Archive for category Business Management

What is included in the ideal monthly Management Pack?

This was the topic discussed by our members at a recent meeting of the Business Exposure Group.

As a business you need to know how you are performing.  Should the management pack consist of a one page summary, or should it be more extensive, and what should be included in it?

Most businesses include KPI’s/ Action plan and corrective action/ Profit and Loss showing period against the budget/ Aged Debtors/ Staff headcount/ Cash at bank/ Capital expenditure / Cash Flow forecast.

These are all essential pieces of information needed to enable you to get an overall picture of what is happening in your business at this particular moment.

The figures should be monitored on a regular monthly basis, say 5 days from the month end, with time set aside in the diary to study them and ask questions.  This is the best way to monitor your working capital and decide whether you need to invest more time in chasing payments.  Armed with the information you can get the business to perform better – control costs/ improve margins/ boost cashflow/ reduce risk through better management.

Management accounts are used to help plan and control activities of the business and to assist in decision making.  Information should be shared with staff members, as it will help them understand where to focus their energy and avoid big surprises at the end of the year.  Often visual graphs make the figures easier to understand, and can highlight both positive and negative trends.

Information can be obtained to identify seasonal differences, plan dividend payments and other remuneration.

One of our members felt that his management accounts produced figures that were too focussed on the present, but it’s up to you to interpret them and spot trends.  Consider burn rate, ie how long can you last if no more sales were achieved beyond those already known, therefore unnecessary costs must be dumped.

Looking at management accounts should not be seen as an additional administrative burden.  All this information is there to help you decide about – adjustment of stock levels, hiring of extra staff to meet demand, investment in marketing, discounting or discontinuing certain product lines or services.  Nowadays with the common use of Xero accounting software there is no longer a need to wait a full month before knowing the financial position of your business.  The use of accounting software allows companies to produce information on demand.

Our Business Exposure Group members were all aware of the value of regularly reviewing their management accounts and agreed that they were important for the business to progress, but some felt they did not give sufficient attention to the definitive information available.

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Motivating staff without huge salaries

How to motivate staff without paying them huge salaries was the main topic for discussion at a recent Business Exposure Group meeting.

It’s easy to find an employee but not easy to find help.  Help is when you pay money and get back more than you laid out.  So, how do you attract the right employee?  Don’t hire people on a recommendation or just because you know them.  Take time to select the right person for your company, and let them loose so that they can do what they do best.

The usual job ads don’t work – ‘salary commensurate with experience’ is boring, ‘competitive wage’ ie, you pay the same as everyone else – will not attract amazing people.  Good candidates want – no management, no bullshit, and no idiots – that would attract great people.  So, come up with your own unique version to attract good people to your company.

As an employer you must not play God, employees do not like being talked down to, nor is it good for motivating them.  Bad bosses bribe their employees with high salaries.  Amazing bosses motivate their staff by saying ‘this is where the company is going’ and ‘let me take you on a journey’.  Only give pay rises commensurate with the success of the business, don’t bribe staff to stay – they must be motivated.  Create a ‘map’ and show employees what they are working to achieve.

Make your staff feel they are part of the success.  Does putting KPI’s on the computer so staff can see how well the company is doing in comparison with last month, energise and motivate your staff, or is it dangerous if the business performance takes a dip?

Have you got a good environment for people to work and flourish?  They will be motivated to do better if they are recognised for going that extra yard.

So, how do you ensure that your staff want to be part of your business rather than just turning up every day with an attitude that they are making you money and not seeing anything for themselves.  They must buy-in to being part of the bigger picture.

Don’t hire people to do the jobs you won’t do.  It begs the question why would someone else want to do it?  Mundane jobs are okay if you introduce some variety, consider flexible working practices.

Giving people a job title often limits the role they carry out, eg receptionist – only answers the telephone.  That is probably not a fulltime role.  Everyone should share the job responsibility, but this only works if staff are motivated,eg techies who are happy to deal with customers.  Keep staff motivated and have a share in the collective work.  Get staff to do a bit of each other’s job when needed, ie to cover absence.  Introduce cross-training.  Employees like to do more and be involved.  Staff will take pride in their work if they feel part of the business.  Also clients like to talk to people who know about other areas of the business and can add value.

Good employers have a vision of what needs to be done, which is not done by having rules.  Employees should be following your vision and solving problems, not obeying rules.One of our members who has a cutting edge business explained that ‘the fact that other businesses hate that we exist’ is what makes my staff excited and motivates more than pay.

The younger generation enjoy the competitive environment but this is not limited to financial gain.  Quality of life is the big motivator these days.  It is important to move away from the boss to employee relationship towards an alliance for success.

These were some of the points raised by our members during the meeting.

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The biggest challenges Businesses face today

What are the biggest challenges businesses face today, was the question posed to members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting, and below are the 10 most pressing concerns.

According to the CBI change is the new normal.

Growing revenue is the top challenge for businesses employing 5-30 employees.  Hiring employees is the biggest challenge for businesses with 30-50 employees and government regulations becomes the biggest issue for business with 50 or more employees.

What are the 10 big challenges for SME’s.

  • Uncertainty about customer trends – does this lead to short term focus, and does it make you feel vulnerable?
  • Financial Management – cash flow. Larger customers are imposing long payment terms, so how are you addressing this?
  • Monitoring performance – are KPI’s as good as they sound even though they compare historical information or are there better ways.
  • Recruiting the right talent – employee working flexibility is important to retain good staff, but increasingly stress in the workplace is a real challenge in small businesses when staff have to be able to multi-task.
  • Technology – it should be outsourced to reduce demand on administrators, but is investment in technology an asset or a handicap. Distinguishing which technology will attain the highest return in terms of time and investment is a problem.  The big issue is, is the IT fit for purpose.
  • Information overload. There are now big digital challenges for meeting the expectations of customers, together with finding and keeping people who can digitally transform a company that delivers a bespoke customer experience.
  • Customer Service – what is the right level, are customers’ expectations too high? Managing the relationship is key
  • Maintaining reputation – there is genuine concern about reputation management with easy access to social media and particular concern about cyber security disrupting the day to day functionality of the business.
  • Knowing when to embrace change is a worry and knowing how to balance quality with growth. Businesses are stocking less and relying on a lean supply chains, but is this clever or does it open up crippling disruptions.
  • Regulations and compliance are becoming more and more demanding of staff time

Everyone was in agreement that running a business is getting harder and is forever challenging, but all were motivated about the challenges and were ready to face them head on.

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Taking your Business to the next level

In today’s confusing economy many business owners are in need of a jolt – something that will help their company grow.  But what are the ways to find an edge in a crowded market, to find new ways to sell your product or services?

This was the question posed to members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting and they came up with the following points.

  • Is the business truly scaleable? Is the demand for your products enough to sustain growth by focusing on either one product at a time, one new customer at a time,   one new sector at a time?  But often the key to scaling up is scaling down and become more efficient.
  • Make sure you do your market research before scaling your business.
  • Re-organise your company to serve customers better. Look at your inefficiencies and review where improvements can be made.
  • Operate with integrity; don’t let money or greed get in the way. Strive for excellence and be different.  The owner is the main sales ambassador, so get out and visit your customers.  Focus on good customer service.  Stay up to date with technology and up your marketing activities.
  • Many small businesses run too lean for too long, putting all their investment into selling, but certain inefficiencies maybe things you can get away with in the early stages, but if you are serious about growing these ‘holding you back’ issues need ironing out.
  • Don’t think just about tomorrow, at the expense of the long term.
  • For some it is easier to carry on as you are, rather than developing skills to manage and grow your business. A leader’s job is to set the vision and a manager’s job is to set tasks and look after the operation.  It is vital to position yourself correctly in the business.

Your business can either grow or stagnate, it’s your decision, but let me leave you with three interesting thoughts –

  1. Don’t become obsessed over ‘cool features’ as this will drain resources and will not increase your bottom line.
  2. Don’t over innovate because this will drive your customers away because your products and services become too complicated.
  3. Don’t wait until a product is perfect before you launch because you will have launched too late.

Remember growth is about having processes, being organised and delegating trust to others working in your business.

 

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Managing Multiple Outsourced Relationships

Successful outsourcing means more than just picking the right supplier.  It’s now a mainstream strategy, it’s an indispensable part of small business operations.

But, what do you outsource? – IT, Human Resources, Wages, Training?

Should you avoid outsourcing areas of your business that directly impact your customers?

For example, is it better to outsource IT to one supplier or to contract with a few suppliers and choose the best one for each type of work?  Failing to outsource effectively can cause damage to your business.

Outsourcing was the subject discussed at the Business Exposure Group meetings recently and members engaged in a lively discussion as to the benefits and pitfalls of outsourcing.

Successful outsourcing achieves:- cost reduction / achieving KPI’s / reduced time to market / process improvements / business agility / increased innovation / commitment to change with enthusiasm.

However, research shows that 15% of business owners think that outsourcing delivers reduced services, poor quality, and costs more when management and overseeing are factored in, and there is evidence of a high failure rate in outsourcing.  The biggest hurdle to overcome is that the contract or piece of work must be commercially significant to the supplier, if the buyer is to receive an appropriate level of service.

Businesses can’t be as efficient in this day and age if we handle all tasks internally.  But what is crucial to overcome the high failure rate is to have some sound service level agreements detailing: the minimum service offering / dealing with on time delivery / the volume of work / and the suppliers availability if your business needs a quick fix.

Time invested in managing outsourced relationships is time well spent but when choosing suppliers for outsourcing consider the following points:

-How do you get suppliers to collaborate with your established functions?

-How difficult will it be to swap outsourced suppliers?

-How often should you meet with suppliers?

-Lay down your terms of business clearly and set clear goals with service level agreements.

-What attitude should you expect from your supplier? They must show

a passion for excellence, rather than just satisfaction

commitment to success

take ownership of the work

bring brainstorming to the table

go above and beyond the contractual expectations

-Can you invoke penalties for failures in service / delivery

If you choose suppliers well then you will have a great resource, which is about much more than just saving costs.  It’s about skill, innovation and giving your business a competitive edge.

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Growth by Acquisition

The simple way to expand your business is through hard work, there is no short cut to growth.  However, growth through acquisition maybe appropriate for small and medium sized companies looking to achieve rapid expansion.

What do you think of when you want to grow your business?

  • Catch your competitors off guard
  • Instant market penetration
  • Eliminate a competitor through acquisition
  • Is rapid growth too risky in a fast moving business world
  • Will staff cope

So, is organic growth too risky in our fast moving business world?  This was a question raised at a recent Business Exposure Group meeting.

It is easier to finance growth via acquisition than other routes of expansion.  Lenders are more impressed with real financials than projections.  Banks prefer to finance acquisition rather than projected traditional growth.

Ask yourself – does acquisition complement our services/does it align with who we are and what we want to become/does it enhance our profile.  For a business to be well positioned for acquisition it needs to be doing well, have a strategic business plan, a strong management team and access to capital before the deal takes place.  Is your foundation sound enough to acquire?  Will your key employees stay?

Acquisition is about getting skills and technologies faster or at a lower cost that they can be built from scratch.  Acquisition is even better than having a super-charged sales effort.

Acquisition is lower risk – expenses are predictable, but how do you find a company who wants to sell?

1. use your accountant/lawyer

2. contact the owner direct

3. look for people around retirement age

4. direct networking with business owners

With organic growth businesses, growth should be restricted to 5-20% per year.  So acquisition assists to go beyond that with control.

If you don’t have the money to buy

  1. use the seller’s assets
  2. buy with someone else
  3. lease with an option to buy
  4. assume liabilities or decline the receivables

One of the Business Exposure Group members who acquired last year said ‘Keep the businesses separate for 18 months and let the teams develop – if buying the business, but if buying the talent then integrate them into your business quickly before they leave.  Respect the existing product and/or services otherwise the newly acquired team will feel embarrassed and worthless’.

According to KPMG, on acquisition 15% of staff leave.  If more than 15% this will affect the DNA of the team that you have just acquired.

The discussion at the meeting finished with an agreement that time should be set aside each month to work on the business and consider if an acquisition should be targeted, but note that acquisitions usually stem from the sellers desire to get out rather than the buyers desire for a purchase

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Delivering Innovative Customer Experiences

To create distinctive customer experiences, businesses need to push the boundaries and adopt next-generation thinking in six key areas.

Some companies are moving fast to adapt, applying a range of approaches to improve customer experiences.  A great experience that delights customers and earns their loyalty is needed. Improving a customer experience from merely average to something that wows the customer can lead to a 30/50% increase in measures such as likelihood to renew or to buy another product.

Here are six areas discussed at a recent Business Exposure Group meeting.

  1. Measure customer behaviour and spend time with customers to understand them 

Companies need to empathize with customers when they experience difficulties and obstacles.

This means embracing new techniques for understanding customer journeys.  Such approaches allow companies to uncover new insights that allow them to design and deliver truly great customer experiences.

One of our Business Exposure Group members is an insurance broker specialising in the farming community. He was developing a new product and took time out to observe the daily activities of farmers.

He learnt that farmers are pressed for time but also very tech savvy, relying heavily on PCs and mobile devices in their daily activities. He had originally planned to market his new product through traditional channels, but lessons learned from an observation trip led him to create a digital solution, which allowed farmers to gather information and buy policies online at night and at weekends.

  1. Designing the complete customer experience

Design is not about making devices and screens look pretty. True customer-experience design involves each interaction customers have with your company. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

To design a customer journey, companies must enlist everyone who has an impact on any part of a customer’s journey, not just people with the word “design” in their title—in particular operations and IT. 

A Business Exposure Group member has a marketing agency whose client specialises in visitor attractions. After a 12 month effort to root out pain points in the experience of visitors to theme parks, their clients introduced wrist bands. These brightly coloured wristbands allow visitors to board rides, pay for meals and gifts. More important, the bands and the technology behind them—which is in every part of the attraction—allow visitors to select exactly what they want to see and do in advance. That has helped turn a day out from a series of highlight attractions interrupted by waiting in line to a smooth end-to-end experience.

  1. Completely rethink the customer experience

The focus is addressing customer needs, not improving a process. Many of our members bring in people who are not normally involved in the business to encourage fresh thinking.  Looking at the best experiences employed in other industries can  be extremely enlightening.

  1. Become an agile organisation

Managers responsible for developing new offerings need the authority to make decisions quickly and to hold staff accountable. 

One of the Business Exposure Group members who has an IT software company shifted entirely to cloud technologies, which allowed new software developed by their team to go live on the clients websites in a matter of seconds.  By making the whole organisation agile, the IT company dramatically reduced time to market for their clients products and services. 

  1. From delivering a product to constant tweaking

Many businesses figure out what new product or service offering they want to create for customers and then launch pilots.

It’s impossible to know in advance how an experience will be embraced by customers. It’s better to launch sooner with fewer features and a simpler interface and learn what works, based on real customer input. 

Using this approach, one of the Business Exposure Group members was able to build a new tablet-based app in just 6 weeks.  It then tweaked new versions based on user feedback, improving the process.  After these tweaks, the app was scaled across new markets and more products within the company’s range.

  1. Working together spontaneously 

Companies need to push their people to move beyond traditional roles and work together to reinvent customer journeys.  Improvements  come from having motivated, empowered frontline employees driven by clear purpose.

Many of our members are working hard to reinvent their customers’ journeys. The ones that win will be those that push the boundaries and adopt new practices.

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