Perspective

Most of the posts included on this page were published in The Bromberg LLC perspective, a bi-monthly (as in, every other) email newsletter, but some are original thought-pieces.
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Mar2011
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Preparing For the Swarm

Have you ever been to a restaurant within days of a newspaper or online source publishing a favorable review? How well did restaurant personnel handle the newfound fame? Did you end up adding to the chorus of plaudits, or were you left wondering whom they paid off to get the supportive publicity?

Defining what level of investment and anticipatory action is appropriate and manageable is a challenge common to all growing businesses. How you handle it can be the difference between a sharply positive growth curve and one that looks, well, lumpy.

So how do you calibrate spending money to prepare for uncertain results? Here is a question-based process to consider:

  • Write down the sequence of activities that results in delivering products or service to clients. Which of those activities are likely to be performed the same way every time, and which require customer- or application-specific execution?
  • How many people in the organization, not including the entrepreneur / leader, are capable of doing each activity? Your answer needs to be greater than one if you want your company to grow!
  • Are your most expensive employees doing the repetitive activity or the custom work? Most of the time, the expensive folk should be creating, selling, or providing some truly specialized capability.
  • Does the repetitive activity have to be done in house, or can you outsource it to someone already specializing in that work? This one can be less clear-cut, but financially, paying as you need it is better than carrying the overhead expense.
  • Can the repetitive activity be automated to minimize the need for more expensive resources? Automation will typically result in lower cost, higher speed, and consistent quality, thus making it a very desirable option.
  • Do you have any resource(s) who spend most of their time selling? Obviously, selling is incredibly important, but asking employees – or yourself – to juggle selling and/or doing and/or managing will inhibit market penetration.
  • When your in-house expert is performing a product / service delivery-based activity, do you have someone you can assign to shadow the expert? Cross-training expands company capacity, addresses the “hit by a bus” risk, and provides employees with the opportunity to grow and become more valuable.
  • When you have shadowing taking place, does the “shadow” document what he or she is learning, to facilitate future training efforts? You’ll want to move away from training as a custom activity, and documenting the work is a great way to ensure consistent future quality.
  • Are you, as the leader, insisting on how the work gets done, or focusing on the required end result? Growing a company means ceding some control over the how of execution, but never abandoning what you really stand for: the quality of the end result.

Restaurant reviews typically aren’t written based on opening night. Your company does have time to prove market viability, but once you are close to debugging your product / service and processes, it’s time to start preparing for growth. Stay ahead of your diners, especially if you want them to come back for seconds.

Jan2011
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Walking the Talk

It was three years ago, January 2008, when I heard the words, “there are probably dozens of firms that could use a piece of a COO.”  (Thank you, Greig.)  That one utterance proved inspirational, liberating, and defining, and has continued to help me grow and focus my work.

Many of the challenges I have faced with Bromberg LLC are the same as those faced by my current and potential clients. What’s the best way to organize the work?  How much work can I personally handle?  How do I grow revenues and profits?  When do I bring in outside help?  How do I track and measure performance?  How do I put myself in position to enjoy what I do?

My clients typically have additional responsibilities relating to managing people, developing and commercializing products or services, raising money, answering to investors, and more. Their goals involve figuring out how to migrate from success via brute force to a scalable and sustainable model.

Success is within reach for those who are honest with themselves and get help where needed. Show me an entrepreneur who can do it all, and I’ll show you someone whose business will never reach its full potential. There is no shame in admitting to what we don’t know / aren’t good at / don’t like doing. Talk to other entrepreneurs, hire contractors / consultants, and never stop answering “how yes” (versus “why not”). Remember that we don’t have to do it all, we just have to make sure it all gets done.

To help your company transition to a sustainable model, you need to pay attention to:

  •  How you make money. This may seem rather obvious, but many entrepreneurs get so caught up in the business they never step back to see what is profitable and what is not.
  • Where you, personally, add the most value. Yes, it’s important to show employees what unselfish collaboration looks like, but focusing your energies on areas of unique skill are bigger drivers of company success.
  • Who can and should do the work. When only the entrepreneur can deliver the product or service, upside is limited. Enabling others to do that work will mean your company and income will grow, even if the work isn’t done exactly the way you’d do it.
  • When to hire full-time versus outsource. One company’s back room is another’s front room. Focus on your front room and the direct support for that activity, and subcontract the rest.
  • How to maintain a positive work environment. The best quality and productivity come from folks who are enthused about and aligned with the work they do – those who see their jobs as interesting, challenging, and fun.

Starting a business seemed like a daunting proposition. But it is just as daunting to keep it growing successfully. Over time, by staying focused on the goals, remembering what I do know, and getting help I’ve achieved a success I’m proud of. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.

Sep2010
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Stretch Goals Are Very Achievable

Last year, when the CEO of a Bromberg, LLC client company told one of his clients how he had just lost three key employees and seen a dramatic drop in revenues the man simply replied, “you’re dead.”  Eighteen months later, the company is coming off its best three-consecutive months of sales in its nearly 20-year history, the workplace environment is incredibly positive, and, according to my client, “we are doing everything better than we ever have.”

Another Bromberg, LLC client is launching a non-profit intending to raise funds for cancer research. The revenue-generating product will be made in China, shipped to a US fulfillment center, and distributed from there for both institutional and e-commerce sales. When I told a friend how my intention was to set up the inventory control, manufacturing, and fulfillment processes to work at the “click of a button,” I was told, “there’s no way to do that.”  My client and I just visited a resource that will provide exactly that capability, thus enabling more of the net proceeds to go to clinical research.

How can you get these results?  First, don’t be shy – define your ideal solution. Don’t allow this dream to become encumbered by obstacles – just go for it. Second, think what would have to take place in order for that ideal to occur. Think in terms of “how yes,” and not “why not.”  If at this point you believe that it is humanly possible to come close to achieving the ideal, grab hold of the goal and don’t let go. Stay committed and passionate about that prize. When challenges arise – and of course they will – stay true to the dream, and keep asking “how yes?”  If you have reason to believe, you’ll find a way to achieve.

Over the years on American Top 40, Casey Kasem used to conclude his broadcast by saying, “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”  I say, dare to be great.

Apr2010
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Problem Solving: No Big Deal

A brilliant and distinguished professor of graduate school mathematics once told a frustrated, middle school student, “If you relax, you’ll find that word problems are no big deal. They always say what type of answer to give, and provide some information to be used in that calculation. You just need to think calmly about how the information and the answer type relate, and you’ll realize you know what formula to apply.”

It’s really no different in business.

Every entrepreneur has a vision for what they want to achieve. Defining the precise tasks, standards of performance, sequence, responsibility, and timing are the other components of the equation.

Example One: A company has been on the receiving end of a series of haymaker punches, decimating the sales force, causing implementation of strict financial constraints, and devastating employees and management. The need to rebuild is apparent. Company focuses efforts on learning what clients are buying, modifying its core product to address customer interests, promoting new product via social media, and training employees. Result: In a six-month period company successfully reengages with customers, releases financial constraints, and reestablishes growth mode and new hiring.

Example Two: An entrepreneur, frustrated that current business relationships are not delivering against the vision, decides to start anew. Entrepreneur realizes her skills and interests are in developing product vision and sales, and engages the services of a business manager to ensure focus, guide activities, and provide supportive counsel. Result: Business relationships increase six-fold in first four months, and new ways to earn greater revenue emerge.

What outcome are you looking for?  What do you have in place already?  What else do you need?  How do you organize your efforts?  Building your business = solving a word problem. You can do this.

Thanks for teaching me so well, Dad.

Dec2009
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Something to Think About

One of the biggest challenges for smaller businesses competing in knowledge industries (where knowledge is the product) – is how to grow and deliver great value to customers without relying on the leader to personally deliver the value. For knowledge companies, the leader is typically the product’s originator, and by virtue of interest, skill, experience, and emotional connection, the best practitioner. Unfortunately, if the leader has to be involved in every activity, the growth of the company will be limited.

Leaders offer varied explanations for the status quo: No one else can do this as well. Clients expect me. It’s too hard to explain / teach. It’ll go faster if I do it. I don’t have time to prepare the necessary training materials.

Employees are frequently under-utilized in these circumstances. Hired for their intelligence and drive, but then constrained by a workflow dependent on one individual, employees become order-takers, applying their intelligence and drive in ever-decreasing ways.

You’ve already hired people you want to work with. Be specific about what you want your company to deliver, and then lead and support employees’ efforts to deliver great output efficiently. Growth and improved productivity will occur when you align skills and interests to company needs.

In Who’s Got Your Back, Keith Ferrazzi writes, “Companies grow beyond the talents of a founder to encompass the skills, dreams, and expertise of every employee…. [Leaders need] to take the company from me to we.” When all in the company, from leader to newest hire, are getting to do what they like and are good at, improved value and profits will result.

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