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Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Billie Goat Soap and its founder, Leanne Faulkner.

Their story

Leanne Faulkner, whose youngest son was born with eczema, is the creator and founder of Billie Goat Soap. Her young son used steroids to treat eczema, and she was concerned about the effects of long-term steroid use. This led her to do research on how to naturally treat and manage eczema.

Faulkner described herself as a frustrated farmer—her family owned a few acres of land and had dairy goats in the property. She researched about the benefits of goat’s milk in treating eczema, learned how to make soap from goat’s milk and natural oils, and used her homemade soaps on her son. Seeing the results on her son spurred her to start her goats milk soap company in 2005.

Faulkner used her communication and selling skills to bring the first batches of Billie Goat Soap into the market. She was very strategic on who, when, and how to approach about her product. She started introducing her products to health food stores, then farmers markets, then retail and gift stores, and finally to department stores.

Faulkner worked in organisational development and employee training prior to starting her company, and she used her background to grow her sales team. As a small company, she didn’t have the resources to put a sales consultant in every store. Instead, she trained the sales personnel in the retail stores that carried her product. She built strong relations with these sales people, even going so far as sending a bouquet of edible blooms in every counter with a personal card attached.

By working and leveraging on available resources, Billie Goat Soap grew and sold across Australia. It also successfully expanded its product line to include balms, skin care, and even a baby care line. At its peak, Billie Goat Soap turned over AU$2.4 million annually.

Unfortunately, a stress-fueled breakdown brought by a retail slump and the demands of running a small business led Faulkner to step down from her post and sell her company to The Heat Group in 2012. Today, Faulkner advocates for moremental health resources to support small business owners.

What can we learn

Not all small businesses have a happy ending, but there are lessons that we can learn from Billie Goat Soap’s story.

(1) Forecast what is needed to grow

Faulkner advices small business owners to plan appropriately for growth—specifically, having the right amount of funding to drive business development and expansion. While funding is important, I think the example of Billie Goat Soap also shows that having the right skills, such as management and leadership skills, is also very crucial.

And so, when we plan for growth, we need to also consider the resources needed to grow. In my video, When does your business benefit from seeking professional advice? (link forthcoming—not yet published), I share advice from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who believes that planning to grow entails planning to hire or work with people who have the skill base and experience that matches your growth objectives.

(2) Communicate to your employees, to your customers, and to your suppliers

Clear communication helps to ensure that anyone connected to the business knows what the goals are and understands how the business aims to achieve them.”

Build a relationship with the people you work with. In Faulkner’s case, she took the effort to build strong relationships with the sales people working in the retail stores who played a major part in growing the revenue of the company.

How can you continue to build strong relationships with your employees, your customers, and your suppliers?

(3) Look after yourself

Faulkner is an advocate of mental health. She has been vocal about her stress and anxiety—and how this affected her mental health in 2011.

In my video, Overcoming Entrepreneurial Exhaustion, I discuss three things that entrepreneurs and business owners can do to overcome exhaustion. That said, mental health is a medical issue. Whilst we expect to look out for and manage stress that comes with operating a business, bringing consultants and expending your team can help in many areas. But there are instances when stress starts to change who you are.

If you feel that the stress of running a business is getting to you, please seek help from a professional because they are trained to listen unconditionally and provide much needed intervention.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

While reality shows seem to feature fantasy over reality, I find it very interesting when motivated and hardworking entrepreneurs become the subject of a long-running reality show like Shark Tank. Running for 10 years already, the Shark Tank in the United States has produced many successful ventures that turns over millions of dollars annually.

In this video, I explore what small business owners like you and me can learn from successful entrepreneurs of Shark Tank.

In two previous videos, we discussed certain prominent judges of the US version of Shark Tank and the lessons we can learn from them (link forthcoming).

This time, I explore lessons from two of the most successful business ventures to come out of that series—and one venture that failed to seal a deal with a Shark but became one of the most successful companies to come out of Shark Tank, and was later bought by Amazon for more than US$1 billion in 2018.

Lesson from Scrub Daddy: Provide a solution to a pain point

Aaron Krause is the founder and inventor of Scrub Daddy, a non-scratching reusable sponge that made cleaning very easy, thanks to the scrub’s characteristics. He developed his first scrub in 2006, but failed to secure any sales, and so sold most of his sponges to the 3M Company as scraps. In 2011, in need of sponges to clean off his own lawn furniture, he discovered that his special sponges got the job done without scratching any surface.

In 2012, he went into the Shark Tank and secured a deal with Lori Greiner. To date, Scrub Daddy has made more than US$50 million since its pitch.

Scrub Daddy provides a simple solution to an everyday problem. It makes cleaning easy. But that’s not all—the product has also been lab tested to rinse clear of debris and resist odors for up to two months. Krause and Greiner, both inventors, have said it again and again—successful products are ones that provide easy solutions to your customer’s pain points.

It all boils down to your customers. How can you help them? How do your products and services minimise or even eliminate their pain points? How can you improve the products and services you offer today to make sure that you provide a better solution to your customers’ pain points?

Lesson from Tipsy Elves: Identify risks and diversify

Founded by college friends Evan Mendelsohn and Nicklaus Morton, Tipsy Elves started out as a company that designed and sold ugly Christmas sweaters. The company differentiated themselves from other ugly sweater creators by using higher quality materials and also by teaming up with Save the Children, an American non-profit organisation, in dedicating a portion of their profits to providing underprivileged American children with winter clothing. After their pitch, they partnered with Robert Herjavec.

One of the risks that Herjavec and the founders of Tipsy Elves identified from the very beginning is the seasonality of the product—it only came out during a few months in the year. So one of the things that they immediately worked on was diversifying their product line so that the company has business the entire year. They have since expanded to over twenty clothing categories, including Hawaiian shirts and swim trunks, patriotic clothing, and Halloween costumes. Since their pitch in 2014, the company has seen more than US$50 million in revenue.

Most, if not all businesses experience business cycles—and throughout the year, there will be lean months and there will be months when we see a lot of business.

The question you should ask yourself is, how can you diversify so that you can have more business during the lean months? What can you do so that you can extend your busy months?

Lesson from Ring: Have a focused vision

In 2013, Jamie Siminoff pitched his product, then called Doorbot, a doorbell with a camera that sent video to users' smartphones. Despite having made solid sales for Doorbot, Siminoff walked away without a deal. His appearance in Shark Tank only increased interest for his doorbell camera, but this is a story of overcoming many challenges.

The first set of Doorbots he launched into the market produced poor video quality and had spotty WiFi capabilities. Siminoff had to spend 9 months responding to customer complaints. Funding also continued to be a challenge.

But Siminoff was motivated by his purpose: to make neighborhoods safer for everyone. He designed his smart doorbell because his wife had difficulty hearing when someone rang the doorbell and also because of his own concerns for home security. While there were smart doorbells in the market, it did not provide the benefits that he wanted from one.

So he pushed forward. Eventually, he was able to work with a manufacturer who could improve the quality of his doorbells. He also found partners to work with, one of whom suggested to change the name from Doorbot to a simpler name, Ring, that had a better recall.

He was also introduced to Richard Branson who lead the last round of funding for the company. In case you did not know, Branson sometimes appears as a guest judge on the Shark Tank. You could say that Siminoff eventually walked away with a deal from a Shark.

In 2018, Ring was bought by Amazon for US$1 billion.

When things became difficult, Siminoff held on to his purpose and his vision for the company. He was specifically motivated by his desire to provide a solution for an important pain point: home security—much like how Scrub Daddy offers a solution for a pain point in home cleaning. And Ring itself has diversified, offering other complementary home security products—much like how Tipsy Elves diversified their product lines.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

In this video, I offer a simple 3-step guideline on what small business owners should keep in mind when planning to train and develop their team—and to get them to work for you so that you can grow your business.

For a business to grow, we need to work with the resources that we have access to in order to achieve growth. One of the key resources in any business is the people working in the business—your team. You are dependent on them for the success of your business, as much as they are dependent on you for leadership and guidance. For growth to happen, everyone should have the right skills and the right attitude towards growth—training is one of the factors that will help ensure this.

Why train? When we stop learning, we stop growing. This is why it is important to continue training everyone in the business. Here are three important steps that I think small business owners should consider seriously when discussing employee training and development for company growth.

Step one: Identify learning gaps

What does your team need to learn? Categorize these gaps into short-term, medium-term, and long-term gaps. Look into them and fill accordingly.

What skills or knowledge do your employees need to learn immediately—perhaps in the next 6 to 12 months? What skills or knowledge would they need in the next 12 to 18 months or the medium-term to long-term?

What kind of skills do they need to learn? Are these hard or soft skills? Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as the ability to use software programs that you may be using in your business. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify skill sets, such as customer service or leadership skills.

Step two: Identify an approach

The next step is to identify how you will address these gaps. How will you train your employees for the skills and knowledge that they need to learn immediately? Will they learn on the job? Will someone be mentoring them? Will you be their mentor or will you be bringing someone from the outside to mentor them? Will they be shadowing someone already performing a similar task or process? Or will you be expanding their knowledge and skills through cross-training?

Does your organisation have someone in-house who can teach such skills? Or do you need to find a third-party provider for their training? Or maybe enrol them in an online course?

It is interesting to note at this point that while formal courses offered by many educational institutions seem ideal, some studies have shown that employees tend to learn more from their peers, particularly on skills and knowledge that already exist within your team. Furthermore, by teaching each other on the job, employees learn important leadership and management skills required for their position.

How will you tackle employee training and development in the medium- to long-term? Will you have an organisation-wide professional development plan? Some organisations assign a training and development champion—one who is held accountable for helping the organisation identify learning gaps and find an appropriate approach to achieve the organisatino’s professional development goals.

Step three: Identify accountability

How do you sustain your medium- to long-term learning goals? While the first two steps refers to actions or activities that the organisation should perform, this last step aims to ensure that any plans formulated and carried out in the short term will be implemented sustainably for years to come. This makes sure that the skills and knowledge of your staff grow with your goals.

A more important question to ask at this point is: who ensures that the development goals are carried out? I mentioned earlier about assigning a training champion. But keep in mind that the training champion only helps identify new or persistent learning gaps, and helps business owners find ways to address these. Having only one person accountable for everyone’s training and development is not enough.

In Deutsche Knowledge Services, Inc., the financial management back office of Deutsche Bank offices worldwide, every employee is held accountable for their professional development. They are all required to fulfill at least 60 hours of training every year. The company offers an exhaustive list of hard skills and soft skills in-house training, but employees are also encouraged to take out formal courses online or in formal institutions should the in-house training be insufficient. While the human resources department is considered as the training champion, every single employee is also called on to champion their own learning and development.

Obviously, Deutsche Bank is a massive organisation—and small businesses do not have the resources to roll out a professional development plan such as theirs. But we can take a page from their practice by focusing on what they wanted to achieve: hold employees accountable for learning by requiring them to be very active in their own development within the organisation.

What can small businesses do?

One regular practice in some organisations is weekly catch ups with the immediate superior. Managers spend 15 minutes, usually at the end of the week, to chat with their team members. This can be a form of mentoring. You can also introduce cross-training, where members of your team are assigned a different task or to a different team at regular rotational intervals. The key, however, is to keep your team accountable for their learning is to ask them what they need and what they intend to learn, and get their insight on how they themselves addressing the learning gaps.

Remember, as your team grows, they will be better prepared to handle the changes that come with the growth of your company.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In part two of this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

In part 1, I explored business advice shared by the male Sharks: Robert Herjavec, Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary. In this episode, I now share wisdom from the female Sharks. Here’s what they have to say.

Lori Greiner: Do the market research yourself

Lori Greiner is an American inventor and entrepreneur. In 1996, she created and patented her first product, which was eventually picked up by a large retailer and started her entrepreneurial career. She is involved in venture capital investing, product design consulting, and television production. Her net worth stands at US$100 million.

What she does: Before Greiner launched her first product, an earring organiser, to the market, she did her own market research. She didn’t just rely on family and frieds to give her feedback. She went to all different neighborhoods and showed a prototype to people on the street. Then, she asked them to fill out a simple, basic questionnaire: Would you buy this? How much would you pay for it? Do you like it? From those responses, she knew that she had a product that she could sell.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Greiner believes that every successful product addresses a need or a pain point. This is why market research is important—because it allows you, the business owner, to understand what your customers want.

What happened: Doing her own market research paid off. Her earring organiser sold out in 4 minutes after showing it in home TV shopping show.

Greiner teaches us that the success of any product or business lies in our understanding of our customers. We cannot offer a product or a solution to their pain point if we don’t understand their problems. Greiner also teaches us that we cannot rely on other people to find out about our customer pain points. To understand what our customers want and need, we need to consistently communicate with them. When we listen to our customers and we find ways to address their concerns through our products and services, then we are likely to retain them, which will help grow our business further.

In my video, “How to find out what customers want,” I share 3 ways on how to find out what your customers want and need—and it all boils down to communicating and listening intently what your customers are saying.

Barbara Corcoran: Take time to have fun

Barbara Corcoran is a real estate mogul, who began her career in 1970s. She co-founded her first real estate company with her then-boyfriend in 1973, and eventually formed The Corcoran Group when they split. In 2001, she sold her business for US$66 million. Her net worth stands at US$80 million.

What she does: Corcoran loves taking vacations and planning for fun. She plans get togethers with friends. And her secret to solving a creativity block? Going out to a great store, going to a museum, or riding her bike in Central Park in New York City where she lives.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Corcoran believes that having fun prevents burnouts. And doing something other than sitting on a desk makes you creative. And even when her busy schedule prevents her from taking a long vacation, getting together with friends gives her a “mental vacation,” that she says has helped her manage stress.

What happened: Her impressive work ethic matched by her ability to keep herself creative has made her one of the most successful women in the USA.

Corcoran describes herself as a very focused business person, which is why she was able to build an empire. But she also recognises the importance of recovering from stressful days by making time for fun—in her words, taking a “mental vacation” that takes her away from work. The key is to acknowledge that business owners are people—we are not robots that can work 24/7 all of the time. And even then, robots and machines need their downtime, too, for maintenance. We need to be in tiptop shape if we want to operate at peak levels, which means we need to make time for rest and recreation, too. 

In my video, “Maximising the best asset in your business,” I explore how business owners can step back from the daily grind but still be able to productive. The key is to rest and to find ways to spark creativity.

Sara Blakely: Start with “Why” and continue to lead with “Why?”

Sara Blakely is known worldwide as the woman behind Spanx, an American intimate apparel company, which she founded in 2000. Her net worth stands at US$1.1 billion.

What she does: When starting out a business, focus on why you set out to do this in the first place. Focus on the personal and professional goals that you wanted to achieve—and what made you desire to be in the business that you are in.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Your desire points to a purpose. And your purpose provides a motivation and a direction to continue on when the going gets tough.

What happened: Sara Blakely is inventor and founder of Spanx—like Greiner, she began her career as an entrepreneur with a single product that she knew would address a customer pain point. In the early stages of Spanx, she acknowledges how difficult it was to find a company that would sell her product. When the going got tough for her, she focuses on her “why” to get her going.

Blakely expresses what we all need to succeed: purpose. Why are we doing what we do? The simple question makes it easy to see whether our decisions, our actions, and even our thoughts contribute towards accomplishing our goals. It also provides us with something to hold on to when things do not go our way.

In my video, “4 traits you need to succeed in business,” I explore why Purpose, one of these 4 traits, is essential for success. Another entrepreneur, Elon Musk, explains how purpose drives his decisions to succeed.

What I like about the advice from the female Sharks is that it gives counsel to business owners in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey, Greiner tells us what we should do before starting a business or before offering a new product or service—begin with the customers in mind by asking them what they need or want. Both Corcoran and Blakely advice on what we can do when things get stressful or difficult—take a breather and hold on to your purpose.  

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to five investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

I would not normally take lessons from a reality TV show, but I know that we do watch reality TV and so I decided to look at what we can learn and apply to a small business.  While there is a counterpart here in Australia, I will focus on the Sharks or judges from the original US series.

In this first part of a two-part video, I will discuss the advice and lessons from the male Sharks of the show.

Robert Herjavec: Manage your time

Robert Herjavec is the founder and CEO of the Herjavec Group, a tech company that integrates, distributes, and manages security solutions. The company has done over US$500 million in sales. He founded his first company in 1990.

What he does: Herjavec plans a year in advance, “I live and die by my calendar.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: While he understands that not everything will go as planned—he acknowledges the existence of Murphy’s Law—planning a year in advance gives him the ability to see far ahead. This allows him to set his priorities and make time for the things that matter, such as being able to show up during important family events and activities.

What happened when he lived by this advice: Just as he planned, he has always shown up for every important family activity or event, “I never missed a swim meet. I never missed a school play. I never missed anything.”

The key to Herjavec’s advice is to acknowledge that time is a scarce but important resource. By planning, we make sure that we make the most out of our time, which is what will make us better business owners and better individuals.

In my video, “Managing your business’s most important asset – your time,” I discuss how one can manage time using a 5-step process: knowing what you want, identifying what needs to be done, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, managing your time, and finally keeping yourself focused by holding yourself accountable for your goals.

Mark Cuban: Focus on your strengths

Mark Cuban is the owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Dallas Mavericks, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment and chairman of AXS TV. He is also an investor in various tech companies. He founded his first company in 1982. His net worth is currently at US$4.1 billion.

What he does: He focused on what he was good at, which was selling and put it to use in the industry he was very much interested in—the tech industry. He also loves to read and learn—and he makes sure that he is up-to-date with the trends in his industry.

Why he thinks his advice is important:

  • He controversially warned against following your passion. He said, “I used to be passionate about being a professional basketball player. Then I realised I had a seven-inch vertical.” A vertical or a vertical leap is a measure of how high an individual or athlete can jump from a standstill. Incidentally, Michael Jordan’s vertical leap is 48 inches. What that meant was that Cuban loved basketball but didn’t have the right skill to excel in it. He could have trained to jump higher, but without natural talent, he probably would never be able to play at Jordan’s level.
    • When he first entered the tech industry, he was very green and knew very little. But he knew how to sell and he was inately curious, “I was always the guy reading about business all the time.”

What happened: He worked hard. He took pains learning about technology and kept abreast of emerging trends in the industry. He was an excellent sales person, which he used to grow his first company—before eventually selling it off for a huge profit. His skill set, his drive and his hard work eventually paid off.

The key to Cuban’s advice is in finding balance: understanding what we want to do and acknowledging what we can do. It is not bad to be ambitious, but we must temper it with pragmatism. Success entails acknowledging both our strengths and weaknesses. We nurture and work with our strengths.

Cuban could not play basketball professionally as he realised that he didn’t have the talent for it. Instead, he used his talent to purchase a basketball team—the Dallas Mavericks.

In one of my videos, “Your business can not grow bigger than what you can manage,” I discuss what business owners can do to focus. This means focusing on what they are good at while delegating the rest. One can delegate tasks to staff, or outsource to freelancers, or even work with consultants or business coaches.

In another video, “How lifelong learning makes your business better,” I share examples of successful entrepreneurs who committed to lifelong learning and how they adhere to this commitment—just as Cuban commits to learning.

Take a look at the videos I mentioned and I think you can see how developing yourself will make you a better business person.

Kevin O'Leary: Entrepreneurship is freedom to do what you want

Kevin O’Leary is a businessman and investor, with holdings in tech and investment companies. He founded his first company in the early 1980s. His net worth is currently at US$400 million.

What he believes: What O’Leary offers is a unique perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur. “The pursuit towards success is to be personally free to provide for your family and to be able to do the things you want to do with your life. That’s a great gift of entrepreneurship.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: As a young man, O’Leary wanted to become a photographer. The field was very competitive and so his father recommended that he study business instead. He went to business school, pursued an MBA and became a successful entrepreneur. His success in business gave him the freedom to pursue photography—he now gets to do what he wants to do as a hobby.

What he does: O’Leary prides in his ability to be productive. He keeps daily to-do lists, eschews procrastination by constantly asking himself, “Am I making money by doing this?”, and diligently keeps track of his progress.

O’Leary’s wisdom focuses on the “gift of entrepreneurship”—in doing so, it provides an ideal and a purpose for an entrepreneur’s pursuits. It also reminds us that we need to take care of ourselves, because when we do, we become better entrepreneurs. And by the same logic, we become more available in pursuing our life’s goals and passions.

In one of my videos, “Overcoming entrepreneurial exhaustion,” I encourage business owners to learn how to recover, to take good care of their health, and to learn to prioritise tasks.

If we marry Cuban and O’Leary’s advice, we will find a happy medium between passion and effort. If we see entrepreneurship as an enabler of our dreams and passions, then we will find a richer purpose for why we work hard for our business. O’Leary suggests that we see our business pursuit as a means to be free to pursue our passion. We can’t all be Michael Jordan or Ansel Adams, but Cuban and O’Leary has found ways to pursue their passions. Cuban currently owns NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, while O’Leary has a massive collection of cameras and photography equipment.  

Herjavec’s advice also affirms O’Leary’s beliefs about entrepreneurship—while time is a limited resource, as entrepreneurs, we have the freedom to choose how to use that time. And when we plan our time, we get to enjoy what matters most in our lives.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >