Archive for the ‘Working with Consultants’ Category

Top Ten In 2014……

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The results are in!

Our top 10 blog posts in 2014 were:

1.   Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal? looks at an alternative strategy that is built on the 3 R’s (Responsiveness, Resilience, Readiness) required in a changing environment.

2.   6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture looks at the ways a business owner can develop a culture which will help increase operating profits and build shareholder value.

3.   6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face discusses the 6 challenges of execution which, if not dealt with, could prove fatal.

4.   3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy explains when a company should review its strategy and what makes that review and any subsequent actions necessary.

5.   The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan talks about the difference between strategy and planning and why it’s important to understand what these terms mean.

6.   6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Business puts forward 6 simple things business owners can implement to achieve better long-term financial performances.

7.  Use These 3 Tips To Make Your Next Critical Decision offers 3 things Ram Charan, co-author of “Execution”, says business leaders do when faced with a critical decision.

8.  5 Traits Effective Business Owners Share outlines some of the traits effective entrepreneurs have in common that contribute to the growth of their businesses.

9.  3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail and 3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail – Part 2 addresses the most common reasons why things can go wrong between consultants and their clients.

10. Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It outlines how business owners make 3 mistakes that could destroy their company when they confuse strategy and strategic planning.

If you missed any of them, here’s another opportunity!

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Be Known For The Things You Do – And For Those You Don’t

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

In last week’s post I spoke about one of the reasons I started ProfitPATH 12 years ago.let your business be known for the things you do - and for those you don't

I wanted to create a company that did things differently to the way in which management consultants traditionally behaved.

To act as a guide, I made a list of all the things consultants I’d hired over the years had done that had annoyed me – and said we’ll do the opposite.

While I’ve often spoken about the list, I’ve never actually publicized it.

Now I’ve decided to change that. As a start, I thought we’d replace some of the outdated content on our current web site with the list.

I had to dig through some really old files but I found the original piece of paper on which I’d written the list.

Here it is.

We exist to help business owners achieve the results they want for their companies.  To do that we will:

1.   Tell clients when:

•  We don’t know how to do what they need. We will focus on what we do best.
•  They can do something by themselves. We will not bill clients for unnecessary work.
•  We don’t understand their requirements – even if it makes us look silly. We will not risk missing their expectations.
•  They ask us to provide “silver bullet” solutions. The Lone Ranger may have those – but we don’t.
•  We can’t provide what they need at the price or to meet the schedule they want. We will not “agree now, modify later”.

2.  Adapt and use tools and processes that we know deliver results. We will not use clients as guinea pigs.

3.  Design our services so that we can see the results of our work. We will not write reports and walk away.

4.  Find ways to link our compensation to the results of our work. This will be hard but we will not give up.

5.  Allow clients to terminate a project at any time – without a financial penalty.

6.  Always offer references. Where possible from clients of a similar size, in a similar industry.

7.  Submit proposals which contain absolutely no surprises – because they include only things we’ve already discussed with the client.

After seeing the list again I’m proud of how we’ve run the business.

However, I’m wondering what, if anything I missed.

What do you think?

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Elusive ‘Silver Bullet’

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

7 Ways to Hold Consultants Accountable Now

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

7 ways to hold consultants accountable nowMy wife will tell you I like giving other people advice.

That’s probably why I’m a management consultant.

But even consultants have to take some of their own advice – and change in order to grow.

For example, we must find a process for linking our compensation to our results in a meaningful way.

There’s no doubt this is hard to do. But that’s no excuse for refusing to try.

However, at the risk of making a huge understatement, it’s going to take time.

So, while we’re waiting, what can a business owner do to make sure the consultants they hire actually deliver results?

1. I talked about our own solution to linking compensation to results last year in a post called “Let’s Hold Consultants Responsible For Results”. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the traditional model.

2. Four years ago I suggested how owners can keep control when they work with consultants.

3. Around the same time I highlighted 3 reasons why consulting engagements fail. It’s really not difficult to avoid making them.

4. Look for consultants who have had practical, “hands on” experience operating a company. They have 2 clear advantages over consultants who have spent their entire career in consulting roles, as I pointed out in 2011.

5. There are also clues that you can listen for. Consultants who are effective tend to say certain things.

Here are 2 more things that I thought about this week.

6. Yesterday I was talking to a business owner who had been referred by an existing client. He asked if I would go out and meet him. I agreed immediately because that’s the only way to determine if there’s any chemistry between us.

Some people might consider the idea of “chemistry” to be foolish. But I can tell you from experience, that without it, the risk of a project failing increases dramatically.

7. Ask what success will look like. It’s more than just a description of what the consultant’s going to do and the services they’ll deliver. It’s about knowing how, when and what they will do to help you get the results you want.

Success, they say, comes not from doing one big thing well, but from doing many little things well. Perhaps change is like that too.

We at ProfitPATH, and lots of other consultants, are chipping away, doing the necessary things that will bring change to our business.

Click here and automatically receive our latest blog posts.

Jim StewartJim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Top Ten In 2013……

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

The votes (page views) have been counted; the results can be announced!

Our top 10 blog posts in 2013 were:

1.   6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face, which won by a good margin, discusses the 6 challenges of execution which, if not dealt with, could prove fatal.

2.   10 Tips To Improve Your Public Speaking Body Language, written by Mark Bowden of TruthPlane, is the first of our guest posts to make the list.

3.   The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan talks about the difference between strategy and planning and why it’s important to understand what these terms mean.

4.   6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture looks at the ways a business owner can develop a culture which will help increase operating profits and build shareholder value.

5.   Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal? looks at an alternative strategy that is built on the 3 R’s (Responsiveness, Resilience, Readiness) required in a changing environment.

6.   3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy explains when a company should review its strategy and what makes that review and any subsequent actions necessary.

7.   6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Business puts forward 6 simple things business owners can implement to achieve better long-term financial performances.

8.   Strategy, Culture and Leadership deals with how these 3 things affect the development and the execution of strategy.

9.   10 Commandments of Business Development are the basic, common sense principles every business owner can apply to their business development efforts.

10.  How To Keep Control When You Work With Consultants provides steps business owners can take to maintain control when they work with consultants.

If you haven’t seen them before, here’s your opportunity!

Let’s Hold Consultants Accountable For Results

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

For a Scotsman, true accountability occurs when results are linked to compensation.Let's hold consultants responsible for results

So I’ve tried various ways of linking our payment to our performance for most of the 12 years that I’ve owned ProfitPATH.

Why? In addition to the one above, there are 2 other reasons.

First, the people we work with are all taking risks. If we are to be credible, why should we be risk exempt?

Second, when I worked in corporations I hated paying consultants before I knew if their recommendations would deliver the results I wanted. When I started ProfitPATH I swore we wouldn’t do that.

It’s relatively easy to link our fees to our own performance.

We make sure the deliverables are clear and give the business owner what they want. We also tell our clients that they can stop an assignment at any time without any financial penalty. Just pay us our fees up to that point.

Linking payment to our clients’ results is a little more complicated.

Why?

Because of the number of things we have no direct control over. They include, for example, everything from the economy (be honest, did you guess the last crash would come when it did) to how they arrive at the profit line on their income statement.

But just because it’s complicated, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And so we’ve experimented with a number of things. Like deferring a portion of our fees until the outcome of our recommendation becomes clear; or linking part of our payment to the achievement of a result.

There are other ways to hold consultants accountable.

A client can, for example, refuse to act as a reference; or communicate their disappointment as widely as possible; or withhold part, or all, of the fees. But these are all post completion options.

Other alternatives, that we recommend, are frequent, regular progress reviews. When coupled with the “terminate at any time with no penalty” policy I mentioned above, these reviews carry some weight.

Holding us accountable is part of my wider belief that the management consulting industry needs to take some of its own advice. It has to change its business model.

Now Clay Christensen, author of “The Innovators Dilemma” and one of the leading thinkers about innovation, has weighed in. A Harvard academic, and former consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, he believes that the consulting industry is ripe for disruption.

He’s joined by Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of a consulting firm and academic at Berkley, whose article first set me off on this rant.

I’ve been convinced for years that change needs to happen. It’s encouraging to see thinkers of their caliber saying similar things.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

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Being Told What To Do Isn’t Good For Business

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I do not believe that it’s a consultant’s place to tell a client what to do.Business owners must ultimately make their own decisions

I do believe that it’s our responsibility to give the business owners we work with the best possible advice we can.

And when I say give, I don’t mean that we just hand the advice to them by saying “Here’s what I think you should do….” or “Here’s what I would do…”

I believe one of the most effective ways to ‘provide’ advice is by using questions to help owners realize that there are, for example, possibilities they may not have considered; opportunities they may not have seen; and alternatives that may not be obvious.

Then we have to allow the owners to decide for themselves what to do with the ‘advice’.

Those of you who follow my posts know that I hold another belief to be very important. That is that rules are for the guidance of wise people and the blind obedience of fools.

So when, with respect to giving ‘advice’, do I break my own rule?

There are 3 situations which spring to mind.

First, if I see an owner, or his or her management team, about to do something that is likely to end in disaster.

I’ve accumulated almost as many grey hairs as I have experiences. I think it’s called ‘grey haired equity’. Some of mine has come from making brilliant moves but most of it has come from my own, or other people’s, mistakes and hard knocks.

It would be irresponsible to allow someone to repeat a move that is certain not to work.

Second, if a business owner asks directly for my opinion, or what I would do if I were in their shoes.

Even then I always ask “Are you sure you want my input?” before volunteering it. That’s because the owners we work with often already know what has to be done but don’t want to do it. So they’re hoping I’ll tell them to do something else, something that will, for example, not hurt people.

The third and final situation occurs when I lose my concentration and forget my own rule.

That happens most often when we’re facilitating – for example either a strategy development or business planning meeting. Particularly toward the end of the day when we’ve been juggling process, timing, making sure everyone is engaged and that no input is overlooked.

To avoid the third situation we have to be well prepared for every encounter with a client.

We have to think carefully about the objective, format and content of each interaction or activity we do with, or on behalf of, the companies we work with. That takes time.

I believe it’s time well spent because the alternative is that the owners we work with become used to us telling them what to do. That’s a form of dependency.

And we don’t do dependency. But that’s a topic for another post…

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

Click here and automatically receive our latest blog posts.

Top Ten In 2012……

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The votes (page views) have been counted, the results can be announced!

Our top 10 blog posts in 2012 were:

1.    Do You Know What You Don’t Know? was the winner by far. It talks about how consultants and business owners are doing the same thing wrong, with the same outcome.

2.    Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? is a question put to business owners whose businesses have stopped growing.

3.    6 Ways a Business Owner Can Influence Culture outlines how a business owner can influence the culture in his/her company.

4.    10 Tips To Improve Your Public Speaking Body Language, written by Mark Bowden of TruthPlane, is the first of our guest posts to make the list.

5.    Things Really Good Consultants Say outlines what consultants who get results and deliver a great service say while pitching for business.

6.    Strategy, Culture and Leadership deals with how these 3 things affect the development and the execution of strategy.

7.    3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy explains when a company should review its strategy and what makes that review and any subsequent actions necessary.

8.    6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face discusses the 6 challenges of execution which, if not dealt with, could prove fatal.

9.    Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience is one of several posts we wrote during the year about how to work with consultants.

10.    So Tell Me, What Is Strategy? In some cases strategy and strategic are being imbued with mystique and complexity in order to create a need for “expertise”.  Here are 2 reasons why should we care.

If you haven’t seen them before, here’s your opportunity!

How to Save Money When Buying a Business

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Our guest this week is Mark Toohey, Legal Director at ADROIT LAWYERS in Australia. Mark is an experienced commercial lawyer who has worked with both major law firms and as General Counsel in the media, telecommunications, software and IT industries. Read more about Mark below.

 

Buying a business is horse trading. As any good haggler knows, you need to go into the negotiations armed with reasons why the sale price should be lowered.

Here are some tips that may help you to pay less to buy a business.

Some of these tips are ways to justify your insistence on a lower price for the business you are considering buying. Others are tactics and strategies that will help you to get a better deal or make a wiser decision.

The process of looking into a business and determining its worth is known as due diligence. It is best to get professional and/or legal advice and assistance to conduct those investigations. A due diligence checklist is always a useful tool.

As I have explained elsewhere, a seller can use due diligence to justify a higher sale price. Equally, an astute buyer can use the same process to unearth facts that support a price reduction. It really is a two-edged sword. So, make sure you get good advice and wield it properly to your best advantage.

Armed with credible information gained from due diligence you can quite reasonably demand a lower price that takes the risks and shortcomings of the business into account.

Here are some methods to reduce the purchase price of a business and to pay less.

1. Look for indicators of a distressed sale.

• business owner is retiring;
• poor financial position;
• urgent sale schedule;
• been on the market for a long time;
• sale price has been repeatedly lowered;
• disputes between the owners;
• changing legislative conditions; or
• changing market conditions.

2. Look for performance reasons that support a price reduction.

• declining sales;
• diminished profit margins;
• poor financial record keeping; or
• poor administrative or legal record keeping.

3. Look for signs of shoddy management practices.

• low returns on investment;
• bad administrative practices;
• bad employment practices;
• threatened or actual litigation;
• high number of customer complaints;
• high refund or repair claims;
• continual discounting;
• poor marketing results.

Key Factors

Two key factors regarding price are:

1. Knowing what it is currently worth.
2. Knowing what it could be worth in the future.

We’ve now covered the first steps of conducting due diligence and determining the worth of the business you may buy. Once you have investigated things and found the flaws in the business (they exist in every business) you should then have a good idea of the price that should be paid.

Positive Steps

The next step is another investigation, but this time it is with a positive twist. You should next look at what changes could be made to the business to improve its performance or to turn things around. Of course, this involves a frank assessment of your skills and the financial or other resources that you have available.

You should also make a candid assessment of your own strengths, weaknesses and capacity. Assess whether the potential upside is really worth the time, effort, expense and distraction from your current operations.

Analyse the business’ financial position and sales performance and look for ways that you may be able to turn the business around.

Some proven business transformation methods are to:

• cut wasteful expenditure;
• cut staff levels and only keep the high performance staff;
• lease cheaper premises (provided this will not adversely affect sales);
• sell underperforming assets or business units;
• reposition the products in the market;
• release new products.

About Mark Toohey

Mark has been a lawyer, company director, marketing director, company secretary and entrepreneur. Mark’s commercial experience extends way beyond the theoretical. He has helped launch a number of start-up businesses and his hands on experience was gained from negotiating and documenting deals for a wide variety of business initiatives. To learn more about Mark, go to http://www.adroitlawyers.com.au or you can contact him at mark@adroitlawyers.com.au.

Attract More B2B Prospects with Content Marketing

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

This week’s guest is Paul Heron, CEO of Complex2Clear, a Toronto-based communications agency specializing in proposals, content marketing and websites for companies selling B2B services.

 

If you’re reading this post, chances are you think strategically and work at staying ahead of your competition in innovation, quality, delivery and client experience.

But who, besides your employees and your clients, appreciates how much value you deliver? Do outsiders generally know and admire your company ─ or do you often find yourself starting from scratch when explaining your key benefits and track record to new prospects?

If you’re in the “starting from scratch” category, consider content marketing, a powerful tool for building positive awareness about your business.

Content marketing is the practice of creating and sharing useful information prospects and others can read, listen to or watch via blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, research reports, magazine articles, industry presentations, webinars, case studies, podcasts, videos and others formats.

The idea is to demonstrate that your company is innovative and expert, but also generous in spirit ─ willing to share valuable knowledge freely with others. You gain recognition for being both smart and approachable and become the logical first stop for anyone shopping for your products.

Content marketing is among the fastest growing trends in marketing (to prove this, Google the phrase). Once available only to large consulting and financial services firms with research and printing budgets, it can now be practiced by anyone with a website.

Sound interesting? Here are some tips and a high-level schedule to help you get started.

CONTENT MARKETING TIPS

Start with research: Where is your community online? How can you best reach them? What kind of information would prospects find useful? What frequency makes sense ─ for you and your audiences?

Focus on your core message: Remember, this is a marketing initiative, not a creative writing exercise. It’s critical that each piece of content support your brand. Creating random blog posts about whatever’s on your mind is not content marketing.

Start small: Don’t overcommit. It’s better to publish monthly (or quarterly) and increase frequency, than to start weekly and burn out in a few months. Decide what resources you have and fit your campaign to your capabilities.

Set up your website to support content marketing: Use a contact manager and forms to begin building a list of people to whom you can push your content. Enable Google Analytics, so you can see which site pages attract and retain visitors to guide your content development. Here’s a video and free website audit tool to help you in this process.

Manage information quality: Make sure every item you publish is valuable. Your growing list of subscribers following your content is a business asset. Protect it with a process that ensures they receive consistent quality. Assign one person to review all content before publishing.

Avoid infomercials: This shouldn’t need to be said ─ but never stray into advertising in your content marketing. Along with poor quality (see above), it’s the fastest way to burn off your audience.

Set goals: Content marketing takes time and money. Set goals, track your costs and measure results to ensure it’s a good investment of your resources.

SCHEDULE

1. Confirm you have the appetite and resources for a content marketing initiative. Be realistic. A content marketing campaign is a long slow process. If you can afford to, consider using an outside agency to supplement your internal staff.

2. Brainstorm ideas for content to share. Use a facilitator and generate lots of topics. Plan to repeat this exercise every few months.

3. Rank each topic’s potential impact and time/effort to develop. Segment high-impact topics into several items to increase mileage. Identify your priorities and low-hanging fruit. Plan to revisit important topics every 6 months or so with an update.

4. Identify a subject matter expert for each topic. Who will be responsible for each item? This person may not be the writer; he or she could generate bullet points and review the draft for accuracy and completeness.

5. Set your priorities, channels and schedule. Frequency is important. When managing resources, consider publishing shorter items to increase frequency. The aim is to be top-of-mind when a prospect needs your services.

6. Document your plan, assign responsibilities and deploy. Manage your content marketing campaign like any other business process to enjoy maximum success.

You can contact Paul at 416-619-9208 or paul@complex2clear.com

Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? – Part 2

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

In my last post I talked about how owners of companies can find themselves faced with situations they haven’t encountered before – and not realize what’s happening.

After all, that happens in our personal lives. Remember the first time you fell in love?

We’re caught up in the symptoms – the tune playing endlessly in our head, the face we can’t get out of our mind and the grin we can’t wipe off, no matter what else is going on. How many of us simply didn’t understand what was happening? I don’t know about the ladies but believe me, none of the men did!

Sometimes it takes someone who has already had the experience, to alert us to the situation.

Think for a moment about a company with between $3 and $5 million in annual revenues and which has been in business for anything from 5 to 20 years. The owner is successful by any measure. They’ve grown their businesses to a respectable size, provided employment for others and beaten the odds of failure.

But then things start happening that many of them have never encountered before.

I’m So Frustrated

For example, in companies of this size the owners are typically directly involved in everything that happens. That may work well for a time, but eventually either the volume or the complexity of the business reaches a point at which no human being can sustain the effort required.

That’s when we hear them say things like “I’m just so frustrated!” When we ask why, typical responses are “I’m working 16 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week – but sales aren’t going up.” Or he or she often feels that they’re not paid enough for hours they work. They only want to work 4 days a week in the summer and take more vacations with their families.

Because they’ve been successful up to this point, they believe they can figure it out for themselves – overlooking the fact that this is a situation they haven’t encountered before.

Some may try developing (or hiring) supervisors or managers to take work off their shoulders. But it isn’t successful and they feel it isn’t worth trying again.

But a consultant, who has had experience delegating and working with a management team, knows that it isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to most people. He or she can help the owner select competent team members and get them working together effectively.

A Victim of Their Own Success

Business owners can also be a victim of their own success. For example, adding a new distributor can result in sales growing so quickly the company can’t cope.

This leads to a dramatic increase in customer complaints – about customer service, quality, delivery or all three. And the owner is caught in an endless cycle of dealing with urgent, day-to-day issues and juggling operational balls.

An experienced consultant can see beyond the symptoms, help the business owner break out of the cycle and put processes in place to maintain control of key functions.

I don’t want to take the romantic analogy too far and suggest that a management consultant could be a business owner’s best man (or woman). Even I realize that may be stretching things a bit!

But there are times when getting an objective, third party opinion could be the best thing to do – no matter how difficult or unlikely a solution it seems.

 
If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail Part 1 and Part 2
 

 

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