Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

Today’s story is a good analogy for business owners who have been running their business for a few years and have not refreshed their working methods. Very often we continue to do the same things each day/week/month without thinking about WHAT we are actually doing and WHY we are doing it.

New technologies and new ideas are great at streamlining and improving our methods of working and can bring a number of benefits to the organisation – not least cost and time efficiencies. Sometimes you may be going through the motions without really understanding WHY you are doing it or WHAT you are trying to achieve.

It may be that when the process was first introduced it worked well, but as the business has grown the process should have been revised or changed.

I have worked with organisations that have never considered the ‘WHY’ or ‘WHAT’ when going about their business.

Business owners should always be challenging themselves to improve their working practices and not be afraid to encourage their staff to suggest better ways of working. This review should be a vital undertaking, especially when the business is growing and expanding, the processes need to follow suit.

He following story illustrates this beautifully. This story is called:

A little girl was watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother why she cut the head and tail off the fish.

Her mother thought for a while and then said, “I've always done it that way – that's how Grandma did it.”

Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it.

Grandma thought for a while and replied, “I don't know. My mother always did it that way.”

So the little girl and the grandma went to visit Great Grandma to find out if she knew the answer.

Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish”.

Some business owners are so close to their business that they unable to take time to look at the business strategically and see that there could be a better way to do things.

So take a step back and look at the organisation as a whole and also consider the constituent parts to ensure that they work in harmony. Refer to a knowledgeable specialist that will see the business from experience and with fresh eyes and may be able to see some obvious benefits from change.

I had a classic situation last year talking with someone who had taken over the business from his parents.

He was using post-it notes and scraps of paper to take orders and make notes– because that’s how they had always done it. He did not know any other way of working because he was trained by his parents to follow suit. It just needed someone to show him another method.

He now has a proper day book and order processing system, but it was a real pain to get him to change. But what a massive difference it has made to the way the business runs.

We call this ‘not knowing what you don’t know’ and often occurs when we engage with business owners. After all most business owners are great at what they do, but do not necessarily understand the fundamentals of running a business.

Business owners need to regularly step away from their business and look at it more strategically. Do not be afraid of change, listen to ideas from your staff and advisers, embrace it and see the benefits that can be delivered. Do not be satisfied with doing something just because:

“We have always done it this way”

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Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

I wonder sometimes if suppliers, shops or service agencies actually want my business.

How many times have you bought something and the experience is one of complete indifference?

Over the years it has happened to me on a number of occasions – and guess what, I never go back, so they have lost my custom forever. I guess the reverse is also true when I buy something and actually feel that my custom is appreciated, that I receive service with a smile and the shop keeper wishes me good morning – I keep going back. AND moreover I talk to my friends, family and colleagues about both experiences, so there is a ripple effect.

It should not be difficult to understand this and yet in my own village I can point to at least 3 establishments that clearly don’t give a damn. The good news is I can also point to a number that do give a damn and I recommend them all the time.

Perception of Indifference

Today’s story is close to home as it happened to me at a local petrol station (I cannot disclose which one). I filled up with fuel and walked into the shop to pay and as I entered I picked up a chocolate bar. I approached the counter to find the attendant on a mobile phone. He would not make eye contact with me, but waved at me to put my card in the payment machine.

Not once did he apologise for chatting on the phone or make any effort to speak to me, it was like I was an inconvenience. He then realised that he had not charged me for the chocolate bar so gave me a disgusting look as he had to cancel the payment and start again – not once did he come off the phone, acknowledge me or say thank you for the business.

Of course I will never go back and he probably will not even acknowledge that he was being rude and unprofessional – his loss.

Indifference to your customers is one of the worst traits there is, you must ensure that you are always professional, polite and appreciative of their business. Make your customer feel valued and they will come back and probably tell others.

Consider your own purchases, which ones would you recommend to friends, family and colleagues – why is this. Think about how you can get your clients to recommend you by making them feel that you appreciate their business.

A smile or a thank you costs nothing but the value to the customer is massive.

Remember, if you are indifferent to your customer they will not be inclined to return and probably look elsewhere to buy.

Don't fall into this trap – ask for an independent view on your business, by contacting your local Icon Advisor now.

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Running Your Business: It’s About Doing What You Want

The title of this article should not be frivolous, but a statement of fact for all those business owners who have got their business to the right place where they are truly running their business effectively.

A business owner truly in control of their operation provides themselves with choices and it is from these that you can decide what you want to do. It is very easy to get pulled around and be at the mercy of the demands of the business, as David Leadbetter puts it, ‘Let the dog wag the tail’ and not the other way round. 

As now is the time when over 60% of the population go on holiday during the months of July and August it is probably a good time to review whether your business is controlling you or are you in control.

The following is an examination of what you need to do to get into control and a review of what some of the choices may look like when it all works.

One of the main keys to success in running any business is once you have established a robust business proposition based upon your product or service that profitably captures a sustainable niche of customers, is to implement effective systems and process.

It is the experience of most of our Advisors at ICON Business Solutions that most business owners have developed a sound product and service offering, and yes, whilst there may be some work required to formulate a stronger marketing platform the missing link is often systems and process.

Most business owners don’t plan to fail but fail to plan and build in these systems and processes. At the heart of this is a reluctance of the business owner to extricate themselves from the functional areas of business – these being marking, sales, production and operation, HR and Finance.

Often the business owner seems to have a main focus only on production or operation which is to the detriment of effective management and ‘strategic ownership’. This last term refers to the ability to identify and exploit other opportunities as and when they arise. Being stuck at the ‘coal face’ in operations will often mean that such opportunities are often missed.

Business Focus

What can be done to resolve this? The answer lies in putting robust systems and process in place to manage all the functional areas of the business so that these each have clear expectations and deliverables, and performance against which is regularly measured.

Often these measures get called Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and are published for the business owner to review on a monthly basis.

The benefit of ‘bedding down’ the business with robust systems is that actual performance of the business can be measured against budget to determine if the business is on track. If not, then corrective action can be taken because the business owner is in control and can steer the direction of the business as required. 

As we enter an every changing competitive landscape, in particular, with the roll-out of Brexit, there is no more pressing time to put such system and process in place.

What are these systems and process? These will be different for all businesses and will vary according to the size of the business. This will require a thorough examination of the importance of each area in terms of what it contributes toward the goals of the business.

Functional area goals will need to be developed and itemised by month. These can then be put into a plan for each functional area of the business that cascades into the overall business plan. The monthly review then becomes a tracking process to see if the milestones are being achieved to ensure the business is on the right track.

What are the benefits of such an approach? This will give you the chance to delegate effectively to functional teams and will ensure you have the time and scope to exploit broader more strategic opportunities for the business. As the business grows, management of the business can be achieved by reviewing a monthly budget and KPI review pack which will have submissions by function.

Whether or not you think this approach is for you, this is how the big corporations run their business, and so if you have aspirations of growing, then at some stage, you must also embrace this method of management. Just think of how it what it would be like if you were able to manage your business by taking regular time out from the business.

This doesn’t mean that you do not need to be present in the business to verify with your own eyes what is going on, what has been called ‘management by walking around’. What it does mean is that you now have choices as you are in control.

The main benefits can be accrued in terms of time to effectively manage and grow the business. This time can also provide greater levels of flexibility for you to enjoy taking time out to enjoy holidays and other pursuits.

The business should be there to reap rewards for you so that you can enjoy the ‘fruits of success’. If you are stuck in the UK over the summer period and did want to get away, then it is probably the case that the ‘tail is most certainly wagging the dog’ for your business, and it should be time to consider changing.

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Does your business make best use of its IT?

For many businesses, IT systems are either an unknown entity, something else to “go wrong” or even worse – something that gets in the way of doing the day job.

IT systems are all around us – internal finance systems such as Sage or Xero,  Electronic Point Of Sale systems (EPOS), Production control systems to maximise quality of delivery and Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM) being just a few.

Whereas effective IT can provide real advantages to businesses and provide genuine efficiency gains and improvements to the profitability of a business, often businesses fail to realise these benefits.

The question is – in an age of ever increasing IT capability and IT usage, why do some businesses fail to realise the benefits where others succeed?

There are several questions about the use of IT in a business of any size – especially true of a Small/Medium business:

  • Is the IT helping drive the business forward?
  • Is the business fully aware of what IT can provide to the business?
  • Can they make use of the IT that has been provided?
  • Is their IT provision suitable not only for the current level of activity, but also for the growth of the business?

To understand these questions we need to look at the relationship between the business owners and their IT.

Businesses tend not to be run by IT professionals, but by business leaders. They know all about their particular business area, however quite often have had no need (or desire) to be fully skilled in IT.  In addition many business owners feel that recommended IT solutions “miss the point”, are very expensive, replace systems that look fine as they are, or are just simply far too complex to understand.

In addition, in an age when computing power is ever growing and new players are constantly entering the market – how can you choose a better solution that is in itself likely to be superseded a very short time after implementation?

As a result many business owners feel intimidated by IT – as something both outside their comfort zone and their control. This fear of the unknown can lead to businesses missing out on the advantages that can be realised by the effective use of IT.  

So how are you going to ensure that this opportunity is not missed?

Effective use of IT requires not only a good understanding of IT systems, but also a real understanding of the business needs and future requirements.  When planning any implementation of IT systems there are real business questions that need to be addressed:

  • What does the business need in order to survive and thrive?
  • What Key Performance Indicators measure the success of a business?
  • What information does the business need to thrive – financially and operationally?
  • How does it need  / Who needs to access this information?
  • How can the business create a competitive difference in order to succeed?
  • What direction is the business taking in the future?

When all of these are known – at a Business and not IT level, then the “Output Specification” of any proposed IT solution can be defined.  The Output Specification defines everything the IT systems need to provide both now and in the future, and also what the “nice to have” elements of any solution are. Then and only then is a suitable IT solution looked for.

There will be “it would be nice to have” elements that can be included in the IT solution – the number of these to be added will add to the cost, complexity and supportability of the solution. It is in the interests of the business therefore to be pragmatic about the number of these optional extras, and not to attempt to find the perfect solution (which may be so complex as to be unusable, and probably does not exist anyway)

This IT solution may not be technologically the latest and greatest, or the most expensive solution – but it will however be the best solution for the business and this solution will be suitable for a reasonable length of time for a sensible level of investment. 

As a result this solution will provide the required benefit for the business, be as simple as possible, be quickly accepted by the business and more importantly – will actually be used, rather than ignored and replaced by other workarounds that may hinder business growth.

Business owners need to prioritise their efforts into what is important for the growth of the business, and it is all too easy to place the IT systems at the bottom of the list. However this method of focussing NOT on the IT system directly, but rather on the business need (and how the IT systems link to it), can give a much better understanding of the systems to be used, and elevate the importance of this decision making and how this can enhance business growth.

This may still mean the business owner needs to take expert advice – but this advice must NOT be driven by the IT specifications – this comes last.

When this is done correctly, the IT solution is put in place is properly aligned to the business needs and the business growth requirement – it will no longer be seen as a hindrance, and can instead start to be used effectively by all parties.

Lastly, having real-time information at your fingertips will only help improve the quality of your decision making, and may even give you a competitive edge. If your competitors are getting to grips with their IT strategy, it may be time for you to do the same, otherwise your business may lose out.

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Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

Today’s story discusses the importance of planning and strategy. We all have good ideas, but clear thought and considered implementation of these ideas is critical to success. I have known a number of Business Owners that have great ideas, but do not succeed because they have failed to plan. There is a wonderful quote by Benjamin Franklin that illustrates this perfectly.

IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN, YOU ARE PLANNING TO FAIL

This story is called:
Let’s Go For a Walk

If I suggested that a few of us walk to the local pub for a beer one evening we would agree a day and time and casually walk down to the village and enjoy a convivial evening with our friends. We would not have changed the world, but we would have had a pleasant evening chatting with our friends.
But what if I suggested we raise money for a local charity by seeking sponsorship to walk to Land’s End in Cornwall. We would have to plan a number of things to ensure success.

  • Get sponsorship
  • Work out the best walking route
  • Make sure one of the team had first aid skills
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Ensure we had the correct clothes, especially good walking shoes
  • What stops would we need to make on the way, if it was over night where was the best place to rest
  • How would we ensure we had enough drinks and sustenance for the journey
  • Ensure we had all mobile phones charged in case of emergency
  • Divide up the roles and responsibilities so that they are manageable

This is a very different walk than a leisurely stroll down the pub. It needs thought, planning and commitment to succeed.

Consider the marketing to raise the sponsorship money, the operational aspects to ensure all the logistics are covered, create a budget to cover the costs of food and sustenance. Agree roles and responsibilities and and get commitment from all parties to ensure success.

In business, too many owners tend to work hard but with no plan. Great businesses plan what they want, then plan strategies and tactics to get there.

IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN AND YOU ARE PLANNING TO FAIL

ICON Business Solutions implement tactics and strategies to ensure business success on your journey. Our Success Model Planning program looks at all the aspects of business to ensure they are all working in harmony to build sustainable growth in the business.

ICON Business Solutions – supporting you on your journey to success. Contact your local Advisor today for a free initial planning meeting.

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Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

Today’s story has been used a number of times over the years to show how a simple change in a message can make a significant improvement in gaining results. It is still a very strong analogy to all business owners who want to market their wares to potential clients.

A business can have a great product or service, but getting the correct message out to the market can be difficult. The message needs to be different from your competitors, thought provoking or memorable. Just telling the market ‘what you do’ is often not enough, the message needs to be stimulating or even a bit quirky.

This story is called:

It’s a beautiful day

An old blind man was begging on a busy street corner, he had a tin cup and a cardboard sign that read ‘Blind – please help me’

His cup was empty and people were ignoring him.

A young advertising executive was walking past and noticed the blind man and his empty cup. He stopped and watched as people moved past the old man completely unmoved by his plight.

The young advertising executive took a thick marker pen from his pocket, turned the cardboard sign over and wrote a message on it.  He put the sign back next to the blind man and went on his way.

Almost immediately passer byes were stopping and putting money in the tin cup, and soon the cup was overflowing. The blind man was baffled and he asked a stranger to tell him what was written on the sign.

The stranger read the sign to him – it said ‘Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it’

Sending out the right marketing message is essential for all businesses. It doesn’t  need to be big and brassy, the message can be simple, but it needs to be memorable or thought provoking. 

A business must continue to review and improve their message to the market. It is not just a question of telling them what you do – get the market to react to your message.

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Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

Success in business can be a double edged sword. Of course the extra business is great news and is reward for hard work. The following story does not have a happy ending. Although the business owner won some significant new business, she then became complacent and lazy.

This story is called:

Sit on your laurels and get cleaned out

A woman who worked in the cleaning business took the brave step to set up her own office cleaning company, in the knowledge that she was aware of a couple of local hotels that were dissatisfied with their current supplier. She approached them both and was asked to take over the work to clean the hotels and employed 6 people to work as cleaners for her business. All was good, she was earning enough from the 2 hotels to have a good living.

Then one of the hotels was acquired by another hotel chain and as a result she was asked to take on another 4 hotels which were part of their chain. So she employed another 16 people to enable her to service the extra hotels. Things really were going very well and she effectively sat on her laurels enjoying the fruits of her labours.

Then after a year she got a call to inform her that her biggest client had been acquired by a major chain and effectively she was given immediate notice.

She had no agreement or contract with them and so was left with a load of staff and no work other than the one small hotel she worked for when she started out. She had to take the company into liquidation and was sued for the outstanding debts from her suppliers, landlord and vehicle leasing provider.

She was sitting on her laurels and not focussing on the business or looking at growing it. She assumed that the good days would continue forever.

This is a classic example of lack of basic business practice and poor vision. It should be a lesson to all business owners that you should not ‘put all your eggs in one basket’ and must always be looking to grow and improve your business.

A business cannot stand still – it must always be looking to grow!

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Simple Stories That Help Us To Be More Successful

Following on from last month’s Newsletter I would like to share another anecdote that illustrates how we as individuals (and in particular business owners) can be lazy in our thinking and believe what we are told when we really should be challenging the comments that we are fed.
The real lesson that comes out of this for me is that if it is important then check with an ‘expert’ or person of authority and not just accept something that you hear from a ‘Know it all’.

This one is called:

The Bloke Down the Pub

I was having a social evening down the pub recently and one of people in the group was talking about her business and asked me if I could offer some advice. Her husband was the main bread winner and she ran a small business to supplement the household income. It was not a particularly large concern and turned over about £15k a year.

Before I could comment one of the others chipped in:

‘Ah well what you should do is this’:

  • Get as much cash in hand business as you can and don’t declare it
  • Of course it’s easy money if you have your own business
  • Put all your petrol receipts on the business – it won’t cost you anything
  • You can charge all car repairs to the business
  • You can get all your meals out on the business and it won’t cost you a bean
  • Get as many VAT receipts from people you know and use them to get the VAT back

And on he went – it became rather embarrassing.

Of course the person giving the advice had never run a business in his life and did not have a clue.

SO – DON’T LISTEN TO THE BLOKE DOWN THE PUB OR YOUR BROTHER IN LAWS MATE.

For candid and reliable business advice talk to us at ICON Business Solutions

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