Three brief case studies. Three businesses that had to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’, or go bust! Knowing what to do is not the same as taking the necessary action.
To turn around their fortunes, three separate magazine publishers became obsessed with the triad of strategy, marketing and teams.
All the publishers had made their money from subscriptions and sales revenues. Both of these revenue streams fell by about 70% in 2009. The entire landscape of their very different markets and industries had changed.
The solution was to reinvent the businesses. One used its incredible database to run conferences; one contracted by 70% and only kept its premium high-value work while slashing costs; one reinvented itself by focusing on editorial and content relevant for a very specific age range.
All three businesses became more profitable than they were when they hit their respective brick walls.
The moral of the story: sometimes you have to reinvent yourself. There is no other choice. Death by a thousand cuts is not a pleasant way to die.
© Robert Craven, business coach and consultant, and author of Kick-Start Your Business and Grow Your Service Firm. Robert also runs The Directors’ Centre, which helps businesses to grow. Watch a five-minute video of Robert live at PSA London.
Ideas mean nothing unless you make them real. Real entrepreneurial ideas get turned into products and services and are sold to customers to make a difference. Yet, entrepreneurs are often not implementers, nor project managers. They’re often distracted by the next idea, development or new opportunity. Here are my 10 tips for entrepreneurs on how to become a better implementer…
Firstly, have clear goals. If you can’t tell everyone what you are doing, quickly and with passion, why would they care about it? If the picture you paint is of a future that makes the effort worthwhile, people will yearn for it and fight for it, with you.
There is the work that directly creates our idea and makes it real, and then there is the planning and administrative work. That indirect work is an ‘overhead’. Many entrepreneurs treat overhead tasks as something to do as you go. However, by doing them early you’ll save a lot of time later.
You’ll need some time to adapt and change on the journey. Work expands to fit the time available too, so be realistic when setting the goal. If there are critical dates you need to hit, those should be clear at this point, so expectations are properly set.
Look at the work one quarter at a time. Identify what would have had to have been delivered three months before the end date, six months before the end date and so on. By doing that your team can see what they’ll be building.
Now create monthly goals for the next two quarters and weekly goals for the first month or so. But do not go further. Great teams rely on the ability of everyone to plan their own work within the framework.
It’s now useful to plan forward and look at what could be done this week, this month and this quarter. This can show you where there are opportunities to win now and get ahead of the game.
If necessary – take a step back. Do some work on the project, deliver some elements of it and then look at where that takes you and how to plan further from there. Project planning should be no more than a few minutes each week, once the original plan is put in place.
In any project there will be times when you need specific essential materials or resources, so each week and month take a look ahead, check what resources you’re expecting to need and make sure they’re on track for delivery.
It’s important to recognise and reward incremental successes within the team. Let them know that it’s on track and going well. It will help ensure that this and every implementation easier.
In reality, every task in a project has probably been done before in a different context. The mistakes have been forgotten, making them easy to repeat, with shortcuts forgotten, too. This step is not for this time, it’s for next time. You’ll get quicker and can move on to the next idea ever faster.
Implementation brings your ideas to the world and when it’s done brilliantly it’s because of attention to detail and great planning. It builds on past experience and creates the foundations for future success. Brilliant products and remarkable companies implement brilliantly.
As the recovery begins, it's a sobering thought that because they have become reconditioned by a common ‘batten-down-the-hatches’ approach to recession, few companies are likely to be engineered for growth. The repercussions could be fatal.
The danger is no longer 'boom and bust' - but ‘boom and rust’. Proactive organisations will grow, but more pedestrian businesses risk stumbling into terminal decline. There is the real possibility that if business owners/managers remain in a risk-averse mindset, they will preside over organisational paralysis that not only prevents growth, but also allows competitors to seize market share.
After five years of surviving it's an understandable response, but it leads to an uncomfortable truth – many UK businesses have forgotten how to grow.
So, as the 'green shoots' of recovery begin to take root, what should businesses be doing to reinvigorate themselves and create a platform for growth? Experience suggests that many will be doing the very thing they should most avoid – focus solely on profit.
The alternative approach will send chills down the spines of accountants the world over, no doubt, and it may appear to defy common business logic, but the best advice for business owners seeking growth through the upturn is don't just focus on profit.
There are tried-and-tested ways to keep your business small and stressful and the most common is to obsess about profit as the markets recover and hold on too tightly to the P&L. This approach will prevent you from creating the headspace required to innovate and grow. You may well stay profitable, but you'll also stay small.
In the longer-term, the most successful businesses will facilitate a fundamental shift from a focus on profit to a focus on 'multiple'. They'll look at the long-term value of their business and switch attention from the P&L to the balance sheet. And crucially, they'll shift their focus from income to assets. After all, income follows assets.
As well as traditional 'balance sheet' assets, there are ‘intangible assets’. And the key to long-term growth - and driving the value and multiple in a business - is to focus on the intangibles.
Intangible assets generally boil down to culture, talent and systems. They're the people and processes that drive equity value and combine to form your intellectual property. The challenge is to structure your business culturally and organisationally so that it drives value, grows sustainable revenue streams and supports your long-term ambitions. Creating and building upon the right cultural platform to empower staff to deliver these common objectives - leaving senior management free to plan for tomorrow - is critical.
The economic upturn should present a clear catalyst for growth - but business owners must not allow their desire for short-term profit to dictate caution about long-term planning and investment. Now is not the time for 'logical' product innovation and extension based on understanding today's marketplace – taking baby steps will only keep you small. Today's green shoots represent the ‘teenage years’ - and to exploit them, businesses need bold innovations if they are to capture whole new markets and appetites.
To progress, owners should consider pursuing an asset-based strategy. The challenge is to understand the ‘rocket juice’ in your business – the core intellectual property that powers your current product and channel. Once you identify it, you'll be well placed to innovate into radical new product areas and channels that are more lucrative and less competitive.
The most successful companies at this point in the economic cycle will always be outwardly-focused - and they will look for partners that can help stretch and stimulate their thinking. Business coaching can provide an independent perspective on how companies can invigorate their core intangible assets to drive value, increase their multiple and stimulate sustainable growth.
The most common way to keep your business small and stressful is to focus obsessively on profit. But there are also innovative ways to engineer growth and the best is to concentrate on intangible assets, and to work with a partner that can help to revitalise your company and create new platforms for growth. After years of austerity, UK businesses may well have forgotten how to grow, but they need to get their memory back - and quick.
Blog supplied by John Rosling, CEO of business growth consultancy Shirlaws (UK) Ltd.
Are you prepared to work hard? And not just hard, harder than you have ever worked before in your life?
Are you prepared to experience and savour the intense highs of business success?
If yes, then read on...
Your first 18 months of business life will be a roller coaster ride. Being your own boss brings you true freedom to do what YOU want with YOUR business and take it to where YOU want to take it. Being your own boss is addictive and compelling, and after six months you will know for certain whether you ever want to go back to corporate life.
As your own boss you are not just plotting a course and steering the ship, but deciding what ship to steer and the reason why you need to steer it in this destination. Sometimes luck plays a part in business success, but more often than not any luck is underpinned by a lot of hard work and dedication. Your role as boss is to provide the drive, vision and motivation to take your business through the storm into the next port.
However, when it is just you in your business, with potentially a mortgage to pay, you need to be very focused and disciplined. This means motivating yourself to get up each morning and get to work – even if this is your kitchen table or study. It also means being able to finish what you have started, and focus on the strategy and plans which will build your business. Only your energy will take your business forward, no-one else will.
Discipline is more than focusing on a strategy or plan until you get the required results, it’s also about making sure the tasks that you don’t enjoy get done, and they get done on time. To survive the first two years in business, which 70% of businesses don’t, you need to keep an iron fist on your finances, and regularly monitor your incomings, outgoings and your cash flow.
Your time does now really equate to money. If you are focusing on something that is not directly linked to running or building the business, this is costing you money. Discipline is needed from you to work to your business plan, and make sure that you give yourself re-charge, reflection and planning time. This time is just as important as time working ‘in the business’.
Does the thought of building something from scratch for yourself appeal? Or are you scared at the thought of having to put in your own processes, systems, plans in place and constantly use your own initiative? If you are not ‘turned on’ by the thought of building it all from scratch you may benefit from buying a franchise – i.e. getting a ready-made business in a box.
Rejection is part and parcel of life as a business owner. To succeed as a business owner you have to connect with your inner tigger. I can guarantee that as your own boss, you will ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Your inner tigger will help you bounce back and re-motivate the troops when your business has hit a setback. Because, if you don’t inspire people to get back up and going again, no-one else will.
So to summarise, you will need drive, passion, enthusiasm, vision and bucket loads of discipline and focus.
Are you up for the challenge?
Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach
There’s a dilemma when you are starting a company. There are lots of boring essentials like company formation, VAT, Data Protection Act, employment law and, depending on which industry you are in, a host of other legislation. Yet complying with these doesn’t help you to sell anything, build a customer base or most importantly turn a profit.
It’s incredibly difficult to find the balance between being too gung ho about regulations (with risks starting at inconvenience and ending in prison), or over egging things, with a bigger risk of business failure. Hovering around are lots of professional advisers with fees to match - that’s the accountants, lawyers and consultants. Unfortunately it’s hard for them to be entirely impartial as their business is about charging fees.
Here are my top tips for getting this balance right.
When you’re starting off, anything that isn’t directly related to making sales or pushing the business forward is an irritant. But completely neglecting other issues can cause huge frustration when you are forced to comply; it can also substantially reduce the value of your business or may even cause its demise.
It’s different if you are well capitalised and have had previous business success. But if this is your first start up, then these tips are well worth a thought.
Being a mum can be challenging, being a business woman can be challenging too. Trying to do both at once can be mind-boggling. I fight shy of the term mumpreneur, but if it suits you, then that's what I am. I run my small business from home and I am also full-time mum to two pre-schoolers.
I always swore I wouldn't and couldn't run a business, house and family at once and I was right, something had to give and sadly that was housework! If inspiration strikes but you think circumstances prevent you from acting on it, then ignore your head and go with your heart. Running your own business is a rewarding, fun, busy add-on to family life and just the challenge my poor nappy-brain needed. So a few tips if you fancy joining me on a self-employed mum adventure:
Good luck to you and I'd love to hear all about your experiences.
If your business is to continue to expand and grow, then plans need to be put in place for that growth potential to occur right from the start. If you make a smart choice when you set up your business Internet services, then you’ll have faith in its capacity to expand as your business grows. But if you don’t choose right first time, you may end up paying the price when you need to shell out to cover the expense of expanding your Internet operations each time your business or organisation grows.
If you wish to save time and money, then it’s best to choose an Internet services company with the flexibility for expansion built in:
Multi User VoIP:
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is growing in popularity with businesses due to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness and quality of service. VoIP to VoIP calls are free and the system is easy to set up with no expensive capital outlay at the beginning. With Multi User VoIP, you can add internal extensions to your existing VoIP phone services quickly and without any additional cost, allowing your rapidly expanding call teams to respond to increasing demand.
Exchange allows you to share all your important information with others and access your mail on your computer or mobile device. Share calendars, files, and address books and ensure that everyone is using the same up to date details. As your needs change and your business grows, increasing your email services will simply be a matter of adjustments, not having to look for a brand new product.
The standard broadband should give you the fastest possible speeds that your telephone exchange will allow. Broadband should also give you a very generous bandwidth limit and direct access to a VoIP network, like the Gradwell. However, as your organisation grows and your needs change, you may need faster connection speeds, more bandwidth and line prioritisation with a separate line for data, to free up your VoIP phone line as the number of calls increases.
Getting reliable hosting for your web activities is vital from the start. Poor hosting leads to down time that damages reputation, productivity, confidence and sales. It’s important that your web hosting is reliable and robust enough to ensure your site can handle all the demands that could be made on it – particularly when an influx of new visitors occurs, if there’s a sudden surge of interest in your business. Many companies fail to plan for these surges and end up with their sites going down when visitor numbers spike.
Your web host should provide plenty of web space, quick speeds and reliable, expandable services, and if they don’t – maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.
Peter Gradwell, Gradwell