Friday, January 11, 2013

Start at the End

Dave Lavinsky, co-founder and president of Growthink, has a new book out called “Start at the End”.  Below are his top 12 tips, with a little commentary from me.  Start at the End is available for $7.95 shipping costs at

1.     Start at the end – if you don’t know where you want your business to go, you’ll never get there.

William – There are many good outcomes for a business if you’re open to them.  In a consulting business, for example, you may be willing to make less than your ultimate goal if you are traveling to interesting places, learning new technology or get to work with interesting people or on progressive projects.  However, as Dave mentions, it is important to establish that “true north” for your business – and subgoals that mark the milestones to get there.

2.     SWOT analyses are obsolete; realize there will always be threats and company weaknesses that don’t warrant fixing. Rather, focus on opportunities that leverage your strengths (SO analysis), and build your strengths further so they give you sustainable long-term advantage

William – Great advice!

3.     Forget your P&L; that’s short-term thinking; need to also think longer-term; building business assets that allow you grow your business and reap better P&L later and forever.

William – I’m not too keen on this one.  The P&L shows the funds that are sustaining the business.  If your efforts are not yielding a positive P&L, pretty soon you won’t have a business.  Be agile.  Find a way to make the concept deliver P&L early and often, even if you are building to a larger payday later.

4.     If your business doesn’t have a scorecard, you will lose EVERY time. Your scorecard needs to include the detailed KPIs that underly your revenue and profit results.

William – Absolutely.  And that scorecard could be multi-faceted, but don’t let it get too complex that it gets overwhelming.  Usually a few key metrics are all that is needed and the rest will naturally drag along.

5.     If your business doesn’t operate without you, it’s not a business; it’s a miserable job. You must systematize your business so it works for you, not vice-versa.

William – I get it!  Work yourself out of a job.  Your time is the most uber-valuable thing you have and if you have to spend it operating a business you don’t like, then life is hard.  However, the “job” could be (and should be) something better than miserable if you happen to be operating it.

6.     The most important marketing metric in a business is PPI – profit per impression.  To maximize it, you need a fully optimized marketing system.

William – Flies in the face of the “this is a numbers business”.  This is worth thinking about, although Grant Cardone, sales expert, says (paraphrased) that your #1 problem is not enough people know about you and what you do. 

7.     Business owners don’t need more leads (even though all of them think this will solve all their problems). Rather, they need a better marketing system that converts leads into lifelong customers.

William – There’s no doubting that you’d better be ready to deliver, but generating leads is a huge problem for most.  When you convert one, it better pay off, which is probably Dave’s point.

8.     Most business owners don’t have even one organization or “org” chart when in fact you need to have 3 to succeed.

William – I haven’t read the book to know what these 3 are, but I’ll be interested in finding out.  I agree with the concept that the team needs to know who to go to for any need.

9.     Successful business owners don’t run businesses. They have employees that run their businesses; they grow them. To be successful, you need to build an org chart that includes the necessary personnel and structures to allow your business to run without you.

William – Yes, see #5 above.

10.  Because of poor management, most small business owners’ employees focus on the wrong things. Ask your employees how they think their performance should be judged, and make sure that agrees with your thinking. If employees don’t understand what success is, they can’t possibly achieve it.

William – Excellent point, but let this Q&A be non-judgmental and if you ask, be open to the answer as input to your view of how their performance should be judged.

11.  Business owners should stop innovating. Rather, do more of the things that are proven to work and less of the things that haven’t worked. Avoid shiny object syndrome of constantly wanting to try the latest thing.

William – I get the spirit of this – play up your strengths.  Just make sure you don’t avoid shiny objects at the expense of innovation.  I need to make half my revenue this year doing things for which I made nothing last year.

12.  Humble yourself by building an advisory board. You’ll be amazed by what other successful people know that you don’t.

William – This is one of the key functions to do outside of direct business-making functions.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

90 Days to Success in Consulting is Available Again on Kindle

After a year or so hiatus from Kindle due to a dispute between my publisher and Amazon, 90 Days to Success in Consulting is once again available for Kindle.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Post: Why Book Publishers Hate Authors

Why Book Publishers Hate Authors

Michael Levin

Michael is a New York Times best selling author and Shark Tank survivor.  Michael runs, and is a nationally acknowledged thought leader on the future of book publishing.

It seems so…unliterary.  But publishing houses despise authors and are doing everything they can to make their lives miserable.  Here’s why.

Authors are admittedly a strange lot.  There’s something antisocial about retreating from life for months or years at a time, to perform the solitary act of writing a book.  

On top of that, authors are flaky.  They promise to deliver a manuscript in April and it doesn’t come in until October.  Or the following April.Or the April after that.  This leaves publishers with several options, all of them bad:  revise publishing schedules at the last minute; demand that authors turn in projects on time, regardless of quality; cancel books altogether; or sue the authors (as Penguin has begun to do) for undelivered or poor quality work.

Authors are also prickly about their work.  There are few jobs on the planet in which people are utterly free to ignore the guidance, or even mandates, from their bosses.  Yet book authors are notoriously dismissive of their editors’ advice.  When I was writing novels for Simon & Schuster back in the late 1980s, my editor, Bob Asahina, used to tell me, “You’re the only writer who ever lets me do my job.”
Also, annoyingly, writers expect to be paid.  Maybe not much, but something.  The Authors Guild produced a survey in the 1970s indicating that writers earned only slightly more, on an hourly basis, than did the fry cooks at McDonald’s.  Publishers were still responsible for paying advances to authors, hoping that the authors would turn in a publishable manuscript – which doesn’t happen all of the time.
So it’s understandable that publishers might feel churlish and uncharitable toward authors, on whom their entire publishing model depends.  But since the 2008 economic meltdown hit Publishers’ Row, the enmity has turned into outright warfare.

The three R’s of the publishing industry, the strategy for survival, quickly became, “Reduce royalties and returns.”  Returns are books that come back unsold from bookstores.  Printing fewer copies typically ensures fewer returns.  Reducing advances and royalties—money publishers pay writers—was the other main cost that publishers sought to slash.

And slash they did.  More and more publishers moved to a minimal or even zero advance business model.  They said to authors, “We’ll give you more of a back end on the book, and we’ll promote the heck out of your book.  We’ll be partners.”

Some partners.  Zero advance combined with zero marketing to produce…that’s right.  Zero sales.
And then who caught the blame for the book’s failure?  Not the publisher.  The author. 

Today, any time an agent or acquisitions editor considers a manuscript or book proposal from an author, the first place they go is to get sales figures.  These numbers used to be proprietary to the house that had published the book; now they’re out in the open for all to see.  And if an author’s sales numbers are poor, no one thinks to blame the house for failing to market the book.  The author’s career is essentially over.  One and done.  Next contestant, please.

It’s completely unfair, but destroying the options of a writer actually has some benefits for publishers.  Which leads me to think that maybe publishers are actually happy when authors fail.
As authors gains traction in the marketplace, their fees go up.  They can charge a publisher more money for their next book.  The problem is that there’s no guarantee that the next book will sell well enough to justify the higher advance the publisher had to pay the author.  So if publishers can turn writing into a fungible commodity, they no longer have to worry about paying more, or potentially over-paying for a book.

If publishers can commoditize writing, they’re no longer at the mercy of unruly, unmanageable, and unpredictable writers.  They can lower their costs, they can guarantee that their schedules will be adhered to, and they can keep the trains running on time.

The problem is that they destroy the uniqueness and creativity that readers expect when they buy a book.  As the quality of books diminishes, book buyers are less likely to turn to books the next time they need to get information about a given topic.  They’ll go to Wikipedia, they’ll do a Google search, they’ll phone a friend.  But they won’t buy another book.

Publishers have begun to hate authors.  But seeking to squeeze out the individuality and admittedly the eccentricity of authors is just one more reason why book publishing as we know it is going over the cliff.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Should You Start a One-Person Consultancy?

Here is a checklist, courtesy of Marty Nemko, on 14 questions to ask yourself before starting a one-person business.  I thought they had a lot of applicability to the one-person consultancy business, so I'm sharing the list here:

Link to questions.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Predict the Future and Act with Certainty

Does it sometimes seem like very little is certain? Does that make it hard to plan – to the point where you don’t plan and just take care of what’s required immediately? I had a chance to speak with Daniel Burrus, one of the world's leading technology forecasters and business strategists and author of “Flash Foresight” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller. He has an approach that helps you bring “the certain” into focus and then act on that certainty.

Here is a link to the article about Dan's approach to certainty (and the explanation for the picture of the chair.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where's Jeremy?

As a Golden State Warrior fan, I am watching in amazement the “Linsanity” that Jeremy Lin has created.    As most everyone is aware, Jeremy Lin has exploded onto the NBA scene.  As the Knicks ran out of options at point guard, in what might be considered a desperate move, Lin was thrust into the starting lineup.  There’s been no looking back.  His exploits on the court have been nothing short of amazing.

However, roll it back 1 year when Lin was a Warrior and he was the last guy off the bench – when he was actually on the team and not in the developmental league that is.  I was asked by an Asian-American friend about Lin then and I said that we don’t see him in the games very much, he must not have proven himself to the coaches and that he would probably be out of the NBA soon.  Well, I was right about the first 2 things, but I suspect he will be playing in the NBA for quite a while now.  At least I couched my statement with “we don’t see him in the games very much.”  Otherwise, I would be a very poor judge of talent.  And nobody could really disagree that he was probably headed out of the league then.

Circumstances intervened and now we have “Linsanity.”  What about your clients?  Do they have Jeremy Lin’s that have been suppressed and just need a chance?

I have often remarked that one of my main jobs at a client is to unearth the great ideas that are present in the staff, refine those ideas and turn them into productive action.  Often times, people don’t speak up out of fear of stepping on a superior’s toes or because they’ve otherwise been “put in their place” when they have stretched.  Sometimes they’re pegged below where they should be because it takes some people a while in their career or new job to shine. 

Organizations should support and facilitate idea development from all corners.  Leaving a client better means finding the Jeremy Lin’s in that organization and seeing to it that they get credit for their ideas and are able to improve the company condition.

Find the Jeremy Lin at your client.  What better way to improve the client condition than to give the client access to its hidden talent?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I’m Reading: Grow Smart, Risk Less

It is easy to forget that when it comes to some of the needs of a consulting business - like small business growth, marketing, sales, speaking and client communications -  some of the best advice will come from the leaders of those domains across all industries, not just from consulting.  Taking that mentality a step further, I picked up “Grow Smart, Risk Less: A Low-Capital Path of Multiplying Your Business Through Franchising” by Shelly Sun.  While most consulting operations are not franchised by the definition of the Federal Trade Commission (are there any?), nonetheless the approach to business growth by many is through multiplying successful offices or practices into different geographic locations or practice areas.  The franchising approach is very analogous to expanding a consulting business.

This led me to “Grow Smart.”  In this book, Sun talks about how to build each practice from a “ground floor” perspective, honing them to the point where they can run without the founder involved daily.  Sun gives readiness criteria for expansion of the concept in this way.  She talks about the skills and capabilities that should be evident in those buying into a franchise and how to support them in the opening process, such as “Join-the-Team” days.  Finally Grow Smart is about how to maximize revenue from the “divide and conquer” approach of franchising.  Sun bases her advice on her experience growing her company from $1 million to $100 million in five years.

Expanding a consulting business from being an Oracle partner to a Microsoft partner or from Chicago to Seattle is obviously going to have differences from opening your first non-company owned franchise restaurant.  However, the mentality is the same.  As Sun, who has been on Undercover Boss, states, “the success of the franchisees and that of the franchisor are interdependent.”