Recently I met a group of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) business owners who were sharing who were sharing their experiences and exchange ideas on how to grow their businesses. They were entrepreneurs at various stages of running businesses from one year to over ten years.One lady who has been running a seemingly successful SME for over a decade brought up an interesting question that occupied most of the discussions. She asked why most SMEs struggle to grow into large enterprises. She explained that despite hard work, capital injection, strategic planning majority of SMEs are unable to break some confining walls that ensure the business remains at certain level of turnover and profitability. This happens after some years of exciting growth that plateaus at certain level. I jokingly called what he was describing the being held in the prison of smallness.Why would theses enterprising, hardworking, passionate and ambitious entrepreneurs be held in this prison? I kept on thinking.After evaluating my working experience with many SMEs I picked the following factors as the key constraints that combine to create this prison.1. Unscalable Business Models. The biggest limitation to SME growth, from my observation, has been unscalable business models.No business can outperform its business model. A business model describes the integrated means and processes through which you are trying to achieve your business objectives- creating and delivering value to the market for profit. When the perfect combination of such means is put to the highest test they could only give a certain result at best. However hard you work your model will not get any higher results after some point. At this point we say your business model can’t be scaled any further.Let me explain this with an example. If you were a dairy products processor you could have the following factors as some of the elements that form your business model. You keep dairy cattle, which provide all the raw milk you require. You then process and package the end products in your family run factory. You own two trucks with some delivery people who take the milk to various shops in your neighboring city. As the business keeps on growing you increase your cows, you expand your factory, buy more trucks and hire more delivery boys. But you will only be able to do this to a certain level.At that point you won’t be able to keep more cows and therefore your raw materials will become a constraint. The factory could only expand to a certain level and the market will only be able to absorb a certain amount of your products. However, much capital is injected into this business for expansion the business will become a prisoner of its own business model. Unless the model is changed to a scalable one, the revenues and profits of this firm will plateau.A change in model may mean a change in how the firm gets its raw materials – from self production to buy from other dairy farmers; it may also mean selling semi-processed products to other dairy products, it may mean sourcing out its excess capacity to competitors, add other products into its fold rather than focusing on dairy products only, develop a different channel of distribution among many other factors that affect its business model.As you evaluate your business model you need to fully appreciate all the factors that drive your business and how they relate to each other. If you are a prisoner of smallness then you need to have a thorough look into your business model.2. Over dependence on new customers All start up entrepreneurs have great stories of their first customers. The excitement of getting someone to believe in your product or firm is essential to keep you going in the early days of the start up. Unfortunately for most SME entrepreneurs this excitement becomes an obsession and it becomes the only purpose of all its business efforts.It has been widely believed that the most successful business is the one that has the highest number of first time customers. This is a partial truth. I evaluate business success by the number of repeat customers, how frequent the orders are and whether they are increasing with time. As a growth strategist, marketing consultant and business owner, I know how costly and difficult it is to get a customer make the first purchase. This is incomparable to the easiness of keeping a customer and getting him to make a repeat purchase.Many SMEs owners will agree with this logic in conversations but in practice the opposite happens. You hear and see the inscription, ‘Lose them once they make the first purchase!’ In their customer dealings. You see it in the customer service, the quality of its products and weak after sale follow-up. After a customer buys don’t ask, “How do I get the next one.” But shout to yourself, “How will I get him to come back!”3. Flawed Marketing Mindset For big companies marketing seem to be at the heart of everything they do. They do as much marketing as money can buy. A friend who owns a SME once told me that the market budget of a competitor was more than his company’s annual turnover (not profit). SMEs are limited in financial resources. But that is never an excuse for not marketing.Marketing is not a nice to have thing when you have money it is an essential for growing your business. Today’s business battles are worn or lost in the marketing arena. Many people seem to conclude that you have to invest all your capital into marketing. That is a fallacy. One guy who has been able to start SMEs and convert them into large organizations is Richard Branson. In his book, “Screw It”, he says that since he discovered early that he didn’t have a lot of money for advertising he had to become a publicist of own companies by becoming a news character. By appearing in the media he gets free advertising. I have just given him free advertisement in this article. You get the point.Unless you want to remain small forever, you have to think of ways of getting marketing leverage for your business at low cost and ensure you get the highest returns possible from your marketing investments. You don’t have to be a marketing guru to do it. In our marketing course for entrepreneurs we cover various aspects of marketing your business with minimal budget- and there are limitless ways of doing so.4. Lack of Quality Human Capital You wish I said financial capital. This may be a challenge to some businesses. But, for those that remain small this is more of a consequence than the cause. I have consulted and trained for large organizations and SMEs and the most visible difference between the two is the number of quality of people they have in their team.While large organizations have a large number of talented, skilled and passionate people, SMEs particularly the ones whose growth has stagnated have only one such person – the owner. That is why minus the physical and mental health of the owner many SMES end up closing doors.When you hear of a guy who single handedly started and grew a small business into a large multinational just know that is a lie. Businesses are grown by having a wealth of skilled, talented, loyal and passionate employees. Many entrepreneurs running SMEs complain that getting and retaining great people expensive and almost an impossibility. It is difficult but not impossible.Early last year I advised a client to go for the right attitude and develop skills with time. And for sure they are starting to experience great results from this. You need to craft a strategy and develop a culture that will attract, develop and retain the best people you require for your business. Your business will be as great as the quality of people working in it.5. Lack of Innovation Closely related to lack of human capital is lack of innovation. The two are directly proportional. One true measure of business growth is its innovativeness. Majority of the businesses highly admired for their growth from small start ups to success companies are not doing what they started out doing and if at all they are, they are not doing it the same way they did it in the beginning.The yester-year giants that have stagnated are doing exactly what they started out doing. I don’t want to mention names. The world we live in is continuously changing. That which was a genius idea yesterday will not be appealing tomorrow. That which your customers fought to have last year will be highly inferior compared to what your competitors will introduce next year. How do you grow in this environment?INNOVATE! Innovation is what fuels of business growth. You have to develop new products, create more selling channels, give your customers more flavors, more service options, different ways of communicating to your customers. Innovation will be possible only if you become more outward looking. Then align everything in your business to the external happenings and prepare for the future. Innovation thrives in a business culture that allows, even encourages, mistakes. Unfortunately this culture is a major deficiency among many SMEs.The only person who can get away with a mistake is the owner. As a consequence no new ideas come up in the business for fear of failure and the result is being a prisoner of smallness. You will not grow the business if there is a monopoly of idea generation in the business.6. Lack of systems that support growth Systems are the skeleton upon which growth is built upon. Too much growth with without strong systems will result into chaos and ultimately the business will tend to shrink to the level that the system can support. Talk of Business Body Mass Index. To move from biology to architecture systems are the pillars upon which the business is built on. They can only hold as much weight as they can support.I have been involved in assisting SMEs put in place business systems and in most cases the only system that exists in some form is the accounting system all else is dependent on whims, know-how and temperament of the people. People move, people forget, people get sick, people get bored, and all this become your business.While systems may not completely eliminate the effects of these occurrences they drastically minimize them. You then have a predictable business that can always deliver what it is supposed to deliver regardless of the mood of the moment.In SMEs mistakes happen all the time. Some are never discovered and corrected, some become habits. While dressing downs, reprimands and firings are the methods used to deal with these problems they are hardly the most effective ways on their own to ensure mistakes are not repeated. Systems go along way to help. If you want to break away from the prison of smallness you need to work on removing all these constraints.
Five Common Blunders That Stop Startup Businesses in Their Tracks
Being self-employed is the dream of many. But as one self-employed person quipped, “I used to work for a boss; now I work for a tyrant.” You’re the first hired, and the last to get paid. Undaunted, people launch themselves in various self-employment projects.But having found themselves on the self-employed merry-go-round, many people find the journey tougher going than they anticipated. For a lot of people it results in early retirement from self-employment and a loss of confidence in entrepreneurial activity.The blunders people make, however, are readily overcome with a little planning and thought.I’ve identified five common blunders, any one of which can bring a business crashing down around the owner’s head.1. Lack of fundsBusiness needs money. You soon find it does little else but consume funds — lots of it.If nothing else, the business needs to provide a source of income for the business owner, not as profits to the owner but as a wage or salary to an employee. Nearly every small business I have been in (including my own in the early days) fails to pay the business owner a market wage. Not paying these kinds of expenses hides the true cost of running a business.While owners may forgo income in the short term to get the business rolling, most business people do this because they don’t have the funds. If they don’t have funds to pay appropriate wages to the workers (themselves), then they probably don’t have adequate funds for sales and marketing of the business. Or perhaps they don’t carry some of the insurances a business really needs to protect it from disaster.Lack of funds, however, is a symptom, not the problem. The problem here is either poor sales, or poor expenditure control — or both.2. Too Much DebtTo solve the funding problem many business owners borrow to get the business going. But borrowing money can lead to some unexpected results.Borrowing large sums of money when you have not learned to manage such amounts can easily lead to disaster. One business I know exhibited this problem. The new owners obtained a $50,000 loan to get the business going, and spent a huge portion of it leasing prime office space and furnishing it to a very high standard. Rather than apply the funds to marketing and sales, they spent it on appearances. They lasted about three months before they shut the door.3. Poor PricingThe way many businesses get started is by pricing themselves at the lower end of the market. This pricing strategy has nothing to do with pricing for results. It is just that the business owner really does not have the courage to ask the higher prices that established businesses are charging.The under-priced business owner soon finds that his customers really don’t appreciate him or the fact that he’s so cheap. He finds that his customers soon drift off to do business with the higher priced people in town, leaving him to find a new customer to replace the one he has lost.It takes a year or so (sometimes a lot longer) of operating like this before the business owner decides he has little to lose if he puts up his prices. So he timidly asks the next customer to pay more, finds he gets no rejection on the basis of price, and finds now he can afford to offer a better quality service or product to the customer.Since people do not buy on price but on value, the business owner is beginning to learn that his price is not as important as the value he brings to his customer.4. Poor Sales and MarketingBusiness takes place only when a sale has been made. Yet many attempt business without the skills of finding customers or making a sale. Somehow they believe that customers will walk in the door and all will be well. But too many startup business owners are weak in the these areas. Therefore, the business suffers.Often the lack of marketing skills is tied with the lack of funds. Somehow business owners have to find a way to tell people the business exists and why they should do business with it. This might be done through radio, TV or newspaper, or internet advertising, telephone calls, direct mail, or personal calls. But however, it is done, it will cost money – lots of it.5. Poor Management and LeadershipThe common mistakes listed above all fall under a general heading: poor management and leadership. This, above all determines the success of the business. And while it is not necessary to get every step in business right, you have to do enough right things to make the business work properly.Startup businesses are driven by a vision of the business owner. Too often that vision cannot be articulated clearly and translated into economic results (profits) for the business. Unless that vision is translated into goals and activities in the business, failure looms higher on the horizon. Good management practices are needed to bring the vision to fruition.This means planning, implementing appropriate accounting systems that accurately reflect the status of the business, hiring staff that will share the owner’s vision, then getting down to work of locating clients and creating happy customers.The failure rate of small businesses is high because of the kinds of mistakes listed above. Don’t let your business be one of the failures.
Fairness and Tamil Girls
A look at the Tamil screen shows that the heroines are fair- skinned. The cinema in Tamil Nadu is almost like a staple diet for the people and no wonder a plethora of stars have made a successful entry into politics as well. Jayalalitha was one such politician- star. I have to make a point here and that is in a galaxy of heroines on the silver screen, I have yet to see a dark-skinned heroine. Even Jayalalitha the star turned politician (sadly she is no more) is milky-white in complexion. These fair complexioned stars contribute to a beauty culture in South India where skin-whitening creams outsell soft drinks. Yet the fact is that most Tamil and south Indian girls are dark- complexioned. I wonder why a dark complexioned girl cannot strike out in the Tamil film industry.
One aspect that is overlooked is that the ancient scriptures, epics, or folk tales in Tamil or for that matter in any Indian language, the good character is always portrayed as being fair in complexion. A beautiful princess is always without fail described as being fair and white as snow. This is a dangerous portrayal as it is suggesting that the fair are fair dealing and the dark complexioned has evil intentions. This view has been expressed by Shyamala Bhatia, an associate professor in history at the Bharati College, University of Delhi.
If you add that the white race ruled India and their women were white than it becomes clear why the concept of fairness being superior is embedded deep within the Indian psyche.
But even after the white rulers went away, India’s concepts of beauty has not changed. Thus milky-complexioned Tamil stars have led to a massive market for skin- lightening creams, the notion that white means beautiful is all pervading in South India. The word for fairness in Hindi is “GORI” and in Tamil it is NÄrmai. I am afraid it will not go from the South Indian psyche.
I will close with a small anecdote. I had been called to give a guest lecture to students on the Law in Madras University. After the lecture I expected to be asked questions about the legal aspects of the lecture. Unfortunately all the girls surrounded me asked me what I did to keep my skin fair. I was nonplussed, as I don’t do anything and am a Punjabi, albeit fair skinned.