Recommended reading: Powerful Proposals

Although most of my business is now acquired through word-of-mouth, repeat business, or referrals, there is still a large component of proposal writing. Good proposals can be challenging to write and time consuming. It’s a critical sales document for many peoples’ businesses. This is a great book by a talented group of proposal experts.

Anticipate your business’ peaks and valleys (and mitigate them)

It doesn’t matter whether you measure income or expenses or marketing effort or profitability or inventory costs or wages (or anything else), businesses never operate along a straight line. There’s a fluidity of peaks and valleys and (in many cases) an upward trend as the business grows. This generalized graphic illustrates what I mean and can refer to any of the above potential measurement points:

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers1

When a business operates in the mid-range, everything is usually okay. Things buzz along and there’s a nice interplay between all aspects of the business. But sometimes, as a result of internal or external factors, the business hits a peak or a valley. It could be that the business’ marketing has paid off and they suddenly have more customers than they can manage; or it could be that the business’ expenses have hit an all-time high and threatens to strip away profitability; or perhaps the manufacturing plant has surpassed orders and has a huge overstock. Those are peaks. Valleys are similar concepts.

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers2

These situations are common across all businesses. Now here’s the problem: Businesses wait until the highest point on the peak before they act. In many cases (although not all cases) the action they take helps to bring the business off of the peak. I’d suggest that this is similar to the “herd mentality” that exists in the stock market. At the highest point of investor exuberance, everyone is investing.

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers3

The same holds true for the lowest point in the valley: Businesses wait until they are there before they act. By then, it’s often too late. Again, I’d compare this to the stock market where investors try to time the bottom (although that’s an ineffective investing technique).

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers4

Here’s the solution I would recommend: Businesses should consider acting slightly sooner. It will soften the dramatic impact of the peaks and valleys of business and keep the measured line toward the middle, which is a more predictable (and usually more profitable) place to be.

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers5

But the question is: How do businesses know when to act “early”? The answer is something I call “Triggers™”. Triggers™ are indicators that hint at an upcoming peak or valley. I’ve illustrated them below, in orange, and you’ll notice that they appear along the measured line before the early action point.

AaronHoos_BusinessWriter_triggers6

A Trigger™ is a lot like a leading indicator in the economic cycle. Leading indicators in the economy (like housing starts or interest rate changes) hint at changes in the economic cycle, which moves in a similar peak-and-valley format. Your business has leading indicators, too. What the indicators are will be different for every industry and business model, and the specific numbers will be different from one business to the next. In future blogs I’ll talk more about Triggers™ and explore the concept of integrating them into your business so that you can anticipate these dramatic shifts and prepare for them before they occur.

Great ideas from this week: Collaborate, Quench, Earn

As you can probably tell from Monday’s blog post, this was a busy week. Actually, it was a record-setting week in a record-setting quarter. It killed me not to blog as much as I normally do but I had to focus on clients or else they’d gather in a mob with pitchforks and torches and break down my door. (But I love each and every one of them).

Anyway, while I was working and NOT blogging, I did stumble across a number of absolutely brilliant ideas — organizations, websites, and concepts. I bookmarked them throughout the week and am delivering them all here to atone for my quiet blog.

Idea #1: Collaboration tool

I’m big on collaboration: I use GoogleDocs, MindMeister, Zoho, and other sites for immediate collaboration. But I’m also a visual thinker and you’ll notice that I may be a writer but I usually map something out before I turn it into words. And that’s where the first great idea comes from: ImaginationCubed. This site is from GE and it’s a free drawing tool you can share with others. I’m sure there are similar services from others but I liked this one for its clean, simple look and intuitive interface.

Idea #2: Storage rental

You may remember me writing about iStopOver, a site that helps to match businesses with spare office space and travelling business people who need the space. Great idea, great value proposition for buyers and sellers. Well, I did a bit of work for a new client this week who is based out of Australia. His site is StoreroomRental.com and his business proposition is similar: Homeowners and businesses have lots of extra space (spare rooms, closets, sheds, garages). StoreroomRentals helps to match people who want to rent out that extra space with people who need the space, want convenient proximity, and don’t want to rent a large space from a commercial storage facility. It’s a great idea and turns all that extra room that we all have in our homes and offices into revenue-generating space. I’m excited to think about the possiblities in front of his business!

Idea #3: Water for the world

I like to think about business but I’m not all about business. There are people in the world that need our help. I’m usually a “teach them to fish” kind of guy. Today, I stumbled by total accident across this site: Hipporoller.org. They point out that many people in third world countries go to the local watersource and use dirty, heavy containers (even gas cans!) to lug water back home. They can’t bring much (have you ever tried to move jugs of water cross country?) and they’re not carrying it in a safe manner. Hipporoller has build sturdy round water containers that carry a lot of water, they roll across the ground, and they bring more water back home in a clean, safe container. That is huge.

Idea #4: Another collaboration tool

I like Google. They have consistently changed the web in several ways. This latest collaboration tool, I believe could be a game changer. It’s called Google Wave. If you think about the benefits of collaborating in GoogleDocs and the interactive communication in Facebook and the feel of real time conversation snippets in DMs on Twitter, this builds on those. Here is a video. It’s long; I don’t expect you to watch it all, but watch some of it. It seems like it will be a go-to collaboration environment for me and I love that they will come out of the gate with many apps ready-to-go.

Favorite video: Michael Porter on competitiveness

Disclaimer: I can listen to Michael Porter talk about competitiveness day-in and day-out. He is easily one of my favorite strategy thinkers and I was extremely privileged to take his Microeconomics of Competitiveness course which was hosted in Zurich Switzerland and delivered via video from Harvard’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness.