal vehicles are becoming significantly more energy-efficient, the demand will rise steadily.

More importantly, mpg will become more attractive, with anticipated mpg to increase from 27 to 47 mpg. The mpg increase is attributed to the use of improved engines and transmissions, along with lighter body and accessory parts, vehicle downsizing and increased use of hybrids.

Industrial: Industrial energy demand will grow by 30 percent. The fastest growing area for industrial demand comes from heavy industries. The most flourishing is the chemical industry.

These global considerations are important as you look to the future to find those things from a macroeconomic basis that should have an impact on your business. It is necessary to find a series of relevant statistics that will help you identify early warning indicators of what you should do in terms of product development and industry growth.

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Donna Rae Smith: Five proven habits to take control of stress

Donna Rae Smith, Founder and CEO, Bright Side Inc.

Donna Rae Smith, Founder and CEO, Bright Side Inc.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James, American philosopher and psychologist

In an increasingly stressful world, William James’ remarks are just as accurate and relevant today as they were when he said them more than a century ago. We face countless stressful forces, most of them beyond our control — changing market conditions, economic uncertainty, new laws and regulations, and competition, to name just a few.

Confronted with circumstances and situations that we can’t change, our only hope is to affect what we can — our own thoughts and actions. Only by managing ourselves can we exert some control over our physical and mental health.

The first step is to change the way we think about stress. Rather than trying to take control by accomplishing more, we need a different tack — getting back to basics, with time-proven strategies like slowing down, truly connecting and living in the moment.

Why do these work? Because they tap into our fundamental need for purpose and meaning and help us remember what really matters. They allow us to put stress into perspective and truly gain control — not of what’s happening around us, but of ourselves.

Stay connected.

For most of us, staying connected means having around-the-clock access to our phones and email. However, nothing replaces face-to-face conversation, where you’re intently focusing on the person next to you and they’re doing the same. That kind of connectedness is a need we all share and it can’t be replaced with a screen or monitor.

Rather than constantly emailing the colleague next door, think about having more in-person, direct communication. Likewise, make a personal commitment to carve out meaningful time for the important people in your life.

Slow down.

The last thing you want to do when you’re stressed out is to slow down. But the reality is that even a short break for quiet and relaxation will reap you benefits tenfold.

Even 20 minutes to go for a walk on a tree-lined street or to sit on a park bench makes a difference.

Whatever you choose, making time to slow down won’t set you back — it will actually refresh you and give you more energy.

Have faith.

Having faith means different things for different people. If you have faith in a higher being, then you know it’s a source of strength.

Making time to read short meditations or prayers can center and rejuvenate you. Others find faith in themselves or in modern philosophers.

In either case, it’s important to find a source that fuels you when the going gets tough.

Find your fire.

A sure-fire way to relieve stress is to focus on something you truly love and feel passionate about. When you’re engaged in an activity you deeply enjoy, everything else recedes into the background.

Make time for activities you love and recapture that childhood enthusiasm.

Laugh it off. 

Research suggests that laughing has healthful effects. But we don’t need scientists to verify that laughing feels good. Let your guard down and laugh when the situation calls for it.

If you can’t laugh at your natural surroundings, then create a laugh break by watching or reading something you find funny. Or do an activity that’s sure to make you laugh — like miniature golf, bowling, an amusement park or karaoke. However you do it, make laughter and humor a routine part of your life, not a special occasion.

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at [email protected]

Rodger Roeser: Get out of my social media sandbox

It’s a new marketing communications argument — which “discipline” should manage the new medium of social media? Should Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn be handled by PR, advertising, HR or something else?

Agencies are springing up that specialize in social media management and any manner of blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and the like. It’s become a verb. We need more friends, more likes, more this and more that.

“Who” is managing your social media is far less important than “what” is being managed. You are trying to engage, to enlighten, to share. You are not trying to sell, although long term and softly that will be the ultimate reward. Social media, by its very definition, is controlled by those who are engaged and those who are sharing their thoughts and their views on any manner of issues or challenges we face as consumers or as businesses. So why the fight as to who “controls” it? Money and power.

The debate brews

Certainly, advertising agencies believe they should manage the discipline because it must be creative and part of your overall marketing mix of clever hooks and fresh ideas. However, your PR agency believes it should manage this as it is the master of sharing a story and providing clarity to your consumers in the written word. Both will invoice you fairly for their time, effort and strategy, and will provide good ideas and fresh thinking to drive traffic.

What you truly need is insight, and the confidence and ability to trust in yourself or that so-called “expert.” Who really “controls” social media? If you’re smart — it’s the 3Cs — clients, customers and constituents. You control your social media, whether you’re hiring a firm or you attempt to manage it in-house.

A good agency, regardless of being PR or advertising, will advise you to craft a solid brand and brand communications strategy, then utilize the virtually unlimited universe of social media and its many outlets to share that brand and tell your story. From there you engage your publics to some desired form of action or activity.

Manage the infinite?

Managing social media is, by my definition, attempting to manage the infinite. Rather, you must discuss what your end goal is and how that particular social media tactic will fit into, support and drive content from your overall marketing communications objective. It is not the answer; it is an option.

Should your business, regardless of what that business is, “do” social media? Of course! The question and the strategy is why are we doing social media and what exactly are we trying to achieve. How does it support our branding initiatives? How does it help our sales team? How does it make our candidate or our issue more accessible?

Social media allows you to fulfill the most basic and sacred tenant of public relations — the ability to have open, ongoing and one-to-one communications directly with your publics in an attempt to foster a shared conversation and engagement.

You want to hear from an unhappy customer so you can fix it, not spin it. You want to offer ideas and specials and promotions to those that value it most. You want your business to be the best it can be so you value the ideas, conversations and suggestions of your target publics and foster that.

Stop worrying about who manages your social media. Most likely it’s you. It is your choice to do or not do, to engage or let others talk about your business without your response. Social media happens regardless of whether you want it to or not. If you lack a social media strategy, it’s time to get a social media plan of action.

 

Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owner’s Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at [email protected]

Stephan Liozu: Managing this, that and the other thing

Stephan Liozu, Founder, Value Innoruption Advisors LLC

Stephan Liozu, Founder, Value Innoruption Advisors LLC

A 2010 global survey of more than 1,500 CEOs conducted by IBM revealed that 60 percent of top executives face an increased amount of complexity in their business. Seventy-nine percent of them expect an even greater level of complexity over the next five years and only 49 percent of them estimate that they will be ready for it.

The questions then become: Are you ready to face more complexity? How good are you at managing complexity? Can you leverage this complexity to create differentiation and competitive advantage?

Complexity can be good and bad at the same time. There are four types of complexity in business and it is important to break them down to be able to understand them and eventually address them:

Imposed complexity is coming from regulations and mandatory compliance guidelines both at industry and governmental levels. It is typically not controllable and manageable so it is best to prepare for it and find a way to minimize its impact on the business.

Inherent complexity is structural complexity, which is inherited and well rooted in the business. It can be addressed by making deep structural changes that might be painful but beneficial to the future of the business.

Designed complexity is based on purposefully designed strategies and programs to support the long-term vision for the firm. This complexity is based on managerial choices aimed at creating competitive advantage.

Unnecessary complexity is the result of legacy management design and structure that might not have been updated, eliminated or refreshed. It is unnecessary because it brings no value to the business and it solely exists because no one is paying attention to it.

As a leader of your organization and in the face of resource constraints, I highly recommend you start paying attention to these four types of complexity. Assemble a process and team to review complexity and engage in the design of strategies that will leverage complexity to bring differentiation to the market. Here are some quick tips on how to do this:

Design positive complexity to create differentiation.

This should be the main focus of your critical actions and priorities. Can you create complexity that differentiates your supply chain processes, your customer service experience levels and your digital marketing strategies without overwhelming your customers? Can you create unique value selling propositions based on unique internal designs and systems?

Quickly kill unnecessary complexity while reassigning resources and skills.

Unnecessary complexity might be inherited from legacy management designs or decisions. They might bring zero business value and need eradication. Be decisive and free up resources for something else.

Transform internal complexity into simple value propositions.

Remember that internal complexity has to be transformed into simple offerings for customers. If you propose something to your customers, do it by absorbing complexity and acting as a consultant for your customers.

Focus on pockets of value-creating complexity for customers.

It is all about value. Complex designs have to bring value to customers. If not, they should not be implemented. As a leader, make sure value is real and can be monetized through pricing. You might have the best supply chain management process, but will customers see the value in it and be willing to pay for some of the services?

Assign your best talent to manage complex problems and initiatives.

Complex problems need mindful problem-solving. The business world is changing in front of our eyes. What are you doing to change with it while remaining nimble, easy to do business with and focused on value? Are you leveraging complexity to create sustainable competitive advantage?

 

Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management.  He earned a doctorate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at
[email protected] For more information, visit www.stephanliozu.com.

Patrick Hiller: How to get ROI by creating a great place to work

Patrick Hiller

Patrick Hiller, CEO, Abacus Solutions

For the second year in a row, Abacus Solutions has won a workplace award, and I’d like to tell you that it was the result of a very detailed plan — but it wasn’t. It started with a simple premise of respect and teamwork. Along the way, we learned specific behaviors that attract and keep talent.

Our efforts to create a great place to work have been paid back many times over in employee and client loyalty, as well as in profits. Here are specific ways your efforts to improve workplace culture bring a return on your investment.

General productivity

When employees feel respected and enjoy coming to work, productivity rises. If you foster a culture of teamwork, then people are less likely to be worrying about competitive advantage over each other and more likely to be focused on advantage over competitors.

This directly impacts the bottom line because you are not adding more people to the payroll to drive business. Teamwork gets the job done with less personnel and better results.

Better ideas

Creating a safe space where employees are free to try out new ideas and then get honest and respectful feedback about them means you are getting the best out of your in-house brain trust.

Discouragement and a dismissive attitude breed passivity. Respect and encouragement breed innovation. With a global marketplace competing for business, you want to be the company with the best ideas.

Retention and new talent

We’ve all worked jobs in our career where we had to deal with a nasty manager or co-worker. Employees know that when they find a supportive place to work it elevates their everyday lifestyle.

We have very little turnover at our company and rarely lose a team member to competitors. Part of this is being very selective of whom we bring onboard.

Retention is also about paying people what they are worth. We look at the going rate for positions and reward talent and extra effort financially. And, when you have a great workplace culture, it also makes it easier to attract the best talent for new positions. Word gets around.

Client interaction

So now we get to the client-facing side of where workplace culture meets bottom line. At Abacus Solutions, we help customers leverage IT to solve business problems with managed solutions and infrastructure improvements. This is where our high employee retention rate is such a bonus. Clients genuinely fear having to deal with a changing roster of support.

High retention lets us give them what they want — a stable resource that knows their business inside and out. In-house retention translates into client retention.

Here is another way workplace culture helps us meet client needs: personal initiative. By empowering employees to make decisions and paying them well for their work, clients get the best of our team without multiple layers of accountability.

Every week we get an email from a client about someone on our engineering team who went the extra mile to solve an issue.

Strategic planning

As CEOs, we are responsible for looking at the big picture and making sure the company continues to grow and evolve in the right direction. It’s hard to do that if we are intimately involved in every detail.

I can tell you that it feels great to know that I am not needed on a daily basis. I can focus on adding clients and growing partnerships. The proof for us that this kind of workplace culture brings meaningful ROI is the growth in revenue and profitability we’ve enjoyed every year we have been in operation.

Patrick Hiller is the CEO of Abacus Solutions, an IT solutions provider in Atlanta, Ga., specializing in vendor neutral solutions that help companies manage IT to protect and grow core business. Contact him at www.abacussolutions.com

 

 

The value of being the man or woman behind the curtain

MIchael Feuer

MIchael Feuer

One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.

Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.

To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.

From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.

Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.

Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.

Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.

Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.

In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”

This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.

The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.

It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.

However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.

After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.

The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.

So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization.

Taking measure: Establish benchmarks to guide your company to success

Fred Koury, CEO, Smart Business Network

Fred Koury, CEO, Smart Business Network

As businesspeople, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ourselves and to our companies to measure the investments we make.

Investments include acquisitions, funding new expansion initiatives, inventory, office space, equipment, even employees. Too often, we don’t have benchmarks in place to really measure the return on these investments.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, loved measurements, and is well-known for culling the bottom 10 percent of performers and emphasizing that businesses need to measure key areas to get things done. He had an excellent track record as a result. Not every company is GE, but the principle applies to any business, particularly when it comes to investments that require a lot of cash.

By not measuring the success or failure of the ideas we implement, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. If too many investments are made at once, cash flow can quickly dry up if they don’t pay off. With no tangible measurements, it becomes easy to spread our resources, especially capital, too thin while working on too many projects at once.

Here are several suggestions to help you avoid this mistake.

1. Set goals and establish a timeline for a return on each investment. Be realistic, because some things take time to mature. Make sure the company is financially sound and can handle the downside of any investment you make. In other words, don’t bet the farm on a deal.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. One deal shouldn’t put your company at risk.

2. Put it in writing and share it with the right people. Give employees the information they need to do their jobs, and let them know how you want them to measure progress.

Employees need to understand your goals. If they are not clear about the goals, you risk them pushing the idea in the wrong direction.

3. Make yourself and your employees accountable through key performance measures reported on a periodic basis to assess your progress. This helps keep key people informed on how the company is progressing toward achieving its goals. Keep regular tabs on why projects are or are not working as predicted, and make the necessary adjustments.

4. If you are not receiving a return on an investment, weigh your options. If the return is there, continue funding. If it is not, don’t delay in making the difficult decisions. There are many reasons something looked good to start with, then soured. Economic conditions change, key employees leave, new competitors enter the field.

5. Make decisions that are in the best interest of the company’s well-being. Leadership falls on you. Reassess why things aren’t working and pull the plug, if necessary, then refocus that capital on more promising projects.

As your company grows, the need to establish benchmarks to measure progress grows with it. Benchmarks provide vital information on which to base your business decisions and give you quantifiable data as to which projects are worth pursuing.

If push comes to shove, you’ll know exactly what needs pushing and what needs shoving. ●

Bill Onion: Plan of attack

Bill Onion, managing director, Briteskies

Bill Onion, managing director, Briteskies

As the business partner who remained in the office, leading the company and being charged with keeping the train on the tracks, I developed my own critical advice to plan for and survive an unexpected crisis like this one.

I had no idea that a phone call saying, “Mike’s in the hospital with a fever,” would turn into a four-month absence, leaving the company we had run together for 12 years solely in my charge.

Here are four valuable lessons I learned:

Over-communicate

Once I knew that Mike was going to be out for a significant amount of time, possibly weeks, months or years, I needed to take action. We pride ourselves on a culture of commitment and transparency, so it was only natural that I began to communicate to the team on a regular basis, sharing whatever latest information I knew about his condition and updates on what was happening across the organization.

In a vacuum of information, people will fill it, and the last thing you need is for employees to start thinking that the business is falling apart because they’re not hearing anything from the top.

Cross-train

This may seem like very basic business advice, but it’s amazing how often it’s overlooked in today’s fast-paced environment. In general, as owners, we have a lot of key client and project knowledge in our heads. Assuming that we’ll always be around, this information is rarely shared with others, much less documented. This is a bad idea.

This goes for other employees as well. There shouldn’t be just one single person capable of doing any mission-critical tasks. At the same time, key customers should have multiple points of contact. Key company accounts like banking and insurance shouldn’t be in one person’s name, as it creates a problem when trying to gain access during a crisis.

Get comfortable with uncertainty

About three months into Mike’s absence, I faced a choice about a critical hire for the organization. If Mike were going to return, I would not need to make the hire. If he were going to be out for even a few more months, I would need to make the hire. I had no idea what would come next.

I looked at my internal resources and determined whether we could keep picking up the slack for just a little longer. We did, and he returned soon enough. The bottom line is that you have to be OK with trusting your gut and rolling the dice.

Prepare for re-entry

During Mike’s absence, by necessity, life had moved on — people had new roles, and there were new ways of doing things. One thing I wish we had done was to have a minimum two-week grace period after he returned dedicated to his transition back.

We could have had a summit with the entire organization about what had happened, who picked up which roles and what had changed. Then we could have scheduled individual sessions with each person who now owned a piece of Mike’s role and allowed them to take him through that on a specific level.

Every business is only one phone call away from a crisis. The company should be set up and prepared to perform under uncertain circumstances. At the same time, when a crisis does strike, remember to trust your team, because they are more talented than you may think. They will rise to the challenge and will be willing to help out.

 

William Onion is the managing director at Briteskies, an eCommerce design, development and integration firm, and can be reached at (216) 535-4099 or www.briteskies.com.