11 Feb 2015
Is Shark Tank Bad for Small Business?
If you’ve ever watched reality TV (and don’t say you haven’t because we all know it’s too easy to get sucked in by the drama and controversy), you may have noticed a specific formula…
First you find a cause – dating, small business, cooking or home improvement. Next, you add a few unassuming characters – some very relatable but also few who are downright crazy, nasty or delusional. And last but not least, you add just enough controversy, intrigue, shock and cutting remarks to keep the masses coming back for more each night.
In the end, are any of these contestants (or their small businesses in the case of Shark Tank) really any better off? Probably not, but what you have done is create some compelling TV and sold a bucket load of ads to big brands like iSelect, Swisee, Safeway, NAB and Mitre 10.
The other night, I watched Channel Ten’s latest reality TV import, Shark Tank. The premise is pretty straightforward.
A few naive and nervous and numerically challenged small business owners lined up to pitch to a panel of cool, critical and cashed-up potential investors.
Some ideas got funded for relatively small amounts. Most ideas (and their creators) got ripped to shreds by the panel.
So, the show is essentially Survivor, The Apprentice and The Bachelor all rolled into one with Australian small business contestants, and a catchy brand that has the ominous word “shark” in it.
How could that possibly fail?
As I watched, I wondered, ‘Are any of these small businesses likely to breakeven or become profitable and cash flow positive?’
And, perhaps not suprisingly, the answer is “not likely”.
Why is that? Because some of the ideas were pretty interesting. The cricket cooler, the motorized skate board and the hamdog may actually have global potential, but to be viable in the long term, the owners really need to do their homework first and know their numbers.
Case in point – not one of the small business owners who pitched had done market research with their product (or prototype) and could quantify the size of their market. Without that vital information, how can they possibly estimate topline revenue, market penetration or the value of their business with any precision or clarity?
And without those last three things, it’s impossible to give a meaningful pitch or ask for the “right amount” of capital. I’m sure you will agree, other than the guy who thought his hairbrained rental resume idea was worth $2.5million, most of the entrepreneurs vastly underestimated the amount of working capital that they needed.
Several contestants floundered when they got asked the big questions about breakeven, margins and cash flow. Yes, the dreaded cash flow question pretty much stumped everyone.
Most were asking for arbitrary sums of money to commercialise their inventions without regard for how much it might really take to get their brand out there and win their first major customers. One pair even thought it was clever to ask the investors to chip in $150,000 so they [the founders] could leave their secure day jobs and start working in the business full time. Crazy right? If you the owner don’t have skin in the game or work in the business full time, chances are you should still be writing your business plan, not pitching it on national TV in front of 5 sharks and a million viewers.
The cricket cooler duo were the most polished in terms of delivery and presentation. They recognized that patents and intellectual property were vital to their valuation and attractiveness to the sharks, but drastically underestimated the value of locking things down in India – the number one cricket market in the world. And the sophisticated sharks knew that Australia is just a mere drop in the bucket, compared to the potential in a market like India.
Unlike the really trashy stuff – Bachelor, Idol, or Real Housewives of Melbourne – the show didn’t make me feel icky or shocked while watching the sharks tear the flesh off the bones and gnaw away at the contestant’s dreams. I sort of expected that would be the main draw card and the whole premise of the show. Why call the show shark tank if you don’t intend to set up a blood bath and feeding frenzy?
But as an entrepreneur, I did feel genuinely remorseful for each of the contestants. The small businesses who got funded gave up decent chunks of equity for relatively small injections of capital – which may or may not be enough to get them to market and earn their first customers. And the ones who didn’t walked away without any constructive advice or tangible instructions on how to go away and get their idea investor-ready.
Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved television shows of all time, came to a close this year after six successful and gripping seasons. Viewers finally got to witness Walter White’s unforgettable exit and find out which of the key characters made it out alive.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is set in a post-GFC, recession ravaged America. The protagonist Walter White is an understated high-school chemistry professor who is forced to take on a second job at a car wash to make ends meet for his young family. After being diagnosed with lung cancer and realizing that he does not have enough health care to cover his treatment, he puts his expertise in chemistry to use and begins cooking the most pure crystal methamphetamine (meth) on the market. But as this career teacher quickly realizes, starting and learning to grow your business successfully, isn’t as easy as it looks.
But there’s more to Breaking Bad than exciting science, shocking drama and riveting character development – there’s plenty here for you to take and apply to grow your business. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Walter White at Heisenberg College.
1. Technical Expertise is Not Enough
When faced with insurmountable medical bills, Walt realizes that he is never going to make enough money working as an employee. Like so many other entrepreneurs, Walt is passionate about his technical skill (chemistry) and he starts a business that has the potential to maximize the return he can get from that expertise, albeit in this case, an illegal activity.
What he quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business – inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc. So he does what most entrepreneurs do – he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.
The Lesson: If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly. Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges. Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions.
2. Establish a Premium Brand Then Establish a Premium Price
Walter White was a world class chemist and as a result, he consistently produced the highest quality crystal meth that you could buy. In fact, his trademark “blue sky” was widely recognized by both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and drug users as “the bomb”. Walter could easily have cut corners and produced a mediocre range of product that appealed to the mass market at a discount price, but he didn’t. His pride in his own expertise and his commitment to excellence meant that he owned the upper end of the market.
By creating unprecedented demand for his unique formulation, he could dictate the terms his product was sold under and the price consumers would have to pay. In Walter’s own words – “Corner the market, then raise the price,” White says. “Simple economics.”
The Lesson: If you insist on competing based on price, you are doomed to failure. Anyone can cook crystal meth (or make a mediocre version of the product/service that you are currently selling) but only one person can truly be the best in the world at creating the most pure version on the market. To grow your business and succeed, you must be willing to do what it takes to cure the #1 pain that your customer has with buying your product/service.
3. If You’re Good Enough, You Can Get Away With Murder
There is no denying the fact that Walter White was the best in the world at cooking crystal meth. This fact rendered him virtually untouchable. Walter’s unparalleled cooking skills kept him alive over and over again. Even Gus Fring (the chicken man and notorious drug lord) could not afford to kill him after it became clear that both Walter and his junkie sidekick Jessie, were loose cannons. When Gus came close to finding a replacement, Walter was quick to eliminate his competition, thus restoring his own unassailable status.
Even Jessie, as flawed and messed up as he was in his personal life, was excellent at distribution and sales, thus making it difficult for Walter or Gus to eliminate him easily.
The Lesson: If you are without question, the best at what you do, you cannot easily be fired or replaced and you can charge a premium for your expertise.
4. If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed
Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions. When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie. Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.
This episode and in fact the one that followed were not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but they illustrate one important point very clearly for you as an entrepreneur – your success or failure relies solely upon your ability to make quick and good decisions… and then take action immediately, based on those decisions.
The Lesson: In order to be the boss and grow your business, you have to be willing to make decisions and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines of your business hoping and praying that things will change. You need to be the change that you want to see and you need to get good at making decisions today.
5. No One is Ever Successful Without Help
Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.
The Lesson: If you want to grow your business and build a scalable, robust business that runs without you (or is saleable), you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and learn how to delegate and lead others.
6. If You Can’t Negotiate, You’re Doomed to Fail
Ever wondered why most people don’t say “yes” to your product/service? Without a doubt, it’s because you have no idea what they need to hear in order to make a decision in your favour. Walter White started off with absolutely no clue how to run a business or negotiate with suppliers, colleagues or customers. And more than once, this shortcoming almost cost him his business and his life. He stumbled upon a universal truth – that if a person’s pain is bad enough and you provide the only solution, they will decide immediately and won’t need “time to think about it”.
The Lesson: The best negotiators know how to persuade others. In order to succeed you need to master the art of identifying, quantifying and curing your customer’s (employee’s or supplier’s) #1 source of pain. If you do this well, you immediately disqualify your competition and are much more likely to get a “yes” today.
7. Distribution Can Make or Break Your Business
As phenomenal as Walter’s blue sky crystal meth was, he would never have achieved market penetration, leading brand recognition and phenomenal sales without Jessie’s distribution efforts. Jessie’s ability to build relationships, enforce collections and find distributors who were willing to do the hard yards to reach customers, was integral to their commercial success.
Walter didn’t know the first thing about pricing, competitive analysis, money laundering or channel management; he needed to connect with the right people – Jessie, Saul Goodman, Gus Fring et al.
The Lesson: If you insist on doing everything yourself, then you must be prepared to accept the fact you will never have a scalable, successful and saleable business.
8. First Impressions Are Everything
Gus Fring was by all outward appearances a legitimate, respected member of the Albuquerque business community. He owned a chain of successful fried chicken restaurants and he was a vocal and public supporter of the DEA. He was also the most feared and successful drug lord in the southern states. Even though he was targeted and questioned by the DEA, Gus avoided investigation and culpability by always putting his best foot forward. He was articulate, well-dressed, outwardly legitimate and successful. He made it difficult for anyone to identify and convict him as a drug trafficker. Both Gus and Walter understood that first impressions are everything.
The Lesson: You only get once chance to make a good first impression. The part of your customer’s brain that decides is highly visual and hasty. If you don’t appear credible and trustworthy, it will be infinitely more difficult to influence and persuade others to do business with or believe in you. Fail at making a good first impression, and you will never grow your business successfully.
9. It Pays to Manage Your Liabilities
Slowly over the six seasons of the show, Walter and Jessie go from being small time players (much like the typical consultant or start up) to fully fledged business owners of a manufacturing and distribution empire. But there’s just one problem. No matter how much they make, it seems that the overheads (fixed costs of running the business) just keep getting bigger and bigger. Sound familiar? Not only does Walter have to pay Saul Goodman for legal protection, but there’s also plenty of money going towards collections, enforcement and dealers who “know too much”.
While Walter is initially disgruntled about all these expenses he learns an important point – while it’s important to keep your overall expenses as low as possible, you should never skimp on items that are crucial to your success. Although you might be frustrated with fixed expenses, you can afford to pay top dollar for the best employees, legal services to keep your business on the right side of the law, or an advisor/coach to help you grow your business profitably.
The Lesson: If you want to grow your business you cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish. If someone or something is integral to your success, ensure that you invest your time and money here. You can always find money in the budget for everything that is worth spending on or investing in.
Breaking Bad was poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels. And the genius of the show is this – despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man. When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these 9 lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book like the eMyth.
**This blog is taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seduction–is in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com
Imagine you’re the CEO of an established private healthcare business when the economy plunges into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Up to then, your team has delivered extraordinary results; your bottom line is growing steadily each year and your services are recognized as world class by the hospitals, city councils and large public health facilities that refer work to you.
Imagine choosing that time to tell your Board and senior management team that, in essence, you want to walk away from about half of that business and pursue a very narrow niche market.
No doubt, you may at this point be imagining yourself out of a job. But hear me out…
As you may have guessed, this story is not a fictional one and the “you” in the story is actually a business coaching client of mine. I’m happy to report that the discussion with the Board went quite well, the business has nearly doubled since that day, and my client is still the CEO.
And along the way we both learned some valuable lessons about how to increase sales and become the dominant player in the marketplace. In fact, there is a big difference between being just a good company and being one that your customers can’t live without.
Solve Your Customer’s #1 Source of Pain
Consumer sentiment and spending have decreased dramatically in the past few years and those changes are being felt across every industry. Everything you thought you knew about your customer and why he/she was buying from you has probably changed. And if you do not take the time now to re-discover your prospect’s main source of pain and the reason why she needs your product or service now, you will never increase sales. In fact, you risk losing more sales and more ground to your competition.
Now some of you may think – but my industry is different
13 Jun 2013
Why Do You Need a Business Coach?
Do you aspire to be a great leader and grow your business profitably this year? Then it’s time to find the right business coach who can inspire and empower you to step up and reach your goals.
Almost every business is under pressure right now to attract more leads and close more sales in this tough economic environment where global competition is increasing every day for your potential audience. It is hard enough to keep up with the changes in your industry and the barrage of ads that target your potential customers – not to mention the innovation in technology, increasing complexity of running your business and complying with the tax legislation, HR issues, operational challenges and business planning. Having a Business Coach isn’t a luxury in this day and age, it is a necessity that you need in order to survive and thrive.
By far, one of the biggest assets that you will gain as a result of working with a business coach is accountability. Remember, it’s difficult to get a truly objective perspective or opinion from yourself, your spouse or your team members, but your business coach is there to be your “unreasonable friend” – to tell you the truth, challenge your assumptions, push your boundaries and motivate you to take action (especially when you are procrastinating).
A Business Coach or mentor will teach you “how to fish” rather than simply putting a fish in your hands when you need it. With years of successful experience (running their own business and helping hundreds of other entrepreneurs just like you), your business coach will help you develop and achieve your goals, put a solid business plan in place, execute effective strategies that will grow your bottom line, track and measure your progress and highlight blind spots or opportunities that you have overlooked.
You may be able to scrape by without the help of a business coach, but it’s almost impossible to consistently grow your business profitably without the training, guidance and focus you will achieve by working with a good business coach.
Find out more today by contacting us to speak to a business coach that can help you breakthrough your perceived limitations, make better decisions, step up as a leader and achieve your goals.
And remember, most importantly a business coach will:
- help you focus and eliminate all tasks that are taking up resources but adding value
- challenge assumptions and perceived limitations about your business and industry
- motivate you to ask better questions and make better decisions
- highlight opportunities or pitfalls that may not be obvious to you
- give you tips and proven strategies based on years of experience across many different industries
- be a valuable sounding board and provide a balanced, objective perspective
- help you develop and execute plans that grow the bottom line and cash flow safely & predictably
- track and measure your financial progress in a way that is meaningful to you
- assist with an exit strategy
- be your unreasonable friend with a wealth of experience across multiple disciplines – marketing, sales, training, systems, leadership, finance, legal issues and technology.
If you’re in business, one of the most important questions that you must be asking yourself is “what is the best way to grow your business?” How can you take what you have, expand on it but keep your costs as low as possible?
Fortunately, history has given us plenty of good examples of how NOT to do this. Perhaps the best of these happened in 2001 – when thousands of companies went under in the dot com bubble.
But how did so many go so far wrong?
In those days, start-ups (with little or no income) and existing companies (with dreams of expanding their business online) were renting the biggest and best offices. They were signing huge print advertising contracts, paying ridiculous sums for banner ads and taking enormous salaries.
When sales were lower than expected and the cash to keep paying all those expenses dried up, these businesses had no way of easily adjusting their monthly expenditures because they were primarily FIXED, not variable. Their only option was to declare themselves bankrupt and close down.
Compare this situation with Amazon.com which started in a suburban garage with old doors on sawhorses for desks. By keeping fixed costs down, they were able to stay in business long enough to start generating a profit. They are now a huge company (with real offices) making huge profits.
So how does all of this apply to your company?
No matter how big your current business is, the aim is to grow your business while keeping your fixed costs as low as possible as a percentage of sales. And there are many practical ways to do this.
Begin by creating a simple excel spreadsheet of your current revenue and expenses each month. Ensure that you have correctly separated the fixed and variable costs of doing business. Roughly speaking, the breakdown should look something like this:
– Cost of Sales (includes cost of goods and wages for subcontractors)
= Gross Profit
– Fixed costs (includes rent, wages, marketing, telephone and utilities etc.)
= Net Profit
Based on your current financial results, set your monthly revenue targets for the next 12 months and estimate the cost of goods sold. For example, if you currently generate $20,000/month in sales with a 60% gross profit margin, you might like to grow your business by 25%? Therefore, you would use a projected sales target of $25,000 each month with Cost of goods sold at around $10,000 as a starting point. This would leave you with a gross profit each month of $15,000. If your sales fluctuate each month due to seasonal variations, manually adjust your forecast to reflect these ups and downs so that you will have a more realistic picture of your financial performance.
Now here is where most business owners will go wrong…
Most business owners will make the mistake of assuming that fixed costs are fixed – the owner will just blindly start to place the existing amounts for rent, marketing, wages, telephone etc. into the financial projections. Fixed costs are referred to as fixed because they are fixed at a point in time. This does not mean however, that they are fixed forever and cannot be altered. In fact, when you are preparing a business plan and financial projections to grow your business, you should consider almost every aspect of your business as “up for debate and re-adjustment”.
That is one reason why you need a decent business plans – you can use it to re-evaluate and plan for the future so that you can improve and grow your business. Without a concrete plan, in all likelihood, you will continue to get the exact same results that you got last year.
Where you will get the most value in this exercise is by going back over each cost (fixed or variable) to identify opportunities to improve your gross and net profit margins. Cutting costs may be possible and advisable in some areas of your business. However, cutting costs [in isolation] is not usually an effective strategy to grow a business. In order to grow and improve your bottom line, you will need to ask yourself the question – “how can I grow my business without expanding costs”?
Here are some effective ways to do just that:
1. Think of ways to partner with others to expand your reach and sales without actually having to open another location or hire more full time employees. You may already have underutilized capacity to increase your sales right now.
2. Introduce products or services that complement the ones that you currently have and contribute more to the bottom line of your business.
3. Re-negotiate the terms or prices you have with your suppliers to increase your gross profit margin.
4. Selling online is a very cost effective way to increase your reach without increasing fixed costs.
5. If you manufacture goods, you could identify ways to increase production simply by tidying up, rearranging the layout of machines and planning more cleverly (to reduce work in progress and downtime). Often mistakes and rework can be costly to your business and surprisingly, they can be prevented by taking time during the business planning process to brainstorm solutions. Making better use of time is another fantastic way to increase production with minimal impact on fixed costs.
Surprisingly, 95% of business owners never take the time to create a business plan and forecast of revenues and expenses. Of the 5% that do, only a small portion refer back and measure their progress against their key performance targets. That is the number one reason why so many businesses either don’t make much profit, or worse, go under, each year.
A business plan doesn’t have to be 50 pages in length and take 200 hours to complete. It just has to be realistic and useful. To do this properly, follow my basic outline for projected revenues and expenses above. It should only take 48 hours of your time. 48 hours, in exchange for more sales, more profit and peace of mind, is a small price to pay.