Business | Features

Tricks of the trade

Backed by a commonsensical business plan, an SME can tide over bad times

  • Reviewed by Saifur Rahman Business Editor
  • Published: 08:42 December 13, 2012
  • Gulf News

Book Review

Connect the Dots

By John Lincoln,

AuthorHouse, 278 pages, Dh161

John Lincoln sounds like an American, although his book’s back flap says he is a “Transplanted American” — whatever that means. A senior management professional with start-ups and telecom giants, he is the vice-president for enterprise marketing for Du. Which tells me that he lives in the UAE.

Business is both art and science at the same time. It is an art because it deals with human and societal needs — be it minerals or carbonated drink. It is science because there are production processes, costs, logistics, consumptions and profits involved. A business operates on a thin line — almost a tightrope — based on profit and loss. With growing competition, the line between loss and profit is becoming even thinner.

In a modern, more connected world, business is all about connecting the dots — between the manufacturer and the consumer, the supplier and the wholesaler, the wholesaler and the retailer and the marketer and the consumer.

Although to most people business might be a difficult thing to do, it runs on common sense, which is available to even those who lack education. In fact, most businesses are run by people with an average IQ, whereas people with an above-average IQ work for them.

That is why university dropouts could create billion-dollar companies employing millions of people in this age of knowledge-based economy and sophistication. Microsoft, Apple and Facebook are some of the best examples.

Business is not only about making money, it is more about offering a better value that fulfils a need of a particular locality or a society — be it a grocery, laundry or bookshop. Most businesses start small, low-cost and then grow big.

The statement on the book’s cover — “It’s a playbook to help you connect to your customers and profits” — is surely going to sound like music to a businessman’s ears. Turn the cover, and its front flap says, “‘Connect the Dots’ is a take-everywhere-you-go playbook for small and medium business-owners and would-be entrepreneurs. The author uses his 30-plus years of practical experience as a corporate executive — and failed businessman! — to create a handy, practical guide that helps business owners and would-be entrepreneurs avoid the many pitfalls and bridge the numerous chasms.”

However, the first thing that one will notice about this book is its get-up, make-up, layout and the cover that give a “happy feeling” about it. Once inside, a reader will feel the difference in the style of its presentation, with its illustrations and colourful images and tips.

The first thing that drew my eyes is the quality of paper — very transparent and more “white” than those used in traditional books, as if someone has put extra detergent powder on the paper to make it ultra-white. The book is printed on “acid-free” paper. However, the end result is that the ultra-thin “acid-free” book looks much thinner than a normal 276-page book. If this is environmentally friendly, then every book on Earth henceforth should be printed on this type of paper.

That makes the coffee-table book easy to carry in the laptop bag and comes handy while travelling. Moreover, the 30 chapters, split into five sections, all end with a blank page for writing notes – almost like a workbook.

The book is a monologue on creating a small and medium enterprise (SME) and how to make them foolproof from cash-flow issues and sustainable. It talks about the importance of planning, developing a business plan, partnership, funding, cash-flow, human capital management (including hiring and firing), markets, pricing and competitive positioning, sales and marketing, customers, leadership, decision-making and, most importantly, sustaining business.

In the first chapter itself, the book starts talking about exit strategies, or the lack of it, when launching a company. This is perhaps the last thing on one’s mind when starting a business.

The book is less about theory and more about practical tips. In many ways, it is a collection of tips on how to run an SME and make it successful. For those who hate heavy texts and like to look at tips, this is the type of book to keep as a practical guide.

Once you have finished the book, you might have gotten the whole picture of the jigsaw puzzle known as business and connected the dots. It is a good, light read for those who are considering starting an SME.

However, despite the freshness, and the whiteness of the pages, lack of practical stories, references and examples sometimes make it monotonous. These could have lifted the book — such as the first one in the introduction and the last one in Chapter 30 talking about why Lincoln’s $3 million (Dh11 million) e-learning business failed, which was interesting to read. These examples help readers understand the issues better.

Business is also not only about working hard but also working smart. In addition to using common sense, there is another tool that could make everyone’s life easier — effective use of the internet, or using Google to one’s benefit.

Lincoln talks about market researches, segmentation of the customer base and price wars. However, he could have given some practical tips on how SME start-up costs could be saved with better utilisation of the internet. These days, everything is on one’s fingertips or a click of the mouse away.

The book has surprisingly little on the use of online tools of marketing — the use of web-based platforms, social media and other channels that could help a start-up reach out to a wider audience. In fact a large number of online stores are now replacing the age-old mail-order business across the world. For an SME start-up, this is important. That explains why Amazon.com is growing while stores have closed across the United States.

Even in hiring, instead of advertising in the newspaper, look at LinkedIn for the right person. That way, you could be spared the unwanted CVs.

“Connect the Dots” should add the benefits of the social media and online marketing in the next edition.

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