Friday 13 July 2012

Financial Analysis and Marketing - Two Key Skills for Entrepreneurs

This is one of a series of posts on useful tools for entrepreneurs leaving the Armed Forces. Here is the full list and links.

When I left the Royal Marines in 2000 I knew I had a lot to learn about civilian life (and I still do!). Two of the subject that were particularly alien to me, coming from an armed forces background, where finance and marketing.

I was fortunate enough to have a great introduction to each of these in the 2 years after I left the Corps. First I joined JP Morgan and was sent to Wall Street for their analyst training programme, and then during my MBA at Warwick Business School, I studied marketing and strategy under the legendary Professor Peter Doyle.

Financial Analysis

Financial analysis, an understanding of the way financial information is recorded, presented and interpreted, is essential to anyone who wants to understand how an enterprise works. The single most important piece of financial analysis is probably "can I sell this product or service for more than it costs me to make or buy?" if the answer to this first question is no, then it's time to go back to the drawing board. But this is only the beginning, and I would encourage any would-be entrepreneur - especially with an Armed Forces background - to spend some time learning how bookkeeping, accounting and financial modeling work.

While I was at JP Morgan I was analysing the financial statements of a major international energy company, when I noticed a $47 million discrepancy between two sets of reports. At first I thought I had uncovered some criminal activity, so I spoke to my boss who meticulously checked though the details, and after several hours pointed out the problem - on a billion dollar balance sheet, the $47m had disappeared as a rounding error!


While the Armed Forces are a monopoly provider of services to a single client - the British Government - most businesses are competing with a wide range of capable rivals, each vying to take away customers. In any market where supply exceeds demand, an entrepreneur has to find ways of ensuring that they can sell their products or services at a premium. This is the realm of marketing.

I recommend spending time on a sales and marketing course, or at the very least reading widely on the subject. Peter Doyle's
Marketing Management and Strategy is a great top level introduction.

While Doyle puts marketing into a strategic context (he trained as an economist before becoming a marketing guru), there are also simple tactical questions that every entrepreneur should keep a close eye on, such as:

  • do I know my customer as well as possible?
  • does my product fit my market as closely as possible?
  • what can I measure to improve the performance of my marketing activities?
For me marketing remains the most interesting of the disciplines involved in entrepreneurship - and also the most challenging!

This is one of a series of posts on useful tools for entrepreneurs leaving the Armed Forces. Here is the full list and links.

1 comment:

  1. This is really a fascinating blog, lots of stuff that I can get into. One thing I just want to say is that your blog is so perfect!

    Business Market Research