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What Star Wars can teach small businesses and entrepreneurs

Lessons for your small business learned from Star Wars – let your significant other know you’ll have to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. This is for your business. It’s really important.

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Spoilers that benefit your biz

By now I would hope that anyone who cares about spoilers for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has seen the latest film at least once. At the very least, you should have watched enough trailers to understand the basic plot and know who the main characters are in the first of the final STAR WARS trilogy.

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Not much is known of the backstory  of main character Rey who was left on the remote desert planet of Jakku, yet it can be surmised on a planet where a large portion of the residents are scavengers that Rey has learned to be resourceful. Don’t bother engaging in an argument that Rey is unrealistically talented without first reading Charlie Jane Anders io9 post “Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars is a ‘Mary Sue’” or better yet, remind yourself that this is a science fiction fantasy story.

With that said, what struck me on my first viewing of THE FORCE AWAKENS were the lessons that could be taken away from this film for start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Be resourceful

According to the Star Wars mythology, a massive battle between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire left Star Destroyers and New Republic Starfleet on the surface of Jakku. That conflict left a wealth of wreckage from which useful and valuable parts could be scavenged and sold at the Niima Outpost. Rey’s survival is dependent upon her ability to assess and secure material and equipment that she can sell.

When starting up or growing your business, use your networks to vet ideas, seek out talent, and decide on what essential tools you need.

I enjoy and learn from the Anonymous Question of the Week posted on our Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group, where answers are crowd-sourced through our membership of over 15,000 members.

This article by our own AGBeat COO Lani Rosales on which productivity tools are being used helped me immensely in starting my own business. By doing your homework before you purchase a tool or service, you can save yourself both time and money and meet your specific business needs.

Be pragmatic – and idealistic at the same time

Spoiler Alert: Defector Stormtrooper FN-2187 aka Finn realizes that to escape the First Order, he needs a capable pilot to fly a tie fighter. Recognizing Poe’s skills and appealing to his cause allows Finn into to address his need for escape and survival, while developing his own principles. He then gains the ability to choose his own battles and thereby create his own destiny.

As an entrepreneur, taking your ideas and creating a robust and successful business requires a similar balance through risk analysis. Recognizing challenges and being prepared to deal with them is crucial in any business.

If you are seeking investors to help you start or grow your small business to the next level, you’ll need a strong business plan that identifies the most important risks and how you will address and mitigate any problems that arise.

For example, it’s okay to be idealistic and include innovative business practices such as environmental sustainability through recycling but make sure that you’ve identified the feasibility from the financial, managerial, and technical aspects. Does your leased business space have a recycling program, will you have to lease a recycling container in addition to a waste container, or will you have to haul off your own recycling (which costs you time)?

Go with your instinct – and know when to say no

SPOILER ALERT: Rey could have been set for supplies and food for months had she agreed to the barter offered by the insidious Unkar Plutt for astromech droid BB-8, but her instinct told her not to sell the droid. A risky and dangerous decision for Rey, but a decision that could have changed the course of Jedi history.

This is a decision that many business owners can relate to, especially in the consulting world. In developing business for our fledgling data company, we’ve encountered clients who have attempted to negotiate well below our offered rates.

Since sales drives our revenue and income sources, we had to know when to draw the line and say no to ensure our value was being fairly compensated. Being informed that the client had closed up shop recently was affirmation that it was a good judgment call, as the likely outcome could have been non-payment.

This decision also allowed us the time and opportunity to develop relationships with clients who are well-aware of what the going rate is, and recognize the quality and value of our services.

Don’t stay rooted in the past – embrace the future, and adapt

Rey’s desire to stay on Jakku is rooted in her desire to await and be reunited with her family who left her there long ago. She is told by the insightful semi-retired pirate and cantina owner Maz Kanata that “the belonging you look for is not behind you – it is ahead.”

In a small business, it’s easy and relatively safe to stay with the methods that you’ve used in the past. How do you grow and foster and your business in an ever-changing world? Advancements in technology have significantly improved the cost and ease of business to business transactions, as well as created more “virtual” workspaces.

Social media has drastically impacted SMBs by allowing them to connect directly with their customers. In 2010 fifty-four percent of SMBs were using social media to promote their business according to this 2010 article from Forbes. However according to an eMarketer article earlier this year, surveys have indicated that the number of small businesses using social media is on a decline.

This doesn’t mean that social media is ineffective, but is more likely that businesses don’t budget and devote the necessary resources. Use social media to emphasize your business value by regularly providing useful and interesting information, and engage with your audience in a professional, courteous, and timely manner – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another trending social media platform.

If you enjoyed this thought exercise on how STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS can help you as a business owner, you will want to check out Carlos Granados’ article, “What Can Santa Teach Entrepreneurs” on LinkedIn Pulse.

#WhatStarWarsCanTeachSmallBusinesses

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

Business Entrepreneur

4 tips for acquiring a business: The why and how

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Acquiring a business can be a key part of your business’s future growth, but there are some factors you should consider before signing the deal.

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A meeting room with people shaking hands over acquiring a business

Growing businesses have multiple levers that can be pulled separately or in unison to continue scaling and expanding. And while many companies choose to grow internally, there’s always the option of acquiring other businesses to supercharge results and instantly expand.

Why Acquire?

Acquiring a business is certainly a complicated path to expansion, but it’s also a highly attractive one for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Increased market share. If you’re acquiring a business that happens to be a competitor, you can instantly increase your market share. If you currently own 20 percent of the market share and the competition has 15 percent, you suddenly catapult to 35 percent. That might make you the industry leader overnight!
  • Expansion into new markets. Sometimes you acquire a business outside of your industry or niche. In this case, it allows you to expand vertically or horizontally. This can improve top-line revenue and/or reduce costs and benefit profit margins.
  • Advanced tech and IP. In some situations, an acquisition is about acquiring a specific piece of technology or intellectual property (IP). This may prove to be the final boost you need to accelerate growth and initiate further expansion.
  • Talent acquisition. One of the secondary benefits of an acquisition is the opportunity to welcome new talent into your team. Whether it’s a seasoned executive or a highly effective sales staff, this is one benefit you can’t ignore.

Mergers and acquisitions aren’t the correct solutions in every situation, but they often make sense. It’s ultimately up to your team to sit down and discuss the pros, cons, opportunities, drawbacks, and possibilities of pursuing this option.

Helpful Acquisition Tips

Should your business choose to move forward with the acquisition route, here are some essential tips to be aware of:

1. Assemble a Talented Team

Don’t do anything until you first develop an acquisition team. This is a very important step and should not be delayed. (Many businesses make the mistake of starting the search and then forming a team on the fly, but this results in missed opportunities and foundational errors that can compromise an otherwise smart acquisition.)

A good acquisition team should include an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisor, a responsible executive, an attorney, an HR professional, and an IT expert. You’ll also want to bring on a public relations professional as soon as possible. This will ensure you control the messaging that customers, investors, and even employees hear.

2. Do Extensive Due Diligence

With the support of a talented dream team, you’re equipped to find the best acquisition opportunities. As you narrow your targets down, you’ll want to identify and implement a very detailed due diligence process for acquiring a business. This may include an extensive, objective analysis that consists of a letter of intent, confidentiality agreement, contracts and leases, financial statements, tax returns, and other important documents.

3. Make an Initial Offer

If the due diligence checks out, then it’s time to work on formulating an offer for acquiring a business. While the first offer almost certainly won’t be the offer that gets accepted, it’s the single most important offer you’ll make. It frames the transaction and sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations. It’s generally a good idea to offer no more than 75 to 90 percent of what you’re willing to pay. It should be low enough to leave room to inch up, but not so low that the other party could potentially see it as an insult.

4. Negotiate

Your first offer won’t get accepted. But unless you’ve totally insulted the other business, they should come back with a counter. Now is where things get really interesting. Negotiations ensue and it’s time to counter back and forth. The offer consists of a variety of elements – not just a price tag – so consider all of these variables in your subsequent counters.

Adding it All Up

As valuable as an acquisition can be, the process is often filled with friction. It’s up to your team to make the transition after closing as smooth as possible.

It’s very important that you respect the products, services, employees, and customers that the acquired business has. If you come into an acquisition and attempt to shake things up on day one, you’re going to get backlash. There’s nothing wrong with making changes – you now own the business – but be diplomatic and patient. Build trust, work together, and gradually introduce changes.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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Business Entrepreneur

If you’re easily distracted, you’re more likely to thrive as an entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work- well bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.

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When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he, like other entrepreneurs, was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.

Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.

According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.

For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.

Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.

“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.

Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.

Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.

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