Category Archives: Business

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.

How to Make Online Marketing Without Spam

Spam is any message that you send electronically to lots of people who have not specifically requested mail from you — in other words, junk email. Like a telemarketing call during dinner, spam almost always annoys, and sometimes offends, those who receive it. While sending spam may result in a sale or two in the short run, it will almost surely damage your reputation, so it’s good advice to stay clear of it. There are many better ways to use email to keep in touch with current and potential customers. Here are a few of them:

  • Invite people to subscribe to an email newsletter instead of sending unsolicited emails. Have a sign-up form on your website and explain that you’ll send only timely, informative email to subscribers.
  • Include late-breaking, useful information in the email you send to subscribers. Because it can be delivered so quickly, email is a perfect vehicle for alerting people who are already part of your community to new and interesting developments. Even a modestly self-serving message will go over well if you package it with enough truly unique and valuable content. Just keep the hype to a minimum.
  • Make it easy to quit receiving email. Every message should include brief, friendly instructions for getting off your mailing list. Even people who keep subscribing will appreciate knowing that you’ve made it easy for them to say, “Enough already!” when the time comes.

Forecast sales more accurately

Sales forecasting is an integral part of business planning. I have written on the subject of sales forecasting a number of times in the past. However, for many of us, we are now dealing with a level of uncertainty we have not encountered previously in our lifetimes. As a result, some managers are eschewing forecasting, given the volatile market conditions. For listed companies there is an added complexity to their forecasting. They are fearful that if they publicly announce their projections for the year, as they usually do, there is then a chance that their share price will be hammered if they subsequently fail to meet their targets. As a result, some have chosen not to give annual earnings estimates for 2009.

However, as a recent article in The Economist, “To forecast or not to forecast?” (28 Feb 2009) declared, ‘Precisely because peering into the future is harder today than it was a year ago, managers should be using every available means to gauge what the world could look like in the coming months and to establish targets using this analysis’.

The reasons given by managers for not planning or not forecasting are simply not tenable; added uncertainty increases the need for planning, rather than diminishing it. A recent case in Ireland serves to illustrate the difficulty people find themselves in. It was reported that the new CEO of the C&C Group (Magners Irish Cider), John Dunsmore, had issued “a thinly veiled criticism of the Magners Cider maker’s previous management by hitting out at overstocking and over investment and writing down the value of the company’s manufacturing plant. ” In this instance the forecasting was imprecise and the result was overproduction and over investment against a backdrop of declining sales.

Sales forecasting, budgeting, and business planning are vital management activities regardless of the size of the business or the level of uncertainty we face. As the above example illustrates, sales forecasts are not just for the benefit of the business plan reader, but are a means to help managers make informed decisions. Looking to the future to help make decisions is always going to be an imprecise science, but there are ways to forecast sales with some degree of probability. The key elements are to (a) identify the key factors that are likely to impact on demand and (b) then consider a range of plausible outcomes. This is, in fact, scenario planning, whereby a number of plausible scenarios are considered, discussed, and then assigned probabilities.

As I stated in my article, Planning in Times of Extreme Turbulence,
“The importance of scenario planning grows when uncertainty increases. Scenario planning is when management considers a range of plausible future outcomes ranging from a ‘small stretch of the imagination’ to the ‘outlandish’.The aim is to think through the implications for the company if certain scenarios came into effect. For example, what would happen if sales decline by 20% or if oil doubles in price in 2009? By thinking through a number of plausible scenarios, and designing strategies to deal with such eventualities, companies will be better prepared if one of the scenarios does, in fact, occur.”

As the key variables are also identified, management can then keep a much closer eye on data points to help them predict likely outcomes, i.e., implications of interest rate movements, implications of currency fluctuations, etc.

Summary
In summary, while it is tempting to conclude that forecasting and planning is pointless in the volatile economic circumstances we face, the reality is that planning is more important than ever before. It is also worth remembering that the historic view of a business plan as a formal document is dated. Business planning is an ongoing process covering cash-flow management, sales forecasting and setting milestones, which business plan software products such as Business Plan Pro can help facilitate.

Start where you are

The Internet is a surprisingly personal place. A thousand people, each with unique personal interests, can spend the same 60 minutes online together and never come close to crossing paths. It follows that the key to Web publishing success is forging a lasting personal connection with people based on your own skills, interests and contacts. In other words, the best place to start is with the connections you already have online. Then use those connections to build a community of like-minded people and keep expanding from there.

Your own interests and expertise are your strengths as a publisher. Study the information that is already available in your niche, looking for gaps you can fill. Then, fill the gaps with valuable information nobody else provides. An example is www.businessbricks.co.uk a small business advice website in the U.K.

Your goal should be to create unique, valuable information that meets the needs of your targeted audience. On the Internet, there are many ways to provide that information that aren’t available to print publishers — for example, you can offer searchable, interactive databases and encyclopedias.

One online publisher, for example, is creating an online publication about his passion, electric vehicles (EVs). In his spare time (he’s a magazine editor), he’s been using his skills as a journalist to study the EV market, scoping out who the players are, what they have to say and how the industry is developing. He also travels to auto shows to test drive new cars, combs the Internet for information about EVs, and studies the technical literature about EV engineering and design.

How to be a Marketing Intern

The position as Marketing Intern at TravelClick is an excellent opportunity to join our high-performing and fast growing team in New York that is responsible for all of TravelClick’s Global Marketing efforts. Reporting to the Global Marketing Specialist, you will be assisting with Marketing activities across Email, Social Media, PR, Website and Events.

• Assisting with the end to end process for the development and execution of email marketing campaigns for product news, sales promotions and events.
• Managing the execution of Social Media activities.
• Supporting special Marketing projects such as branding activities, content strategy, website redesign and blog launch.
• Assisting with set up for local events
• Assigning, tracking and reporting of inbound leads from marketing campaigns, emails, newsletters, events and webinars.
• Preparing reporting and analysis of Marketing campaigns.

Qualifications

Required Skills and Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree candidate or recent graduate in Marketing or Communications
  • Excellent writing and communication skills
  • Strong project management, organizational and time management skills
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Positive attitude with the ability to work with different personalities across teams – team player
  • Ability to multi-task and work under tight deadlines in a result-driven environment
  • Advanced MS Office skills

 

Desired Skills and Experience

  • Hotel or Hospitality experience
  • International exposure
  • Additional language skills
  • Experience with Salesforce and other Marketing platforms
  • Graphic design, Adobe Creative Suite experience

Internet Products for Starting a New Business

Starting a business is an incredibly exciting time for any entrepreneur; however it can also be stressful with so much to do in so little time. The start-up phase is also characterized by significant expenditures against a backdrop of uncertain income. However, there are a number of products and services that can help you maximize your chances of success while also saving you considerable time and money. This article aims to introduce you to some of the less obvious ones that are available via the Internet. These products and services can help you set your business on the right path from Day One. While these recommendations will not be appropriate for all, those who need to bootstrap and build their business the hard way will benefit the most.

1. Create a website

Regardless of whether you intend to sell online or not, all new start-up businesses should secure a domain name and create a website as soon as they can. Thankfully, the cost of getting a site set up has fallen significantly over time and there are now a host of different packages and providers to choose from.

2. Download a profile of your industry

The factsheets, reports and guides from Scavenger are essential reading material for anyone starting up a business in the UK. The Business Opportunity Profiles are downloadable reports on specific UK industries. With over 800 reports in total, the range includes everything from ‘Children’s Day Nursery’ profiles to ‘Coffee Shop’ profiles to a profile on ‘Wedding Planners’.

3. Set up your company accounts

One of the big challenges start-up companies face is managing cash flow. Insolvency is one of the main causes of failure for entrepreneurs in the UK. However, with some careful and appropriate financial planning, cash crunches can be avoided. While this in itself is an important reason for buying a bookkeeping package, there are countless other reasons ranging from the ability to manage invoices through to managing payroll. The two main recommended introductory packages are QuickBooks® Simple Start from Intuit® and Sage® Instant Accounts. View online demos before you purchase.

Write a Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is a core component of a business plan. It relates specifically to the marketing of a particular product or service and it describes:

  • An overall marketing objective
  • A broad marketing strategy
  • The tactical detail related to specific marketing activities
  • The various costs associated with these activities
  • Those tasked with delivering these activities by name

The starting point for any marketing plan is an analysis of the strategic context, as a typical objective for most plans is promoting a good or service as effectively as possible. An assessment of the company, its environment and its customers helps to ensure that the author of the plan obtains a holistic view of the wider context. In turn this helps them to focus their energies and resources accordingly. This is particularly important given that most marketing managers will be subject to that all-too-familiar constraint—limited resources (invariably financial). In effect, a marketing plan is produced to ensure that limited resources are allocated to activities that are likely to bring the maximum return.

An assessment of the context will include analysis of both internal and external factors. There are a number of frameworks and tools designed to assist you with this:

  • A SWOT analysis forces you to consider internal Strengths and Weaknesses alongside external Opportunities and Threats.
  • Porter’s Five Forces is a framework designed to assist you in considering the broader competitive and environmental context.

It is also vital that you have a thorough understanding of your customers; look to whether segments exist within your broad customer group that can be profitably served utilizing specific and targeted marketing activities.

Following an analysis of broader conditions, a marketing strategy can then be put in place. This strategy needs to include financials so that all activities can be assessed in the context of their cost as a portion of the overall marketing budget. Regardless of the product or service, the objectives tend to be similar for most managers; create awareness, stimulate interest in the offering, and ultimately (profitably) convert this awareness into sales. All these factors are intertwined and, hence, the importance of effective market planning.

Using a local restaurant as an example, their marketing activities are going to be predominantly concentrated within a two to three mile radius of their restaurant, as this area is where the vast majority of their customers are likely to come from. Tactically, there is no point in such a restaurant advertising on TV (even locally) as the cost would be prohibitive in the context of their business model. They are limited in terms of capacity (number of seats) and their average cost per head so that, even if they created huge awareness and interest via TV advertising, the resultant revenues would still be unlikely to cover the cost of the specific marketing activity. On the other hand, stuffing leaflets through local letterboxes is extremely targeted and comes at low relative cost, which explains the sheer volume of fast-food flyers most of us get on a daily basis.

The reader of the plan should clearly be able to relate to the marketing initiatives in terms of the message, the target audience and the means to accessing this audience. A good marketing plan will detail specifics, i.e., a number of marketing activities, their respective costs, and the expected return on investment. Measuring return on marketing has historically been one of the greatest challenges the industry has faced. The advent of PPC (pay-per-click) advertising via the Internet has finally resulted in managers being able to track sales resulting from specific campaigns and adverts. However, this is just one means of advertising, and calculating effective ROI (return on investment) figures for other forms, such as billboards and TV, remains as elusive as ever.