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Sunday, August 16, 2015

6 Steps help entrepreneurs in an exceedingly tight spot

Things often look rosy after you see a way through the maze!

It may seem a bit odd for an entrepreneur to consider prayer as a means of managing a difficult situation, but the words of the “Serenity Prayer” may help in extremely stressful situations.  It reads as follows:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

The reality is that the prayer applies to many extremely difficult situations in life and in business.  It has been adopted by programs for drug and alcohol dependencies just to name a few.  The words reflect a reality that there are things we can change and things for which we have no influence.  Knowing the difference and finding a way to change what is in our power to change may be the only way some can find the strength and composure to get through the day.

Entrepreneurs often find that many situations are beyond their control.  For example, funds are dwindling and the company may be insolvent in a few months.  The business just received a notice of a pending law suit or worse an injunction to halt sales.  A key manufacturer went out of business or a key team member just left.  These are just a few issues in business not to mention the many stresses in private life. 

It often helps become one more grounded by realizing that many people face similar stresses yet still survive.  Taking the words of the Serenity Prayer and creating an action plan improves your composure so you can search for a new direction that reduces or eliminate the problems.  Next time you are facing really difficult issues try to calm down and then organize your actions.

  1. Recognize reality:  It is impossible to develop any useful plan until you recognize the reality of what you can and cannot control.  Levels of influence range from direct control to change situations to having no ability to alter the situation in any manner. 

  2. Identify points of influence: You can only change things where you have sufficient control or influence.  For example, you can influence investors to give you funds, but you control expenses and burn-rate.  You have no control over people getting sick or natural disasters.  Determine where you can make the greatest impact over the situation and spend your energy and resources on those tasks.

  3. Seek advice:  We never recognize what we do not know.  It is unlikely your experiences include all aspects of problems you face.  Seeking advice from others may be critical to determining next steps.

  4. Create a plan:  Realizing there are options allows for creating a plan to solve the problems.  Vetting the plan with trusted advisors may help improve the plan.  It is often better to have an idea that may solve a major problem, than to go in every day scared of the pending catastrophe.  The fear of the unknown is compounded by frustration of having no means to alter the situation.

  5. Solicit team support:  Getting team support improves the chances of execution of the plan.  One of the jobs of great leaders is having everyone row in the same direction.  Remember, the team may be just as afraid as you are.  Help them to regain composure and to understand the goals and timings.  They need to believe the plan be successful.

  6. Execute the plan:  No plan works properly without great execution.  People need to know the steps and the ultimate goals. It is your job to help define the roles and timings without creating panic.  Any great leader will also have plan A through Z.  Always have backup plans and be prepared to be agile in your execution.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861,  ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup  Group. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

6 Steps help generate great leaders

Leaders must be creative and agile in their thinking in order to create the leaders of tomorrow.  It is easy to stand back and give orders and assume all knowledge resides with top management of the business.  Working in this manner fails to utilize the skills and knowledge of the workforce, diminishes their critical thinking skills, and stifles their creativity.  Failure to encourage and demand more agile and critical thinking from the team results in management having to figure out everything all alone.

Good leaders develop the skills of their teams and those leaders learn from the team as well.  It is critical to recognize that one person does not possess all knowledge and that other team members may be better suited to solve critical issues.  Working with the team and taking advantage of the 6 concepts below will help create a stronger team that is more willing to follow their leader.  It also will help the leader with the critical task of succession planning.

1)      Teaching:  Teaching goes both ways.  It is not possible for one person to know everything, so teaching the team what you know best and learning what they know are both important.  People often view their teachers with respect and they feel empowered with new knowledge and improved skills.  The benefits go in both directions and newly learned skills help the team become better able to take on more complex challenges.


2)      Helping:  Sooner or later, tasks may become beyond the skill set of anyone.  This is a great time to enhance capabilities by aiding the team without doing the job for them.  It is a teachable moment and the act of helping and teaching will further their skills and build a stronger relationship.  It is much easier for people to follow a leader they know wants them to succeed.


3)      Problem solving:  Problems do not always have a readymade solution.  It may require all the creativity and ingenuity of the full team to identify and resolve the problem.  Participation in the review and decisions of steps leading to a solution build stronger teams.  The team will be more inclined to follow when they see the leader in the trenches with them.  A new solution generated by the team creates strong feelings of accomplishment and greater feelings of ability to tackle larger issues.


4)      Encouraging:  Everyone needs encouragement from time to time.  This is especially true when several failures have occurred.  Reaching lofty goals is often not a straight line and many twists and turns can cause someone to become discouraged.  This is the time that they need encouragement the most.  They will see the leader as standing with them and not in judgment of them.  The result is a willingness to work harder and take on more difficult tasks.


5)      Insisting on not giving up:  It can be very easy to want give up when reaching a roadblock in a project.  There is almost always a solution to any problem but it requires sticking to the task of seeking a solution.  It may require obtaining help or viewing the problem in different ways.  It is important to provide encouragement and insist that giving up is not an option.  It is through the successful achievements of tacking “impossible problems” that the team learns that they can make anything happen if they want to do so.


6)      Letting them lead too:  One of the hardest things for managers to do is give up control.  Failure to do so will ensure never having members that can take over or run on their own.  By letting the members lead from time to time, it becomes possible to sort out those that may need to be promoted or might even take over.  Some large corporations often identify tasks to assign to team members so the board can assess those that may take over running the company should it be needed.  Think of the latter case as a great way to create a succession plan!


The key is to be a leader that cares and works with the team members.  Remember that both sides have knowledge and skills that may work in a synergistic manner to take the business to new levels or solve really difficult problems.  Leaders know they must make use of all the talents and skills at their disposal to achieve greatness.  They also know that they have the responsibility to teach others to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861,  ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup  Group. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Patterns agile leaders must monitor

Guess we should have checked before coming! 

Small businesses are the back bone to our nation’s economy. But old-school business models are no longer cutting it when small businesses face unexpected changes. These changes could be large scale, affecting their industry or even the nation. They can also be local and specific to their individual business.


Savvy business owners are often aware of the changes that can affect their business directly and plan for events such as vendor loss, product shortages and staff leaving. But changes in regulations, economic conditions and even industry innovations can cause major headaches to small business owners.


Here are the five things agile business owners should keep their eyes on:


1.     Demographics:  Many businesses depend on particular demographics of their customers.  A fashion shop catering to young women may see major changes in business with the opening or closing of a nearby school.  Identifying future shifts may suggest a test of new products more appealing to emerging market.  An ethnic restaurant located in a populated area may see a turnover of local home owners. Changing the menu around may give insight as to whether the new patrons have different preferences.  Alternatively, the business owner may need to consider relocating.  Try to be aware of changes and how they may affect your business.


2.     Traffic patterns:  Traffic comes to businesses in many forms.  Walk-in, drive-by, and referrals are a few examples.  Some locations have a high degree of walk-in traffic resulting from nearby activities.  Closure of one or more nearby businesses may alter your walk-in business or businesses replacing outgoing shops alter local demographics.  Many years ago, small towns lost their shops as they moved to larger malls causing difficulty for those that remained in towns.  There has been a shift to revitalize certain areas by bringing back business that attracts customers.  These shifting trends must be considered by any owner.  By the way, a simple change in the roads can shift drive-by customers visiting because they see signage and come to the shop. 


3.     Economy & Safety:  People tend to buy more retail goods and dine out more when they feel their economics and safety are solid. Few predicted the financial down turns in 1987, 2001, and 2007.  These economic events these caused great damage to many business owners.  Loans were hard to get, customers spent less, and forfeitures of homes hurt many people.  Likewise, terror, disease, and other such activities that cause fear tend to keep people away.  9/11 hurt many New York businesses and the recent scare of Ebola is creating concerns that impact businesses.  If possible, it is a good idea to keep reserve cash for a rainy day so you can survive! 


4.     Competition:  Business owners are aware of local competition and they search for a way to create their own unique niche.  However, competition can occur at any time from innovative changes in products. One great example change is seen by following the history of electronics like computers, mobile phones, and TVs. Larger business opening nearby may cause difficulty if they carry products related to a smaller business. Trying to keep informed about innovative changes in products, large store openings, and other forms of competition may help you know when to make adjustments in your business. 


5.     Government Regulations:  Government regulations on certain beverages like sodas or alcohol may alter business and customer flow.  Regulation or deregulation of certain substances may lead to changes in local demographics or in how a business must copes.  There was a time when tobacco was sold to anyone and smoking was allowed most anywhere and businesses were required to change to accommodate the new regulations.  Eminent domain may seem like a minor point, but for those affected by it is traumatic.  When government takes property, a business owner must relocate and the area usually experiences changes in demographics and traffic.  Relocation of the business can result in its demise if the area of relocation is not a great fit. 



Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. He writes for the Examiner Charlotte, NC- small business and is found on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861,  ColonialTDC ,  photo  website,  Google+,   Facebook, and Startup  Group. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

Agile entrepreneurs know anything is possible


It is easy to develop a negative attitude or receive advice from negative people.  This is especially true when tackling difficult situations.  In my first turnaround, I was repeatedly told to walk away from the company because of major failings in the financial market place.  The company was a text book case of a boiler-room style investment bank overselling the company’s stock in an IPO.  Adding to the complexity, the company’s technology was not advanced enough to keep sophisticated investors excited.  The over promotion caused the stock to move from the $5 offering price to a $20 per share price on the first day.  Due to failings of the underwriter and lack of advanced technology, the price fell to around $1 per share in less than a month.  The underwriter (also major investor post IPO) had similar results with 5 other companies.  Their loss of cash, coupled with other events, resulted in their declaring bankruptcy.  The clearing house each of the six companies’ failed and they declared bankruptcy as well. All of the companies the underwriter had taken public were mentioned in nasty news articles about the underwriter.   This resulted in guilt by association for the company I was attempting to turnaround!

It would have been easy to not attempt to turn the company around, but it is important to keep an open mind.  Learning to approach problems in an organized manner and not assuming failure is inevitable is an important part of building a business.  Problems may be wide and varied and solutions are not in books.  People often have biases and may be correct by responding with their gut reaction to problems.  Many times gut reactions are not correct and they limit an individual’s ability to see alternatives or novel solutions.  One of the greatest challenges occurs once you state something is not possible.  The reason this can limit your solutions is a bit like anchoring, i.e. “a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered.”  Stating something is not possible tends to prevent you from looking for solutions thus limiting your creativity.  So, even in the face of adversity and negativism from so many, I had to stay focused and believe anything could be done.  The key was finding a solution that might work and trying it.

It is different when one works extensively to resolve a problem and is not able to find an appropriate solution.  The learning process in attempting to solve the issue may involve many discussions and readings of articles.  The increased knowledge may allow that creative solution to occur spontaneously in your quiet moments.  The lack of an extensive attempt, diligent learning, and negative anchoring to a negative outcome limits options and ability for creativity to take over.  Adopting a negative attitude dooms the process or at least lowers the success rate.   It also decreases chances for a more creative output.

There are steps one can take to solve what may seem unsolvable.  They may or may not fit with your personality, but if the problem is significant, trying them may be worth the effort.

Improve attitude:  Assume all problems have a solution rather than your problem is not solvable.  By taking the positive step, you eliminate the anchoring and now must seek alternatives.

Learn as much as possible:  You have identified a problem.  Now learn everything possible about the problem, and surrounding issues.   The more you learn the better chance your creative side can contribute.

Talk with people having different skills:  One of the ways some companies increase creativity is forcing staff with differing skills to be in close contact resulting in increased interaction.  The reason is that different skilled people discussing a problem may lead to solutions because of cross-fertilization.  The same can be true for your problem solving.

Identify alternatives:  While all problems have solutions, some solutions may create more problems.  Having alternatives allows for hybrid solutions or a work-around that may be better for your situation.  Being too rigid on the type of solution can be just as limiting.  Keep an open mind.  The goal is to make your company a success not make all your ideas work the way you thought they should.

Do not give up too easily:  There may come a time when you must abandon an approach or problem because time or costs may become limiting.  Having alternatives can help in such cases, but giving up too easily may cause you to miss that one great idea that can turn a failure to a huge success.
At this point, you may be wondering what happened in the turnaround situation.  Maybe I was just lucky, but the company grew from a $3M valuation to $300M in 5 years!  I guess all the people that thought it could not be done, were just wrong!

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861,  ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup  Group. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2 Considerations for agile succession planning

You may recall the character Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movie: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  The comedy character was fashioned to resemble Mike Myers character, “Dr. Evil”.  While the movie as made for entertainment, the concept of having a Mini-Me is something many entrepreneurs and Boards of more established companies often neglect to consider before it is too late.  Succession planning is a critical part of building to maintaining a successful business. 

Replacement of a key management figure may include a search firm seeking a new hire.  The fees for the search firm alone run around 35% of the salary plus bonus for the first year.  This would make an executive search fee around a $70,000 - $120,000 price tag if the salary were $200,000 plus bonus.  Then there may be a signing bonus and the compensation for the first year.  Now the business can be paying more than $300,000 in the first year.  Then there is the loss of time of having someone run the business or a possible fee for an interim executive that may run the business.  The costs can easily be a significant drain on the resources for any small company. 

Two things that can help are:

·        Take out Key-Man life insurance payable to the company.  In one company I worked with, the interim costs estimated before hire of a new CEO approached close to $1M.  The insurance was intended to help offset the costs and reduce the funds used from operating capital. 


·        Grooming a replacement can cost very little and it provides your Board with options.  Sometimes, it is possible to identify and groom a potential replacement within the company ranks.   The Board may ultimately decide to select an alternate for the permanent position, but the individual possibly could serve as the interim executive. 

The same suggestions may apply to other key positions in your company.  Suppose you lost your lead person for product development and all the corporate knowledge for this function was with a single person.    How long might it take your company to recover and get back on track?  How much time might be lost from launch of your product?  Finding ways to ensure retention of key corporate knowledge and capabilities is critical. 

People move on to new companies and usually without much announcement.  People die and it is difficult to plan alternatives when feeling the effects of a painful loss.  You can plan for unknown events that may have a serious impact on your company.  For this reason, succession planning is worth consideration by all executives and Boards of Directors.  Great planning may help the business continue functioning with as little downtime as possible.  The planning may also include financial planning that reduce the drain of your financial resources should such an event occur. 

The bottom line: find the Mini-Me(s) in your organization and train them.  Planning for unknown events may save lots of money and lost time.  In fact, the planning may save your company from total collapse.  When the company leader is gone, the team may not be able to rally and continue.  Your Mini-Me may be just the ticket to keep things going!

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861,  ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup  Group.