Categories
Business model Competition Management

Leg wrestling with fire ants

If you’ve ever leg wrestled, you know it can be fun (among other things), but only under the right circumstances. You’d never want to do it on a nest of fire ants. Their bites would hurt far worse than almost any outcome from leg wrestling. If you absolutely had to wrestle on that nest, you’d put it off as long as possible. When you finally got started, you’d get it over with as quickly in order to minimize the pain and suffering. Making major changes in your business is not terribly different.

Kicking the can

Have you ever put off implementing a major change in your business that you know you have to make? If so, was it because you knew it was going to be difficult? Did you kick that can down the road because you weren’t sure if the change was going to work? The thing is, if you know the change needs to happen – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure about its chances for success. The mere fact that you know it needs to be done is a sign that your business is at risk. What’s scary is that you know deep down that not making the change is riskier than making it. But still, you put it off, which has a tendency to increase the risk.

Decide

With difficult things, the first step is usually the toughest. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision itself. Once that’s done, many of us will focus and start to execute. You may find yourself wrestling with the fear of “breaking” your company, but if the position you’re in has you thinking about this, it’s probably already broken (if not badly bent). In these situations, waiting long enough (ie: too long) will cause someone or something else to make the decision for you.

A good example of such changes can be seen in the volume of businesses that have to re-examine how they get paid. It was incredibly rare 20 years ago for a company to use a subscription business model – except for newspapers, magazines and the like. Changes in advertising such as the loss of traditional classified ads, and the rise of digital marketing changed those markets. That, combined with a lot of foot-dragging re: the process of migrating to digital publication destroyed or significantly weakened many of those firms.

Many of these same changes have spread to businesses with traditional business models. Today, it’s steadily getting to the point where a non-subscription-based company is a rarity in many markets. While not all companies fit that model, those that depend on an ongoing creative and/or maintenance effort have little choice. The economics associated with buy-once, support-forever business models simply don’t work well in many markets where content and/or technology changes daily. They never really worked all that well in software and other rapidly changing markets, but the expansion of these “new” markets from zero to cloaked the economics for years. There was always a new client around the corner because of the growth from ground zero to whatever normal market penetration was for that market.

Blow it up & build it again

Today, many companies that were built over the last 20 years are find themselves struggling with the idea of moving to subscriptions. This, despite the fact that the economics are clear. The challenge for these companies is not only to migrate to subscriptions (or something other than front-loaded revenue models like buy-once-support-forever), but also to adjust their operations to a regular, well-planned deployment of value in the form of updates, fixes, and features over time. Without regular production in some form that produces recognizable value your customers want and need, subscription businesses will struggle to keep subscribers, and find it difficult to grow, particularly when competing with companies using low friction, subscription pricing that makes it easier to buy.

The changes may seem insurmountable, but the choice is clear: If you don’t blow it up & rebuild on your terms, someone else will force you to do it on theirs. Decide whether to live or die, knowing that no decision is still a decision. You simply have to make the decision, plan your execution, and press the start button. It will be hard, but not as hard as watching your market share shrink because you can’t fund the product development work needed to catch up, keep up, or ideally, move ahead. You get to decide your path.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Small Business

Small Business Scorecard

I’ve long focused on helping businesses one on one, by choice. From time to time, I’ve considered mechanisms (other than my writing) that provide help in a group setting. Ideally, this would let me help more people while not drastically increasing the time required to do so. Typically, this means holding webinars, group coaching, masterminds, ie: “one to many” events. This piece is intended to fill some of the gap between one-on-one help and one-to-many help, at least for now.

How we get help differs

When it comes to seeking help, business owners appear many forms. Some repeatedly seek help from people, books, and other resources. Others tend to accept help about specific topics, or when a resource is recommended to them by a trusted friend. Some read or listen to many sources of help / advice, but are pretty choosy about the things they implement. Some seek no help at all – and this group seems to be broken down into a group that knows they need the help but never take action, and another segment that simply figures it out on their own (or doesn’t).

Efficient learning varies from person to person. Some prefer reading, while others learn / retain more from audio, video, pictures and/or diagrams. Some people prefer brief information, others tend to consume “long reads” or extensive, highly detailed video. This time around, I decided to take a self-guided approach. I’d appreciate feedback on how effective the scorecard is for you – and why.

How the scorecard works

I’m calling this a scorecard, but the goal is not to arrive at a number and think “We got a 74, so we’re doing fine as is.” It’s more of a self-assessment & introspection tool. You’ll find statements about how things work in your business. You’ll agree with some. Others will have you thinking “That’s definitely not us.” If a seemingly-negative item on the list doesn’t pertain to you, cross it off. Look at the items you circled / checked as “yep, this is us” as a milestone on the way to a stronger company. Some may need recurring attention.

Marketing

  • Our marketing is completely automated across all media, digital or otherwise.
  • Our marketing is strictly digital. We don’t make sales calls, send US Mail, visit prospects, have prospects visit us, and we don’t go to trade shows.
  • Our marketing is strictly organic. We don’t advertise, other than having a website.
  • We test new ads against our ad that performs the best.
  • We market our work consistently.
  • We spent ad money effectively.
  • We have data that tells us what works and what doesn’t, marketing-wise.
  • Our marketing is executed based on a plan or marketing calendar.
  • We collect information about people who show an interest in our products / services.
  • On a regular basis, we reach out to people who have shown an interest in us. We send offers as well as useful information that will help them make a purchase decision.
  • In marketing dollars, we know how much it costs to get a highly-qualified lead.
  • In marketing dollars, we know our lead cost on each type of media.
  • For each of the media we use for marketing (radio, tv, newspaper, direct mail, various internet options), we keep track of lead quality, lead volume, and ad investment.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We use our lead cost to drive decisions about ad purchases – including internet ad options.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We don’t really advertise with any consistency. You might say it’s driven by which ad salespeople call on us.
  • In our market, expertly-done marketing has ceased to become an edge. Everyone in our market is a good marketer.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • Most companies in our market are spray-and-pray marketers.
  • Some companies in our market are haphazard or random marketers, but there are some that we’d consider experts. They spend ad money effectively.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • We’re one of the haphazard / random marketers.
  • We’re one of the more effective marketers in our market.

Operations

  • It feels like things “fall apart” a little when critical people leave, or are out of the office.
  • When the owner or manager are gone for the day, things seem more productive.
  • When a team member is gone, it’s easy to deal with their workload because we’ve been cross trained.
  • When someone is out of the office, it can be a little tough, but we have written process / procedures documentation to help us get the work done.
  • We rarely / never have to contact someone who’s out of the office to ask them how to do something, or to get online and help us deal with this or that.
  • When our front desk takes order / job status calls, they have to call back into the shop to get someone to tell them what’s up with an order / job.
  • We sometimes run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • It’s common for us to contact someone who’s out of the office because we need help dealing with something they do.
  • Customers can tell when a critical employee is on sick, off that day, or vacation.
  • When a customer contacts us to find out the status of a job / order, any employee can easily and quickly find the info and pass it to the customer.
  • Customers can’t tell when a critical employee is out of the office.
  • We never run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • We use a system to track and manage our tasks / work.

Business model

  • Our products / services are one-off. We don’t make something once and sell it multiple times.
  • Once we make tooling, we can make and sell the same item repeatedly.
  • We sell services on a subscription basis.
  • The business doesn’t generate income when the owner isn’t working.
  • We serve a vertical (narrow) market.
  • We sell products and service them, so ongoing reputation is critical to get returning customers.
  • If we’re not on the job and billing hours, we’re not generating revenue.
  • We serve a horizontal (wide) market.
  • Our market has already been disrupted / is difficult to disrupt.
  • Once created, our services have a marginal COGS so we can make something and sell it repeatedly.
  • Our customers pay us each month. We deliver / replenish consumable products / services.
  • Our market could easily be disrupted.
  • We provide customers with a service infrastructure.

Staffing

  • We’re always understaffed.
  • We have trouble keeping people, but they don’t tell us why they leave.
  • We have trouble keeping people. They tell us why they leave, but we can’t or won’t do anything about the things they mention.
  • Customers can’t tell when an employee is brand new.
  • Our people rarely do things together outside of work.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because we’re careful to find people who fit our existing team.
  • Customers can tell when an employee is brand new.
  • We have trouble keeping people. We’re not sure why.
  • Few of our first line managers are familiar enough with the line employees’ work to take over for them in a pinch.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because candidates are hard to find.
  • We’re overstaffed, but our workloads vary wildly so we don’t want to shrink the size of our staff.
  • Our team is a family – they frequently do fun / family / activities together outside of work.
  • Our first line managers could easily handle the work our line employees do, if they needed to.
  • We tend to promote from our existing staff.
  • We rarely promote from our existing staff.
  • Our team tends to be swamped one week, and might be sitting around with nothing do the next week.
  • Most of our team members are easily replaceable.
  • We have employees who have been here for many years.

Sales

  • Our sales team says they never have enough leads.
  • The sales team feels our leads are properly qualified when they get them.
  • Customers and prospects comment that our sales team was useful in helping them make a purchase decision.
  • Salespeople often comment that they’re getting leads who aren’t suitable for our products / services.
  • Our pipeline is difficult to confidently predict more than a couple of weeks out.
  • We have quotas, but we aren’t involved in deciding what they should be.
  • We close an acceptable-to-us percentage of sales when we have a highly-qualified lead.
  • I feel confident when I give a solid lead to one of our salespeople.
  • We have sales quotas – and we’re involved in determining those numbers.
  • We’re constantly under pressure to make quota – and we know it’s because the company’s cash flow is precariously low.
  • We get very few complaints about our sales team.
  • Finance is always bugging us to give them pipeline information, but we can’t consistently tell them anticipated revenue more than a week or two in advance.
  • Our sales team has an experienced leader.
  • It’s not unusual to get comments that our sales team is pushy.
  • Finance really appreciates that we can give them dependable sales pipeline info 30-60 days in advance, so they can depend on revenue in advance of receiving it.
  • Sometimes people send in feedback saying our sales team is more interested in closing a sale than they are about helping customers decide on a purchase.
  • We have more leads than our sales team can handle, but not all of them are well-qualified.
  • Our sales quotas feel like impossible expectations rather than achievable goals based on lead flow.
  • Our sales team is lead by the salesperson who usually sells the most.
  • We have more highly-qualified leads than our sales team can handle.
  • We believe that our product / service makes a significant improvement in the lives of our customers and as such, it is our obligation to offer it to as many qualified prospective customers as possible.
  • Our sales team easily handles all the leads we give them. They keep asking for more.
  • Most days/weeks/months, our sales team can handle the leads assigned to them.

Management / Leadership

  • You can ask any of our employees what motivates us as a company, or “What’s our why”. They all know.
  • Our people are an investment in our business.
  • We have to constantly watch our people to keep them working.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here – and it’s worked great for years.
  • Our people feel like a cost / expense.
  • Sometimes new employees have to wait to get a phone, desk, computer, tools, or a space in the shop. Those things aren’t always / usually available on their first day.
  • Employees know what our company long and short term goals are.
  • We’re an open book company.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here. I think the company would positively benefit from an experienced leader.
  • We don’t share any financial performance information with our people.
  • When a new employee get to their desk / work station / shop station on their first day, they have everything they need to get to work.
  • We have a 401K.
  • Team members don’t seem to connect their work with the company’s goals.
  • It takes new employees a few weeks / months to get their act together and become effective.
  • We routinely discuss the importance of 401K participation in our employees’ future.
  • Our financial performance is none of our employees’ business.
  • Any good manager could join us, learn our business, and be effective here.
  • Only our family can manage this business.
  • Our employees understand what makes our business profitable and sustainable.
  • New employees often comment about how good / refreshing our on-boarding process is.
  • We encourage our employees to educate themselves and offer ongoing training as well.

Finance

  • We know where the funds for our next payroll will come from.
  • We’re always on top of the required state and Federal reports related to employees and such.
  • Sometimes we have to pay our invoices late, but it’s not an every month thing.
  • We get paid late by our customers and it creates issues for us.
  • We don’t have receivables.
  • Our payables are always behind.
  • We never have any issues with state or Federal tax returns or deposits.
  • We’re always on top of tax returns.
  • If sales could deliver dependable pipeline numbers for the next quarter, our finance problems would disappear.
  • The owner / management hates accounting.
  • We’re always up to date on tax deposits.
  • We’re not very good at managing the company’s finances.
  • We tend to be late on tax returns. Sometimes we have to pay a penalty.
  • Managing our finances is one of our superpowers. We suspect we’re better at this than many other companies.
  • We tend to be late on tax deposits. Sometimes we are charged penalties / interest.
  • We do all our own bookkeeping and accounting / tax work.
  • Debt is an important ingredient in our ability to grow.
  • We do our own bookkeeping, but we have a professional handle the taxes and related paperwork.
  • We outsource bookkeeping.
  • We’re focused on eliminating debt for the long term, even though we know it may slow us down from time to time.
  • We have a professional handle taxes and related paperwork.
  • Our “numbers” drive strategic decisions.

Systems

  • We understand that “systems” might include automation, but also may include manual systems – such as checklists, documented work processes, job descriptions, manufacturing reviews, and similar items.
  • New employees learn our systems as they learn their job.
  • We’re gradually systemizing parts of our business.
  • None of our systems are “perfect”, but our imperfect systems save time, keep us on track, and help us avoid missed steps.
  • There’s one person who knows it all on our systems, but that’s it.
  • As an owner, I ask myself “Whose job is this?” every time a piece of paper crosses my desk.
  • Our systems are a strategic advantage. They make our work safer and more consistent. They help us produce a more consistent outcome for our customers.
  • We routinely review our systems with feedback from the people who use them. Reviews drive upcoming system improvements.
  • The nature of our business requires that we invent most or all systems ourselves.
  • We don’t have anything we’d call “automation” but we’re definitely a systemized business.
  • We have several team members working together to know, improve, and manage our systems.
  • Over time, we train new employees on all the company’s systems so that they help in any area if someone is out.
  • We understand that automation / systems can be leveraged in any part of our business, from management to finance to manufacturing, sales, and/or marketing.
  • We’re using systems and ideas that others have refined over time.
  • Systems (and particularly automation) are something we need in order to keep up with competitors. If we didn’t have to, we’d use as few as possible.
  • Our systems have been in place for years. We rarely change them.
  • Our systems are very close to ideal. We’ve worked hard to get there.
  • Our systems are difficult to change.
  • Our systems are a mix of commonly-known systems from experts and systems specific to our industry and/or business.
  • We train new employees on all the systems in their area.
  • Adding new systems to our work is easy.
  • It’s difficult getting new systems into our workflow.
  • When we hire people. we look for experience in systemized businesses and experience with systems like ours.
  • If we find job candidates with experience with systems unlike ours, we consider this useful as we might gain an edge from that differing background.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs

Dilation, blindness, and the value delivered

You could go blind, you know.

My eye doctor said that. He’d barely stopped exhaling the words “Your eyes look great, they’re as healthy as they could be.” So what’s this blind thing about? Maybe he was reminding me to be grateful, or simply giving me a warning he gives everyone. I thought about it the rest of the day, partly because he dilates my eyes – which I do not enjoy. It’s my annual reminder that being blind might be “awful” until I got used to it. Dilation robs me of clear vision for a few hours and gives me a tiny little peek at a world that functions much differently. It’s OK – I know my doc is doing what’s best, but it still makes me crazy. This time, his passing comment (coupled with the dilation) made me think a little. What if I went blind? Clearly my life would change. My first thought went to “How would I make a living?” DUH, probably in much the same way. More importantly, what about my work would change? What wouldn’t change? Could I still deliver value to clients?

Deep thoughts

While my eyes are apparently super healthy, the Debbie Downer comment got me thinking. My first thought went to “What isn’t documented well enough?”, perhaps because I regularly nag about process documentation & checklists. I wondered if the difficult-to-explain tasks are properly documented for that situation. Not likely.

A lot of my work revolves around the ability to see software or a web page. That’d be OK for a short while, until the familiarity I have from frequent use is eroded over time. Even without that erosion, web pages and apps change over time. That’d make using some of them quite difficult a year from now. Screen readers and adaptive technologies have improved greatly over the last 10 years. Despite that, there would almost certainly be difficult moments at the computer.

A lot of my work is communicating. I’d need to figure out how to read & respond to email. I could dictate to an app & have someone transcribe it, but there’d be that initial jarring loss of privacy & independence. The loss of independence would initially go much further than the increased difficulty of emailing. However, it wouldn’t really change phone calls or webinars much. I’d have to come up with a system for writing, editing, & following agendas that I could no longer see with my eyes. Someone’s mastered that, I’m sure.

Changing the how doesn’t change the what

For whatever reason, I never pondered the possible impact blindness would have on the day to day basics of life that afternoon. Things like eating, cooking, the bathroom, transportation, interaction with people, hiking, getting dressed, or finding that stubborn piece of spinach in my tooth without a mirror. Steve Jobs supposedly wore the same outfit every day as a strategy to reduce his cognitive load. None of that stuff crossed my mind at the time. Maybe my subconscious assumed those things were trivial or could be mastered. Perhaps my subconscious “knows” that continuing to make a living would dominate my thought if this happened.

The interesting part of this (perhaps odd) thought process was a deep introspection of what I do, how I do it, for whom, and the value delivered.

I thought about the clients I have and what would change. Clearly, the work that requires hands on software use would change. While I could use voice to text or other adaptive tools to write, program, strategize, or produce marketing copy – certain aspects would likely become quite difficult. Curious, I googled around a little and found several interesting pieces where blind programmers described how they do what they do. These were not hobbyists, but seasoned professionals.

Ultimately, I realized that the majority of the value I deliver isn’t visual, has little to do with the software I occasionally write, and isn’t defined by this column (even when it’s good). This would surely be different if I were in my twenties and didn’t have the experience I have now, but that’s really not relevant to me. To others, it might be significant.

If I went blind, the mechanical details of my work (ie: “the how”) would change substantially. Thing is, people don’t get value from the how. They get value from the what. What do you think?

Photo by Rahul Bhosale on Unsplash

Categories
Business model Employee Training Employees Management

Went to the gym once. Didn’t work.

You’ve probably heard about things that didn’t work in someone else’s business. The story probably included an assertion that whatever isn’t working for someone else also wouldn’t so won’t work in yours. The tool itself is generally irrelevant. More often than not, the problem is a lack of consistency.

Execution isn’t easy. We do the wrong things. We do the right things at the wrong time. We fail to prioritize, or prioritize poorly – often doing the urgent rather than than the important. Each of those things have their own solution, tactic, or cure. The challenge is executing every day, every hour, every appointment – as appropriate for the solution, tactic, or cure. To be as effective and efficient as possible, all of these things require consistent execution.

We all have a ton of things to do. It takes a systematic intent to consistently eliminate tasks of no / low value, making room for the high value work our peers and customers need most.

Consistency gives

Consistency has a number of benefits. If you are consistently good, people will depend on you / your company – and soon get to the point where their expectations are that you will always do, say, and deliver what they expect. This clientele will tell people. Some of them, the most rabid types, will tell lots of people. A small percentage of them will practically take it as an insult if one of their friends or colleagues don’t use their consistent vendor.

Consistency gives your clients something steady to latch onto at a time when many of them feel there is little they can depend on other than themselves. Outside of your spouse and perhaps a few others, do you have a vendor you can depend on no matter what? One that you would bet your business on? Think about the peace of mind that would give you if you had that kind of vendor (or vendors) in place.

Consistency is a quality you can sell, price higher, and use as leverage when competing for a new customer. Anyone can make a single sale. Consistent vendors make that sale while claiming an asset – a new, long term customer.

Consistency takes

Do you have vendors or places you do business with as a consumer where you always have to remind about delivery or deadlines? Do you frequently have to correct a vendor’s work or invoices / paperwork? Do their work habits force you to be the one who must consistently follow up about promises, on-time delivery, service windows, quality and completeness? Is that the exception or the rule?

How does that make you feel? What’s it feel like the next time you have to purchase or get service from a vendor like that? Do you dread it?

Are you repeatedly changing vendors in an attempt to find one that you can consistently depend on? How does that feel?

Does your business track churn?

Churn happens when a business gets X new customers and loses Y customers each month. If you have to track it, you’ve probably got a churn problem. Maybe it reflects the direction and growth of your MRR (monthly recurring revenue) due to your business model.

Churn happens because customers cannot depend upon multiple vendors in your market. Yes, others are part of this as well, otherwise new customers wouldn’t be filling YOUR bucket that’s also leaking customers every month. Some may be new to the market, but a reasonable percentage of those new customers are coming from other vendors who aren’t taking good care of them. How long will you keep them? Consistency is a factor.

If you ever ask a former customer who churned away from you, they will almost always say they left because of price. Price is an easy excuse to use and it’s one they know you will be least likely to argue about. However, churn is rarely about price. More often than not, it’s the last straw after a customer has lost patience in the consistency of your product / service quality. First they get frustrated, then the investment seems like a waste, and finally, they’ve had enough.

No one gets into business to intentionally be bad at something. It takes effort. Wasted motion. Lost focus. Lack of intent.

Process by process, employee by employee, consistent execution improves quality. Going to the gym once doesn’t produce ideal results. Neither does inconsistent execution.Photo by Dan Harrelson

Categories
Business model Montana Positioning Pricing

The premium price lesson taught by craft beer

The craft beer explosion in the US over the last 5 to 10 years is a great lesson in premium price / premium product / premium services and customer ascension.

So what is the big lesson to learn from craft beer? Is it that you could make beer that only a certain percentage of the market will drink? Is it that you can put anything from talcum powder to motor oil in your wort as an ingredient and someone out there will want to drink it? Is it that you can charge for one pint what previously would have been a tolerable price for a six-pack?

But I don’t WANT an $80 diaper!

Those answers are all accurate at some level.

However, the biggest lesson is that in any market (including yours), there is a percentage of the market that’s willing to pay a premium price for a premium product. Products and services have had “Good, Better, Best” for years. Despite that, there are still many businesses out there that only offer a single product line with very little variation or options, premium services, or the opportunity to “ascend” to the next tier of product buyer.

These opportunities are not limited to automobiles, cigars, locally brewed beers, or any other thing. You can buy cheap toilet paper and you can buy fancy toilet paper. Speaking of, there are companies making a living selling diapers that cost $80 each.

While I don’t want to buy an $80 diaper, it’s clear that some portion of the diaper buying public does. That’s the trap that you can’t let yourself get caught in. It doesn’t matter that you and I aren’t interested in an $80 diaper. All that matters is that enough people are buying them. The same goes for a bottle of craft beer that might cost $12, $29, or much more. The challenge is finding a product that fits a market.

Premium price changes everything

In whatever you sell, there is almost certainly a premium price product or service opportunity – or both. You’ll never know where the price ceiling sits until you test it. We’ve all been offered an up-sell (want fries with that?), but this is different. Successful efforts typically result in a new tier of products and/or services. Sometimes, it reveals a completely different type of customer. It also allows ascension for some of the customers you have now.

Testing new product / service / price tiers could result in a new way of doing business for a subset of the people you serve. It may also reveal that there are additional price / product / service tiers between your existing regular and premium-priced options.

A successful “bar” that closes at 8:00 pm?

Montana micro-breweries are a fascinating example of finding an undiscovered tier in a market. They operate under a number of restrictions that impede their growth, including (recently raised) limits on the number of barrels they can brew each year.

Two additional restrictions that would ordinarily seem fatal to a traditional drinking establishment have instead created a new market tier.

First, Montana breweries with a taproom / tasting room may only serve 48 ounces (three pints) per patron per day. This might seem like a rather punitive restriction, but it doesn’t work out that way. First, most craft beers have a higher alcohol content than “regular” beer. As a result, three pints per visit is usually enough. Ever seen a bouncer in a brewery’s taproom? I haven’t. You’re more likely to see families and friends meeting together with their kids. Yes, in a taproom.

Second, Montana brewery tasting rooms cannot serve beer after 8:00 pm – at least not without getting a more costly / complex alcoholic beverage license. The traditional thought process would presume the 8:00 pm close dooms the tasting rooms. Instead, they’ve become gathering places after work, or before/after shopping and/or recreation. You’ll often see groups in a tasting room that you’d rarely see at a bar.

Without the typical late night hours of a bar, employees get home early enough to do some homework, put their kids to bed, or get a decent night’s sleep before their “real job”  (or college).  Likewise, these businesses avoid the occasional negative late night bar behavior that some places have to contend with.

While these limitations are restrictive, they’ve created a consumption tier that all but eliminates the negative behaviors sometimes associated with traditional bars.

The question is – what could be the premium-priced craft beer in your business?

Categories
Business model Competition Entrepreneurs Improvement Small Business strategic planning Technology

The Pace of Change

If things have seemed a bit frenetic in your business lately, you’re not alone.

Many markets are experiencing a rapid rate of change – and in fact, the rate of change is accelerating. As a result, businesses, governments and even National Football League officials are struggling to keep up.

For example, if you watched the Super Bowl Sunday night, you could see it happen on almost every play. The offense would go into a formation, the defense would react before the play started and the offense would react to that, again, before the play started – with the quarterback changing the play or aspects of the play multiple times in the seconds before the ball is hiked.

Ask Florida State

This sort of pace isn’t unique to the Sunday’s game, it’s a normal part of football these days. If you saw Oregon play Florida State in college football, you saw a similar thing. Rather than using half a minute to stand around and talk about the play, Oregon was averaging a play every 16 seconds – meaning 16 seconds after a tackle was made, they were hiking the ball to start the next play.

For Oregon, this is normal and their conditioning and play calling is designed around it. For most opponents, the pace causes confusion and wears out their defensive players to the point that Oregon often rolls over exhausted defenses in the later stages of the game. The pace of change in the game is not what most opponents’ physical training or play calling training is designed for. As a result, teams often end up reacting on a play by play basis, rather than working their plan. Sometimes, it isn’t pretty, as Florida State found.

This sort of pace isn’t accomplished by simply speeding up the normally slow parts of the game. To execute at this pace requires smarter players, smarter coaches, better technology, as well as training regimens, on-field communication and play calling mechanisms designed to play non-chaotic football that feels chaotic to opponents.

The pace of change in business is no different

Things are no different in business these days and if your market hasn’t experienced it yet, it’s possible that you simply haven’t noticed, or you’ve perceived it as a temporary bump in the road that’s made things feel a bit more chaotic than normal. Be very careful about seeing this as temporary. From what I’m seeing and reading, that bump in the road is a new normal.

The accelerated pace of change has been obvious in the technology space, where there are well-known graphs showing the ever-shrinking time it’s taking for broad market technology adoption to reach a solid level of adoption.

This chart shows the rate of technology adoption accelerating from 1873 to 1991, yet the pace of change during that period is nothing compared to the adoption rate of the last 10 years, where reaching 50 million customers has gone from several decades (telephone, radio) to at most, a few years.

While the adoption time to 50 million users for the iPod (three years) vs. the radio (38 years) may not seem important to your business, the changes hitting your market are accelerating.

Is keeping up…enough?

In the fastest markets, keeping up is incredibly difficult – if not impossible. Yet some are not only keeping up, they’re pushing the changes.

Historically, when the speed of a technology or business function accelerated, it took a while for the level of quality and safety to reach steady state. These days, systems are often built into “the next big thing” (for this quarter) that enable quality and safety to remain stable.

Waiting for things to slow down…isn’t going to happen. If your business is affected by these changes, the methods you use for planning, tracking, finance, execution, supply chain management, manufacturing, hiring, security, business models and many other things have to keep up – and keep keeping up at an accelerating pace.

Keeping up while needing to accelerate your ability to keep up…that’s the trick.

The dangerous thing is thinking that your business isn’t affected by this. Finding a business that isn’t affected by 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, “big data” or cloud computing isn’t easy.

What’s easy is fooling yourself into thinking that it might not affect your business.

Categories
Business model customer retention Leadership Management Small Business strategic planning

Defending your business

Business is not easy and we (business owners) make it harder by making what will later seem like silly mistakes. Hopefully, we learn lessons from those mistakes, much less a bit more often.

That isn’t necessarily the hard part.

Sometimes, business gets tougher because we get the wrong kind of help. The kind of help I’m speaking of includes things that your clientele and staff might do or say, things that get published in the news, or even changes to regulations that don’t affect your business directly, but affect how your clients run theirs.

One of your jobs as owner is to anticipate and build defenses against situations that could threaten or even destroy your business.  You should anticipate these things, defuse them, prepare for them, and work around them.

Anticipating these situations is what allows you the time to defuse, prepare for and work around them – that’s really what defending your business is all about. Most of these situations will present themselves whether you like it or not. The secret is being prepared for them in advance.

Clients and Prospects

Most client and prospect related situations can be avoided with proper sales and service training. A number of these will come to you in the form of sales objections, misinformation, price shopping and other things that your marketing is designed to deal with.

Reacting to these situations in the moment will often produce a solution that hasn’t been well thought out – and usually hits profit first, while setting precedent you don’t want to set. Anticipating and training for these things will prevent the need to react rashly in most cases.

Media, Industry and Gurus

It’s easy to place the blame on the media – particularly today when some news outlets act more like news creators and take part in less than authentic clickbait campaigns to get your attention.

Media includes far more than the local or even national papers. It includes the trade organizations and industry groups that affect your market, and the “guru” types who command attention of your market.

The key is to be monitoring everything you can that relates to your business, your clients, your clients’ business and any external entities that affect them. There are plenty of automated tools out there to make this easy.

Monitoring isn’t enough. You have to lead the market by taking a position on what’s going on. Some will follow, some will not.

Regulatory Changes

There are a couple of angles to consider.

One is for the business that simplifies the act of dealing with government agencies of any kind, at any level. These businesses also live and die by the frequency and volume of changes in those regulations.  It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Ideally, you need to make sure that these regs aren’t the sole reason your clients do business with you. If your model is designed and totally depends on the ability to help those who need to work within the regs and nothing else, you’re at risk. Rather than depend on a single revenue stream, use the knowledge you’ve gained about these client and their business to find ways to help them in addition to the ways you help them deal with regulatory challenges.

Another angle is all about staying on top of the changes that affect your clients and leading them in the direction that keeps them out of harm’s way. Any efforts you make to combat these issues are a different, and perhaps simultaneous, path while the rest of your efforts are still at work.

Equity

One particularly strong way to defend your business is to build equity into your business model.

You might think that you can’t do this because you don’t deal in real estate or stock, but that just isn’t so. If your business model allows you to know that you have sales booked for the next 30, 60 or 90 days (if not beyond) – that’s the sort of equity I’m speaking of.

Having those sales booked in advance, regardless of how you’ve done so, gives you the flexibility and freedom to make better decisions when defending your business, because you aren’t thinking about how you’ll make payroll next week when making those decisions.

Defending your business is one of a business owners’ strategic responsibilities. What are you doing to defend yours?

Categories
Business culture Business model energy Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Positioning Productivity Small Business The Slight Edge

Focused on the holiday, now or the future?

It’s that time of year when business owners are pulled in many directions. The end of the calendar year has a way of doing that.

Some of us are focused on the year we’ve had, some on this month’s performance (which could make or break the year), and some on the future.

While all of those things are important, it’s a good time to remind you of the difference between “working on vs. working in the business” and how important ON vs IN is to getting your business out of what feels like survival mode.

Working IN the business

Almost all of us do this to some extent. What exactly does it mean?

Working IN the business is about taking care of today’s production and quite often, dealing with the crisis of the day – whatever that might be. It’s about making sure clients are happy, products and services are getting delivered – and in some cases, taking part in that creation/delivery.

In short – this is you, the owner/manager, working as an employee of the business. There are times when this is essential and in the smallest of businesses – the solo business owner – it’s how you generate revenue. The thing you need to be cognizant of is making sure working IN time doesn’t become a substantial majority of your work time month-in, month-out, even if you’re the only one there.

If you’re an employee reading this, I hope your employer’s owner and manager(s) spend more time working ON, than IN, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, everyone has to knuckle down and get work out the door.

If you’re an employee who thinks they’re doing this – see what you and your peers can do to take even one thing off their plate without being asked. Every little bit helps. If you’re worried about overstepping your bounds, ask.

If nothing else, asking the question should send the message that you have the best interests of the business on your mind.

Working ON the business

Working ON is what allows the business to worry less about what’s happening next month, much less next week or tomorrow.

Why worry less? Because you’re doing enough working ON to be pretty confident that things are booked for that day, week and/or month.

How does a business worry? When you wonder how you’ll make payroll next month, you worry – and it’s reflected in your comments and actions. When employees notice things that tell them money is tight (or really tight), they worry – and it’s reflected in their comments and actions.

These comments and actions reflect on your business. They send a message to your client, your banker, your family (and your staff’s families) and others.

Working ON includes planning and executing, but it’s also very much about communications. Making sure everyone understands what will happen next month and the month after, how those impact the rest of the year’s plans is critical to getting everyone on board.

Are you simply too buried in working IN to work ON this month? If so, take a minute to make an appointment with yourself in your calendar later this month or early next month. Spend that appointment time planning your year so that this time next year, you’re spending more time working ON more so than working IN.

Some examples would be worthwhile, eh?

Since I talk about this fairly often, some examples of “working ON” would be useful.

Spend time on asking yourself these things:

  • What can be systemized?
  • What should never be systemized?
  • What can you do to take the risk of purchase off of your client by providing them with a meaningful, no “but clause” guarantee that they’ll trust?
  • Who are our best clients, how do we keep them, sell more to them, and find more like them?
  • Who are our worst clients and how do we get rid of them? You know who the painful ones are.  Either fix what’s wrong or get rid of them. They can poison your business.
  • How can we avoid having letting the market and your customers beat down what we do into a commodity?
  • What upsells and follow up offers can we make at the time of purchase that make sense based on what the buyer bought. Remember, the hottest buyer in the world is one in front of you. Did you satisfy ALL of their needs and wants?

 

Categories
Business model Management Small Business Strategy

Does your business reality match theirs?

If you happen to pay attention to any of the business turnaround reality shows on TV (I see them on rare occasions), you’ll know that the pattern is the same for most of them – regardless of the type of business.

Typically, there are some quality and cleanliness problems, a management issue or two (or five),  a lack of performance that’s often attributable to training and consistent systems and processes, and last but not least, a lack of attention to the numbers.

In some rare cases, the businesses seem to be more of a hobby or an escape than an actual business – a situation that never escapes the consulting expert, and always infuriates them.

On the rare occasion when I see these shows, three things always come to mind:

  • How could they have let the situation get this bad?
  • How could they not see these obvious problems, much less fail to address them?
  • How do business owners who read my stuff feel when seeing these shows?

If you haven’t seen one of these shows, here are the things you should be looking for in your business’ reality.

Filth

One of the universal failures of the businesses in these shows is that they’re consistently filthy. Some are worse than others, with some downright unbelievable.

The reason this can get out of control in your business is the gradual creep of muck. You get used to a certain level of clean and it never again seems to be the kind of clean you’d want to see in a place you’d visit.

My wife and I visited a Cajun restaurant in the south earlier this year and found the dining room’s tile floor filthy. It was hard not to wonder if they simply got used to the dirt.

How are you doing on the filth factor?

Management Vacuum

Another consistency of the businesses profiled in these shows is a partial to total lack of management.

Sometimes, the problem is the owner(s) acting as if the business is a hobby (and often creating a massive distraction – much less money suck), while in others, it’s a failure to delegate and then use the time savings to actually manage the business. Managers in these businesses often have owner-instigated conflicts that prevent them from exerting any authority on day to day operations – making them ineffective at best.

Do any of these situations sound familiar? Ask your manager(s) about it. If you sense hesitation…

Systems and Processes

One of the most common problems in these businesses is a lack of order and consistency.  Many of them have no point of sale system or have nothing more than a cash register to balance at the end of the day.

In the episodes where food and drink are part of the business, food and drink costs are always out of control and highly variable from serving to serving and drink to drink.

They not only have inconsistent production (and thus inconsistent quality), but they also tend to have no measurement / tracking / purchasing controls in place. They have no idea how much they’re spending on food and drink or if they are even turning a profit.

Key to the resolution of these problems is creating systems to manage and track materials, sales and purchasing. Yes, I know… this seems like Doctor Obvious speaking, but you would be surprised at the times this has been missing from businesses in these shows (and in my personal observation).

Do you know how much that $8.95 meal costs your business? Don’t serve food or drink? You still have production costs of some kind.

Training

A tightly integrated issue with systems and processes is staff training. Inconsistency in these businesses starts with a lack of systems and processes and ends with inconsistent (or non-existent) training of the staff.

A universal component of the reality-show-fix is a combination of new systems, processes and staff training on those systems and processes.

Systems and processes combined with training breed consistency, which breeds quality.

Watching the numbers

Beyond cost of production numbers, a common issue for these reality show businesses is a disconnect between what the business is doing sales and cost-wise and what the owner(s) / manager(s) think the business is doing.

Do you know what your real numbers are?

What’s the reality at your business?

Categories
Automation Business model Business Resources E-myth Management Marketing Small Business systems

Big Data, Small Business

Last week, we talked about questions.

Questions tend to produce answers and more questions, which can result in a pile of stuff that overwhelms a small business.

As a business and client base scales, these questions produce data that you can use for guidance, decision making and to ask even better questions. Again, this can result in a pile of stuff (data, in this case) that overwhelms a small business.

A common reaction to this phenomena is to ignore the data, or to be so overwhelmed by its volume that you can’t discern anything from it. Entrepreneurs tend to want to do it all and if they can’t do that, doing part of it seems like a failure. It isn’t.

Identifying your big data

Let’s look at one of the questions from last week’s post and see which ones are likely to produce decision-making data.

How does this impact our key performance indicators? Examples: cost per lead / new client / sale / deployment, support load, lead time, etc.

This implies that you already know your cost per lead, cost to acquire a new client, cost per order/sale, cost per deployment, average lead time per product/service and the support/customer service load your products and services require. Not gut feel, but actual numbers.

Actual numbers are important because our gut is often right when it comes to strategic decisions and the like, but it seldom has a clue when it come to numbers like cost per lead – particularly if you’ve never watched it.

Lead cost, sources, media and campaigns

For example, what impacts cost of a lead at your business?

Lead source is a good place to look.

You might get leads from referrals (cheap and strong, warm leads), from local TV ads, from local newspaper ads, from different media in your education-based marketing, from the phone book (yes, some businesses still depend on those leads), from direct mail (likewise, still quite productive if used properly), from your website, mobile app, and so on.

Each of these have different creation and distribution costs. Each will produce a different lead flow, much less volume and types of client. While in the beginning, you’re likely to lump all of this data together, at some point you need to break them out by media and eventually, by campaign.

You’ll want to do that so that you can answer questions like this:

  • How do you know which media produces the most profitable clients?
  • How do you know which campaign (and on which media) produces what number and type/quality of client?
  • How do you know if a particular campaign works well on one media, but terribly on another?
  • How do you know which media (or campaign) tends to produce clients that are high maintenance to the point that you tend to fire them or not accept them in the first place?
  • How do you know which media produces the best (however you define that) clients you have? Is there a specific type of campaign that does this?

From time to time, an owner will tell me that their businesses doesn’t do any marketing so this kind of thing doesn’t help their business. If that’s really true, you’ll usually have referral sources that produce more and better leads than referrers do.

Would it be helpful to know who is sending you the best referrals?You probably have a gut feel on this, but are you sure that it’s accurate?

Thinking back on those questions

Given the detail on the one question of cost per lead, you can see how this can become overwhelming in a hurry. Don’t fall victim to that. Take it a step at a time.

You may start with another metric. Cost per lead is important for almost everyone, but it isn’t always the best place to start.

When you ask questions like “How did the pilot program go?” – it might provoke follow up questions about the data collected during that pilot which would support the “How did it go?” question.

If those answers aren’t backed with data, then that might provoke you to add data collection to your pilot projects in the future. This will take more time but it will produce better answers that don’t depend on gut feel or a need to be right.

Better answers are what we’re looking for.