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DIVERSIFICATION – One Path to Increasing Revenue

By Nancy Boese, Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Companies have different stages of development and the decision to diversify into new markets or new products can be daunting. There are several situations that indicate a company may be ready to diversify. Companies should consider diversifying for any of the following reasons:
  • One customer is over 50 percent of the total revenue
  • One industry is over 50 percent of the total revenue
  • Company has reached a plateau in sales and the market is saturated
  • Company has reached a plateau in sales and opportunities are available
  • Company has excess cash and can purchase a business to expand its markets

There are many options to solve these situations. One factor to consider is the risk the company is willing to take to expand. A renowned business tool is the Ansoff matrix. The Ansoff Matrix provides four options for diversification:

  • Market Penetration: The company increases revenue with existing products in existing markets. The intent is to increase its market share.
  • Market Development: The company sells existing products to new market segments.
  • Product Development: The company develops new products/services to sell to its current customers.
  • Diversification: The firm grows by developing new business opportunities with new products for new markets.

What are the Risks?

There is risk involved with each quadrant. The Market Penetration quadrant with existing products and existing customers is the least risky, takes the least amount of money, and provides the quickest results. The highest risk section would be Diversification. This area takes the longest to develop and requires extensive investment of time, people, resources, and money. The Product Development and Market Development both have a higher level of risk than using the Market Penetration strategy. The level of risk for these two areas is dependent on development time, financial commitment, and company resource requirements.

To determine which opportunity the company should pursue, several steps need to be completed.

1. The first is to conduct market research. This can include any or all of the following: Primary research, which could include surveying current or future customers, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and various other techniques. A wealth of information is also available through secondary sources. Research conducted by various government offices, trade associations, or private companies can help provide a base for discussion and analysis. For example: If the company decided to use the Market Development Strategy and wanted to diversify geographically, information could be gathered on the area’s economic situation, number of customers in the area that meet the target market definition, and other vital information.

2. Once the information has been gathered and analyzed, the company needs to establish what they want to accomplish with their strategy. Establishing realistic goals that will accomplish the outcomes desired by the company is vital to evaluating if the diversification strategy is working. The outcomes should be easily extracted from the accounting system or customer relationship management system.

3. Reaching an agreement on which diversification strategy to use can be the most challenging step. There are different decision making models which can be utilized. In general, the company wants to determine which opportunity will best help accomplish the goals already established. In addition, the company may need information on costs, staffing, new infrastructure requirements, etc to identify the best diversification strategy.

A Business of One is Really a Business of Many

By David Fant, chairperson of SBAM’s Strategic Communications Advisory Committee. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Sitting here in my home office, I got to thinking about the idea of a company of one. Working alone can be a daunting task. Basically isolated, so many distractions (television, the kitchen, the couch for a nap are just a few) that focusing can be difficult at times. I remember when I first started my business 20 years ago. My wife would come home from her work, ask how my day was and I would recount the various talk show topics of the day. Her immediate question to me was, “Are you actually doing work? ” To which I answered, “Yes, I am!” But in the beginning business is slow and prospecting is difficult-so you find distractions to fill your time.

Now, 20 years later, I find myself in a totally different world. I have clients who need the attention, vendors who need prodding to get me information I need. Marketing, accounting, client meetings, administrative work – not to mention volunteer work with the Small Business Association of Michigan, the American Marketing Association and the Advertising Federation – all take up time and energy in the day. However, I got to thinking about my business and what resources a business of one may need to have at their finger tips and came up with a daunting list of support options for a company of one.

Accountant – This person is critical to understanding your cash flow, what purchases will most positively impact your bottom line, and most importantly, your accountant can provide you with a realistic view of profitability today and in the future.

Banker – If you need a loan, or cash to build/grow your business, your banker can be your best friend. He can also help you better understand your needs for bank accounts and how to best utilize them to maximize your cash flow and minimize processing costs. In addition, your banker is in touch with hundreds of other small and large businesses and may be able to assist you in identifying new or growing markets.

Trade Associations – Meeting others is one way of getting out of the office. Networking can be the lifeblood of a business when first starting, and later on in a business life cycle you become a resource for others to turn to for advice.

Customers – Each of them can provide input regarding new products/services to sell, and they can offer ideas as to other areas you may want to expand in to. Last year, a client of mine told me about a conference I should be a sponsor for. I decided to try it and got eight new clients with gross sales over $20,000. Not bad for an investment of $2,500. Use your customers as a sounding board for new/innovative ideas.

Vendors – The number of new products in the marketplace never ceases to amaze me. Talk to your vendors, see what’s hot, what’s working and what’s not. This knowledge can help you in the long run develop new and innovative products and services.
Family – There is no one more attuned to my business than my wife. She can tell when something isn’t going well. She will listen, offer advice – she is someone who I can count on to help me talk through a problem or issue that I am having difficulty solving. An asset often over looked in a small business.

What does this all mean? A company of one is not just you. It’s you and everyone you come in contact with. Everyone has friends/family/customers/vendors/service providers who can and will help you when needed. All you need to be is open, willing to share and most importantly, be willing to ask.

David Fant is a long-term SBAM member and the chairperson of the Strategic Communications Advisory Committee.

Finding Balance: Family, Work, Personal Interests, New Ideas for 2011

By Paul Hense, CPA. From the Small Business Association of Michigan’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

I love to spend time with my wife, kids, grandkids, brothers, my farm in Cheboygan, my Boston Whaler, the apple orchard and berry patch, our vineyard, vegetable garden, University of Detroit basketball, making wine, fishing, reading history, traveling, eclectic music , writing articles, my SBAM activities, politics, and hiking, etc. I also have to work, exercise, and pay bills. All of those things are important to me. Obviously they are not all going to be satisfied. They therefore must be prioritized. And at the start of the New Year, trying to prioritize all of these things together with the natural sense that you have to start the year off with a bang can be a challenge!

I think it was Bruce Springsteen who wrote a line in a song that went, “cause tramps like us baby we were born to run.” Bruce may be expressing a universal truth. Some of us were born to race and some to plow-and you can’t interchange them. Maybe entrepreneurs were born to attempt to live three lives at once. Being married to, the child of, sibling to, employee of or any other relationship with self employed people is probably difficult. But it’s never boring.

So what is the solution to balancing business, family and yourself in our hectic world – and satisfying the goal to start the year off with a refreshed and reenergized team, new ideas and a finely-tuned strategic plan? Be creative, use your gifts and personal strengths to positively affect the areas important to you, delegate and realize that you cannot do it all alone!

I realize that’s easier said than done. Here are a few things I’ve done to help achieve balance in my life:

1. Your business provides your family with its sustenance. In the current economic situation, having a source of income is a blessing, and in order to maintain the business, you must attend to it. Make sure your family understands that. Have a family meeting to discuss your need to be attentive to the business. Don’t assume they understand. You are important in their lives and they would like more of your time. Not having as much of your time as they would like might be easier for them if they understood everything you have on your plate and adjust expectations to avoid disappointment.

2. Include family time in your priorities. I have been in business for 38 years. At the end of the day, week, year – your family will be by your side long after a demanding customer is forgotten. My kids eventually understood my dilemma when they faced adult responsibilities. I think it’s important to let your family know you love them and that providing for them is the driving force in your business.

3. As you start the New Year, ask the people you consider family and friends what they would like from you. You make business commitments everyday and you honor them. Honor your commitment to friends and family. Take it as seriously as you take your delivery dates and meeting commitments. Your rewards may be greater.

4. Then there is you. What feeds your soul? Take a day off and think about that. In order for me to be happy, I have to grow things. Some people need to hunt. What blows your hair back? Do it. You work hard. You deserve it. If you love work, you are lucky. But that is still only one aspect of your life.

Life is difficult. Being a responsible adult is complicated. Delegate what you can. Take care of your physical and emotional health. Give as much of yourself as you can to the people who love you. After you have done all that, take a deep breath and go back to work.

Paul Hense is a Grand Rapids-based CPA and long-time SBAM member and supporter.

The University of Michigan is Open for Business

By Daryl Weinert (from the Small Business Association of Michigan’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

Recently, economists from the University of Michigan gave us all a rare piece of good news – Michigan will see positive job growth in 2011 for the first time in over a decade. At the same time, they asserted that challenges remain. One critical challenge is how to connect the state’s universities to the needs of the business community. At the University of Michigan, we’ve created The Business Engagement Center (BEC) – a new mechanism to help companies find solutions to real-world business challenges. 

Essentially, the BEC serves as a “matchmaker,” helping companies navigate the complex structure of the university to find resources for their business. One resource is student projects. When Adaptive Materials – an Ann Arbor-based fuel cell manufacturer – needed help with defining a new commercial market strategy for its fuel cell systems, the BEC matched the company to the Ross School of Business’s Multidisciplinary Action Program. This seven-week program pairs first year MBA students with companies seeking solutions to a variety of business challenges. The team was able to conduct research on the market, compile a list of customer contacts, and assemble a pitch for use in future sales campaigns. Additionally, the team delivered the tools to help company executives evaluate and prioritize new inquiries for other uses for their products.

Another critical resource is talent. Recently, the BEC helped North American Bancard – a Troy-based credit card payment solutions provider- sponsor a ‘Hackathon’ – a 48-hour mobile device application creation contest. Through their sponsorship, the company was able to increase their visibility specifically to a targeted group of students and establish a pipeline program for students to participate in internships and independent study courses. The university has also experimented with several small company programs building on its research strength. EcoMotors, an Allen Park-based developer of clean, efficient and lightweight propulsion systems, participated in the university’s Small Company Innovation Program. This cost-sharing research collaboration allows companies to leverage U-M research expertise by partnering to tackle relevant technical challenges (the university provides matching funds of up to $30,000). The BEC also helps to connect companies with university collaborators in pursuing federal or state research grants such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding.

The university has also launched a small company career fair to expose students to job opportunities at smaller, high growth companies within the state of Michigan. Known as the MPowered Career Fair, nearly 100 organizations attended in 2010. Companies that attend the career fair can also apply for the Small Company Internship Program, which offers university cost sharing to hire students for a 12 week summer internship.

The University of Michigan has never before been so ready for collaboration. With programs designed to unlock the entrepreneurial aspirations of our students, with our Technology Transfer office spinning out companies and commercializing ideas at an increasing pace, and with new interfaces like the Business Engagement Center, U-M is open for business as never before. The BEC is designed to help companies find talent, explore research partnerships, educate professional staff, identify technologies, engage with students, and consult with faculty. Make a date with the Business Engagement Center: www.bec.umich.edu.

Daryl Weinert is Executive Director of the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center.

State of UnEmployment! Better Think About Recruiting – Even if You Aren’t Hiring Now!

By Julie Mann, MSIR, SPHR, CCP

While the news focus is on the state of unemployment in Michigan, the state of employment has become a topic of the past. But yet, we know that history repeats itself and that the positive signs of things to come are becoming visible; the tide in Michigan is turning. As this tide turns, while we need to keep a watchful eye on the unemployment rate, critical to business success will be our focus on the state of employment.

Human Capital remains the number one asset in organizations and is a key to success and growth. We need to retain our talent, know how to attract new talent and know how to stay ahead of the talent curve. So, how? Do we simply just try to network more? If our business isn’t hiring right now, do we care? If not hiring, the state of employment doesn’t matter to my business, right? Wrong.

I recently asked a client, “Are you hiring?” They said, “No.” I then asked, “Are you recruiting?” After the client gave me one of those ‘didn’t you hear me’ looks, he responded, “I just said no. What’s your point?” Ah-hah…that’s the conversation!! Building your virtual bench and always recruiting becomes paramount to success. Let’s examine…

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, there are:
  • 120,208,320 people employed or seeking work
  • 77,555,280 are employed but open or seeking a new job
  • 39,952,72 are employed and not open to a new job

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average lifetime number of employers for a worker has risen from:
  • 4 in the 1960’s to
  • 10.8 in 2006 and
  • 14 is the Gen X prediction

What does this mean to your business? It means that two thirds or 53 percent of employed adults are open to a new job or actively looking for a new job!

In today’s state of employment, we need to “Dig our well before we’re thirsty.” Even if not hiring, we need to constantly be recruiting for the best talent in the marketplace. And with 53 percent of people open to a new job, if they are an “A Player,” then other companies know who they are too and may just be talking to or recruiting them before you.

Therefore, keeping an eye open for talent isn’t something that we should just passively continue to “try” to do; we must actively pursue building our virtual bench. Let’s face it, if you’re waiting until you have a hiring need to try to identify talent, the task becomes that much more challenging. We need to always recruit and keep an eye open for people who you’d like to work with and be talking to them regularly about your business. Even if you can’t/won’t hire them immediately, A Players know A Players and when you are ready to hire, A Players can also recommend A Players and you now have people you think highly of who know about your business. Is this networking? Sure it is, but it is networking with a distinct purpose and not just something we ‘try’ to fit into our “To Do List.”

As the state of employment becomes more robust, networking for talent, virtual bench building, isn’t something successful businesses will just ‘try’ to do. When the outcome is important, we leave “TRY” out of the equation. We don’t “try” to love our kids, right? So, the next time you’re about to say that you’ll “try to do” something, reconsider. If the outcome of the activity is important, like hiring the right people, don’t just try. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” Your business will distinctly benefit from it.

Julie Mann is the CEO & President of both The Rock Star Factory and JMann Consulting Group. The Rock Star Factory is a professional placement firm specializing in matching companies with rock star quality employees, while JMann Consulting Group provides on-call HR Manager services for small & medium sized businesses. Julie can be contacted at 51
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