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.

Is it time for you to optimize? Check out these strategies to help you maximize your firm’s patents

Michelle Rakiec, managing director, AdValum Consulting

Michelle Rakiec, managing director, AdValum Consulting

 

Stevan Porter, managing director, AdValum Consulting

Stevan Porter, managing director, AdValum Consulting

How can your company improve its business results? One way is by optimizing your firm’s use of patents. The right strategies for leveraging patent properties can provide long-term advantages and a leg up on the competition.

The following strategies are useful starting points for enhancing business outcomes through patents:

Consider patents’ financial qualities

The same analytical constructs that apply to financial asset management can be applied to patent management. When managing financial assets, it is prudent to consider things like expected future cash flows, return on investment and relative risk profile. Understanding this information helps businesses with limited resources to select the most profitable investments and manage risk.

Likewise, expected cash flows from internal commercialization of a patent or out-licensing royalties can be forecast, returns on patent research and development investments measured, and relative risk profiles of patents assessed. By considering these financial characteristics associated with their patents, companies can make better decisions and optimize value.

Understanding patents’ financial qualities, for instance, can shed light on which monetization route — commercialization, licensing or sale — is most desirable for a given patent or group of patents. It can also help a company strategically leverage its operations to support patent value and vice versa.

Recognize the risk profile of patents

All assets, including patents, carry risk. Importantly, the type and level of risks in patents vary according to a patents’ economic life, the technology it discloses and the industries touched by the technology. For example, certain patents in fast-moving industries may carry the risk of rapid technological obsolescence, while other patents’ technologies may face uncertain or very slow market adoption.

Holding several patents that relate to a steadily selling product may suggest financial stability but also may imply a high level of risk concentration since several patents’ values may be impacted by a single product’s market performance.

Evaluating risks associated with patents can lay the foundation for comparative risk analysis and superior strategy planning. By understanding the relative risk levels of patents in a given portfolio and how those risks align or differ from broader business risks, companies can efficiently diversify.

Effective diversification of a patent portfolio can be achieved by holding the right mix of patents and by utilizing the proper combination of monetization techniques for those patents. Notably, effective patent risk management can be done without straying from a firm’s core competencies since even patents with similar technological profiles may have substantially dissimilar risk profiles.

Execute strategic patent transactions with care

Due diligence in executing patent deals should be analytics-based, and care should be given to the broader business implications of any transaction. In this regard, appropriate qualitative and quantitative analysis should be deployed. Proper evaluation can help parties maximize value obtained through a transaction and ensure any deal comports with prevailing strategic initiatives, financial goals and desired competitive positioning.

Factors that should be considered in executing any patent deal include the following:

■  Values paid or received by others for comparable technologies.

■  Alternatives to reaching an agreement, including design-around cost/benefit analysis and assessment of the risk-adjusted outcomes of not executing a transaction.

■  Immediate and subsequent financial benefits, such as cash flow, “option” value and defensive patent aggregation security.

■  Possibilities for using the patent deal to foster broader strategic relationships or forestall undesirable competitor activity.

■  Value and risk implications of the contemplated deal on other patents in a portfolio.

When managed carefully and used cleverly, patents can be especially powerful tools for a business to enhance its bottom line. The right patent strategy can offer an excellent path to improved business results.

Michelle Rakiec and Stevan Porter are managing directors at AdValum Consulting, a premier provider of expert economic consulting services located in Chicago. They specialize in strategy, valuation and damages analysis in intellectual property matters. Rakiec and Porter can be contacted at (312) 623-3351 or [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

Deborah Sweeney – Three things to keep in mind before you try to raise business capital

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation Business Services Inc.

Your ability to attract investments can make or break your business. Extra capital allows companies to expand their operations and find new customers. Most business owners do eventually reach the point where they need some sort of outside investment — whether it’s from family, a bank or an actual investor — to help them make major purchases and grow.

One of the most common ways for a business to get extra money is by incorporating and then selling stocks. Unlike a loan, issuing stock allows you to raise money without taking on additional debt.

But there are a few things you need to know before you look at raising capital for your business:

You will have to give up some control of your business.

Incorporating a business turns it into its own, separate legal entity. Your ownership of that entity is dependent on how much corporate stock you own. As you sell off that stock, you dilute the ownership of the company. Furthermore, when you incorporate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the stockholders and the corporation.

The interests and desires of the stockholders likely coincide with your own — both parties want to see the business succeed and make money. Just remember that when you do begin to sell stock, you are empowering the holders of that stock to influence major business decisions. Before you begin selling stock, make sure you’re ready to take the opinions of your investors into serious consideration when you are running the company.

You will need actual data to back up your pitches to investors.

If you are at the stage where you are ready to start looking for investors to help you expand, chances are that your business has done pretty well. It’s not enough to point and say, ‘Look, we survived and made money!’ You need hard numbers and data — how much revenue is your business generating? What is your current revenue-to-debt ratio? How will this investment impact your future earnings?

Buying stock in a company is already a gamble because if the company doesn’t do well, the investment could be lost. So be ready to show potential investors that your company is in a position where it can create a good return on their investment.

You will have to pitch yourself, in addition to your company.

Everyone is “passionate” and “committed” about what they do when they run a business — investors have heard those buzzwords plenty of times already. Investors want to know who you are, what your credentials are, and why they should trust you with their money. Sell them on your experience, and the experience of anyone else helping to run the company.

If they are confident in you, they will be confident in your business and be much more willing to invest. Issuing stock and finding investors can be a jarring experience. Once you start selling that stock, you lose some control of your business, and suddenly the needs and demands of your investors must be taken into account when you make major business decisions.

You also have to be ready to prove the worth of both your company, and of yourself as one of the company’s directors. If you are ready to let go, and are prepared to pitch the heck out of your business, your employees and your own career history, you will find investors willing to roll the dice and put some of their own money into your business.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Paul Witkay: Building breakthroughs

Paul Witkay, founder and CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

Paul Witkay, founder and CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

When thinking about innovation, most people immediately think about new products like the next iPhone or electric vehicle. I, however, have always believed that business innovation comes in many different flavors. For example, Dell re-engineered the way we buy computers, Apple revolutionized the way we buy music and Zappos.com provided a service never before seen online.

I recently read “Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs” by Larry Keeley and found it to be a great way to think about all the ways we might innovate within our own companies. All companies must continually improve or they will eventually die. According to Keeley, the most powerful strategies typically consist of several of the following types of innovation:

Profit Model — Gillette pioneered one of the classic business model innovations by creating the razor/razor blade system. The company taught consumers that razor blades could be discarded rather than sharpened for reuse.

Network — Network innovations enable companies to focus on their core strengths while leveraging the strengths of partners. Franchisors license their proprietary systems to franchisees to achieve much faster growth than they could do on their own capital.

Structure — Southwest Airlines was able to achieve faster turnarounds, lower maintenance costs and achieve more efficient operations by standardizing its fleet of Boeing 737s. The company’s unique structure resulted in much lower costs than its full-service competitors and increased profits.

Process — Toyota became the leading car company in the 1980s by creating the lean production system, which reduced waste, improved quality and lowered costs.

Product Performance — Before the launch of the iPhone, Corning Glass created Gorilla Glass at the request of Steve Jobs. This tough, scratch-resistant glass is now used in more than a billion devices worldwide.

Product System — Oscar Meyer wanted to do more than just sell cold cuts, so it created Lunchables — a lunch system that includes crackers, meats, cheese and dessert in a single fun package.

Service — Men’s Wearhouse promises free lifetime pressing of any purchased suit, sport coat or slacks at any of its stores, a service that is valued by business travelers who hate ironing.

Channel — Amazon created a closed wireless network that is free for Kindle customers so they can purchase and download e-books in less than 60 seconds.

Brand — Intel created the Intel Inside campaign to increase the perceived value of computers that use Intel processors.

Customer Engagement — Blizzard Entertainment created the most profitable online game in history, World of Warcraft, by designing the game to encourage and provide incentives to players to connect and collaborate, which increases their engagement and loyalty.

According to Keeley, the “heart of innovation is understanding when a broad shift is called for and driving it forward with courage and conviction.” Low-risk innovations improve existing products or systems by providing higher quality, improving speed or creating better service. The next level of innovation is to “change the boundaries” by bringing new products or services to an adjacent market.

The highest level of innovation is the rare occasion when you attempt to radically change an entire industry structure. Keeley says, “Transformational innovations erase the boundaries between once distinct markets and irrevocably change what is expected from competitors and consumers alike.”

So how can you decide which type of innovation will work for you? Opportunities are often discovered when observing how customers are either delighted or disappointed by current offerings. Keeley discusses how most innovation strategies focus on changes in three primary areas: 1) business models 2) platforms 3) customer experience.

The most radical and transformational strategies employ more than just one strategy at a time. It’s the CEO’s responsibility to determine when the opportunity for strategic innovation exists, and whether the organization is capable of making the necessary changes to succeed.

 

Paul Witkay is the founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives. The Alliance of CEOs is the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for leaders anywhere. The Alliance strives to provide the creative environments where breakthrough ideas happen. Paul can be reached at [email protected]

G.A. Taylor Fernley – Why your people need to be reminded of your core values at every turn

G.A. Taylor Fernley

G.A. Taylor Fernley, president and CEO, Fernley & Fernley

It is all well and good to have organizational values. That’s the easy part. How do you keep them alive? How do you position them to be a living, breathing part of your company’s DNA? That’s the hard part.

Organizational values can provide a moral foundation for taking the high ground in tough times or when temptation comes knocking. They reflect and reinforce organizational culture. Put another way, they are the anchors of your business.

Many organizational leaders spend countless hours coming up with an explicit set of values that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of their company. Often, they are inspirational, professing integrity, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. When asked about organizational values, it is often determined that the executives are enthusiastic and supportive of them. Why? Because they were instrumental in their creation.

Although there may be a lot of energy put into selecting the perfect set of values for your organization, don’t get trapped into thinking that once they are communicated everyone will remember and abide by them. Simply put, they won’t. Mistakes and misinterpretations will be made, but as an organizational leader, you can increase your chances of having your values front and center by adopting four basic principles:

Principle No. 1: Keep them memorable

Long drawn-out lists containing complex descriptions are a thing of the past.

In today’s world, people don’t read and are even less likely to remember. Make the list brief, two to four values max, and make the descriptions simple so they are memorable, aim for six to 10 words max. Print them on business cards and post them around the office in strategic locations. Keep them front and center in the eyes of your associates.

Principle No. 2: Lead by example

Make sure that you personally keep your organizational values in the forefront of the decisions and actions you take. Refer to them liberally at company meetings and acknowledge your associates who have “lived” them.

Don’t be reluctant to ask for regular feedback on whether your firm is in proper alignment.

Principle No. 3: Build your values into every message

At the expense of being redundant, when you are speaking with others in your organization, refer to those values to make your case. Give examples of how you’ve observed employees embodying those values. Tell stories about how they are being followed in other areas of your company.

Connect the dots for employees about how following the values make your workplace and your company better.

Principle No. 4: Observe when values aren’t being followed

Provide timely feedback to those who have strayed and remind them of the specific value(s) they’ve strayed from. Let them know what impact this has on you, others and the organization.

Keep your organizational values alive and in the forefront of each and every one of your actions. Make sure you are modeling them and expect the same from your associates by infusing them into your communication, recognition and feedback process. And then, sit back and relax. Watch them bring energy and commitment to your organization’s culture and future success.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at [email protected], or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Andy Kanefield: Lou Gerstner was right — vision isn’t the answer

Andy Kanefield, founder, Dialect Inc.

Andy Kanefield, Founder, Dialect Inc.

“There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” 

— Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM from 1993 to 2002

My experience has led me to believe that many leaders think that just having a new mission statement, vision statement or articulation of their values is sufficient to engage their people. And after they have restated these organizational imperatives, many of these same leaders wonder why people don’t respond in ways they hope.

Gerstner’s experience at IBM gives us a clue to one of the reasons. He believed he had good reasons to avoid a new vision statement. The first reason was his observation that IBM had “file drawers full of vision statements.” The second reason was that the problem was paralysis — IBM wasn’t executing.

Gerstner knew that while IBM hadn’t created a new vision, it had already made strategic decisions about the future of IBM — which included being focused externally on the customer rather than an “internally focused, process-driven” organization.

So what was Gerstner right about? In order to be successful in the short term and sustainable for the long term, businesses have to be clear on a key set of questions, and vision is just one of those questions.

Whatever model for building a corporate strategy you choose to use, ensure that it addresses the following questions as a starting point:

What business are you in?

First, you need to know whom you’re competing against. Think about being in the restaurant business. That could mean anything from a place that serves pizza slices to the finest sit-down restaurant in Manhattan. Secondly, consumers like categories such as fast casual or fast food. It helps us set our expectations for our experience with you.

Who are your customers? 

If your primary customers don’t perceive value in what you offer, you won’t have a business. What do these customers care about? What difference do you make for those customers? This question is often expressed as a mission or purpose. It helps express the value that you deliver.

How are you different from your peers?

One layer is, “How are you unique or better than your peers?” The answer to this question must be something that engenders customer loyalty over the long-term.

A second layer is, “What quality, that is central to the DNA of your organization, enables you to be unique or the best within your category?” If you are the fastest of the fast food category, what trait have you built within your company that drives that speed? Is it uniformity or an unrelenting focus on continuous improvement?

What are your core capabilities that deliver your strength? 

These end up being your strategic priorities. If you’re the least expensive fast food restaurant, your core capabilities may include expert ability to manage your capital, superior logistics, consumer insights and aggressive vendor negotiation.

What behaviors are important  for success? 

Often called values, these are the beliefs that you and your organization have that manifest themselves into organizational and individual behavior.

What future do you want to create? 

Finally, we get to the vision. It is important that you have a direction that people, especially employees, can clearly see. If they don’t know where you’re going, they won’t know how to help you get there.

Building the answers to the questions above is not a discrete process — the answers are linked. This is the primary reason that just having an expression of your mission, vision and values isn’t enough. Without answers to all these questions, you won’t be able to outrun the competition over the long-term.

 

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to align your mission, vision, values and other aspects of your strategy, reach him at (314) 863-4400 or [email protected]

Joe Takash: Four tips on how to have a productive confrontation with your boss

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Art was 58 when he realized that his company might have passed him by. He had been with the same employer for 35 years. He still loved the business, enjoyed the young up-and-comers and genuinely respected his boss. Yet, he did not feel like as valuable of a contributor to his company as he was in years past, and it bothered him.

Finally, Art’s friend Peter asked him what bothered him most. Art replied, “The thought of being viewed as obsolete. It scares me from a career standpoint and hurts me personally. I don’t know how to say this to my boss.”

Peter’s response was spot-on — “You just said it, but I’m not your boss.”

Perhaps the deepest need in corporate America that even senior executives and CEOs experience on a regular basis is a toolbox for being productively confrontational. Most employees don’t know how to manage their boss and often work from a place of fear of resentment.

Many managers will not confront administrative assistants who are short and even rude to clients. Talk about underachievement! What does this do for individual performance, organizational results and professional reputations?

The following are important steps necessary for confronting others in a manner that creates stronger relationships and increased productivity:

Change the name and your attitude

Too many people look at difficult conversations as negative and counterproductive; hence, they avoid and dance around them as often as possible.

Instead of difficult conversation, use productive confrontation. The words you choose create the path you use. Knowing that the intended result is to help, not hurt, may make it easier to find the courage to step-up and approach others. Frame it appropriately.

Put it on paper

Before the meeting, prepare a bullet-point structure (not script!) in writing. Be sure that it allows you to communicate your viewpoint in a logical order that is easy to understand and follow for the other person.

Clarifying your points with concrete examples builds momentum and makes a stronger case for being heard with respect.

Be as clinical as possible

Whether you’re intimidated, angered, hurt or resentful, try to consider the impact of how both parties will feel and focus on how everyone can benefit. This will allow you to assume a third-party, objective perspective and maturely manage the confrontation.

Agree on a resolution

At the conclusion of the meeting, discuss what the next step should be for follow-up. This agreement serves as a strategic road map for a stronger working relationship going forward.

Art did approach his boss honestly with concerns and after his boss listened attentively, Art learned that he was not only valued more than he thought, but he was in line for a promotion. Remember, even bosses can’t fix what they can’t see.

Not all corporate stories have a fairy tale ending, but think of how many people wallow in negative emotions from holding back in confronting others. The key is to prepare, be confident and behave with courage.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings and has appeared in many national media outlets. His firm, Victory Consulting, coaches executive teams and individual leaders with a client list that includes American Express, MIT, Prudential and Turner Construction.  Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com

 

Make it count — There are more than a few good reasons to write and publish your own book

Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Executive Editor, Smart Business

Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Executive Editor, Smart Business

A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

Doug Clark – How using outside experts can allow you to better focus on growing your business

Doug Clark, president, CEO and director, AmeriQuest Business Services

Doug Clark, president, CEO and director, AmeriQuest Business Services

There’s a good reason why the old adage, “a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” has remained in our lexicon hundreds of years after it was coined. It’s because we recognize that almost no one — especially those of us in the world of business — can maintain an equal level of excellence across every single business function without some outside help.

That’s why the world’s leading corporations, even those with hundreds of thousands of employees, have embraced the concept of outsourcing many of their key business processes to cut costs, reduce overhead, conserve capital resources and focus on their core activities.

The good news is there’s no reason why midsized companies can’t enjoy the same benefits that larger corporations have in recent years.

Let’s look at the three platforms that are common to nearly any type of business and why they lend themselves in particular to outsourcing:

Supply management

This can comprise both procurement of goods and services and spend management, which focuses on when you buy and how much you buy. Unless you run one of those leading corporations I referred to above, you’re on your own. And even with your toughest negotiators, you’ll find it nearly impossible to get the same prices for supplies that those companies do.

By aligning your organization with the right business process outsourcing company (BPO), your firm and the other customers of the BPO can leverage your combined purchasing power, thus enjoying pricing consistent with national or global companies.

It’s important to look for a BPO that cannot only deliver the best prices, but also provide information on making smart purchasing decisions. Spend management tools can enable midsize companies to take a fresh look at strategically managing purchasing decisions that may have been previously based on the simple assumption, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”

Managed services

There are a number of non-core services that can usually be outsourced quite effectively while enabling your company to continue focusing its resources on its core activities. These include asset financing, remarketing and transportation. In each instance, the partnership with the BPO will elevate the level of activity to that of a much larger corporation.

For example, the right BPO often has access to flexible and multiple financing solutions that a smaller company on its own might not be able to capture. When it comes time to divest your company of inventory or outmoded company equipment, the same BPO should be able to handle the planning, marketing and execution of the sale, freeing up your employees to pursue core functions.

Financial process automation

Finally, by outsourcing time consuming back-office functions like accounts payable, accounts receivable and credit and collections, midsize companies can stay on the leading edge of technology without investing heavily in IT resources and talent, cutting down on labor, improving accuracy and dramatically improving customer service.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of businesses. The faster your payments, the healthier your business can remain.

Here is one final bit of advice to midsize companies considering outsourcing. Choose a BPO that takes the word “partner” seriously. Look for a BPO with a culture that aligns with yours. Look for one that can prove it can deliver exactly what it promises to do — reduce costs.

Doug Clark has served as president, CEO and a director of AmeriQuest Business Services, a business-process outsourcing company, since founding it in 1997. His professional experience includes stints in public accounting, investment banking and as a transportation entrepreneur. AmeriQuest Business Services assists more than 1,500 customers throughout North America. For more information, visit ameriquestcorp.com.