At the middle of the year, many questions relating to the priorities of a firm spring up. It is easy to set priorities at the start of the year but following through is somewhat a challenge for most organisations. In the process of swimming with the tides of change either caused by internal or external factors, so many drift away from their initial goals and objectives. One way to resolve this is by being accountable to shareholders or partners.
Drawing insight from Jeff Bezos’ ritual of writing letters annually, since 1997 to date, to the shareholders of his company, Amazon.com, business owners can learn a great deal of accountability. The brand that is referred to as the world’s largest online marketplace and cloud computing company has been able to consistently remain on track running with clear priorities.
It was observed that the letters the company writes to communicate its focus to shareholders help it stay accountable throughout the year. Whether it is a new strategy towards expanding the brand or a decision on employees, the letters act as signals informing shareholders about the direction of the company. An excerpt from the 2004 letter shows that Bezos also uses it as a medium to share some financial concerns. There he wrote “Our ultimate financial measure, and the one we most want to drive over the long-term, is free cash flow per share.”
An analysis carried out on the letters indicated that there are key words the letters are structured with. From this, one can tell where the company’s priority for that year is centred on. The 2006 letter revolved around five words, “businesses,” “new,” “Amazon,” “grow,” and “culture”— pointing the attention of shareholders towards expansion and growth. In that letter, Bezos writes,
“At Amazon’s current scale, planting seeds that will grow into meaningful new businesses takes some discipline, a bit of patience, and a nurturing culture. Our established businesses are well-rooted young trees. They are growing, enjoy high returns on capital, and operate in very large market segments. These characteristics set a high bar for any new business we would start. Before we invest our shareholders’ money in a new business, we must convince ourselves that the new opportunity can generate the returns on capital our investors expected when they invested in Amazon. And we must convince ourselves that the new business can grow to a scale where it can be significant in the context of our overall company.”
Moving on to 2010, the priorities of the company changed to “data,” “Amazon,” “services,” “systems,” and “technology”. Bezos pinpointed
“All the effort we put into technology might not matter that much if we kept technology off to the side in some sort of R&D department, but we don’t take that approach. Technology infuses all of our teams, all of our processes, our decision-making, and our approach to innovation in each of our businesses. It is deeply integrated into everything we do.”
Even though Bezos never includes the failures of the firm, he makes his shareholders know of such possibility but assures them of a way out. This is clearly seen in his 2013 letter:
“Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It is not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.”
Bezos also utilises the opportunity to remind the shareholders about the company’s plan from the beginning. This can be seen in the most recent 2018 shareholders letter released 11th April 2019. It reads:
“From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers. They like to invent. Even when they are experts, they are “fresh” with a beginner’s mind. They see the way we do things as just the way we do things now. A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight.”
With this approach, accountability becomes less of a problem for the firm, and serves as a means to attain sustainability.
What is your own approach for accountability?
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
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Have you thought about why it is a struggle for many of us not to spend business money on personal needs, even with all the talk about financial discipline? As simple as this question may sound, it would take lots of people several months if not years to answer.
Whether we are counting millions or thousands, buying or selling, saving or spending, the subject of finances is one we can never stop learning about. Without exaggerating, I would say we are confronted by different financial challenges daily but for some reason, most people consider financial topics too sensitive. This is the reason why you find a good number of persons especially entrepreneurs rarely discuss their financial struggles and secretly search for ways to survive.
The quest for survival has put a reasonable number of emerging entrepreneurs in a difficult position when negotiating payment terms with clients. They often sell themselves short in exchange for any amount just to meet their present needs. This has ultimately inhibited the growth potential of so many ventures.
From critical observations backed up with research, I have summed the financial circle into four. Every individual and entrepreneur can be categorized under one of them. I have come to believe that the circle or stage one is determines their financial decisions. Here are the basic four financial circle;
SURVIVAL: This is the base level where folks practically struggle to get through each day as it concerns basic necessities like food, transport fare, shelter, etc. Folks in this circle are usually the first casualties when there’s hike in the prices of general consumer goods. However, there’s a grading within this circle just like all others, not everyone is exactly at same level.
COMFORT: This circle is just above the previous, basic things of life isn’t much of a problem here. People in this category just want to be comfortable enough to live in a good home, buy the gadgets they want, send their kids to good private schools, afford one or two trips abroad, and so on. There’s also a grading in this circle, not everyone is at the same level. Beyond that, some people shuttle between this circle and the previous one, others remain here perpetually while some others proceed to the next.
SUSTAINABILITY: At this level, comfort is no longer a person’s quest, it is settled. Folks here are more concerned with how to maintain their quality of life and create a fortune for their heirs. People here take investments more seriously; they want to own properties and assets, anything that gives them some level of security.
LEGACY: This is the stage where money isn’t a problem anymore. The world’s top billionaires belong here. They are hungry for impact; something with their names crested on it; own a football club or something of that sort, set up a foundation tackling one major problem the world laments about, or re-engineer the business itself to offer greater value to the world. By all means, they embark on legacy projects. So long as it takes money, there is nothing they cannot afford.
Not everyone starts from ground zero by the way, but everyone belongs to one out of the four circles at each point in life. I am an advocate for people to live within their means and be contented with what they have per time even when hoping and working to improve their lot.
Which financial circle do you fall under and what plans have you been making to progress in order to build your enterprise?
Written by Maple Dappa
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A major problem business owners have with branding is that they delay the need for it. “I will start the business first and brand it later”, they say. But that’s like brushing your teeth without toothpaste and licking toothpaste later to make up. I know that illustration is a bit too extreme so don’t try to wrap your head around it.
Anyway, practically speaking, when branding is shoved aside or kept at the bottom of the to-do list in business that could be classified as one of the most unwise business decisions. For anyone venturing into the competitive world of business, the first thing on your mind should be how to stand out from others who have been there. This is not to exaggerate but no business would stand out without slight touches of branding.
No matter how basic, branding should be an intricate part of your business plan. For example, when thinking of your business name, also ask yourself if it will make a good brand name. Consider how the name will flow on marketing materials, souvenirs, stationery, and so on. It can be that basic and simple, even though branding runs much deeper than visual identity and communications.
Though branding is a broad topic and sometimes seen as complicated, it is still doable and never farfetched. I’ve observed that some people try to avoid it with lots of excuses to give, from limited resources to lack of time. In fact once a conversation about branding is stirred they literally begin to enumerate all the challenges that would prevent them from taking actions towards branding their business.
You may not have the funds, time or requisite knowledge to effect a full scale branding from the onset, but you should think ahead and lay the right foundation that you can build on later. I think it all begins from our understanding of what branding really is and that is why I urge you to learn more about the subject, by any means possible.
One thing you should understand is that branding affects every aspect of your business – visual identity, product development, customer experience, employee relations, organizational structure, office administration, marketing communications, and so on. You cannot afford to take it for granted if you really desire to grow a sustainable business.
When you lay a good foundation, you stand a better chance to survive the challenges that come your way. A whole lot of setbacks in business can actually be prevented from the beginning if the right branding strategies are employed. Wait no longer, now is the best time to start branding your business.
Written by Maple Dappa
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Reputation is something that sticks longer with humans and it’s usually difficult to correct whether good or bad. In business, a first mistake could be pardoned and considered an oversight but when it becomes a reoccurring event, it becomes your company’s reputation. Once people get to know your brand for a particular thing, negative or positive, that image stays glued on your business until you’re able to create a stronger impression that is remarkable enough to replace the former. A bad reputation therefore tarnishes the image of your business.
The fact is customers never forget the kind of emotions they felt when they encountered your brand, how fast or slow you delivered, the process in which you got the work done either efficiently or otherwise. If they had a terrible experience caused with your brand, they would always remember.
Following the recent event of the Ethiopian Airlines crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, we realised the magnitude of a bad reputation. The Boeing 737 brand that had also crashed five months earlier during Lion Air flight generated a lot of bad publicity for the airplane manufacturer, Boeing. Due to the reoccurred misfortune, some countries have grounded the plane, labelled it unsafe and it has already cost the company its shares valuation, which dropped to 13% with the snap of the finger, in the stock market. It is a thing of certainty that people whose families died in the plane crash will always relive the grief anytime they hear Boeing 737. This has automatically put the Boeing brand on the black list of many potential passengers and even shareholders.
From the event, you would deduct that a brand’s reputation creates a certain perception of it among clients, stakeholders and its target market. Unconsciously, the type of reputation you have could stir several emotions in customers who try to patronise you. What they feel becomes what they would associate with your brand and eventually would turn out to be your brand identity.
Companies with bad public image run at loss and never make high sales most of the time. They are usually seen as not being trustworthy or reliable and also lose customer loyalty as time goes by which affects their relevance in the society they operate. It obviously points out that a bad reputation is one of the fastest ways to ruin any business even the greatest of them all.
For any business to thrive in its sector, it must pay attention to the kind of reputation it has earned from when it commenced. People would either connect or disconnect with your brand based on what you have been known for as a company’s reputation always guides the decision of prospective investors or clients.
For the Boeing brand, we think it would take a lot of product re-engineering, rebranding, remodelling and reassurance for it to gain back a good public image. What’s your take, do you think it still has any reputation left to build on?
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
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A phone brand with variety of ringtones almost half of Nigerians cannot forget is Nokia. With its different models that came in different shapes and sizes with different abilities, Nokia sure did leave a mark on the walls of the telecommunication market in Nigeria. It had a grand entrance into the market and enjoyed a good season of dominance.
Interestingly, with time and as new brands emerged with different technologies and innovations, Nokia began to lose its stand and at some point was wiped out of the Nigerian market. Determined to spring back to its feet, Nokia through its partnership with Microsoft produced new products to satisfy the ever craving Nigerian market.
Regardless of what must have gone wrong, it is undeniable that Nokia is a remarkable brand and there are many lessons to learn from its brand story. So brace yourself as we dissect one of the historical brands ever – Nokia.
Nokia, what we now know as one of the most popular multinational telecommunications brands in the world went from one industry to another before venturing and becoming known for production of mobile phones. Here is how it transited.
In the early period of 1865, May 12th precisely, Fedrik Idestam, a mining engineer, founded Nokia in Finland. In that year, the brand did not start as a telecommunication brand rather it commenced as a single paper mill operation. The company went public with the name Nokia Ab in 1871 when Leo Mechelin, Idestam’s friend joined hands with him.
Like most partnership, Idestam and Mechelin did not agree on everything. At some point, Mechelin wanted to expand the company into the electricity business but Idestam declined the idea. In 1896, Idestam retired and Mechelin became the company’s chairperson. Nevertheless, after Idestam had retired in 1896, Mechelin pushed his idea to the company’s shareholders and eventually Nokia became an electricity company in 1902.
Due to its near bankruptcy after World War I, Suomen Gummitehdas Oy, popularly known as Finnish Rubber Works, acquired Nokia. It was a company founded in 1898 by Eduard Polon, a business leader. The Finnish Rubber Works subsequently acquired Suomen Kaapelitehdas Oy (Finnish Cable Work). This new company was into the production of telephone, telegraph and electrical cables.
While Nokia Ab, Suomen Gummitehdas, and Suomen Kaapelitehdas were under the same roof, they did not merge legally but became a viable group.
However, in 1967, the three companies merged to form Nokia Corporation. This new establishment manufactured products like paper items, car and bicycle tyres, rubber boots, communications cables, televisions and other consumer electronics, personal computers, generators, robotics, capacitors, military technology and equipment (such as the SANLA M/90 device and the M61 gas mask for the Finnish Army), plastics, aluminium and chemicals.
The company ran for close to fifteen years within which it experienced loss at some points, giving birth to a new focus on mobile phone technologies. From the merger between Nokia and Salora, in 1979, the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) network called 1G, which became the first fully automatic cellular phone system, was developed.
In order to create better phone models, Nokia purchased Salora in 1984. Following the success of this, in 1987, Nokia launched its first mobile phone “Mobira Cityman 900” for NMT– 900 networks that was able to accommodate data.
After gaining its ground in the mobile phone industry, Nokia commenced operations in over 130 countries connecting millions of people all over the world.
Nokia explains its vision simply, “we create the technology to connect the world.”
The brand has operated with solid values over the years. Here they are;
As more competitions arose among the mobile phone brands, in 2008, Nokia’s market share fell to 40.8 percent. Even though Nokia tried to get back its position in the market by releasing new models like N97 touchscreen device, it still experienced some loss in 2009.
Even with the losses, Nokia refused to give into the pressure to switch to producing Android based smartphones and continued to focus on producing more Symbian based smartphones which were no longer selling in the market. This again saw their market shares drop further in 2010.
In search of a remedy, Nokia went into partnership with Microsoft. Because of this partnership, Nokia adopted Windows Phone as the operating system for the smartphones it produced from 2011. Nokia took a more courageous step on the 25 April 2014 to sell its mobile phone business to Microsoft for £3.79bn.
Despite all the pitfalls, Nokia continues to bounce back, proving itself as a hard nut to crack. In recent times, it has embraced new technologies, thereby enhancing the quality of its products. It has made its return into market with more vibrancy, and has gained back its visibility.
DID YOU KNOW
- The name Nokia was coined from a town called Nokia and the Nokianvirta River.
- By the end of 2013, 10,000 employees had been dismissed
- In the 1980s, Nokia’s computer division “Nokia Data”, produced a series of personal computers called the “MikroMikko” in the 1980s
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If we compile all the names of different enterprises in this world, they could sum up to over a billion. The whole word could seem too farfetched so let us bring it home; walking along a busy road here in Nigeria, there is a high probability you would see at least twenty different names of businesses at every turn of your neck. Though each of these twenty try to make a statement of their own, only a handful, if at all any, will succeed in communicating with you.
Bringing it further down to your neighbourhood, can you remember all the names of the little shops on your street even after residing there for many years? The answer is likely a no! You might put the blame on your memory or accuse yourself of not paying attention to details. The truth remains; the names of these little shops did not leave an impression on you and could not register in your mind.
However, the light bulb in your brain practically turns up when you hear names like MTN, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Indomie, Microsoft, DSTV, Toyota, Samsung, Google, SPAR, TOTAL, etc. You might conclude that these are big brands that are well recognised. Yes, this is true but do not forget that they were not as big as they are when they started. The difference is the names of these popular brands have continued to speak loudly for everyone one to hear.
Choosing a business name is an imperative criteria for any enterprise and it is not as simple as you may think. Merely picking a name that sounds good to your ears might not be a wise business choice. Deciding on a business name requires a lot of brainstorming and deep research in your chosen market. It demands you devote quality time defining each term you wish to use to ensure it connects with your business or the kind of brand you want to build.
You may be asking why you should go through so much stress for a brand name and fail to realise one fact, a business name, in most cases, is the first thing potential clients would meet before they encounter the owner. The name of a business becomes its identity and carries the brand’s message. It is the voice that gently calls out to customers beckoning on them to patronise the business. Now let’s look at a few steps you could take to give your business name a voice.
Firstly, do not think you know it all, consult professionals. Most people consider consultation a waste of time and money, and move straight into making decisions that end up marring all their efforts. With the right strategic advice and plan from a professional, you can be sure that every aspect of your brand will stand out from the crowd.
Secondly go for a name that is easy to remember. Simple names stick longer in the minds of people and communicate to them better. So avoid any name that is too complicated and hard to remember. Also, before you settle for any name, do a proper check to ensure no other company has used that name before.
Thirdly, add some creativity to the name that leaves people curious to the name. Don’t mistaken plainness for simplicity. Keeping your business name, short and simple doesn’t mean you should go for a plain name that literally gives your business away or sounds too mundane. Depending on the nature of your intended business or brand personality, you could also introduce a little mystery to the name that stirs up curiosity in the minds of people.
Lastly, be certain the services or products your business offers lives up to its name. It is not enough to have a brilliant name and then deliver poorly. Customers will always link your business name to the quality of your services. So whilst you have a striking business name, it could also have a bad reputation.
Extra Tip: A name is not merely about the alphabetic letters, but about the reputation, perception and values it represents.
With these simple steps and a strong publicity to increase the visibility of the business name, you can be rest assured that your brand will not just be in the minds of people, but also in their hearts.
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
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Marketing could be quite a daunting task for most business people across the world. The thought of cooking up a convincing story for potential customers and clients, or going from street to street just to speak to sell their products or services, breaks beads of sweat in the faces of a good number of marketers. Regardless of the stress, marketing remains a necessity for any type of brand that wants visibility.
Now no matter how polished or good your idea, product or service is, if you can’t market it, it goes nowhere and only stays within the reach of your immediate circle. It is safe to say marketing is a means of spreading your business to a wider audience. The simple fact is, if you want more people to know what you sell, offer or the value you can create, marketing is unavoidable and inevitable.
“Marketing is an ongoing communications exchange with customers in a way that educates, informs and builds a relationship over time. The over time part is important because only over time can trust be created. With trust, a community builds organically around products and services and those customers become as excited about the products as you are — they become advocates, loyal evangelists, repeat customers and often, friends. Marketing is a really great way to identify what grabs people and gets them excited about your brand and give it to them, involve them in the process,” said Renee Blodgett – Chief Executive Officer/Founder, Magic Sauce Media
When clearly understood, marketing is not as hard as it seems. In plain terms, it is basically communicating what you do to a target audience with a goal to attain regular and loyal customers. To further simplify the concept of marketing, below are a few tips.
KNOW THE WHY BEHIND WHAT YOU DO
There are three questions you must ask yourself before you embark on your business voyage; why, what and how. In order to avoid wastage of resources, time, and efforts, these questions should be first dealt with. Basically the ‘why’ refers to the reason behind your business and seeks to answer why you started the business in the first place. The ‘what’ deals with the product or service you are rendering. The ‘what’ also addresses if you are meeting the needs of your customers. And the ‘how’ question figures the means through which you would reach the customers and clients.
However, most marketers often skip the first question why and immediately approach potential customers with what they offer. This is the reason behind the stutter when a customer tries to engage them. The reality is most people don’t know why they sell what they do!
Simon Sinek, author and marketing consultant, puts it clearly, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
It is of utmost importance for you as a business person to do your research and practically dig deep in order to know your target market thoroughly.
KNOW YOUR TARGET MARKET
Even though you wish everyone could patronise your business, the hard truth is not everyone can be your customer. You have to do a market survey and identify your target market if you want to hit your goal. When you don’t know your target market, you would keep missing your shots and eventually get frustrated.
LEVERAGE ON DIGITAL MARKETING
The digital era has made marketing easier than what it used to be. With digital platforms, entrepreneurs could get more customers in few days than they would in several months. Digital marketing is simply the use of the internet, mobile devices, social media, search engines, display advertising and other channels to reach your target audience.
In contrast to the traditional marketing where one needs to go from person to person advertising their products or services, or setting up outdoor platforms, marketers and entrepreneurs can now be in the comfort of their homes and spread words about their business. Another advantage asides the ease it provides, digital marketing has a wider reach. Your business could be in Nigeria but you will be able to reach people all over the world.
Once you are clear on your why, what, and how, deploy the best possible means to reach your audience whether traditionally or digitally. Just ensure that you take strategic steps to put your business out there.
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
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Horses are undoubtedly one of the most magnificent animals in the world. But you never will see the full glamour and beauty of a horse while it’s encumbered and kept in the stall. Set it free and see it rise in enchanting beauty. Just like in the world of horses, there are also stalls in the world of enterprise.
The focus of this article is centered on one challenge many emerging entrepreneurs, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, face but no one seems to talk about even though it greatly inhibits the growth of ventures. Most young entrepreneurs keep encountering challenges when it comes to dealing with clients in the area of payment and terms of engagement. The reason is mainly that the entrepreneurs are unable to enforce the idea of formal agreements, they deal based on verbal discussions and agreements which often leads to dispute.
One may begin to wonder why this is so. The simple answer is survival! When your business still runs with the ‘hand to mouth’ approach, you don’t care much about agreements needless of insisting on it, you just want the money to survive, considering the fact that your next meal, data subscription, transportation fare, and the rest of your needs depends on it. You literally can’t walk away from deals when the client already proves troublesome by not wanting to have an agreement. You are constantly gripped by that silent fear of losing the money.
If you ever want to experience visible progress in your business, one thing is for certain, you can’t go on that way. Failure to understand and deal with this basic truth leaves the entrepreneurial dream in a stagnant cooler. Remember, everyone can dream, but execution makes the difference. The next set of things you will be reading are suggestions that have been tested and proven. They can help set your business on the pedestal of greater achievements.
- DOCUMENT YOUR DEALS
You can have verbal agreements, but before you commence any work, ensure to document on paper or a computer. A good practice will be to send an email stating what was discussed and agreed before proper engagement. This will save you a great deal of trouble. Documentation enables clarity which guides the engagement going forward. Some studies have shown that things written down have a higher likelihood of succeeding.
“I learned to pay the maximum possible attention to details, to document everything, to keep archives – paper or digital – well ordered. This is a key factor when and if you need – possibly years later – to review a project or to support or challenge claims in court,” Jacopo [“Jaclaz”], a Technical Consultant stated.
2. RUN YOUR BUSINESS WITHIN YOUR MEANS
In the words of Dave Ramsey, a popular US radio host, and businessman, “financial peace isn’t the acquisition of stuff. It’s learning to live on less than you make, so you can give money back and have money to invest. You can’t win until you do this.”
One disciplinary habit any entrepreneur should cultivate is learning to fold their legs to the length of their blanket. This simply means to live within your means, spend only on essentials. Stop competing with those who are better placed financially. As much as you can, seek cheaper alternatives that still serve the purpose, but remember that sometimes the cheapest option is the most expensive.
3. SAVE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
Build a cash reserve, no matter how little. When discussing with a new prospect or client, your next meal should not depend on the deal, but on your cash reserve. With some cash set aside, you will stop being at the mercy of clients. You will also have better bargaining power, and you will have the confidence to say no to bad deals.
Benjamin Franklin puts the idea of saving better,
“if you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.”
These are seemingly simple issues, but they’ve kept so many ventures hindered from growth when they should be sprinting majestically like horses. Nevertheless, it is never too late to start the race to building a successful brand.
Written by Maple Dappa
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