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How to Bake a Business
Recipes and Advice to Turn Your Small Enterprise into a Big Success
By Julia Bickerstaff
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2009 Julia Bickerstaff
All rights reserved.
A good business, like good food, starts with good ingredients, but what are they?
If you are baking a cake, four ingredients are absolutely essential: eggs, flour, butter and sugar. The other goodies (vanilla essence, cherries, icing ...) are optional — nice to have, but not the end of the world if you don't.
The same goes for a business. Three ingredients are essential:
* a simple idea
* a purpose
* a passion.
The rest are just nice-to-haves.
You can manage business nice-to-haves in the same way that you manage them in cookery. If you are missing an ingredient you either do without it, or substitute something else in. Yes, the end result tastes a bit different, but it still tastes good — sometimes even better. A fruitcake without cherries is still a fruitcake, and banana bread made with plain flour and a spoonful of baking powder is exactly the same as one made with self-raising flour.
This chapter is about just the three essential ingredients because there is absolutely no need to get distracted by the nice-to-haves. It will help you check that you have got these essentials, and that they are in good shape. And good is all we are worried about here — not perfect. When you are baking a family cake you don't need the finest Italian flour — fresh in-the-pantry stuff is fine; you just need to check it for weevils.
Finally, like traditional baking — which simply doesn't work if you miss out the egg, butter, flour or sugar — you cannot bake a business unless you have all three of the essential ingredients. A brilliant idea without a passionate person to drive it will stay just that, an idea; and a passionate person with a less-than-brilliant idea will find themselves struggling with a fragile and unfulfilling business.
You may be wondering why I haven't listed cash as one of the key ingredients. I do agree that some start-up money is important, but you simply have to manage with what you've got. If the recipe for your business calls for heaps of start-up funding and you don't have any, you need to change the recipe. This doesn't mean you can't start the business; it just means you can't start the business in that way.
The other ingredient kitchen table tycoons often worry about is business skill — or rather lack of it. Be assured that many great businesses have been started by people who don't have much in the way of business skills or experience. The best kitchen table tycoons recognise they are a bit short in that department, and one of the ways they manage this is to find well-equipped people to help them. More on that in chapter 14.
Essential ingredient #1: a simple idea
A simple idea is like an ice cube: very crisp, very clear and very cool.
What you need
* A simple explanation of your business idea.
What you do
Pour yourself a glass of iced water. While you sip it, write a one-liner that:
* crisply explains your business idea
* clearly explains who will buy your product
* coolly explains how you will make money from this business.
Now, because thoughts that sound perfect in your head tend to come out in a jumble when you actually speak or write them, don't just think about this, write it down.
Then talk about your idea to anyone who will listen. The more you talk about it, and the more you listen to what people say in response, the greater your idea will become. And if you are finding it difficult to explain your idea, it's probably because you haven't got it quite right yet. Keep working on it until you have a simple sentence — an answer to anyone who asks what you are up to. 'I'm starting a business that ...'
And if, after all that talking, you don't think it's such a good idea anymore, bin it.
Worried that one of your 'friends' might pinch your idea? Think about who you are confiding in. And remember what you learnt in high school: don't tell the skinny girl with big boobs and no morals about the hot guy you want to date.
Sometimes you can be having a conversation with a friend about your idea and she just doesn't seem to get it. If that's the case, think about these points.
* It's easy to be negative, so make your friends work harder if they are pessimistic about your plans. Ask them to explain exactly what it is about your idea that troubles them. And get them to offer you some suggestions.
* Do they actually understand your idea? Maybe you haven't mastered explaining the concept yet.
* Do you agree with what they are saying? Maybe they know more about the industry than you do and they are trying to save you from disaster. Ask if they know any experts you could talk to.
* Maybe they are just not up to it. Sometimes the most amazing ideas are conceptually hard to grasp and you may just be way ahead of your friends (imagine iPod 10 years ago) ...
Not everyone is helpful. Here's a quick rundown of what friends say and what they mean:
'Really' —' I'll believe it when I see it.'
'It won't work' —' No offence, but if it was going to work, wouldn't someone have done it already?'
'That sounds really great, aren't you clever?' —' Sounds dreadful but I love being your friend!'
'How interesting' — 'Enough about you, let's talk about me.'
Essential ingredient #2: a purpose
Sarah Tremellen started up Bravissimo because she was fed up with the awfulness of large bras. She decided that big-boobed women deserved something better than 'enormous matronly contraptions'.
This simple idea with a big purpose has seen her grow a mammoth, but elegant, business (see www.bravissimo.com).
What you need
* A purpose: a hole to fill and people who really want it filled by the stuff you are going to sell.
What you do
I like to think of purpose as the answer to the question, 'Who are you helping and how?' Completing the following statements should help you work this out.
1. 'MY CUSTOMERS ARE ...'
Who needs or wants what you are selling? You might be tempted to answer this with 'everybody', but it's heaps more effective to find a nice bite-sized niche. After all, you are about to devote a large chunk of your life to understanding and looking after these people and we all have our limits. (More about this in 'Where are you going to play?' on page 22.)
2. 'MY CUSTOMERS ARE HUNGRY FOR ...'
What is it that your customers need so much that you have decided to leave your job/children/sanity to provide it for them? How are you going to increase the quality of your customers' lives?
3. 'AT THE MOMENT, MY CUSTOMERS ARE MAKING DO WITH ...'
If your customers are so hungry for what you are selling, what is keeping them from starvation right now? How are they possibly managing without you?
Put together an irresistible morsel about the need you are satisfying: 'My customers are big-boobed women, they are hungry for fabulous bras and at the moment they make do with tasteless over-shoulder-boulder-holders.'
Then taste-check your idea — ask a few potential customers what they think. Are they salivating or wrinkling up their noses?
Keep the answers to these statements light. This is just to see if your idea is good enough to take further. If it is, the next chapter — Creating the Picture — will help you fatten it up.
We buy what we want, not what we need.
I am particularly proficient at this, having recently returned from a shopping trip with a new Karen Millen dress but no soy and linseed bread.
Apparently most of us have this syndrome. So for your business, think about turning the need for your stuff into a want. How? Talk about your stuff in such a compelling way that those who need it want it.
The purpose of your business is not to make money.
Well, it is and it isn't. If you have a strong purpose and a well-run business then the money should follow.
But if money is your only purpose, you are set for disappointment.
Essential ingredient #3: a passion
Have you ever had an illicit affair? Been a modern-day Lady Chatterley?
I want you to think about an obsession that consumed you. An obsession that made you feel invincible. An obsession that drove you to do things you would never normally do. An obsession that divided you from your girlfriends, and was the sole reason for your existence.
Now you are getting close to the feeling that you need to energise your business. Passion.
What you need
* To feel obsessively passionate about your business idea.
What you do
Start by getting to know yourself. Ask yourself what:
* gets you really excited?
* are you dedicated to?
* are you obsessed about?
* do you love to do more than anything else?
* do you absolutely want to succeed at doing?
* drives you?
* do you want to change in the world?
* can you do to help people?
There is an important distinction between being personally passionate about something and having the passion to help someone else with it. I happen to think that many fitness trainers struggle with this. Many are only interested in their own bodies and are rarely that bothered about helping Mrs Tuckshop Arms tone up.
So look at your business idea. Does your business idea align with your passion? And does your passion align with your business idea?
If the answer to both questions is no, be kind to yourself. Think of a different idea. And use your passion as your inspiration.
Love is blind. And as with a love affair, it is easy to get completely swept away by the passion you have for your business ... Don't let the passion for your idea stop you from hearing that your business is in fact a dud!CHAPTER 2
Creating the picture
The thing that spurs me into cooking is the picture of the finished product. Maybe it's my lack of imagination, but I do find it incredibly hard to drum up any sort of enthusiasm for a recipe if I don't know what it is going to look like when it is finished.
The photo in the cookbook may be the motivation to get you baking in the first place and the incentive to keep at it when the batter curdles, but how do you come up with a picture before you have actually baked anything?
You create a vision.
Now, vision is one of those business words that people get terribly hung up about. You needn't be one of them. It's just a mental image of what you want your business to be. It's that simple.
The way you create your vision is by taking your ingredients and beating them about a bit with some spirited questioning. This is fun and easy to do.
If you are thinking this sounds a bit on the fluffy side, it isn't. The best businesses have solid visions. And those that don't? Well, they sink in the middle.
Vision: the picture technique
To get your idea to rise into a business you need to fill it with vision. To stop it deflating you need to trap your vision and keep it locked inside.
You need the three ingredients from chapter 1:
* a simple idea
* a purpose
* a passion.
And five questions from this chapter:
* What do your customers look like?
* Where are you going to play?
* What does your business 'taste' like?
* What is your big business goal?
* What are your personal goals?
Then, write a short story about your business, its purpose and its goals. Don't worry about how you word it — just make it appealing and believable to you. And stick it on the inside of a cupboard door in your kitchen as an inspiring memory-jogger.
Try turning your story into a movie in your mind. If you want to get your jewellery sold in London's Harvey Nichols, imagine walking into the store and seeing it on display, or seeing pictures of 'It' girls wearing it in Vogue. And if you want to get your vision really locked in, grab some popcorn and watch the movie at least once a day.
Now I do appreciate this may sound a little crazy ... but what can I say, it works!
Here's another thought. I have met many people who have started a business only to discover they didn't really want to run one after all. So take a look at the 'Personal goals' recipe on page 27, which will get you thinking about whether this might apply to you. Better to find out now than later.
My friend Jo has a picture of a skinny bikini-clad blonde babe on her fridge. It's not a picture of Jo (you couldn't call her slim and she's very brunette) nor is it anyone that she knows. So why the picture?
Jo is trying to lose weight.
The blonde babe stuck on the fridge reminds Jo of her vision to lose 15 kg. A quick glance at the picture and she can block out the cries of 'eat me, eat me' emanating from her children's chocolate mousse.
Your vision will help you focus in the same way — but your husband might not be quite as thrilled with your picture as Jo's is with hers!
1. What do your customers look like?
The better you know your customers, the more likely you are to provide what they actually want.
If you were having people over for dinner I'm sure you'd go to the trouble of checking whether your guests are lactose, glucose or gluten intolerant, allergic to nuts, shellfish or eggs, or whether they are just having a vegan moment.
So, do you know how to cater for your customers?
What you need
* A few real customer-types that you can — metaphorically of course — undress and get to the bottom of.
What you do
Create a picture of your customer. Start by asking some questions. Here are a few suggestions; feel free to add your own.
* How old are they?
* Where do they live?
* Where do they work?
* How much do they earn?
* How do they spend their spare time?
* Do they have children?
* Do they drive?
* What do they read?
* Where can you find them?
Blend the answers together to produce a profile of your target customer.
Create or find a real picture of your target customer. Give her a name — mine is Amber — and stick the picture on your wall.
Whenever you are making a decision that will impact upon your customers, ask yourself: 'What will Amber think?'
2. Where are you going to play?
My children are young and consequently I spend far too much time in playgrounds. Fortunately we have plenty to choose from — unfortunately each member of the family has a different favourite.
You can't play everywhere at the same time — so where are you going to play, and why?
What you need
* A niche.
What you do
You are going to find a playground — a niche place to sell your stuff — and you want to:
* shape the playground by your rules
* pick somewhere where you can be number one or number two
* decide what your market share of that playground is going to be in three years.
You can make your playground whatever shape you want. And because you decide it, you define it. It doesn't have to fit into any traditional segments — and probably shouldn't. If you want to do 'mums of left-handed boys within a 5 km radius of my house', go right ahead.
The fabulous thing about picking your own playground is that it's like entering a competition and making up your own rules. If you can't win by the rules already in place, just start your own.
Picking a place where you can be number one or number two isn't about winning the 'my-toys-are-bigger-than-yours' competition. It's about upping your chances of success. If you pick a playground that is already crowded, the big girls and boys will be hogging all the good equipment and you will be killing time on the broken stuff.
It's hideously tempting to pick a massive playground. Blimey, why would you limit your business to one pokey little suburb when you could take over the world? There are lots of good reasons why world domination from a standing start is not the best option. Here are two of them. You would have to spend a colossal fortune on marketing to make even the tiniest impact. And one-size-fits-all stuff just doesn't.
3. What does your business 'taste' like?
Take a little 'bite' of your business. Chew it, bite it, roll it around your tongue, suck it and savour it. How does your business taste?
This is about the personality of your business and its essence, it is what makes doing business with you so delicious.
At birth your business inherited your personality, but if you need to you can change it!
And even if you don't want to tweak its personality, just think through the important bits of what your business stands for — then you can emphasise it, gloriously, to your employees and customers.
What you need
* A little note outlining the key flavours of your business's personality.
What you do
* Ask yourself some questions about the business.
* What does it stand for?
* How do you want people to talk about it?
* How do you want people to experience it ('all the people are so nice to talk to', 'I feel cared for')?
* What are its really important characteristics (the things for which you would sack an employee whose behaviour didn't articulate them)?
* What is its philosophy?
Turn this into a few lines and write it down. It doesn't matter what words you use, as long as it comes from the soul of your business. Stick it up on the wall somewhere and, every so often, read it. Especially if you are feeling a bit cranky — I use it as a reminder when I'm feeling a bit 'less than'.
Excerpted from How to Bake a Business by Julia Bickerstaff. Copyright © 2009 Julia Bickerstaff. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
If you can bake a cake, you can bake a business!,
How to use this book,
Part I THE BASIC BUSINESS RECIPE,
2 Creating the picture,
3 How-to-do-it steps,
5 Number of serves,
6 The Basic Business Recipe summary,
Part II PROFIT: THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING,
7 Pricing: the Steamed Syrup Sponge recipes,
8 Volume: the Apple Crumble recipes,
9 Costs: the Queen of Puddings recipes,
Part III CASH: YOUR BREAD AND BUTTER,
10 Cash cycle: the Basic White Bread recipes,
11 Cash flow forecast: the Tea Bread recipes,
Part IV TIME: HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT TOO,
12 Free yourself up: the Chocolate Birthday Cake recipes,
13 Free up your business: the Cupcake recipes,
14 Buy help: the Christmas Cake recipes,
Part V TIPPING THE SCALES IN YOUR FAVOUR,
15 Getting results: the Weigh-Up recipes,