Entrepreneurial News®

You’re Launched: Now What?

At this point, you’ve launched and you’re either profitable, or you have a plan to become profitable.

If you’re working on a plan to become profitable, you have to first make sure that you have enough money to last until you become cash flow positive.

For example, when a partner and I took over a restaurant from one of my clients because he’d run out of money, we had done a plan that would get him from where he was to profitability in about a year. However, the plan required about $150,000 of additional capital which, it turned out, he didn’t have. I and a partner did.

So, we assumed the lease staffed it the way that we thought it should be, and kept going. And, we lost about $150,000 before we became cash flow positive. But, we largely stayed on plan.

We had to redo our promotion plan, because we discovered that, with a tough location and a cuisine no one had heard of (Modern American) we had to really promote by word of mouth. However, our patrons loved us, and a couple of influential magazines loved us, so slowly traffic picked up.

We also discovered that our patrons thought of us as a supper club which was a concept that no restaurant in Maricopa county was doing, but we have a lot of Midwestern and Eastern transplants, it was a matter of getting the word to them. We did all sorts of promotions to get patrons in the door, because we knew once we did, that there was about a 75% chance that they’d return. And we really listened to what the patrons were saying, because we discovered that word of mouth really worked. Eventually we got word of mouth up to about 95%.

So, we sort of pivoted.

Seldom does your original plan go as planned.

So, you have to consider changing what you’re doing to some extent. Your customers will tell you what they think is good and not so good about what you’re doing.

Your employees will also tell you what could be done better, because they’re on the front lines, making product, serving customers, etc.

I have done in several businesses, and have urged my clients to do, listening sessions, which might be on Friday afternoon after the trucks have been loaded, or they might be on Sunday afternoon in your restaurant before you open for Sunday evening.


One of the things you discover in growing a business is how good a leader you are or aren’t.

You have to communicate your vision of where your business is going, and be prepared to take (hopefully) constructive criticism about what could be done better.

I and my business partners have always liked the concept of ‘management by walking around’ which was popularized by a management consultant named Tom Peters in the 1990s.

You can wander around your shop or warehouse floor, or your front counter, or, as I did on many nights, sit out in front of our restaurant and talk to passersby. It was a rather hokey, but very effective, tactic. It was so effective that a couple of our neighboring restaurants complained (there were four of us in a row, all different styles of food).

The tactic you might use is just taking orders from your customers for an afternoon a week. Or go to industry trade shows.

I wasn’t particularly good at running a business (you can find key people for that), but I have been very good at leading others to run segments of the business, figuring out market niches and how to exploit them.


This is a rather corny old practice, but it works, particularly for business-to-business companies.

This phrase is good because all of your people who are interacting with customers should be writing down on customer records how each customer heard about you, so you can determine  which of your promotional methods work.

Somewhere in your startup phase you should have put in a budget for promotion, which includes sales, magazines, coupons, whatever you had in your original plan.

Let’s assume that you planned for 10% of your sales to be spent on promotion of various types. You can measure the return on each promotion method by figuring out how much was spent and how many customers in produced. You should have positive results for all promotion vehicles, but some will be better than others, and gradually you’ll winnow out the less productive methods.

I’m always amazed at how many promotional sales people don’t have that information available.

Regardless of whether you’re business is retail or wholesale, these practices apply. I’ve used them in six different businesses and one civic organization, and they work.


In your startup phase, possibly.

However, as you grow, you will discover that some customers are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

Given the state of computer systems, and data mining, you can figure out how you’re doing on each customer.

If you have customer profiles on everyone, the challenge becomes how to weed out, say, the least profitable 10%. In our restaurant, after we became pretty strong in our execution, and our word of mouth was strong, our waitstaff would politely put a handwritten note in the check; I would back them in their decisions (this only happened a few times in three years).

If you are in a business to business situation, I’ve trained some of my clients’ counter people to put people on hold and then raise prices a little on them. If they complain, counter people can even suggest the competition as in ‘that’s the best we can do’. If you’re quoting for business, various prices will work.

You are not normally going ‘loose money on every item produced and make it up on volume’ (a famous aphorism that came out of a large automaker), although you might for a while getting to breakeven and positive cash flow.

People in Your Startup

The popular image of the startup entrepreneur is Jobs, Gates or the HP guys slaving away in their garage, or back bedroom,  lone wolfs, trying to get their businesses off the ground. They don’t hire people until the business is off the ground.

The reality today is  different. Startups write business plans, raise money and hire people in various disciplines to do functions like marketing and sales, finance and production.

Odds are you’ve worked with the people you’re launching with. And, presumably you’ve got non disclosures in place for all of them, once they have agreed to their compensation package.

You should strive for diversity, but more important, you want the best people you can find for the price you can pay. COVID status can be one of the screens when you’re interviewing people, but that’s about all it should be. The same with Critical Race Theory but, this topic should be avoided,  because it’s so highly charged politically, and you don’t make politics intruding into the workplace.

You do want your people to be socially responsible, which means in this context that they be proud of the company they work for, and your company not engage in socially irresponsible behavior, such as insider trading or overt or covert theft of competitive secrets.

As one of my clients once said, could you discuss your business idea in a cocktail party?

All the employees should be of good character, too, so they don’t engage in socially iresponsible acts, such as sexual harassments. You don’t need a lawsuit to sink your company as it’s getting started, or cost you dearly in legal fees.

Winnowing out bad behaviors, even in your startup, means that you should test your employees for these behaviors, and for Key Personnel Indicators (KPI) which cover teamwork, creativity and various other attributes.

Also, in the COVID era, where more people are working remotely, and probably will for some time yet, you need to test for independence. One of my clients now has 1/3 working from home, 1/3 working from an office, and 1/3 who go back and forth. This seems like a sensible model you can use.

You as the founder need to look inward, too, to ensure that you’re the leader that the company needs. I’ve worked for more than one startup where the founder wasn’t the best person to work for; the marketing positioning was generally sound, but the founder was just difficult to work for. You want to engender loyalty and trust, so you must have those attributes.

One of the areas that is frequently neglected in a startup among people is sales. Your salespeople, or persons should be able to sell effectively and ethically, and should be graduates of one of the sales academies, such as Sandler or Brian Tracy. They should have a proven record of closing deals, too (this is a trait that is often overlooked in sales)….it should be in excess of 25%..

If you have your product or service positioning right, and your promotion is right, sales ought to be relatively easy. You should have an idea of what your sales cycle (the time from sale to money collection looks like so you have enough money to fund sales.

We should also discuss how much space you will need. You will pay a premium if you lease a small space in, say, and Executive Center, but you don’t have much downside risk.

You should allow yourself growing room, but how much may take an educated guess. Your people should be able to help: when I entered manufacturing with one of my companies, I had no clue now much space I needed, but my production manager (and future business partner) did.

We always made sure that we leased from firms that had lots of different properties, because we regularly underestimated how much we would grow. Try to ensure that your lease has options to renew, and relocate. We moved twice in seven years, despite having allowed for growth (we thought) in each of our spaces.

If you need to raise money, you should base how much you need to raise on your worst case business plan (we have advocated doing a best case, a worst case, the odds of each happening, and that becomes the business plans and goals). But use the worst case to raise money, because you never know what might happen. It’s better to have too much money than too little.

As an example when we started the American School of Entrepreneurship, we did so using standard university classrooms we rented from University of Phoenix. It became apparent, with the advent of online delivery methods, that we could actually record the classes and the PowerPoint presentations, put them on a website and there was an international market awaiting. Home run for about three years, until Harvard, Stanford, Penn and Coursera caught on and ran over us.

We recovered our investment, but the change to online needed more capital. We are still discussing how we’re going to reinvent the School; all I will say is that it comes down to people.

So, in reading the last three posts to Entrepreneurial News, you’ve got everything you need to start a business!


Starting a Business Part Two: Customer Centricity

When you are thinking about starting a business, you have to go find customers.

You have to market research their buying habits, probably to a focus group to find out what, if anything their don’t like about the current offerings in the market, and generally embrace them.

You have to find out what media influences them to buy, if any (word of mouth still accounts for 70% of a customer’s decision to buy).

We have one client who  is extremely customer focused, and they can’t keep up with demand. Their clients keep giving them more work. It doesn’t hurt that they’re in a rapidly growing industry, either.

We call it end to end customer centricity. Everybody in the organization has as their number one priority to focus on the customer. No one says ‘that’s not my job’, even after you become larger. Everybody takes messages for everybody and everybody answers the phone and emails.

Since most of economic activity is retail, through shops or online stores, we are going to focus on promotion methods that we have found work for retail.

As we said in the past chapter, most businesses focus on price.

That’s not necessarily wrong, if that’s what your customer perceived competition is doing. However, and this is where most companies make a mistake, you should focus on the other promotion elements that seem to be important to customers, such as on time delivery, your ability and friendliness in chasing orders, and service after the sale, even years after the sale. Even service products that you didn’t sell, because that’s one method of finding out what customers like or don’t like about the competing product.

What does the design of your products look like? Kind of average? Again, what do customers think of your designs? Do you even know? Apple, for example, uses its cool designs and ease of use to justify higher than normal prices for its products, and it doesn’t get stuck in commodity hell. Apple also tends to hide its pricing by using bundles of its products with associated services, such as Apple Pay and Apple Wallet (but I have yet to see compelling reasons to put either one of them on my phone, but then I don’t want any of my bank information disclosed on anyone’s network. Just sayin’.

All the other computer makers (Dell, Samsung, Lenovo for example) compete on price on phones, or hide their pricing in deals. They’re sort of stuck in a zero sum game, or a game growing  the growth of the economy.

At the outset, you want to figure out how you’re going to grow at some multiple of overall economic growth.

And, at the outset, you need to ask your future customers if they want or need your product. Wants put you in the Apple camp, needs are less strong. If customers are indifferent to either a want or a need, then you might want to rethink your idea. You can also ask the prospective customers if there is a product out there that they would like to see you produce.

To give you an idea, in my first company we were struggling with polished chrome exhaust parts: although if we did it right, they looked beautiful, were expensive, prone to damage in production, and had a tendency to walk out the door. Our sales of them were doing well, because we were the low cost producer, but the problems persisted. So, we were noodling around these various  problems one Friday afternoon, and our chrome manager said he could do a nickel alloy at less cost that would have 80% of the appearance. So he produced a few parts, we shipped them to key distributors, and the response was off the charts good.

So, be thinking about what you could do that would be similarly disruptive. Your customers should view your product as a want or need, which will make your promotion job easier.

I’m continually surprised at how many companies don’t make it easy to do business with them, either because you can’t reach out and touch them by telephone or email. My wife and I went out to dinner recently at a fish restaurant we’d never seen before and found the prices reasonable and the food excellent. Despite being only two or three months in their location, the place was packed on a Saturday night. It seems like they’re doing most everything right by their customers. Interestingly, the restaurant chain is based in Ventura, not Phoenix.

Maybe you’ve got a bad location. My restaurant had a bad location, which we netralized through excellent word of mouth, but it took three years and $150,000 of losses to get there. Think how you can neutralize a bad location: The magic of the internet or delivery is one help, but poor delivery might mess up your service.

One of the things that I discovered when working for Ford, and still discover is the lack of customer focus by many of the Ford dealers. Ford can preach it, but it doesn’t mean the dealers will do it.

One of the things I’ve always done on my own companies, and frequently advised by CEO clients to do is call into their own companies and test their customer centricity and how easy it is to do business with their companies. The results are often eye opening.

If you are really customer focused, you should have very good word of mouth referrals, which should be about 70% of your business, maybe less in early years, or when you’re rapidly growing.

In the final analysis, your customers will tell you if you’re customer centric, as long as you ask them once in a while.

Starting a Business Part One


The idea of starting a business can come from anywhere.

You might decide that you can do your profession better than the people you are currently working for, or you might have a completely different idea for a business.

Your business idea might involve manufacturring, or a service, or a combination of the two.

You might be offered the opportunity to buy your existing company, or another company in your industry, or  buy a business in a completely different industry.

Personally, I and my clients have gotten ideas for new businesses from all sorts of places,

All of us have thought of ideas in the shower, while cutting the grass, working out, or practically anywhere.

The key thing is that when you get an idea, you’ve got to research it: how big is the market, what’s the pricing look like, what unique role could you play, etc.

If your research is positive, then you need to take our Entrepreneur’s Questionnaire on our web site, www.thesolutionsforum.net, to see if you’re suited from entrepreneurship.

Back in the day, I used to research ideas using traditional methods, such a customer interviews, questionaires and focus groups. I originally started The Marketing Doctor (TM), we used all these methods.

We still recommend doing market research, and not just among your friends over drinks. Friendly research is important, but shouldn’t stop there. Now, things are much easier: you’ve got the internet.

The internet allows you to look over who is out there in your chosen industry, what sort of public presence they have, and probably what their customers think of the existing offerings.

All of these external research items will help you flesh out your idea, to see if it’s a good one.

You might also find that you’ve got to pivot away from your original idea, because it’s either not workable, or isn’t likely to get to the profits you want.

If your market research is positive, then you can move to the mini market plan, to flesh out the financial committment. You should plan on doing ‘steady state’ financial profit and loss, which will serve as a long term goal of where you want your business to be.

A word should be inserted here about social responsibility of your proposed business. Is it going to use recycled materials, does it use a lot of water, could you defend your business in front of the city council?

One could say that the mere idea of starting a business is socially responsible, because you’re employing other people (eventually). We have a ‘socially responsible’ checklist in our Freebies on our Solutions Forum.net website.

If the ‘steady state’ doesn’t yield the kind of profits you and or your investors want, they you’ve got to figure out how to get to your profit goal.

We have done business plans backwards from time to time, working backward from the profits desired through taxes, personnel required, materials required into the top line revenue.

At this point, you have to determine the mix of after service and original equipment revenues. You should have an idea about the mix of these revenues from your market research.

You should also know what your price points are from your market research, so that you can determine your unit volume.

If you know your unit volume, you can figure out the market share that you need to get over the area that you plan to sell.

Does this share make sense? Are your competitors large and entrenched? If they are, you’re going to need to raise your marketing and sales promotion expenses in order to pry customers away from the competition. And, prying them away might take longer and cost more than you had planned (it normally does).

If your idea is particularly revolutionary, the market research may not be entirely positive, because the market hasn’t seen anything like it, and customer perceptions are hard things to change (which means more money and time).

As an example, when we did market research for an existing restaurant concpt, it wasn’t positive: odd name, no clear selling proposition, poor location.

But, I and a partner thought we saw an opportunity, and we did, but it cost us $150,000 in losses before we got to profitability. While we sold the restaurant for a modest profit, it was less and took longer to realize than we had planned. But we got a lifetime of stories.

On the other hand, when I got the idea for Solutions Forum (while sweeping my driveway), we took out the domain name first, and then did the market research. I was already working for a national competitor, who had retained us to open the Arizona market.Research was positive and that was 17 years and about 50 companies ago. We were profitable the first year (having grown to 23 clients in groups the first year), and have had only one unprofitable year, 2020 because of COVID.


When I originally moved to Arizona, I worked for a series of companies on a retainer basis developing their sales.

I discovered that the startups didn’t have a unique selling proposition (USP), or why a customer would buy from them as opposed to one of their competitors.  The USP would normally emerge from the initial sales calls, over about three months, and at a cost of $5-10,000.

The classic USP has four components: Price, Promotion, Service and Selection, not necessarily in that order of importance. We have found that  Post Sale Service is alsow a component of a good USP, and most companies ignore it.

You might also want to add ‘socially responsible business’ if you think it’s important to your customers.

‘Locally owned and sourced’ is also a part of a potential USP.

If you’re a really good wordsmith, you can incorporate all of these into a paragraph, which would be your mission statement.

But, all of these snazzy statements should resolve around one overriding tenet: customer centricity.


We can’t stress enough focusing on your customers needs and wants.

Most businesses focus on price, to the exclusion of everything else, but that’s only part of the story. Your customers will tell you what’s most important, if you give them a chance.

How many television ads to you see where all they talk about is price?

Far too many. Car dealers are the worst offenders, mainly because there are probably too many of them, especially for GM and Ford. The foreign automakers have been smarter about the number of dealers they need. These dealers generally use a geographic model….where’s the customer demand?.


Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot

I’ve been reading about the INC Magazine 5000 companies, and I’m struck this year how many of them took the COVID pandemic time off last year to review whether they’re in the right business.

Yeah, they were making money, but it seems like they had a sense that they’re not quite hitting it, not quite killing it, either.

What I didn’t notice is that they went out and did some market research, either among their present clients or their future clients to see what they could do better or differently.

I also didn’t see that they looked at their financial resources to whether they could afford to pivot, or they had to bring in more financial resources.

So, if you’re going to  pivot, don’t be afraid to do so, but don’t entrust luck and your good looks to make the pivot a success. Do some research among your present customers and your future customers.

Return the Call!

Those who know Solutions Forum know that we built this company on talking to business owners directly.

In 17 years, we’ve helped about 50 companies solve problems in all sorts of fields. On average, we’ve added about $100,000 of value to the companies who’ve been members, over an average of 18 months.

This value added works out to about 20 times the dues that they’ve paid us.

Not all the value comes from groups, either. About 25% of our business is from one/one clients, where we discuss how we can help them, or we discuss how they can do things better than they are now.

Sometimes, as recently happened to one of our one on one clients, they did what we suggested, and it helped create about $100,000 more sales; they invested about $500 in consulting fees. So, they called us again to help them hire some more people and solve over sales problems.

Even though the two owners are so busy they can hardly relax during the day, they took a couple of hours on two consecutive Monday mornings to talk over what’s going on. One result is they’re going to borrow an person from another client to do invoicing at the end of their day, because they had about $15,000 of unbilled work.  She might do some accounts receivable collection, too. They are also going to hire another machine operator. We know each machine generates about $150,000 in revenue, paying for itself in about a year. But, at some point, they’ll run out of space, wo we’ll deal with that when it becomes a problem.

We have other stories of success that we’ve facilitated.

We never know in advance what’s going to come out of one of our client meetings, whether they’re groups or one/one’s.

The bottom line is, when we leave you a voicemail it’s worth returning the call!

Not returning our call might cost you $100,000.


The Business of Politics

Larry Elder’s loss in CA underscores that the GOP has got to rethink how they do elections, and there’s time before 2022.

1, Go head on into the other guy’s strongholds.

2. Propose solutions, not just platitudes. Elder had solutions, I think, but I didn’t hear them until his concession speech. The national media certainly didn’t suss CA solutions out during Larry’s interviews.

3. Hire a solutions oriented campaign manager, so keep the candidate on track. I didn’t have the feeling Larry’s campaign manager was that effective.

4. Use a telemarketing listening campaign to get a sense of what voters are looking for, especially in the opposition party, and translate that back into solutions for the voters. I sort of ran this for McSally, and it worked, but the campaign manager was the weak link in getting the info to the candidate. McSally had 50 volunteers making on average 25 listening calls a night, and I’d say it worked in providing input to her.

5. In this day and age, there need to be volunteers to audit the votes cast for legitimacy. I could see the Dems pulling their phony mail in ballot trick again (the one they did in AZ and nationally) in CA. I’m not sure anyone is auditing the ballots cast in CA to make sure they were all legitimate. Where were or are the Republican auditors?

I’m offering these ideas to the Republicans running in 2022, but beware, the Dems can use them too: there was an impressive Democratic guy who lost to Newsom who had many of the above ideas.

Well, Larry didn’t when, but he shook up the Democrat establishment in California.

And he did discuss the issues facing California.

What he didn’t do is, being a nice guy, attack Greasy Gavin for having no policies and no success in running California.


Should You Impose A Mask Mandate?

We blogged about this on our Twitter account, some time ago, before we had Entrepreneur News back up and running, and the circumstances have changed a bit, so we’ll have another go at the topic.

  1. You as the owner should probably keep your feelings about masks and the vaccines out of the equation. I have owner clients who are unalterably opposed to the vaccines and I’d be willing to bet that their employees have a lower than average vaccination rate.
  2. There remains some question about the effectiveness of the vaccines, but the media is fond of pointing out the failures, without pointing out what percent of the population is affected. We don’t think anyone in the media ever had to take a college statistics course.
  3. There’s a guy named Joe Rogan, who’s opposed to vaccines, got COVID, and took a cocktail of drugs centered around Ivermectin, and recovered in two days. He’s getting pilliored in the media, as one might expect.
  4. There is also some question about the effectiveness of masks. Opinions are all over the lot. Surgeons and other medical personnel still wear the heavy duty N-95 masks, which are effective, but aren’t exactly a fashion statement.
  5. There is also the question of what your state policy is, and whether it’s law, or rather a guideline on the wearing of masks. Here in Arizona, we have no mask mandate, as of a couple of weeks ago, and we’re not likely to get one. I was just in a veterenarian’s office dropping off my dog, and they have a mask mandate, but I walked in without on and no one said anything. But, I’m large person, and get the benefit of the doubt.
  6. Mask mandates seem to be the province of large liberal states, such as New York, California and Illinois; the rest of the country seems to have moved beyond them.
  7.  In our humble non-binding legal  opinion, we don’t think mask mandates are constitutional, but they haven’t come up for discussion in the courts yet, which is a little surprising, given the widespread use of masks and some opposition to them.

So, what are we to conclude on mask mandates? We wouldn’t impose one on our employees, but would point out the plusses and minuses of wearing one Probably worth a Friday town hall among your people.

How to Hand Off Your Business

This is actually a topic that I’m doing in a podcast for my good friend Shauna Weckerlein, The Tax Goddess, so I’m throwing it out there to see if we get some comments.

  1. Do you have any idea what you’re going to do after you hand off the business? IMHO, playing golf travelling and eating get old after a while.
  2. What or who are you going to hand off to? Do you have kids who are interested? Are they in the business? Do you have another person who’s interested? Don’t expect to make the decision on a Sunday, do the handoff on Monday and be done with it. (Entrepreneurs usually don’t think that way, anyway)
  3. If the kids are interested, what have you discussed with them? If you have more than one child interested, could they both, or do they, run the business in tandem? Is the business big enough to support all those who want to run it, or could it grow to support everyone? Is it clear who the lead dog is?
  4. What have you done to validate your children or this person’s interest in running your business? Have you done an in depth interview with them, probably offsite?
  5. Assuming after the answers to one and two above are positive, what are his/her plans for the business? Do they plan to run it ‘as you would have’ or do they have larger plans? For example, when I and my business partner bought my family company, I knew what the weaknesses were, and I thought we could fix them, and we was successful, but there wasn’t an organized, written down plan. And, after he bought my controlling stake, he stayed on essentially the same plan for another 15 years, so it was enduring.
  6. What financial arrangements are in place, or could be in place for the new manager to acquire a financial stake in the business? (In our experience, managers should have a financial stake in the company, so they have an incentive to make the business grow and prosper)
  7. Do you have in place a non-disclosure agreement with the prospective handoffee?
  8. If you have performance goals that have to be met, by the handoffee,  are they spelled out?
  9. Is there a buy/sell arrangement that is in place, should the handoffee want to purchase the business?
  10. Do you need the money that you might get from a sale? When and how do you need it? Monthly payments ease the tax and cash flow burden, if not the overall tax of buying the business. BTW, whatever you hammer out with the handoffee, run it buy a tax advisor.
  11. What are the financial metrics that you’d like the handoffee to meet? E.g., profits, return on equity.


Do I Need to Worry About Cybersecurity ?

The news is full of stories about the Chinese and the Russians hacking businesses, but the question is whether you, as a small business owner, need to be concerned.

We’re going to outline some thinking points, and you can think about them.

We are going to try to write this from the standpoint of our average client of 50 employees and $5 million in annual revenues.

  1. Do you have any enemies that would want to harm your company, such as disgruntled former employees? An example would be a former employee that took you to court for back wages, or reinstatement during the COVID crisis.
  2. Do you have any corporate secrets that someone in some foreign country or even this country would want enough to hack your computers or cell phones? For example, do you do any classified work for the Defense Department or other agencies?
  3. What kind of protection do you have on your computer network in your office or any remote locations that you have? What carrier to you use for communications? Do they have any security? Note that T Mobile just had it’s entire 52 million person customer list hacked. They clearly have problems. Wireless networks might be more vulnerable.
  4. Can you think of any other vulnerabilities that your business might have?

That’s all for the moment.