#Focussing on your #strengths to #Grow

Growth is the ultimate test of business vitality, yet questions about it haunt business leaders. How much will we grow this year, and beyond? How much growth do we need? What kind of growth do we need? How should we balance revenue growth against margin improvement? How far afield from our current business should we look for new customers? Once we know where we want to be, how do we get there?

The best recipe for sustained, profitable growth is simple in its basic concept. It requires a capabilities-driven approach — making the most of what you already do well — that goes well beyond traditional market-back approaches, which try to deliver whatever the outside world seems to need.

It is also devilishly difficult in its details, because it assumes you will use any means at your disposal to achieve your goal. There need be no trade-off between current markets and adjacent markets, or between organic methods (such as marketing and innovation) and inorganic methods (such as mergers and acquisitions). You can and should blend all of these, ideally in a dynamic and fast-paced way, as long as they are aligned with the proficiency and advantages you already have.

Thus, before you pursue growth directly, you should have in place the three elements of a clearly defined, coherent strategy: (1) a value proposition that resonates with customers, supported by (2) a system of distinctive capabilities, combined in a way that competitors can’t match, with (3) a portfolio of products and services that are all aligned to the first two elements. You must also be able to deliver on that value proposition, translating concept into competitive position with a viable, sustainable business model that generates profits and cash flow.

You can grow profitably and sustainably only from a position of strength. If your enterprise is struggling to maintain its economic lifelines, then foundational work on strategy, organization, cost optimization, or other factors is needed before any new growth strategy can succeed. Companies that enter new businesses to escape a weak position generally become weaker still, because they move into markets where they lack the capabilities needed to succeed.

Companies that enter new businesses to escape from a weak position generally become weaker still.

Typewriter maker Smith Corona, for example, understood the needs of students and self-employed typists better than anyone else; this helped the company develop a successful line of word-processing computers in the 1980s. But the company couldn’t sustain that business, because its efforts to expand into office supply distribution, kitchen appliances, daisy-wheel printers, and paints had left it without the resources to compete against other types of personal computers. Blockbuster Video sought to protect itself from disruption in the early 2000s by buying Circuit City — an effort to create synergy from two weakened businesses without a clear logic for creating value together.

Let’s say you have that position of strength to start from: a capabilities-driven strategy and the wherewithal to exploit it. From there, you can chart a course toward sustainable and profitable expansion by combining four approaches to growth:

1. In-market leverage: seeking out new growth opportunities among your existing customers in your core market as currently defined.

2. Near-market expansion: pursuing opportunities in unfamiliar sectors or with new products. This approach is also known as expansion through adjacencies.

3. Disruptive growth: responding to dramatic change with entirely new business models and capabilities if and as appropriate. Though important at times, this is rarer than many businesspeople think and should be undertaken only if you have a clear idea of how to link your existing capabilities system to the new one you will need.

4. Capability development: building distinctive organizational proficiency in a way that supports the other three forms of growth. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, including M&A, innovation, and operations improvements.

All four of these topics may seem familiar; they have been discussed over the years at most companies. But the linkages among them are often overlooked. By strengthening those linkages, your company can enter into a cycle of ongoing self-renewal. Most companies exhibiting consistent long-term growth — Amazon, Apple, Danaher, Disney, General Electric, Hyundai, Nike, Novo Nordisk, Oracle, Starbucks, and Walmart among them — have followed and continue to follow this path.

Headroom for Growth

Companies frequently overlook the growth opportunities that are right in front of them. Sometimes they are tempted by attractive-looking opportunities in other markets, or lured by the idea of diversification into other businesses. Sometimes, they simply haven’t spent enough time trying to imagine how their approach in an existing market could be changed to unlock additional growth. The answer lies in finding headroom: potential new business in an existing market.

The headroom for in-market leverage is the customer revenue a company could have beyond its current business, minus that which it is unlikely to get. For example, some fast-food restaurant chains have increased their revenues by selling premium coffee, espresso, and other specialty drinks to their regular breakfast or lunch customers, rather than ceding that business to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Their headroom is the total potential premium coffee drink sales, minus the revenue from people who are unlikely to switch to them. Meanwhile, coffee retailers have added more meals to build headroom at the expense of the fast-food chains. Two food and drink businesses that were originally very different have thus evolved into competitors.

Similarly, some cable and telecommunications companies are finding headroom in their current customer base. They are shifting from being TV or telephone service providers to becoming comprehensive sources of digital, information, and value-added services (by offering home control systems, for example). Their investments in broadband lines, stretching into customers’ homes and offices, and their monthly interactions with a broad consumer base (developed over years of being regulated monopolies) give them a platform for this in-market leverage that is very hard for other companies to compete with. To be sure, these new businesses require strong capabilities in customer acquisition and service, in an industry that has often been accused of ignoring consumer complaints. But some cable and telecom providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Cox Communications, are now developing these capabilities to help them enter new lines of business.

Determining the size of your headroom in existing markets is a three-step process. First, find gaps between what other companies in the market offer and what customers need, and devise a way to close those “needs–offer” gaps with new or better offers. Second, identify the factors (such as features, incentives, or messaging) that would lead customers to switch to your new product or service. Finally, redeploy, leverage, and improve your capabilities — or, in some cases, add new ones — to close the gap and propel your customers to switch.

Needs–offer gaps can be found in any market. Enormous opportunities for in-market leverage are often hiding in plain sight, accessible to those who can look with fresh eyes at existing customers. One large pharmaceutical company expanded sales by identifying patients who were not taking their medications as frequently as prescribed, and then encouraging them to do so. Video game producers sell additional apps or special in-game bonuses to customers already playing their games. Manufacturers have successfully targeted customers who want more quality at an affordable price (such as those who seek out reviews of more durable appliances), or who want access to features currently available only to top-tier customers (such as smartphone purchasers seeking better-quality built-in cameras). Regional banks have offered customers access to credit with more engagement than global financial institutions could offer.

The levers available to close a needs–offer gap include adding or redeploying capabilities. For example, in retail, making incremental improvements in assortment and packaging, increasing access via a new distribution channel, or simply upgrading the customer experience in a way that outpaces competitors’ offerings. Amazon’s Prime membership is a good example. It doesn’t change any of the products Amazon sells, but it offers free two-day shipping on all purchases in return for an annual fixed fee, further leveraging Amazon’s distinctive supply chain capabilities.

Near-Market Opportunities

When companies think about growth, they often start by looking for “adjacencies” (new nearby markets to enter) that stand out primarily for their market potential. But by rushing to the most seemingly attractive opportunities — the places with hot new technologies or burgeoning consumer populations — they risk diversifying past the point of no return, just as Blockbuster and Smith Corona did. But those high-growth opportunities have probably risen up in response to another company’s successful capabilities play, which will be very hard for another company to compete against.

A better approach is to look for opportunities where you can leverage your own distinctive capabilities, find new customers for your existing products or services, or apply your strengths to new offerings. Begin with a thorough assessment of your own capabilities and their relevance for near-market opportunities. A capability is relevant because either it creates a distinctive economic advantage, such as eliminating costs, or it creates a customer-acquisition advantage, helping you capture prospective purchasers. If you don’t see that direct relevance, be cautious. Some apparent advantages, such as the ability to offer customers a single bundled source for purchases used together, won’t necessarily create real synergies. Summer barbecues may involve the purchase of grills, food, and charcoal briquettes or propane, but it’s hard to imagine a manufacturer in one of these sectors expanding successfully to the others, because of the disparate capabilities required for them.

In your assessment, give yourself credit for non-obvious strengths that will help you grow. For example, you may have overlooked capabilities you can apply in your operations infrastructure — your sales force, financial back office, or IT system — or your customer insights and logistics network. American Express had exactly this type of asset in its loyalty program, which it originally built to enhance its core business, and then extended into a platform that enabled other companies to offer similar services.

When you seek growth in near markets, be wary of stretching your capabilities system so far that the linkage breaks, and your current business model doesn’t apply the way you hoped it would. Leading companies in the chemicals industry, for example, traditionally expanded by leveraging the production system they already had in place. This reduced the costs of both product streams. However, this approach led commodity chemicals companies to enter specialty businesses, whose customers demanded custom manufacturing, hands-on service, and rapid-response design that they couldn’t easily deliver. They had crossed a capability boundary, as we call it, in which the old capabilities no longer provided economic or customer acquisition advantages. As a result, over time the industry has specialized, evolving away from multicompetency conglomerates. Some companies returned to commodities while others migrated to a focus on agricultural products or specialty chemicals.

Capability boundaries also often arise when companies seek geographic expansion. For example, consumer product and retail companies moving from Europe or the U.S. to emerging markets such as India must adapt to radically different requirements and build new types of relationships. Retailers may have to modify store formats, assortments, logistics approaches, and brand positioning for local markets — sometimes to the point where their capabilities system may not easily stretch to accommodate distant locations or cultures, and still take advantage of the same value propositions and capabilities systems that make them successful at home.

In general, you should cross capability boundaries consciously and cautiously. The secret to successful near-market expansion is balancing creativity in how you extend your capabilities with a judicious view of when you are overstretching. Companies that use traditional adjacency definitions or ignore capability boundaries can easily find themselves in an adjacency trap. One famous example involved Sears Roebuck’s acquisition of the brokerage house Dean Witter Reynolds in 1981. This proved that customers didn’t necessarily want to “buy their stocks where they buy their socks,” as one critic put it. In some industries, companies are choosing to cross capability boundaries to survive. For example, as shown in Exhibit 1, convergence among the computer, telecommunications, and entertainment industries is forcing companies to expand their business definitions. Each company carves out its own path: Thus, Google and Netflix are moving from their established software businesses to generate digital television content, whereas other companies such as Apple and Microsoft have resisted the temptation to cross that capability boundary.

Disruption vs. Evolution

A casual look at the business media would suggest that disruption is everywhere, but disruption has become one of the most overused words in the business lexicon. Too often, a rapid, innovative evolutionary change in an industry is confused with disruption. Knowing the difference has significant implications for your growth strategy, capabilities system, and business model.

Most industries evolve continuously, through technological change, business model innovation, and improvements in everyday practices. Evolution affects companies and their customers — lowering costs, creating new needs–offer gaps, and enhancing products or customer experiences. Even breakthrough innovations, which deliver a step change in costs and benefits but do not require fundamental changes in capabilities systems, are not necessarily disruptions.

True industry disruptions are rare. They happen when a technological or business model innovation thoroughly changes or obliterates existing business models and their associated capabilities systems. Disruptions create situations in which every company has to reexamine its capability boundaries, or risk losing its livelihood.

In the music business, the introduction of the compact disc in the early 1980s was a breakthrough innovation that led widespread evolutionary changes throughout the industry. But it was not disruption; it did not fundamentally change the prevalent talent development, promotion, and physical distribution–based business model. Most of the companies that were prominent before the compact disc held on to their positions and practices after it was introduced.

The introduction of digital music files in the mid-1990s, on the other hand, was disruptive. (See “The Portable Music Saga”.) It utterly changed business models, capabilities systems, and supplier–buyer relationships throughout the industry. Internet-enabled innovations have driven many similar disruptions, in businesses as varied as book retailing, journalism, and on-demand dispatch and use of taxis and limousines.

The Portable Music Saga

In-market, near-market, and disruptive growth opportunities often happen in the same market over time. One of the most compelling examples is the market for portable recorded music and sound over the past 50 years.

It started in the 1950s at the dawn of rock-and-roll music, when teenagers desperately wanted music that they could take with them to their rooms and to parties. They carted around portable record players and boxes of vinyl 45 or 33 RPM discs. When the cost of the transistor fell in the mid-1950s, Texas Instruments and Sony capitalized on this needs–offer gap by offering radios that could be easily carried and mounted in automobiles. This manufactured product also helped build the market for recorded music, in the form of vinyl record albums that people could play at home.

But recorded music and the convenience of portability did not exist in a single package, and thus a further needs–offer gap existed. In 1979, Sony showed that it had found a cycle of continuous renewal when it filled that gap with the introduction of the Walkman, a compact device for playing cassette tapes through miniaturized headphones. This dramatic new play for headroom led the category for many years. Sony’s capabilities in designing and marketing small radios served it extremely well in the world of small audio, even after compact discs supplanted cassettes.

Sony faltered in the late 1990s, when its capabilities system, based on consumer devices, was upended. The shift to digital music file formats, such as MP3, required capabilities in computers and software. Downloadable music files had a clear advantage over compact discs in convenience, selection, and price. By 2001 there were 50 different portable MP3 players for sale on the U.S. market. None of them, however, quite fit the bill. Device interfaces were kludgy, downloading and managing music files could be haphazard and difficult, and online platforms could be quirky and unreliable. Some were downright sketchy (remember Napster?).

Enter Apple. This was one of the very few companies with capabilities in user-friendly product and interface design, technological integration, stylish fashion-forward marketing, and the coordination of creative media (which, along with Steve Jobs’s personal star power and friendships with musicians, helped it negotiate with record labels in the extremely insular music industry).

Apple was thus well positioned to make a dramatically successful near-market move; the iPod hit the market in 2001, at first for Macintosh users only, and was soon outselling its competitors. The company didn’t stop there: It pursued headroom within that territory, by opening the iTunes online music store, enabling consumers to buy and manage digital music simply and reliably and syncing with Windows-based computers as well as its own.

With these innovations, Apple filled a needs–offer gap that few other companies saw: It provided a reliable, standardized system that made purchasing, keeping, and listening to music relatively easy. By 2008, Apple had claimed nearly 50 percent of the market for music players. Its nearest competitor’s share was in the single digits. Adding video, games, publishing, and lifestyle apps, along with the iPhone, represented a series of natural in-market growth moves. For the next five years, Apple had a virtual lock on its customers; they were unwilling to switch because of the compelling nature of the company’s seamless offering.

Since 2013, however, a new needs–offer gap has been identified: Streaming media is even more convenient and less expensive than downloads. The online radio service Pandora was the first to fill this gap, and others are rushing to compete: Amazon with a near-market move, and Spotify and Netflix as new entrants. Apple pursued an in-market move with its Apple Music service, introduced in 2015. Apple Music builds on the acquisition of Beats, a startup founded by music industry veterans, which improved Apple’s capabilities for curating and enhancing audio and video content. This new needs–offer gap is still only partly understood, and it’s not clear which companies will be favored. But it is likely that the headroom is not yet exhausted and further needs–offer gaps will be discovered in the audio–video market as technology continues to evolve.

The impact of biotechnology on pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals is another good example of the difference between evolutionary and disruptive innovation. Advances in biotech have provided major innovations in pharmaceuticals since the 1980s, enabling life science companies to develop entirely new kinds of genetically engineered drugs for treating diseases such as diabetes and cancer. However valuable these innovations have been, they simply provide another way of introducing molecules into the established regulatory, commercial, selling, support, and reimbursement systems. No major changes in the business models or capabilities systems have been required, at least so far. (Personalized medicines may turn out to be more disruptive.)

In agricultural chemicals, however, biotech has been disruptive. The advent of genetically modified plant cells completely changed the roles that seeds and chemicals played throughout the industry’s value chain. Companies that provided genomics had to extend themselves upstream, downstream, and horizontally. Companies that provided agricultural chemicals had to integrate upstream into seeds, and to combine or partner with downstream companies in the processing and delivery chain. In some cases, agricultural companies had to create new brands at the end-user level to capture the value of their innovations.

Companies can respond to evolution and even step-change innovation by improving, and in some cases by adding to, their capabilities systems. But to respond to a true disruption, companies often need to intentionally cross capability boundaries, adding entirely new capabilities to survive. The Lowe’s hardware chain did this successfully in the 1990s. Traditionally, Lowe’s sold construction materials, mainly to professional homebuilders, through small, full-service outlets. In 1982, Home Depot introduced a disruptive new business model — “big box” stores in a home improvement center format. These outlets were much larger than Lowe’s stores (90,000 square feet versus 15,000) and had much lower operating costs, mainly thanks to labor savings from scale and self-service. Lowe’s struggled to compete for nearly 10 years. Then in 1992, Lowe’s converted its own stores to the new home improvement format and became a strong, successful competitor.

If you respond to disruption by changing your business model and capabilities system, as Lowe’s did, you can’t dabble. You have to commit fully to a new business model, and build the necessary capabilities as soon and as thoroughly as possible.

A Cycle of Continuous Renewal

The goal of a growth strategy is to create continuous renewal so that your top-line revenue increases steadily. As we’ve seen, you need a single viable strategy combining in-market and near-market growth, backed up by the right group of capabilities. In-market growth converts your capabilities into increased wallet share, providing returns that fuel investment. Near-market growth makes the most of the investment by using your capabilities more broadly. Capabilities development makes both kinds of growth more successful. Success in each of these areas reinforces success in the others, and the cycle continues to accelerate as long as you stay in practice.

But where to begin? That depends on where you are right now. The possibilities are best visualized as a matrix, in which the horizontal axis represents the distinctiveness of your capabilities system and its relative fit with the opportunities you have or wish to create, and the vertical axis represents the headroom for growth in your current markets. Most companies fit squarely into one of the four resulting quadrants (see Exhibit 2).

The “poor prospects” lack distinctive capabilities and apparent opportunities, and thus are in a weak position. If you are in this group, your only path to organic growth success — assuming your business survives — is to do foundational work on strategy and execution. Focus on improving your core capabilities systems and value propositions. Only then can you consider either in-market or near-market growth strategies.

If you are in the “capabilities-challenged” group, you have ample headroom for growth, but your capabilities aren’t a good fit for the opportunities. This can happen when a company lets its performance drift, or when its market changes, creating new upsides that require different capabilities. Your growth challenge is adding or enhancing capabilities to capture your available headroom, not chasing unrelated markets.

Other companies are “headroom-challenged.” They are successful in their markets as currently defined, but have little upside: Growth prospects are leveling off. If you are in this group, start looking for previously unnoticed opportunities for in-market growth, and leverage or improve your distinctive capabilities to exploit them. Alternatively, seek near-market opportunities by redefining or reimagining your business. A hardware or software supplier may redefine itself as a solutions provider (many tech companies have done this). A search-engine company can become an information management company, as Google has. A food company can recast itself as a nutrition company (consider Nestlé). Redefining your business puts you in the “capabilities-challenged” group, where new skills will be required, and risk may increase — but so will opportunities. As your capabilities systems improve in response to their deployment in your new near-market expansion, you will move into the “growth leaders” category.

If you are already among the fortunate companies in that quadrant, the key to sustained, profitable growth is a balanced mix of all the levers we have discussed, tailored to your company’s needs and culture. Continue to mine in-market opportunities, to use your insights and talent to capture valid adjacencies, and to reimagine your capabilities as necessary. From time to time, you’ll hit ceilings to your headroom and need to expand into new markets or build new capabilities. You may even face genuine disruption. Then you’ll move around the cycle again — identifying new headroom for growth that represents a good potential fit, developing the distinctive capabilities you need, and returning to your position as a growth leader (see Exhibit 3).

Sustainable growth requires building this type of continuous renewal cycle. Your pace around the cycle may be set by the clock speed of your industry: Technology firms cycle more quickly than chemicals companies. But no matter how fast or slow your industry, your potential for continuous growth depends on how well you can manage these dynamics — how skilled you become at seeing potential for growth, and building capabilities to realize that potential.

Successful companies avoid getting stuck in the “headroom-challenged” category, or drifting into “poor prospects” territory, by continuously renewing their capabilities. You can build or expand some capabilities through organic methods such as innovation and marketing, you can “borrow” other capabilities through alliances with other enterprises, and you can buy still other capabilities through mergers and acquisitions.

What about M&A?

Mergers and acquisitions are so closely associated with expansion that the term inorganic growth is frequently used to refer to such deals. But this terminology can be misleading. Inorganic methods, such as acquisitions, are not actually a form of growth. They are capability acquisition tools. An M&A deal does not automatically expand a company’s customer base or revenue stream beyond what the two merged companies previously had available to them. It may increase potential for growth, but the company still has to put its new capabilities to use to realize that potential.

Thus the most successful acquirers are those that acquire with a capabilities mind-set. They outperform those who are not capabilities-driven by more than 14 percentage points in total shareholder returns. (See “Deals That Win,” by J. Neely, John Jullens, and Joerg Krings.)

Sustainable Growth in Practice

One way to ensure this cycle of continuous renewal is through capabilities chaining: developing new capabilities that complement your existing ones, so that you can use all of this proficiency to enter a new line of business. For example, to expand from the photography industry to healthcare, Fujifilm is using its existing capabilities in material science, engineering, and quality manufacturing. To complement these, it bought two firms involved in regenerative medicine research: Cellular Dynamics International (based in the U.S.) and Japan’s Tissue Engineering Corporation (J-TEC). In March 2015, Fujifilm chairman and CEO Shigetaka Komori told the Japanese newspaperNikkei, “If we combine the three companies’ technologies [those of Fujifilm, J-TEC, and Cellular Dynamics], they can be put to use in a variety of…applications, such as tissue and organ regeneration…. We’re aiming to become the world’s top regenerative medicine company.”

When you create your own prospective capability chain map, draw pragmatic linkages between what you do well now and the opportunities you see ahead. The map shows what capabilities are needed for each new step, and identifies ways to take that step successfully.

The art of growth is balancing and sequencing all the levers we have discussed: in-market leverage, near-market expansion, and capability development; organic tools, alliances, and mergers and acquisitions. Capabilities chaining brings your innovation and inorganic options together into one coherent make-versus-buy framework. As an example, we have mapped the growth of some of General Electric, which has used capabilities chaining in this way since the 1950s (see Exhibit 4). You seek an approach tailored to your company, combining insight and creativity with pragmatism and execution. And whenever you become too settled and secure, you look for new headroom and begin the cycle all over again.

Cintas Corporation, which provides uniforms and specialized services to companies, is an example of a highly successful company that has created this type of continuous growth cycle. Cintas began in the Great Depression as an industrial laundry that reclaimed and cleaned rags for local factories around Cincinnati. The company later began renting towels to customers, replacing them or repairing them as needed. Over time, Cintas created a distinctive set of capabilities and its own business model — “The Cintas Way” — combining excellence in plant operations, a highly refined logistics capability, and service innovation with customer knowledge and sales and service networks. The company has grown steadily through an integrated evolutionary approach. Cintas’s cycle of continuous growth included three major approaches to expansion (see Exhibit 5).

1. In-market leverage. Growth accelerated as the company pursued in-market opportunities, first renting (as well as laundering, repairing, and replacing) uniforms for factory workers, and then additionally offering uniforms for front-office personnel and specialty items such as flame-resistant garments for specific needs. At the same time, Cintas worked with manufacturers to develop new materials that would be resistant to staining, that would stand up to repeated washing and need little ironing, and that would provide protection as well as style.

2. Near-market expansion. Cintas enters new markets and geographies by cautiously testing whether its core business model will prosper before committing to those opportunities. The company has leveraged its capabilities system by adding other clearly linked services, including renting and cleaning floor mats; providing washroom supplies; and managing, cleaning, providing, and servicing first-aid kits and fire extinguishers. The company moved into adjacent businesses by offering services to existing customers such as employee safety training, and by expanding its customer base to include companies in other industries such as hotels and airlines.

3. Capability development. Cintas was also able to realize when it had reached the limits of its capabilities system. After entering and building a successful document storage and imaging business to offer additional services to customers, the company figured out that this new business was driven as much by commodity prices and real estate as by Cintas’s own strengths in logistics, services, and operations. In 2014, Cintas sold this business. Finally, Cintas has used mergers and acquisitions to access and test new capabilities and new services, and expanded by rolling up smaller companies in similar businesses, where the company could further leverage its capabilities.

This cycle of continuous growth has given Cintas strong and consistent financial performance over the decades, and enabled the company to successfully weather the post-2008 downturn. Today, Cintas is one of the largest business services suppliers in North America; it employs 30,000 people, serves more than 900,000 customers, and maintains 430 facilities, including six manufacturing plants and nine distribution centers.

Companies that have struggled to grow consistently tend to think about growth in terms of contradictions: sticking with their current markets versus moving into new ones; leveraging versus enhancing their capabilities; growing their current business versus expanding via M&A; “staying true to themselves” versus leaving their corporate identity behind — but these are all false choices. The art of continuous growth involves reconciling activities that only seem to contradict one another. Combining them will yield a capabilities-driven strategy that will generate continuous growth.

How to set your ##dining ##table for ##guests

How to set your dining table for guests

Have a fancy dinner table don’t know how to set it for formal occasions? Here are a few tips on how to make it look aesthetically nice…

Go for crisp linens: If you want to spread a table cloth, make sure it’s in linen, as this material hangs well on any surface. You can also place napkins and table mats in the same material.
Invest in Chinaware: Though expensive, the look that dainty Chinaware provides on a table during a special or festive occasion is unmatched. Invest in a set that can be used sparingly whenever you have guests over.
A sleek centerpiece: If you have a big dining table, you can decorate it with a creative centerpiece, complementing it with the decor or even with the cuisine that you’re serving. From candles and potpourri to bulbs.
Name cards on the table: For a large, formal dinner party, if you’ve invited many people, you can even keep names cards on the table, so that people know where they are expected to sit, without causing any chaos and confusion.

Top 75 #companies #spent Rs 4,000 crore on #CSR in 2015

Big CSR spenders include Reliance Industries with Rs 760 crore, ONGC with Rs 495 crore, Infosys with Rs 239 crore, NTPC with Rs 205 crore and TCS with Rs 220 crore, according to company filings.

The country’s top 75 companies spent more than Rs 4,000 crore towards corporate social responsibility in the last fiscal, the first year after the government mandated bigger companies to give away a part of their profits for social work, early estimates of the government show.

Big CSR spenders include Reliance IndustriesBSE -0.31 % with Rs 760 crore, ONGC with Rs 495 crore, InfosysBSE 3.13 % with Rs 239 crore, NTPCBSE -0.08 % with Rs 205 crore and TCS with Rs 220 crore, according to  ..

7 Ways Social Media Will Be More Expensive This Year

7 Ways Social Media Will Be More Expensive This Year

For a long time, there was a perception that social media marketing was free, or at least very inexpensive. Starting a Facebook or Twitter account was free, and hiring a part-time intern to manage them didn’t cost much.

In reality, social media marketing has never been free. Sure, there aren’t usually any hard costs required to set up social media accounts, but someone is still had to create the content, engage in the conversation, monitor and manage those conversations, etc. As we’ve seen time and time again, turning over your brand’s reputation to an intern isn’t always the wisest choice. Most brands now know the real costs of social media marketing are not as great as the opportunity costs of bad social media strategy.


Fast-forward a few years, and we’re seeing more and more organizations hire entire teams to create content for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and whatever hot new social media startup launched last week. Content marketing, the creation and distribution of content to attract leads and generate sales, has become a $118.4 billion industry. According to data from DOMO and Column Five Media, every minute of every day sees over 2 million Google searches, 571 new websites, and 48 hours of new YouTube video. It’s become overwhelming.

Unfortunately, it’s only going to get more difficult as brands compete in a social media arms race. Rather than creating a slow and steady stream of high-quality content, most brands believe they’re better off creating a ton of low-quality content in the hope that one or two pieces will have real results. Yet a recent study by InboundWriter shows only 10 to 20 percent of a company’s website content drives 90 percent of its online traffic.

Meanwhile, social networks realize that brands will pay big money for access to the millions of users in their online communities, and they’re going to charge more and more for that privilege. According to a recent Advertising Age article, Facebook reports: “Content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people’s ability to consume it.”

This means the organic reach of any one particular piece of content is going to decline even more from the 16 percent rate it’s at now. Some may see it drop all the way to 2 percent.

Increasingly, to compete effectively in social media, brands realize that to play, they must pay.

To keep up with social networks’ efforts to monetize their massive online audiences, companies are allocating more resources to keep up. Simply creating valuable content and then authentically engaging with your audiences often is no longer enough, especially when you have to spend more to reach those audiences. Brands know they now must create distribution strategies for that content, sometimes at a substantial cost.

Here are seven ways brands will spend more money on social media and content marketing in 2014:

1. Creating content. If brands wish to rise above the glut of content that’s being created, they’re going to have to improve the quality of content they create. That viral video that looks like it was shot on a family member’s smartphone was actually just a bit created by the “traditional” media.

2. Promoting content. Expect social platforms to reward brands that spend a lot of money in ads on those platforms. It’s a vicious cycle. Paid ads and sponsored content will help drive the “organic” reach of your other content. In addition, brands with more Facebook likes are going to see a lower cost for paid distribution because paid social ads will show greater social context. If more “likes” and followers = cheaper ads, guess who’s going to start to investing in more contests, giveaways, and other tactics to reach more eyeballs and then subsequently buy more ads and sponsored content.

3. Increasing reach. As brands acquire more and more fans, followers, and “likes,” and as these social networks get larger and larger, the cost to reach them will continue to increase. When a brand makes an investment in creating high-quality content, you can bet they’ll ensure it reaches the largest number of people.

4. Syndicating content. Likewise, expect more dollars to go companies such as Taboola and Outbrain that specialize in placing content where it’s most likely to be discovered. In a sea of content, these companies help more people find yours.

5. Monitoring, filtering, and analyzing conversations. Social media monitoring platforms have been around for years, but their hefty price tags often relegated them to a wish list for many organizations. However, as more people and brands create even more content, it’s going to become more difficult to identify and act on what’s relevant to you. As a result, pricey monitoring and analytics tools will be migrating from the wish list to the approved budget.

6. Paid sponsorships. Those “influencers” you’re always trying to reach? They’re realizing their influence is in demand and that it’s not cheap. According to a recent IZEA survey, 61 percent of marketers have paid someone to mention their product, and that number is only going to rise in 2014. It’s not just celebrities and athletes, either. Everyday people are also asking for more money and more product, because they can and because brands will meet those demands.

7. More full-time employees. As more content is created and more money is spent promoting and distributing that content, more people will be needed to create, moderate, measure, and analyze it. Demand for data scientists, SEO specialists, media buyers, and creatives will increase as brands try to optimize the money they’re investing.

If you thought the days of trying to persuade your bosses to invest in social media were over, get ready to go back, hat in hand, and ask for even more money. With bigger budgets come bigger expectations and more pressure. Are your social media, content generation, and content distribution strategies ready?


`टाइमपास`... माझ्या आयुष्यातला

कोण म्हणतं आयुष्यात गेलेले दिवस पुन्हा येत नाहीत..? रविवारी `टाइमपास` हा सिनेमा पाहताना, मला तर भरभर २० वर्षे मागे गेल्यासारखं वाटलं… पडद्यावर जे दिसत होतं, ते त्याकाळी आपणही अनुभवलं होतं, याची जाणीव झाली… जुन्या फोटोंचा अल्बम किंवा व्हिडिओ पाहतोय, असं वाटू लागलं… त्यातला `दगडू`ला आपण नखशिखांत ओळखतो, याची खात्री पटली. त्यातली `प्राजक्ता` तर माझी `शेजारीण`च… सख्खी शेजारीण… आताही `ती` शेजारीच बसली होती. बायको म्हणून… आणि आमच्या या `टाइमपास`ला आलेलं गोड `फळ` देखील आमच्यासोबत होतं…

त्यामुळे सिनेमाशी एकदम कनेक्ट झाल्यासारखं वाटलं. किंबहुना आपलीच स्टोरी पडद्यावर दाखवत नाहीत ना, अशीही शंका आली. `टाइमपास`मधले अनेक प्रसंग चक्क आमच्याही आयुष्यात घडलेले होते. अगदी सहज येता जाता, कुणालाही कळणार नाही अशा बेताने केवळ खाणाखुणांनी साधलेला संवाद… केवळ हातवारे करून सांगितल्या जाणा-या भावना… शब्देविण संवादू की काय म्हणतात ना, तेच ते…

साईबाबा हा देखील कॉमन फॅक्टर… सिनेमातला साईबाबांच्या गाण्यांचा फिल्मीपणा सोडला, तर त्या काळात आपणही बाबांच्या पुढ्यात उभं राहून जे मागायचो, तेच दगडूच्या तोंडून ऐकायला मिळालं..
आमची `प्राजक्ता`ही तेव्हा तश्शीच होती… काजू कतली आणि प्राजक्ता पतली… ती कॉलेजमध्ये जाऊ लागली, तेव्हाच मी प्रपोज केलं होतं. न जाणो, आपल्या आधी इतर कुणी नंबर लावला तर… या भीतीनं काळीज धडधडायचं… थेट प्रपोज करण्याची हिंमतच व्हायची नाही. मग आडून आडून विचारायचो… एका वाक्यात उत्तर देशील का, असा भुंगा तिच्या मागे कित्येक दिवस लावला होता. मग एकदा सगळी हिंमत एकवटून तिला विचारलं… तर तिनंही `प्रतिक्षा…` करायला सांगितलं. (सिनेमातली प्राजक्ताही दगडूला लायब्ररीत प्रतिक्षा नावाचं पुस्तक दाखवते…) माझ्या एका वाक्याच्या प्रश्नाला तिनं एका वाक्यात कधीच सरळ उत्तर दिलं नाही. त्यामुळं तिला हो म्हणायचंय की, नाही म्हणायचंय, तेच कळत नव्हतं. माझाही तेव्हा दगडूच झाला होता.. सिनेमात दगडूनं फोटो मागितल्यावर प्राजक्ता आपल्या हॉल तिकीटवरचा फोटो काढून त्याला देते… आमच्या प्राजक्तानंही २० वर्षांपूर्वी तेच केलं होतं. तिचा हॉल तिकीटवरचा तो काळ्या ड्रेसमधला फोटो कितीतरी वर्षं मी पाकिटात जपून ठेवला होता…. 143 वगैरे आमच्या काळात नव्हतं… तेव्हा इलू इलू असायचं. इलू का मतलब आय एल यू.. आय लव्ह यू…

तिच्या `प्रतिक्षा` करायला सांगण्याला अनेक कारणं होती. एक म्हणजे आमचं वय खूपच लहान होतं… आणि आम्ही दोघंही एकमेकांच्या अगदी शेजारी शेजारी राहत होतो… एकदम सख्खे शेजारी. दोघांच्या घरामध्ये होती ती फक्त एक `दिवार`… पण ती दिवार पार करणं, म्हणजे महामुश्किल काम होतं.

`टाइमपास`... माझ्या आयुष्यातला

यह इश्क नही आसाँ
बस इतना समझ ले
एक आग का दरियाँ है
और डुब के जाना है…

याची कल्पना त्याकाळी अजिबातच नव्हती. अगदी अल्लड वयातलं ते प्रेम… नोकरी, घर, संसार असा हिशेबीपणा त्यात अजिबातच नव्हता. तेवढा विचार करण्याची बुद्धी तरी कुठं होती..? होत्या त्या निव्वळ भावना… मला ती आवडते आणि तिला मी आवडतो.. बस्सं एवढंच. पुढं काय… काहीच माहित नव्हतं… सकाळी एकत्र कॉलेजला जाणं, दुपारी एकत्र घरी येणं, मग संध्याकाळी क्लासच्या बहाण्यानं पुन्हा एकदा एकमेकांना भेटणं… असं दिवसरात्र आम्ही सोबतच असायचो…
मग दगडू आणि प्राजक्ताच्या जे झालं, तेच आमच्याही बाबतीत घडलं…

तुम लाख छुपाओ प्यार मगर,
दुनिया को पता चल जाएगा…

हे खरं ठरलं… आणि आमच्या दोघांच्याही घरात आभाळ कोसळलं… मूर्खपणा, बालिशपणा, थिल्लरपणा, वासना… अगदी नको नको ती नावं आमच्या नात्याला ठेवण्यात आली. तेव्हा जवळच्या नातेवाईकांचा, आईवडिलांचा केवढा राग यायचा… प्रत्येकामध्ये `वैभव मांगले` जाणवायचा… सख्खे शेजारी, आता पक्के वैरी झाले होते.. आपल्या उदात्त प्रेमाला हे किती हिणकस समजतात, अपवित्र समजतात, ख-या प्रेमाची कदरच कशी कुणाला नाही, प्रेमी जीवांवर अन्याय करण्यातच सर्वांना कसा आसूरी आनंद मिळतो, याचे अनुभव घेत होतो… आमच्या दोघांवर बंधनं घालण्यात आली. आईवडिलांच्या भीतीनं बोलण्याची-भेटण्याची चोरी झाली. टाइमपासप्रमाणं माझ्या `प्राजक्ता`चे आईवडिल घर सोडून गेले नाहीत, पण माझ्या `प्राजक्ता`ला नर्सिंगच्या शिक्षणासाठी हॉस्टेलला पाठवण्यात आलं… तीन वर्षांसाठी का होईना, पण ताटातूट झाली… ती खूप असह्य होती, वेदनादायी होती…

पण तरीही चोरून चोरून आम्ही भेटायचो. कारण तिचं हॉस्टेल परळमध्येच गांधी हॉस्पिटलमध्ये होतं. दुसरं म्हणजे सिनेमात दगडू जेवढा मठ्ठ दाखवलाय, तेवढा मी नक्कीच नव्हतो. टपोरी वगैरे तर अजिबातच नव्हतो. अभ्यासात ब-यापैकी हुशार होतो. त्यामुळं आमच्या `प्राजक्ता`च्या आईचा सॉफ्ट कॉर्नरही मला होता. आम्ही चोरून चोरून भेटतो, हे समजल्यावर तिनं अजिबात त्रागा केला नाही. प्राजक्ताची आई तिला कानफटवते, तसं काही तिनं केलं नाही. उलट तिनं एकदा मला समजावून सांगण्याचा प्रयत्न केला की, आमचं कसं चुकतंय… आम्ही अजून लहान आहोत. अभ्यास करायचं आमचं वय आहे. शिकून मोठे व्हा, चांगली नोकरी करा, मग लग्नाबिग्नाचं बघा, असं तिनं समजावून सांगितलं. एवढंच काय तर मी लिहिलेलं शेवटचं `लव्ह लेटर`ही त्या माऊलीनं आपल्या पोटच्या मुलीला नेऊन दिलं…

आता ऑफिशियली आमचा `प्रेमभंग` झाला होता… ती तिच्या शिक्षणात व्यस्त होती. आणि आमच्या घरचीही आर्थिक परिस्थिती बिकट झाल्यानं मलाही नोकरी करणं भाग पडलं. शनिवारी किंवा एखाद्या सुट्टीच्या दिवशी ती घरी यायची, तिचा आवाज ऐकू यायचा… काळजात एकदम चर्रर्रर्र व्हायचं. चुकूनमाकून ती गल्लीत दिसायची, आणि न पाहिल्यासारखं करून बाजूनं निघून जायची… तेव्हा हृदय पिळवटणं, काय असतं याची जाणीव व्हायची… खूप अवघड काळ होता तो… याच काळात अनेकांचा तोल जातो. सुदैवानं माझा गेला नाही. नाहीतर प्रेमभंग झालेले अनेक मित्र वाया गेल्याची उदाहरणं मी पाहिलेली आहेत. पण तसं काही माझ्या बाबतीत घडणार नव्हतं… सिनेमात शेवटी दगडू जसा समंजसपणा दाखवतो, तसाच काहीसा मी देखील दाखवला होता.
आणि त्या सबुरीचं फळ शेवटी मिळालंच…

तीन-चार वर्षांच्या प्रेमभंगानंतर दोघांचीही गाडी जेव्हा सुरळीत मार्गाला लागली, दोघंही चांगल्या नोकरीला लागलो, तेव्हा पुन्हा एकदा एका वळणावर आम्ही भेटलो… साईबाबांची कृपादृष्टीच होती ती… (ती स्टोरी पुन्हा केव्हा तरी….)
टू बी कटिन्यू… म्हणत सिनेमाचा शेवट झाला… पण दगडूलाही उद्या प्राजक्ता भेटणार, याबाबत माझ्या मनात तरी शंका नाही.
कारण त्याचं प्रेमही `टाइमपास` नव्हतं…

#10 Best #Blog Sites To Create your Blog For Freee


Blogging is growing day by day and there are many platforms which allow people to blog without spending a penny. If you are passionate about blogging and want to start a blog for no charges, this post will help choose from the top free blog service providers.
Best Blogging Sites

Best Blogging Sites
I myself started on blogspot (now called blogger) and after years of learning and experimenting I started this blog on WordPress. Although my personal choice will always remain WordPress but for blogging enthusiasts the options are many. You can play around with each and in time you will be sure what to use and what you should not.
I regularly update this post, and i have seen some new blogging platforms and even tried those, with all the services put together, i have made this list as simple and straight.
I hope this post will make few more people interested in blogging.


1.# Blogger – Blogger is a blog publishing service that allows private or multi-user blogs with time-stamped entries. It was created by Pyra Labs, which was bought by Google in 2003. Generally, the blogs are hosted by Google at subdomains of blogspot.com. Blogger allows users to publish blogs on other hosts, via ftp. This is my first choice for best blog sites.
blogger.com - best blog site
2. WordPress – WordPress.com is a weblog hosting provider owned by Automattic which opened to beta testers on August 8, 2005 and opened to the public on November 21, 2005. It is powered by the open source WordPress software. It is financially supported via paid upgrades, “VIP” services and limited Google Adsense advertising. This is my second choice as the best blog sites
wordpress.com - second best blogging platform
3. Tumblr – Tumblr is a microblogging platform that allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their tumblelog, a short-form blog. Users can follow other users, or choose to make their tumblelog private. The service emphasizes ease of use.
tumblr - blogging platform
4. Medium – Medium Founded by Twitter startup guy Ev Williams & Biz Stone, this blogging platform has an extra feature to annotate work of other people, this makes this new blogging platform quite unique. Just log in from Twitter authentication system and you are ready to comment and blog. If you are new to blogging and looking out for readers, then you might want to try medium, as it has a large audience attached to it.
medium.com - blogging platform from twitter founders
5. Livejournal – LiveJournal (LJ) is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary. LiveJournal is also the name of the free and open source server software that was designed to run the LiveJournal virtual community. LiveJournal’s blogging features include those found in similar blogging sites (multiple authors, commenting, calendars, and polls). However, LiveJournal differentiates itself from other blogging sites by its WELL-like features of a self-contained community and some social networking features similar to other social networking sites.
livejournal.com - blogging platform
6. Quora – Quora is a question answer guide, where people like you and me ask question about any topic, and you will answered by the community. Its much like Yahoo and StackOverflow, but they have added blog functionality which is really great.
7. Blogsome It’s easy, choose any kind of WordPress theme, upload photos, personalize your design and start blogging right now. You can also browse samples of the latest posts and blogs. The blogsome.com also offers forums where you can search for any type of answers, read important documentation in relation of the service and terms of use, and you must ask really smart questions so to become part of this community. What the blogsome website intends is to offer a clean service, so when users are found to be using stolen content from other websites as a means of generating traffic, they immediately remove this blogs and cease service.
8. Edublogs – The World’s most popular education blogging service… Edublogs lets you easily create & manage student & teacher blogs, quickly customize designs and include videos, photos & podcasts – it’s safe, easy and secure.
9. Blog – Blog.com provides a fully-featured publishing platform for free. Blog by yourself or establish a writing community, all under an address that looks like: you.blog.com. It also offers free blog hosting with unlimited bandwidth for their free package, more benefits for paid members.
10. Weebly –  Weebly started in 2006 has been providing very extensive well managed solutions for newbie’s. To create a blog website in Weebly you can simply log on with your FaceBook account as well. With 100′s of professional designed templates and superb website building experience, we have kept this great site in our list.

Yahoo Pulse – now closed

Yahoo! 360° was a social networking and personal communication portal operated by Yahoo! made available in 2005. It enabled users to create personal web sites, share photos from Yahoo! Photos, maintain blogs and lists, create and share a public profile and see which friends are currently online. 360° also featured a ‘friends updates’ section, under which each friend’s latest update was summarized (e.g. blog posts, updated lists or newly shared photos).
I am sure their are many more platforms which can be in his list but for now I have chosen these over some others. Let us know if you have a replacement or better blog creating service that you have used.

Need social protection to curb AIDS says National Aids Control Organisation

Social protection for families affected by HIV/AIDS is one of the key strategies to prevent the spread of the disease, the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) said Tuesday.

The National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), under the leadership of department of AIDS control, recognizes the fact that reduction of vulnerability is key to the prevention, care, support and treatment of HIV/AIDS, Luv Verma, secretary, AIDS control department, said at a press conference here.

“So much so, the fourth phase of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) has social protection as one of its core strategies,” he said.

Social protection refers to public interventions to assist individuals, households and communities to manage risk better and that provides support to the critically poor.

In order to facilitate exchange of thoughts and experiences, the department of AIDS control in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India, is hosting a two-day international conference on HIV sensitive social protection.

The conference will have representation from 14 different countries which will include participants from respective governments, civil society and communities of people living with HIV.

There would also be representation from various departments and ministries of the government, civil society, marginalized groups and experts.

Approximately 200 participants are expected to attend the two-day event here beginning Wednesday. According to a 2006 study, average HIV household income is lower by 34 percent than non-HIV households.

Close to 40 percent of adults living with HIV in the country are women, of whom 43 percent live alone without any kind of assets and support systems.