Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category
When I was little, I use to tag along with my mom as she would pick up things for her garden. My favorite stop was Agway, because, in the spring they had brooders full of baby chickens. Although my mother never, ever, indulged my childhood need to snuggle an arm full of chicks, now that I’m the Mom it’s a different story.
In the spring of 2009, we took the plunge and purchased 8 chicks from a local farmer. Like any other venture, we needed more than a box of peeps, but, while the birds were only slightly larger than the egg they hatched out of, they didn’t need many of the things a fully grown hen would.
So, instead of rushing out and buying loads of stuff that would just sit in storage until the gals were big enough to use it, we adapted to their needs and only invested more into their care when it was the right time to do it. While they were small and still needed the heat lamp to regulate their body temperature, they lived in a large cardboard box in the family room. When they got large enough to jump/fly out of their box and poop on the carpet, we built a coop and moved them to the back yard.
This spread the expenditures of time and money out, over time, so that we could better absorb the costs.
We also learned as we went along. I got a great book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and picked up a few tips and tricks from the internet and even learned a few things the hard way, but now we have all the eggs we can eat and a self-sustaining supply of new laying hens. When we had hens go broody after their first year, we were given some fertile eggs for the ladies to hatch. From those fertile eggs, we kept a Rooster. This year we just welcomed our first batch of home-grown babies.
I could keep the process going, if I wanted, and allow my hobby of back yard chickens grow to the point I could start selling eggs to my neighbors. Then grow to enough hens I could get a stall at the farmers market. I could then let the dream grow to certifying as organic and winning a contract with Whole Foods… Or not.
The formal term for this process is bootstrapping, but the process works equally well in small business as it does with back yard chickens. When considering how you want your next business to unfold, consider the slow build as a way to gain both resources and knowledge you need to ensure a successful venture.
Our scheduled moving day is less than 3 weeks away but were not ready, and barring a miracle, there’s no way we’ll be ready. Even with the blog and non-essential business activities on hold since April, we’re just not going to make the deadline and it’s one of the most unpleasant feelings in the world. I made a goal, set a date, and the process isn’t going to plan.
I knew moving to Michigan would be a major undertaking but I hadn’t considered coming down with two significant colds in May and June. I think we’ve been picking up exotic cold viruses while making the 350 mile trek between houses since both colds struck within days of the trips. (There will be a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car before the next jaunt!)
Most people, when faced with a deadline that can’t be met and an overwhelming number of OTC medications, would simply give up on the whole process. Admittedly, the easiest thing for me to do right now would be to crawl back in bed with a box of tissues and my cocktail of decongestants, and expectorants but there might be one or two things I can do today. Things that, in some small way, would bring us a little closer to completing the move.
The point is I’m trying desperately to avoid stagnation or worse, loosing ground on progress. So while I’ve been laid up for more than a week and won’t make my goal of July 1 to move, I have still taped boxes together and even packed a few things.
Progress may be slow at times here and in your own ventures, but as long as we find a small ways to move forward on our most unproductive days, we create the success we want to have in our lives.
Every break my children have from school, we make the trek from Rochester NY to Clio Michigan and spend our vacations working on projects that will bring us closer to our eventual move. This week, we finally brought the first load of our belongings and in between wind and snow storms, we managed to get our internet connection installed.
While talking to Mike, the Comcast installer, about our need for bandwidth so we could keep up with business tasks in between trips to Goodwill and cleaning the gutters, he mentioned that he liked working for a big company because he had benefits like Health Care.
While it might seem like a casual comment, it speaks volumes about the state of our economy.
Small Businesses account for more employees and a larger portion of the US GDP than all large companies put together. When it’s hard for people like Mike to leave health insurance behind, health care becomes a barrier to economic growth.
Now I’m not saying that Universal Healthcare is a silver bullet for the economy, because losing a steady paycheck and is also an important consideration, but what if health care wasn’t one of the barriers to entry into small business ownership?
The first issue is that software is a cost center, and ROI to shoot for is some sort of increased efficiency. Regardless of how efficient it brings in customers, tracks inventory or creates slide decks for presentations, you have to have it to compete, so it all comes down to how well the system works.
The good news is that publicly licensed software allows businesses to think about starting their software roll out with the finishing touches. Carrying a General Public License or other Open Source License is the most important part because, it’s usually available at no cost.
If getting it for free isn’t enough of a cost savings, then stick with me for another moment.
Custom software is usually the best way to get a system that works exactly like your business model dictates, but the costs grow exponentially. The more complex the system, the more it’s going to cost to build. But it doesn’t end there, I usually recommend my clients assume an extra 30-50% above and beyond the initial construction phase for tweaks, bug tracking and resolution. If you start with a lower cost, then your 30-50% is also going to be a much smaller number.
In some cases fixing a bug in the system could also be free if it’s submitted to the software’s development team. It might take a little longer for resolution, but it’s hard to argue with free if your budget is tight.
With a little research it’s usually possible to find finished software suites that are close enough to meet the business’ requirements and development can begin where a custom solution would just be finishing up. A good software developer can even combine functions that may not have been designed together to create a truly custom solution.
The library of software that’s publicly licensed these days is vast and a business that wants to go this route should start the research process by outlining what functions the software must have. I also advise they look at what might happen in phase two of the roll-out and to consider what flexibility they’ll have to modify the system to adapt to changes in the business environment. A good plan and a shopping list of features goes a long way to making this process successful.
One concept I tend to be over zealous about is karma. Karma isn’t some sort of cosmic luck, it’s really just a word that translates to “Outcomes.” Good karma is just another way of saying good outcome. So imagine my sarcastic joy when this direct quote was waiting in my in-box this morning.
“They want a business plan, marketing plan and everything in between. I guess if you spend that much time doing this you should be rewarded … to pay for the headache of doing this!”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you if the stars align and you’re an overnight success, but there’s only so much you can do with your budding business if you don’t understand the outcomes of the decisions you’ll have to make along the way. A business plan is that worksheet that allows you to look at many of the decisions you’ll be faced with so you can pick the good and minimize the bad.
Maybe it wold help if we thought about growing a business from a hobby if we didn’t use standard business imagery. Instead, let’s think of business in terms of baseball so we can get a little better idea of what the stages of success might look like.
There are hobbies that make a little money on the side. These businesses can be thought of like playing little league. You win some, you lose some, but in the end it’s about enjoying yourself and going for an ice cream cone with the team.
Formalizing your Small business is like joining the farm team. When you play at this level, you can call yourself a professional, but not everyone who plays makes enough money to support themselves, nor will everyone be called up to the majors. (Sorry, kid. Maybe next season.)
Another consideration is that the mentality changes too. At this level you’re not playing just for fun anymore. Yes, you may still enjoy the game, but the highs of winning are offset with the knowledge that if you have too many loses you’re going home.
Growing a small business into a big one is like making it to the Major Leagues. But even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be like Randy Johnson and pitch effectively for over 20 years.
Ok, so I can’t stay on the Baseball thing forever, but I hope you can see how the steaks are constantly going up, while at the same time, the number of successful participants is going down. You also need to see that talent and luck can only carry you so far.
The economy, customer preference and your competition fluctuate. Those without a plan and the ability to look ahead and revise those plans usually don’t advance to the next level.
So don’t think of your plan as a a pain in your butt. Think of it as a function of getting where you want to be while also helping you stay away from the bad outcomes.
So here’s another general response that pops up all the time when I’m counseling at SCORE.
The question is usually something like “Is $1400 too much to pay for a 5 page website?”
So my answer is usually something like this…
If I knew more about the type of business, the better I could tailor my response here, but in general, you’ll want to go Open Source.
Open Source software is publicly licensed. It’s underlying code is open and available for modification and to top it all off, it’s usually been tested and tweaked a thousand times before you use it so you’re less likely to have problems or need support contracts.
Also, if you find something that’s close enough to what you want your site to do function wise, you’ll only be paying a professional to shine it up for you. So instead of months of custom code that will need complete bug testing you’ll be looking at a week or less to get things up and running.
You’ll also need to think about the site in two ways… What’s behind the scenes managing content, catalog and check-out process – usually the database portion of the website and your admin panel. Then how that data feeds out into your site.
The good news, the graphical layout is really a minor detail once the back end is working properly.
You’ll usually have a template of some sort (Cascade Style Sheet – CSS or XML) for the graphical layout with snips of code to indicate where the various components go. Menu on the left or the right – no problem. Don’t like the colors, again, no problem. Simply tweak the style sheet and all your information will fill in just where it’s suppose to go.
Every page will have a similar look and feel while allowing you lots and lots of dynamic space for content.
You might even be able to find an open source template that you can modify to suit your needs.
For instance, http://on-disk.com/ is http://demo.oscommerce.com/ We have modified the code and the database to meet our needs, but the sky’s the limit on graphical modifications. We’ve kept somethings the same, but there’s no need to be stuck with anything.
Another example is Webpath.net The back end is a custom wiki/blog hybrid that we created a long time ago, but the layout started out as a free template called Invention. I liked the general layout, but wanted it co-branded to the On-Disk.com website so the color scheme and graphical elements needed a quick change. All in all, the updates took about an hour to complete and most of that was time I spent looking and deciding if I liked it or not.
But these are just examples. You’ll have lots of choices with Open Source Shopping carts, Content Management systems and loads and loads of templates to choose from.
Just think of your business functions in Must, Should and Can features. Knowing what you need will help you sort through options as you research components for your site.
What must the site do from the beginning? What should be included in phase 2. What can we integrate now for future upgrades so that we don’t have to re-write the code?
Have I overwhelmed you? In any case, let’s stop here for now. Comment with questions.