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A Different Approach To Business Resources

In economics, when we speak about resources, we really mean "a means of any kind". In a business, resources can be categorized as Entrepreneurial, Proprietary and Operating.
You need to know and understand and use this strategically.

Perhaps the most important point to make about resources is that they are not valued by how much they cost but in how they are deployed. That speaks to their use in business as a means to combine into a potentially higher value product or service. The sum of the whole exceeds the exchange value of its parts when combined into some strategic deployment.

Each category has common characteristics.

Entrepreneurial Resources are inherent in the individual and should be the focus of development on the part of anyone thinking about going into business. They include:

   Time and effort
Proprietary Resources give a business their competitive edge and can be developed or purchased. They include:

   Strategic information
   Legal rights
   Strategies and methods

Operating resources are generally available in the open market and have to effectively manage via traditional measurements and means such as budgets. It is where cash flow is king and insolvency is where there is none or little of it.

Operating resources reflect, as Peter Drucker said, what your business looks like. For that reason, they will not be addressed in this article.

That leaves us the creative blocks where, as Ray Tilley said, there are about a dozen ways of doing things and only 4 of them don't work.

It makes sense because creatively, opportunity and vision intersect and interact with entrepreneurial and proprietary resources and some strategy is formed around a value proposition. This mixture manifests in some way of doing something. 

Opportunity and Vision
Without opportunity and some kind of vision to capitalize on it, there can be no business. Typically, someone has an idea they believe can make them money. Most often, the idea is based on an insight gleaned from some kind of experience or exposure to a customer's needs. But before it actually becomes a business, a lot of questions must be asked and answered to ensure there truly is a customer and market, and that the idea can transition into opportunity and vision and a viable business model.

Entrepreneurial Resources

Time and effort
This is basic economic output of all individuals. Time multiplied by effort equals output. It is in fact work. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is often where many people fail, either because they simply do not execute or they apply their time and effort incorrectly.

Output is very much dependant on what the time and effort is used for. Unskilled labour sells time and effort and not much else. Skilled labour provide their capabilities and experience to enhance the value of their output. Entrepreneurs use their time and effort organizing those who sell them their time, effort and skills.

Many successful entrepreneurs also understand that time and effort is finite so they might as well use it to drive the largest possible vision. It is the same equation banks use when they say that large loans and small loans consume similar amounts of time so it is more profitable to concentrate on large loans.

Essentially, entrepreneurs must learn to make the best use of their time and effort. They must learn to manage their time, to delegate out tasks where feasible, and to roll up their sleeves and pitch in whenever and wherever they are required.

The time\effort requirement is also a major limiting factor in starting a business. Most people not in business for themselves must somehow sustain their lives with monies earned working for others, meaning selling their time and effort making someone else's vision happen. This means that before someone can start a business, they need sufficient money to invest in the business and live while the business generates insufficient cash flow to meet both business and personal needs.

For many, this is a difficult if not impossible barrier to cross, yet, a way must be found. For most people, a combination of a part time job, or part time devotion to the new business, a working spouse, reduced spending and expectations, and creative start up financing is the answer.

Entrepreneurs have some core skills and expertise which they use to create a business, but they also need "business" skills to successfully operate one. These include:
    - communication skills (speaking\listening\reading\writing)
    -problem solving skills (computation\calculation scientific reasoning\critical thinking, task organization)
    -supervisory\leadership and motivational skills
    -planning and organizational skills
    -administrative skills
    -financial skills
    -analytical skills
    -knowledge\information research skills
    -time management skills

Any focus on entrepreneurial self improvement must therefore focus on developing the above sets of skills. You should continually acquire knowledge from relevant, effective data sources, observing, analyzing and properly describing the new things you encounter.

You must also build topically relevant, practical libraries, and use various sources to confirm data and eliminate bias. Actively think about\imagine\process\understand the latest relevant information, and put new skills into practice immediately. Actually experience and learn how to use new skills effectively.

Entrepreneurs typically obtain new information and specialized skills from the following sources: they buy expertise; they build information, technical, and support networks from among mentors, capable advisors, business associates; they read relevant, informative and imaginative books and publications; join trade association, attend trade fairs, seminars; they build a book\magazine\clipping library of useful information consisting of important, practical, useful things to know about their various areas of need and interest.

Ingenuity is all about cleverness and creative, original thinking. It is about problem solving.

Generally speaking, original, creative thinking and solutions spring from exposure to people and exposure to something new and fresh that sparks the imagination. If this inspiration can be distilled down to a process, that probably looks something like this:

   -engage others and get their input and viewpoints
   -define and articulate what you are looking at
   -ask questions related to purpose, structure, composition, evaluations, explanations, origins
   -tie the new into what is already familiar and see if it fits into common "models"
   -stand back from details periodically to try and grasp the bigger picture
   -play with metaphors, similes, relations etc
   -envision and model future states and scenarios

Bottom line is that ingenuity is really only recognized after the fact and its exact source and path into being differs. The broad arena in which it happens is via observation and discussions with smart, engaged people asking insightful questions. 
Capabilities refer to the ability to achieve specific outcomes using inherent skills, tools, methods and resources. Much is based on experience in education and learning the craft commonly used to achieve the specific outcome.

Proprietary Resources

Strategic information
Strategic information is information relevant to your business.

It includes developments within your industry and market, technological trends, legal, political and economic developments, demographic shifts, changes in materials and processes, and almost anything that has the potential to change how and what you do. Strategic information also includes information about your customers. Who they are, what they want, how and why they buy, how they prefer to pay etc.

Typically, you have to keep your eyes and ears open. You must create networks of people and organizations that keep abreast of state of the art developments, read trade publications, attend trade shows, join trade associations and keep up to date on current events in the news. Travel is also a good source of information about developments and methods that can influence the way you operate.

The Internet is another great search tool and it is useful to organize useful links and maintain libraries of downloaded materials you can sort through and synthesize and learn from. A lot of what is new is based on ideas that break down barriers and boundaries and bridge others, allowing them to offer up something in a new way.

Several years ago I developed the following Activity Output Equation as part of a presentation.

   -ideas equal nothing
   -add directed time plus effort equals work
   -add knowledge and information equals planning
   -add know how, skills, motivation equals execution
   -add experience and reputation equals success

Ideas in themselves mean nothing. Everyone has ideas. Time and effort is simply a measure of work or output. Add knowledge and information, and you add the capacity to plan. Add know how, skills and motivation, and you will design realistic, appropriate plans and act on them. Add experience and reputation, and you are almost guaranteed to succeed.

In fact, experience and reputation can take a bad idea further than a good idea driven by inexperienced leaders who lack credibility. This, at least in my mind, is a self evident truth. It is reputation and experience that gets branded and if done successfully, reputation and experience, and the associated brand, creates a proprietary resource and a formidable competitive edge.

Simply look at Canadian Tire, VISA, Heinz, and a host of market leaders to see just how true this is. In fact many successful brands are decades, some hundreds of years old and continue to consistently capture a significant market share.

Now the following line you've heard and read many times, in fact, so much that you are probably desensitized to it, so read it as if you have never read it before, and take it as gospel, a primary reason for your existence, and a focal point for significant time and effort.

Here it is. To gain reputation, and become a credible alternative or solution, you must consistently deliver quality and service at a competitive price, and always be there when the consumer is ready to buy.

This is a simple concept but complex in application. Just what does quality and service mean to your customers, and what is a competitive price? Does quality include packaging, materials, look and feel, long lasting, your facilities? Is service "now", in a reasonable time, the ability to exchange purchases, guarantees, after sale service? Is the price comparable to similar items, complementary items, can you charge a premium for your extras? And when and how is the customer normally ready to buy?

Your best approach is to ask the right questions, and see how successful companies do what you are trying to achieve, and talk to your customers, employees, suppliers, and advisors to understand their opinions as to what constitutes quality, service and price.

Once you decide on how you want to look to your customer, consistently deliver it and constantly work it and constantly think about how it might be done better.

The last thing, which the urgently creative would put first, is the appropriate brand name and image.

How you look and how your customer experiences your product or service is dependent on your raison d'etre. What exactly do you do that allows you to compete, and what can you do that other's cannot do?

Most entrepreneurs tend to choose their own trade names and brands, not wanting to spend their startup resources to hire expensive talent to develop and research alternatives. They are either inspired by a name and design, or do a methodical search of magazines and other publications and borrow from others. For example, the advertising industry has journals and periodicals that contain examples of award winning and cutting edge advertising. Another source currently widely used is clip art software. Many of these packages include royalty free images while others have restrictions which come with reasonable terms.

The key is to create and support a reputable product or service, and devise a memorable name, image and design that supports the qualities and perceptions about your product or service you are trying to emphasize

Everyone knows experience is the best teacher. Experience develops know how, which is real power. The phrase "knowledge is power", has been attributed to several people actually but is overblown. Knowledge is simply potential.

Power is the ability to influence reality, that is, events, which are described by circumstance, time and place.

Know how is the engine of achievement, it is the art, the craft, of getting things done. It transforms knowledge, which is intangible, into reality.

Experience in or with an industry or market is a prerequisite to getting into a related business. You must have a working knowledge of how things are normally done before you can successfully compete. In fact, management experience is one of the key elements investors, bankers and suppliers look for before they will provide monies to a business.

Experience is key. Get it. Enough said.

Legal rights
Legal rights include agreements, patents, copyrights, trade marks, and industrial designs. In each case, you obtain legal, sole ownership of something that no one else can duplicate.

For example, you might have a protected territory in which you alone can distribute a product or service, or hold a patent or patent license. Both are powerful tools to protect your market.

Agreements are negotiated contracts, while patents, trade marks and industrial designs are generally filed and registered  with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) to obtain prima facie evidence of ownership. Note though it is up to you to police and discover any infringement.

Generally speaking, simply informing the infringing party of your ownership and providing them with the registration details will be sufficient to stop someone from using your property, but things can also get messy if they continue and you seek damages.

Note each class of legal rights are subtly different.

Copyright, for example, is automatic and conferred upon the creator of a work. As soon as I finish this article its copyright belongs to me. I might have a publishing arrangement whereby I assign my right in return for payment. If it was music, the rights get more complex in that there are songwriters, lyric writers and publishers. There are performance rights, and there are "platform" rights for streaming, radio, movies etc.

Given the complexities of intellectual properties and legal agreements, you definitely want to use the services of experienced legal counsel. Having said that, there are things you could do for yourself and CIPO is on line and has lots of guidance.

Many years ago I read an article in Reader’s Digest that concluded everyone is five or six people removed from knowing any one particular person in this world. This statement, later popularized as "six degrees of separation", is based on a mathematical relationship. The assumption is that everyone knows an average of 50 people, and the fact that you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone...etc. Of course it is simply number play, in this case 50 times 50 times 50 times 50 times 50 times 50 (15,625,000,000). Make some adjustments, for example, I know you, you know me is duplication, and this number roughly equals the world's current population.

The usefulness of this concept is to understand that you can reach anyone in this world if you give some thought about the intermediaries.

The implied strategy is to target the person or type of person you want to meet, and chart a course towards them through those who you believe will know them, or know someone who knows them...

Networks are essential to business people because they deliver information, influence and support. Networks include your circle of friends, fraternal and service organizations, trade associations, recreational clubs etc., and each network usually has some members who are potentially useful to you.

Networks of people and organizations are like parts of a wheel. Everyone is at the hub of their own network, with spokes radiating out to a "wheel" of contacts. At the same time they are at the end of someone else's spoke, which has a wheel and a hub attached.

This concept is important to grasp for a number of reasons. One is that you should target people or organizations with spokes leading to where you want to go. To do otherwise may lead you to an interesting person or maybe a pleasant lunch, but with respect to your objective, its a waste of time.

Ensure the hub you target, whether it is a person or organization, has the necessary characteristics and contacts you require. Assess their reputation and demonstrated network, its historic method of operation, and its historic success in delivering either the contact you need or your objective.

In dealing with formally organized infrastructures, like larger organizations and corporations, it is useful to understand its structure, that is positions and their related responsibilities. This is because the position is generally more important than the person. People who fill positions have powers that emanate from the responsibilities they discharge. And they eventually move on. So deal only with those people\positions have the power to grant or help you attain your objectives.

The second reason the hub spoke concept is important useful is that you can locate the hub by finding the wheel. In other words, you find a network by defining its type and, through close examination, you can find at least one key individual who has close ties to all individuals in the network. This allows you to build a very effective network using only a few key "hubs" to act as your window into target groups. The point is that not only do you work more efficiently, with fewer people, but your relationship with the hub gives you credibility with the wheel, ie., you are part of the network by virtue of your relationship with a key member.

The key in all this is to network strategically.

Identify and target those individuals who can help you accomplish your goals, become aware of the environment in which they operate, and look for ways to establish working relationships with those who can help you. Find groups that interest you and would be of interest to your targets. Work with membership lists and find your likely prospects, and arrange to meet them.

Once you've established the target, there are techniques to establish relationships, build credibility and gain access to further networks.

Start by establishing your objectives. One generally networks for information, influence, achieving common goals, among other interests. Target those you believe have what you want or need. Start by listening and exploring common ground, and establishing your mutual interests. Understand and communicate your strengths and what you bring to the process. Know there is a time for socializing and a time for business. Do things together. Do things for others such as trading information and giving help. Bring people together.

The general idea is to establish your credibility and to plant seeds for future collaboration by making no promise you can't deliver and to perform well in everything you undertake. Build a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and work hard to make common goals a reality.

Once you have established credibility, you can ask for influence and referrals. By building credibility and a successful track record, people become attracted to you, or at least, when you take the initiative in making contact and they investigate your background (and they will!), you have a sound reputation to build your new relationship on. A final word. Remember the 80\20 rule. Find the 20% of your network that delivers 80% of the result, and actively work with them. The rest should be kept informed but not take up too much time and effort.

Strategies and methods

Strategies are general plans that support the achievement of goals with the means or resources you have available. Management is about making decisions how to get to where you want to go. It involves very practical questions. How and when does who do what to make "x" happen?.

For example, marketing is about how you inform your market about why\where\how customers should buy what from you. Distribution is about how you get it into their hands at the lowest cost

Where the "x" is a relatively minor objective or task, generally speaking not much thought goes into the planning and delegation process and simple follow up is anticipated. Was "x" done?

But the "x" could be a very complicated goal with significant dollar exposure if things go wrong.

Faced with such a significant investment and commitment, a more sophisticated approach is warranted. As a first step, you should probably ask the following questions:

What is the question or objective?
Why is it necessary?
Is it achievable and how?
Who will be involved in achieving the objective?
What practical and realistic alternatives exist that will achieve the objective?
Is it the simplest way to go?

The first two questions are dictated by circumstance, typically a major decision such as purchasing new equipment, adding or dropping product lines, adding capacity or some other major change or commitment.

The third and fourth question address the methods and assembles the participants. Who is affected? Who has the required expertise? Who can successfully steer this project through to its conclusion on time and on budget?

The fifth question is answered after doing some practical thinking about how to get to where you want to go with what you have available.

Once you have settled on a handful of possible methods, assess these alternatives on the following basis:

How much money and what other resources are required to implement each alternative and when is what required?
How exactly must each alternative be implemented?
Which alternative is simplest?
How long does it take before your investment is recovered under each alternative?
What is the relative risk of each approach?
What are the physical, financial, organizational and personnel impacts and constraints?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?
What impact might economic, industry and competitive factors have on each approach?
If the project comprises more than one phase, what are the principal characteristics and requirements of the various stages to completion?

Once you have gone through this process of comparing the alternative solutions, it should be quite easy to choose the best available strategy.

Strategies are resources in themselves. The above model is a fairly generic approach to developing a strategy, but many common business strategies exist. The need for successful strategies is why business books are so popular. Books are an excellent way of disseminating strategy, and many consultants have become wealthy writing about good, bad, and even recycled strategies. As with everything, caveat emptor is required.

Care must be taken not to be fooled into adopting strategies just because books about it are in vogue. Re engineering was an example of a recycled strategy and a fad which may have done more harm than good. Successful companies have always looked at their processes and sought ways to improve them.

Back in the late 1940's , General Electric pioneered Value Engineering which asked three basic questions. What does it (product, process etc) do? How much does it cost? How else can it be done? Almost fifty years later, a snazzy new name, several books, and proper timing (companies were looking at ways to become more competitive), and Re Engineering was born.

In itself the examination of processes is a good idea, but many companies simply downsized without proper thought.

The best approach to judging any new\emerging strategy is probably to discuss it with several trusted, experienced business advisors before going ahead, and certainly to test the validity within your operation before widely adopting any strategy with potential to significantly impact what you do and how you do it.

And in doing so, remember resource cost money but are valued in how they are deployed. That means they can be worth a lot, or not much at all. In the latter case, it's where red ink comes from.

© 2015 John B Voorpostel

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