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Why did Berkshire under Buffett do so well?
Last week, Berkshire Hathaway released its 2014 shareholder letter. Warren Buffett’s letter, always closely followed, was particularly anticipated this year. Indeed, as this year will mark a half-century of Berkshire Hathaway under “current management,” Buffett had promised two “looking back/looking forward” analyses, one from his pen and one from that of his partner, Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.
Here are some of the key quotes from this year’s letter. (I’ve identified those that come from Munger.)
Buffett’s successor: one of two men?
With Buffett now 84, Berkshire’s succession plan is a matter of intense speculation. His latest comments on the matter (my emphasis):
Our directors believe that our future CEOs should come from internal candidates whom the Berkshire board has grown to know well. Our directors also believe that an incoming CEO should be relatively young, so that he or she can have a long run in the job. Berkshire will operate best if its CEOs average well over 10 years at the helm. (It’s hard to teach a new dog old tricks.) And they are not likely to retire at 65 either (or have you noticed?). … Both the board and I believe we now have the right person to succeed me as CEO — a successor ready to assume the job the day after I die or step down. In certain important respects, this person will do a better job than I am doing.
Who might the successor be? Munger offers a clue that appears to narrow it down to two individuals (my emphasis):
But under this Buffett-soon-leaves assumption, his successors would not be “of only moderate ability.” For instance, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel are proven performers who would probably be under-described as “world-class.” “World-leading” would be the description I would choose. In some important ways, each is a better business executive than Buffett.
The timing of the elusive Berkshire dividend
Another recurring debate in the financial media is the value and timing of a potential Berkshire dividend — although, as we shall see, it’s not much of a debate among shareholders. Buffett provides his first time-bound guidelines:
Eventually — probably between 10 and 20 years from now — Berkshire’s earnings and capital resources will reach a level that will not allow management to intelligently reinvest all of the company’s earnings. At that time our directors will need to determine whether the best method to distribute the excess earnings is through dividends, share repurchases, or both. If Berkshire shares are selling below intrinsic business value, massive repurchases will almost certainly be the best choice. You can be comfortable that your directors will make the right decision.
That doesn’t appear to be a problem for current shareholders:
Nevertheless [in response to last year’s proxy motion requesting a dividend], 98% of the shares voting said, in effect, “Don’t send us a dividend but instead reinvest all of the earnings.” To have our fellow owners — large and small — be so in sync with our managerial philosophy is both remarkable and rewarding. I am a lucky fellow to have you as partners.
Munger’s contribution to Berkshire
Although he has remained in Buffett’s shadow over the past 50 years, it’s almost impossible to overstate Munger’s contribution to Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett pays tribute to it:
From my perspective, though, Charlie’s most important architectural feat was the design of today’s Berkshire. The blueprint he gave me was simple: Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices. … Charlie never tired of repeating his maxims about business and investing to me, and his logic was irrefutable. Consequently, Berkshire has been built to Charlie’s blueprint. My role has been that of general contractor, with the CEOs of Berkshire’s subsidiaries doing the real work as sub-contractors.
The 4 keys to Berkshire’s success
Munger returns Buffett’s compliment:
Why did Berkshire under Buffett do so well?
Only four large factors occur to me: (1) the constructive peculiarities of Buffett, (2) the constructive peculiarities of the Berkshire system, (3) good luck, and (4) the weirdly intense, contagious devotion of some shareholders and other admirers, including some in the press.
I believe all four factors were present and helpful. But the heavy freight was carried by the constructive peculiarities, the weird devotion, and their interactions. In particular, Buffett’s decision to limit his activities to a few kinds and to maximize his attention to them, and to keep doing so for 50 years, was a lollapalooza. Buffett succeeded for the same reason Roger Federer became good at tennis.
Buffett was, in effect, using the winning method of the famous basketball coach John Wooden, who won most regularly after he had learned to assign virtually all playing time to his seven best players. That way, opponents always faced his best players, instead of his second best. And, with the extra playing time, the best players improved more than was normal.
And Buffett much out-Woodened Wooden, because in his case the exercise of skill was concentrated in one person, not seven, and his skill improved and improved as he got older and older during 50 years, instead of deteriorating like the skill of a basketball player does.
The Berkshire system: 15 rules for building a world-leading conglomerate
What is this “Berkshire system” Munger refers to, which has been at the core of Berkshire’s unparalleled success? He codifies it in 15 points:
The management system and policies of Berkshire under Buffett (herein together called “the Berkshire system”) were fixed early and are described below:
(1) Berkshire would be a diffuse conglomerate, averse only to activities about which it could not make useful predictions.
(2) Its top company would do almost all business through separately incorporated subsidiaries whose CEOs would operate with very extreme autonomy.
(3) There would be almost nothing at conglomerate headquarters except a tiny office suite containing a chairman, a CFO, and a few assistants who mostly helped the CFO with auditing, internal control, etc.
(4) Berkshire subsidiaries would always prominently include casualty insurers. Those insurers as a group would be expected to produce, in due course, dependable underwriting gains while also producing substantial “float” (from unpaid insurance liabilities) for investment.
(5) There would be no significant systemwide personnel system, stock option system, other incentive system, retirement system, or the like, because the subsidiaries would have their own systems, often different.
(6) Berkshire’s chairman would reserve only a few activities for himself. […]
(7) New subsidiaries would usually be bought with cash, not newly issued stock.
(8) Berkshire would not pay dividends so long as more than one dollar of market value for shareholders was being created by each dollar of retained earnings.
(9) In buying a new subsidiary, Berkshire would seek to pay a fair price for a good business that the chairman could pretty well understand. Berkshire would also want a good CEO in place, one expected to remain for a long time and to manage well without need for help from headquarters.
(10) In choosing CEOs of subsidiaries, Berkshire would try to secure trustworthiness, skill, energy, and love for the business and circumstances the CEO was in.
(11) As an important matter of preferred conduct, Berkshire would almost never sell a subsidiary.
(12) Berkshire would almost never transfer a subsidiary’s CEO to another unrelated subsidiary.
(13) Berkshire would never force the CEO of a subsidiary to retire on account of mere age.
(14) Berkshire would have little debt outstanding as it tried to maintain (i) virtually perfect creditworthiness under all conditions and (ii) easy availability of cash and credit for deployment in times presenting unusual opportunities.
(15) Berkshire would always be user-friendly to a prospective seller of a large business. An offer of such a business would get prompt attention. No one but the chairman and one or two others at Berkshire would ever know about the offer if it did not lead to a transaction. And they would never tell outsiders about it.
Both the elements of the Berkshire system and their collected size are quite unusual. No other large corporation I know of has half of such elements in place.
The continued success of Berkshire after Buffett
Will the “Berkshire system” ensure continued success, despite its size, and after Buffett? Buffett says yes:
Despite our conservatism, I think we will be able every year to build the underlying per-share earning power of Berkshire. That does not mean operating earnings will increase each year — far from it. The U.S. economy will ebb and flow — though mostly flow — and when it weakens, so will our current earnings. But we will continue to achieve organic gains, make bolt-on acquisitions, and enter new fields. I believe, therefore, that Berkshire will annually add to its underlying earning power.
The next to last task on my list was: Predict whether abnormally good results would continue at Berkshire if Buffett were soon to depart. The answer is yes. Berkshire has in place in its subsidiaries much business momentum grounded in much durable competitive advantage. Moreover, its railroad and utility subsidiaries now provide much desirable opportunity to invest large sums in new fixed assets. And many subsidiaries are now engaged in making wise “bolt-on” acquisitions.
Provided that most of the Berkshire system remains in place, the combined momentum and opportunity now present is so great that Berkshire would almost surely remain a better-than-normal company for a very long time even if (1) Buffett left tomorrow, (2) his successors were persons of only moderate ability, and (3) Berkshire never again purchased a large business.
These quotes provide some of the important lessons from this year’s letter, but the document is extraordinarily rich in business and investing lessons and will be analyzed and debated for years to come — including here on Fool.com. Be sure to check back in the next few days for more coverage of the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter.
More companies are recognizing the value of mature workers—and they're starting to hire them.
Things are finally looking up for older workers.
The latest data show the unemployment rate for those over age 55 stands at just 4.1%, compared with 5.7% for the total population and a steep 18.8% for teens. The ranks of the long-term unemployed, which ballooned during the recession as mature workers lost their jobs, are coming down. Age-discrimination charges have fallen for six consecutive years. And now, as the job market lurches back to life, more companies are wooing the silver set with formal retraining programs.
This is not to say that older workers have it easy. Overall, the long-term unemployment rate remains stubbornly high—31.5%. And even though age-discrimination charges have declined they remain at peak pre-recession levels. Meanwhile, critics note that some corporate re-entry programs are not a great deal, paying little or no salary and distracting workers from seeking full-time gainful employment.
Still, the big picture is one of improving opportunity for workers past age 50. That’s welcome news for many reasons, not least is that those who lose their job past age 58 are at greater health risk and, on average, lose three years of life expectancy. Meanwhile, older workers are a bigger piece of the labor force. Two decades ago, less than a third of people age 55 and over were employed or looking for work. Today, the share is 40%, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
AARP and others have long argued that older workers are reliable, flexible, experienced and possess valuable institutional knowledge. Increasingly, employers seem to want these traits.
This spring, the global bank Barclays will expand its apprenticeship program and begin looking at candidates past age 50. The bank will consider mature workers from unrelated fields, saying the only experience they need is practical experience. The bank says this is no PR stunt; it values older workers who have life experience and can better relate to customers seeking a mortgage or auto loan. With training, the bank believes they would make good, full-time, fairly compensated loan officers.
Already, Barclays has a team of tech-savvy older workers in place to help mature customers with online banking. The new apprenticeship program builds on this effort to capitalize on the life skills of experienced employees.
Others have tiptoed into this space. Goldman Sachs started a “returnship” in the throes of the recession. But the program is only a 10-week retraining exercise, with competitive pay, and highly selective. About 2% of applicants get accepted. It is not designed as a gateway to full-time employment at Goldman, though some older interns end up with job offers at the bank.
The nonprofit Encore.org offers mature workers a one-year fellowship, typically in a professional capacity at another nonprofit, to help mature workers re-enter the job market. Again, this is a temporary arrangement and pays just $25,000.
But a growing number of organizations—the National Institutes of Health, Stanley Consultants, and Michelin North America, among many others—embrace a seasoned workforce and have programs designed to attract and keep workers past 50. Companies with internship programs for older workers include PwC, Regeneron, Harvard Business School, MetLife and McKinsey. Find a longer list at irelaunch.com. And get back in the game.
To pump up your salary, switch up your career routine.
Welcome to Day 8 of MONEY’s 10-day Financial Fitness program. By now you’ve seen what shape you’re in, bulked up your savings, and cut the fat from your budget. Today, add some muscle to your paycheck.
When you hit a fitness plateau, taking a new class or picking up a sport can be the key to breaking through to the next level. The same concept applies to your career. Landing a new job will likely result in a salary 18% to 20% higher than what you’d get via an internal promotion, according to a study by Wharton professor Matthew Bidwell.
Thanks to a rapidly rebounding job market, this is the best year since the recession to get a new gig. More than one-third of employers expect to add full-time employees in 2015, according to CareerBuilder’s annual job forecast, up from one in four last year. Here’s how to stand out.
1. Get the Inside Scoop
Employee referrals generate a full 40% of new hires, according to the JobVite 2014 Recruiting Survey. So rather than scouring the job boards, talk to people you know and ask about openings at their firms. Love a certain company but don’t know anyone there? Reach out to your personal network or tap your LinkedIn contacts to see if anyone can connect you to an employee.
2. Make Yourself Poachable
Employers are increasingly courting passive job seekers, says John Hollon, editor of TLNT.com, which covers HR trends: “These are employed workers who may be willing to switch jobs but aren’t actively searching.” Recruiters like these candidates because they’re successful and valued at their current jobs. Interested? Get on hiring managers’ radar by peppering your LinkedIn profile with keywords related to the type of job you want. You can also sign up with the website Poachable, and get the Poacht app. List your dream job and resume for recruiters to browse.
3. Be Bold
That said, maybe you love your job or just can’t move right now. That doesn’t mean settling for a middling raise. While the biggest bumps do go to top performers, simply asking goes a long way. A new study from Payscale found that 75% of employees who requested an increase got one, with 44% landing the exact figure they asked for. The odds of receiving your requested amount are even better if you’re already a high earner: Those with a salary of $150,000 or more had a success rate of 70%. Before you ask, get a sense of the budget. You have more influence when you show you see the boss’s side, says career coach Lee Miller.
- 10 Days to Total Financial Fitness
- 4 Ways to Hit Your Money Goals
- The Easiest Way to Check Your Credit—Fast
- 5 Ways to Invest Smarter at Any Age
- How to Start Tracking Your Spending in 7 Minutes Flat
- 3 Ways to Cut the Fat From Your Budget
- 4 Surefire Strategies for Powering Up Your Savings
An optimized LinkedIn profile can help you stand out from the crowd.
As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute LinkedIn Makeover
Nine out of ten recruiters use social media to find or check out candidates, especially LinkedIn. Your profile is 14 times as likely to be viewed if it has a picture. So find a professional-looking photo and upload it to your computer before you start the clock.
0:00 Log in to your LinkedIn account and select “Edit Profile.” Click on “Add Photo” to upload the pic you’ve selected. You’ll see a yellow square that you can drag to change the position and size of the picture. Make sure you’re centered and hit save.
1:05 By default, LinkedIn uses your job title as your profile headline. Instead, write your own bold wording. Stumped? When you highlight the field to change it, LinkedIn lets you peek at what others in your industry are using.
2:34 Check out your profile summary. Are you hitting all the keywords you’ll need to show up in recruiter searches? Take a minute to scan some job descriptions in your profession to make sure you’re using the right language.
5:00 Nothing says LinkedIn novice like an alphabetsoup URL.
Create a custom version by clicking the LinkedIn URL listed right beneath your photo on the Edit Profile page. You’ll be transported to the Public Profile page, where you can create your own. Stick with something simple, like your name.
5:35 Bulk up your recommendations politely. Write a sincere post for one of your contacts, and then email asking if she’d mind doing the same.
- 10 Days to Total Financial Fitness
- 4 Ways to Hit Your Money Goals
- The Easiest Way to Check Your Credit—Fast
- 5 Ways to Invest Smarter at Any Age
- How to Start Tracking Your Spending in 7 Minutes Flat
- 3 Ways to Cut the Fat From Your Budget
- 4 Surefire Strategies for Powering Up Your Savings
The surprising downside to achievement
Conventional wisdom is pretty clear on how to get ahead in one’s professional life. Rack up accomplishments, collect accolades, make your résumé as impressive as possible, we’re told, and rewards will follow. That all sounds nice—but it might not be true. In fact, social science suggests, the key to success might actually be to achieve less while promising more.
That’s the conclusion of a study by professors at Harvard and Stanford, who found that people tend to favor potential over demonstrated results. The researchers discovered that references to potential, such as “this person could win an award for their work,” appear to stimulate greater interest than similar references to actual accomplishments (“this person has won an award for their work”). This tendency, the paper states, “creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing.”
The professors demonstrated as much in a series of experiments in which test subjects were asked to choose between the proven and the possible. In one case, participants were asked to rate two job candidates: one with two years of experience and demonstrated leadership achievement, and the other with no experience but high leadership potential.
Despite the more experienced candidate having objectively superior credentials, subjects preferred the candidate with potential. They also implicitly predicted this candidate would be a better leader in his fifth year on the job than the more experienced candidate would be in his seventh year.
In another experiment, participants read two letters of recommendation for an applicant to a business Ph.D. program. Both versions were nearly identical, but one stressed possible talent (“Mark K. is a student of great potential”), while the other highlighted accomplishment (“Mark K. is a student of great achievement”). Once again, the subjects preferred the applicant with potential.
Why are people so drawn to the possible, even over proven results? The researchers suggest it’s simply a matter of uncertainty being more interesting than a sure thing. “Our finding is that people find potential to be exciting uncertainty,” says Zakary Tormala, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Stanford School of Business. That makes a candidate with potential more stimulating than a safer choice, and often leads to a more positive impression.
Workers can use this quirk of psychology to their advantage by emphasizing their future value, in addition to past achievements, when applying for a job or asking for a raise. “One of the places we’ve encouraged people to make this happen is in their reference letters,” says Michael Norton, another of the study’s co-authors and professor at Harvard Business School. References “generally talk about what someone has done,” Norton says. “That’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s very important to also talk about their potential.” It can be particularly important for high achieving employees who might be more inclined to stress their accomplishments over their continued capacity for growth.
However, the professor notes, the allure of potential isn’t unlimited. In the recommendation letter experiment, researchers found that participants stopped favoring potential over success when claims of potential lacked sufficient evidence to back them up. Instead, it’s best to highlight a combination of past accomplishments and future possibilities, so no one suspects you’re hype without substance. “A mix is critical,” Norton explains. “There has to be some demonstrated sense that you’ve achieved things.”
Use it right, and our collective preference for potential can do more than get you a better job. Norton says it could also get you a date. “The classic terrible first date is the man drones on about achievements,” the professor jokes. “But if you talk about what you want to do, even if you’re not going to get there, it can be more exciting.”
It's called "phased retirement," and it's catching on.
The youngest baby boomers have just turned 50, bringing retirement within sight for the entire generation. But many boomers don’t expect to work at full throttle until the last day at the office. More than 40% want to shift gradually from full- to part-time work or take on less stressful jobs before retiring, a recent survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found.
It’s a concept called phased retirement, and it’s catching on. Last November the federal government okayed a plan to let certain long-tenured workers 55 and up stay on half-time while getting half their pension and full health benefits. Says Sara Rix, an adviser at AARP Public Policy Institute: “The federal government’s program may influence private companies to follow their lead.”
Formal phased-retirement plans remain rare; only 18% of companies offer the option to most or all workers. Informal programs are easier to find—roughly half of employers say they allow older workers to dial back to part-time, Transamerica found. But only 21% of employees agree that those practices are in place. “There’s a big disconnect between what employers believe they are doing and what workers perceive their employers to be doing,” says Transamerica Center president Catherine Collinson.
So you may have to forge your own path if you want to downshift in your career. Here’s how:
Resist Raiding Your Savings
Before you do anything, figure out what scaling back will mean for your eventual full retirement. As a part-timer, your income will drop. Ideally you should avoid dipping into your savings or claiming Social Security early, since both will cut your income later. If you’re eligible for a pension, the formula will heavily weight your final years of pay. So a lower salary may make phased retirement too costly.
Cutting back your retirement saving, though, may hurt less than you think. Say you were earning $100,000 and split that in half from 62 to 66. If you had saved $500,000 by 60, and you delay tapping that stash or claiming Social Security, your total income would be $66,700 a year in retirement, according to T. Rowe Price. That’s only slightly less than the $69,500 you would have had if you kept working full-time and saving the max until 66.
Start at the Office
If your employer has an official phased-retirement program, your job is easier. Assuming you’re eligible, you might be able to work half-time for half your pay and still keep your health insurance.
Then ask colleagues who have made that move what has worked for them and what pitfalls to avoid. Devise a plan with your boss, focusing on how you can solve problems, not create new ones with your absence. Perhaps you can mentor younger workers or share client leads. “Don’t expect to arrange this in one conversation—it will be a negotiation,” says Dallas financial planner Richard Jackson.
Without a formal program, you’ll have to have a conversation about part-time or consulting work. To make your case, spell out how you can offer value at a lower cost than a full-time employee, says Phil Dyer, a financial planner in Towson, Md.
Giving up group health insurance will be less of a financial blow if you are 65 and eligible for Medicare, or have coverage through your spouse. If not, you can shop for a policy on your state’s insurance exchange. “Even if you have to pay health care premiums for a couple of years, you may find it worthwhile to reduce the stress of working full-time,” says Dyer.
Do an Encore Elsewhere
This wind-down could also be a chance to do something completely different. Take advantage of online resources for older job seekers, including Encore.org, RetiredBrains.com, and Retirement-Jobs.com. You can find low-cost training at community colleges, which may offer programs specifically to fill jobs for local employers. Or, if you want nonprofit work, volunteer first. Says Chris Farrell, author of Unretirement, a new book about boomers working in retirement: “It’s a great way to discover what the organization really needs and how your skills might fit in.”
Sign up for a weekly email roundup of top retirement news, insights, and advice from editor-at-large Penelope Wang: money.com/retirewithmoney.
The Oscar winner gave a shout-out to American women—and called for fair pay regardless of sex.
An exciting moment for many Oscar viewers on Sunday was Patricia Arquette’s Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech for her role as the protagonist’s mother in the film Boyhood.
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said. “It is our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”
Those words, which drew cheers from fellow actresses Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, reflect growing tensions in Hollywood over the way women in the industry are represented and compensated. Not only do actresses have fewer roles available to them than men—only 30% of speaking characters—but they are paid less across the board. Even Academy Award-winning women face a huge pay gap: They get an extra $500,000 on average tacked on to their salary after winning an Oscar, compared with a $3.9 million bump for men.
Of course, pay discrimination is not limited to La-La Land. Women still make only 78¢ for every dollar a man makes, the Census reports, and that’s true across all wage levels, for everyone from truck drivers to top executives.
If you’re frustrated by your salary (or the pay earned by a woman in your life) and Arquette’s words resonated with you, here are some ways to change things right now.
1. Talk to a man whose job you want
A recent study found that women tend to express satisfaction with low pay because they compare themselves with female peers, and therefore never get a full picture of how underpaid they are relative to men.
Finding a male mentor in a position a notch or three above you can be a huge asset for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that he can give you an unbiased idea of what salary you should be asking for when you seek a promotion or new job.
2. Don’t say “yes” without making a counteroffer
Whether because of social expectations or a hesitation to appear too aggressive (a fear that is not unfounded given proven workplace biases), women are less likely to negotiate than men. One study revealed that only 31% of women countered the salary offer for their first job after grad school, versus 50% of men.
When you are asking for a raise or naming your salary expectations for a new job, it helps to come prepared. You’ll want to be ready with a clear description of your successes and how you have added value in your current position. And you should have an exact dollar figure in mind; research shows negotiating with a specific number makes you sound more authoritative than using a ballpark one.
If you get a resounding “no,” don’t just give up: Consider asking for a one-time bonus instead.
3. Become a mentor
It’s obvious advice to seek out strong mentors to get ahead at work. But taking subordinates under your wing can be just as effective for increasing your status.
Wharton professor Adam Grant has shown that women and men alike tend to be most successful when they balance both giving and taking at work. And women in particular can get a leg up as negotiators when they are in a mentor position, Grant found.
When the higher ups see you as a person who gives a lot and supports the people around you, it’s easier for you to take a little back—in the form of higher pay.
Following through on the wrong project ideas can be a big waste of resources
Question: What is one thing you ALWAYS do before green-lighting a new project or biz idea?
“There are lots of great ideas, but it’s easier to devise them than to execute them. So before you go off and try to execute new plans, it’s imperative you test some basic assumptions. If you already have customers, speak with them directly about the idea and take their feedback to heart. If you don’t, set up a landing page with an AdWords campaign to test response and prove the market exists.” — Adam Callinan, Beachwood Ventures
Ensure It Aligns With KPIs
“Before giving the go-ahead to a project or idea, it’s critical for me that the project aligns with our key performance indicators. If a project doesn’t drive to one of our key metrics, it’s likely not a worthwhile pursuit or use of resources. To have these kinds of checks and balances, it’s important to establish KPIs early on. Once in place, it’s a useful rubric to green-light ideas.” — Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.
Take a Step Back
“The worst thing you can do is pursue a new project or business because it sounds like an exciting opportunity. The problem is that pretty much every new idea seems like an exciting opportunity at first, but only the best of the best maintain that excitement weeks or months down the road. Set it aside and don’t think about it for a while. If you pick it back up and get just as excited, go for it.” — James Simpson, GoldFire Studios
Analyze the Pros and Cons
“I’m always thinking of new projects or business ideas to help grow our business, so I’ve developed a system to green-light them. First, I write them down and let them marinate for a few days. If the idea still seems legit, I’ll set up a call with my partner, discuss the plan/implementation in detail and write out a pros/cons list. We then analyze the data to make the final decision.” — Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings
Run the Numbers
“Before moving forward with any new project, I want to make sure that it’s worth our time and the ROI is there. Numbers don’t lie. Financial projections are an essential tool for determining ROI and helping us make business decisions based on fact, not gut.” — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
Ask If It’s What People Want
“I see so many entrepreneurs, especially in the startup world, creating new businesses and products without even determining whether there’s a market for them or if people really want their product. Before green-lighting any new idea, I survey people, hold focus groups, run market tests through AdWords and even call people.” — Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World
Organize the Project First
“Before green-lighting a project, you should take the time to organize it. It is prudent to the success of the project or idea to know how long it will take, how it should be executed and who will be responsible before committing to a launch.” — Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize
Define What Success Looks Like
“Without a clear definition of what success will look like for a given project, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s on track or even finished. By making a point of defining success before we even get started, we can decide how to measure a project and tell if it’s reaching the necessary goals.” — Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
Run Some AdWords Tests
“Google AdWords is fantastic at validating market interest. I’ll run a few different ads over the course of a few days or a week to test how well they convert and at what rate. That tells me how crowded the space is and how strong the market interest is. Usually I don’t even create a landing page. Instead, I’ll send them to one of my other sites.” — Jared Brown, Hubstaff
Talk to Real-Life Customers
“Always test your ideas by talking to people in the real world before you invest tremendous amounts of time, energy and money. Don’t be afraid of anyone stealing your ideas. Get feedback in the wild. Even if it’s simply by sending an email to your customer list asking if it’s something they’d be interested in, that’s a start.” — Cody McKibben, Thrilling Heroics