Our New Business Model Blueprint

Uncover New Opportunities with the Business Model Blueprint

 

If your business needs a refresh or a boost, capturing ‘today’s reality’ in this 1-page business model template is a great way to get started. I created this template and use it with every business I talk to. It’s available to anyone who wants to use it for themselves or with their clients.  And now, it’s finally in a spiffy new format that’s an easy-to-use editable PDF form available for download on our homepage.

 

For anyone who likes the Business Model Canvas by Osterwalder and Pigneur, you’ll notice the familiarity, and I think you’ll love the changes we made—especially that it’s so easy to fill-in and edit. I added space to identify the business purpose, customer needs and differentiation, and revised some of the language to make it more user-friendly. These are the core reasons I remade the original into my own version.

 

If you’re new to the idea of documenting your business model, here’s the gist. The business model is the ‘formula’ for how the business creates value—it represents all the main drivers at a 40 thousand-foot view. It’s much easier to analyze and see new opportunities when all the moving parts are spread in front of you in one easy-to-take-in visual table. It captures information on vision, customer needs, product, marketing, operations and finance. Anyone who wants a lean approach to strategy and innovation should start by looking at their business model in this 1-page template.

 

Business models become outdated as internal and external factors change over time, so it’s necessary to make changes. To be vibrant and sustainable, businesses need to update their business model, not just products, services or marketing alone.  And thus, we also created a set of questions to evaluate your business model and identify target areas. This will help you think about things like changing customer expectations, changing demographics and trends, leveraging the latest technologies, dealing with workforce trends and aligning with new strategic partners.  

 

I could say more, but you should just check it out and see for yourself how you could use it to think differently about your business, your clients or your workplace.

 

If you’re in the central PA area, drop by the Lunch and Learn I’ll be doing on Oct 30 at The Candy Factory in Lancaster.  Learn more about that, and the innovation workshop we’re doing in November, at www.alignltd.com/events.   Meanwhile, you can download the blueprint at the bottom of Align’s homepage or our Services page.

 

I’d love to hear your feedback!  

What's Your Innovation Capacity?

How important is innovation in your company?

Strong business performance today could come at the expense of innovation that strengthens your business tomorrow.  Can your company do both— innovate for tomorrow, and deliver strong operational performance today?

It’s easy for a successful company to get stuck in the status quo, even when it’s breaking new ground. Say what??  Innovation thought leaders call this incrementalism: making small changes to existing products and processes to grow.  And, the more successful the company, the more it may resist innovation.  Huh? 

Even when a company introduces something new, there’s a good chance it’s emerged from the realm of expected - incremental and ordinary.  Sometimes this is the correct approach and it’s absolutely what you need to resolve difficult challenges. But there is a fundamental conflict between maintaining the business and experimenting with new things.  For that reason, many companies feel they must play it safe.  When companies perform well, they are lulled into incrementalism: thinking they’re safe and asking ‘why fix what’s not broken?’ Persistent problems are tolerated.  Complex or ambiguous opportunities are avoided. 

However, persistent problems exist because, by their nature they’re complicated, cross many departments or boundaries, and are often entrenched in a system of the status quo.  Perhaps you have a good idea that could resolve the problem—and the bigger issue is vetting it thoughtfully and building traction for it.   Or, perhaps your team has been ‘noodling on it’ for a long time and you’ve accepted that ‘it’s just the way it is.’  When most companies accept a situation as ‘just that way,’ that is precisely the time for YOUR company to reject that limiting belief. (Think Uber, Whole Foods and Hulu.)

Even if you do commit to experimentation or Big Hairy Audacious Goals, you might wonder how you could possibly use emerging technologies as a solution. How can you deploy new technologies when you haven’t the time or expertise to truly explore their relevance, or think creatively about how they could impact your business?

If the problem of incrementalism resonates for you, you might be a great candidate for a Spark Circle.  

If you have the ultimate responsibility for business growth, strategy and the overall vibrancy and relevance in your market, then you need a place where you can not only spark new ideas, but wrestle with knowledge, skills, and abilities that will overcome the systemic issues blocking breakthroughs.    

SOOOOOOOO, check your innovation capacity.  Tell us what you think and help shape the design of new programs at Align.   

Take this short survey to measure your strength related to balancing innovation with performance.

We'll use this information as we finalize the design of our new spark circles program! 

Interested in the Spark Circle?  Read more here.

Strategy Sprint Creates Momentum

Use a Strategy Sprint to Create Momentum for Growth

We’ve developed a process to move from ideas to action in about 8 weeks. If you’re not sure how to grow your business, improve performance, or capitalize on disruptive forces, the strategy sprint will guide you to the answers.   

The key to success is having a solid plan and carrying it out effectively.  The strategy sprint creates the foundation for both.  

But, a plan that sits on the shelf is not our goal.  Instead, we provide an experience that energizes, strategic options that are impactful, and support through the planning stage to results.  This is something you and your team will enjoy—really. 

Strategy doesn’t need to be onerous.  It’s a balance of creative and analytical work. It’s a simple concept really— know where you are, envision where you want to go, and identify the right steps to get there. The strategy sprint is also a simple idea. It applies the 80-20 rule and is designed to ‘hit the high points’ while getting you to the finish line quickly.  (Saying yes to this, means you’ll actually get this off your to-do list this year!)

It’s an efficient, yet systemic way to turn ideas into action.  We use it to identify strategic objectives based on your strengths, your customers, and the market. Then we prototype simple ways to test feasibility and impact. Finally, we help you set up accountability and progress measures.   The process is built around our Business Model Blueprint and techniques we’ve borrowed from the field of human-centered design.  

Strategy should be a pro-active response to what’s going on in the business and in the market. Goodness knows, there’s been lot of change effecting both arenas, and this will only increase as technology becomes more complex and influential, and as customer expectations continue to evolve. Because of this, businesses need to pause regularly for a strategic assessment and adjustment.

Better yet, they need a strategy blueprint that is constantly syncing up with reality in and outside the business.  The sprint not only provides strategic options and implementation readiness, it will teach companies some of the techniques they can use to make their organizations slightly more agile and responsive in the future. 

How clients benefit:

·       Uncovering new possibilities for new revenue, new customers or internal efficiencies

·       Objective insights about the unmet needs and preferences of customers, which can be used to improve or expand products and services

·       A collaborative experience to energize the team, create consensus and communicate the big picture

·       Practices that help improve profitability while also improving stakeholder impact

·       Testing ideas for feasibility and effectiveness before investing resources and time

·       Hands-on support for implementation, if desired

The strategy sprint is smart and simple.  It brings together our collective knowledge about strategy, innovation and organizational change.  It addresses the negative attributes of traditional strategic planning, which can feel impractical, lengthy and resource-intensive.

Closing the gap between today’s reality and tomorrow’s possibilities is about seeing things others don’t yet see, and managing a strategy that fully leverages your competencies and capacity.  

If you want to learn how the process could be applied to your business, drop us an email, or just set up an appointment for a quick call with our Chief Strategist and Founder, Jen Reiner.

Selling and Being Differentiated

Selling and Being Differentiated

 

If you’re in Sales, you need to have a good answer to ‘why would I choose yours over my other options?’ The answer is the essence of what differentiates your product.  Thing is, many products are really not that differentiated.  So, what makes your offer stand out?  Is it the product or the sales process???
 

So often, when I ask sales reps or others in business development about what differentiates their offer, they say things like ‘our commitment to our customers’ or ‘great service,’ or worse yet ‘trusting relationships with our clients.’  These answers are so vanilla that they are not helpful at all. Please stop saying this.  Anyone selling should score an ‘A’ on those factors and consider it a basic prerequisite for doing business together.  There must be an answer that aligns with the things that are important to your customers. 

 

Thinking in terms of a business model and strategy are a good way to help identify what differentiates your product if it is not already obvious - and meaningful. I can help you think about your business model, your prospect’s business model and how to frame what differentiates your offer.  Further, if you don’t know what gives your business a competitive advantage in the market—and how to use this to substantiate what differentiates you, then I can help!  I’ve got some workshops on this coming up.  The key is thinking in terms of business model and strategy—not product and marketing alone.  (PS, it's possible your business model and strategy may need an update, but more on that later.)

 

I’m pleased to be partnering with Mark Birch, Donna Valente and the Enterprise Sales Institute to offer sessions that will help sales leaders think differently about how they frame their offer.

Join me on Nov 30 or Dec 15- online or in Philadelphia. Learn more about the Enterprise Sales Institute and these upcoming sessions here.   


I welcome your feedback – endorsements or challenges, and some examples of what differentiates your offer!

Art & Science of Business Growth

The Art and Science of Business Growth

Briefly, I’m going to make the case for using Business Model Innovation as the best approach for forming a competitive strategy. You’ll be pleased to know that the process is lean, imaginative, and uses a simple, but powerful method to analyze the business.  So, let’s debunk the myth that strategy planning is a dry, painful exercise that results in an elaborate plan, that’s outdated before it’s underway.  

Say what?

I recently presented a short talk on developing a winning strategy.  My goal was to convert a topic that gets lots of yawns, into an activity people actually look forward to doing. (really!) I wouldn’t be writing this post if it wasn’t a success.  Two things led to these ideas being embraced by the audience.  First, I made the process tangible and easy to understand. The one-page Business Model Blueprint that I created is a great tool for this. (download it on Align’s homepage)  Secondly, I used a creative thinking exercise to activate the imaginations of the people in the room, to produce a range of innovative ideas about how a particular business could create value differently.

It was the art and science of the process that worked for people.  Strategy can’t be abstract and shouldn’t be bogged down with business school jargon.  I also believe that because I start the discussion with Purpose, it establishes a personal and meaningful place to gain commitment.

The Science

To facilitate the analytical work, start with your business model. This represents the configuration of 12 key factors that work in synergy to create meaning for customers, and competitiveness and profitability for the business. The business model provides a high-level view of why and how the business operates, as well as the context in which it operates.  It provides a broader perspective and scope. 

Secondly, products need to be differentiated. There needs to be a compelling reason why customers choose you.  Providing generally the same thing everyone else does, will not lead to differentiation. Nor can you benefit from some kind of operational advantage if your business model looks like everyone else’s.  The business model helps you think about more than simply the product, operations and marketing.  

The Art

If you’re not tapping into sources of imagination, it will be hard to come up with something new and different.  This is the area where businesses often struggle, and it’s helpful to have someone facilitate creative thinking and provide some feedback on how to foster creativity on a regular basis. It’s not enough to come up with great ideas, they need to be linked back to the analytical process that pointed to gaps and weaknesses in your business model. Then it’s time to prototype and test your new ideas.

So...

Strategy should be considered a theory of cause and effect. The Business Model Blueprint is simply a framework for seeing all the inter-related parts of the business, and how they work together to produce outcomes.  Innovating your business model is how your business says relevant and competitive. By assessing where your business is now, and envisioning a more vibrant future, you can identify the strategic objectives that appear to be the most promising approach for getting from A to B.

Learn more about Strategy Sprints and Spark Circles which are two of Align’s techniques for fostering progress in both the art and science of growing your business.

Human-Centered Strategy

In 2016, when I started Align, I knew strategy would be my core service, but there needed to be more.

At the heart of it, I want to help people reach their full potential and affect positive impact on the greater good.  At the time, I had a growing positive reaction to human-centered design (HCD)— a problem solving and creative development process used in product development and popular with many of the best product and services companies.  

Remarkable Ideas –  Well Executed  

Much of business is about influencing human behavior, which is why business needs to be more human-centered.  This means putting the individual at the center of the process— not technology, processes, or the thing you are selling.  Specifically, it’s a development process that focuses on the customers’ needs, from their point of view.  

This isn’t about using feel-good methods. It’s about creating home-run solutions, which happens when you use deep and unique insights about what's important to the affected audience.  This piece is about converting novel, ‘killer’ ideas into amazing customer experiences. It's the creative piece.

In addition, for me, being human-centered means factoring in human nature, like what motivates people, how teams work, and what holds us back.  This stuff shows up in an organizational culture and an individual’s work habits.  It can stop strategy dead in its tracks, if it’s not taken into consideration. This piece is about execution and accountability.  

A Strategy Process That’s Lean, Systemic and Innovative

At Align I’ve taken the HCD concepts and applied it to strategy.  Strategy starts with the humans it’s intended to affect—including owners, employees, customers and the community. 

I start with Purpose. 

·       Why does this business exist?
·       Who, specifically, are you serving?  Who can benefit from your purpose and expertise?

A business strategy should focus considerable attention on customers. Among other things, it should also factor in the marketplace, social trends, technology, industry changes, and your capabilities and resources.    

Align is a human-centered strategy company that helps businesses grow.  We employ strategy techniques and some lean start-up tools that lead to development of an innovative business model and a competitive strategy.  This applies to young companies, as well as established companies who are continually adapting and growing.  The approach and the outcomes are different and better than what you see in a typical strategic planning process. 

On Your Terms

Let me interject a separate idea. In addition to developing better business model strategies by making them human-centered—my process for working with a business on its strategy is also human-centered.  I’m flexible.  I know you have many constraints on your time, your resources and your mental space.  I make the process of working together enjoyable and productive!  I approach each client differently, depending on where they are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what they’ve got to work with.

In short, Align helps companies develop a ‘killer’ strategy, using an approach that doesn’t ‘kill’ anyone in the process.  This entails:

·       Taking pain out of the process.
·       Being curious about what motivates you and your team.
·       Walking along side you to overcome obstacles and regularly check for progress.
·       Being deeply customer-focused.
·       Discovering stand-out solutions by tapping into the creativity and unique insights of team members.

Together we can create a strategy designed for growth that addresses what customers want, what your people can deliver, and what you consider success.

UPDATE - Sept 20, 2018

I wrote this over a year ago and would change very little about this article, except to add more references to the mounting evidence of the effectiveness of strategic design as the best way to lead business innovation. Here’s just one of thousands of articles you can read to better understand Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking. Forbes’ article on Design Thinking. Cheers!

Laboring over the right things

Are you laboring over the right things?

As we celebrate Labor Day and take a moment of reprieve from the daily tasks of our work, be sure to ask one critical question: “is all this work paying off?”

What matters?  What should your priorities be?  How do you know you’re going in the right direction?

A lot of people consider the Fall as a season of opportunity—even though it’s actually the end of the major ‘growing season’ in the US.  Kids go back to school and we emerge from summer (hopefully) having had at least a small opportunity to rest and relax.  Things get back to ‘normal’ and, hopefully you’re invigorated to close out the year on a high note. Maybe you’ll even use this time to start something new.  Hence my question- “is this work helping you grow?”

As a business leader, here are a few specific questions to consider:

  • How specifically do you define the best customers—so they are easier to find and get in front of?
  • How deeply do you understand what ‘makes them tick,’ so that you can deliver a solution they buy and love?
  • What gives you a competitive advantage and meaningful differentiation?
  • What special things are you doing that provide a high perceived value for customers, without incurring a high expense?
  • How do you measure progress—prior to sales?

Got you thinking?  Want to be a standout business?

A strong business model can help you improve the answers to these critical questions so your business is more competitive and positioned to grow.  It’s about strategy and execution. It starts with a one-page framework to pull all the ‘moving parts’ together (which you can find on our homepage). 

Most businesses performing below their potential either need to improve an average or outdated business model, or need to do better at implementing the existing strategy.

Models, metrics and accountability don’t sound all that refreshing, but I assure you that the satisfaction you’ll feel from achieving progress is as refreshing as watermelon on Labor Day!   As you ponder whether your hard work is leading to the outcomes you desire, use the Business Model Blueprint, designed by align, to guide your thinking.  Cheers and Enjoy!

 

PS. One parting thought… if you want to know more about improving your business model and strategy, join me October 19 at The Lancaster Chamber for the 2-hour workshop Designed for Growth—The Art and Science of Your Business Performance.”

 

Internships in Innovation and Strategy

Three Fall Internship Opportunities
Human Factors Design    |   Creativity and Innovation  |   Marketing Insights

align is offering three exciting paid internships this fall.  The positions are for a human factors specialist, a creativity and innovation specialist, and a marketing insights specialist.  The opportunity includes working with clients as well as developing programs to unleash the business and social impact of creativity and human-centered design. 

The positions are great for undergrads studying business, humanities or technology.  We are especially looking for creative and critical thinkers interested in innovation and social impact. I'm eager to see what I can learn from them.  I'm equally excited to be part of their growth and witness how they'll use the experience and new perspectives to advance professionally.  

See details below and email a resume to Contact@alignltd.com.  Selections will be made by mid-August for assignments to begin around Sept. 11. 


Creativity & Innovation Specialist
This position will assist in the business services that support our client’s internal strength building for innovation and creativity.

•    Research and organize a collection of innovation and creativity resources including, business case studies, exercises and activities, best practices and policies for a culture of innovation, and assessment tools for measuring creativity and innovation practices. 
•    Help facilitate ideation session for clients
•    Assist in conducting business evaluations that measure the capacity for, and conditions affecting innovation
•    Draft summaries and assist in outreach through social media and our website blogs
•    Help organize and promote the Lancaster Plays initiatives. 

Skills needed:
•    Critical thinking, research and analysis skills, as demonstrated through projects
•    Strong communications skills, particularly listening, writing and conversation
•    Detail and/or process oriented
•    Comfort and curiosity with the creative process and problem solving
•    Familiarity with psychology, anthropology or sociology concepts is beneficial
•    Willingness to try new things and model courage to others


Human Factors Design Specialist
Apply design principles to launching new businesses and new products.  Work with entrepreneurs and established businesses on an innovation process that seeks to design amazing solutions based on a deep understanding of human behavior and user preferences. 
This position will help establish customer insights and design principles using steps in the design thinking process, and the lean startup process.   Participate in field observations, ideation and prototyping sessions to contribute to the business and product development process. 

•    Help coordinate and carry out ethnographic research (field studies of users in a natural setting) to learn about user needs and preferences. 
•    Design customer surveys to identify user preferences
•    Build a collection of resources that identify best practices in human centered design principles
•    Help facilitate ideation sessions with clients
•    Help advise on prototyping projects
•    Research customer profiles
•    Help facilitate workshops and webinars

Skills needed
•    Critical thinking, research and analysis skills, as demonstrated through projects
•    Strong communications skills, particularly listening, writing and conversation
•    Detail and process oriented
•    Knowledge of business and marketing principles is helpful
•    Knowledge of psychology, sociology or anthropology is beneficial
•    Knowledge of collaboration platforms is beneficial but not required


Marketing Insights Specialist
Use your creativity to help our customers get their compelling stories to the world!  We focus on building customer understanding as the best way to help our clients reach their customers with a powerful experience.  This position is a combination of behind-the-scenes and collaborative work with our clients. 

•    Conduct market research to identify audience trends, needs and preferences, and to uncover special events and associations to reach customers
•    Assist in the development and prioritization of marketing strategies for our clients
•    Help identify the positioning and messaging that will enable clients to standout in the market
•    Design and deploy customer surveys
•    Use process tools to conduct analysis and identify elements of a competitive strategy
•    Assist in the development of customer insights and persona development
•    Research relevant business models that apply to the client’s business and competitive strategy
•    Participate in client meeting to conduct discovery and development activities
•    Help facilitate workshops and webinars
    
Skills needed:
•    Critical thinking, research and analysis skills, as demonstrated through projects
•    Strong communications skills, particularly listening, writing and conversation
•    Detail and process oriented
•    Knowledge of business and marketing principles is beneficial
•    Familiarity with social media for business

Prune for Good Growth


This year I took on the responsibility for pruning our azalea bushes.  My husband has been dedicated to this since we bought the house over 15 years ago.  The offer was part of his Father’s Day gift.  Little did I realize how much I’d enjoy it and that I’d turn the task into a blog post.

I know a little about pruning, but there’s a reason this was my first time (unsupervised). I had some guideposts running through my head. Once I noticed the relevance to business growth, more metaphors started flowing.  This is an unrefined list of some of the questions and observations running through my mind while pruning the azaleas and boxwoods.   PS… no guarantees on how things will turn out. We’ll see, in the next few months.  

• This has gotten too big and out of shape!
• Where do I want to promote growth?  Cut here. Make space.
• Stand back to see the big picture.
• It’s easy to cut off the outer stems that are protruding above the surface. But you    
    might not want a smooth surface full of conformity.
• Sometimes you screw up and cut off a good one.
• When it’s a daunting job, take breaks. It’s tedious work and you need fresh eyes and
    energy.
• Is this piece adding value and helping us grow in the right direction?
• Hard to choose which ones get to live and which are cut off—especially when they
    all look like they are doing equal work.  Which one is in the right position to be a
   benefit?
• Go back and forth from underneath at the trunk and outside from a few feet away.
• You don’t want big branches growing at the end of small twigs.
• You’ve got to cut off the suckers.
• Old systems get messy. Lots of legacy branches going this way and that.
• Sometimes you create some ugly exposed spots.
• It’s easy to see all the dead twigs when you lift up the surface branches.

Good luck on your pruning projects!  Let me know if you need some help.

What's in your Business Model?

The best businesses compete on business models, not just products.

What do Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon and Google have that allow them to dominate their market? -- Finely tuned and innovative business models.  In fact, their business models are so innovative they’ve created new categories by re-imagining the rules of how a business should operate in their industry.  Nespresso, Hilti, Dell, iTunes, Xerox and Dollar Shave Club are other examples of success born from a brilliant business model, not the product or marketing alone.

The business model is a blueprint for how all the moving parts of the business work together efficiently and in sync to produce social and economic value.  It’s the link between the business’s purpose for existing, and its strategies for operations and sales. All strategic planning should flow from the business model.

The book, Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, popularized the business model concept and gave us all their Business Model Canvas as a design template.  I’ve adapted their version to create one that I believe is more complete, yet nowhere near as dense and speculative as a business plan. You can download it from the homepage and use it to evaluate your own business model. It’s a high-level organizing framework to explore the main factors of how the business operates.

ALIGN’s Business Model Blueprint identifies 12 key components, starting with the purpose for the business.  Besides making money, there’s a reason the business came to be.  Hopefully it’s rooted in the founder’s passion, talents and understanding of a market need.  Among the other components, businesses also need clarity around the customer group(s) they aim to serve and the problem, need, or ‘job to be done’ this group experiences. Turning inward then, we seek to understand what your business is exceptionally good at, and what competencies can lead to a competitive advantage and differentiation in the market. The value proposition lives at the intersection of the customer needs and the business expertise. Finally, how your goods and services are monetized is key.  What product or service ‘bundle’ is offered that provides such a high value to the customer that the selling price greatly surpasses the cost of production?  

These are the key elements we look at in phase one of any project, whether it’s a growth initiative, innovation or strategic business development. So… what’s in your business model and what elements need updating?  Download the Business Model Blueprint, fill-in your information and target at least 2 areas where it could be stronger. Let’s talk about how ALIGN could help.