Investment Challenge: a big man with a very big business. Would you invest?

Investment Challenge: a big man with a very big business. Would you invest?

One of the first things I do with clients who are seeking funding is chat through their business idea and ensure it is viable, sustainable and scalable. If a business has too many barriers to entry, is not going to appeal to a wide enough audience or doesn’t have any chance of growth, the chances are that investors will be wary.

With that in mind, and to help you conduct something similar on any business ideas you might be considering, I thought I’d share an example using a popular business I think most of you will be aware of.

The brand

Christmas Services Ltd t/a Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nick

Clear and simple with an attractive colour palette. Although the name varies slightly when used globally, it does seem to translate to roughly the same value set:

  • Artisan
  • Family friendly
  • Celebrates good
  • Jolly…

The authenticity of the brand needs some consideration. Because of the strong links with the biggest dishonest collusion any adult will ever enter into, this may be called into question.

Action: Gather and submit evidence which proves this is, in fact, a white lie (which we all know are ok).

Key deliverables

  • Presents for good children
  • Lumps of coal for naughty children
  • Goodwill to all men

Consider the definition of ‘good’ and ‘naughty’ including examples of what bad behaviour results in the delivery of coal. Customer satisfaction reports seem to imply that most clients recover their behaviour sufficiently to receive presents.

Action: Is the production and provision of coal still a valid part of the enterprise? If so, should the presentation be tailored for a modern generation?

Action: Update service descriptions to reflect modern society – “goodwill to all” is more diverse and inclusive.

The market

The main consideration is the extremely seasonal nature of the business.

Operating ‘but once a year’ may be considered high risk by investors. However, due to manufacturing and workforce constraints it is not clear whether the operation could be scaled while maintaining standards.

Potentially, this is only an extreme example of the bias that many retail businesses have towards seasonal trading.

Action: consider whether service could be scaled to any other occasion annually. (NB: set up negotiations with key competitors; Easter Bunny, all witches, skeletons and ghouls, tooth fairy)

The workforce

The workforce is seen as extremely loyal and effective at producing the required type of artisan goods that link with the brand. However, diversity is virtually non-existent, with almost the entire workforce being of a single nationality/culture. However, the mass employment of the vertically challenged has been seen to be of advantage to the local population as a whole and certainly assists in bringing in goodwill.

Action: consider recruitment campaign to attract a more diverse workforce. (NB: assess impact of this on elf and safety given size constraints of machinery and factory)

The requirement for 9 months of the year being used to prepare for 3 months’ worth of manufacturing and delivery is unusual. Consideration must be given to whether the workforce remains efficient.

Action: assess workforce capabilities with time and motion study. (NB: Particular reference to CEO who appears to be on holiday for those 9 months).

Finally, consider the overall wellbeing of the workforce, who reportedly work long hours at times. Night shifts should be properly staffed to ensure regular breaks are being taken and adequate facilities are provided for inclement working conditions. Anyone showing signs of illness (red nose, overly hot, red cheeks, or overweight bellies that shake like jelly) should be given a company medical.

The Supply Chain

The original brand USP was for artisanal products. However, in recent years, there has been increasing outsourcing leading to a dilution of the brand values and a prevalence of non-environmentally friendly materials being used.

Attention should be paid to the importance of the brand values and goodwill (of all men) towards the original business plan. Should the outsourced manufacturing be brought back in house?

How has the sugar tax affected profit margins? Have suppliers passed this cost on or absorbed it?

Action: conduct supply chain audit to identify contractors whose brand values do not match that of the organisation; rerun competitions for all contracts.

Distribution & logistics

The use of a non-fossil fuel delivery system is well established and appears to be working well. It might be of use to carry out a survey or surveys to establish whether the production of greenhouse gases (e.g. methane and carbon dioxide) might be seen as a negative and to establish the viability of sustainable alternatives, especially for the lead tractor animal who has his own branding with a red nose.

Are the towing animals at risk of extinction? What facilities are there to ensure regular fleet replacements? Is the red nose a common characteristic or deemed to be some sort of rare throwback gene?

Exit strategy

The recent global pandemic has caused some issues for the survival of the business. The brand story has been tested and messaging needs to be clear to all clients: if 2020 doesn’t stop us, then nothing will (particularly because ‘magic’ seems to be the main rebuttal to any question concerning disruption of supply).

However, modern technology is yet to catch up with the iconic delivery system utilised by the business and this is a positive aspect to be included in any sale calculations.

Currently, options for exit are:

  • Franchise and assume managerial/brand guardian role (beware quality control of franchisees, many less-than-convincing substitutes have been seen – beards on elastic, cheap wellies, rubbish plastic presents)
  • Sale as going concern (consider location of new owner and possible impact on workforce, brand story and general authenticity – Superman will get cold in just tights, Iceman thought to lack empathy)
  • Merger/acquisition (difficult to identify sufficiently similar organisation, but possible contenders are:
    • Multinational drinks company with really nice lorry but likely not to embody brand values or extremely competitive pricing strategy
    • Other cloaked heroes all of whom do seem to have their own battles ongoing, therefore present risk of lack of focus or departure from core business
    • Tooth fairy, although concerns on size match mean this business might not be viable option – currently SME with little ability to grow.

So, what do you think? Would you invest?

Wishing all my clients, colleagues, collaborators and followers a very happy Christmas.

Covid and Crisis: What Did We Learn?

Covid and Crisis: What Did We Learn?

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment but, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’ and eventually we will need to start thinking about life after covid. This three-part blog series looks at moving on from crises and why businesses need to acknowledge what’s happened and learn the right lessons.

McKinsey & Co have been publishing a fascinating ongoing blog on the impact of Covid-19; one instalment of which explores the somewhat unexpected performance of the stock market in recent months. Despite crisis, uncertainty and deep recession, the markets are reaching new highs. Why? Firstly, because investors tend to take a long-term view of things and even the resilience of this pandemic is only a blot on the landscape of the average investment period; secondly because the markets are dominated by five major tech companies who, understandably, aren’t really affected by the change on working practices; and thirdly because for every plus there is a minus and impact across the various business sectors has varied wildly. For every disaster, say the events industry, there has been a success, say those manufacturing PPE. The market is a reflection of the whole and so its aggregate value remains resilient.

The report, however, made me think that there is an important lesson in positivity for us to take away. Despite pain and sadness, 2020 will leave another legacy. An understanding that there’s more than one way to do business. A feeling that we’re perhaps more resilient than we gave ourselves credit for.

So, what did we learn and what can we take away for the future?

  1. We can pivot. It’s become one of a few hideously overused words but that can’t detract from the fact that we experienced an incredible agility in our business world. Manufacturers suddenly started making ventilators or manufacturing PPE. We found out we could meet online instead of in person. Small, medium and large businesses found a way to adapt.
  2. You’ve (probably) got deeper business relationships. Being ‘in it together’ has a unifying impact and many businesses are likely to experience increased loyalty from clients and employees alike. I said in my last blog on this topic that the way we show up in a crisis underlines our future reputation and this is never more true than when it comes to our people.
  3. You’ve got a story to tell. Your brand identity will be enriched and authenticity enhanced by letting people know what you did to survive. Many businesses didn’t just survive, they contributed to their community, helped in the national effort to save lives and supported their peers without question. Marketing aside, this is a story of community and we need a little more of that in our business lives.
  4. Survive this, survive anything. Or so the saying goes: complacency has no place here but you have now stress tested your crisis plans, pushed your business to the extent of its comfort zone and survived. That’s something to celebrate and also to learn from. Disaster and business interruption planning is important but probably overlooked unless you’re a giant corporate. That’s likely to change and our agility can only improve as a result.
  5. The importance of connection. Whether it’s working in a remote team or keeping your customers up to date with what you can and can’t do, we’ve all learned the lesson that communication matters. Your messaging could easily have been the difference between adapt or die for your business and there’s no reason to change your approach now. Keeping people informed, continuing to be front-of-mind with your audience is great for business at any time and hopefully this will be a new habit we intend to continue with.
Why you must rewrite your business story post-Covid

Why you must rewrite your business story post-Covid

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment but, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’ and eventually we will need to start thinking about life after covid. My new three-part blog series looks at moving on from crises and why businesses need to acknowledge what’s happened and learn the right lessons.

The way in which businesses showed up during the 2020 pandemic will define their reputation for years to come. Your reaction and approach, if positive and supportive, will be a key to future growth and success but only if you record them and use the information in your narrative.

Join the dots

It’s possible that your business looks very different to the way it did a year ago. Those changes could be minimal or material but, either way, it’s really important that you join the dots for your audience and tell the latest chapter in your business story. Put simply, you need to explain why you do what you do, and how you do it – and if Covid changed that, people need to be aware. Far from any changes being seen as a degradation of service or an unexplained departure from the norm, your business story should be one of flexibility and agility. People trust a business that can adapt and flex according to what is required and telling the story of how you survived the pandemic and subsequent deep recession is of paramount importance.

Where are you now?

Because the pandemic changed everything in life and business, businesses will have experienced far-reaching disruption. Your route to market may be different; you might be present on different channels (more social media activity, maybe, client meetings on Zoom?) or you could have drastically change the shape and purpose of the business. Are you still happy with your short and long-term business plan? It is essential to revisit your numbers to make sure pricing and profit forecasts are still accurate given any changes you have made. Whatever your story, resilience is at the heart of it and that is something to be celebrated.

Now is the time to be preparing some of this important background material upon which you will build your next chapter: that of the recovery.

A story to celebrate

Let’s look at one of the more recent major crises to hit the business world: the 2008 financial crisis. It hit business hard, especially smaller businesses who were forced to pay off employees, halt spending and investment and find new ways to survive. And the fallout was far-reaching too. The effect on commercial lending was considerable and suddenly loans to small businesses became virtually non-existent.

I’ve blogged before about opportunity emerging from crisis and, true to form, crowdfunding was born of this financial hardship. In the hunt for ‘alternative lending’, the online world stepped up and suddenly large numbers of people could participate in gifts, loans and shares to enable small businesses to raise the equity they needed to deliver on their plan.

 

So, what seems like a near-miss or a difficult time may actually simply be looked back on as a transformation to new and better things. Make sure your story celebrates what you’ve done during 2020.

 

Next time, I’ll be looking at what we’ve learned from this crisis and what we can take away – a little positivity to follow the uncertainty and sadness of the year.

3 things to consider when preparing to put crisis behind us

3 things to consider when preparing to put crisis behind us

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment but, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’ and eventually we will need to start thinking about life after covid. My new three-part blog series looks at moving on from crises and why businesses need to acknowledge what’s happened and learn the right lessons.

The business world is no stranger to crisis but the 2020 pandemic will certainly be remembered for its persistence. Dealing with crisis is often about the importance of the initial reaction, protecting your brand reputation and damage limitation. Covid, however, keeps moving the goalposts.

Inevitably though, it will come to an end and it seems to be generally accepted that now is a good time to start planning for that. As John Chambers, ex-CEO/Chairman of Cisco Systems says “It’s time to reinvent or be left behind.” So, how do we go about that? Here are my three top tips:

1.   Start with customers

As always, the people already doing business with you are the most important. Crisis or normality, it remains easier to do more business with existing clients than to find new ones. Focus on nurturing with an excellent client experience but also remember that your clients will also have shifted. Their businesses will have pivoted and you need to reassess their challenges and pain points.

2.   Be clear

It’s really important that business leaders stay in the here and now and stick with the changes they have made. You’ve pivoted your business because of the pandemic but, even though it will eventually pass, that doesn’t mean you can revert to old ways of working. It’s rare for such a transformational period to pass without lasting change and there will be many new ways of working that will stick around. Don’t look at the end of the pandemic as an end point. You need to continue operating, riding out the transitional period by sticking to your guns about why your business remains the best in its field. Consistency and clarity are key here: businesses that demonstrate this will be trusted by their customers.

3.   Revisit everything

The possibility of permanent change means revisiting all the moving parts of your business. You might have put emergency plans in place to get you through the crisis but there now needs to be a shift towards sustainable change in your policies and procedures. Systems might need to change to support the business adapting. Take time to fully assess the impact of any pivot you have made and set your business up for future success by putting the right foundations in place for the future.

An important part of this review is to take another look at your business plan and make sure you have captured those changes you want to continue with. Another good look at your numbers is also prudent to ensure pricing is still on the right lines. You may have been in survival mode for a period of time but you need to approach the coming months with a clear view of your finances to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Next time, read about why it’s critical to rewrite your business story as well as reinforcing the operational aspects of what you do.

Exit Strategies and why the end should start at the beginning

Exit Strategies and why the end should start at the beginning

When it comes to success in business, there’s a chapter people rarely consider. The art of the exit strategy is the part of the business journey which stands entrepreneurs apart from the crowd.

Some would argue that you’ve only been successful if you’ve exited with a return on your investment, ready to move on to the next bigger and better opportunity.

This is the third and final blog in my three-part series about how to Aim Big, Think Big and Act Big. These are the three essential steps to guaranteed business growth that I spoke about in my first blog of the series.

So, how do we Act Big? I’d like to take you back to my little dog, Baxter, and his very big stick. I guess Baxter has the luxury of not needing to worry about where his big stick journey goes. To me, there’s a clear failure coming, when he realises that half a tree isn’t the best thing to decide to carry on a long walk. But, he’s living in the moment, and very happy to do so.

When it comes to business, we can’t afford to set ourselves up for failure. Which is why, oddly, one of the first questions I ask a business founder is “What happens at the end?” I’m not for a minute suggesting their business won’t continue, very successfully, for many years. But I am suggesting that they might not always be a part of it.

Unlocking the door

There are lots of choices when it comes to an exit strategy, the four most common are:

  • Management Buy Out (MBO) – when an executive team combines resources to acquire some or all of the business they manage;
  • Outside Sale – a straight sale to new owners;
  • Merger & Acquisition (M&A) – either merging with a similarly sized company or being bought by a larger one;
  • Initial Public Offering (IPO) – essentially floating on the stock market and raising capital from external investors, not as popular as it once was, following the bursting of the dot-com bubble;

There’s no ‘best’ option as the right strategy will be the one which fits your business and personal goals. It’s this framing and planning stage which should come at the start of the business journey to enable you to structure your business for ultimate success in the exit strategy you choose.

Determining the right balance between personal and business goals as well as honouring any investments needs careful planning. The key point of the strategy is to optimise the value of the business so planning from an early stage provides maximum flexibility and opportunity.

By acknowledging and actioning the need for an exit strategy, not only are we fulfilling the need to Act Big, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to grow yet more in the future as we have the chance to move on to greater challenges or more business opportunities.