A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting up with a life-long friend and fellow entrepreneur at one of Chicago’s brightest start-up/technology communities 1871. My friend had recently been accepted into one of the city’s small business accelerators aimed at clean technology companies. When I left Chicago in 2000, the city was and still is a diverse, international community known for its awesome eats and world class architecture. However, outside of a handful of recognizable corporate names, Chicago lacked what areas in Northern California’s Silicon Valley and New York’s Silicon Alley have had for years . . . a unique start-up culture and identity. Watching my friend and some half dozen other entrepreneurs live out their dreams on stage let me know that the past decade has been kind to area start-ups. With names like Groupon, Open Table, 37 Signals, and a host of other up and coming companies leading the way, Chicago is definitely on the map. However, not sure of what to expect that evening I found myself wondering as I watched these innovators take the stage, ‘What makes a great start-up?’
A few years ago my wife and I had an amazing landscaping project completed for our home. The finished product involved the leveling of a huge hill, installing a massive retaining wall and reseeding the front and back lawns. The result was an amazing yard with some of the greenest, thickest grass around. I took a lot of pride in that yard. I would pour countless hours into my yard in hopes that my efforts would land me on the cover of Manly Yards Magazine. My wife would routinely suggest that I hire a service to relieve me of some of these duties. It wasn’t until I began to feel the increasing demands on my time that I asked the question, “How much more productive could I be if I shifted some or all of that yard work to a professional?”
Business development work can at times be a bit complicated. With so many moving small business parts, owners must know which tools are right for which job. Over time it became easier to understand the differences between business planning and strategic planning and when it was appropriate to use each one. Strategic plans are more conceptual in nature and produce the overall goals and objectives to be achieved. Business plans on the other hand are very specific and are responsible for carrying out those goals and objectives. The following is a further examination of strategic planning and how it can benefit your company.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to trade the political hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. for the familiar blue-collar grind of Chicago, IL. Coming home is always fun, but this trip was special as I was attending one of my favorite events, the 2012 Printer’s Row Literature Festival; one of the largest literary events in the country. As I strolled through the crowds, I was reminded of my childhood growing up in Chicago. As a kid I worked a lot of the major fairs and neighborhood events in order to make a little extra spending money. However, my marketing efforts paled in comparison to what’s possible today. Today’s events are more sophisticated and entrepreneurs looking to effectively capitalize on events both large and small should plan accordingly.
Flipping channels a few weeks ago I landed on a dad that was desperately trying to teach his children the lesson of earning an honest dollar. To bring his point across as easily as possible he chose to help them build their very own lemonade stand. In theory you could tell that from the youngest to the oldest they got the idea-I sell lemonade and people give me money. The humorous part was watching as the dad tried to explain the inner workings of their lemonade empire. How do you get the money to start, what ingredients are needed (and at what cost), and how do you determine if your operation is successful or not? The children understood one thing and one thing only, ‘I sell lemonade and people give me money.’ Let’s be honest, small business financials are far less sexy than its marketing counterpart. This made me wonder if over the years I had developed a ‘let someone else worry about the details . . . how much money do I stand to make attitude’. So I set out on a little experiment of my own. If I had to teach small business financials to my own kids or simply put a concept like break-even analysis into layman’s terms, could I do it successful?
This morning I was expected to be awaken by the symphony of jackhammers and construction workers screaming things that would make a sailor look like a nursery school teacher. Imagine my surprise when I was awaken by the rumbling coming from of all places my stomach. So what's a guy to do when he's starving at five a.m. in the 'City That Never Sleeps'? So I grabbed a magazine and began trolling for food and would ultimately stumble upon a little storefront café where I would find the best breakfast I have ever eaten out of a Styrofoam container. As I gratefully ate my food and watched the city come to life, I took the opportunity to reflect on the sights, sounds, people and what I learned from my most recent trip to New York City.
A little over a decade ago I had an opportunity to work for a unique little start-up that provided technology to hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry. The company was ahead of its time; however, one of the things that stood out was its name. It would often elicit puzzled reactions and seemed to violate some if not all of the business naming conventions. For starters the name was difficult to spell. Though creative, the name had a hidden meaning that only the founders seemed to know. Lastly, the name was hard to pronounce. However, I would guess that none of that really matters when you go on to sell your company for $41 million. The following are some of my tips for naming your company for business success.
I remember the moment my former boss turned and asked me, “Do you think you would be interested in going into sales?” At the time I was young and in a very complex industry and simply trying to keep my head above water. To me the idea of going into sales was the equivalent of going to the front lines of a war. Since then I’ve had a change of heart as I have needed to rely on my own sales ability to move The Entrepreneur Café, LLC forward. For many sales can be intimidating consisting of the dreaded cold calls, sheer numbers, rejection, long sales processes, continuous pipeline management, and quotas. Recently I found myself trying to explain the sales process to a budding entrepreneur and wanted to make sure that the details of an extended sales process didn’t get lost in translation. So I decided to try and simplify the sales process with five easy steps.