Archive for 'Business Planning'

While I don’t consider myself a luddite when it comes to the administrative details of my business, it is true that I didn’t get into business for the sake of bookkeeping, new phone systems and the like. But all of these business support details are a necessary aspect of keeping a business running and serving customers.

For a small business owner who wears several hats, attention to the administrative aspects of the business can sometimes be lost among all the other responsibilities. And the associated costs can creep upward with little notice.

This past year we took steps to address a number of recurring monthly costs. All of the services we looked at have value – in the right context. In our case, requirements had changed over time but the services were never intentionally evaluated.

So here are the changes we made:

Web conferencing @ $50/month. This service had been set up a couple years back because of the need for regular conference calling between one of my team and a particular client. With the project completed, we were using the service very infrequently so we cancelled it and moved to an on demand service through our telecommunications services provider.

Land telephone line – $60/mo. Speaking of telecommunications, late in 2014 we made a decision to cut the landline. This was a shared service for my family and our business that has its office in the house. There was seldom a conflict since the landline was hardly ever used for either personal or business purposes but it did represent a recurring cost for both. The replacement – Ooma’s internet based service that provides both personal and business lines at substantially reduced cost.

Fax service – $12/mo. Does anyone fax anymore? I figured we hadn’t sent or received a fax in well over a year so this one was ditched without much thought.

Government tender delivery service – $20/mo. This was an office/marketing expense that we weren’t receiving much benefit from. The original purpose was to access government of Canada (primarily) tenders but in the past year the government created its own portal that allowed for free access to the same data. Since we seldom pursue opportunities from other agencies the former service continues to support, it was not worthwhile to continue paying the monthly subscription fee.

Accounting software. We are in the process of converting from a desktop accounting service to a web based service. From what we can tell, we will have all the functionality we need and save about $50/month.

This past year we addressed several cost issues. I believe we have reduced costs without negatively impacting our business and some cases; we have gained in terms of service. While some of you may see these as relatively inconsequential costs, I believe they are significant for a small to medium sized business.

So I have resolved to stay on top of our administrative business services in 2015 – hopefully ensuring cost creep doesn’t recur and maybe even find additional savings. On the radar for this year are mobile phone charges and banking fees (including wire transfer fees).

If you have suggestions or past lessons you have learned, I’d love to hear from you.

Last week was a big week in the web and mobile mapping world on at least two fronts.
First, Amazon announced plans to release a mapping API to support the Kindle Fire HD.  That alone would have been significant news but to some extent it was overshadowed by Apple’s release of iOS6.  The fact that Apple’s new OS would include a built at home mapping application replacing Google Maps was not news.  The plans have been known for a while but this was the first time Apples’ users had a chance to test drive the application.  And what a ride it got.  I can’t imagine how many blog posts have been published about Apple’s new mapping application. Apple has been greeted with comments about lack of functionality, aesthetic differences as well as out and out errors.  There have been plenty to comment on.  Websites have been set up to post user discovered flaws and they have chimed in.

In little more than a decade since Google released Google Maps users and developers have come to expect well-designed functional mapping applications.  Mapping applications have become a part of our everyday use.   We depend on applications that are built on them with the expectation that certain functionality and information will be present.  Functionality such as geographical search and navigation are now imbedded in our personal and our business lives.

For the most part, we take web and mobile mapping capability for granted.  Our expectation is that the applications will be there, they will work and they will work well.  That’s why the response to Apple’s product has been so immediate and vociferous.  The fact that building and maintaining a mapping application is extremely complex is lost on most people.

Circling back to Amazon.  What does Apple’s experience mean for their foray into the world of mapping?  Their API is now in beta, accessible to Kindle application developers.  Presumably they are providing Amazon feedback that will allow them to address the sorts of issues Apple has experienced.  But the task is not trivial.  Leaders in the mapping world have invested substantial time and effort to provide seamless data and a complete set of mapping tools.  Drew Olanoff provides a great TechCrunch summary of some of the inner workings of map database creation.

At a higher level, I think an important question is to what end should hardware developers be investing in proprietary core mapping capability?  It has to be a question that developers need to consider.  The cost of developing applications having to deal with different mapping applications is not insignificant, nor is the ongoing support and enhancement effort. To what extent can consistent user application experience be maintained across platforms? Does it matter if there are differences?

And what about third party providers positioning themselves as independent brokers?  At least one – deCarta has convinced itself there is an opportunity to be had.

It will be interesting to see how Apple responds to the community response to their mapping application.  How will Amazon fare?   What strategy will application developers take to accommodate the differences they face?

Not doubt there is more to come in the world of mapping APIs.

What Direction Is Your Company Headed?

It has been said that it is the direction you set for yourself and not your intention that will determine where you end up.  I believe this to be true –  both at a personal and at a business level.

The path we set for our business is essential to where our company will be 5, 10 or 20 years from now.  While we cannot fully anticipate the future, defining the path and making critical decisions as to what needs to be done along the path must be done.

Several years ago I was providing some advice to a company that was in the process of revamping its business plan – determined to take their company to the next level.  They had arrived at a point where partly through their own hard work and partly because of outside circumstance and opportunity, they saw an opportunity for their company to expand and achieve significant growth.  I recall a lunch meeting with the founder and his long time partner – both of whom had invested time and money in getting the company to where it was.  At that meeting the founder confirmed the intentions for growth and then he made a very significant statement – “I believe the company would be better served if I handed the president role to someone more skilled at the functions required of that position.” He would continue with the company in a role that was more suited to his skill set and interest.  It was a bold statement and one I knew was appropriate based on my knowledge of the company and the business plan they were in the process of fine tuning.  The founder made the statement understanding that for his company to grow, it would take more than just intention.  It was necessary to take a very specific step – bring into the company expertise that would be required to achieve the growth they all desired and would benefit from.

All too often the scenario is completely different – one where an individual or group of individuals come up with an idea for a business.  They become business founders and owners.  They are the knowledge centre, the energy centre and the major stakeholders.  Sometimes the decision to make changes such as bringing new skill sets into the company is not easily recognized nor executed.  Sometimes the need is something else but whatever it is, it is essential that it be taken to achieve the end result – not always easy decisions but absolutely necessary.

Rabkin’s ROI has a great post on the impact new technology has on our “baseline experience”.  Barry Rabkin points out that when new technology is seen to add value to our lives or improve the way we go about our business, a new baseline of expectation is established against which we measure future technology.

His post is a good reminder that disruptive technologies are always changing market expectations.  While we may believe our product is the disruptive one, we can can never lose sight of the reality that our competitors are also responding to changing market conditions.

For companies in the spatial technology world, this change is all too evident.  Particularly as one observes the business of organizations such as Microsoft and Google and others as they continually raise the bar of expectation among consumers with respect to access to spatial information, ease of use, etc.  What was pretty heady stuff a few years ago has now fallen below the threshold of user expectation.

I not sure the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” is entirely true in a competitive market place but it is clear that even when the bar is being steadily raised by some large market players, opportunity remains for others.  In the spatial technology field we continue to see many companies thrive (not all to be sure) and new companies emerge, set to introduce their own technologically disruptive products and services into the market.

The challenge remains to innovate around sound technology with a sharp eye on what the market requires.  Recognize the market expectation is always changing, don’t forget that your competition is probably gauging the market as closely as you are, anticipate what  they will do and have a plan to deal with it.

logoLeafy3 Yesterday I watched an inspiring interview with Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org.   The interview was part of an event called The Leadership Summit which is an annual faith-based leadership event that includes presentations from recognized leaders from all walks of life.

While there were many things about the interview with Ms. Jackley that I found fascinating and inspiring, one thing that stood out in particular was how clearly Kiva understood the importance of defining its mission statement and then how that permeated the organization.  Kiva’s mission is “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty”. The organization links individual credit lenders (some lending as little as $25) with entrepenuers in developing countries through in-country micro finance organizations.  When the interviewer asked her how Kiva managed to grow (Kiva has helped raise tens of millions of dollars in capital since its formation in 2005) while maintaining a relatively flat organizational structure Ms. Jackley referred to the importance of Kiva’s mission statement as providing the guidance and direction for a growing organization.  She asserts that Kiva’s mission statement provides an important mechanism for self-governance and reduces (not eliminates) the need for organizational structure and bureaucracy, allowing for great creativity and productivity within the organization.

So, a Mission Statement can be more than a line item or paragraph in your business plan but also a guiding light enabling an organization to operate efficiently and to flourish.