Monthly Archives: December 2016

What is a business model

A business model is a description of how your business intends to operate and make money. At the most basic level, it involves a producer making something and selling it directly to customers at a profit (but this simple model has propagated into numerous diverse models in recent years).

Alexander Osterwalder, co-author of the book Business Model Generation, defines a business model as:

‘… a description of the value a company offers to one or several segments of customers and of the architecture of the firm and its network of partners for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital, to generate profitable and sustainable revenue streams.’

The development of a business model is essentially a strategic perspective rather than an operational assessment, and focuses on how you capture value i.e. it includes a description of the value proposition. Deciding upon a business model becomes particularly important as a concept when it is not a simple ‘make and sell direct‘ model and you are looking to create value through a non linear route.

 

The Business Model – An Introduction

In days of old, business was arguably a lot simpler; you produced something and sold it for a profit, building up a good reputation over time so as to ensure ongoing patronage. Before the industrial revolution most sales were essentially local, and you had a much greater steer on competition, demand levels and pricing. You probably sold your products directly to consumers as the butcher, baker or candlestick maker.

Fast forward 200 years and business has changed considerably. A lot more creativity is needed to get noticed in a time-pressed world (not to mention in making a sale). You are probably facing global competitors, and in many instances a widely dispersed audience who are increasingly difficult to reach in a cost effective manner. As a result, numerous alternative strategies have emerged to get your product to market, safely into the hands of the consumer and business model innovation has become increasingly popular.

Known The Business Models

This is the second of a three-part series. Read Part I and Part III.

The following are some examples of business models that are used by various businesses. The list is by no means exhaustive and is designed to give you a feel for some of the models that exist (business models evolve constantly).

In many instances, the names can vary as they are not typically universally defined.

The Add-On model

In this instance, the core offering is priced competitively but there are numerous extras that drive the final price up so the consumer is not getting the deal they initially assumed. If you have recently tried to buy an airline ticket or car insurance, you will have spotted that the number of extras you are offered can almost reach double figures!

The Advertising model

The advertising model became popular with the growth of radio and TV where the TV stations earned revenue indirectly from people looking to promote services to the audience they attracted, rather than via consumers paying radio and TV stations for the consumption of their TV programmes.

Some Internet businesses derive revenue predominantly as a result of being able to offer advertisers access to highly targeted consumer niches (often in the absence of revenue from selling their goods or services).  So if your website is about a narrowly defined topic, it is likely to attract a highly defined niche audience who could be offered complimentary products or services with a higher probability of success than blanket mass market advertising.

However, this business model is increasingly difficult to justify if it is your main revenue stream. For a start, the landscape is extremely competitive and advertisers are spoilt for choice. Building brand awareness and translating that into site visits is a very difficult and costly challenge. Successes such as Facebook are very much the exception to the norm.

If this model is being considered for your startup, it is worth noting that nowadays most savvy investors ignore ‘vanity metrics’ such as Page Impressions/Visitor numbers and want to understand whether the underlying business proposition is profitable. Examples such as YouTube illustrate how hard it can be to monetise free content even when you have significant visitor numbers. In short, this model is in decline for most businesses.

The Affiliate model

An affiliate is simply someone who helps sell a product in return for commission. However they may never actually take ownership of the product (or even handle it). They simply get rewarded for referring customers to a retailer when they make a sale.  Again this business model has been a huge success given the ease with which the Internet facilitates it.

Small Business Performance

When I am asked about measuring small business performance, my first inclination is to quote Lewis Carroll. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road and asks:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

In other words, if you do not have a plan for where you want your business to get to, performance measurement does not matter much!

Management dashboard

Small businesses come in various guises and hence it is difficult to generalise when it comes to individual performance management. Metrics (also called Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s) can range from Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses focusing on Lifetime Value (LTV) and churn rates, to hotels measuring occupancy levels and average room yields. However the old adage holds, ‘What gets measured gets managed’, so it is important to have some metrics in place. A good starting point would be to try and understand what are the typical metrics that define success in your particular industry. After that, it’s a case of adding some additional metrics to the mix to ensure that all bases are covered. The following represent a list of some of the more common elements that can make up a “management dashboard” which combine to help you manage performance. Of course, some may argue that profitability should be the main bellwether as to the performance of a small business. While there is merit in this view, it is better to use a combination of metrics which all support the primary goal of trading profitably while growing year on year. This way you have early warning systems in place, as an assessment of profitability based on financial statements can take some time given the reporting time lag.

It all starts with a plan

Creating a simple business plan is vital for all small businesses regardless of whether the business is looking to raise money or not. Planning is essentially about having the foresight to plot and manage your own future, in stark contrast to reacting to accounting data with its emphasis on past performance. While business plans have many purposes, they are not often associated with performance measurement, despite the fact they are a very useful tool with which to measure performance. By committing your thoughts to a business plan you can ensure that you (or your team) know what the priorities are, what activities need to be done, who needs to do them and by when. A business plan brings a lot of transparency to the business with accountability in the form of names, actions and dates.

Cash-flow management

Careful management of cash flow is a fundamental requirement for all businesses. The reason is quite simple–many businesses fail, not because they are unprofitable, but because they ultimately become insolvent (i.e., are unable to pay their debts as they fall due). If you are a “cash-only” business, you can bank the income immediately. However, if you sell on credit, you receive the cash in the future and hence may need to pay some of your own expenses before that income hits your account. This will put a further strain on the company’s solvency and hence a well structured business plan will help you manage funding requirements in advance.

Start up Your Business

Decisions regarding how you finance your business should be taken very seriously as it is one of the most critical decisions you will make at the start-up phase and forms a key part of any business plan. When considering the different financing options, you need to spend some time learning about the conditions that come attached to early stage capital investment.  By far the best way to finance your business is from current cash flow arising from sales but unfortunately this is not realistic for most start up businesses.

A cursory glance through mainstream newspapers indicates that raising start up finance remains difficult as UK banks are simply not lending money to businesses (especially start-ups).  As Luke Johnson of Beer & Partners argues that;

“Angel investors are the only realistic option for these early-stage companies. Currently banks are barely open for business, or tend to offer loans on unattractive terms, so the need for equity capital is greater than ever. What’s more, since current low interest rates give savers such poor returns, more and more angel investors are emerging that have a strong appetite for direct investment in small companies.”

As Luke Johnson indicates, we have witnessed a growth in the number of angel investors seeking to fill this gap seeking to support entrepreneurs through the provision of early stage capital.

In addition, the ongoing success of the BBC programme, Dragon’s Den (where entrepreneurs seeking investment pitch their business plans to a panel of prospective investors), has added to the growing popularity of angel investment as a primary means by which entrepreneurs secure early stage investment in their fledgling businesses.  However I believe there is an alternative more compelling option which is more appropriate for non capital intensive businesses like Internet start-ups- and it is known as bootstrapping.