Posts Tagged ‘competition’

Want Your Company To Grow? Here Are 3 Words To Live By

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

“We’ve grown from start-up to over $10 million in 6 years. We think we know why but I want to be sure I really understand why. Help me figure it out.”3 words your company should live by to keep you in business

A few weeks ago, a potential client said almost exactly those words to me.

In the 16 years I’ve been working with business owners, I’d never heard anything like it.

It’s the opposite of what many entrepreneurs say and do. Normally they’re very confident that, because they’ve been successful, their company will continue to do well.

More recently, I met with another owner. The revenues in her company have halved.

To her credit she’s trying to find a solution, trying to find a way out of the industry that has matured and declined on her watch.

“Just find me ideas,” she said, “I don’t need advice, we know how to be successful”.

An interesting contrast, don’t you think?

Then, the other day, I saw something interesting that pulled it together for me.

From their earliest days, we teach our children 3 important words – stop, look and listen. We tell them to do it before they cross the road or do anything else that could cause them harm.

As adults, we lose sight of the lesson. Ask the shareholders of Polaroid, or Kodak, or DEC – or Blackberry.

Stop, look and listen – it can keep you in business.

No matter how well things are going, take time out from the day-to-day operations of your company.

Let’s face it, if things are going that well, there’s no reason you can’t take one day a month, or even a quarter, to think about the future.

Look outside the walls of your office or company. What’s happening in your customers’ industries? How do they use your products or services? What alternatives are they looking at?

And what’s happening in your industry? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Do some contingency planning.

Listen – surf the web, find out what’s trending in your industry. Attend some events; what are the rumors about competitors? What are your suppliers saying? What are your contemporaries thinking about the economy and the availability of funding?

The companies I mentioned earlier weren’t blindsided by threats they couldn’t have seen coming. They failed to react to market changes and new competitors that were around for some considerable time. No one came from out of left field with no warning.

Their leaders fell so deeply in love with their success that they were unable to overcome the blinders they put on their own thinking.

Stop, look, listen or risk seeing your success swept away.

The “something interesting” I saw the other day can be found here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 6 Tips for Protecting Your Long Term Success

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8 Things That Hinder Growth

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

How often are you surprised by the results of a survey?

It usually happens to me when the survey is about an area or topic I think (or I assume) I know something about. A case in point is one of the questions in the Inc. 500 CEO Survey.

The question is “What Could Possibly Hinder Company Growth?” The CEOs were asked to rate 8 factors on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 5 indicating the greatest obstacle to growth.

Before I even finished reading the question I was confident that offshore competition was going to be a major factor.

Was I ever wrong! Competition from abroad received the lowest score (1.43) i.e. it ranked 8th out of 8.

Once I saw the other factors I began to understand why it wasn’t number 1. But I didn’t expect Taxes (which scored 2.5) and Government regulations (2.4) to be considered significantly more of a hindrance to growth.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it from the top.

According to the CEOs of these very successful companies, the biggest factor getting in the way of growth is finding talented workers. (It scored 3.31.)

The obvious question is why that should be the case given the current level of unemployment. And the answer is (I’m going to make another assumption here) what it has always been. There’s a mismatch between the talents that are available and the talents that are required.

Keeping up with demand (with a score of 2.67) came in second. I thought that was interesting given how weak the economic recovery is.

The companies in this year’s Inc. 500 are spread across 25 different industry sectors and so they’re not concentrated in one part of the economy. But they are, by definition, the fastest growing, privately owned companies in those sectors, outpacing the rest of the pack because, presumably, there’s great demand for their products or services.

Factor number 3 was domestic competition (2.55) which came in just ahead of Taxes (2.5). It’s interesting that local competition was also considered a significantly greater threat to growth than offshore competitors.

Steady cash flow (scoring 2.43) ranked fifth and I’ve already mentioned Government regulations (2.4), factor number 6.

The final factor was getting financing, which came in at number 7 with a score of 2.06. The explanation for that may lie in the answer to another question in the survey.

42% of the CEOs said that they had no need for outside funding. And only 4% said they had encountered difficulty in accessing capital to the extent that it had impeded their growth.

I’ve spent the last 15 years working with owner managed companies. And I spent 25 years working my way up the corporate ladder before that. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in that all of that time is that people have a greater impact on growth or success than anything else.

So, while I was surprised by the results for competition from abroad, I’m not in the least surprised that finding talented workers is the biggest factor getting in the way of growth.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 5 Tips for Fast Growth in a Slow Economy

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Have You Ever Seen a Business Plan that Worked?

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Well have you? Personally, I’d say “Yes, but….” But what you may ask? Well, firstly the plan wasn’t written from the back forwards. In other words it wasn’t written as a result of a statement like “We need to get $X thousand/million from the bank/lenders.” Secondly, it wasn’t written because someone (I hope it wasn’t a consultant) said “A company of our size should have one”. Thirdly, once written it wasn’t put on the shelf and forgotten for the rest of the year. And, finally, no one expected things to happen exactly, and I mean exactly, the way the plan predicted.

A plan that starts with a look at what’s going to happen in the industry and then at how the competition are positioned, helps highlight opportunities and threats. Combine this with an honest assessment of the company’s own strengths and weaknesses and you’re on the way to developing a fairly logical strategy. Using that to develop three financial forecasts – a “best case”, a “worst case” and a “most likely case” helps keep people’s feet on the ground. It also helps if the assumptions made in each case are carefully recorded. Compare this approach to starting to write a plan knowing what the final financial numbers have to look like and you can figure out, fairly quickly, which of the two plans is most likely to “work”.

A good reason to write a plan is to figure out the answer to a question – like “What would we have to do to increase our profits in each of the next 3 years?” People will be more motivated to approach the process in a logical, thoughtful way than if we’re doing it because “we should have one”. Part of the answer is working out what the company will have to do – for example buy plant and equipment, add people, and change the way things are done. Those things would probably be written down somewhere anyway – with, once again, all of the assumptions made – so why not put them in a plan? If the money we’ll have to spend and the people we’ll have to hire are related to the increases in sales they’ll help to generate, it becomes easier to see them as investments instead of expenses.

Plans that work are dog eared. Why? Because they’re pulled out regularly and reviewed. During the planning sessions the “big” goals – increase sales by $500K – are broken down into smaller actions – introduce a new product, hire new sales people. Action plans – with SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time related) objectives – are developed and written right into the business plan. Someone is designated as the “champion” for each action. She/he is responsible for getting it done. It’s easy to check, for example once a quarter, whether well defined actions like these have been completed. At the same time actual developments in the economy, industry and marketplace are compared to the assumptions and the strategy updated. Financial results are compared with the forecasts and adjusted if necessary. These are “no blame” sessions – if there are performance problems with some individuals they’re dealt with separately – just an opportunity to update some projections with reality.

Why aren’t these guilt filled, finger pointing sessions? Because the people who did the planning know that they can’t predict what the weather will be tomorrow, what the stock market will do next week or how their favorite sports team will finish the season. They measure how well their plan has worked by how close their estimates came to reality. If any of us could exactly predict the future – well, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

I tell myself that one of the advantages of getting older (there have to be some surely) is that you gain a lot of practical experience – both good and bad. A couple of the things I’ve noticed, along the way, are related to business plans. Firstly, the companies that I’ve been involved with which had good business plans always performed better than those which didn’t. Secondly, those companies hadn’t written their plans to meet some predetermined outcome; they’d written them to help answer key questions affecting the future of the business. Finally the owners had a realistic approach to forecasting the future and, most importantly, they made their plan come to life.

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