Tag Archives: starting a business

Military Doctrine Guiding Business Planning

One of the many advantages veterans enjoy in entrepreneurship is the doctrine we learned during our years of service. And while part of the vocabulary of warfighting is inappropriate to civilian business, still the concepts can be quickly adapted to give us direction as we start and run our companies.

Rabs in Marine Corps Cammies

For example, Marine Corps doctrine on warfighting recognizes three levels of war

  1. Strategic – the art of winning wars by establishing goals, assigning forces, providing assets, and imposing conditions on the use of force.
  2. Operational – the art and science of winning campaigns, it links the strategic and tactical levels, including deciding when, where, and under what conditions to engage the enemy.
  3. Tactical – the art and science of winning engagements through the concepts and methods used to accomplish a particular mission and achieve the objectives of the campaign.

So how do we translate these ideas to business planning? The same three levels apply:

  1. Strategic – This is our business idea, mission statement, and goals. Also, it is our evaluation of the types of expertise our business requires, especially those we do not have ourselves, and the capital and equipment we need to be successful.
  2. Operational – This is our assessment of the profile of the clients or customer with whom we are most likely to be successful, where we can come in contact with them, the timing of our marketing efforts, and how we can set the stage to be most effective in attracting their patronage.
  3. Tactical – This is our step-by-step plan through which we will act to obtain these clients or customers.

For example, when I decided to go back into business, initially I worked at the strategic level. I assessed my skills, researched business ideas, and gauged the market for them and their chances of success. Having selected the one I wanted to pursue I developed my mission statement and goals and determined funding and other materials I needed to move forward.

Having clarified my strategic thinking, my planning shifted to the operational level. While my main clientele, veterans and service members, was obvious, less so were the individuals through whom I could expand my reach to them. Through networking, I found people who help veterans transition to civilian life, then planned how and where I could contact others in the same positions and stay in touch with them. Next, I set a calendar for my marketing effort. As I formed my plans at the operational level I periodically reviewed my strategic plans to ensure I was heading in the right direction but also to decide if my strategy needed to be revised.

Once my operational plan was fairly well developed I created materials, scripts, and email and telephone lists of the people I needed to contact and started doing so. Did my materials motivate them to act from the get go? Did my scripts immediately convince them of the greatness of my program? No and no. Indeed my early presentations were as much about refining my tactics as they were about persuading people to help me. I revised my tactics, periodically reviewed my operational plan in light of the overall response to my marketing effort, and shifted my strategy as the assets I had available changed.

At each stage of planning, I wrote down the major points and the reasoning supporting these decisions. As I move forward, I use my version of another Marine Corps doctrine, maneuver warfare (which I will talk about in another post) to continually appraise my success and make adjustments at all three levels.

So take the doctrine of your branch of the military and adapt it to your business planning. If you are not a veteran, take a look at the Marine Corps doctrine.

Sensible Goal Setting

Goal setting is as much an art as a science. Whether in the realm of spiritual, mental, or physical, our goals should be challenging yet achievable.

If we are setting goals in an area where we have a lot of experience, meeting these two criteria is not too difficult. For example, I have been a runner for most of my life. I know my limits on speed and distance. So I can readily set physical fitness goals that stretch my ability but not to the point where I have little or no chance of meeting them.

More difficult is setting goals in a field in which we are inexperienced. I would be hard pressed to set reasonable goals as a painter since I know very little about either its artistic or business sides. For some goals it is not necessary to benchmark them. I have a goal to travel to all 50 states. The only criterion I used to set it is the belief that the only way to really know our country is to visit every state.

For other goals, having points of reference or a basis of measurement is more important. Fortunately the Internet provides us with a medium through which we can fairly quickly gather information we need to make adequate goals that can be refined as we gain experience.

Since our topic is entrepreneurship many of us will want to set a goal for our income. If you have been in the military for most or all of your working life, it may be difficult to set a realistic goal in civilian life. Is an income of $500,000 a year after five years in business realistic? Let’s look at some statistics from the IRS (all data is from 2009, the most recent year it was compiled):

Total individual tax returns filed: 140,494,127

Top 25% of earners (35,123,531 taxpayers) made at least: $66,193

Top 10% of earners (14,049,412 taxpayers) made at least: $112,124

Top 5% of earners (7,024,706 taxpayers) made at least: $154,643

Top 1% of earners (1,404,941 taxpayers) made at least: $343,927

Put another way, to get an A in income earning we have to make $112,124 in adjusted gross income.

Do these facts put into perspective earning a $500,000 annual income? Only 0.35% of taxpayers do so, which is not to say that you should not make it your goal, but to understand how difficult it will be to achieve it.

There are metrics for just about any goal we want to make. The key is to find them and figure out our capacity to meet or beat the standard they appear to set.

While we are on the subject of IRS statistics, recently I read on article titled “How the Rich Got Rich.” Author Jeff Haden’s concludes the way to get wealthy is to own a business. I could not agree more.

Bringing Order to Chaos

Fitness. Lifestyle. Bringing your dog to the office. Finding a great business idea. A disparate list, no?

While I will plead guilty to writing about that which interests me, it was by design that the topics appear disconnected. That is often how business works. You plan a series of meetings for advancing your next marketing initiative and instead spend the whole day handling a personnel crisis. Entrepreneurs must cultivate agility in their thinking.

This week I am going to focus on synthesizing a couple of issues. It may seem contradictory to promote fitness while also noting that the entrepreneur’s lifestyle does not afford us more free time. Indeed, striking a balance between work, family, and fitness is probably the biggest challenge we face. How do we do it?

Robert Burns may be right when he wrote in To A Mouse:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still planning and time management are crucial to fulfilling all of our responsibilities. Some tips:

1. Plan your day the night before

By doing this you will not waste time in the morning deciding what you need to do. Whatever you did not complete that day has to be completed during the coming day along with whatever else has to get done that day. By planning the evening before you will set your mind to work on the challenges ahead rather than focusing on what went wrong in the past. I'm not suggesting that there's nothing to learn from our mistakes, only that we view them in terms of how they can propel us forward.

2. Do not do it unless it will move you closer to success

Reflect back on today and the day before. What things did you do that were a waste of time either because someone else should have done them or you were avoiding an unpleasant task? Schedule only those activities that will advance you toward your goals.

3. Commit to completing the tasks you have planned

Tasked yourself to call on ten potential clients or cold call for two hours? DO IT. It does not count if you stop after the eighth rejection or take two fifteen-minute breaks as part of the time. By the way, it also does not count if you have a particularly productive marketing session and decide to quit early. Keep in mind that the extraordinary success that day compensates for a fruitless day. Geoffrey James has 14 ideas for getting “insanely motivated,” and some may help you stay committed.

4. Do the things you dislike most first

Hate admin work? Get it done when you are fresh and motivated. Cannot stand cold calling? It should be the first task on your list. If you are easily demotivated, bookend the disagreeable task with a couple of short ones that you know will go well in order to launch you in a positive direction and give you something pleasant to look forward to so you will persevere.

5. Kill two birds with one stone

Simon Wood-Fleming, the CEO of Pandora Media Inc., has some great thoughts on this topic and time management in general in a wsj.com article (the online version of The Wall Street Journal). One of the topics recently addressed in a number of business publications and blogs I read is setting aside quiet or contemplative time. Steve Jobs conducted meetings while walking. Especially after an important conference call or meeting, I run for 45 minutes to ruminate on what happened and/or to stimulate creative thoughts. Many times our mental or spiritual fitness plans can be combined with a family or business commitment.

6. Be on the lookout for time-saving ideas

My nickname when I was a navy chaplain in Okinawa, Japan was OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) because I was constantly looking for ways to improve the Base Chaplain Office’s efficiency. But even this old dog learns new tricks. About a month ago I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt on how to handle email more efficiently and it has saved me at least 30 minutes a day, not to mention eliminated the nagging concern about unresolved emails.

The key when adopting a new process, as well as better managing your time, is to commit to using it for a specific length of time, say two weeks. If it does not work after that time, perhaps you can modify it in a way that better fits the way you operate. If not, discard it and move on to the next one. In general, I recommend you work on one time management skill at a time, make it a part of the way you operate, then add the next layer on top of it. Rather than trying to take on too many new methods and having the whole plan explode, build slowly but surely and you are more likely to make progress.

Finding the Next Great Business Idea, or at Least the One for Me

One of the issues I encounter most frequently when speaking with people about entrepreneurship typically goes like this: I know I want to have my own business but I do not know what I want to do. While large companies can devote extensive resources to researching potentially lucrative opportunities, we do not have such a luxury. As well, passion for what we are doing is important for success, so though a particular idea may have the potential for a big payoff, it may not be right for us. We need a simple, straightforward way to come up a viable business.

Here are three tasks to aid in coming up with a concept.

1. Do a Skills Assessment

Obviously we do best those things we are best at. The challenge is to make an objective evaluation of our skills, one that is thorough and legitimate. Here is a simple method: Across the top of a sheet of paper write down your skills. If you are not sure how to describe them go to Linkedin’s Skills & Expertise page. You can find good terms for describing your skills as well as get ideas for others that might not have occurred to you.

Next, under each skill list the schooling, jobs, and other pursuits in which you have been involved that demonstrates your proficiency it. If you want to get a little fancier, list the number of years of each so when you are done you can determine how long you have had the skill. Examine the skills in which you have had the longest and most varied experiences. Do you enjoy doing these things? If so, they will form a strong base for your entrepreneurial endeavors. If not, you may need to get training and experience in other skills before you start you own business. For example, one of my skills is education, teaching & training. I have held nine jobs and volunteer positions in which I used this skill, totaling 33 years of experience. And I enjoy teaching so this skill became one of the backbones of my company.

Once you have a solid skills assessment, use it to conceptualize services or products that might make a successful business. At this point do not be concerned with whether such a business will work. The purpose is to get your mind working on options.

2. Solve What Is not Working in Your Life

Have you ever been doing something and thought there must be a better way? Did you come up with an idea for a new product or service that might make life easier? And then did you discard it as being impractical or something someone else would do? Next time write it down. I always carry a small, bound notebook with me (leather covers, about $6 at WalMart) in which I write down such ideas. If you have a smartphone or tablet, try Evernotes, a nice program for keeping otherwise random notes organized.

Again the idea is to stimulate your thinking. We will deal with feasibility separately.

3. Read a Publication on a Subject that Does Not Interest You

Love motorcycles but have never even seen knitting needles? Pick up a copy of Knit Simple magazine then read it. Make a list of concepts unfamiliar to the things you like to do. But once it not enough. Next month if your only experience with restaurants is eating at them get a copy of Restaurant Business. There is at least one trade publication for every industry. Jot down interesting aspects of how this new business works. Then, sit back and think about how you could apply them to your skills. Connecting skills with new concepts may trigger ideas for businesses.

One of the things I have noticed by acquainting myself with other businesses is there are commonalities that cross industries. For example, the specialized language of real estate and the movie business are similar. When I got involved with the entertainment industry I found my experience in property brokerage and management gave me a boost.

Once you get started with this process you may come up with lots of ideas right away. But do not get discouraged if it takes you some time. Keep notes in an ordered way. You never know when a previous thought will be the seed from which a great business idea germinates.

Entrepreneurship: A Lifestyle Decision

Starting and running a business: Is it the right decision for you? Many entrepreneurs are initially motivated by money, yet frequently they come to find their incomes do not increase. Still they remain business owners. Their decision can best be described as one of lifestyle, that is the benefits of being business owners allow them to live their lives on their terms.

Noteworthy advantages of entrepreneurship that I have enjoyed or learned about from others are:

Greater control of the work-reward equation

As a business owner how hard and smart you work will directly impact your income. If you toil longer hours and are more innovative, inevitably your business will thrive. And you get to decide whether to increase your salary.

You have an idea you are sure will work

Do you have concept for a business you know will be successful? Entrepreneurship will give you the opportunity to test your idea in the real world. If you have read the marketplace correctly, you will be a success. But here is where flexibility is the key. You may need to develop your concept to triumph. Still beware. Your idea may flop. Can you take the hit to your ego, pick yourself up, and have faith in your next great idea?

Greater flexibility in your schedule

Is family your first priority? Do you have a hobby that is extremely important to you? Being a business owner will allow you to set your priorities. Of course sometimes there will be conflicts. But you will get to manage them.

A less bureaucratic workplace

Small businesses cannot afford red tape. They have to make up in agility what they lack in marketing might and substantial financial resources. If you find bureaucracy stifling, as an entrepreneur you can almost always cut to the chase.

Greater choice of co-workers, location, etc.

Tired of being a geo-bachelor? Like to have a ten-foot commute to your home office rather than spend and hour or more a day on the freeway? Prefer colleagues who want to work rather than play politics? As a business owner you will make the decisions about where you will be located, the character of the people with whom you work, and everything else. While compliance with the law and regulations is still mandatory, you will have greater flexibility than at a large company or than with the government.

There are several common misconceptions about the rewards of being in one’s own business. While these may happen, you are unlikely to benefit from them, especially in the short term.

More free time

You will work long hours, particularly during the start-up phase. Remember, the buck will stop with you.

Greater income

If you put in the same time and effort at a large company you will probably make more money there. But you will also miss out on all of the advantages discussed above.

Less stress

Life is stressful, but being a business owner can be especially so. Particularly if you have difficulty making decisions and letting go, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

More prestige

While you can give yourself a fancy title, unless you are successful there is little status in being a business owner. The flip side is if you prosper, your stature in the community and business world may advance on its own.

Less administrative duties

Every business requires administration. There is no escaping it. And as an entrepreneur it will be your responsibility to see it gets done. See “More Free Time” above. Of course as your business flourishes this may be something you can hand off to an employee.

The benefits and drawbacks to entrepreneurship need to be carefully assessed before taking the plunge. I recommend you talk to your spouse if you are married and at least two other people who know you well and will give you candid input. In the final analysis, if you think starting and running a business fits your lifestyle you will never regret the decision to joins the ranks of entrepreneurs.

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