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Excerpts from the iProo Leadership Summit

Let people call you crazy…..just keep moving on. These words have been the pillar unto which I have rested my frail body over the years. Before I proceed, kindly permit me to introduce myself as Sam Navabi, a business analyst and the Head of Performance Management at iProo BIM. Well, I have over 15years experience in my field of play and the little success garnered so far can be attributed to the fact that I have had the exclusive privilege of resting on the shoulders of giants, which of course includes my current Nigerian CEO….LOL. I needed to do that so I get to keep my job. *winks*

It gives me great pleasure to be able to engage young and aspiring entrepreneurs whom I believe are currently working towards making not just a name for themselves in the business world, but also aiming for success in all fronts. With less than 70 audience engaging with us at the moment, I would like to focus on the philosophy of ‘Less is more’.

Business leadership has evolved over the years and the secret to the resounding success of the individuals who are always seen gracing the spotlight; has been – the ability to make the little things they have make up for the ones they don’t. Now reflecting on the key points of this online session, we would now be examining the major highlights as a sub-topic individually.

How to distinguish your personality from your brand

iProo Business Summit

Several young entrepreneurs fail at their quest and endeavors not because they lack experience – as a matter of fact majority of young entrepreneurs who fail nowadays are usually at the top of their game owning to the fact that most are driven by passion. As we happen to fit into the digital space, let’s examine online businesses as a case study. Online businesses have taken a unique dimension and redefined its contribution to the digital space over the years. Facebook, twitter – well I guess I also have to mention a few in-country – Nairaland and Linda Ikeji’s blog amongst several others are all distinctive platforms in the GDS (global digital space). However, these platforms have something in common – guess what, they all spent years building their traffic so they could leverage on the ultimate thing at the end of it all “ADVERTS”. Let’s take a breather on that for now, the point is – each and everyone of these guys – these visionaries started out by nursing a passion; a passion they probably never thought could be a “deal maker” someday. So when the advertisers eventually came calling, they all had to hitch a ride and go with the flow – that makes it business and not just a passion anymore.

Should they have decided to allow their personal beliefs or ego get in the way of keeping up with the Kardashians of the business world, they would probably not have attained their current height in the world today. A proper scrutiny would depict that should Mark Zuckerberg have a thing against the LGBT community (same sex relationship) and as a result of his personal stance, he decides to yank off all gays and lesbians off Facebook, some smart individual could take advantage of the loophole he has created and provide a platform for everyone including the LGBT community – now that’s making your personality dictate your brand and this is totally not the way to go. Here is another interesting young man, the owner of a forum tagged Nairaland – it’s evident the platform houses loads of controversial stories that might not be appealing to a subset of its audience – from what I have seen, individuals don’t hesitate to lash out at the government policies or companies they don’t feel cool with, however some of these companies still engage the platform owner for advert banners – WHY???? – because he has simply refused to allow his brand get tainted or haunted by some derogatory remarks from some of his audience; all by placing a disclaimer on the footer of his platform – now that’s called ‘SMART’.

Peradventure you intend to delve into the digital space, be it ecommerce, social network, classified listing or blogging, always remember to keep your personal opinions personal and do not let that meddle with the affairs of your brand or that of your stakeholders. It’s only a matter of time before your stakeholders see through you and nobody would like you poking at their businesses ‘cos you have an ego to massage or a group of advisers you are willing to please by compromising a business relationship. Keep it professional. For the digital minds, pick a cue from the bests (Linda Ikeji et al)- employ the use of disclaimers to lay a demarcation between your service and the views of your audience, lest you allow your competitors snatch your gigs and slots.

Smarts ways to source capital for a small business

iProo Business Summit

According to a friend, Brent Gleeson; Today’s small businesses exist in a new economic landscape that forces creativity and out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to financing. Small businesses have traditionally been the key driver for economic recovery when it comes to hiring, but hiring requires capital, and capital can be hard to come by.

When my business partner and I started our first business, we initially used friends and family debt capital until we were large enough to attract more substantial funding from angel investors. The truth is, most small businesses piece together their funding from several different sources phased out over time. No single source of funding is necessarily easier to come by than another. It depends on your business model, projections, and how well you can sell yourself to potential financial partners. Whether you are a start-up seeking initial seed capital or an operating small business looking for money to grow, you have to be flexible, remain positive, and stay vigilant in your efforts.

Here are five ways to get started with funding your small business:

Do it yourself – Most entrepreneurs and small business owners these days have come to the realization that they will have to self-fund (also know as “boot-strapping”) their projects for a significant amount of time until more formal funding opportunities become realistic. There are many ways to accomplish this from savings accounts and zero interest credit cards to leveraging other personal assets. If you believe in your vision and have an absolute refusal to accept failure as an option, you should feel comfortable investing your own money into the business. In turn, this will make potential investors more comfortable knowing you have skin in the game. Just keep your eye on profitability!

Friends, family, and fools – Funding from friends and family is a very popular and effective way to round up some initial capital for a business. Those closest to you are more likely than anyone to believe not only in your vision, but your ability to make that vision a reality. One downside of course is that you are potentially risking personal relationships should the business fail and your agreement may not be structured properly. To avoid friends and family feeling like “fools” I recommend structuring this type of funding as a high interest loan for one year. Borrow just enough to launch the business into operations, build your website, or develop some additional pitch material if you want to go after big money. And as much as you will want to avoid racking up legal fees, it is imperative that all parties get sound legal advice. Not doing so can potentially cost you much more down the road.

Small business loans – I know what you’re thinking. Banks are more stringent than ever about giving out loans and if you don’t have any credit, how can you possibly consider this route? In our early days, by business partner and I ran into this obstacle all the time. When writing this article, I was doing some research looking for companies that specialize in helping small businesses get quick and easy access to lenders. One company that stood out was All Business Loans.  According to Mike Kevitch, COO of All Business Loans, “Startups seeking money from banks need a good business plan, profitable projections and some of their own money in the game.” Seeking any type of capital can be a full time job in itself which is why companies like All Business Loans can be a great way to take the leg work out of it. Another reason to pursue debt financing is that you aren’t giving away a piece of your business.

Angel investors – This path is close to my heart because we have achieved enormous success in raising money this way. That being said, much of it has to do with timing and leveraging the right contacts. In our experience the “friends and family” route has actually opened the doors to angel investment rounds. A large amount of trust can be built by giving your early stage investor his or her money back plus interest. But just because someone lent you money to launch your business, doesn’t make them the right financial partner for the long run. When raising money from angels or VC’s you have to keep in mind that they will own a piece of the business and you then have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the business and its shareholders. Attracting angel investors is a tricky business, and no matter how exciting and positive the initial conversations may be, the devil is always in the details. Know your business plan, be transparent, back up your valuation with real projections (forget the BS hockey stick revenue models), and build a relationship based on trust.

Overcoming the challenges posed by competition

iProo Business Summit

In order to stay competitive, your small business must create a customer-centric marketing plan that’s continually solidifying your relationships with your target market. One of the best ways to do this is through email and content marketing. Reach out to customers with fresh content, engage them via social media, and stay ahead of the competition.

Being customer-centric means fulfilling your customers wants and needs in ways that exceed their expectations. It means developing products and services based on the customer’s problems first and foremost. It also means developing long-term relationships and cultivating repeat business.

Identifying your real stakeholders in the business world

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Stakeholder identification is the process used to identify all stakeholders for a business. It is important to understand that not all stakeholders will have the same influence or effect on a business, nor will they be affected in the same manner. There are many ways to identify stakeholders for your venture; however, it should be done in a methodical and logical way to ensure that stakeholders are not easily omitted. This may be done by looking at stakeholders organizationally, geographically, or by involvement with your core business objective.

Another way of determining stakeholders is to identify those who are directly impacted by the project and those who may be indirectly affected. Examples of directly impacted stakeholders are the project team members or a customer who the project is being done for. Those indirectly affected may include an adjacent organization or members of the local community. Directly affected stakeholders will usually have greater influence and impact of a project than those indirectly affected. While these details are developed and analysed further in the Stakeholder Analysis process, it is important to begin thinking about them now and helps provide a systematic way to identify stakeholders.

An outcome of identifying stakeholders should be a project stakeholder register. This is where the project team captures the names, contact information, titles, organizations, and other pertinent information of all stakeholders. This is a necessary tool during Stakeholder Management and will provide significant value for the business to communicate with stakeholders in an organized manner.

Building and maintaining good business relationships

iProo Business Summit

During these economic times, people are more selective on where they spend their money. When they do decide to open their checkbooks, you want to be their first choice. Therefore, it’s important your current customers choose to stay with you. Even if your business is doing well, your customers can leave as quickly as they came.

There’s more to business than just a transaction. Building a relationship helps you establish a bond. Some customers are even willing to pay more for a product and/or service if they have a personal connection with a company. From a PR perspective, building relationships is cost-effective because the only cost is your time.

Here are eight ways to invest in these relationships:

Touch base frequently – If they recently placed an order or you provided a service, ask them for feedback. Showing you care about their satisfaction level speaks volumes about your commitment to them. It can also provide you with an opportunity to gain insight on other products and services that you can offer to gain new business.

If they have not done business with you in a while, check to see how you can help them. It may also serve as a reminder that they may need your product or service.

Pick up the phone – If most of your communication takes place via e-mail, it’s still important to pick up the phone occasionally to touch base with your customers. Personal interaction is an important element in building a relationship.

Branch out – You may have a particular target market in mind, but to reach it doesn’t mean that you network with just that group. Find groups that don’t mirror your target market and build relationships with their members. That is the benefit of networking. People you meet know people who might be future customers.

Become a resource – Stepping out to assist someone doesn’t always mean you’ll get an immediate return on your efforts. Refer a customer to them, help with an event or offer suggestions. When they, or someone they know, are looking for a product or service that you offer, you’re more likely to be foremost in their mind. The more you get to know them, the more you’ll be able to offer assistance by knowing their needs.

Write a note – Adding the personal touch of a thank you note to show customers your appreciation for their business is priceless. For the best impact, send it immediately after the event.

Tailor your approach – Your customers vary in work load, style of communication and desire to share information, so your approach should be just as diverse. If your customer doesn’t appreciate you just stopping in, then call in advance to set up a time or invite him or her out for coffee.

But your approach needs to be genuine and within your comfort zone or it may backfire on you. If you aren’t comfortable with face-to-face interactions, you may want to start by picking up the phone.

Be prompt with inquiries – It shows your commitment to a high level of service and establishes confidence in you and your company. Also, if an issue arises, take action and make it your priority to resolve it immediately. Sometimes errors and how we resolve them provide an exceptional opportunity to show our commitment to the customer–take a bad situation and make it a positive.

Listen, listen, listen – Your customer may provide cues that might be your gateway to providing a personal touch. If they indicate that their child is heading off to their first year of college, or they are taking a long awaited vacation, jot these things down on a calendar so you can ask how things went when you do a follow-up call. Or they might state that it was their birthday last week. Put that on your calendar so the following year you can send a birthday greeting.

Building any type of a relationship takes time, whether it’s a personal or business relationship. It’s an essential part of your business to help maintain and grow your customer base. As part of your daily to-do list, make a point to touch one customer every day. You may be surprised at the impact.

Should you have any career-related questions you might want to ask me, kindly email me at sam.navabi@iproo.net. I would love to read from you.