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EIGHT Crucial Questions Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Be Asking Prior to Launching

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Potential entrepreneurs and inventors are individuals motivated primarily by the desire to create something new, the desire for autonomy, and financial independence who are equally convinced that their product or service idea possesses tremendous potential. However, without a structure in place and vital concerns to honestly deliberate, as well as confront, the prospective entrepreneur may be diving into an unfamiliar commitment prematurely.

Asking the right questions to prepare the road map ahead, along with predicting the worst-case scenarios, will place the aspiring businessperson in a superior proactive rather than in a totally capricious and reactive position.

As a serial entrepreneur stretching over 35 years and in three countries, I have developed a series of questions to asses prior to engaging in a new enterprise. The self-evaluation questions which should be addressed are as follows:

1)      Will my product or service idea be viable, and does it solve a problem?

  • Do an adequate/in-depth research of your target market(s) and your competition (if any).
  • Know your potential size of your target market(s).
  • Be familiar with your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Can you articulate
  • Establish a business model to identify the products or services the business will sell (whether B2C, B2B or both), and among other elements to ponder such as the target market it has identified, and the expenses it anticipates.
  • If what you are planning to offer is considered disruptive and will make people’s lives easier, than your chances of acceptance and sales will be significantly higher than the average existing competition.

2)      Do I have adequate funding to launch it and keep the business going?

  • There should be sufficient start-up funds, as well as funding available to keep the business active for cash-flow purposes, as well as to grow the company. Every type of business has different funding requirements.
  • Sources of funding are bootstrapping/own funds, debt (line of credit, credit cards, traditional and alternative bank loans) and/or equity (friends, family, potential investors, etc.)

3)      Do I possess the characteristics required to deal with entrepreneurial            hardships?

  • An effective businessperson has an inquiring mind and should never stop learning. Familiarize himself or herself with the barriers and challenges an entrepreneur is often confronted with.
  • Possess tenacity and able to think clearly. Intense emotions from pressure should be restrained. Cool heads prevail and easier to undertake problems.
  • Organizational skills are critical along with an open mind and fiscal discipline.
  • Should not feel uneasy delegating tedious tasks (whether in-house or outsourced) and focusing on the core business operations.

4)      How much do I know about the industry I’m seeking to embark in?

A clear understanding of the business is imperative. The entrepreneur should be a perpetual student of the business and constantly seeking ways to innovate and improve oneself and the operations.

5)      Can I succinctly address all 4P’s of marketing (a.k.a “the marketing mix”) for the product(s) or service(s) I desire launching?

Every entrepreneur should be familiar with the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place & Promotion) and how each one applies to his or her product(s) or service(s).

6)      What are my financial projections (3 to 5 years)?

  • Achievable? Adequate? What about profit and cash flow?
  • Number of employees planning to hire (payroll costs), amount needed to spend on R&D, equipment, etc.

7)      What is my exit strategy?     

a) If things go awry.

An entrepreneur should know when to walk away if his or her business is floundering with little chance of turning it around. Perhaps sell it if someone else can salvage it. It is not a good idea to keep injecting good money after bad.

b) If the business is thriving in 5-7 years?

It may be a good time to pass on the reins to a capable family member, sell the shares to the partner(s), go public, or negotiate a buy-out from an established brand or competitor. If seeking funds from an Angel Investor or Venture Capital firm, this will need to be addressed.

8)   Do I have a circle of outside support such as a mentor/coach, attorney, accountant etc.?

A savvy businessperson surrounds himself or herself with mentors and knowledgeable advisors, who will nurture the executive to become a better and successful entrepreneur.

Ultimately

The aspiring businessperson should be honest with himself or herself of the challenges that lurk in launching and operating an enterprise — it is not all rosy and glory. Start-ups do not occur in theory. These questions, when answered wisely and truthfully, ensure the would-be entrepreneur does not get caught in a sensual dream that turns into a living nightmare.

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Preparing a Business Plan for its Applicable Audience: Bank, Investor or Other

By James D. Roumeliotis

Business Plan Image 2

Often, the initial task expected from an aspiring entrepreneur is to prepare a business plan. A comprehensive business plan, when concisely written, is a tool that conveys in detail the short and mid-term (1 to 5 years) goals and objectives comprising the projected sales strategies, the marketing, operational and financial plans. This document should include in-depth research conducted regarding the industry and the competition. Moreover, it describes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/risks (known as a SWOT assessment) along with a financial analysis, and assumptions on growth. The average 25-50 page document also lays out a map of where your company will be and how it will get there – also known as the “vision.”

Pitch Deck vs Business Model vs Business Plan

A typical question normally asked is: which one comes first? It depends on which of the three is being requested. However, the pitch deck is generally sent early in the discussion. The business model is created for internal purposes and can be comprised within the business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) refers to the business model as “a company’s foundation and the business plan as its structure. The foundation, or business model, is the original idea for your business and a general description of how it functions. The structure, or business plan, elaborates on the details of your business idea.”

Artizan Fine Foods Pitch Deck Cover

A pitch deck is a presentation − a deck of between 10 to 20 pages slides that is shared to potential investors and/or used as a visual during a live presentation to either investors or other audiences. The pitch deck is an effective summary of the key items in the business plan and includes information about the business, who it serves and why, the size of the market, the unique selling proposition (USP) and how the business will win in that space. It also lays-out the details about what the entrepreneur intends on doing with the funds sought from an investor.

The pitch deck is created in a Microsoft Powerpoint format and converted to PDF prior to being sent-out via email.

Business Model Canvas Explanation

The business model, more specifically, a Business Model Canvas is a company’s plan for making a profit − a design for the successful operation of a business. It’s how you create value/make money while delivering products or services to your customers.  It’s in a form of a visual chart with nine building blocks describing, among other elements, a business’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. It can be used to understand your own business model or that of a competitor. The business model canvas was created by Alexander Osterwalder, of Strategyzer.

Business Plan Content - Sections - Image

The business plan is a non-static document (usually in MS WORD and sent in a PDF format) which describes in detail, what the business does, and how it’s going to achieve its goals and objectives. It also incorporates the business model, the financial projections, and all other details about customer interaction/engagement, customer service, operations including management capabilities.

The business plan is first and foremost used by a business as a reference guide and shared when requested by the bank for a possible loan and/or funding considered by the potential investor.

What a banker or private lender seeks

For debt financing, which is either provided by a bank or an alternative loan source, the business plan should contain a convincing reason why the money is needed and how it is going to be used in the business. Being the least risk adverse, as compared to an equity investor, a money lender’s main concern is the possibility of a business failure/bankruptcy. Its main focus is on the ability to make the loan payments and eventually repay the entire loan. As such, much emphasis is on the cash-flow analysis. Likewise, bankers are interested in the business background of the management team. The marketing plan provides information on how the business plans to cope with competition.

A lender’s additional information sought is other sources of finance the business presently has in its books along with a list of potential collateral which the bank can have readily access to (business and personal assets), in case the business is unable to repay the loan. Likewise, the borrower’s financial track record is carefully evaluated.

What an investor seeks

When writing a business plan specifically to raise capital to fund a new business or take an existing company to the next growth stage, an Investor — whether an angel investor, private equity or venture capital, seeks certain vital information and requirements. The business plan should include a detailed use of funds, a descriptive growth strategy, a list and profile of the competent management team, and credible, reasonable yet ambitious financial projections. An Investor will also look for a unique competitive advantage that enables the business to be more effective than its competitors, as well as whether the business will be making a profit and how long it may take to do so.  The business plan should also state an exit strategy since the investor needs to know how quickly he or she will achieve any gains on his or her investment.

Other specific uses of a business plan

Immigration officials (referring to U.S. & Canada) require those applying for an Entrepreneur or Investor visa to submit a business plan which states that the proposed business has the potential to create the required number of jobs (economic benefits for the country) to qualify him or her for business related immigration visa. Furthermore, the business is being invested meets the monetary requirements and is irrevocably committed (wire transfers, cancelled money orders etc.), an itemized list of goods and materials purchased for the start-up, as well as the lease agreement. The source of funds must be stated, as well as convincing information on the ability to develop and operate the business.

A Government agency may request the business plan to issue a grant. One of the components that simply must be present in the plan is to show that, as the business owner, you are investing your own money. The bureaucrat wants to know that there will be skin in the game. Additionally, what needs to be in the business plan to increase the chances of receiving a grant is how much money is sought, how the funds will be used  and how soon required (perhaps include a timeline). The plan must be written in a form which takes into account the economic benefits for a legitimate and viable business.

A Strategic Business Plan differs from other business plans as it exclusively centers around on the company’s vision and places emphasis on a particular objective. For example, to focus on a particular niche in the marketplace. What would follow is to makes sales, marketing and customer strategy more effective.

What follows is an ideal description and comparison, from the BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada), between the Business Plan and Strategic Plan.

Business Plan. Strategic plan. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but there are also some crucial differences you should understand.

A business plan answers “what do I want to do?” questions. It includes your company’s organizational structure, marketing plan and financial projections. Its purpose is to define where you want to take your business. It’s often the founding document of a new business.

A strategic plan, on the other hand, answers “how will I do it?” questions. It includes a detailed action plan for the next few years to achieve your company’s goals.

Both should include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and be reviewed regularly so that they’re up to date.

In the final analysis

In essence, the business plan is a document not solely for the entrepreneur to spell out strategy and to implement it. Its purpose is also to make a pitch to a banker, potential investor, and prospective partner, or for other (rare) purposes such as immigration. As such, the information should be tailored to what is sought by the specific reader. It ought to provide clarity of thought and purpose, by clarifying strategy, introduce the Business Model, the company, its “raison d’être”, as well as the management team.  It attempts to persuade investors in raising funds, as well as honestly highlighting risks and challenges. The business plan serves as an entry point for further discussions. Besides the management team and its competencies, banks are concerned that their loan gets repaid at a defined point in time so they place emphasis on the projected cash flow statement. An equity investor prefers a business plan which is realistic yet ambitious, their focus being on growth, a return which will yield at least a 10x return on their investment along with an exit strategy in approximately five to seven years.

Key Elements of a Business Plan:

  • Explain the business model in simple terms;
  • Fit the plan to the company;
  • Be credible and informative;
  • Demonstration of knowledge of the market and competitors;
  • Stressing the risks and steps to overcome the risks;
  • Using clear and concise language.

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I deliver comprehensive Strategic Business Plans, Market & Industry Analysis, Marketing Strategies, and Business Models that get your business going and growing. Quick turnaround time and assistance with executing plan (optional). Contact me here.

In addition, I offer alternative working capital (minimum $5000 and six months in business)  based on your cash flow and receivables…not your personal credit score. Upon approval, funds deposited within 48 hours. You may fill-out this online form: https://armanikhoury.typeform.com/to/OBrv5r

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Starting a Business is a Relentless Mission: The Pitfalls of an Entrepreneur

By James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Starting a business, most notably for first timers, whether as a sole proprietor/solo-preneur, in a partnership or purchasing a system called a “franchise”, appears to be something many aspire to do. You can’t blame them since they equate this undertaking to creative freedom and profit with no ceiling together with a lifestyle unmatched compared to working for someone else. However, the same number of prospective entrepreneurs may be blindsided by the undertakings required launching a business, let alone operating it successfully.

Drawbacks of launching an enterprise

Contrary to all the hype you read about the dream of starting a business which supposedly guarantees success, reality is quite the contrary. The odds are stacked against the average new entrepreneur (and seasoned ones with a reduced chance of failure due to prior experience). Ahead of embarking on the entrepreneurial path, factors to seriously consider are as follows:

  • Risk exposure especially financial: Even with proper planning to reduce the level of risk, you can’t control the outcome especially if the circumstances are unforeseen. The capital injection which any type of business requires, may not be adequate but also totally at risk. Beyond this, entrepreneurs need to consider the risk from employee disagreements, product liability, and regulatory requirements among other issues. Obtaining financing is also a challenge as banks require some revenue history and guarantees from the owner(s). Personal credit cards, savings, investments, as well as from family and friends are usually the only means of securing funding for a start-up. Borrowing against personal assets, such as a home creates risking the equity in one’s home. This is a financial commitment not all entrepreneurs are willing to make.
  • Uncertainty: Although the business may be successful at the start, external factors such as competition, downturns in the economy, or shifts in consumer demand may impede businesses growth. No amount of pre-planning can anticipate or control such external factors. Profits are not a guarantee during the initial two years either.
  • Time commitment and patience. When launching a business, chances are most, if not all tasks will be performed by the entrepreneur. Responsibilities include everything from purchasing to expenses, marketing activities, customer issues, equipment breakdowns and banking. This would entail working more than the typical 40 hours normally performed when working as an employee for someone else.  This time commitment can place a burden on family and friends and add to the stress of launching a new business venture. Moreover, the business may not be able to support a salary during the initial few months or longer.

Image result for disadvantages of starting a business

In addition, if you decide to take on a partner or two, be prepared to live with the consequences. It is a “business” marriage. In fact, you will be spending more time with this person than with your significant other. Do a thorough due diligence and make certain of the three most important factors.

  • Is he or she should be financially sound? No exceptions, otherwise, it may create issues moving forward including you having to foot the bill for the business’s financial obligations and possibly any future capital injections required.
  • That he or she is not carrying baggage: Make sure they have a good reputation. Not bringing along any legal or financial obligations (such as a bankruptcy or owe a significant amount of money to any parties).
  • Bring value-add such as a talent, strength that will make a vital contribution and compliment the work you do. You can’t possibly be good at doing everything. Ideally, each partner should contribute on an equal footing.
  • When you feel comfortable bringing the chosen partner onboard, do not waste any precious time drafting a legal partnership agreement/ (a shareholder’s agreement in a corporate structure). That is your partnership insurance policy – your business prenuptial agreement of sorts.

Why businesses fail?

New businesses, regardless of industry, have the odds stacked against when it comes to survival rates. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), “About half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more. As one would expect, the probability of survival increases with a firm’s age.Those survival rates have remained constant over time. That’s why it’s so important to understand how and where things go wrong—such information offers valuable lessons on what to avoid. There are many reasons, perhaps a combination of two or more. The following charts depict the main causes of small business start-up failure. Both, under-funded or well funded business have their reasons for failure – neither is immuned.

Business_Model_Fail_1

Business_Model_Fail_4

In the end

The advantages of staring a business are freedom, personal satisfaction and financial rewards. However, the downside is risking your funds and money obtained from other sources, the possibility that the business can fail, handling many roles with full responsibility, dealing with challenges head-on, and less quality time to spend with family and friends. With limited resources at your disposal, all these factors create stress not necessarily dealt with as an employee.

From the moment you have made the decision to go all in and plant for your start-up launch and throughout your daily operations, your full-time committed is crucial if you seek the desired results. If you fail because of internal factors alone, you have no one else to blame but yourself. At worst you will have given yourself the opportunity to test yourself as an entrepreneur and learned from that experience. Better yet, learn from other entrepreneurs’ mistakes. At the end of the day, “Failure is knowledge, knowledge is success.” – Tim Gibson

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Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Starting a Business Roadmap INFOGRAPHIC

Starting a business from the bottom up requires discipline, decisiveness, a roadmap along with structure from the get-go.

There is a plethora of advice on entrepreneurship and on launching a business out there but very little substance on a universal step-by-step guide or a turn-key resource.

The Roadmap

Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, a thorough research should be conducted, a meticulously plan set in place, and implementation performed flawlessly. Nothing should be taken for granted.

The following link takes you to a step-by step start-up roadmap infographic.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/4766874-starting-a-business-roadmap

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Entrepreneurship — in Quotes & Images

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Entrepreneurship is not for the insecure. It takes a good idea, a burning desire to execute it, and the right personal characteristics  including:

– At least some fundamental business knowledge

– Passion

– Drive

– Resilience

– Perseverance

– Persistence

– Curiosity and and open-mindedness

– Willing to take calculated risks

CLICK HERE for a collection of images that speak for themselves pertaining to entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.

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THE SEVEN KEY PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS – A Personal Belief Through Years of Practical Experience

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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7 Key Principles of Biz Success

Forget the cynicism. Businesses exist solely to make money while serving a need. Profitability is everything and cash is king. In public companies, shareholder return is considered essential. Operating from this mindset determines and measures whether the business in question is a success. If an entrepreneur is to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider seven key principles. These keys have been forged in the fire of my personal experience based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1) A VIABLE PRODUCT OR SERVICE WITH THE RIGHT BUSINESS MODEL AND A PASSIONATE PERSON BEHIND IT
It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds. Must also be willing to embrace the concept that he/she takes complete ownership for his/her results. He/She can’t blame the marketplace, the economy or the employees for failure. In the end, it’s the entrepreneur making the decisions.

2) CAPITAL
Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential.   Furthermore, Take advantage of any government loan program created for start-ups.
Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3) MARKETING & SALES
Advertise, publicize, be first, different, daring and memorable. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused.

Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account  management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known. However, at the end of the day, it’s about the need for a constant stream of new business which brings in the necessary cash flow.

4) PEOPLE
Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture. Your organization should also foster an atmosphere of Innovation and creativity through leadership. Work for staff should be meaningful rather  than a chore. These conditions can’t help but breed success. Implement an orientation workshop for new recruits and an occasional training program – invest in your key employees.

5) SYSTEMS – STRUCTURE
Consider publishing an “Operations Manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  Without any structure, the chances of failure increases. Everyone should be on the same page and embrace best practices for quality results with consistency.

6) STRICT INTERNAL FINANCIAL CONTROLS & CASH FLOW
Watch them closely, borrow wisely and don’t overspend. It doesn’t matter how much you have coming in if most of it is going out. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business.

7) CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT,  INNOVATION AND SUSTAINED GROWTH
This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process.

Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

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