We’ve compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions answered by EPIC’s Founder and Managing Director, Jeremy Turner. Check them out below and, if you have a question that we did not answer in the following list, please do not hesitate to contact us.
I have a business idea, but I am unsure how to start. What are the first things I should be thinking about before I even begin to think about the business?
I get this question all the time where someone comes to me and they’ve got this wonderful idea. It’s the best idea ever. I think it’s great that someone is excited about their idea. However, ideas are a dime a dozen and everyone has good ideas. The real gems are those ideas that people can execute on. The first place to start is to validate your idea, to prove that it’s something worth doing. Here’s what I mean by that: successful businesses and nonprofits solve problems. They solve problems for people and communities and organizations. They solve important problems and, by important from a business-sense, I mean that it’s important enough that a sizable population of people will spend money on your solution. There are many different overlapping tactics you can go implement to validate your idea to prove that it’s something that people care enough about. You can do surveys where you ask people questions around the idea and some of the assumptions you’ve made about it to see if there is a pain point that would motivate people to decide to purchase your product or service or, moreover, to determine if you have a firm grasp of the situation or not. You can do focus groups and in-person (or by phone or videoconference) interviews to learn more about the needs, pains and fears of others. Independent research may be conducted to see if someone else is currently doing the thing you are envisioning. If you currently have a business and you’re thinking about expanding with these ideas around your existing business, then you can go back to your current or prior clients and interview and survey them because they already like your brand. Either way, you want to go through and validate the idea and confirm that it does solve a problem and that what you’re posing does present a real solution, not just a Band-Aid. And then there are some processes you can go through further to build your idea out if you have gone through and validated it first or if you’re in the process of validating it.
Next steps include taking your idea and crafting prototypes to further test your idea and its merit. Using an empathy-driven approach, you can create one or more rough drafts that are quick and easy and which don’t cost much to make. By leveraging empathy, you can seek to get out of your own head and connect with those you seek to serve to find out what they really want and need, not necessarily what you think they want and need. Once you have created a series of prototypes on which you have received direct feedback from your target market (those you seek to serve), you will likely have made many helpful adjustments to your product or service design that will make it more effective and more desirable. This process is often referred to as Design Thinking.
One you have validated your idea using the Design Thinking methodology, you can move on and begin mapping out the basic elements of your business by creating what’s called a business model. Most people have heard of business plans and business plans, they are their monster of sorts. A business model is a facet of a business plan. It’s a DNA level of your business where you’re looking at things like where are you going to spend money and how you make money. Who is your customer and how will you get there? How will your product or service be in front of them? What problem do you solve and what’s the solution that you’re offering? It’s these core elements of your business idea where each one of these different facets interacts with one another. It’s a little ecosystem or pond you drop a stone in the middle of; you need to know how these different elements relate to one another. Understanding the basic core elements of your business model is crucial in the early stages as well.
I’ve done the research and I figured out that I’ve got a good product, I’ve got a good market, people are interested. Is there a right or wrong direction to go versus bootstrapping or business loans? What do I need to get started from a financial standpoint? What are some of the options that are out there that people can consider and what should I think about when I am considering those things?
Every situation is going to be a little different. If you’re in a heavy manufacturing environment, it’s typically going to require a lot more startup capital than someone that’s offering a service-based business, where all you need is a laptop and an Internet connection. You’ve got to look at your business and plan out what it will take. I’m a huge fan of starting with what you have around you, starting with your pocket and going not cheap as in poor quality, but inexpensive as in being frugal and being respectful of the dollars that you’re spending.
Back to the thought about validating your business idea – if you go through these steps to validate your business idea and build out your business model on the front end, it’s going to save you money later on, so you have less upfront expense because you’ve already done some of the testing piece and you’ve proven that your idea is worth pursuing. As far as sources of funding, you’ve got traditional sources like banks, but in recent years, banks have become more difficult to tap into for a lot of reasons. Unfortunately, some banks were a little too liberal with their monies and now they’ve pulled back as a result and have gone in the other direction where they require tons of collateral and lots of hoops to jump through. You’ve got newer options like crowdfunding or crowdsourcing monies, Kickstarter, Indiegogo. You know, if someone can raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars to make potato salad, then if you’ve got a good business idea and can craft a proper pitch, you may be able to leverage these crowdsourcing options. You’ve got your friends and family, of course. Those are always options as well. It’s tricky because I’ve seen situations where mom lost the house because she put it up for her son’s business idea and it just didn’t go well. Not that the business idea wasn’t good, it’s that there was a lack of stewardship along the way. Going out and spending money on fancy cars and parties rather than putting it back into the business. So, bootstrapping is a great place to start; you’re putting your skin in the game first. And for me, if I were going to ask for money from someone else, I need to be able to say to them, “I need your money because here’s what I’ve done with mine and I need yours to get to the next level. Here’s how much I need and for what purpose.”
We have systems and processes in place, and we’re growing fast. Should I consider controlling growth? If I don’t control growth, what’s the best way for me to level up my business to get it to accelerate? What is the best way to ratchet up my processes and resources, to give more opportunity to the new businesses coming in?
That’s a great situation to be in, right? Where you’ve got business coming at you and it’s like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. So, you mentioned the systems and processes; I would go back through those. Typically, systems or processes are created in a vacuum based on the current situation. I would go back and take a look at them and see how they would survive in a busier environment. If you were to grow two or three or four X, would what you’re doing currently with the systems and processes survive or do they need to be adjusted for this new flow of business? Hockey great Wayne Gretzky said that you must skate to where the puck will be, not to where it is at the moment. Leveraging technology where able, where you can create workflows and such within CRMs so that things become automated because, as the business leader, your time is going to be in ultra-high demand and so you need to look at your role very much like a surgeon in a surgical suite. Consider what are the things that only you can do and off-board the rest.
In addition, working on the company culture so that the mistakes you will absolutely make along the way are a part of the culture where it’s understood that they’re seen as learning opportunities. What you want is your people seeing these mistakes as learning opportunities and sharing among one another as a professional learning community. What you don’t want is people making mistakes and hiding them or trying to cover them up as they are afraid of losing their job or being reprimanded or hung out to dry, per se. A positive company culture is going to help dictate your success. This type of culture is built on discovery. It’s inquiry-based, it’s learning-based, and it’s very supportive; it’s going to help you and your people know where the landmines are and then will guide how you navigate around them.
Embrace the wisdom of your team within this process development portion of the business growth and ask them to take a hard look at the systems of processes that have been developed and poke holes in them. Find out what’s wrong because each one of these people have certain things that they do and they do them every single day. And as leaders, we like to think that we know everything about our business and we don’t. We might’ve done this thing at some point, but we’re not doing this thing currently every single day. And so we need to embrace the wisdom of the group and invite the people in to say, “let’s poke holes in the systems and processes and find out where we’re going to go wrong” and then address as many things as you can upfront with the knowledge and understanding that you’re going to have issues later on. When those issues arise, empowering your people to make decisions on the fly so that they can fill the hole in the dam and keep your customers and clients happy and keep your company moving forward, even in times of crisis.
I’ve heard that if you want volunteers, treat them like employees, but I’ve also heard that they are still volunteers and you have to treat them as such. How do you walk that fine line? How do you grow from a nonprofit organization standard when you rely heavily upon nonprofit people with passion about the mission, but not getting paid for it? How do you treat that growth differently than you would corporate growth?
I love that question and have worked on volunteer development quite a lot with organizations so there are a couple of things to think about. One mistake that I see a lot with organizations is that they have people that are interested in volunteering with the organization and it’s an open cattle call for whomever would like to become a volunteer. They’ll invite everyone in to come and hang out and volunteer with the organization, even if they don’t have anything for the person to do. What this creates is a negative experience.
Let’s say I’m a volunteer and I happen to be, let’s say, an accountant by trade. You learn that I’m an accountant. You assume that I want to do accounting stuff. I don’t want to do accounting stuff because I do that every day. I want to pet the goats or whatever it is that you’ve happened to be doing. I want to interact with the clients or I want to go stock shelves or whatever. Understanding what volunteer opportunities organically exist within the organization without going in and unnaturally creating a bunch of things that don’t need to be done. Then I suggest having conversations or, preferably, a more formal intake process where you find out from the volunteer what it is they want to do – where is the intersection of their skills and passions, or if you’d want to focus just on passion and you offer development opportunities for them to come in and learn about what it is that your organization does. When you allow individuals an opportunity to truly engage with your mission, they’re more likely to hang around. Not only are they more likely to hang around, but I have seen people who will give first of their time before they give their money because they want to come in as a volunteer and see what it’s like behind the curtain before opening their wallets.
I know my wife and I have both done this where we volunteered with an organization to see what’s going on, to get a feel for what is the culture, what’s their mission, how do they treat people and what is it they actually do before we started giving money. In some cases, we engaged much more deeply with organizations by serving as board members after we were satisfied with what we saw as everyday, ordinary volunteers.
I think you do treat volunteers like an employee, and here’s what I mean by that. I’m a firm believer in creating job descriptions. So on the front end, I said, you’ve got to figure out what opportunities there are for volunteers. Then once you figure that out, craft a job description for that, formalize the role in creating these hard edges, this framework to work within. For me, I find that it’s just a matter of treating the volunteer with dignity and respect and being respectful with their time and their effort. They could choose to go do something else, but they’re choosing to be here. If you put these hard edges on what it is they’re doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it with whom and who their supervisor is, then you’re creating an environment where they can come in and do the job and enjoy their experience. Creating job descriptions that are clean, clear, and concise. It doesn’t have to be six pages long. Clean, clear, and concise. I find that there has to be a process for volunteers so that you’re not doing the open cattle call. Where do you source volunteers? If you’re looking for a certain type of person, where do they live or work and play and how can you go there? How do you select them? Is anyone good because they can fog a mirror and they’ve got a heartbeat? Is that good enough? Are you looking for a specific person? Do they have to fill out an application, per se? Is there any interviewing? Are you doing background checks, credit, criminal, DMV checks. If, for example, you’re a child-serving organization, you need to be extremely careful who you are allowing into your organization. What sort of selection process are you taking these folks through? Is there any orientation to where you get an opportunity to sit down, knee-to-knee or virtually and get to know them and indoctrinate them into the culture of your organization, teaching them about why you do what you do, how you do it, and to what end you do what you do, and present them with any initial training they may need? If it’s a specialized role and you invite them in and just sort of say, “okay, congratulations, you made it, good luck, sink or swim.” Then again, you’re allowing someone in to have a very poor experience and they’re not going to be happy. And that, unfortunately, is a missed opportunity. I call these various steps I’ve outlined “filters”, so having these filters in place, where do you source people? How do you select them? How do you onboard and orient them? What initial training do you give them? When do you give them feedback? How often do you give them feedback? Who gives them feedback? Is there any opportunity for development within the organization to where maybe they start as a singular volunteer and they evolve into the volunteer coordinator role where they’re overseeing all volunteers and might have an opportunity to join a leadership board as a trial to where they might later be considered for your full governance board. Are there any opportunities within the organization in a paid role? Having this sort of concept mapped out and these processes mapped out, these filters thought out, for me, these are some best practices when considering how to best bring on volunteers and how to steward them properly within your organization so that everyone gets what they want and need from the experience.
What do coaching services include?
We offer one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and virtual coaching. Coaching may be described as facilitated discovery where the client is often guided towards making discoveries of their own. Through this service, we deliver a variety of coaching topics that are relevant to your situation. Such topics could include leadership, communication, social enterprise, and more. We’ll focus on your priorities, needs, and desires and combine them with support, inspiration, and guidance.
What do consulting services include?
Our consulting services include strategic planning, community needs assessment, feasibility studies, succession & continuity planning, business planning & development, market research studies, fundraising & fund development, process design & improvement, organizational assessment, performance improvement, leadership pipeline development, and/or conference & event planning. Our approach is highly collaborative and fully customizable for the individual nature of each organization and their specific needs, timelines, capacity and budget.
What do training services include?
Training services can range from fund development, time management and organization, leadership development, communication, technology, facilitation, board development, and/or a series called Train the Trainer. We also utilize a behavioral assessment called DISC, a team roles assessment called TEAMS, Values Assessment, Behavioral Attitudes Index, Spiritual Gifts Inventory, and/or a series called Finding Your WHY?, which identifies and helps catalyze the deeper purpose that you may be pursuing. The EPIC team will deliver your content or create a fully customized curriculum and either hand it over or deliver it to your team.
What exactly are support services?
Support services are those things that we offer that do not quite fit in the coaching, consulting, or training categories. These services typically include things like grant writing, grant application review, funding research, data collection, outcome reporting, crafting funding applications for private foundations or state/federal agencies, nonprofit or for-profit startup guidance and support, creative writing, and other services available upon request.
How long does a project typically take?
Every project is different, and so there is no standard timeline. Even with a topic such as strategic planning, every strategic planning project is different and the wants, needs, timelines, expectations, capacity and budget of each organization will be different from one to the next, as will the organization itself differ from one to the next. Therefore, we seek to collaborate with organizational leadership to first understand the specific nature of the organization and its needs ahead of crafting a comprehensive proposal that will capture and communicate all of the specifics around the proposed engagement so that EPIC and organizational leadership can continue the conversation, talking things through and refining the process to ensure all are on the same page before moving forward.
Do you charge for travel?
The short answer is that we do have to charge for travel in some instances and that, when we do, these charges are clearly discussed up front and noted within our proposals. That said, we try our best not to charge for travel by leveraging technology when we are able and by scheduling other client work in the area whenever possible. That way, we can keep costs down for our clients and ensure that their funds are going towards the design and delivery of solutions to their needs.
How much do services cost?
As we noted within the question about how long a typical engagement will last, service costs are based on your budget, what you want and need, your role in the engagement and what EPIC needs to do in order to design and deliver the solution, so it is on a case-by-case basis. We offer free consultations which can be set-up through our Contact Us page, or via the links below for a phone call or video conference. We were formed to provide folks with holistic, customized wraparound services that exceed expectations and meet the budgetary restrictions that we all have. All we ask is to have open, honest and transparent conversations with us so that we may determine if we’re a proper fit for one another and, if so, how exactly we might serve you to the fullest by delivering world-class solutions that fit within your budget.