Archive for February, 2005

Is ANY entrepreneurial idea below the radar anymore?

In BusinessWeek Online, David E. Gumpert writes about trends indicating that life for entrepreneurs in the US is becoming harder, due, in part, to:

  1. the economic impact of China on virtually every market, (including apple growers!), combined with
  2. the willingness of large¬†corporations to expand into niches formerly considered too small¬†(Wal-Mart is now the nation’s largest jewelry retailer).

The ante to enter or stay in the game has definitely gone up, as any number of small businesses steamrollered by offshore price competition or a big-box retailer can attest to.

How must existing and aspiring entrepreneurs change their strategies to still succeed in this new, more aggressive climate? Where are the new edges in the marketplace? What niches are highly profitable, allow you to defend against or capitalize upon low cost of goods from China, and actually are made stronger by the presence of a big-box in your market?

Could it be that we are entering an era where product offering must change and adapt at the rate we now change our marketing campaigns?

Entrepreneurs with stamina, flexibility and the answers to these questions still chance to thrive in this harder world…

Accelerate Business Growth with

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005 Main Page Comments Off on Is ANY entrepreneurial idea below the radar anymore?

Prepare for Rapid Growth with a Business Process Tune-Up

ScreenBeanExplosionBusiness processes are like your building’s foundations – how high and far your small business can grow is governed by the design and strength of the processes you build upon. Many small business owners and managers have learned the hard way that some of their key processes are not ‘scalable’ – what worked fine at 100 or 1000 transactions per month completely breaks down at, say, 10,000 or more transactions per month. Delivery dates slip. Quality plummets. Customers leave. Instead of a pattern of continued, profitable growth, the owner discovers that growth only leads to decline.

If a manager develops a process primarily to solve a problem and only from the viewpoint of the people running and managing a function, the resulting process rarely holds up in times of rapid growth, often breaking at the worst possible moment. If, in contrast, the process is redesigned with a focus on the business purpose and growth goals of the company, and the interfaces with other processes, vendors and customers, the process is much more likely to be reliable and scalable.

Re-Thinking Process Improvement for Small Business

A core management skill for leading an organization is the ability to efficiently study and refine processes for growth without having to get so ‘deep’ in a process that the manager could replace the employees. Process improvement in large companies is a rigorous, complex discipline, often administered by a team versed in process improvement methods. With few exceptions, small business owners cannot afford that kind of money, effort and time.

There is a need for a shorthand method for re-vamping processes in small, fast-growing organization that is accessible to owners and managers, quick to implement, and that shows results in weeks and months, not years – a Business Process Tune-Up.

What must a Business Process Tune-Up accomplish?

  • ScreenBeanTimebarsNew processes developed with the Tune-Up are measurably better than the ones they replace. They cost less to operate, produce more net profit, scale elegantly with business growth, and are better integrated with the other processes in the company.

  • New processes are more manageable, and eliminate errors by design rather than through constant vigilance.

  • New processes are easier to staff, eliminating key person dependencies wherever possible.

  • Management is freed to work “on the business” rather than “in the business”.

  • In simplest terms, an adequate process is a series of steps that predictably produces the desired results for your business at an operating cost you can afford, and that supports all the other processes in the business.

A Sample Business Process Tune-Up

Here’s how a manager might go about quickly improving a process.

  • ScreenBeanGanttDefine the desired outcomes of a process, including standards of measures, stakeholders, interfaces and desired business impact.

  • Map out the process as it currently works – like a storyboard or comic strip. This is often called the ‘as is’ process.

  • Revise the desired process outcomes and standards of measure, based on our learning from the ‘as is’ process.

  • Redesign the process to accomplish the goals, and interface properly with other processes.

  • Design the implementation plan, which includes: Pilot or test with users, communication plan, training plan, management plan, confirm the process is working.

A key ingredient for success is the manager’s intention and attitude in creating a social climate where it is safe to voice ideas:

  • Include existing ‘process owners’, staff and ‘customers’ wherever appropriate.

  • Start with the intent to explore and learn, and not blame.

  • Put aside assumptions about the process – how it should or could work – and teach yourself to observe and record what really happens.

  • Focus on the desired business outcome – don’t leap to fix the problems as you find them.

  • Pilot new ideas before making widespread process changes. Study what works and change what doesn’t. Evaluate your results, learn from the steps you’ve taken, and adjust the process to move closer to your goal.

  • Make communication a priority. People want to know how they will be personally impacted. It is important to remind people that profitable growth increases career opportunities for motivated employees.

ScreenBeanMoneyBagRapid, profitable growth depends on a foundation of reliable, scalable processes. If your organization is experiencing, or is approaching rapid growth, use the Business Process Tune-Up to examine critical processes for early signs of stress, then put in a plan to improve them to ensure continued success.

© 2005 Gary Ralston

About the author: Ann and Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. to help accelerate business growth for their clients – from startups to global corporations – across North America. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Ann and Gary can be reached at 614-761-1841,, or through

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005 Article Archive, Business Insights, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Prepare for Rapid Growth with a Business Process Tune-Up

Little-Known Chocolate Facts…

On the fourth visit of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, he came
across cocoa beans, which he presented to the Spanish court. King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabel dismissed chocolate as a bizarre tribal

Chocolate, after all, was considered an aphrodisiac by the Aztec
Indians, and as such, was forbidden to Aztec women. (Which explains
both Isabel's cranky demeanor in all those stuffy paintings and why
there are no more Aztecs!)

‚ÄúGiri Choco‚ÄĚ is a Japanese custom which means ‚Äúduty chocolate.‚ÄĚ It
calls for employees to give chocolates to their managers as a token of
loyalty.  This sounds like a ‚ÄėJim Dandy‚Äô custom that American
Businesses should swipe… TQM, Giri Choco, Toyota!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Monday, February 14th, 2005 Humor, Main Page Comments Off on Little-Known Chocolate Facts…

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