See with New Eyes: The Possibilities of the Everyday

Eye ElaineEveryday we see the customers, suppliers, employees and operate within our business environment. It becomes the same old, same old. Yet, within this situation and among the people surrounding us, there are possibilities. Ideas for new business growth.  How do we notice them?

Within the mundane lies marvelous opportunity. A new-found respect for the day-today as well as the thoughts of everyone around us, will help us notice opportunities we missed before. We will observe what is going on around us, listen with new ears, and see with new eyes. Then we just take simple, practical actions that will move us forward. Something many do not do.  For example, Panasonic was the first company to visit customers’ homes in China, finding out the size and orientation of the washers and fridges that would fit in the homes – catapulting sales 5 and 10 fold respectively.

It has to do with attention. Paying attention. Listening to others, especially those you think will not have the ideas you want. Understanding that they can be a special source of originality and insight. Ask questions, to be sure you understood. Probe for more detail, if there is any. Compile the ideas in your list of Opportunities.

Look with your eyes. See the needs that are there, that are not being addressed. Therein lies the gold. It may be a small issue or item. Start with that, if that is what you have. You can build upon it or add it to your list of new opportunity ideas – and then determine the best ones to pursue. Stay tuned for the best ways to evaluate these ideas in one of my future blogs – or feel free to contact me for assistance.

Don’t wait for the skies to open and the big answer to appear. Take small, practical steps toward finding unmet needs and meeting the need, toward realizing the opportunity. It is a process and you will learn as you go.

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Partners Creating Wealth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive. Email: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

Photo credit: Elaine

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How to Innovate to Grow!

How does Innovation Happen - Brilliant FORGEOne Friday, a Google engineer, stymied by a complex problem, posted the details on the ideas board in the hallway at their headquarters. On Friday evening, a few engineers hanging around at headquarters without plans started working on an algorithm to solve the problem posted on the board earlier that day. The issue was solved by Tuesday.

This is the power of the hallway conversation ramped up a few notches, and is a source of ongoing creativity at Google, a company that could easily be too big for innovation. Simply, Susan Wojcicki, Google’s Senior Vice President of Advertising, says she looks everywhere for innovation and ideas.

The key to innovation is new data, new information, according to Cathy Renault, trained in Innovation Engineering. Four categories of new stimulus for new ideas are technology, the market, insights through Voice of the Customer and the future trends. Technology data can come from patents, inventors, vendors and more. Market data is found in benchmarking, borrowing briliance from other industries as well as the tried and true SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.

To develop ideas to grow the business it is important to understand customer needs and unmet needs before developing lots of new ideas. Then the ideas that are developed will focus on solutions that to generate value for customers – the winning ideas.

Stage-Gate International and the Product Development Institute looked at the most effective ideation methods versus the most popular. They found Voice of the Customer (VOC) methods were the five most effective of the 18 studied. However, not all were popular. Ethnography was found to be the most effective, but is not popular, likely as it requires camping out at the customer for extended periods of time, as well as people trained in cultural anthropology. Three other VOC tools are both effective and popular: customer visit teams; customer focus groups for problem detection; lead user analysis, or working with the most innovative customers. The fifth most effective, customer or user aided design, has not caught on in popularity.

The Harvard Business Review, in discussing New Patterns of Innovation, sees three sources of innovation: competency-based, customer-focused, and changes in the business environment. However, it recommends a fourth – creating value for customers using the data and analytic tools available. This can be generating data of use to customers, digitizing assets and more.

In the end, innovation is making connections and even combining opposing ideas. Smashing magazine notes the invention of the Burkini, a combination of the Burga worn by Muslim women and the bathing suit – which is innovative, but not necessarily  spawned from a market need or cultural awareness. To this end, a future blog will discuss how to select the best ideas.

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Partners Creating Wealth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive. Email: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

Photo credit: Brilliant FORGE

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Want Growth? Five Excellent SOURCES of Ideas

Babe Oct 29 14 Adriano Aurelio Araujo

Novices offer many excellent ideas for growth

Our economy is in its sixth year of expansion, unemployment is at the lowest level since 2008, and the stock market has rallied from the dip last month. The recovering economy is tantalizing more business leaders with visions of growth. Successful leaders understand that opportunities are all around us and so pay close attention to the ideas of people in their everyday lives.

Here are five ways to raise your awareness of the creativity and knowledge around you to spark ideas for growth. We have found that the best opportunities come from one of the following five sources.

1. Your existing customers. After many years of being in China, Panasonic created a Customer Insight Team and visited the homes of Chinese customers who had bought their washing machines and refrigerators. The researchers found that refrigerators needed to be narrower and washing machines had to be front-loaded in order to fit the space available. Panasonic used this information to develop new products. As a result, Panasonic’s refrigerator sales increased ten-fold and washing machine market share increased from 3% to 15%.

This is the power of visiting customers, perhaps even spending a day there. Your company can learn how customers use your products and spot opportunities for offering improved value. Start by talking with customers to see if they have ideas for new services, products and potential markets. Then visit your customers, even spend the day on-site, if at all possible, right where your product is used.

2. Employees are an often overlooked source of ideas for opportunities but 3M has taken full advantage of employee creativity. The innovation of employees is embedded in its culture, encouraged by the company. In fact, a 3M employee created the post-it note, by mistake, I might add. Still, the product is on the market and bringing strong sales and profits – a testament to the culture of innovation, seeing and acting on growth opportunities.

Typically, we expect these ideas from marketing or from research & development, or product development. But, who talks to the folks in the IT department or on the production line for new product and service ideas? Employees care about the company, want to see it succeed, see what is really happening and often have good ideas for potential growth. So, take the time to talk to front-line employees, production employees, those just starting out – you don’t know where the best idea will come from. Find out where they see the opportunity – it may be the one you are looking for. Or, perhaps with some modification, it is an important idea that could propel your company’s growth forward.

3. Your internal and external situation. Nordstrom has built its success around customer service. Just try the outstanding Personal Shopping service. Nordstrom is clear that its key strength is customer service – and the company takes customer service to levels not seen in other department stores. Witness listening to a live pianist while shopping for shoes and much more. This from a simple, yet effectively performed, SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and strengths. Such an analysis can help you – take a close look at your company’s SWOT.

Similarly, a comprehensive analysis of your company’s environment can yield more ideas. For example, even a downturn holds opportunity – note all the cheap, reasonable quality, private label brands in the grocery store for paper towel, coffee and more. A PEST analysis consists of understanding and assessing political, economic, social and technological trends. It’s a good habit to review and update your PEST analysis each year.

4. Experts in the industry, such as Faith Popcorn, can see beyond the present to the future. Faith specializes in predicting future consumer trends and is consulted by many consumer packaged goods businesses. It’s important to tap the brains of the experts in your industry. They can often see what is needed and where the industry is headed. Just be sure you don’t launch a product ahead of its time – it won’t sell well.

5. Novices or babes in the woods. How did Starbucks revolutionize their industry? An English teacher, history teacher and writer brought the Italian-style coffee shop to Seattle. Good-bye cheap coffee, with orange walls spinning customers in order to sell huge quantities. Hello comfie chairs, good music, wireless, and high quality coffee with everything for sale and high prices to match. Definitely a profitable model that many have copied.

So, talk to the novices. The new employees, people outside the industry. They are the ones we don’t want to listen to. However, they are not blinkered by industry standards and mores. They see through the complexity to challenge assumptions and envision what is possible. Novices in your industry often bring experience from other industries – many of these models and ideas may work well in your industry. They can even transform it.

The five sources above are just scraping the surface. If you’d like to strategize about where to find growth opportunities for your business and how to go about that project, give us a call. We’d be happy to help.
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Partners Creating Wealth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive.
Email: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com
Tel: 207-409-7576
Photo credit: Adriano Aurelio Araujo

 

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Realize your Profitable Opportunities

Opportunities blog Oct 1 2014 Nigel HoweI hope you are up for a challenge, dear readers, because I have one for you. Beginning now, I challenge you to look for a few key business growth opportunities to focus on. We understand how difficult it is to find and implement new, good business opportunities. We know. We have been there.

Many stages of businesses- from start up to established – face challenges in identifying and implementing growth opportunities. Identifying the best opportunities to pursue can be helped significantly by supplementing sales information with insightful market research and effective analytical techniques. New and existing opportunities can be implemented more smoothly with excellent strategies, market research,  financial analysis capabilities, potentially business coaching and more.  A myriad of skills and abilities will take your company to the next level.

By achieving greater profitability, you not only improve your bottom line –but also the economy and community around you. The economic growth makes your world a better place.

Once you begin to look for opportunities, you will find yourself:

  • Scaling up the existing business
  • Moving into new, though related, markets
  • Launching new products
  • Getting into new cities, states or countries

For specific actions to grow your company, keep an eye on this blog. Much more information is forthcoming. Until then, take a look at our article on 14 Sources of Competitive Advantage or check out an earlier blog, 5 Keys to Business Growth, or scan any of the earlier blogs for advice to suit your needs. As always, feel free to let me know if you’d like me to cover a specific topic in one of our future blogs – input from my readers will provide excellent guidance on where to focus.

So, begin evaluating the growth opportunities surrounding you, with a view to focusing on the big-hitters. Take some time to work on them daily and see your world improve.

 

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Partners Creating Wealth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive. Email: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

Photo credit: Nigel Howe

 

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Want Federal Funding? Business Expertise Needed

business guru woman-220261_640 (1)“It really helps to have business expertise on the team,” said Alan Rhodes, Program Manager of the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He was referring to applying for the federal SBIR and STTR funding, particularly phase 1. “The company is more likely to win.”

“Highlight your business expertise,” urged Rhodes, speaking at the Maine Technology Institute Summer Session July 17 in Brunswick, ME.

This sentiment echoes bankers and credit unions and state sources of funding, all who want to see the business expertise prior to providing funding. Why is it so important? Why do they care?

Essentially, it is one thing to invent a product. It is quite another thing for that product to be successful in the market – the latter requires business expertise. More specifically, the company with the next big idea absolutely has to understand why their market will buy it, why is the new product better than the competition in a way the customer cares about, what the profile of their interested customers is, how they buy, what criteria they use, who makes the decision, who influences the decision-maker. Other items to consider are the pricing, the costs, where exactly the company will make money.These are some of the key factors.

It’s important to get customer feedback at each developmental stage, to be sure the product is of the most interest to the potential customers and the right decisions are made in the specs and marketing of the product or service.

The market and business information needs to be highlighted in the SBIR and STTR applications as without market or business knowledge, a company can be left with the best new widget in the world, in their estimation, and no customers. However, a company armed with the information stands a much better chance of commercial success.

Other government agencies in attendance were: National Aeronautics & Space Administration; Department of Homeland Security; US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food & Aquaculture; Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Transportation; and Department of Education.

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Partners Creating Wealth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive. Email: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

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Is my Innovation Valuable to Customers?

Maine Start up and Create Week has got me thinking about innovation and connection – both vital keys to start up success. Another key to success is value – to the customer – beyond what they can get from your competitors.

How do you know your new idea for a product or service has value? How do you know customers will want it? Will buy it?

It seems simple. Know what customers want. What competitors offer. How customers buy. Understand the value your new idea brings to your potential customers, beyond what competitors offer – - – and figure this out in dollars. Not just in generalities and platitudes. It is the value that will generate traction for growth.

How do I find out if my innovation is valuable to customers? One important facet of knowledge is gained through being in the market. Visit and talk to prospects and customers. Attend shows.

A second important source of knowledge is the often more objective market research. It balances and deepens the subjective knowledge you gain in the market. There are many market research techniques that can be used to gain key insight into customer needs. PCW is an expert in this area, and is happy to help.

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Partners Creating Wealth are market research experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow, and disadvantaged regions thrive. E-mail: Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

 

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Excel in Strategic Alliances … for Competitive Advantage

Strategic Alliance

An excellent way to quickly gain capabilities your business lacks is through a strategic alliance. The sad fact is, however, that 60% of strategic alliances fail, which is enough to give pause to the most confident. However, this presents an opportunity. Excel in strategic alliances to beat out your competition.

Generally the management of the strategic alliance is at issue, not the choice of an alliance itself. So, learn how to manage the new animal effectively and win. It takes patience and understanding. The new alliance will have challenges and difficulties – let the new structure learn. Also essential is letting the strategic alliance team build strong relationships – providing the opportunity for face-time is essential here, as is encouraging understanding of the different cultures involved.

Finally, focus on the long-term, the pay-off or raison d’etre. This will help the team move through the daily storms and end up sailing in the right direction.

For more information on this and over 10 more sources of competitive advantage -  complete with data behind each one – click here.


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Photo credit: Yvonne in Willowick Ohio

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Tove Rasmussen, your partner in business growth @ Partners Creating Wealth, offers business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow, and disadvantaged regions thrive.  Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

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A Simple Market Focus can be a Powerful Advantage

Customer Value cartoonToo many companies merely give lip service to focusing on the market and customers. A real market orientation involves offering more customer value due to an outstanding understanding of the customer and competitors that permeates the organization.

Based on 9 years of data, Kumar et al find that ‘market orientation has a positive effect on business performance in the short and the long run.” It can take some time for the market orientation to have a positive effect, so management needs to provide support. At the beginning of the 9 year period, a company with a market orientation had an advantage. Later on, the nature of competition changed and a market orientation was necessary to compete successfully. Still, the study finds that under highly competitive pressure, a company can gain advantage with a market orientation.

At a multi-million packaging company, I led the shift from a product to a market focus. Initially, the company produced the plethora of products the equipment could produce. As a result, the company was mediocre in most markets, and poorly performing in some, having suffered a significant loss the previous year. I coached the management team to explore market options, utilizing the extensive knowledge in Sales, Production and market analyst assistance.

Given the company’s sophisticated capabilities, market trends and the high margins, we selected the high end market segment as an area of focus, shedding the high volume, low margin product lines. The company pulled together to pursue high quality packaging accounts and to move into a new, higher end product line. The new business added considerable profits to our bottom line, returning the company to profitability.

Over a dozen more options for competitive advantage are discussed in the article “14 Sources of Competitive Advantage.” The article is not only based on extensive experience but also includes considerable research and data on each option.




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Tove Rasmussen, your partner in business growth @ Partners Creating Wealth, offers business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow, and disadvantaged regions thrive.  Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

 

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Excel in your Industry through Localizing in Global Markets

XinHui_RT-Mart_1st_floor_supermarket_19 Globalization in Local MarketsOne strategy to create competitive advantage involves localizing in global markets. Implementing simultaneous strategies of localization and globalization in global market returned Panasonic to a profitable growth path. In 2000, the company suffered its first loss due to Chinese competitors effectively exporting to the US, Europe and South Asia. In response, Panasonic shifted from a US-based to a global view. It set up a center focused both on local Chinese market needs and on globally available and soon-to-be available Panasonic products. The center uncovered a need for narrower refrigerators, allowing fridge sales to increase ten-fold in one year. It also found a need to sterilize laundry. Panasonic was the first major player to bring this capability to market. As a result, the front-loaded washer market share in China increased from 3% to 15%.1

Over a dozen more options for competitive advantage are discussed in the article “14 Sources of Competitive Advantage.” The article is not only based on extensive experience but also includes considerable research and data on each option.




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Tove Rasmussen, your partner in business growth @ Partners Creating Wealth, offers business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow, and disadvantaged regions thrive.  Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

Photo credit: By Sanwuisusp (Own work)

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Some Banks Focused on Fostering Small Business Growth

Over the past month, I have talked with 3 banks that are working to foster small business growth with specific financing programs.  This is heartening news at a time when the regulatory restrictions on loans are intense; the backlash to the 2008 financial collapse is yet another factor slowing recovery. Below, I outline some programs tailored specifically for small business financing from Gorham Savings, Key Bank and Camden National Bank.

Gorham Savings Bank began its high profile LaunchPad program this spring, offering $30,000 to the best business idea to help the economy of Maine.  It is expected to be an annual event.  This year, the 7 semifinalists will have 5 minutes each March 21 to make a pitch for their idea, and the top 3 will be selected.  A video will be posted on the bank’s website fore each of the 3 finalists, and the public will select the winner.

This intriguing event definitely encourages submission of the ideas out there and will give publicity to more than the sole winner. LaunchPad can promote the many excellent ideas that Mainers have now to grow the economy, and provide them with the publicity to gain some sorely needed funding.

KeyBank also impressed me with their specific position for a Small Business Relationship Manager, someone dedicated to this niche, demonstrating a real commitment to this sector.  Small business brings in a smaller level of assets than larger companies; however, Key Bank has relationship managers dedicated to small, medium and large companies, to ensure each gets the attention it needs.

In addition, the bank has a specific financing option available to small businesses, or even start ups, the Small Business Key Equity Options (KEO).  It is a business financing option secured by equity in your home.  It combines a variable-rate line of credit with up to three fixed-rate loan options into one account.

Importantly, the U.S. Small Business Administration backs high risk loans for banks who are approved SBA lenders.  Camden National Bank, noted as a top ten SBA lender in Maine, spoke at a Maine Technology Institute event on financing options earlier this year.  The list of approved banks for SBA loans is extensive, and the SBA website has a quick search option to find the ones in your area.

The Maine District Office, SBA, lists the remaining top 10 SBA loan providers, based on the number of loans, as:
- Katahdin Trust Company
- Bangor Savings Bank
- Norstate Federal Credit Union
- The Bank of Maine
- TD Bank, NA
- KeyBank, NA
- Eastern Maine Development Corp.
- Saco & Biddeford Savings Inst.
- Machias Savings Bank

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of banks committed to helping small businesses grow in Maine.  These are small business programs of banks that I have come across in the last month or two.  However, if you are aware of other effective small business bank programs, please feel free to share them with the readers here.

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Tove Rasmussen, your partner in business growth @ Partners Creating Wealth, offers business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow, and disadvantaged regions thrive.  Tove@PartnersCreatingWealth.com

Photo credit: 401(k) 2013′s photostream

 

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