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Category Archives: Business

The Business of Tetris

The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World

Decades before you lost your first few hours to Candy Crush, Tetris had cast its spell over video game players worldwide. The concept of Tetris, which originated deep behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, is deceptively simple: You manipulate different shapes of bricks, or tetronimoes, as they fall at an increasingly fast pace, to form rows of horizontal lines. A Russian folk tune plays in the background. But the game can quickly turn on you — one wrong move and the pieces start to pile up. The game ends, and then you play again, and again, and again.

Unlike many modern addictive games, Tetris has no plot, no cute animals, and no lifelike animation. And yet Tetris is one of the most popular video games of all time. It has been downloaded more than 500 million times on mobile devices, and authorized copies have earned close to US$1 billion in total sales. Not bad for a piece of code that traces its origins to the waning days of Soviet Russia.

Tetris was the brainchild of a Soviet engineer, Alexey Pajitnov, working on an outdated desktop computer at the Russian Academy of Sciences. When he invented the game in 1984, Pajitnov and his colleagues knew the game was special — it spread quickly throughout the academy by word-of-mouth and floppy disk, like a piece of samizdat. But pre-glasnost and pre-perestroika, the notion of taking Tetris outside the country, let alone commercializing it, was difficult even to imagine.

The story of the next five years, leading up to the moment in 1989 when Nintendo secured the living room console rights to Tetris, is a complex, winding tale. And in The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World, Dan Ackerman, a journalist and editor at the tech site CNET, unravels it.

The game’s soaring popularity, and its potential for massive profits, quickly attracted the attention of the business world. At one point, in early 1989, executives from Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. literally race to Moscow to vie for licensing rights. “With such a perfect combination of widespread dissemination, psychological triggers, and basic human greed,” Ackerman writes, “it’s not surprising that Tetris was one of the world’s first ‘viral’ hits.”

Ackerman introduces a long cast of characters, and over the course of the book we learn more about their motivations and machinations. The effect can be a bit dizzying at times as he toggles back and forth between different players and places. Coders, lawyers, and executives jump in and out of the narrative, all while Ackerman painstakingly describes how the rights to Tetris for various channels were licensed and sublicensed by an ever-widening web of software companies.

There’s Henk Rogers, the surfer-turned-programmer who ultimately finds himself working on behalf of Nintendo. His story is perhaps the most breathless; the book opens with Rogers flying into Moscow on plane jointly operated by Japan Airlines and the Soviet state-run Aeroflot with a tourist visa, a checkbook, and little else. Among some of the other key players are the British communications mogul Robert Maxwell and his son, Kevin; Nikoli Belikov, the bureaucrat who served as lead negotiator for a Soviet bureau called Electronorgtechnica (ELORG), an enigmatic division of the Soviet Ministry of Trade tasked with licensing rights for technology developed by state agencies; and of course, Pajitnov, the engineer who created Tetris, and watched for years as others profited.

The Tetris Effect is also an ode to the game itself. A chapter of the book is devoted to the story of journalist Jeffrey Goldsmith, who is credited with coining the term Tetris effect. In 1990, while staying with a friend in Tokyo, Goldsmith played the game for six straight weeks, barely stopping to eat and drink, and noticed that he started seeing people and cars on the street as pieces that he was trying to fit together. In a Wired article, “This Is Your Brain on Tetris,” he described the pharmatronic (another term he coined, to describe an electronic drug) effect the game has on the brain.

This is a recurring theme throughout this fast-paced, gripping book: Playing Tetris can actually change the way your brain is wired. The game’s repetitive patterns, and the repetitive activity it inspires, enables Tetris to imprint itself on the brain, and can shape a player’s thoughts. Ackerman notes that an Oxford University researcher has shown that playing Tetris shortly after experiencing a trauma can prevent painful memories from repeatedly terrorizing victims. They can remember the events, but because the way in which the events are remembered is altered, victims avoid some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ackerman also mentions a 2014 study that found that smokers and drinkers who played Tetris reduced their cravings by roughly 24 percent. In other words, the addictive game can prove to be a weapon in the war against addictive behavior.

7 Principles of Strategy through Execution

1. Aim High

Don’t compromise your strategy or your execution. Set a lofty ambition for your strategy: not just financial success but sustained value creation, making a better world through your products, services, and presence. Apple’s early goal of making “a computer for the rest of us,” which effectively shaped the personal computer industry, is a classic example.

Next, aim just as high on the execution side, with a dedication to excellence that seems almost obsessive to outsiders. Apple, for instance, has long been known for its intensive interest in every aspect of product design and marketing, iterating endlessly until its notoriously demanding leaders are satisfied. The company’s leaders do not consider execution beneath them; it is part of what makes Apple special.

2. Build on Your Strengths

Your company has capabilities that set it apart, things you do better than anyone else. You can use them as a starting point to create greater success. Yet more likely than not, your strongest capabilities have been obscured over the years. If, like most companies, you pursue opportunities that crop up without thinking much about whether you have the prowess needed to capture them, you can gradually lose sight of what you do best, or why customers respond to it.

Take an inventory of your most distinctive capabilities. Look for examples where you have excelled as a company, achieving greatly desired outcomes without heroic efforts. Articulate all the different things that had to happen to make these capabilities work, and figure out what it will take to build on your strengths, so that you can succeed the same way more consistently in the future.

3. Be Ambidextrous

In the physical world, ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands with equal skill and versatility. In business, it’s the ability to manage strategy and execution with equal competence. In some companies, this is known as being “bilingual”: able to speak the language of the boardroom and the shop floor or software center with equal facility. Ambidextrous managers can think about the technical and operational details of a project in depth and then, without missing a beat, can consider its broader ramifications for the industry. If strategy through execution is to become a reality, people across the enterprise need to master ambidexterity.

Lack of ambidexterity can be a key factor in chronic problems. For instance, if IT professionals focus only on execution when they manage ERP upgrades or the adoption of new applications, they may be drawn to vendors for their low rates or expertise on specific platforms instead of their ability to design solutions that support the company’s business strategy. When the installation fails to deliver the capabilities that the company needs, there will be an unplanned revision; the costs will balloon accordingly, and the purchase won’t fulfill its promise.

4. Clarify Everyone’s Strategic Role

When the leaders of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia decided to improve the way they ran the country’s 25 airports, they started with the hub in Riyadh, one of the largest airports in the country. They had already outsourced much of their activity, redesigning airport practices and enhancing operations. But not much had changed. Convening the directors and some department leaders, the head of the airport explained that some seemingly minor operational issues — long customs lines, slow boarding processes, and inadequate basic amenities — were not just problems in execution. They stood in the way of the country’s goal of becoming a commercial and logistics hub for Africa, Asia, and Europe. Individual airport employees, he added, could make a difference.

The head of the airport then conducted in-depth sessions with employees on breaking down silos and improving operations. In these sessions, he turned repeatedly to a common theme: Each minor operational improvement would affect the attractiveness of the country for commercial travel and logistics. A wake-up call for staff, the sessions marked a turning point for the airport’s operational success. Other airports in the Saudi system are now expected to follow suit.

5. Align Structures to Strategy

Set up all your organizational structures, including your hierarchical design, decision rights, incentives, and metrics, so they reinforce your company’s identity: your value proposition and critical capabilities. If the structures of your company don’t support your strategy, consider removing them or changing them wholesale. Otherwise, they will just get in your way.

Consider, for example, the metrics used to track the results delivered by call center employees. In many companies, these individuals must follow a script and check off that they’ve said everything on the list — even at the risk of irritating potential customers. Better instead to get employees to fully internalize the company’s strategy and grade them on their prowess at solving customer problems.

6. Transcend Functional Barriers

Great capabilities always transcend functional barriers. Consider Starbucks’ understanding of how to create the right ambience, Haier’s ability to rapidly manufacture home appliances to order, and Amazon’s aptitude for launching products and services enabled by new technologies. These companies all bring people from different functions to work together informally and creatively. Most companies have some experience with this. For example, any effective TPE capability brings together marketing, sales, design, finance, and analytics professionals, all working closely together and learning from one another. The stronger the cross-functional interplay and the more it is supported by the company’s culture, the more effective the promotion.

Unfortunately, many companies unintentionally diminish their capabilities by allowing functions to operate independently. It’s often easier for the functional leaders to focus on specialized excellence, on “doing my job better” rather than on “what we can accomplish together.” Pressed for time, executives delegate execution to IT, HR, or operational specialists, who are attuned to their areas of expertise but not necessarily to the company’s overall direction.

7. Become a Fully Digital Enterprise

The seventh principle should affect every technological investment you make — and with luck, it will prevent you from making some outdated ones. Embrace digital technology’s potential to transform your company: to create fundamentally new experiences and interactions for your customers, your employees, and every other constituent. Until you use technology this way, many of your IT investments will be wasted; you won’t realize their potential in forming powerful new capabilities.

Complete digitization will inevitably broaden your range of strategic options, enabling you to pursue products, services, and innovations that weren’t feasible before. For example, Under Armour began as a technologically enabled sports apparel company, specializing in microfiber-based synthetic fabrics that felt comfortable under all conditions. To keep its value proposition as an innovator, it aggressively expanded into fitness trackers and the development of smart apparel. The company is now developing clothing that will provide data that can both help athletes raise their game and point the way to design improvements.

7 Security Solutions for Small Business

When it comes to low-cost security solutions, you usually get what you pay for. Comodo is a global, award-winning security provider that offers free and affordable security tools that don’t compromise on features and reliability. Solutions include: Comodo One, the company’s free IT management platform that features Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), Patch Management and Service Desk all in one place; Comodo Securebox to shield apps from malware-infected devices; and Comodo Advanced Endpoint to automatically prevent malware from entering networks. Small businesses can also enjoy free antivirus, free and paid SSL certificates, free Internet security, mobile device management, firewall protection, security for POS systems and many other services.

Looking for a single solution to cover all your bases? ESET lets you choose from a wide range of security bundles to protect your computers, mobile devices, USB drives, networks and servers. For instance, the ESET Small Business Security Pack guards Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPhone and Android phones, file servers and email accounts. The company also offers custom solutions that allows you to build the perfect security tool for your business. You can choose by product type, company size and industry. Choices include endpoint security, mobile security, remote management, two-factor authentication, encryption, file security, email security, virtualization security and more.

Virtualization and cloud computing offer many gifts, including the ability to access your desktop, files and other data anytime, anywhere using any device. Security concerns, however, can complicate the convenience. Cradlepoint NetCloud Engine, formerly Pertino, offers one easy, affordable and super-secure way to virtualize your network and your business. You’ll enjoy a VPN decked with layers of security protection, such as multifactor authentication — a combination of users’ ID, token (i.e., their device) and PKI-certificate — fully cloaked private addresses, micro-segmentation, end-to-end encryption, access policies, industry-leading cloud security, data center protection and more.

It’s not just computers that are at risk for security breaches. Lookout Mobile Security is all about protecting your business from cyberattacks on phones and tablets. It works by predicting, anticipating and shielding businesses against all types of mobile threats, such as malware, data leakages and the risks associated with sideloaded apps and jailbroken devices. Lookout also gives you complete visibility over devices and offers advanced tools to manage risks, vet software and app vendors, investigate incidences and ensure compliance with security regulations and company policies.

According to one of the tenets of cybersecurity, you should create strong passwords for all your accounts and services. These days, even passwords based on your pet’s name or your spouse’s name and birthday come with risks. Random passwords are the way to go. Random.org features a random password generator that automatically creates strong, alphanumeric, case-sensitive passwords up to 24 characters long. Combine results or add your own touch for a super-secure password. You no longer have an excuse to use “password,” “fluffy123” or other ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords.

As a small business, it always helps to know someone has your back. StaySafeOnline.org, powered by National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), is full of tools and resources to help small business owners protect their businesses, employees and customers from cyberattacks, data loss and other online threats. Small business owners can learn how to assess their risks, monitor threats, implement a cybersecurity plan and train employees. They’ll also learn what to do after an attack, and how to report one to the proper authorities to recoup any losses and bring attackers to justice.

Cybersecurity can be overwhelming for small business owners. Want to cover all your bases, but don’t know where to start? The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Small Biz Cyber Planner can guide you in the right direction. Just fill in your information, indicate your areas of concern, and the planner will automatically generate a custom cybersecurity plan with expert advice for your business. Areas covered include privacy and data security, scams and fraud, network security, website security, email, mobile devices, employees, and more.

A Small Business Guide

While breaches at big corporations such as Target and Home Depot make the headlines, small business are still very much targets for hackers. Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at antivirus software company ESET, said that small businesses fall into hackers’ cybersecurity “sweet spot:” They have more digital assets to target than an individual consumer has, but less security than a larger enterprise.

The other reason small businesses make such appealing targets is because hackers know these companies are less careful about security. An infographic by Towergate Insurance showed that small businesses often underestimate their risk level, with 82 percent of small business owners saying they’re not targets for attacks, because they don’t have anything worth stealing.

In almost every case, the end goal of a cyberattack is to steal and exploit sensitive data, whether it’s customer credit-card information or a person’s credentials, which would be used to misuse the individual’s identity online.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential cyberthreats, especially as hackers’ techniques continue to evolve, but businesses should at least be aware of the most frequently used attacks.

APT: Advanced persistent threats, or APTs, are long-term targeted attacks that break into a network in multiple phases to avoid detection. This Symantec infographic outlined the five stages of an APT.

DDoS: An acronym for distributed denial of service, DDoS attacks occur when a server is intentionally overloaded with requests, with the goal of shutting down the target’s website or network system.

Inside attack: This is when someone with administrative privileges, usually from within the organization, purposely misuses his or her credentials to gain access to confidential company information. Former employees, in particular, present a threat if they left the company on bad terms, so your business should have a protocol in place to revoke all access to company data immediately upon an employee’s termination.

Malware: This umbrella term is short for “malicious software,” and covers any program introduced into the target’s computer with the intent to cause damage or gain unauthorized access. More about the different varieties of malware can be found on How to Geek. Business News Daily’s sister site Tom’s Guide also breaks down the myths and facts of malware.

Password attacks: There are three main types of password attacks: a brute-force attack, which involves guessing at passwords until the hacker gets in; a dictionary attack, which uses a program to try different combinations of dictionary words; and keylogging, which tracks all of a user’s keystrokes, including login IDs and passwords. More about each type of attack (and how to avoid them) can be found in this Scorpion Software blog post.

Phishing: Perhaps the most commonly deployed form of cybertheft, phishing involves collecting sensitive information like login credentials and credit-card information through a legitimate-looking (but ultimately fraudulent) website, often sent to unsuspecting individuals in an email. Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute reported that the most prevalent attacks against SMBs are web-based and phishing/social engineering. TechRepublic shared 10 signs to help you spot a phishing email.

There are a few different basic types of security software on the market, offering varying levels of protection. Antivirus software is the most common, and will defend against most types of malware. For a side-by-side comparison of the best antivirus software programs for small businesses, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.

Firewalls, which can be implemented with hardware or software, provide an added layer of protection by preventing an unauthorized user from accessing a computer or network. In an eHow.com article, author Sam N. Austin noted that some computer operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, come with built-in firewalls. These protections can also be added separately to routers and servers.

Cobb, of ESET, said businesses should also invest in a data backup solution, so any information compromised or lost during a breach can easily be recovered from an alternate location; encryption software to protect sensitive data such as employee records, client/customer information and financial statements; and two-step authentication or password-security software for their internal programs to reduce the likelihood of password cracking.

It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all security solution, so Charles Henderson, global head of security threats and testing at IBM, advised running a risk assessment, preferably through an outside firm.

One important solution that doesnꞌt involve software and that many small businesses overlook is cybersecurity insurance. As mentioned above, your general liability policy will not help you recoup losses or legal fees associated with a data breach, so a separate policy covering these types of damages can be hugely helpful in case of an attack.

Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead at Travelers, a provider of cyberinsurance, said that small businesses often assume cyberinsurance policies are designed only for large companies, because those businesses are the most frequent targets of hackers. But many insurance carriers are beginning to offer tailor-made coverage for smaller companies to meet their budgets and risk-exposure levels, he said.

Francis advised business owners to look for a combination of first- and third-party coverage. First-party liability coverage includes any general costs incurred as a result of a breach, such as legal expertise, public relations campaigns, customer notification and business interruption. Third-party coverage protects you if your company is at the center of a breach that exposed sensitive information. This type of protection covers defense costs if the affected parties sue your company.

“Coverage is more than words on a page,” Francis said. “Make sure your carrier is well-regarded financially and has a good reputation in the industry. There’s tremendous variety in policies, [and] … you need an agent who understands the differences.”

Ready to protect your business and its data? These best practices will keep your company as safe as possible.

Keep your software up to date. As stated in this Tom’s Guide article, “an outdated computer is more prone to crashes, security holes and cyberattacks than one that’s been fully patched.” Hackers are constantly scanning for security vulnerabilities, ESET’s Cobb said, and if you let these weaknesses go for too long, you’re greatly increasing your chances of being targeted.

Educate your employees. Make your employees aware of the ways cybercriminals can infiltrate your systems, teach them to recognize signs of a breach, and educate them on how to stay safe while using the companyꞌs network.

Implement formal security policies. Bill Carey, vice president of marketing and business development at Siber Systems, noted that having companywide security policies in place can help reduce your likelihood of an attack. He advised requiring strong passwords — those with upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols — that should be changed every 60 to 90 days. Sixty-five percent of SMBs that have a password policy do not strictly enforce it, according to the Keeper Security and the Ponemon Institute report.

Practice your incident response plan. IBM’s Henderson recommended running a drill of your response plan (and refining, if necessary) so your staff can detect and contain the breach quickly should an incident occur.

The Franchise Business Plan

Business planning is very important for all businesses, and franchise businesses are no different. The business planning process helps ensure that sufficient thought is put into all aspects of the franchise. While it is tempting to assume that because a franchise is based on a successful, proven business model, it is guaranteed to deliver results once you are up and running, the reality is very different. All businesses need a business plan, developed to reflect their unique circumstances and to help them succeed, regardless of whether they are a franchise business or not. A business needs to have a plan with specific objectives, milestones, responsibilities and the like.

All business plans are different

The content of a business plan is shaped by its purpose. So if the intention is to use a business plan to raise finance, then the plan’s composition will vary from one being used predominantly to decide internal priorities, to allocate resources effectively, or to manage cash flow. Typical uses of business plans in the franchise context include:

  • Prospective franchisees looking for investment.
  • Franchisors looking for a business plan as part of the franchise sign up process.
  • Franchisees using a business plan to manage their business.

So depending on which of the above three business planning events is of most relevance, the content will vary slightly.

What are the key elements of a franchise business plan?

One of the benefits of franchising is that some of the challenges associated with a conventional new business are removed such as decisions regarding product, pricing, branding, marketing collateral, signage, etc. In essence you are acquiring a number of intangible elements which, in theory, should serve to help you reduce your business risk.

However, having these several elements optimised in advance in no way guarantees success. While these elements will help you in terms of brand awareness and will help ensure you have a compelling marketing mix, they still only represent a part of the overall picture.

If you are looking to raise finance, prospective investors will be keen to understand more about the management team, their investment, and also the cash generation prospects. Those franchisees using a business plan to manage their business will be more interested in the creation of a strong marketing plan as well as sales forecasts.

Ultimately it’s about an ability to generate cash

A business relies on its ability to generate cash flow at a satisfactory level so as to prosper. Hence the emphasis many franchise owners, place on cash flow generation, sales forecasting, and marketing plans when writing a business plan. The bottom line is that you will need to run a successful business, and this means attracting paying customers in sufficient numbers to generate a return on your investment. Naturally you will be able to receive some support from the franchisor as part of the franchise package. They should also be able to provide access to demographic information to help you with your analysis.

Many franchises are allocated on a territorial basis so you’ll need to have a clear feel for some of the following:

  • Demographic profile of the market (or neighbourhood) you will be serving.
  • Existing competition in the area.
  • Traffic/ footfall in the vicinity of the proposed store (if a retail premise).

It will be important to set financial goals and forecast the sales levels necessary to successfully manage your franchise. Franchising has become very popular in recent years, and many franchisors will have access to data which can help determine if there is a profitable market within a proposed territory. It will then be up to you to capitalise on this market opportunity by successfully targeting customers.

You will also need to be aware of local nuances as these can play a role in the success or failure of the operation. For example, when Starbucks® initially launched in Japan it was very keen to cater to local tastes and sensitivities. Recognition of these local factors such as menu make up, local branding, consumer tastes and cup sizes helped shape a unique Starbucks® proposition in Japan. Japan, along with the UK, are now key countries in the Starbucks® worldwide operation.

In summary, business planning is good business practise regardless of whether or not the business is a franchise. Even if the franchisor does not insist on a business plan it is recommended that you apply the key elements of business planning to your franchise to help you ensure its success.

The Business Plan Process

The business plan process is simply the steps you go through and actions you take when producing a business plan. In effect, it describes how you produce your business plan. While most people focus on the ‘final output’, i.e. the business plan itself, the business planningprocess is extremely important for entrepreneurs.

The process of producing a business plan forces entrepreneurs to examine areas of their business that typically may not be subject to much scrutiny. For example, entrepreneurs do not tend to routinely produce cash flow forecasts, so the requirement to produce one as part of the business planning process forces them to consider the impact of cash on their business.

The business plan process typically begins with an event, be it the need to produce a business plan when seeking investment, or to obtain short-term financing from a bank. Once a business plan is needed, the entrepreneur has to then decide how they are going to go about producing the plan. They will need to undertake the following:

  • Decide who is going to write the plan (if not themselves).
  • Gain an understanding of what a business plan contains.
  • Decide how to write their plan (typically using business planning software such as Business Plan Pro).
  • Ensure that they know the content for the various sections of the business plan.
  • Collaborate with partners or with colleagues from various departments (if the plan is for a bigger firm).
  • Make sure the financials are realistic and accurate.
  • Have someone review the plan.
  • Print and bind the plan (if a formal document is needed) and/ or produce a presentation.
  • Submit the plan to the recipient.
  • Update the business plan as new details emerge.

The great thing about the business plan process is that it forces the entrepreneur to consider their company holistically, as well as forcing them to consider their future, rather than merely the present day-to-day operations. Entrepreneurs who have spent the time thinking about seasonality in their sales forecasts, the implications of ordering and storing large amounts of inventory, or the short-term drop in productivity that comes with new hires, are less likely to be caught unawares by sudden cash shortfalls and other typical business challenges.

The Definitive Guide to Writing a Business Plan

What is a Business Plan?
A business plan is not just a document. It is a holistic analysis of your company, the environment it operates in, and a route map to achieving success based on the resources available. Unfortunately, the image most of us have is of a 30-page bound document.

While the business-planning process is in itself a very worthwhile pursuit, most business plansare produced for a specific purpose. For example, the business plan can be used as a means to convey an idea with a view to achieving a specific goal, e.g. securing funding. Hence it needs to be tailored with the audience in mind, and good knowledge of their unique requirements will help shape a winning plan. For example, the requirements a Venture Capitalist will have in assessing a plan seeking to secure a million-pound investment will differ considerably from those of a local bank manager who needs a plan to support a small-loan application. While the former will be primarily looking for capital growth, the latter will be more concerned with security.

Why do I need a business plan?
The following list represents some of the key reasons you need to produce a business plan:

1. To plan for an uncertain future

Business planning is vital to help you manage your business more effectively. By committing your thoughts to a plan, you can understand your business better and also chart specific courses of action that need to be taken to improve your businesses performance. A plan can also detail alternative future scenarios, set specific objectives and goals, and list the resources required to achieve these goals. In short, it can help ensure that you are prepared for all sorts of eventualities.

2. To help grow your business

In an ideal world, all businesses would be self-financing in exploiting business opportunities. In reality, few are afforded this luxury, and hence, many businesses will be required to secure external investment. The production and dissemination of a credible business plan is one of the primary means by which entrepreneurs access capital when they are seeking investment to grow.

3. To commit to a particular course of action

A business plan can help a company assess future opportunities, choose the optimal one, and then commit to this particular course of action. By committing to one opportunity, all other options are effectively marginalized and the company is aligned to focus on key deliverables which will help them achieve their goals.

4. To manage cash flow

Careful management of cash flow is a fundamental requirement for all businesses. The reason is quite simple—many businesses fail, not because they are unprofitable, but because they ultimately become insolvent (i.e., are unable to pay their debts as they fall due). Cash flow forecasting is an essential part of any business plan.

5. To ensure all bases are covered

How to write a business plan

Having decided to produce a business plan, there are three main ways to write one:

1. Pay someone to write it.

2. Write it yourself using Microsoft® Word and Excel.

3. Write it using a task-specific software product such as Business Plan Pro UK Edition.

If you, like many entrepreneurs, are time rich and cash poor, option 1 quickly removes itself from the equation, given the cost of having someone write a plan for you. Aside from cost, it is difficult to truely own a plan that someone else has written.

You are then faced with the choice between using Business Plan Pro® and building everything yourself, from scratch, in Microsoft Word and Excel.

Why are we not recommending other business plan software options? Because Business Plan Pro is the best business planning software available – without exception. Palo Alto Software (the maker of Business Plan Pro) has a long proud history developing the software, has had category leadership for years and has extensive lists of testimonials and independent reviews on the website, all corroborating this view.

Here are the reasons why we believe that using Business Plan Pro® is the best way to write a business plan:

1. Offers significant time saving
2. Provides the structure
3. Includes hundreds of examples
4. Ensures you do not leave out any sections
5. Makes the numbers part easy
6. Free Support Available
7. Signposts relevant resources at appropriate points
8. Designed specifically for producing a business plan
9. Risk free
10. Increases your chances

Finally, for most people a business plan is written for a specific purpose, such as securing funding. You should give yourself every chance of succeeding by producing the best quality plan that you can.

7 Business Ideas Poised for Success

Women’s health platform

Aspiring women entrepreneurs looking to make a difference are now in a better position than ever to launch businesses that help other women. An online store that focuses on women’s health needs, or another platform that connects women with important resources and products, could be a great framework for a successful and meaningful business.

Box subscription services

Box subscription services are popping up everywhere in the food, beauty and even pet product sectors, ready to deliver goods right to your door each month. One of the consumer perks is the idea that these subscription boxes are carefully curated just for them based on their likes and interests, and each month, the boxes’ contents are a surprise.

Find a unique product category that’s still untapped by the box subscription industry, or find a way to put a new spin on an existing service, and you could have a lucrative business on your hands. Keep it as inexpensive as possible — according to LearnVest, offering cheaper products will help you stand out from the competition.

Health clubs for millennials

Health and fitness services are being rebranded to become trendier and more sociable. Opening a health club or gym targeted specifically to millennials could be a great way to capitalize on the fitness trend, especially if you focus on creating a strong, fun and engaging social media presence to really connect with young members and potential customers.

Software training

If you’re proficient in a highly specialized software, you can get paid to pass your knowledge on to amateurs and professionals looking to expand their skill sets. Technical manuals are available for programs like QuickBooks and Final Cut Pro, but these are often expensive and difficult for the average user to get through. Schedule small group workshops or private sessions, and charge by the hour for a full tutorial of the program. The best part about this gig is that it can be done part time.

Health care consulting

As an independent healthcare consultant, you can offer management and data analysis for organizations like hospitals, labs and therapist offices to help implement solutions to improve efficiency and save money. If you have a marketing or economics degree, this is a great opportunity to put it to use.

Food truck

Want to start a food business? A truck is a much less expensive investment than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and according to Mobi Munchfounder Josh Tang, the failure rate for food trucks is just 10 to 20 percent (as opposed to 60 to 90 percent for restaurants). With the right equipment and some great recipes, you can have your mobile eatery up and running in no time.

Mobile consulting

Mobile tech is now a must-have for almost any business, but finding ways to go mobile is a challenge for many business owners. If you can provide affordable mobile solutions to businesses that need them, you’ll find mobile consulting a rich business opportunity.

According to Jamie Turner, founder of The 60-Second Marketer, there will be an ongoing need for mobile assistance based on the increasing number of consumers with smartphones.

“If you’re in business, it’s your job to be where your prospects are. Your prospects are in mobile right now,” Turner said.

5 Trends Fueling Big Growth for Small Business

Propelled by access to new technology, a changing workforce and easier opportunities to reach a larger audience, small business growth is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, new research finds.

According to a study from Intuit andEmergent Research, the number of small businesses are projected to increase to 42 million by 2026, up from this year’s 30 million. The 3.3 percent annual growth rate over the next decade is significantly higher than the 2 percent average growth between 2004 and 2014, the most recent data available.

While the number of small businesses will grow over the next decade, their size is actually getting smaller. The research found that the average size of small businesses dropped by 20 percent between 2001 and 2014. Specifically, in 2001, the average small business started with 6.5 employees. In 2014, the number shrank to just four employees.

“The next few years will see an acceleration in the number of small and micro businesses, thanks in large part to new technologies that reduce the costs and risks of operating a small business and open up access to customers around the world,” Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, said in a statement. “While running a business is always going to be tough work, economic and technological changes are making it easier and cheaper to start and operate a successful small business.”

The study’s authors highlight five key reasons that will not only fuel the growth of small businesses, but will allow them to compete with big businesses like never before.

  1. Top-notch technology: Small businesses now have the ability to build sophisticated business and technology infrastructures that previously were only available to large companies. Cloud computing and manufacturing and distributing capabilities are now available with a cost structure that allows small businesses to scale up and down and only pay for what they use.
  2. Deeper insight:  Access to insightful data is giving small businesses the capability of gaining deeper customer and business insights. Access to machine learning has taken away much of the complexity of data analysis, which allows small businesses to make faster and better decisions.
  3. The on-demand workforce: By the year 2020, freelance workers are projected to represent 43 percent of the workforce. This gives small businesses access to the right people at the right time in a flexible way, without the responsibility of hiring traditional employees.
  4. Online marketplaces: Online outlets are giving small businesses the ability to not only sell more niche products and services, but also to extend their reach to millions of customers that they previously never had access to.
  5. Affordable advertising: Online advertising has made it cost-effective to connect with customers worldwide. For a fairly low cost, small businesses can deliver their targeted messages, whether it be a sponsored photo or in-stream video ad, to a whole new audience.

“This next decade will be the decade of the small business,” said Karen Peacock, senior vice president of small business at Intuit. “Industry-shifting trends like lower-cost, scalable infrastructure to start and grow your business, the ability to build a team with amazing on-demand talent, and data that helps you fuel your business and delight your customers are game changers.”

7 Surprising Things Every Business Plan Should Include

If companies focus only on themselves in their business plan, they are making a big mistake. Businesses should use their business plan partly to address the competition and how their idea differs from what’s already out there, said Steve Martorelli, CEO of Turnkey Processing, a payment processing provider.

“First, identify your X factor — what can you do 10 times better than your competition?” Martorelli said. “Next, test your hypothesis by talking to potential customers. Do they value what you are proposing to offer them as much as you think they do? Finding the answer to these two questions is the most important planning anyone can do.”

Companies that value innovation must make it a priority from the start. Your business plan should highlight the ways in which your startup will be original and groundbreaking, said Amy Hutchens, business strategist and CEO of AmyK International, which specializes in executive development.

“Innovation must be a critical component of every business plan,” Hutchens said. “By making innovation part of the plan, the process becomes intentional, not reactive or accidental, and sets the stage for a culture of creativity and innovation for the long run.”

It is highly unlikely that everything about your business will go according to plan. Justin Palmer, founder and president of HomeLife Media, which operates pet-focused websites, said entrepreneurs should have a “contingency plan” that allows them to make any necessary business-model changes should something not go as anticipated.

“An example of a contingency might be, ‘If we do not have 1,000 paying customers within six months of operations, we need to shift product focus,'” Palmer said. “A metric such as this is especially vital if your business operates on the Web or builds software. A business plan is great, but there’s no point in sticking with a failing plan for too long.”

On the other hand, businesses also should prepare for unexpected success. Your business plan should account for normal scenarios as well as highly successful, best-case scenarios, said Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management.

“When I started my business, I was in no way prepared for the success and level of growth we obtained,” Kaplan said. “I should have planned bigger and prepared for faster growth versus being surprised and having to rework my plan.”

A typical business plan will discuss a company’s target market, usually in terms of demographic information such as age, gender and income level. However, businesses should consider looking even further to define their target customers by factors such as lifestyle, needs and desires, said Amber Goodenough, co-founder of fourfour media, a Web design and development company.

“Psychographics ― customer values, lifestyles, habits and interests ― give you a deeper insight into your customers’ needs, wants and frustrations, which then helps you create products and services that really meet those needs and solve their problems,” Goodenough said. “The better you do that, the more money you make.”

As social media remains a dominant force in marketing and customer engagement, a business plan needs to highlight how the company will use social media to its strategic advantage, said Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder and chief brand officer at Voices.com, an online marketplace that connects businesses with voice-over talent.

“No business plan should be without a section dedicated to the use of [social media] as part of their marketing efforts and channel for supporting and engaging customers,” Ciccarelli said. “These efforts may also tap into a company’s advertising, search engine optimization and customer service efforts.”

If your business is going to have employees, you’ll want to spell out how you’re going to keep them engaged and focused on their responsibilities, said Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, a provider of employee skills training. “The plan must include ways to show employees [that] their well-being aligns with that of the company,” Rosenthal said. “Establish metrics for everyone’s performance, and spell out the rewards for meeting the metrics.”