Being Strategic: Live from the Inc. 500

This article was posted by Inc. 500 conference attendee, Janine Popick, the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, a leading provider of self-service e-mail marketing, online surveys, and direct mail services for small businesses. Her company has been ranked on the Inc. 500|5000 list every year since 2006.

When I read her take on the information provided by the seminar leader, Erika Anderson, CEO of Proteus International, I couldn’t help feeling that every word of it was important for small business owners to hear.  I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Posted by Janine Popick at 4:25 PM

I’m at the Inc. 500 Conference, America’s leading conference for entrepreneurs. I’m at a seminar listening to speaker Erika Andersen who is the CEO of Proteus International. Her company helps other companies think about ways to grow through being strategic. By the size of the room and the attendance of this session (130 people and full) it sure seems like entrepreneurs are craving information for how to grow in this economy.

Erika’s session is all about how to think and be strategic when it comes to your business. Her definition of strategic is “consistently making those core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future.” She believes it’s particularly important for entrepreneurs because our businesses can be very volatile, and I couldn’t agree more.

What all companies need to start off with is a clear vision. Then strategy develops out of that. You as the leader need talk about vision so that everyone in your company knows where you’re heading. In Erika’s opinion, you need to be thinking 4 years out for your vision.

Then it comes to strategy. Erika talks of strategy being something that you think about 1+ years in the future, enough time to see your desired result. She was kind enough to hand out a template for thinking strategically and we all walked through it for our own businesses. What a great template that any business can put to work now. I’ve shared it below.

Overarching Issue: What is your challenge?

1. Ask yourself what isn’t working. One example is there might be a disconnect between what your customers are asking for and what your team is providing. Sales might think the product they sell has the features it needs. The product team also thinks the product has all the features it needs. Your customers are saying the product doesn’t meets their needs.
2. Ask yourself how can I/we fix this? For example, you might try talking to the customers and find that they just didn’t know about the features and benefits you provide.
3. Ask yourself, would this feel like success?

I wrote down that at my company VerticalResponse one of our challenges is that we need to be more customer-focused. What’s your challenge?

Through this entire process Erika outlines a common thread you need to be aware of:
Become a fair witness – You need to be neutral and objective. Ask yourself; “Am I being accurate and true to myself about my situation?”

Pull back the camera – People that don’t can be too tactical. See the situation you’re assessing from a wider lens and what effects any decisions you make would have.

Sort for Impact – Can you figure out what the impact of your decisions will be?

Once you’re clear on this, get clear on your current situation. You need to know where you’re starting from relative to the challenge.

Envision: What’s Your Hope?

1. Pick a timeframe that’s appropriate relative to the size of your challenge.
2. Imagine yourself there. Ask yourself what’s it like to be there?
3. Describe it – Pick out 5-6 key elements and describe them.

Face What’s in the Way

1. List the things that can get in the way of your vision and the challenge you want to overcome.
2. Define how you’ll overcome them.

For VerticalResponse a few hurdles included access to people resources and capital for equipment. We found that by looking at our overall budgets and seeing what we could do without, we could find the money and the resources.

Determine: What’s the Path to get there with Strategy?

1. What does the roadmap look like?
2. What do you need to accomplish to overcome your challenges?

At VerticalResponse for instance our strategies are to give even better customer service and offer a better product that is more reliable.

What’s the path to get there with Tactics or Action items?

1. Tactics need to arise from strategy
2. Tactics need to be FIT (Feasible, Have a high Impact, a bang for your buck and Timely)
3. Tactics include a Who, What, and When (Here’s where you don’t pull back the camera, you’re laser-focused)
4. Tactics take 6+ months to see any changes in your business.

At our company we’ve put more effort into our CRM tool so that our Customer Service reps will have access to the customer. We’re also developing new features for our customers in the next 6 months, and we’ve beefed up the back-end of our product to be more reliable. Of course all of these come with a ton of tactics, but I won’t bore you with them.

Being Strategic is an Ongoing Process.

You should be looking at your progress every quarter or 6 months to assess how it’s going or if things need to change. To do that assess:

1. What is Now
2. Re-confirm The Hope
3. Re-assess What’s in the Way
4. Revise the Path

One thing we do at VerticalResponse is have an executive offsite every 6 months to go over where we are, what’s happened in the industry, and where we need to focus for the next 6 months.

The great thing that Erika ended on was a quote from Michelangelo: “We’re still learning.” I think it’s something all entrepreneurs need to be aware of. I sure am.


Strategic Growth Concepts Donates Website to Non-profit Recovering from Recent Theft

Strategic Growth Concepts has joined with Detroit-based web consulting firm, Powerful Design to develop and provide  a website to a non-profit animal rescue group that was recently victimized by thieves.

hfe logo #2Detroit-based animal rescue group, HomeFur-ever, recently suffered the loss of thousands of dollars worth of food, medical supplies, crates, and other equipment when thieves stole their van and enclosed trailer in broad daylight (see news coverage HERE).  The van and trailer were eventually abandoned and recovered with extensive damage, but the items stored in both were either gone or destroyed.  Since HomeFur-ever does not currently have a building, the group stores all of its supplies and equipment within the vehicles, this makes the loss even more devastating and has seriously hindered their ability to care for the 90+ animals currently under their responsibility.

In order to help the group obtain donations of cash and goods to facilitate their recovery from this ordeal, Strategic Growth Concepts worked with the group’s pro-bono web consulting firm, Powerful Design to provide a comprehensive website that will meet their current needs, as well as expanding with them as their organization begins to once again achieve growth.

The website, was built utilizing Powerful Design’s proprietary website management system, MYCE, a user-friendly system enabling the rescue group to offer a wide array of useful tools for visitors to the site, including:

  • the ability to provide one-time donations OR monthly donations in increments of $10, $25, $50, or $100
  • the opportunity to ’sponsor’ on-going animal care, treatment for major animal medical issues, or gifting an adoption
  • a HomeFur-ever ‘Fundraising Kit’ for individuals or groups who want to develop fundraising events on behalf of HomeFur-ever
  • photo galleries of the group’s animals which enlarge significantly when clicked on to enable better views of the available animals
  • a HomeFur-ever video
  • links to upcoming HomeFur-ever adoption & fundraising events (including links to maps of event locations)
  • videos of, and links to, the news coverage received as a result of the recent robbery the group was subjected to
  • resource links for pet owners, including:  pet emergency care, trainers, veterinarians, pet insurance, and many others
  • an educational page about current animal-related issues
  • access to the HomeFur-ever Twitter and Facebook sites
  • online forms for those interested in:  fostering, adoption, volunteering, raising funds for the group, making food or other donations to the group, etc.
  • a link to the website of an artist who does custom animal paintings; HomeFur-ever will obtain 10% of the revenue generated from every painting contracted via the link from the HomeFur-ever website
  • links to national animal rescue related fundraising sites.

Strategic Growth Concepts ( utilizes the powerful MYCE Website Management System for its own website, as well as in the development of websites for their client firms.

SBA Launches FREE Online Training to Help Small Businesses Get Government Contracts

SBA logoThe U.S. Small Business Administration today launched a new online training course to help strengthen access to contracting opportunities for small businesses, including those owned by women, minorities, disadvantaged individuals and veterans.

The training course, “Recovery Act Opportunities: How to Win Federal Contracts,” is part of a federal government-wide initiative announced last month by President Obama and being led by SBA and the Department of Commerce.

“Government contracts can play a key role in helping small businesses turn the corner in terms of expansion and job creation,” SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills said. “But make no mistake, the benefits the government receives are equally as impressive – working with small businesses allows the federal government to work with some of the most innovative companies in America, often with direct contact with the CEO.”

“The SBA online training course can help businesses access the federal purchasing system and position themselves to compete for the commercial opportunities offered by government contracting,” Mills continued.

More about the course and a link to access it can be found HERE.