Tag Archives: Consulting

Vendors And Partners

President Reagan has been quoted as saying “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” are the most terrifying words in the English language. One phrase I used to hear a lot that was just as terrifying to me was “we want to be your (fill in the blank) partner.” That could be a tech partner or a marketing partner or whatever. The thing was that most people have a tremendous amount of difficulty distinguishing between a partner and a vendor. The sad truth is that very few people or organizations that you’re in business with want to be the former and that’s a shame. Vendors are a dime a dozen while good partners are rare.

How do I distinguish between the two? Vendors send you bills while you usually end up sending a partner their share of your joint profits. Vendors come into your office and tell you how great their product or service is, even if you’re using it or them. They tell you their story and ignore yours.  Instead of telling you what they are doing for you specifically, they tell you about the latest success story they’ve had, usually with some other “partner” of theirs.

It’s always easy to spot the vendors and the potential partners almost from the second they walk in the door. Partners will talk about you and your situation and tell you specifically how they can help. They’ll ask for reasonable compensation but also volunteer to share in the upside because they believe in their product and its ability to help you. Vendors come in with a canned, generic pitch. Their rates are fixed in stone and they don’t share the risk and so don’t have any interest in sharing the rewards.

I’ve always felt that my goals and those of my business partners were very much aligned. I can’t say the same of many of the vendors I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve also always tried to do business with my consulting clients and franchise candidates in that way – as a good partner and resource rather than as a vendor. Is that a difference without a distinction? Not in my book. How about in yours?

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Taking The Beaten Path

One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.

First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.

Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.

One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?

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When Free Is $99

If you’ve not moved or bought a house recently, you are probably unfamiliar with the deluge of mail you receive for everything from supplemental mortgage insurance to yard services to security systems. The last time I bought a new place was in 1985 when it must have been a lot more difficult to pull together all the names and addresses of those people filing deeds or getting new mortgages. Apparently, it isn’t today.

One of the offers that showed up in the mailbox on Monday came from…well…I actually am not really sure from whom it came since there wasn’t a return address. It says it wants to welcome me to the neighborhood with a FREE OFFER! Of course, nothing in this world is free and this offer isn’t any different. The “free” security system will be installed with a $99 customer installation charge and the payment of $28 a month for monitoring. The free offer will only cost $435 the first year, and you have to sign a three-year agreement. Nice, right?  The fine print, which takes up a third of the second page, also mentions that labor charges might apply and that there are additional fees for various monitoring services beyond the basic. There are also limits on how many sensors you can get if your home isn’t prewired. Of course, it also comes with a $100 Visa gift card, so I got that working for me, which is nice.

This is yet another example of shady marketing. Sure, it’s a free offer in that the offer is free. The alarm and monitoring will run you thousands of dollars. The company behind it is called Protect Your Home and out of the 63 reviews for one location on Yelp, 59 are one-star reviews. There are complaints about being lied to by technicians, missed appointments, non-existent customer service, and even forged signatures. The BBB shows 1,630 complaints in the last three years. One can’t help but wonder why ADT, for whom they are an authorized reseller, doesn’t monitor how their brand is being marketed and serviced.

Trust is everything in marketing these days. A lot of fine print, unless it’s the sort of regulatory stuff the government makes you write as in a drug ad, is generally not a good indicator of trustworthiness. “Free” should really be free or the word should not be used. It sets an expectation which this company clearly doesn’t come close to meeting when the offer is broken down in detail. Honest marketing is one of the first steps to happy, satisfied, long-term customers. Beginning any relationship with a lie or half-truth really isn’t, is it?

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TheYear Of You

So here we are again at the start of a new year. If you haven’t already started to implement your resolutions for the year, let me humbly offer a suggestion that should be a part of them. Make this the year of “you.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it be a year of self-centered egomania. In fact, I’m suggesting quite the opposite, and I’m doing so because it will improve your business. As a bonus, it may also improve your non-work life.

How does one go about making it the year of “you?” Start by this: quit saying “I.” Stop thinking about your business’ bottom line and focus on solving your customers’ problems. Don’t put out messages about what people can buy from you. That’s selfish. Focus on how what you’re selling helps. Ask “how can I help you” and not “how can you help my bottom line.”

Let me show you how the “you” focus works because it is something I try to practice here in this space. My focus is on what I hope is important to you. I try to have an outward focus. If all I did was blabber on about what’s important to me, we’d be indulging in a discussion of the new rules of golf or my incompetence at beating certain video games. That doesn’t help you at all and I suspect after 10 years of that my readership would be down to just me. By writing this, which takes time and effort, I’m hoping to grow both the audience and my credibility and I don’t ask for anything in return. OK, once in a while I will remind you that I consult and if you want to look at franchise opportunities, I want to help you do that, but that’s about as far as it goes.

It goes beyond a customer focus. Suppose you’re going after a new job or a new client. Your best strategy is to focus on the needs of your potential employer and client instead of plugging your own skills. Nobody cares about your craft if you fail to make it relevant to them.  You have to change your pitch to suit your audience. I can’t tell you how many pitch meetings I’ve sat through that were generic and which failed to address MY problem as a potential customer or partner. Generally, no sale.

Don’t talk about what you do. Ask yourself if you were your potential client or listener how your service is relevant to them. Don’t be the one at the party who talks only about themselves. Don’t ask “how do YOU like MY outfit?” Ask “how can I help YOU?” If we all do that this year, it will be quite a good year indeed don’t you think?

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My Top Post Of 2018

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we’ll end the year with the most-read post I wrote this past year. I’m not sure many of you read all 65, 532 words I wrote in 2108, but even if you only read a few, thank you. If you did read a few posts, the odds are that you saw this one from early in October. It’s the day I wrote about how I added a new line of consulting to my 10-year-old practice. Since then, I’ve worked with dozens of people on changing their lives as they explore opportunities with franchised businesses. If 2019 is the year when you’re looking to do something different with your business life and own your own business, please reach out.  Happy New Year to you all!

A little self-indulgence today, and I promise not to make it a habit.

As you probably know if you’ve read this blog over the years, much of my consulting has evolved to a focus on startup businesses. That’s why, in addition to running my own practice, I’m a partner in a global venture catalyst that helps commercialization of startups post the idea validation stage through to sustainable profitability or a liquidity event. I also advise startups through my work at the First Flight Venture Center.

Two of the things I’ve noticed as I worked with some folks who thought they wanted to build and run a startup were that their as yet unvalidated ideas were often not really scalable businesses nor did they have a clue as to how running a startup business was different from life in the corporate world where many of them had spent their careers thus far. Quite a few of the budding entrepreneurs I’ve met were in their late 40’s to late 50’s. They had some money to invest in their startup but not enough to retire on. Besides, they were too young to play golf all day, as lovely as that sounds.

OK, so what’s the big announcement? What I realized is that rather than doing a startup many of these people needed a business in a box – something into which they could buy and, if they followed the plan, be successful. In short, a franchise. Because of this insight, I’ve expanded my consulting practice into franchise consulting. I will operate under the name of Franchise-Source and I’ve linked to the website (this is a temporary site – a newer, nicer one will be up soon). I’ve hooked up with a wonderful organization that represents over 500 different brands in over 70 different industries. My new entity has pages on Facebook and LinkedIn (those are direct links) as well. I hope you’ll check them out.

I’ll be continuing my other consulting as well and of course, the screed will continue although I’ll veer into the franchising world from time to time. I hope if you’re considering owning your own business or franchise and aren’t sure where to start that you’ll call or email me. As with a realtor, the buyers don’t pay for my services. The sellers – or franchisors – do. The work has been gratifying so far in that I’ve already spoken with a number of people who are looking to change their lives and rather than taking a chance on an unproven idea they’ve worked with me to investigate a solution that works for their goals, their budgets, and their lifestyle.

Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate you letting anyone you know who might have an interest in a franchise that I’m here to help. Back to our regularly scheduled blog programming next time.

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2018

The most-read Foodie Friday post that I wrote this year was written in October. I can’t recall what prompted the thought behind it although I suspect it had to do with some unappetizing takeout food. As the new year approaches, some of you might be making up lists of thing you will do differently and, hopefully, better. I’d urge you to put your best steak forward, which was the original title of this piece. Enjoy!

It’s Foodie Friday and we’re back to our regular nonsense here on the screed. Today I want you to think back to that time when you ordered takeout and it was not very good. I’m sure you’ve had such an instance: we all have. Maybe you ordered some fried dumplings that showed up as soggy as your recently washed laundry. Maybe the pasta dish you ordered had aggregated itself into a small object better suited for football than eating. Maybe you ordered a steak frites to go and it didn’t travel well. No one likes soggy fries and a cool steak doused in cooling, congealing butter.

For many restaurants, takeout has become a critical part of their business. Life today often leaves little time for cooking at home, especially during the week. Think about how many places you know that have only a few tables but do a ton of takeout. The growth of delivery services and apps has accelerated the trend while actually decreasing profitability (the services take a cut of the bill and in many cases, it’s close to the entire margin on the order). I’m not sure, however, that many restaurateurs put enough thought into putting their best products out there for takeout. Why sell something that you know won’t travel well?

Putting your best steak forward, so to speak, is something that every business should do. The most customer-friendly takeout situations have a separate counter to speed customer service. They might have a menu that’s priced a little differently since the costs of servicing a customer are different. They pack hot foods apart from cold foods and they take care to make sure that condensation in the hot food doesn’t make it soggy (vent holes, people). As with any customer encounter, how you present your brand matters. I wouldn’t even offer to sell a customer a product that I know won’t travel well. If they’ve enjoyed it before in my place, they’ll be disappointed. If it’s their first time, they won’t be back. We see this in businesses that take on jobs for which they’re ill-suited. I’ve turned down many opportunities over the years to build people websites since my ability to design and to code is not up to my ability to perform other tasks. That’s not my best steak.

Is that something your business is doing? Are you gathering data and keeping records of every customer interaction? Are you constantly looking for feedback so you can adjust your menu? Are you putting your best steak forward each and every time?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Getting A Commitment

One of the hardest things I’ve encountered over my years in business is getting people to commit to things. It could be a firm time for a meeting. It could be a deadline. I’ve found that people are often unwilling or unable to lock in firm dates and times. Maybe they have a fear of commitment or maybe they just want to maintain flexibility in their schedules.

Once you can get someone to make a commitment to you, it affects their actions going forward. Those actions have to become consistent with the commitment they’ve made to you, whether it’s finishing a report or making a decision about something or even just arranging their calendars to fit their appointment with you. That refocus is a good thing, so what can we do to encourage people to make those commitments?

One thing I’m finding helpful is allowing and encouraging people to book their own meetings with me. I use one of the online calendar services and I am finding that one I can get people to lock in a time to talk they rarely blow off the meeting. They usually go back and change the time via the calendar, which is a lot better than a no-show. By the way, if you want to set up a meeting with me to chat about franchises or other consulting, you can click this link.

I think the best thing you can do to get people to buy in and commit to you on something is to remember that they will only do so when it’s apparent to them that you’re following their agenda. Your reasons don’t matter. You need to make sure they know you’re asking for their time and energy because you’re solving their problem. If they commit, what’s the win for them? I try to make that clear to them before I seek to lock them into anything.

How well do you secure peoples’ commitments? Are you making it clear to them that you’re asking for that commitment for THEIR reasons and not yours?

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