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Savvy business leaders are participating in strategy sessions – here’s what they’re all about.

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Every small business owner knows there is a fine line between working “on” your business and working “in” your business. Michael Gerber described the tug and pull between strategy and operations in his 1986 classic, The EMyth. The struggle remains relevant more than 30 years later as Gerber’s work is frequently quoted in publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, and The New York Times

However, being aware of the tension between the strategy and operations is vastly different from doing something about it. It is not uncommon for business leaders to find themselves in the weeds, acting as technicians working on the day-to-day instead of strategists working on business growth. 

Enter: the strategy session. 

What is a strategy session?

“Small business owners and non-profit leaders approach us with questions about what to do next in their business to sustain growth and profitability,” Taylor Tricarico, Managing Partner, Open-i Advisors, shares. Oftentimes, leaders are so close to their business’s operations that they miss opportunities to think and act strategically. 

“We invite small business owners to a free strategy session where, pre-COVID, we’d gather key stakeholders in a room alongside a few consultants from our team. Over the course of 60 to 120 minutes, we’d lead them through an exercise that started with gaining a clear understanding of their ‘WHY’: why they exist, what their values are, and how they define success for their business.” 

The strategy sessions were so beneficial to the client that Open-i started facilitating them at the beginning of every new client engagement. 

However, when COVID-19 made in-person meetings impossible in early 2020, it was time to rethink the structure of these sessions. 

Christian Dawson, Open-i Advisors’ Co-founder & Senior Partner, states, “At the onset of COVID-19, we had a great stable of consultants and some big projects in the pipeline that ended up being put on pause. We wanted to keep our team working and engaged with our communities, meanwhile, we knew that our communities were in need. It didn’t seem reasonable to ask businesses in need to pay, so we decided to offer the workshops for free.” 

Open-i Advisors got right to work on how to replicate the strategy session model and value online. Our team came up with a screen-share format that delivers comparable value in just 60 minutes.

A strategy session is the first step towards answering your most pressing questions.

The new reality posed by COVID-19 presented business owners worldwide with unprecedented questions. 

“Pre-COVID, clients came to us with questions about strategies for achieving or managing growth. Now, their questions are all about survival. For instance, one client’s business model revolves around recording videos inside busy restaurants. His issue was one of survival: ‘How do I keep the lights on and not lose momentum with my product/brand when people are no longer gathering in restaurants?’” Tricarico shares. 

Strategy sessions give business owners space to breathe. Setting aside time to focus on why they are in business allows them to reconnect to their purpose and goals. 

“By the time business leaders get to us, they are so close to the problem that it’s all muddled up in their mind,” Tricarico says. “The strategy session offers them clarity; it becomes plain to see what they need to focus attention on (i.e., this, not that). Armed with this information, they have the confidence to go out and start chipping away at their goals.” 

Beyond offering clarity and confidence, the collaborative nature of the strategy session demonstrates something else, too: compassion. 

“We genuinely care about the companies in our community, and the well-being of their leaders. It’s a hard time to run a business- we sincerely want to support them.” 

What happens during a strategy session?

Before each session, Open-i Advisors sends the client a questionnaire with the aim of getting the client thinking in advance of the session. There is space for the client to provide their definition of success, their mission statement, and to identify their core values. 

“Some companies have a clear understanding of all three; others need help firming these up. This is how we prepare clients to think strategically while at the same time providing us with a baseline understanding of where they’re coming from and where they’re headed.”, Tricarico shares. 

The questionnaire also provides clients with an opportunity to discern who from their team they want to participate in the session. 

At the onset of the session, Open-i Advisors affirms the organization’s mission and values. “Then,” Tricarico states, “we take their ‘why’ and derive goals from it.” 

During the moderated discussion time, business leaders share their ambition while members of the Open-i Advisors’ team drafts an action plan in pursuit of those goals. 

One of the benefits of the free session is the opportunity for courses of action to be both supported and challenged. The Open-i Advisors team acts as a rudder, steering clients towards goals that are in alignment with their mission and values while steering them away from distracting activities. 

Is the strategy session appropriate for certain industry sectors and early stage businesses only?

“We are industry agnostic,” Tricarico states. “Start-ups, non-profit organizations, Certified B-Corps, and more have all participated in these sessions. What’s also interesting is that we see everyone from solopreneurs at the ideation stage to founders of small businesses struggling with losing 80% of their revenue due to COVID. All have walked away from these sessions having gained clarity and confidence about their next steps.” 

Read our blog post on ‘Feet to the Fire,’ one of our strategy session clients who successfully pivoted her business online during the pandemic.

What do people walk away with after a strategy session?

Strategy sessions are not fluff, pie-in-the-sky gatherings. Rather, they are opportunities to establish plans that advance the organization’s mission. 

“We ask the question: If you came back here in 12 months, how would you know if you were successful? What would your business look like/feel like? How would you be able to communicate to me that you were successful?” Tricarico shares. 

Not satisfied with vague statements such as, “Sales will be up”, Tricarico challenges leaders to establish specific, measurable goals that will alleviate pain points. By digging deep into leaders’ motivations for their goals, Tricarico is able to gain a better understanding of the obstacles standing in a business’s way. 

“Ultimately, the client leaves the session with both clarity and confidence: they know what they need to accomplish and how they’re going to achieve their definition of success.” Tricarico states. 

What happens after the strategy session?

Strategy session clients often feel a sense of relief once the session wraps up. They have taken the time to work on their business and have gained an ally in Open-i Advisors on their road to success. However, the work is just beginning. 

“We spend a day or two with the information we gathered during the session and compile it into a one-page plan.” Tricarico states. “The plan is short and actionable: one page plots out their mission, values, and the goals we’ve defined together. Under each goal, we list the activities necessary to work towards those goals. 

“We try to include any resources we think might help them based on their very unique situation – books to read, online learning opportunities, introductions to our network, etc. We try to give as much value as possible in the short deliverable.”

The sessions appear to be effective. 

“We have heard of some strategy session participants laminating the one-pager and putting it on everyone’s desk to maintain the team’s focus.” 

To learn more about or to book a free strategy session with Open-i Advisors, visit https://openiadvisors.com/covid-19-pro-bono-offer/.

Leaders Who Inspire Us Through Change – Angela Burton, Feet to the Fire

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We’re so excited to kick off our leaders who inspire us through change series, highlighting business leaders and entrepreneurs we’ve worked with, who continue to lean into change and innovate! 

Angela Burton

First up is Angela Burton, founder of Feet to the Fire Writer’s Workshop®. Our consultant Stacey Servo, also founding member of Wild Accelerator, worked with Angela in the first Wild cohort to help build awareness, identify funding opportunities, and develop marketing strategies. Our team continues to serve on an advisory level as FTTF evolves and launches new products and services. 

Why did you create Feet to the Fire and who do you serve?

Since 2015, Feet to the Fire Writers’ Workshops® (Feet to the Fire), a woman-owned small business, has provided a licensed expressive writing program designed to improve life purpose in senior/assisted-living communities and wellness organizations in seven states covering the west, midwest, and south regions of the U.S. The program currently serves 31 senior living sites and nonprofit organizations, designed for older adults to engage in writing thousands of personal stories. These stories provide people with the chance to capture their own lives authentically, and also leave behind a lasting legacy for their families.

What business challenges are you facing post-COVID? 

With the onset of COVID, Feet to the Fire’s ability to grow its offerings in senior living communities was directly impacted, due to restrictions within those communities (residents cannot typically congregate in groups and must maintain social distancing, etc.). Additionally, the senior living industry’s revenues are impacted by COVID, as resident care and safety is top of mind. Care staff are also stressed in additional responsibilities related to safety requirements. Much of senior living programming and activities have been curtailed, which directly affects programs like Feet to the Fire. 

What led you to decide to launch the podcast? What inspired you? 

In June 2020, Feet to the Fire launched its podcast, Feet to the Fire Writers’ Workshops® OUTLOUD, to give voice to those people within the program with a simple goal –  allow them to share their stories and help people feel valued, cherished, heard, and connected. Because COVID has affected an already invisible population – aging adults – we knew that their voices needed to be uplifted!  We also realized the podcast would offer us a valuable brand extension for our company as well as our existing clients. 

Change and launching new products is scary. What drives you to continue to take risks and innovate?

Angela Burton gives a group prompts to use as they write stories for upcoming classes

We are driven by our social mission – to provide a meaningful program for people to express themselves through writing. The research tells us that writing is a useful tool for improving social/emotional and cognitive wellbeing. With the tragedy of a global pandemic, we know that people need resources such as ours to help them feel connected and heard, to bring them self-awareness and purpose, and to support their mental wellbeing. We simply could not give up, we had to move forward especially at this time of need.

Who inspires you? 

Just one? I am inspired by many of the companies in the senior living industry who have not given up, yet pivoted to provide valuable relief to both caregivers and our most valuable asset – our older generation. 

How can people learn more about Feet to the Fire and your new podcast?

Website: https://feettothefirewriters.com/ and podcast link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1162559. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

What’s next?

Feet to the Fire is readying a consumer-facing product that will continue to inspire people to author their life stories, and a virtual platform to connect writers in organized groups to share their meaningful stories, thereby decreasing social isolation brought upon by the global pandemic. More details to come…

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About Open-i

Since 2015, Open-i has been collaborating with passionate entrepreneurs and business leaders like you to positively navigate change. More than lending a hand over this turbulent period, we want to help in the best way we know how, by providing you with clarity, confidence and concrete tools to embrace the seasons ahead.

If you are experiencing challenges and need help navigating changes, Open-i is offering FREE 60-minute strategy sessions with our senior consultants. Simply click on the link below to schedule your session.

COVID-19 Effort: Free 60-min Strategy Session

Louisville Expansion

Open-i Welcomes Ellie Puckett & Stacey Servo To Our New Louisville, Kentucky Location!

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This expansion positions us to serve not only established organizations around the globe, but start-ups and younger companies who are ready to take on their next big challenge!

Open-i Advisors (OiA) is settling into the new year with a keen eye on our expansion. Last September, we established a new office in the lively and welcoming city of Louisville, Kentucky. One of many reasons we decided to expand to Louisville was the opportunity to help grow the city’s business and entrepreneur community. 

 “Serving innovative communities and helping them grow is at the heart of what Open-i Advisors is! We started in Washington, D.C. and Toronto, ON, and have gone on to contribute to communities in Montreal, QC and Richmond, VA. Since opening in Louisville we have come to love its spirit. We believe in Louisville and can’t wait to help it build to its potential!”

Christian Dawson, Co-founder & Senior Partner

“Once we hired Taylor as our Managing Partner, and she told us how Louisville is becoming a start-up hub and that there would be lots of opportunity to work with small businesses who want to grow; to me it made perfect sense to have one of our offices there.  We’re thrilled to be part of the community!”

Hilary B. Osborne, Co-founder & Senior Partner

A key part of our expansion is hiring experts who truly embody the spirit of our company and our desire to help businesses grow and achieve their goals. With that mission in mind, we are thrilled to welcome Ellie Puckett and Stacey Servo to our Louisville team. With nearly 20 years of collective experience working in corporate and start-up environments, both women will play an important role in further connecting Open-i Advisors to the Louisville business community. 

A native of Louisville, Ellie formerly worked for Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), where she coached tech start-ups and helped them achieve desired growth. Ellie will put her experience to work for Open-i Advisor’s clients through operations consulting from an innovative perspective. As Ellie puts it, “you can either be an already innovative company that needs to grow, or you can be a legacy company looking to benefit from the way in which new companies start. Either way, I can help you implement agility-style methods into your existing processes, so that you’re able to grow and scale your business.”

“Ellie helps us fill a gap that the local business ecosystem continues to have around one-on-one services, and targeted resources for entrepreneurs,” says Managing Partner Taylor Tricarico, who serves as the head of Open-i Advisor’s Louisville office. 

Stacey’s work will center on marketing and growth strategy for companies in Louisville and around the world. She will use her experience building companies and advising both start-ups and entrepreneurs to help businesses develop strategies to meet their goals. “Stacey has both the ability to operate on a strategic level, as well as execute on the ground. This allows her to quickly help clients gain the clarity and focus they need, to get them from where they are now, to where they want to be,” says Taylor Tricarico.

Both women agree that they are expert connectors and are happiest when they are helping to connect people with resources to build solutions. “Sometimes all you need is a new connection, or very specific tactics to help move your company forward,” says Stacey. 

We are excited that these two experts decided to connect with us, and become a part of the Open-i Advisors team. We look forward to the work we will do together and how we will help Louisville businesses, old and new, achieve their goals.

Story Louisville

New Case Study on the Entrepreneurial Hub of Louisville, KY

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Open-i Advisors (OiA) recently opened our first office in Louisville, KY, home of the Kentucky Derby, and a growing hub of entrepreneurship across the state and the region. One of the pillars contributing to the growth of entrepreneurship is Story Louisville, one of the city’s first coworking spaces for independent, remote, and creative workers. 

Story founder and Chief of Happiness Natalia Bishop met Taylor Tricarico, OiA’s Managing Partner, when Natalia was still a solo entrepreneur sharing a small studio space with like-minded creatives. “We connected on the mission of Story and Story Labs. Taylor started asking about needs, pain points” said Natalia. Natalia’s big-picture thinking helped Story expand from her first shared studio space, to their first location on the second floor of a building on Market Street; but, Natalia had even bigger plans and she knew she needed help to reach the next level.

Taylor balanced out Natalia’s big vision and idealistic thinking, with practical solutions and next steps to help her meet her goals. Taylor and OiA were able to take Natalia’s dreams for Story, and translate them into a concrete plan. Taylor was also able to bring in the expertise of the full OiA team, as Story needed them.

Natalia felt like Taylor was in the trenches with her every step of the way. Taylor became an honorary team member and her contributions were invaluable, as Story moved into their second location:  a three-story, 30,000 square foot, mostly booked, downtown coworking space sponsored by Microsoft.

If you know of a small business with big dreams, it is worth reading about Story’s inspiring growth and the difference outside advice can make. Reflecting on Story’s growth and its engagement with OiA, Natalia said, “I wish I would have recognized the value of the investment earlier, so I wouldn’t have had to struggle as long. It is obviously an investment, but it also pays off. I wish I hadn’t hesitated as long.” 

Download the case study here.

Learn How to Unleash the Power of Domain Data

By Insights, Uncategorized

We teamed up with our friends at DomainsBot to share our best tips and highlight a few simple things anyone can do to use domain data more effectively.

The result is a whitepaper that you can download from here right now. We have tried to keep it simple and accessible, suggesting a few “low hanging fruit” steps that we believe would give positive results quickly, and be the starting point for a broader adoption of BI and stronger, data-driven growth.

In this whitepaper you will find inspiration to:

  • Discover new opportunities through competitive analysis
  • Use data to build personas and improve your customer experience
  • Find the real value of your marketing spending
  • Drive loyalty and retention with reactivation campaigns

DomainsBot and Open-i Advisors have helped some of the most successful companies in the domain and hosting industry use data more effectively to gain a better understanding of their market and customers, and to make smarter business decisions.

 

Download the Whitepaper today!

Open-i Advisors Announces GDPR Preparation Service for Hosting and Cloud Providers

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Open-i Advisors’ New GDPR Preparation Service Helps Hosting and Cloud Providers Map their User Data

Open-i Advisors guides clients through their GDPR compliance journey in a thorough, flexible, and cost-efficient manner.

Washington, D.C. — April 3, 2018 – Any business collecting, storing, processing, or otherwise handling data containing personally identifiable information on European Union citizens needs to plan for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into effect May 25, 2018.

Open-i Advisors’ new GDPR preparation service makes it easy and affordable to assess how web hosting and cloud computing providers collect, store, and use customer data. Our data consultants are experts on mapping the way your organization uses data, finding possible risks, and determining what steps you can take to mitigate risks. You’ll be presented with a document that can be either assessed by our partner lawyers or your own legal team.

We work with you to create a report that includes:

  • A summary of risk points
  • A map of data flows by department
  • A list of suppliers and other ​third​ parties with whom the client may share data (or who may share data with the client) with their GDPR statements included as relevant
  • A list of all found public privacy or disclosure statements, ready for review

“By working with Open-i Advisors, you can save time and money by packaging up everything you will need to hand off to legal counsel so that they can address your needs in as low cost a manner as possible,” says Open-i Advisors Co-Founder Christian Dawson. “Our legal partners are experts on GDPR compliance, so if you’re looking for a holistic solution we can provide that as well”.

GDPR preparation from Open-i Advisors provides data expertise when you need it, with a data-consultant led discovery process, to analyze how data is used across your organization. Our process is straightforward and simple:

Initial Compliance Check: We speak with key people at your company to assess your data privacy risks and measure your current privacy controls against the GDPR.

Data Discovery – Internal: An extensive register of your organization’s current data processing activities will be produced, along with a comprehensive visualization of the organizational data life-​cycle in its entirety.

Data Discovery – External: Open-i Advisors will do a public search of statements made by your organization, including privacy policy, email submission forms, white paper submission forms, client sign-​up forms, etc.

Final Compliance Check: Open-i Advisors will highlight areas of anticipated concern to consider business process changes where necessary, and to discuss with legal counsel.

This GDPR preparation service is offered for a reasonable hourly fee, which will result in a low cost for your company to gain all the insights you need to identify internal changes needed by your organization.

Find out more about GDPR Preparation for Hosting & Cloud Companies here: https://openiadvisors.com/consultancy/gdpr-preparatory-consulting/

About Open-i Advisors

Open-i Advisors is a consulting company focused on Internet-related industries. Its hands-on approach helps organizations manage their customer data and determine their optimum market focus using next-generation industry segment data gathering and analysis. Open-i Advisors industry-expert consultants offer their experience and leverage a process that includes the power of quantitative data to better understand and actualize client goals. For more information, please visit www.openiadvisors.com.

OiA Sunday Reading List #3

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This week has been a busy one at Open-i Advisors Inc. Here are some of the things our consultants have been reading. A lot of it this week focuses on the fact that neither people alone, or data alone, can get the job done. Only together are they most effective. Here’s our reading list:

Read More

Join Open iAdvisors and iMiller Public Relations to Explore “Why the Why Matters”

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We are excited to announce a joint webinar on Tuesday, February 6th at 11AM EST. Come learn from two of the industry’s top growth agent organizations how to best put your business on a path to growth! Sign-up details below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Open-i Advisors Launches New Consulting Practice for the Internet Industry

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Practice leverages expert consultants and quantitative data to addresses needs of rapidly changing internet industry.

Europa Park, Germany, March 14, 2016 – A small group of Internet infrastructure industry veterans announced today the launch of a new consulting practice called Open-i Advisors. Open-i Advisors’ ambition is to become the leading provider of quantitative data for competitive businesses. Combining consulting research with assessment methodology, IP, and tools, the new practice will target the global Internet infrastructure market, estimated to be worth over $3 billion a year. The practice is launching in the US, Canada and EU, before it is rolled out worldwide.

The Internet industry is changing rapidly, and many organizations need actionable plans to steer them in the direction of growth and success in a competitive field. Open-i Advisors helps businesses make smarter decisions by providing them with access to industry level key performance indicators (KPIs). The organization offers access to data broken down in usable ways; it works with organizations to enhance their knowledge and understanding of industry competitive landscape, in order to make decisions that effectively allow businesses to achieve their objectives.

The practice offers Open-i Advisors’ global client base, access to a full range of consulting services, including: channel development; sales cycle management; marketing assessment and strategy; efficiency overviews; management development and leadership strategy.

Open-i Advisors opens its doors with an initial team of six consultants, led by group co-founders Christian Dawson and Hilary van der Meulen. This group, which includes tech industry veterans William Toll, Taylor Tricarico, Phil Chen and Patrick Siconolfi, has decades of experience working with the majority of the world’s Internet leaders, in more than 110 countries. The practice will recruit highly skilled and experienced people throughout the Internet infrastructure industry, to augment an existing talent pool of industry veterans.

Dawson, co-founder of Open-i Advisors says, “As this industry changes, companies need to know how to change with it. We can help them do more than just follow their gut; we can help them validate and plan for growth.” Co-founder van der Meulen added, “Working one-on-one with clients, our experts can provide actionable insight and advice, but more importantly, they can find and apply quantitative data that can transform client businesses.”

Ridley Ruth, COO of Dropsuite said, “We are grateful to Christian Dawson and Open-i Advisors for their efforts towards our exciting recent re-branding.“  Soeren von Varchmin, Host at WorldHostingDays said, “Having worked with this team for years prior to the launch of this group, I believe that they bring something special to this industry that is worth getting connected to. I am excited by the breadth and depth of their insights, and I am pleased that I’m among their first clients.”

About Open-i Advisors

Open-i Advisors is a consulting company focused on market differentiation. It’s hands-on consulting projects assist organizations in determining their optimum market focus, most projects include access to next-generation industry segment data gathering and analysis. Open-i Advisors industry-expert consultants offer their experience and leverage a process that includes the power of quantitative data to better understand and actualize client goals. Led by Christian Dawson and Hilary van der Meulen, Open-i Advisors is currently seeking additional clients in the US, Canada and EU. For more information, please visit www.openiadvisors.com.