Tag Archives: Snap It Memories

Kill Business Plans?

Maybe it’s just my feed and the websites I frequent, but there seems to be a growing movement to encourage new businesses to scrap a business plan. While I’ve actually written about how a “business plan” with the structure that the bank wants to see or we learn about in school may not be the answer, I think it’s a disservice to be advocating forgoing the plan entirely.

The major reason that I say this is that typically those who are advocating leaving the plan in the mind of the entrepreneur and barrel forward are those who have seen a level of success in their business. So while it’s good for them that they’ve made it and maybe they never had any sort of plan down on paper (which I would contest in many cases is likely a romantic lie), run-away success stories unfortunately don’t make up the majority of businesses.

I would be more interested to hear from failed business owners who never did any business planning. I wonder what they would say in hindsight. Whether they thought that a bit more planning would have given them a better chance at success or maybe prevented them from taking the leap in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about business ideas and a large number of them end with a quick Google search and the realization that there are a huge number of companies doing the exact same thing already. Either that or after trying to write down a rough plan for the business (even a one-pager in bullet points) you realize that the idea looks pretty weak at second glance.

Whenever I see an article, Tweet or whatever about how business plans are worthless, I tend to think that the author means in their current form. I couldn’t agree more that a business which doesn’t yet exist trying to forecast five years of sales is a pointless, but the backing information that gives some legitimacy to your assumption that people will buy what you’re planning to sell is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a thought exercise for you to explore as many aspects of your idea as possible.

So don’t dismiss creating some form of business plan in order to chase the image of being some sort of renegade entrepreneur who doesn’t play by the rules and makes all the right calls from their gut. While planning should never get in the way of action, taking some time to determine the right action to take will go a long way.

My Best Interest?

Well, end of another month and time for some random blog / life related thoughts from me. Ironically I would have thought these would be the least read, but they actually do pretty well, so I keep doing them. Not that I have any better ideas most of the time.

Time to rip off the bandaid: If you don’t know I’ve been on the job hunt for the last little while. I’m enjoying the conversations and the prospect of new opportunities is always exciting. There are just a few things that have been worrying me lately.

Snap It could be one of the highlights of my application (depending on the job), but I also have a little anxiety about how it could have a negative effect. Even while interviewing for my last job the completely fair question of “Do you plan on quitting once your business becomes big enough?” was asked.

While I don’t really see that happening, it can be hard to concisely explain, and that’s assuming I get an interview. Seeing that someone has an ownership stake of business on a resume may be a discounting factor. It’s hard to get the time and energy commitment from a few paragraphs.

The second, possibly more glaring worry, is this blog. While I don’t think that I write about anything too controversial (stem-cell research and Iran’s new ability to refine nuclear materials come to mind), this blog is still opinion based and much to my horror, not everyone always shares my opinion.

I’ve had more than one situation where someone has spoken to me about something they didn’t agree with or ow they took something personal. While I love the discussion, I don’t want to be alienating people. Taking a stance on anything will mean that there will be people on the opposite side, which isn’t always an easy thing.

So is it in my best interest to keep writing?

Being a stubborn person, I’m going to say yes. What I’ve been saying in this blog has been true to me and if there is anyone who chooses to discount me as a person based on it, the relationship was likely to be short-lived regardless.

While I love to have my opinions and defending them, what I love more is the conversation that comes from opposing views. Some of the people I would consider my closest friends and I have extremely combative relationships, but I’m weird that way. If I go for a drink with you and we end up arguing the entire time about something meaningful I would consider that a pretty good night out. What can I say? I had an exciting upbringing.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have restraint. I know there’s a time and place for debate and a time to get on board. Some disagreements aren’t worth having and it may be best just to move on and I can usually do that very well, too. The good thing about my style is that as long as the discussion stays academic I won’t be taking any of it personally and there is no strain on the relationship.

So I guess I should say sorry to anyone that I’ve ruffled the feathers of in a post or two. I still love you.

Scalable Skills

Being a business grad can be a tricky thing. Regardless of the program that you went through, the exact technical skills required for any job were not something that you likely learned in school. I’m sure it’s like this for all people starting jobs, but I like to write what I know.

What’s more is it seems like there’s a very strong bias to those who have done the exact thing that a company is hiring for when filling roles. Regardless of how well you did anything in the past, if you can somehow make your experience sound like it fits in the box that they are lumping things in, you’re the type of person that they want!

While I’m not saying that a level of proficiency related to the position being hired for is important, I do think that there is something to be said about a person who doesn’t have direct experience, but has a related skill set. That way you have someone who has obviously learned a similar job and your company gets the opportunity to train them. You’re not hiring some other company’s bad habits.

All of this, in my mind, is yet another reason that a side business is a great idea for any new grad. While you likely won’t get the exact experience that is needed for a job you’re applying for, there is a high likelihood that you will have done something related. The key is being able to communicate that your skills are scalable.

Talking about my experience (again, writing what I know), I’ve been intimately involved in the development, evolution and re-development of a product. In financial management, marketing, sales, project management, service delivery, customer interfacing, researching and now hiring. There’s likely more.

Would any of those experiences be to the same extent as if I was working in one of those functions at a larger company? Likely not. Are they still valuable and show that I’m not only able to learn what is needed, but identify what that need is? Yep.

I’m here to tell you, anyone can do this.

Even if you don’t want to start a business for yourself, there is always some crossover in your job or volunteer work. Just because you had a certain title doesn’t mean you weren’t exposed to other skill sets, so make sure that you really think about what they were and how it felt to perform those tasks. They may end up coming in handy in the future.

How Not to Ask For a Favour

I wrote a post for today, wanting to link to this article, but I realized it was on my old blog. It’s pretty good, so I decided to repost and save the new one for next week!

I am not ashamed of saying I’ve ask (and received) what I would assume is more than the average number of favours in my life. Through volunteering and working for charities, along with having a support network of people with many more skills than I have, I am never afraid to ask for something.

Conversely I have been asked to perform many favours, which have had varying levels of success. Owning a pretty cool service business and being known as someone who volunteers a fair amount has apparently allowed people to feel as though approaching me may benefit them one way or another. I always appreciate the interest, regardless of whether or not I help out, and make my appreciation clear to the asker.

Usually whether I am asking or being asked there is a mutual level of respect and if the answer is “yes” or “no” we part ways with pretty much the same relationship we had before. However, in the past couple weeks there have been a couple instances where I have really not appreciated the way which I was asked to do a favour. Here’s some background and a recount of them:

Charity

Operating a business focused on events leaves the door open to a fair number of charitable asks for in-kind service donations. It’s my policy that I will support one charity per year (the slot is filled and I don’t see it opening). It’s not like I’m not open to helping anything else out, but it would have to be something very dear to me.
I thought this was a good policy and have told other charities something to this effect, adding I will keep their information on file and contact them if anything changes, which I honestly will. Most seemed understanding of this and having worked in the industry (charity) I can assure you it’s not an uncommon response to get, if not on the polite side.

Recently I was approached by an individual from an event committee about doing an event. I sent them the above response and took down their information for my files. A week or so later I get a follow-up email asking if I would reconsider, thank you for asking, but no. This is when it got squirely.

The next message I had articles attached and a link to a video showing (without giving too much away) how much the people this charity supports needs the charity. I responded back saying that I never thought the cause wasn’t a good one, but I am currently not looking for any other cause to support. I can honestly say I did my best to be polite.

While I appreciate the passion for the cause, I don’t appreciate being harassed. If another message comes back I think that I’m forced to find a supervisor or someone else at the charity to bring into the situation, hoping they can mitigate it.

Personal Favours

A shorter story, again about the business, I was approached by someone I know to see if I would work an event for them. I want to point out that this is a for-profit event, where they are making money. Also I don’t know this person very well and haven’t spoken to them in months.

They asked (via text) if I would be willing to donate the photo booth for this event. I responded thanking them for the interest but declining, to which I received NOTHING. No, “Thanks anyway!” or “Oh well, hope you can still make it out,” or “K.” Complete radio silence.

This I find even more annoying than the previous situation, because at least charity lady proved that she is legitimately interested in my product. The no response proves to me that my decision was right, as they were just trying to use me.

As a somewhat related note, don’t try and sell me on setting up an event for free because it will be “good exposure.” Do you know what else is good exposure? Events that people pay me for.

I’m going to end this saying that 99.9% of the time when someone asks me for help it’s very nice, respectful and considerate. I appreciate it and get good feeling knowing I can provide some sort of benefit to a fellow human. I just wanted to throw these two stories out there to see if anyone else has had a similar experience and as a cautionary tale.

Product Planning

Confession time: The beginning of the company was pretty hasty. I wrote about our sorted history a little while ago, but to give you the cheat sheet for the purposes of this article, we basically took our first booking before we have a product and threw something together in about a week or so. Turns out it worked then and since, because we’ve not done over 100 events and don’t have a complaint yet.

Now it’s time for growth and we have to backtrack a bit. What I’m learning is a little planning goes a long way when it comes to product development. Not that what we had made isn’t perfectly fine for what we are using it for, but if we had thought through our growth process before hand we would likely be a bit further ahead from where we are now.

Since I truly hope to be a part of this process again, there are a few things that I have taken away from this experience that I will be sure to consider:

Determine the first iteration’s limitations.

As I said, the first version of the program is more than fine for what we’re using for it now, but it definitely has some limitations as soon as we want to do anything else. We probably would have known this when first building it, but honestly didn’t see the forest for the trees. We know what we wanted and didn’t think about what we may want in the future, which leads us to…

Have an improvement / growth plan.

Especially in the world of technology, as soon as your product is released the countdown has started to when it becomes obsolete. Knowing this, it is important to start working on the next version as soon as you can, and even better if you can plan a few versions ahead.

A common statement from Apple worshipers that the company already has the next 2 – 10 years worth of products in the pipeline. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true. Not only that, but companies like that can very purposefully phase update releases in order to maximize consumer engagement and purchase cycles.

For us, there are some things that need to happen before the company can really enter a strong growth phase, so that’s what we’re doing.

Know when to abandon.

This is a little more out there, because I don’t think we’re at this place yet. Saying that, the cycle be 5, 10, 100 or 1000 years, but eventually every product will reach the end of it’s life. Being able to predict and plan for this can mean continuing to capitalize on the market you hold before it’s too late, or be able to make the appropriate plans to ensure that the business continues beyond the flagship project.

What’s in a Title?

After my last LinkedIn post I’ve had a few conversations with people about the LI community in general. Something that keeps coming up in that conversation is the level of importance placed on titles, rather than the description of the jobs. This isn’t something I had thought too much of before, but after my friends mentioned it to me, it was hard not to notice.

Other than the person’s name and picture, the job title is the highest importance in a LinkedIn profile. Company, education and actual experience is all secondary or lower. While this may be appropriate when comparing apples to apples, considering every company has a different culture and titling standards, the title could be very misleading.

I can use myself as an example.

Having a side business means that I can make up any title I want. My dad once joked that I should call myself CEO, because all “real” companies have a CEO and there’s no one who could stop me.

When “giving” myself a title, which appears essentially only on LinkedIn and my resume (don’t have titles on our business cards because we’re progressive like that) I settled on President. I a little reluctant to admit, but I did this for essentially the reason that my dad joked about: A company should have a president and why the hell not?

I didn’t really give the decision a second thought, until I said the title out loud. It sounded fake to me and I felt like a phony even saying it, but since it came up so rarely I didn’t do anything about it and it stayed like that for years.

What got me thinking about it again was when I started getting LinkedIn solicitations for other president jobs and services a president of a company may consider. To me it’s just a joke, but at the same time I was getting irritated by the irrelevant information that was coming my way.

I’m happy to say that at the time of writing this I’ve changed my title on the all important LinkedIn to simple Co-Founder. While it may seem like a bit of a demotion, I can assure you I will be performing the exact same duties as I was as President. The other little victory in this one is that I have set a goal for the company before we give out official titles, so there is now something to work toward.

As a take-away from this is to take titles with a grain of salt. I’ve stated before that human relationships and interactions are complicated and short-hands like titles can make it easier to be able to classify people we meet, but if there is a possibility of this person coming to work for or do business for you, it’s probably a good idea to dig a little deeper than what it currently says on a business card.

You Are the Product

I have a Facebook fan page for the business and a steady decrease in post views, during a time the “likes” have been increasing, is the reason for this post. To get there, though, I’m going to start a little more generally.

Services (like Facebook) that are available for free, aren’t free. The people of Facebook aren’t these amazingly altruistic individuals who have devoted countless time and endless amounts of money to create a fun online community which is available for free for all to use. Facebook is selling a product, and that product is you.

Now, just to be clear I’m not picking on Facebook. Google’s in there too, and Apple (even though they make you pay for the product first). Truth of the matter is, we don’t even know how much of our information is being tracked and sold off to companies to help increase sales.

The data collection isn’t what’s frustrating me today, though. In fact, surprisingly enough, I don’t really mind about my data being sold. I don’t really have anything to hide and if it means only products I would likely want will get marketed to me, I’m ok with that.

No, this post has to do with the fact that unless I start paying Facebook for every post I make, the activity on my business’ page won’t reach the people who chose to be fans! That’s annoying.

It makes sense, though. The users of Facebook, some of which have liked my page, are the product and as a business I need to pay to access them. Any of you who have liked my page are now being sold back to me.

An extension of this rant is to talk about how the obsession with companies getting likes is strange to me. I invite my friends and enjoy seeing the number go up, but would never promote my page or have a hokey “share this” contest in order to get more likes. The way I see it, is if it’s a bought like, the loyalty of the consumer isn’t genuine and therefore they are unlikely to be converted to customers.

No, I prefer to have likes from people who actually like my business, not people who I tried to trick into it. And I’d appreciate it if you’d check for the occasional update, until Facebook sees it fit to allow me to reach you all again.

Are We Too Trusting?

This may be slightly odd coming from me, considering Snap It is in the business of taking people’s photos and posting them online. I have to say, though, that being said I honestly try my best to protect privacy. At the very least inform everyone that their picture is being posted online.

The reason this has been top of mind for me for the greater part of a week, is for a situation relating to my business. The details aren’t important, the Cole’s Notes being that someone who was at an event I worked was inquiring as to why the photos aren’t available online for that particular event. Reason being, the person who booked/paid me asked for them not to be.

In this situation the caller understood there was nothing I could/would do about it and was going to speak with the individual who made the booking to see if their mind could be changed. Out of the experience, what stuck with me is that in a short amount of time it seems to have come to the point where our society has few inhibitions about putting personal things up online. To the point where when it isn’t put up, the person who decided to keep the photos private’s judgement is in question.

This got me thinking of what I can only assume is the Facebook effect. The practice of posting pictures online and letting our “friends” browse at their leisure. This seems to be the most efficient way of doing this (and the fact we need to find efficient ways to interact with “friends” deserves it’s own post) and thanks to years of it happening, more and more private items are being thrown onto the web without a second thought.

To me this is terrifying. Not only for myself, knowing that I have done and said things that should never make it to the internet, but for younger people. At least I was part of the last generation to grow up without social media, so I think twice before sharing certain things. For the kids that are getting Facebook at age 6, I have great concern.

I’m no developmental psychologist, but I would have to assume that the gravitation toward the computer being the primary point of “human” interaction is doing some crazy things to children’s social maturity. Even seeing things that younger family members are putting on Facebook (people who I would definitely classify as quite intelligent) has me worried for them.

The fact of the matter is most kids under the age of 16 (and even much older) aren’t worrying about the long term effects of their actions. They haven’t been properly taught that what gets put online is there forever and could have a major effect on their lives later on. Whether it’s a picture of them doing something illegal, bullying they’re taking part in, an off coloured joke, or any number of things, someone will find it later on.

All I know is that I’m glad that I don’t have to be making tough decisions on what to let one’s kids do and not do online. Even then, you are still at the mercy of their friends and what they put online. In the meantime I’m going to keep protecting the privacy of others when I can, and hope everyone else will do the same.

Did You Start a Business or Create a Job?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love speaking with entrepreneurs. Lucky for me through my job, going to enough events and knowing enough like-minded people, I always seem to be meeting someone new who has an interesting story.

For all of these people, going out on their own is an exciting thing, and it should be. The number of entrepreneurs who are being treated like rock stars by the media have never been high, as far as I know, and suddenly owning your own business is an extremely sexy and desirable thing to do.

But do all self-employed people own businesses? This is something that I have struggled with in my own mind for a number of years now. What is the real definition of “owning a business” and who does it apply to? Lucky for me I happened upon a great book called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, which discusses the difference I was thinking about, among other things.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I am not writing this to offend anyone. This is (as always) just my thoughts and opinions, and I’m not too smart anyway. Regardless, going out on your own is an amazing accomplishment and I respect you for it.

Here are my thoughts on the differences:

Owning a Business

To me business ownership implies two things: 1) the possibility of eventual disconnection from you as an individual operator and 2) scalability. Until these two issues are addressed, you don’t have a fully functional business, but rather a job you have created for yourself.

These two points are important, because to me a business needs to transcend the owner(s) and take on a life of its own. In theory, with the right management, it should be able to outlive anyone working at it, and in order to do that it can’t be relying on any one individual.

Being Self-Employed

For those who are self-employed I think that the two points I outlined above are not true. Their operation is not scalable because it can’t be removed from them as an individual. In effect, the self-employed person is not building a business, but rather they have created a job for themselves.

There can be cases of others being employed in operations like this, and in these cases I would ask how much involvement is required from the principal. If the work and contracts are still based on a specific individual’s involvement, then to me it is still not a business.

Why This Difference Is Important

You may be thinking to yourself, “So what?” and that’s fair. Does this difference really matter? I think it does in a very fundamental way.

Keeping this difference in mind will allow you to better run your operation. Know which of these you fall into, be content and grow as much as possible. It’s not like either of the operations are better than the other, so as long as your happy who cares.

If you have created a job for yourself and you really want to start operating more like a business (where I’m at) get ready for a fun process! I would submit that the first step is to do everything you can to make yourself irrelevant to the day-t0-day operation. You don’t have to leave completely, but use the “hit by a bus” test. I.e. If you were to die tomorrow, would operations go on?

If anyone has tips for me or wants to talk about their situation, drop me a line!

You’ve Got to Roll With It

Not to go into too many details, but there was a caution sent to a group of possible clients for my business. I think that the caution was done hastily and the issuer was uninformed, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Regardless, I made the choice to address the, not completely invalid, concerns. My response can be found on my company’s website. It is at the bottom left corner.

I’m sure that things like this happen all the time and I’m a little tired of thinking and writing, so I’m going to keep it short. There’s always going to be obstacles, so get over it and solve the problem. Anything else is a waste of time and annoying. Boom.