Wanna Start an Entrepreneur (Political) Party?

In an article for Entrepreneur Country’s November issue, Joe Haslam critiques the last year’s election cycle in Spain. Similar to what we experienced in the United States, top candidates for the highest office in the land lauded the importance of small business. In like manner, candidates spoke highly of the value of entrepreneurship and pursuing a dream to start a business. In Spain, the Conservative Partido Popular claimed to be in sync with the perspective that high growth startups create jobs and fuel the economy on both a local and national level. Our candidates voiced similar opinions. Akin to our own situation, the conservatives claimed that the establishment was too focused on taxation and government spending to be able to encourage the right kind of economic growth.

The Partido Popular proposed (if elected) to introduce within its first 100 days in office and Entrepreneur Act meant to encourage and support the establishment of more new businesses. Issues like limited liability and zones for new business creation would be included in the legislation. Open discussions between successful entrepreneurs and the Partido Popular team charged with creating its platform were held to tackle the business registration process and the need to enforce competitive fairness procedures. Unlike the United States, this party won (but they have failed within the past twelve months to deliver what they promised.)

Instead of the press attacking the government for failing to deliver on campaign promises, it seems to make excuses ranging from the need to defend political appointments to challenges in addressing new issues that have emerged since the election. Since the Entrepreneur Act has not only not been passed, but officials now say it may be 2014, many–including Haslam–who have investments in the entrepreneurial market in Spain–have become disheartened. They no longer try to persuade talented young creative talent to stay rather than seek their fortunes in emerging markets such as Brazil, Korea, Mexico or India. 

Within the sunny setting of Santa Monica, California, there exists the home office of the Entrepreneurship Party. Not to be outdone, the Ukraine boasts its own Party of the Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Haslam wonders aloud whether a third party focused on issues that matter to entrepreneurs and small business owners would be a better alternative than encouraging the constituents to join existing parties who have such crowded agendas that entrepreneurship is just another plank in the platform. He also draws an important distinction between business people who have only worked for big businesses and those who have grown their own enterprise organically, from the ground up. The latter group seems to have the highest likelihood of being able to be empathetic to the issues that matter, as evidenced by people like Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg  made an appearance at a TechCrunch Disrupt event to hype the new Entrepreneurial Fund in New York.

In some Western countries, politicians have followed a path of making money in the private sector prior to entering into public service. Contrastingly, an Economist article is cited claiming that many in Eastern countries see politics as the way to make the most money  fastest, and a pattern or nepotism is only recently being challenged by outsiders. In the end, it is suggested that entrepreneurs may be able to make the most difference by tackling specific issues, whether you are looking at Bill Gates’ second career as a philanthropist and the great work he is doing through his foundation, or the chairman of Zappos tackling an array of issues in Brazil through private sector initiatives.

Yet, it would be fun to see an Entrepreneur Party and how many votes it could garner, wouldn’t it? Would you just be a social media follower of such a party, or an activist?




Coping With External Elements of Decline

By using tools like promotion, persuasion, buyer education, accelerated product development, process improvements or elimination, growth plans, market development, and adjusted sales practices, business owners can adapt to changes in their external operating environment. Paying attention to the following warning areas is important in coping with external elements of decline:

  1. Economic growth, which gives management an indication of the economic climate and influences expansion plans.
  2. Credit availability and money market activity, which indicates trends in commercial and investment banking affecting financial needs. Changes will affect the cost of funds.
  3. Commodity market movements, which reveal trends in raw material inputs.
  4. Capital market activity, which gives a clear signal of investors’ attitudes toward your industry. 
  5. Business population characteristics, which can advise executive teams on the number of businesses entering and exiting the industry (niche). This signal can be used as an indicator of the expansion and contraction of the market and competitive size of the industry.
  6. Price level changes, which indicate the rate of inflation. This rate influences the consumption and therefore has an impact on the company growth rate.
  7. Changes in the competitive structure of the marketplace, which affect products, pricing, and marketing and sales.
  8. Changing technology, which allows rapid breakthroughs and changes in products, processes, and marketing and sales.
  9. Cultural/social changes, which can alter buyer preferences or the conditions under which a product can be sold.
  10. Legal/political changes, which can adversely affect the marketplace or have an impact on the execution, marketing, or sales of a product/service.

Coping With External Elements

Some  businesses prosper during crises. They plan for changes and create resources that enable them to continue to function. For example, some businesses use substitute products in their processes, and their adaptability allows them to survive. In short, many strong teams do find it possible to both address and influence the external elements.

There is no denying, however, that external elements can have a profound effect on companies. Teams are forced into unique experiences when confronting situations they don’t understand. External elements are usually not a part of most businesses’s planning processes. While many will fail, some are saved–those that are adaptable and able to return to their core products and once again become profitable.

Businesses with less than 50 employees are actually the heart of the economy. Unfortunately, they are also the companies most frequently in need of a turnaround, having the same internal and external problems but lacking the business and human resources of many larger companies.  Consequently, these smaller businesses do fail, just as larger ones do, but without the press coverage.

To effectively cope with the external elements requires that the executive team plan for the unexpected and implement the plan when it occurs. Since management knows it can expect changes in economic conditions that will affect the capital and money markets, it must plan for those changes. The areas that management can control must be prepared for the possibility of external environment changes. Strategic planning that is not flexible is, therefore, useless. For example:

  • Most companies should prepare for increased competition, local, regional, and around the world.
  • Legal and political changes are always on the horizon and should be duly noted; it is not a question of whether they will affect the business, but when.
  • Being aware of cultural and social changes affecting purchasing patterns is predictive of consumer spending and its impact on the entire local business economy.
  • Changes in technology are continual and must be utilized where appropriate.

The main issue to be addressed is whether the business is making the change or being subjected to it. In either event, the management team must adapt to the new environment or be prepared to suffer the consequences.


Early Warning Signals (External) of Business Decline

Early warning signals companies should look for in the external environment include all legal, political, competitive, technological, economic, and social changes that affect them. Regular review of social media, trade periodicals, business publications, and newspapers will help to keep you current. A technological advance, for example, often affects buyer attitudes and expectations, thereby causing social changes that need to be addressed in product/service design and delivery/sales. If your organization is uninformed with regard to the changes–either that they occur or the extent to which they occur–company performance may lag behind competitors. 

Early Warning Signals – External

Management often tends to dismiss the external signals of decline as elements beyond their control. They believe that a downward trend will end when external elements (e.g. economic conditions) improve. Problematic external elements can include the following:

  • increased competition
  • rapidly changing technology
  • unpredictable economic fluctuations
  • cultural/social changes
  • legal/political swings

Within these external elements are market changes, customer preference changes, foreign competition, capital and commodity market movements, legal precedents, and unresponsive political solutions. While these elements cannot be controlled, they can be influenced. Also, since all businesses in an industry are similarly affected by external elements, management’s ability to survive these changes will determine future  viability. Some businesses weather external changes and emerge with increased market share and profitability; others fail.

Two major problems with these elements are their uncontrollable nature as well as their interaction with each other. Upon close scrutiny, it becomes apparent that factors affecting one of them can have a secondary effect upon another. For example, a cultural/social shift can result in a legal/political change. This change can affect the economic environment, which will interact with technological development. the rate of technological development consequently affects the status of competition. This process of action and reaction comes full circle when we realize that the status of competition then affects the economy and cultural/social change.

Businesses fail to realize that they can plan for external changes and safeguard their hard work. Their management teams have the ability to influence the external elements if they can predict their occurrence. Such foresight allows the executive team to influence the elements through the use of promotion, persuasion, buyer education, accelerated product development, process improvements or elimination, unit growth plans, new markets, and adjusted sales practices. 

Adaptation to the change is the result. For example, construction companies that build prefabricated residences have known for years about the external changes affecting the prefab sector of the home building industry. They have been affected by  cultural/social and legal/political changes for the last several decades. In response, they developed new products, such as modular multifamily housing, to offset their declining mobile home product sales. They invested in additional research to determine the number of potential single-family and multifamily buyers who preferred the cost savings that their construction process generates. They invested in new manufacturing capabilities, which would use material specifications offering a competitive advantage. These companies understood the early warning signals of the external elements and acted to offset them through:

  1. promotion and persuasion to keep their customers,
  2. additional market research about market size and buyer profiles,
  3. buyer education based on research findings,
  4. product improvements, and
  5. product elimination.

These tools allowed this segment  of the building industry to adapt to changes in the market. What are you doing in your business to a.) study the external environment, b.) adapt to the changes, and c.) position yourself in the eyes of prospects and existing customers to become more competitive? You can influence your own outcome!