Overcoming Business Failures With Mentoring

 

According to Bill Warner, co-founder of EntreDot, approximately 26,000 new companies are formed each year in North Carolina and, in that same year, over 23,000 companies fail due to poor management and operational mistakes. Warner further states that, “The statistics are worse in rural and minority populations. This means that good ideas go to waste along with the grant and investor funds that helped get these companies started. As a result, the potential growth of revenue and new jobs is lost also.” These comments are very similar sentiments to what Dun and Bradstreet found in some surveys conducted during the period of 2007 – 2010. D&B found that the rate of business failure went up by an average of 40% during the recession years.

D&B SMB Lowest Failure Rate by State 2010

 

Many of the states with lower failure rate increases are less heavily populated states. In fact, of all the states that have seen a decline in the rate of small to medium sized business failure, only North Carolina makes the list of 10 most populous states in the country. Of states (below) with large increases in failure rates, only California is heavily populated.  

D&B SMB Failure Rate by State 2010

 

 

 

From 2007 through 2010, Western states in the West had the highest increase in failure rates. Reasons D&B provided for the uptick in failures include continued instability in the residential housing market and drop-off in the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors. Interestingly, Tennessee has been home to the highest small business failure rates for four years in a row.  

D&B Largest SMB Industries 2010

 

These trends have been occurring at a time when the number of retail establishments and corresponding retail employment have both dropped by 15-20%. On the other hand, the number of SMBs in the Business Services category more than doubled and these businesses experienced a 30% increase in the number of people they employ. The fastest growing industries for SMBs are summarized below:

D&B Fastest Growing Industries 2010

 

As you can plainly see, nothing else comes close to the growth of  the Business Services category. Bear in mind that many software as a service companies are part of this category and have been launched in only recent years. The macrotrends that become evident are that retail is on the wane, highly populated states are more stable in terms of business failure statistics, and the business services category’s growth will be a key cog in the engine of our economy.

Warner points to the following issues of significance to these small businesses:

  • Business strategy and planning to make sure their business is focused on a viable market with a winning product and/or service that has a competitive edge
  • Forecasting and financing ensuring that sales forecasts are realistic and that revenue, cost, expense and cash are well managed
  • Operational discipline and judgment to increase the chances of success by making fewer mistakes
  • Industry connections that can help accelerate the business and its operations
  • Start-up company experience that can instill the wisdom of what it takes to really start and manage an emerging business

 

He feels that these companies need the dual combination of basic business know-how and mentoring. The situation in North Carolina, where Warner and I live, is that our state has a comprehensive array of entrepreneurship education programs throughout the community college and university systems including various other private and public organizations. The problem is that we have little help for entrepreneurs once they have completed these programs and actually try to start a business. We recommend assistance for entrepreneurs who are struggling to create successful businesses, the failures should decline considerably. Entrepreneurs should be seeking out business mentors that can help them through the early years of their business.

 

Develop Innovation Skills Through 6 Techniques

When we write of intrapreneurship, we are addressing the need for businesses to foster innovation. While process and procedure can create a friendly environment in which creativity can occur, there are times when some individuals inside an organization need a jump start. How does an organization encourage its people to overcome what would be called in literary circles “writer’s block?” For, if your company can identify how to unleash the power within the minds of its employees, great things can happen on behalf of the customer and the company and its stakeholders–including the employees!

 

Catch 22Woody Bendle penned an article for Innovation Excellence recently highlighting that innovation instincts can be sharpened and expanded. It is necessary, according to Bendle, to “sharpen your instincts.” Bendle reminds readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings (Blink and Outliers) on how to become more intuitive. Gladwell, says Bendle, “provides several deliciously compelling examples of the human “Adaptive Unconscious” at work. This Adaptive Unconsciousness is discussed as one’s ability to intuitively connect a myriad of seemingly disparate dots in a split second in order to form an accurate expert opinion. And, fortunately this Adaptive Unconsciousness is something that one can develop over time.”

Furthermore, writes Bendle, Gladwell makes the case for developing “expert” knowledge and abilities through what he calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule:”

Gladwell’s thesis is that after 10,000 hours immersed in a particular field or activity, one begins to have a seemingly innate level of knowledge or capability. Put another way, with 10,000 hours of effort you can take your Adaptive Unconsciousness (instincts and intuition) to a new, almost uncanny level. But at this point, one’s expertise is potentially narrow, and one way to bring even more value to your innovation process is to expand your instinctive base.

Bendle suggest the following 6 techniques to awaken your latent innovative capability:

  1. Occasionally take yourself out of your daily, weekly and monthly routines. You’ll be amazed by what doing something different or doing something differently can do for your mind.
  2. Purposefully seek out the new and the different – and pay attention. There is a whole lot of life going on out there and to borrow a quote from Ferris Bueller – “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  3. Go Wander and Wonder. Go see, do, and experience something completely out of your wheel-house. Get out of your comfort zone and whet your appetite for confusion. Seek out things that are amazing to you.
  4. Challenge your senses. Take a moment every now and then to mentally catalogue what your senses are experiencing and then, maybe even push them a little further.
  5. Make note of things that inspire. Each of us are moved in different ways. Pay attention when you are inspired. Ask yourself why you were inspired. Make note of what this feeling is inspiring in you.
  6. Play! Have you ever spent any time watching two young animals playing around or rough-housing? They are developing their instincts and this is one technique that we human simply don’t do often enough.

Try these techniques the next time that you are trying to solve a tough problem at work. See if they propel your thinking toward greater objectivity and clarity. If you find that the techniques are working for you, take it to the next level by sharing your experience with co-workers, a supervisor, or subordinate. As more people learn to think about the everyday work world with more innovative mindsets, “breakthroughs” should become far more common and frustrating “Catch-22” situations less so!

 

 

 

Failure to Innovate Spells Decline

History has a way of repeating itself. JP Nichols, the CEO of Clientific, recites a passage from Theodore Levitt’s 1960 treatise “Marketing Myopia“ to illustrate how railroads missed a window of opportunity in their business life cycle:

“The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented.”

railroadThen, Nichols makes the connection of this faulty business strategy to the modern banking system. As an industry, he feels the banks have become product rather than customer focused. Here’s how he describes the slippery slope slide into irrelevance:

Mature industries erode subtly at first. Hungry upstarts nibble at segments too small or unprofitable for entrenched incumbents to waste much energy protecting. But eventually the new entrants gain traction and move upmarket to larger and more profitable segments. And new categories are invented along the way.

Then, as it relates to banking, he writes:

Economic cycles wax and wane, but people will always look for ways to save and borrow, to move money from one place to another, and to occasionally get some advice from someone they trust. Traditional financial institutions like banks and brokerages held a near-monopoly on those activities for generations, but banks that continue to be bank-oriented will continue to lose to an increasingly broad group of competitors that are truly customer-oriented.

Think about what’s been happening around the edges of the banking industry. Peer-to-peer lending platforms and retailers’ captive financing programs have taken lending business that once was nearly the sole province of banks. New payments ventures like Square and Dwolla provide services that people want to use because of their great design and ease of use. SigFig is an online registered investment advisor with over $50 billion in assets tracked on its platform. Innovative startups like Simple and Movenbank are reinventing the whole notion of what it even means to be a bank.

The scariest part? None of those companies even existed five years ago.bank

In contrast to the banks’ inability to anticipate the needs of consumers as well as these new enterprises, Nichols salutes another highly regulated industry, healthcare, which he says, reinvests 10% to 15% of its revenues back into research and development, and “represented 21% of the $603 billion spent globally on R&D in 2011, according to a Booz & Co. study. Financials don’t even make the list, lumped in instead with the 2% of “other” industries, collectively in tenth place.”

Nichols, who was the first chief private banking officer for US Bank, challenges the industry to redefine what business they are in, as the railroads should have but didn’t. He feels that a redefinition of the industry to become more responsive to consumer needs and niche services to serve them would be revolutionary.

But, set aside railroads and banks. Look at your own organization now. How can you become more innovative? How can you light the fire of intrapreneurship so that it burns brightly a generation from now? Very simply: begin with the customer in mind and build something that will blow their socks off in terms of its ability to resonate with deep seated needs. Go do it!

Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.

Climbing Your Management Everest

Stretching oneself to the maximum can reveal what we are made of. Whether the subject matter is a test of mental strength or physical, it is exhilarating to overcome a daunting obstacle. Sir Edmund Hillary is celebrated for his perseverance in conquering Mount Everest. One of my LinkedIn contacts and an internationally known innovation resource is Gijs van Wulfen. Van Wulfen states that, in the 1950s, the route to Everest was closed by Chinese-controlled Tibet. Nepal allowed one expedition per year.

Sir Edmund Hillary had been part of a British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain  in 1951. The 1953 Everest expedition for which he is now famous consisted of a huge team of over 400 people. Expedition leader Hunt named two assault teams. Hillary and Norgay were the second assault team. The first team only reached the South Col, about 100 meters below the summit. Then Hillary and Norgay got their chance. They reached the 8,848-meter high summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953.Mt Everest

Gijs says the following 10 management lessons came to mind as he read the Hillary accounts:

1. Passion. As a youngster, Hillary was a great dreamer, read many adventure books and walked many miles with his head in the clouds. He was unaware his passion for adventure would make him, together with Tenzing Norgay, the first man to set foot on the highest point on Earth.

2. Urgency. In 1952 the British heard that in 1954 the French had been given permission to attempt Everest. The British wanted more than anything to be first. The expedition just had to succeed.

3. Teamwork. Getting to the summit of Everest is all about teamwork. As Hillary wrote: “John Hunt and D Namgyal’s lift to the depot on the South-East Ridge; George Low, Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima with their superb support at Camp IX; and the pioneer effort by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon to the South Summit. Their contribution had enabled us to make such good progress.”

4. Courage. The higher you get on Everest the more courage you need. At 7,800 meters Hillary wrote in his diary: “Even wearing all my down clothing I found the icy breath from outside penetrating through my bones. A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense of this all? I asked myself.”

5. Test. On the 1951 reconnaissance expedition, team members tested oxygen equipment and did research on high-altitude physiology. The results of both studies were important in determining the right approach for Everest in 1953.

6. Initiative. While in India, Hillary read in a newspaper that the British were taking an expedition to the south side of Mount Everest in 1951. He contacted expedition leader Eric Shipton and suggested that a couple of New Zealanders could make a substantial contribution to the team. And they were invited!

7. Choices. The British Himalayan Committee replaced the 1951 expedition leader Eric Shipton with Colonel John Hunt, a climber. After eight failed attempts on Everest they needed someone to the top first, before the French would have their chance.

8. Overcome setbacks. Along the way there are always major setbacks. After finding a new route up Everest during the reconnaissance expedition of 1951, the British heard that the Swiss had obtained permission for two attempts on Everest the following year. The only thing the British could do was wait and see if the Swiss would succeed.

9. Competition. Hunt proposed that Evans and Bourdillon should use the closed-circuit oxygen equipment to reach the South Summit and Norgay and Hillary would push to the top with the open-circuit oxygen. The competition fueled the eventual success of Hillary’s team.

10. Luck. Hillary, a New Zealander, was lucky to qualify as a British subject and be invited to join the British team. Secondly, in 1952 the Swiss failed to climb Everest on their two attempts. 

How do you view these management lessons in light of your own organization’s efforts to be innovative and competitive?