Graduations are sweet tributes to success with a tinge of sadness for those things that will be lost in the transition. Such is the BIC staff’s feeling about Jellyfish Health’s graduation from our business incubation program this summer. Since September 2014, we have witnessed a very small start-up with big ideas grow into a 16-person team of dedicated software pros and interns, and outgrow their offices in our facility. Seasoned business veterans David Dyell and Patrick Leonpacher have skillfully guided their young team in developing a software platform that allows greater transparency and improved efficiency in what’s known as “patient flow optimization” to benefit both the physician and the patient in a medical facility or laboratory setting.
Leonpacher credits the BIC with providing his fledgling company an affordable and useful infrastructure in which to develop. “Having the physical plant requirements of growing a business, like flexible office space, internet, access to training and conference rooms, etc.”, he said, “we could focus all of our attention to developing our product instead of having to manage facilities.”
Jellyfish Health has graduated from its offices here on the FSU-PC campus to a sophisticated workspace in downtown Panama City. The JH leadership enjoyed working downtown with iSirona in years past and wanted to return. These visionaries see downtown as a perfect environment for smart tech development. We at the BIC celebrate their success but will miss the energy and activity this company brought to our facility.
Def: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products. http://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/branding
There's a lot of buzz in the business world about the importance of branding. Corporate giants have highly specialized teams and often multiple ad agencies plus time and money to manage and promote their brand. Fear not! Your company may lack these resources but that doesn’t mean that you cannot effectively create a brand that reflects positively on your company, resonates with your current and prospective customers, and strikes envy into the hearts of your competitors!
Think of branding like a relationship between you and your customers. The entire life cycle of that relationship from the company's side is where branding lives. Who are we as a company? What do we do and why? How do we provide value to the customer? Equally important, what do our customers value about us? All of the ways that a company communicates are part of branding, from logos to radio jingles to packaging to signage to websites. Then there are the overlooked spaces where branding is often most evident from the customer’s perspective, like “customer service”.
There are a host of gurus espousing branding guidelines and best practices: Do X, then Y and Z, then POW, the cash register will ring! In truth, the recipe varies from company to company, across industries, and especially across cultures (Remember the Chevy Nova? No va means no go in Spanish, so Chevy had to rename that model for Latin American distribution!) Nevertheless, a few components ring true:
BE HONEST. Tell your customers who you are and follow through with actions that prove your company is trustworthy. In branding, that means more than just delivering your product or service as described. Use language that makes sense for your brand and is consistent with who you are. Don't shy away from or worse still, try to cover up bad news that goes viral. If it's the truth, own up to it, take corrective action, and make sure everyone knows they can count on you to stand tall. Your ego may be bruised but your company can survive and even thrive after a non-fatal fall.
DO GOOD. As a brand, find every opportunity to highlight your benefit to your customer. Build solid relationships with a win/win mentality: your customers win by experiencing your service or product which in turn brings in revenue or broadens your network, etc. Think of these wins as building equity in your company-client relationships that will return more wins to you down the road.
BE DILIGENT. Spend quality-focused time on your branding regularly. You won't always get it right but the dedication and effort will show. Branding is your presentation to your customers. Make those presentations customer-centric, spotlighting how your product or service will solve their problems, return ROI, etc., from their perspective.
BE CONSISTENT. This may be the most important item of all. Whatever your brand is, reinforce it each and every time. Don't get lazy, don't take short cuts, and don’t be neurotic (unless that's your brand). Be the rock in the river and they'll remember you. That doesn’t mean don’t innovate; rather make sure your new message resonates with the customer and builds upon the good foundation you have already laid.
Take all of these rules into consideration, dive into your favorite search engine, and start researching the branding of companies you admire as well as your competitors. How do they measure up? Evaluate their strengths and weakness, then go through the exercise of defining your brand on paper. Come up with a strategy and then plan against that. Once that's done, apply your brand to every communication you have with your customers. Do more than just sell to them. Go out and engage them actively. Make them evangelists of your brand and you’ll covert others.
A parting gift -- good online resources for researching branding:
Advertising Age - www.adage.com Want to see what the big brands are doing? This is a great place.
FWA - www.thefwa.com Website focused awards page that's been around forever. Cool stuff goes here.
Harvard Business Review – http://www.hbr.org Some of the best writing on pretty much anything business, HBR has covered branding very well now and then.
Advent Services, a local woman-owned small business and BIC client since 2014, was recently awarded two contracts by the US Department of Veterans Affairs for the deployment, management and security of a high-bandwidth secure wireless network, associated infrastructure, and user support at the Memphis (TN0 Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a facility serving 196,000 veterans in a 53-county area spanning western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and northwest Arkansas. Advent Services proposed a Cybersecurity Managed Services approach that provides 24/7/365 monitoring, management and security of the Center’s information systems as well as remote user support. According to President Amy Santos-Alejandro, “We won this competitive bid because our program provides the government best-value and a better ROI (return on investment) without compromising security or customer response.”
While the security of a healthcare organization’s information and IT systems is one of its utmost priorities, this level of security is cost-intensive and sometimes cost-prohibitive when using the traditional in-house personnel model. According to Tomas Santos-Alejandro, Advent’s VP of Operations, “These awards validate our philosophy that with a holistic approach that includes innovative technologies, fined-tuned processes and customized tools, we can secure, manage and support a sensitive network and its users even at such a great geographical distance. Our goal is to provide businesses in the northwest Florida region enterprise-level services with substantial cost benefits by utilizing the same Cybersecurity Managed Services approach in place at the Memphis VA Medical Center.”
Advent Services specializes in software engineering, cybersecurity, information technology and professional services for public and private sector organizations. Amy and Tomas Santos-Alejandro can be reached at email@example.com
Buying a business is one of the biggest life decisions you will ever have to make. It can be a long and laborious process or it can be a relatively simple transaction if you do your research, get the right advice and cover all the basics.
1) Identify your industry. It may sound obvious but your first step should be to define what kind of business you are looking for. All too often potential business owners are too impulsive, unrealistic and driven by factors like finding a bargain. A good place to start is by looking at the internet and trade magazines to gain insight and expert opinions on an industry. Conduct a self-assessment to find out what business would suit you. Identify your skill set and align it with the sector that interests you to see how compatible you will be. Buy a business that will thrive on your strengths and not suffer from your weaknesses. Before moving forward it is advisable to research the mid to long term prospects of the sector, paying attention to any potential issues that may arise. (rules and regulations, local competitors, legal concerns etc.).
2) Target the business you want. Once you have defined your sector, focus your search and make it specific. Have a set criteria in mind (with regards to the budget, location and annual revenues) and look for a business that matches your expectations. One of the main things to consider is what sacrifices you are willing to make for your investment. Ask yourself questions like: How far are you willing to travel? Are you willing to relocate for the perfect business? Make sure that you consider your lifestyle and your commitments before rushing into a decision - what you want might not be in your budget. Widen your options, think about businesses that are not actively seeking buyers as well as those who are advertising. Every business has its price and an unsolicited offer may prompt / convince owners that it is the right time to sell - there’s no harm in asking and you might be lucky.
3) Do your research. Once you’ve found the business that you wish to purchase, you should conduct an initial check to see if your assumptions about it are correct. Before you bring in the help of the experts it can help to do a little ground work yourself. One way of doing this to make sure to look at the initial paperwork provided and don't just leave this to your attorney or accountant. This way, you won't waste time and money on a deal that was never right for you. Also be sure to investigate the competition, drive around the neighborhood and look at reviews of your business online. Ask the owner and/or intermediaries to provide you with an initial package with the seller’s representation, subject to a confidentiality agreement. This information will often be a summary and contain limited information. Eventually you will want to perform a full due diligence but you may need to have an accepted offer to purchase in place to do this. In the meantime you can do some investigating on your own, but remember not to abuse your position of trust as you do not want existing employees or customers to know about the impending sale.
4) Enterprise valuation. Once you have seen the financial representations, you will be able to further evaluate the business you are intending to buy. You will then be able to make an estimate of value; traditionally this is usually done using a multiplier of yearly profit. Do some research online or ask your intermediaries for comparable sales. The valuation stage is the most important part of ensuring a successful purchase and the approach will vary depending on the type, size and the prospects of enterprise for sale. But don’t over think this step! Value is personal, therefore you'd be better off overpaying a little for a good business, than stealing a bad one. Most business sell for two to three times annual earnings. If you grow and prosper in a business, it will be paid off in no time.
5) Letter of Intent (LOI). The LOI, though not a legally binding document, is nevertheless an important and useful stage in the negotiations process. It essentially condenses the key elements of a sale into a single document. Payment, responsibilities, periods of confidentiality will all be set down in the LOI at a point in the negotiations when each party is still free to walk away from the proceedings. Most importantly, the LOI will act as a timetable towards completion: explaining to each party the time-scale and deadlines for every step of the deal, from financing to the release of payments.
6) Negotiate. At this point in the acquisition you will have acquired a more detailed picture of the business and the industry. Having more of an understanding, you can begin your talks with the current owners and work towards negotiating a deal. One of the first points of negotiation will be the price, however your initial offers are not often legally binding. Don’t go in straight away with your highest offer - leave room to negotiate. An offer for purchase should include an “out” clause for any reason. This means that during the due diligence period you can rest assured that you can cancel the agreement if you find information that negatively affects your desire to close on the deal.
7) Conduct due diligence checks. Due diligence is one of the most important parts of buying a business. At this stage the seller is obligated to open up the business to investigation. This complete appraisal of the business ensures that there are no hidden surprises, and analyses all facets of the business (from finances to the day to day operations). Through carefully gathering information and checking the claims made by the seller it will establish the commercial potential of the business as well as any liabilities. At this stage it is crucial to seek the help of an accountant and lawyer. Make sure you have open communication with both sides through the due diligence. Don’t treat incidents as disasters and disasters as incidents. If you find inconsistencies, address them with the seller. If they are too numerous or onerous to overcome, get out of the deal.
8) Purchase Agreement and other documents. The sale and purchase agreement marks the full terms of the acquisition process and provides each party with their legal obligations of the sale. Attorneys may add documents like covenants not to compete, promissory notes, closing statement, and other agreements. Again, a good transaction attorney is essential in making sure everyone is protected in a transaction.
9) Pay. Financing can come from private means (seller notes), loans (SBA in the USA), banks, peer to peer lending or angel/family investors – it’s up to you to decide what will be best for your situation in particular. The method of payment will most likely depend on the size of the transaction. It’s important that you don’t spend all of your money on the purchase as you will need to cash flow the business and your life in the first year.
10) Completion. With the payment completed and the final contracts signed you will have completed your business acquisition - congratulations you are now the proud owner of a new business! Make sure you spend time with the seller to gain all the knowledge you need to help you succeed in your purchase. Work hard and grow your business, that way when you are ready you can sell it for a nice profit!
If you would like more information concerning the purchase or sale of a business, please contact me at your convenience.
Rosario Bollotta and Patricia Guerra have joined the Business Innovation Center as interns for summer 2015.
Rosario is a Public Relations/Advertising major at Gulf Coast State College. She is currently a fashion journalist for CollegeFashionista, a fashion blog site showcasing the latest in college fashion styles and trends on campuses around the world. Rosario is also a national contributing writer for Her Campus, the largest online community for college women. She most recently joined an online college newspaper, The Gull’s Cry, as a journalist. Rosario will be graduating with her AA degree from GCSC spring 2016. As an intern, she hopes to gain insight and experience on all levels of media, marketing, public relations and as well business management. Interning at the BIC brings her tremendous on the job training and a skill set that is used in today's business growth services industry.
Patricia is originally from El Salvador. There she received her BS degree in Engineering from Salvadorian University. In 2005, she moved to Texas and began her career in the energy field. In 2012, Patricia started working as an analyst for The Carnrite Group, a consulting company. She has spent most of her career in the oil and gas industry and has decided to make the shift into healthcare. In 2014, Patricia moved to Panama City Beach and became a full-time student. She is currently enrolled at Morehead State University, working towards an MBA. As an intern, Patricia continues to learn and practice her skills as an analyst. She is thrilled to be part of the BIC team, as she believes the organization has a positive impact on the community.
Guest writers include entrepreneurs, business owners, community leaders and other stake holders. The intent for our writers is to share their perspective on success.