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Forecasting – A Tool for Small Business Success

Putting together a budget has left me feeling both satisfied and empty. When I was wearing my finance hat, I enjoyed seeing how all parts of the organization were putting together strategies and action plans to accomplish goals that would help grow the business.

The other positive was that as a finance team, we had a tangible output – a budget. We consolidated all the inputs from other departments, asked questions, challenged assumptions, performed what-if analysis, and put together a pretty package that was sent to the executive teams and department heads.

After the “high” of completing the budget, reality soon set in. In working with colleagues from other departments, I could see the budget package on a shelf, under a stack of papers, and in some cases, the budget wasn’t to be found. Talk about a cold dose of reality.

Budgets will always have a place in business, but to increase their effectiveness, you have to incorporate forecasting into your business planning. The forecast helps take into consideration the changes that are happening in the business right now and those you expect to happen very soon.

A budget is static, and serves as a baseline. The forecast is evergreen – it changes each time you take a look at conditions, and provides you with the ability to make small gains in your business, hit a homerun, or protect your current position.

In volatile times, forecasting is an essential tool. Pull together your sales, marketing, and service and operations team. Ask them to take a look at the market, and analyze and develop a 4 quarter or 12 month rolling forecast. When you do this, you can optimize your investments, and pare back those that just won’t cut it in the current market.

Along with the sales piece, review the expenses. When people have a budget, many will spend to the budget. It’s human nature. Have your department heads or key leaders reevaluate their spending, and tie it back to the new direction that the forecast is dictating.

Budgeting is a baseline. From the CFO chair, it will always have a place in business. Drive innovation and resource optimization, you MUST do the forecast. Forecasting leads to agility – being quick on your feet to respond to threats, and take advantage of the opportunities that are right there.

With your business and the economy in a constant state of fluctuation, can you really afford to rely solely upon a static budget?

How to Strike the Right Tone in Your Business School Essays

Finding the right balance between confidence and humility is one of the critical challenges you will face in crafting your business school essays and in delivering answers to admissions interviewers.

No one likes a blowhard, but at the same time, no one else is going to “toot your horn” in your MBA application either. It’s all about your attitude, which will permeate your essays and set the tone for the way the admissions committee views you.

One of the key questions applicants often have is how confident they should try to appear. When you tell a story lauding your achievements to the admissions official across the table, that person’s visual cues can help you know when to scale back the confidence by one or two levels.

With business school essays, you have one shot to craft your message, and admissions committee members with diverse personality types and differing levels of acceptance and patience for bravado will read your prose.

Likewise, some applicants face the dilemma of how much of an “expert” to paint themselves as in their field. It is critical to portray yourself as someone from whom your classmates can learn.

Many business schools are case study-oriented; the quality of the education is essentially determined by the content the students contribute in the classroom. Additionally, offline conversations are a huge part of the learning process for both academic subjects as well as issues related to career choices.

However, the “I’ve seen it all” attitude is definitely not something business schools are looking for from their typical 25-to-30-year-old applicant. Even as you highlight the fascinating experiences you’ve had and the cutting-edge knowledge you possess, make sure you take careful stock of what you want to learn, both from your professors and your fellow students.

The people who take the best advantage of business school are those who come in with a high level of curiosity and a willingness to absorb new information like a sponge. In short, the appropriate balance is struck when you have a developed a detailed awareness of what you have to teach and what you have to learn.

So, how can you highlight your business and leadership achievements without sounding like you think you are God’s gift to commerce? Here are three pointers:

1. Acknowledge the team: NASCAR drivers use the “we” technique to a fault. “We were running great today. When we took that first turn, our car was running perfectly.”

You don’t want to sound like a cliché, but positioning your achievements as team achievements works wonders. Plus, your abilities as a business leader will ultimately be more dependent on your abilities to achieve in a team format than in an individual setting.

2. Balance your portfolio of essays: You will probably have more license to emphasize your impressive achievements in some of your essays if you gain credibility in others by being honest and open about failures, weaknesses, and doubts.

If you just highlight how the incredible amount of work you pitched into an entrepreneurial venture led to its success, you shouldn’t half-heartedly chime in with “sometimes I work too hard” as a personal or professional weakness in another essay.

3. Highlight mentors: If you are shining the spotlight on your leadership capabilities, make sure you also acknowledge people in your academic, extracurricular, or work settings from whom you learned some of these skills. This works equally well for hard skills-such as finance and negotiation-and for “soft” skills, such as leadership, communication, and mentoring abilities. Doing so shows you are good at recognizing the strengths in others and know how to learn from them.

It’s also important that folks who come from positions and industries lacking that “glamour” factor don’t downplay their accomplishments. Certain high-profile investment banks and consulting firms are definitely the main feeder companies to American business schools, but it is often the people who come from less well-represented areas that have the most to teach the section or study group.

You may have run a T-shirt shack. Or conducted accounting audits for sketchy firms. Or monitored quality control at a Senegalese ball bearing plant. Rest assured, you do have valuable things to teach your classmates. The trick comes in thinking through what those lessons are and showing you have an unusual perspective on them.

How to Strike the Right Tone in Your Business School Essays

Finding the right balance between confidence and humility is one of the critical challenges you will face in crafting your business school essays and in delivering answers to admissions interviewers.

No one likes a blowhard, but at the same time, no one else is going to “toot your horn” in your MBA application either. It’s all about your attitude, which will permeate your essays and set the tone for the way the admissions committee views you.

One of the key questions applicants often have is how confident they should try to appear. When you tell a story lauding your achievements to the admissions official across the table, that person’s visual cues can help you know when to scale back the confidence by one or two levels.

With business school essays, you have one shot to craft your message, and admissions committee members with diverse personality types and differing levels of acceptance and patience for bravado will read your prose.

Likewise, some applicants face the dilemma of how much of an “expert” to paint themselves as in their field. It is critical to portray yourself as someone from whom your classmates can learn.

Many business schools are case study-oriented; the quality of the education is essentially determined by the content the students contribute in the classroom. Additionally, offline conversations are a huge part of the learning process for both academic subjects as well as issues related to career choices.

However, the “I’ve seen it all” attitude is definitely not something business schools are looking for from their typical 25-to-30-year-old applicant. Even as you highlight the fascinating experiences you’ve had and the cutting-edge knowledge you possess, make sure you take careful stock of what you want to learn, both from your professors and your fellow students.

The people who take the best advantage of business school are those who come in with a high level of curiosity and a willingness to absorb new information like a sponge. In short, the appropriate balance is struck when you have a developed a detailed awareness of what you have to teach and what you have to learn.

So, how can you highlight your business and leadership achievements without sounding like you think you are God’s gift to commerce? Here are three pointers:

1. Acknowledge the team: NASCAR drivers use the “we” technique to a fault. “We were running great today. When we took that first turn, our car was running perfectly.”

You don’t want to sound like a cliché, but positioning your achievements as team achievements works wonders. Plus, your abilities as a business leader will ultimately be more dependent on your abilities to achieve in a team format than in an individual setting.

2. Balance your portfolio of essays: You will probably have more license to emphasize your impressive achievements in some of your essays if you gain credibility in others by being honest and open about failures, weaknesses, and doubts.

If you just highlight how the incredible amount of work you pitched into an entrepreneurial venture led to its success, you shouldn’t half-heartedly chime in with “sometimes I work too hard” as a personal or professional weakness in another essay.

3. Highlight mentors: If you are shining the spotlight on your leadership capabilities, make sure you also acknowledge people in your academic, extracurricular, or work settings from whom you learned some of these skills. This works equally well for hard skills-such as finance and negotiation-and for “soft” skills, such as leadership, communication, and mentoring abilities. Doing so shows you are good at recognizing the strengths in others and know how to learn from them.

It’s also important that folks who come from positions and industries lacking that “glamour” factor don’t downplay their accomplishments. Certain high-profile investment banks and consulting firms are definitely the main feeder companies to American business schools, but it is often the people who come from less well-represented areas that have the most to teach the section or study group.

You may have run a T-shirt shack. Or conducted accounting audits for sketchy firms. Or monitored quality control at a Senegalese ball bearing plant. Rest assured, you do have valuable things to teach your classmates. The trick comes in thinking through what those lessons are and showing you have an unusual perspective on them.