Back to Business Basics

Another year has already come and gone? Really?

As you wrap up this year and prepare to start another, consider using the following list to guide your business activities. If you want to consider this a “New Year’s Resolution” list, that’s fine as long as you actually turn this list into reality and stick with it all year.

Set business goals, and have plans for achieving those goals.

Establish written plans for achieving your business goals. Be sure to assign accountability using the following formula: WHO will do WHAT by WHEN?

Run your business by the numbers.

It’s important to regularly review your progress and results. Your review should include:

  • Sales, broken down by product/service or customer segments
  • Gross profit, broken down the same way as sales
  • Major expense line items
  • Net profit
  • Cash balance and cash flow
  • Accounts Receivable, if you extend payment terms to your customers

Look at both month-to-date and year-to-date results, and compare to the same period from the prior year. It’s also a good idea to look at your P&L statement numbers as a percent of total sales. This allows you to spot trends early.

Use time wisely.

Your time is one of your most precious resources, so be sure you’re making the best use of it. Use a calendar and set aside time for planning and review.

“Hire hard” so you can “manage easy.”

Spend as much time as needed with the recruiting and interviewing process to build a strong team who will grow with your company.

Spend quality time with employees.

Rather than waiting a year to discuss performance with your team members, regularly visit with them informally. Get to know their talents, strengths and weaknesses. Praise them for their good work, and coach them when you see opportunities for improvement.

Delegate.

You can’t do it all yourself, so don’t even try. Continually ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time and talents?” If not, find a way to delegate those activities to employees or outside vendors.

Spend quality time with customers.

Find out the answers to these two questions:

  1. What’s important to you? (Quality, customer service, product mix, etc.)
  2. How are we doing in those areas?

Develop relationships with your customers.

Find ways to stand out from your competitors and to become the supplier of choice.

Make smart use of technology.

Technology has become so affordable and easy to use that even the smallest home-based business can afford to appear bigger and to level the playing field with larger competitors. Get tech savvy to reduce costs, improve communication, increase productivity and enhance customer service.

Create a winning culture.

Get everyone in your company on the success bandwagon, starting with you. Think and talk about growing, pushing through challenges and achieving goals. Be winners.

Implement these common-sense business practices, and go make the new year your best yet.

Price is Everything?

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” ― Confucius

About ten years ago in my past life – as CEO of a medical equipment company which I have since sold – we were exhibiting at a trade show. An attendee walked by, checking out our booth. As I started to introduce myself, he exclaimed with a scowl, “Our business goes to the lowest priced vendor! Price is everything!”

If his goal was to set the tone for our interaction, he succeeded. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I had never encountered anyone so obviously hell-bent on turning his organization into the home of crazy-low prices. The one positive outcome of my blissfully brief meeting with him was the eventual inspiration for this article.

If I had detected even a hint of willingness to enter into a dialogue, I might have asked him how we had allowed things to reach a point where “price is everything.” I also may have challenged him to put himself in my place. What if his customer proclaimed, “Price is everything!” I’ll bet he would have immediately come to the defense of his company – and rightfully so. With the tables turned, his focus would be not on price, but on value – which is where it belongs.

Each company is a value chain. It’s made up of people, facilities, materials, services and suppliers. Like any chain, it’s only as strong as its weakest link. I submit to you that being focused on “cheapest” is asking for lots of weak links.

I doubt that anyone prefers to be driven solely by price. We’re all interested in getting the best value, whether it’s our money or our employer’s. I also recognize the tremendous cost pressure businesses have experienced these past few years. But I’d like to believe that, given the choice, even bean-counters would embrace value over price. (By the way, I use “bean-counter” as a term of endearment.)

Think of your own experiences, either at work or in your personal life. Did you ever buy something at what appeared to be a good price and later regret it? Such a simplistic analogy may not do the discussion justice, but you can bet everyone can relate to it, because we’ve all been there.

It’s tough to resist the temptation to meet the other guy’s price. It takes guts to go out into the marketplace with a higher price. It also takes hard work. Anyone can sell if they’re the cheapest. Getting your customers to realize your added value takes effort.

If business owners and managers have the courage of their convictions and confidence in their people, products, and services, they can move from a price focus to a focus on value. We all owe it to ourselves, our employees and our customers.

7 Business Resolutions for the New Year

How is 2011 turning out for you? Check one:

[ ] Pretty rough
[ ] Fair
[ ] Great!

Even if you chose “Great”, it’s hard to be optimistic when unemployment is high and many of the most powerful people in our government seem determined to punish achievement via the tax code. Until fairly recently, entrepreneurs were celebrated and respected. It was all about the American Dream. Now … well, just listen to the words being used and the proposals being made. It’s clear that some folks don’t value what entrepreneurship represents: Pursuing dreams, hard work, jobs and a rising tide that floats all boats. When the dearly-held principles that made this country what it is today – including Capitalism – come under attack, it is difficult indeed to stay positive. Don’t fall for it. Here are seven resolutions for the new year to help you stay positive and improve your company’s performance.

1. I will not buy into the “the rich don’t pay their fair share” nonsense. The top 1% of earners pay 38% of all taxes. The top 10% pay 70% of all taxes. (This information is readily available on the IRS website.) You may not be rich but this ridiculous mantra is mutating into an indictment on all business owners. Get informed – immunize yourself against the negativity.

2. I will run my business by the numbers. It’s important to regularly review your progress and results, including:
• Sales and gross profit, broken down by product/service or customer segments
• Major expense line items
• Net profit
• Cash balance and cash flow
• Accounts Receivable, if applicable

Look at month-to-date and year-to-date results, and compare to the same period from the prior year. It’s also a good idea to look at your income statement numbers as a percent of total sales to spot trends early.

3. I will “hire hard” so I can “manage easy.” A bad hiring decision can haunt you for a long time. Don’t make a snap decision. Build a strong team who will grow with your company.

4. I will delegate. You can’t do it all yourself, so don’t even try.

5. I will connect with my customers. Find out the answers to these two questions:
• What’s important to you? (Quality, customer service, etc.)
• How are we doing in those areas?

Develop relationships with your customers. Find ways to stand out from your competitors and to become the supplier of choice.

6. I will make smart use of technology to improve my business. Technology has become so affordable and easy to use that no business has an excuse for not going high tech. Even the smallest home-based business can afford to level the playing field with larger competitors.

7. We will think like a growth company and will not participate in the poor economy. Get everyone in your company – starting with you and including all your employees – on this bandwagon. Think and talk about growth, pushing through challenges and achieving goals.

Be winners. Build on your successes and learn from your mistakes. Implement all these business practices, and go into the new year with the attitude that this will be your best year yet.