Posts in Internet

Bloggers to watch in 2010

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger gave me a task (read it here): highlight the blogs that you follow in your own industry and let your readers know about it.  I think that’s a great idea Darren so here goes. The top 10 bloggers/blogs that I recommend you follow in 2010 are:

1. Global Watchtower. The “Urim V’tumim” of the localization industry written (for the most part) by Don DePalma, a gifted speaker, writer and overall intellectual.

2. Microsoft Translator Official Team Blog. This blog is not updated frequently but you can get most up-to-date information about Microsoft’s Translation system and other developments in Bing’s language space.

3. TAUS. While not really a blogger, Jaap van der Meer founded the Translation Automation User Society and is heading up a large scale initiative which may revolutionize the localization industry. Follow their website and newsletters to monitor the progress of this group.

4. Localization Industry 411. Renato Beninatto was Don DePalma’s partner at Common Sense Advisory until 2009 when he left to become a CEO of LSP Melingo. Renato speaks his mind and has unique insights gathered from years in the industry. Should make for interesting reading.

5. Foreign Exchange Translation Blog. An excellent blog in the field of medical translation with a wealth of valuable information.

6. Translator Power. A lot of good information there.

7. Multilingual News. Brings all the important translation industry news. They have an RSS feed and you can also sign up and receive a monthly newsletter by email.

8. Kirti Vashee is an executive at Asia Online, a vendor of MT software. He does not have a blog but you can read his insights by following him on LinkedIn or on Kirti, why don’t you start a blog already?

9. Lionbridge blog

10. GTS Blog. What can I say? If you don’t toot your own horn who will do it for you?

Seat of the Pants

Everyone says that before you launch a company, you’ve got to write a business plan. So how come so many Inc 500 CEOs skipped that sober exercise?

One question in this year’s survey of Inc 500 founders asked whether they had written formal business plans before they launched their companies. Only 40% said yes. Of those, 65% said they had strayed significantly from their original conception, adapting their plans as they went along. In a similar vein, only 12% of this year’s Inc 500 group said they’d done formal market research before starting their companies.

Wait a minute — aren’t business plans and market research supposed to be Entrepreneurship 101? What about all those B-school courses and popular books telling you that you can’t get to first base without a plan? To gain some perspective on this intriguing divergence between theory and practice, contributing editor Sarah Bartlett interviewed Amar Bhidé, a Columbia Business School professor whose research on the subject is encapsulated in his book The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses (Oxford University Press, 1999).

What should we make of these data? Are they consistent with prior research, or is this group an anomaly?

The data are consistent with what I found in my survey of Inc 500 founders way back in 1989. According to that research, 41% of the founders had no business plan at all, 26% had a rudimentary plan, and only 28% had a formal business plan.

The current survey figures are consistent with other data as well. I had my students write papers on successful entrepreneurs, usually more celebrated entrepreneurs — people like Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Jann Wenner — and they found more or less the same pattern. In most of those cases, there was no detailed business plan written. I also did a study of Harvard B-school alums who had started businesses, and there again I found that, depending on the type of businesses they started, no more than a third had written detailed business plans. It’s a pretty universal distribution.

Why would people who are starting up companies not bother with business plans?

There are several factors. Many, if not most, successful businesses get started in fields that are characterized by high turbulence or change, change that is not being generated by the entrepreneur. It’s exogenous change. And in those kinds of fields, first off, there’s very little information available with which to write a business plan. Take the classic case of Bill Gates and Paul Allen starting Microsoft in 1975. If they had tried to do a competitive analysis or a customer analysis, they wouldn’t have known who their competitors were or been able to do the classic comparison of strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis their competition. And they wouldn’t have known who their customers were. When things are changing rapidly, there isn’t data.

60 % of the Inc 500 CEOs surveyed did not create formal written business plans before launching their companies.

Secondly, when things are changing rapidly, the time you would spend on doing the analysis or the plan is incredibly costly because many of the opportunities are fleeting, and if you don’t seize them immediately, they’re gone. So in these highly turbulent markets, the costs of doing the analysis or writing a plan exceed the benefits.

Thirdly, because most of these businesses are started without capital and therefore without an irreversible commitment of resources into assets that can’t be redeployed elsewhere, there’s very little downside to being wrong. If X doesn’t work, it’s not as if you’ve invested in a $100-million chip-fabrication factory. You just modify it and try something else.

And that freedom to adapt can be a good thing?

If you divide into two groups those who write plans and those who don’t, and then ask what percentage will stick to what they originally thought, the ones who don’t write business plans will tend to deviate from their original concept to a greater degree than those who wrote plans.

“In these highly turbulent markets, the costs of doing the analysis or writing a plan exceed the benefits.”

Precisely because there isn’t a deep pocket there, folks without plans can be much more flexible. If they get into the game with the idea of a rug merchant — “If you don’t like this one, how about that one?” — as opposed to that of an evangelist, it will help.

But there are some instances when it makes sense to create a business plan, right?

When you write a business plan, you’re usually doing it because you’re investing in assets, and in order to invest in those assets, you’re raising money from other people. So the plan gives you more sustainable advantages [in the form of capital and assets], but it also means that you have to stick to what you started with.

If you are starting Southwest Airlines, you need a plan, you need capital. But if your concept doesn’t involve raising significant amounts of capital, and if you have firsthand knowledge and experience of the profitability of the business, then there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to a plan.

Given your findings, why is there so much emphasis on business-plan writing in entrepreneurship programs?

It seems as if people who are trying anything, whether it’s playing tennis or starting a business, want — and should want — to collect as much knowledge as is available about what it is they’re trying to do. And since we haven’t collected much systematic knowledge about starting new businesses, instruction on how to write a plan becomes a crutch. And for sure, there’s some 10% to 15% of plausible businesses for which writing a plan does make sense. But not for the great many. You’re required to teach entrepreneurship, and there’s a great student demand for instruction on how to write a business plan. You have to generate courses, and it’s an easy course to generate.

NO PREREQUISITE: Amar Bhidé, a Columbia Business School professor, thinks that instruction on writing business plans has become a crutch.

So are you on a crusade to persuade academics not to focus so heavily on business plans?

The crusade I’m on is this: I don’t think that people deliberately set out to teach business-plan writing because they want to do harm to their students. It’s really that they don’t have an alternative set of educational materials that would fill up time and courses. My crusade is to try to figure out what the alternative should be.

At a very superficial level, it’s the idea that adaptation rather than planning is critical. To some degree, it’s a matter of socialization. I think you can sensitize people to the importance of adaptation. I think you can get people emotionally used to the idea that they will be wrong. Even successful people are wrong quite often.

Internet stalked

As you focus on putting together a strong business, you always need to consider your marketing plan and how your customers will be able to learn about your business. Your marketing plan is so important that it is often required by lenders as part of your business plan when you are seeking financing. To develop a proper marketing plan, you need to start with market research. What does market research entail and how does it help you strengthen your business?

Market research allows you to size up your competition to figure out not only who they are but how they are taking some of your customers. You need to keep your eye on your competition and look for ways to stay ahead of them in the marketing game so you are the company that people turn to for information.

Market research also provides you with valuable information for your customers. You need to learn about your customers, their shopping patterns and buying behaviors in order to find a way to properly market to them and create products that they are going to be interested in. Identifying who will buy your product is a big part of market research.

Where do you collect this information? Most people will pay market research companies to collect this information for them through the form of surveys and other valuable tools. You can actually do a lot of this research on your own by using social media sites to collect this information. How do social media sites help? For one, they are free! For two, your customers will be on there, you just have to find them. Social media sites are used to interact with friends and others but a number of companies have found they present a great opportunity to interact with their customers on a personal level. You will be able to learn about your customers as they will use discussion boards and groups to talk about information pertaining to your company and your industry.

Google alerts is another way to gather market research information. You can easily find out what your customers are saying because Google alerts will tell you. Each time a customer uses a certain keyword pertaining to your company, you will get a message. This is a wonderful way to learn how to time your marketing promotions and to change up your marketing promotions for a product that your customers are talking about.

There are 5 key points to a good market research plan:

– Examining your current marketplace and determining what products your customers want to purchase and ones that they might like to see from your company.

– Assessing your competition and looking for ways to stay ahead of them.

– Correct data about your customers.

– Marketing campaign direction for the upcoming year.

– Establishing goals for your marketing department. Goals can be broken down into weeks, months, quarters, and years.

Market research can be done by you just by asking your customers about their feelings and perceptions about your company. Find out if they are satisfied with your company and what they want to see change. You can break down market research by placing it into a few simple categories like surveys, blogs and discussion groups, data collection, and analysis.

Hiring an outside market research company to come in and do the work for you can be pretty expensive. Larger companies tend to opt for this because they do not want to tie up their employee’s time on surveys and things that can get mundane. Smaller businesses often need to do it on their own to save money. Look at all your options and what you can and cannot afford in order to find the right market research company.