Monday, August 31, 2015

Plexus Clients Achieved Growth far Above Market Norms

Plexus Clients Achieved Growth far Above Market Norms
During the three years immediately following the onset of the Great Recession from 2009 to 2011 thirty-nine nonprofit organizations that were already growing strongly increased their annual growth rates by an average of 4% after using the management consulting services of Washington, DC-based Plexus Consulting Group, LLC (Plexus).  Eleven other nonprofit organizations that had been shrinking in size, managed to reverse or reduce their losses and performed on an average 22% better than before they used the firm’s management consulting services.
The organizations included in this analysis are trade associations, professional societies and philanthropies in areas covering education, community development, financial, professional, manufacturing, and various aspects of healthcare.  Every nonprofit organization that used Plexus’s services during this three year time frame experienced higher annual revenue growth rates than their respective sectors overall.
In order of frequency of use, the services were:  strategic planning; surveys and market research; marketing; international business services; organizational restructuring; and government and public relations.  The organizations using strategic marketing and strategic planning services registered the greatest growth increases of 45% and 26% respectively.

“This is the first time we have done such a comprehensive analysis of the bottom line results of our work,” said Plexus President Steven Worth, “but we thought this would be important to know during these financially uncertain times when making a decision to spend badly needed cash on management consulting services can be controversial.  These figures show our firm’s services more than pay for themselves—even during a recession.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

First Steps for Going Global  
By Steven Worth

It’s common to find that association boards and association staff are out of step with each other on the topic of globalization. This disconnect generally has to do with two key concerns:

1. Should a board’s responsibility stop at the national border? While the staff is usually the first to see market growth opportunities, boards rightfully see themselves as custodians of their association’s resources and representative of the interests of current members. As such it is sometimes difficult for boards of directors to allow association resources to be spent on developing markets outside the home base of most of their members. How can they justify to themselves, much less their members, a decision to spend time and money developing markets in other countries that may be their own rivals? In these times of economic uncertainty, this concern has to weigh heavy on everyone’s mind.

2. How does an organization with limited resources expand to meet the needs of a market that could literally encompass the globe? Some organizations have consciously made the decision to embrace globalization by creating a board of directors from different parts of the world. That board then feels obliged to include global expansion opportunities in everything that they do. But if this is not done in a businesslike manner, the organizational stresses the board creates can lead to a whole host of problems, including high staff turnover, strained budgets, and weakened brands.

These complex issues can be manageable if volunteer and professional leadership remember to focus first and foremost on meeting the needs and understanding the trends of the markets they serve. So how do you go about it?

Meeting the current needs of your members is absolutely a prerequisite, but don’t jump to conclusions. You might be surprised at how globally attuned your “domestic” membership might actually be. Time and again associations with “national” or “American” in their name make the mistake of assuming that their base of operations should be confined to home soil, only to find their memberships drifting away in favor of organizations that are more attuned to their growing global market needs. As a rule, people, organizations, and nations do best when they are free to interact with others like themselves. Confinement is not a natural state. So do your homework, study the interests of your members on a regular basis, track their trends, and be sure to be there where and when they need you.

There are more than 190 countries in the world today, and the number is growing. So where are the opportunities? Where should you be, if you can’t be everywhere at once? It is amazing how haphazardly some organizations make decisions as to which markets they choose to expand into—their globalization “plan” is purely opportunistic, and as such is a recipe for failure. Here are seven measurements you should make of each and every international market opportunity:

1. The absolute size of the market
2. Presence of competitors who are fulfilling the market needs as well or better than you could
3. Presence of potential strategic partners who might be interested in collaboration
4. Affinity with your home market in terms of culture, language, and trade relations
5. Growth trends in your sector of their market
6. Success of similar organizations in entering the market
7. Expected ROI within a three-year time frame

Rank each of these seven criteria for each market on a scale of one to four and then average the whole (weighting those points that you deem are more important than others) and see how various national markets compare with each other. From this exercise you can prioritize markets and thereby ensure you are focusing your organization’s resources effectively.

Finally, think like a businessperson. Demand hard market data and make your decisions accordingly. Give your investments time to pay off, but ensure that they do. If your organization is providing valuable resources to meet market needs you will find buyers willing to pay fair market prices—a rule that is as true anywhere else in the world as it is in your home market.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Owning the Publication to Owning the Idea

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Ever since Johannes Gutenberg used moveable print to create splendid, reproducible publications there has been almost as much attention and importance placed on the printed page as on the ideas it contains. What is left of “newspapers” and the “print” media when you take away the printed paper? How does the concept of a library change if there are no physical books?

We are at that point now of course when thoughts have become digitized and the physical manifestation of publishing can be virtually anything we want it to be, anywhere and anytime we want to send it. Not only do we have to change our terminology, but along with “pages,” “printing,” and “going to press” we need to change our business models as well. What price do we charge for a magazine, a newsletter, or a journal when there are no printing or mailing costs? How much are ideas worth when you take away the paper they are printed on?

As ideas are freed of the constraints of print, this situation presents tremendous opportunities to professional and scientific societies and trade associations as readers seek assurance that what they are consuming is not junk science or commercially- or politically-driven propaganda. These opportunities for the association community then lie in recognizing, cultivating, and publicizing original thinking in ways that protect the ownership of the ideas as well as those who would most benefit from knowing.

Who more than the nonprofit community is better qualified or more credible to do this? The trick of course is to organize this flow of ideas from creator to consumer in ways that cover costs and that generate the capital needed to re-invest in creating and seeking out new ideas.

While hard copy journals, magazines, and newsletters are disappearing, the vehicles that are most adapted to this new environment are already in the toolkits of most associations in the form of on-line publications and educational programs delivered through webinars, conferences and on-line classes. Many professional societies also have the certification and accreditation programs and/or editorial boards of experts needed to verify the competence of would be authors and speakers. What remains is to weave all these elements together into fiscally sound, well-researched business plans!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Winning Comparative Advantage

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Remember this old joke? “We’re from the government and we’re here to help!” This assertion is usually followed by incredulous guffaws. Similarly, certain circles of association executives are amused by any such assertion about the helpfulness of consultants. Perhaps this is due to a swaggering belief that any association executive worth his or her salt should be able to manage things on their own; or perhaps they are
like Mark Twain’s cat that once landed on a hot stove and refused to go near stoves ever since—hot or cold.

The reality is that the fastest growing, most innovative and most influential associations in the world are the most prolific users of consulting services. There is in fact a direct correlation here. Why?

Consultants provide the following:
 Expertise—maybe not on a continued basis--but that might be critically important to you at this point in your organization’s growth;
 Instant professional resources to meet a surging need or to take advantage of immediate opportunities in a new direction or a new market;
 The ability to tap into and to learn from the experience of other organizations that have faced similar challenges or opportunities through the experience of consultants who have served multiple clients in your field;
 The ability to have a frank assessment of your situation—to learn if the “emperor has no clothes” when you suspect you may be surrounded by self interested flatterers; and
 The third party credibility that comes from experts outside of your organization who have helped you put in place or who have audited and endorsed what you are trying to do.

The best managers know and understand how to use these facts to their advantage. But, it is true, deriving the full benefit of consulting services implies you know how. Not every thoroughbred can win a race--a lot depends on who is in the saddle. Here are the basics:
 Plan for using consultants based on where you can foresee needs. Research typical costs and include them in your annual budget.
 Develop RFPs that clearly state what you are trying to achieve, within what time and using what resources.
 Solicit proposals from consultants who are known to be reputable in the field.
 Be prepared to give the consultants the time and attention they will need to do their job effectively.
 The more vital the issues are to your organization, the more the chief executive officer needs to be involved. Certain projects cannot be delegated.

As this recession has proven, the world has become an increasingly competitive place for everyone; and using consulting resources effectively has become a critical part of winning managers’ strategies. Boards of Directors know this. In this regard, there is no more uncomfortable situation to be in than for a consultant to be hired at Board request in which they have been told the Executive Director is part of the problem.