Has your business growth stalled? Can’t work out why? The Entrepreneur’s Yoda specialises in helping you find out why and then getting you back on track.
About Lonnie Sciambi
Lonnie L. Sciambi, “The Entrepreneur’s Yoda,” is Managing Director and CEO of Small Business Force, LLC and author of the best-selling book, “Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success.”
Lonnie hails from New Jersey.
Lonnie has had a long and chequered career! He started his career with IBM and stayed in and around technology. He started and a subsidiary of a conglomerate (he was an intra-preneur) making him the 5th youngest professional in the company.
“I got to run the company on somebody-else’s dime!”
Lonnie learned a great deal. He spent the next 20 years in and around ATMs, point of sale in the banking sector. He put networks in around the world. For the last 30 years he has worked for himself. He has been involved in company turnarounds, been an investor and has seen small business and entrepreneurship from every conceivable angle.
Lonnie now focuses on writing, speaking and selectively advising businesses. He does a blog post and a newsletter. He loves manufacturing – he describes it as the purest form of business.
Lonnie says he cannot keep a job!
He can walk into a company and within an hour he can tell you the culture.
What does an ideal client look like to you?
Typically, they are beating the head against a hard thing and have hit a certain point in growth and have stalled, but don’t know why. They have been around the same revenue number for a few years and cannot get through it.
Otherwise, operationally, a firm might be going sideways. And they don’t understand how they did it. Because they have been growing like crazy. AND THAT’S THE VERY REASON!
“Growth is a two-edged sword”
Most people don’t think about growth, that you need to plan for. It doesn’t just come about, if it does, you end up sideways.
He searches out interesting problems. He stays away from industries he has no experience. Like life sciences. The FDA forces people in that sector to sit around for five years and watch!
What Lonnie has learned, if you want to grow you have to change. If you don’t you wont grow. What got you here, wont get you there. The environment changes and the market changes.
Change is something that not everybody embraces easily.
You cannot just do the same stuff and expect something better. NO. You’ll be lucky to stand still.
If you want to grow, you can grow modestly. Out of cash flow. It will be modest.
START with Why – why should you grow based on what you are trying to do.
This is critical. You want to double every year? Why? Everything around you will have the grow. Your management team, employees etc. Often, without a plan, growth for growth’s sake. What are we trying to accomplish?
What’s a good why?
We penetrated a market, now we want to own it. The objective is to protect and grow. Everybody will have a different why. With outside investors, you have an entirely different animal. They’ll expect better results. They are looking for a return on investment and that’s not happening with 5% growth per annum.
If it’s your business, you get to decide how fast you want grow.
WHETHER > HOW MUCH > HOW.
Lonnie Sciamba’s iterative process
Growth is only one aspect of business. Lonnie takes companies through an iterative process. He sees it as almost sacrilegious when he says this: (especially to young companies)
Grow top line first!
Yeah, keep your eye on gross profit, but don’t worry about it. As long as you are getting by and you are throwing something off, good. Concentrate on top-level growth.
And then, move down the income statement…
Start to work on cost of goods sold, gross profit and make yourself more profitable.
Once you’ve made yourself more profitable, then go back to the top line again. And start working on growing top line.
It’s an iterative process. If you do that, step by step, you grow yourself a really nice company. You do it with measured growth that you can manage.
Manage your Customers and Products
Both in terms of product and customers. Sometimes you outgrow a customer. The customer gets to a point that their demands are simply too great and you cannot afford to keep them.
Do you have clients like that? (one of your first customers, you really care about them, are they swamping your time?)
Product – get a tech company to try kill a product, especially when the CEO was involved with its development.
In a small business, you cannot bury costs, be hard!
The Entrepreneur’s Yoda
Lonnie has become known as The Entrepreneur’s Yoda. On a project, he was trying to fix and consolidate two companies run by young guys. They picked his brain relentlessly. He recognised that with these guys asking him questions, he felt like Yoda!
Fast forward 3-4 years later and he was at a cross-roads, and his friend recommended how about that Yoda idea! Now, the only thing on his business card is The Entrepreneurs Yoda. It doesn’t need any explanation!
He has been approached by George Lucas’s business to take down pictures of Yoda. He now avoids Star Wars references. Except for one. At the end of his blog posts, he uses the phrase:
May success be with you.
In the next 100 days, how can The Entrepreneur’s Yoda advise us?
He gets this question a lot from young entrepreneurs, and its relevant to the next 100 days…What’s the most important thing to do with your company when you are coming out of the Shute?
GO GET CUSTOMERS.
Get as many as you can as quickly as you can. Love them so much so they never leave you. Customers are the essence of your business.
With young or older companies, make it about your CUSTOMERS. Not about your product. How do you solve his problem or fulfil his need? What’s the problem you are solving?
Put that in terms NOT feature-function but in benefit to that customer.
It’s not all about you. It’s about them.
Lonnie recalls he learnt consultative selling with IBM back in the day. That was their style of selling.
Even today, he sat in on a training class. He sat in for an hour. He went to his project sponsor and said ‘you’ve got a problem’. You are training your sales people about the finance industry. Correct? The sponsor said, yes. Lonnie said we weren’t 30 minutes into the training (scheduled for 5 days, 10 hours a day) before the training was about feature-function. Instead of the banking industry, how the banks work, how they are organised, what their hot buttons are. That’s really what the training had to be about.
Consultative selling. Find out their pain points and address them.
Lonnie re-did the entire course and taught it the first time.
RECOMMENDED BUSINESS BOOK
Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh, Zappos.
Culture built around customers? No, its about employees. You want a customer centric business, make it an employee centric business.
Culture. What should it be like. The ideal culture where customers love to do business with you and employees cannot wait to get to work in the morning!
51:49 employees. Employees are the front line. Get everybody moving in the same direction.
“Cash is not quite as important as breathing but it’s a close second.”
Lonnie uses a plaque with the message: Cash is more important than your mother.
He preaches the gospel of cash-flow. One of the best things to do. Get a rolling 8-week cash flow forecast. When companies are in a cash bind, their receivables are 75-90 days and their payables are at 15 days. It’s never going to work. Businesses do it all the time.
Advice = ALIGN.
Give people an incentive to pay early. 30 days net 2%.
Do not manage your company from your Profit and Loss. Use an 8-week cash flow forecast.
Kevin advises you use Xero. You need a good accounting system to ensure you have up to date numbers to base an 8 week forecast on.
It is about discipline. Sale and invoice. Invoice out the second the sale comes in. The clock doesn’t start on collections until they receive the invoice. The clock starts immediately.
Techniques to get money in.
Lonnie’s collection agent is called Salvatore! Hmmm.
Lonnie advises progress payments. Tie the cash in to cash out. Better you have the money ahead of time than having to chase after it.
In summary The Entrepreneur’s Yoda says:
- Concentrate on customers
- Employees – because they’ll drive your culture
The Entrepreneur’s Yoda gives us some other advice:
- Pay attention to your market If you are entrepreneur, you are consumed. But you must pay attention to new competitors. Competition should be a classroom for you. Go to school on the competitor. IS there a way to meet them head on, of exit that segment of the market.
Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry by Jacqui McNish and Sean Silcoff
Blackberry failed to go to school on their new competitor, the Apple iPhone. They went from 40% share to 2% over 5 years.
- Market DEEP not WIDE Find a niche that you can own or at least be a major player in. Expand from there. More is not better, it is only more.
It always comes back to the customer. Is your product guy a customer guy?
Read Lonnie’s blog post here:
“Design a 70% product and get the customer to design the last third.”
One of the most interesting challenges for advisers like Lonnie are Millennials. Be sensitive. They don’t want roundabout, they want a solution. Tell me the five steps.
If you are not going forward you are going backwards.