Posts Tagged ‘market’

Entrepreneurs Lack Empathy – Really?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

A new study reveals entrepreneurs, business owners lack empathy and analytical problem-solving skills.4 key skills entrepreneurs lack including empathy

Is this just telling us what we already know?

Most importantly, from my selfish point of view, how does this affect the way in which they approach strategy?

Apparently, there are 2 reasons why entrepreneurs are below the norm when it comes to analytical problem-solving. They’re motivated by, for example, potential future gains, money and new products or ideas. And they have a sense of urgency when it comes to making decisions.

So they don’t “have time” to collect and analyze data and, because people who tell them their ideas won’t work use numbers to do so, they think numbers just get in the way.

That easily translates into impatience with the strategy development process. Which may be OK in those cases where the business owner’s knowledge of an industry, or a gap in a market, gives them an almost intuitive sense of what to do to win.

However it could explain why some businesses have early successes and then begin to fail. There comes a point where figuring out what the industry, the market, the competitors are doing and the correct sales/marketing and operations/delivery response gets too complex to be done “on the fly”.

And I didn’t even touch on hiring the right skills, acquiring the necessary resources and building a healthy culture, etc. – or how to finance those activities.

Two other skills entrepreneurs lack are self-management and planning and organizing. Reading the post describing the research, the difference between the two blurred a little for me.

A couple of phrases did strike a chord though.

For example, “entrepreneurs typically have many projects underway at one time…. need assistance managing everyday tasks and should… delegate them to someone who has mastered this skill.” The Action Plans, which are developed at annual business planning sessions, play a key part in the successful execution of a strategy.

Making sure they’re completed requires consistent, regular follow up with the Champion. It also requires empathy, which is required to be understanding and supportive when things go wrong and deadlines slip. This helps get the Action Plans back on track.

Will knowing the extent to which entrepreneurs and business owners lack these 4 skills make it easier for those affected to accept solutions?

Based on my 16 years of experience working with business owners and entrepreneurs I’d have to give the typical consultants’ answer – yes and no.

Some individuals – the ones who realize they have to change in order for their companies to grow – get it. And some don’t.

But that’s human nature.

You can find the full blog post with the results of the study here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Where Do The People Fit?

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The More Things Change……

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

….the more they stay the same. I was reminded of that old adage twice last week.

The first time was when I caught myself saying something my father used to say. The second was when I read a blog post about growth strategies.

And the same thought occurred to me on both occasions. My father’s saying and the piece on growth strategies are as true today as they were when I first encountered them.

My dad, a grizzled fisherman and survivor of the Atlantic convoys in World War 2, had a number of sayings. One of his favourites was “Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools”.

Substitute “people” for “men” and I believe it’s every bit as wise and useful today as it was in his day. I use it all the time – ask anyone who works with me.

The piece on growth strategies talked about Ansoff’s 3 intensive growth strategies – which were first published in 1951. They are:

  • Market penetration – when a company increases its share of its existing markets by – getting current  users  to buy more; users of competitive products to switch; and non-users to start purchasing.
  • Market development – selling existing products into new markets. There are 3 ways to do that – identify new groups (markets) in the current geographic area; use new distribution channels to reach more users also located in the current area; or start selling in new locations e.g. into the U.S., Europe or Asia.
  • Product development – developing new products or services for existing markets. A company could add new features to existing products; offer different versions at different price points – silver, gold or platinum variants; or introducing a new technology which offers more benefits to the user.

Diversification, which was also included in the article or blog post, is a fourth strategy which, to be fair, was added later.

A company can use its core business strengths to diversify in 3 ways. Add new products which are related in some way to its existing ones. Or, add new services, unrelated to its current offering but which appeal to its current customers. Finally, it can move (perhaps by acquisition) into a new business which is unrelated to what it has been doing.

While they were first defined and described 61 years ago, these strategies have been around for much longer than that. And yet, despite what we hear and read about none of the old rules being useful in this age of rapid change and uncertainty, they are still being used.

For example, could Apple’s (and Android’s) gains at Blackberry’s expense have been the result of a penetration strategy; was Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram a product development or diversification play?

Are these strategies being used in the same industries and in the same way as they were 60 years ago? Clearly the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be adapted and applied today.

If rules are used for guidance by wise people then some things, for instance growth strategies, can stay the same, even while other things change.

 

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

A “BEMI” – Does It Work And Is It Really New?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

In the last 2 weeks I’ve seen 3 blog posts talking about growth, all more or less claiming that their concept is the best or only way to grow companies in the future.

But do these concepts really work (in anything smaller than a global corporation)? And are they really new?

The first one is all about “big-enough market insights” or BEMIs¹  and is based on the argument that real, rather than incremental, top-line growth can only occur when there’s a significant change in the nature of demand.

That change is caused by either a shift in customers’ circumstances or in their thinking e.g. when the housing bubble burst or when tablets became simple, affordable tools for use at home and at work.

1.    What is a BEMI?

When a business owner can see the connection between a change in demand and the lucrative market the change will eventually create she has found a BEMI.

That Insight becomes the foundation for either a blockbuster product or for a suite of offerings.

2.    Identifying a BEMI

BEMIs are usually spotted first by employees at the fringe of the organization. For example in the 80’s, a Toyota executive in California saw that increasing affluence and the growing number of yuppies was creating an opening for a new kind of luxury car – the Lexus.

More recently, the Air Wick Freshmatic originated with a brand manager in Korea.

Closer to home, one of our clients realized in the late 90’s that, as cell phones began to be adopted, users would want cases, rechargers and extra batteries for them. Consumers would be more easily upsold if these accessories were packaged in a kit rather than sold as individual items.

3.    Embracing a BEMI

BEMIs often face a lot of resistance from inside the company. Many critics opposed the Lexus because e.g. setting up a separate network of Lexus dealerships, had the potential to alienate existing dealers. They also attract opposition if the company doesn’t have the necessary expertise to develop the product e.g. Reckitt Benckiser had little experience with the electronic technology required for the Air Wick Freshmatic.

In the late 90’s the cellular carriers were the major distributors of accessories via their retail outlets. Our client had to overcome the carriers’ resistance to kits by acquiring the technology and resources to design, assemble and package for them.

4.    Exploiting a BEMI

Pursuing a BEMI can take a lot of perseverance because they rarely lead to a surge in revenues and profits over the short term. That’s because they originate in an understanding how shifts in current trends will change markets – and using that insight to create an opportunity for the future while sidelining competition.

Pampers disposable diapers, introduced in 1961, took advantage of the growing desire for greater convenience, and the fact that women were increasingly joining the workforce. But they had to be made by hand, making them uncompetitive with diaper services. It took years before P&G could mass-produce them and that did not come cheap. However Pampers created a multi-billion dollar market.

5.    So do they really work and are they new?

It took time to launch cellular accessory kits but consumers really took to them and sales took off. So I’d say that the concept works equally well in any size of organization.

However I’m not sure they’re new. I think strategists and business owners have been doing this for a long time but just calling it something else (trends analysis springs to mind).

But regardless of what you call it – it works and works well.

__________________________

¹Where Top-Line Growth Really Comes From HBR, 6 Oct 11

Should I Sell Or Succeed?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Suspend your first reaction – i.e. has Jim finally lost his mind – just for a moment. This is a question we are asked more often than you would think. It may not be posed in those exact words, but it’s always the fundamental, real question.

Let me tell you why it’s asked and then give you our answer.

Frustration and Unexpected Curve Balls.

Business owners like to think they’re superheroes, capable of absorbing unending stress and working mind numbing hours day after day after day. But they’re not, they’re human beings and so – occasionally and less frequently than most – even they get frustrated, tired or worn out.

It often happens when a new initiative or project takes longer, runs significantly over cost, or generally creates more headaches than anyone imagined – even in their wildest dreams.

Another trigger is a completely unexpected event. A competitor dramatically drops prices, a long term supplier goes out of business or a partner walks in and says they’ve decided to retire.

It could be a tough, slow market because of a recession. Or the owner could have reached an age where he/she is ready focus on other aspects of life.

It could be a combination of the above.

But the result is the same – the business owners say the equivalent of “You know what, I don’t have the desire/motivation to do this again. It would be easier just to sell.”

That’s when we hear the question.

You Can’t Do One Without Having Done The Other.

Consultants (it is said) always answer a question with a question. In this case we ask something like:

• “Can you be sure that a company – in the middle of a major project or facing major price competition or about to lose a key player/founder/owner or some combination of the above – will continue to be successful?” and
• “Would you pay top dollar for a company in any of those situations?”

Buyers want to minimize risk when purchasing a company. So the likely answer to both questions would be “No”.

Sellers want to maximize the selling price so the business owners pretty quickly figure out the answer to the “Should I Sell Or Should I Succeed” question for themselves.

A fresh mind can often quickly see a solution to the types of challenges that cause business owners to consider selling in the first place. And this is one situation where we – and other consultants like us – add value.

The Bottom Line.

As a rule, you can’t sell unless/until you succeed.

But, as with many rules, there’s an exception to this one. Want to guess what it is?

6 Tips for Protecting Your Long Term Success

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Some of things I’ve written about in the past were confirmed recently by a man with an outstanding track record for building successful companies! I’ve followed the writings of Norm Brodsky http://blog.inc.com/ask-norm/norm-brodsky/ for a number of years. He’s built 7 companies and is blunt, to the point and often outspoken. In his March column in Inc. magazine www.inc.com Norm says……

Don’t let fear lead you into making decisions that will damage your business in the long-term. When you’re looking at implementing cost-saving or even survival strategies, remember that this economic downturn, like all downturns, will come to an end. Norm uses the example of a retailer of luxuries whose monthly revenues have dropped by 50%, but his logic applies to any business. So what does he say?

Point #1 – Don’t reduce your exposure to your customers. A lady he’s advising (Lisa) wanted to reduce the time that all of her stores were open by 2 hours a day. Norm’s point – she’s cutting her selling time by 25% to save an amount that doesn’t compare to the margin dollars she could make in that time. Our thought – across the board cuts to marketing expenses in B2B markets, without first weighing their impact, could just as easily produce negative, long term results.

Point #2 – Think about your people. Lisa had built her staff carefully over a number of years by hiring and training good people who reflected her values. Norm’s point – by cutting their hours she was cutting their pay – and risking losing them – instead of reassuring them their jobs were secure. Our thought – think about the knowledge of your business and the investment you’ve made in training that walk out of the door when you lose good employees.

Point #3 – Be creative when cutting expenses. Being in retail, rent was a big component of her monthly expenses. Because Lisa had 4 stores and had signed personally for her leases, her landlords were unlikely to renegotiate with her. Norm’s point – be creative in the face of apparent barriers. He suggested she ask for a short term reduction in rent which would then be added to the end of the lease. Our thought – brainstorm creative solutions and write down every idea that comes up, no matter how crazy it seems. This process will unfreeze your mind and help you find things that can be made to work.

Point #4 – Avoid the temptation to cut prices. Lisa suggested holding a sale. Norm’s point – instead do everything possible to hold the line on prices and add extra value instead, for example hold a customer appreciation event. Our thought – adding value takes so much more energy than cutting prices but once you cut prices how do you justify putting them up again? Bundle an extra add-on or service with existing products and services for a limited period of time.

Point #5 – Find untapped markets or other opportunities. While Lisa had 4 stores, they were all on the West coast. She had a dislike for both paying commissions and giving up control of her sales efforts. Norm’s point – she had great gross margins with which to pay commissions on what would be brand new revenues and she had to let go to grow her business. Our thought – Type A personalities (i.e. most entrepreneurs) hate giving up control and many (particularly the males, my wife assures me) have great difficulties moving outside of their comfort zone. But if you keep doing the same things then don’t be surprised if you get the same (or worse) results. The economy and our markets have changed dramatically – we have to do the same.

Point #6 – Using/increasing debt. With very strong margins Lisa had managed to stay debt free but now she was thinking of applying for a loan. Norm’s point – you can’t borrow your way out of debt so get a Line of Credit instead and use it only as an absolute last resort. Our thought – by maintaining your prices and margins and using creative ways of reducing costs you can keep on generating profit. By focusing on collections (perhaps by offering incentives for quick payment), keeping tight control over inventories and working with your suppliers you can keep the cash flowing.

Norm closes his article by echoing a couple of themes I’ve seen in a number of places recently. The first one is that, no matter how things look today, the downturn will come to an end. Our thought – it’s sometimes hard to remember when you’re shovelling the snow off your driveway in the middle of a January snowstorm that, in 4 or 5 months the golf courses will be open. But summer always comes. The second theme is that some companies will come out of the recession stronger than others. If you want yours to be one of them then you have to take advantage of your most important resources – imagination and creativity.

A New Way to Measure Profits?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

The article “Financial Performance Measurement for the 21st Century” by Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce of McKinsey Consulting puts some rational basis to my long held belief that People are the most important asset in any company – particularly growing ones. The authors ask and answer the question “What gives us the best Return on Investment (ROI) in this knowledge based economy – traditional, ‘tangible’ capital based assets or ‘intangibles’ such as knowledge, relationships and the reputations of talented people (which companies can turn into institutional knowledge and skill, brands, software, patents etc.)?”

Between 1995 and 2005, the market value of the 30 most successful companies in the world rose by almost 500%. This was driven by a similar increase – 500% – in average profits. (This makes sense – increase your profits and you increase the value of your company.) What caught my interest, however, was that during those 10 years, the companies’ average profit per employee grew by more than 200% even as the number of employees doubled, while the return on capital increased by only 33.3%.

So could maximising returns on people (maximum profit per employee x optimum number of employees) be a new way to measure performance? After all, total profit = profit per employee x the total number of employees. The authors argue that focusing on this formula offers several advantages over focusing on return on capital. Profit per employee is a good proxy for earnings on intangibles and total employees is easier to define than capital (which is subject to interpretation using accounting and finance definitions). And this formula focuses us on the fact that  talented people, not capital, are usually the scarce resource.

If profit per employee is part of an acceptable measure of performance then proactively managing it is an effective way of improving performance. Arguably there are more opportunities to increase profits relative to the number of people employed in this digital age than ever before. Other advantages are that profit per employee is easy to calculate; payroll is expensed rather than depreciated making it a conservative output-based measure of results and the calculation of net income is based on accounting rules, making for relatively objective comparisons between companies.

One way to increase profit per employee is to reduce the number of low profit employees (an incentive to move more quickly on poor performers). Which raises the question of how you know which employees are contributing and which aren’t. The answer is to link department goals to the company’s goals and then link individuals’ goals to those of the department.

The responsibility – and power – for changing financial results lies in the hands of frontline managers. So, if we treat each department as a contribution centre, rather than a profit centre, then department managers are responsible only for the costs they can control, not the portion of overhead that is “allocated” to profit centres. In this way, managers – and individual employees – can be focused on improving the activities of their department, and increasing their team’s motivation by producing results that are also good for the company.

But optimizing the number of employees doesn’t necessarily mean keeping their numbers low. The authors point out that Wal-Mart has relatively low profits per employee and a relatively large number of employees. Their business model is an example of how increasing the number of employees rather than the profits per employee can also increase the value of the business. Highly automated systems and processes in logistics and at the point of sale has allowed Wal-Mart to cut their supply chain and inventory costs and allows them to quickly respond to emerging sales trends. Those, combined with low labour costs, support the size of their staff.

The current standard used to determine how successful a company has been is its financial statements – Balance Sheet, P and L and cash flow. But these documents are prepared using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) which treats investments in intangibles as expenses. The danger there is that when we need to increase profits in the short term – and I’ll bet we’ve all had to do that at one time or another – expenses are the first area we cut. So, we achieve our short term goal – but actually shoot ourselves in the foot in the longer term.

So I’m all for any measure that puts human capital (people) where it belongs – front and centre in business owners’ minds – while promoting long term growth. So let’s change the metrics we use to measure successful performance so that they include returns on talented people as well as returns on capital investments.

By the way, any misinterpretation of what Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce are actually saying is entirely mine.

Prices – 6 Reasons To Keep Them Up

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Some of the questions which I get when I finish a seminar, workshop or webinar inevitably involve price strategy. It’s a topic close to my heart (I am a Scotsman after all) and one that provokes strong emotion amongst most business owners. And that’s interesting really, because most buyers typically rank price around 4th in their list of buying criteria.

Price is important only when the product or service being sold is a commodity and very few products actually are true commodities (can you think of one right now)? Large consumer goods companies spend millions on advertising to convince us that some products which are commodities, really aren’t. (Does it really make a difference if you buy gas from PetroCanada or Shell?)

But it probably isn’t necessary for the average business owner to cut prices, offer discounts or to spend a lot of money on advertising to get customers to pay a price which enables them to make an acceptable profit. In fact here are 6 reasons why you shouldn’t be discounting or cutting prices.

Reason # 1. There is no business that doesn’t have the potential to command an acceptable price for its products or services if it is able to market those products or services in such a way that the customer perceives added value. If you don’t believe me just think about the difference in price between a Lexus and a Hyundai – they’re both just a means of transportation. Tip Top tailors and Harry Rosen both sell men’s clothes – but don’t wait for Harry to have a $199 sale before buying your next suit!

Reason # 2. As business owners it’s our job to create the perception that our products and services offer superior value and to back that up with superb service. How do we do that? One way to begin is to figure out who your best customers are (they buy regularly and never complain about price) and ask them why they buy from you rather than from someone else. But don’t ask them to rate the reasons you think they buy from you, ask them to tell you what they consider is important and then ask them to rate your performance on those. Then you can figure out what makes you unique in their eyes.

Reason # 3. Two easy ways to add value are to really understand what’s going on in your customers’ business and how your products impact their success; then pass this information on to your staff and train them to provide what your customer will see as great customer service. (Of course maintaining the quality of your products, and doing regular customer satisfaction surveys won’t hurt either.)

Reason # 4. Remember if your gross margin is 30% and you reduce price by 10%, sales volumes must increase by 50% to maintain your initial profit level. For some reason we’ve come to believe that offering price discounts is a good long term strategy. If you still believe that consider the problems that the North American car manufacturers have created for themselves with, for example, “Employee Pricing” campaigns. Or think about how hard it was for the Bay to get away from “Bay Days” or Sears to stop their “Scratch and Win” promotions. You’re right, despite saying they were going to stop them they’re both still doing them. Once you’ve dropped your prices it is very difficult to get them back up to previous levels.

Reason # 5. Price discounting works in only two situations – where you have a definite cost advantage over your competitors and/or your product or service is one where customers are genuinely, truly, price-sensitive. We’ve already dealt with the price sensitive case and if you have a cost advantage why would you pass the entire extra margin on to consumers rather than investing some of it maintaining your technological or other advantage? Let’s face it, you aren’t in business to simply match the price your competitors set, you are here to serve your customers well and make a profit.

Reason # 6. Remember, if your gross margin is 30% and you increase your prices by 10%, you can sustain a 25% reduction in sales volumes before your profit is reduced to the previous level. Research shows that roughly only 15% of customers think in terms of price. They are better left to your competitors because they will never be satisfied and will always be looking for a better ‘deal.’ Their loyalty is impossible to achieve and they’ll never recommend you to anyone else. Focusing resources on servicing this ‘low’ end of the market won’t sustain the future growth of your business through either your turnover or profitability. It’s far better to work with those people who are happy to pay for value.

If you don’t believe my math or that customer surveys don’t have don’t have to be expensive or if you just want to know the date and location of my next seminar drop me an email

4 Tips to Make Sales Forecasting Easier……………

Monday, September 7th, 2009

If we could forecast the future accurately, most of us would spend our lives at a racetrack or casino rather than at work. But forecasting the future is something we all have to do as business owners – either to set internal goals, to obtain additional financing and for other reasons. Forecasting is, however, one of the most difficult and frustrating things that we have to do and few things cause as much anguish and soul searching as sales forecasts.

Tip # 1. Forget trying to predict the future and focus on using “informed judgment”. Many attempts at forecasting fail because those involved, from sales reps. to business owners, don’t have the detailed knowledge of their market, their competitors, their customers and potential customers that is essential for making good estimates. They are less than fully informed when they make their judgment of what will happen – and that’s a failure of work and effort, not of technique.

Tip # 2. Remember that we can only control some of the things that have an impact on our forecasts, for example, the number of dealers we approach, the effectiveness of our promotional tools and our price strategy. There are others factors which directly affect the odds of our success but which are beyond our control. Some are known and can be reflected in the assumptions on which are forecasts are based, for example the price of crude oil, low pay scales for offshore labour. But there are others to which we can only react, for example an unexpected outbreak of SARS.

Tip # 3. The most common mistakes, in my experience, are that we overestimate how much we can sell and how quickly we can sell it. Avoiding those mistakes is hard enough when estimating how much more our existing customers will buy of the products they currently use. Adding any “new” dimension just adds complexity.

Forecasting increased sales to current customers should be easy. We either increase the volume of existing products, start selling them products they don’t currently buy and/or increase prices. But if the account managers don’t have the skill – or don’t make the effort – to get as much information about, for example, what is happening in the customer’s own business and how that affects our offering to them, we will be trying to forecast with less than detailed knowledge. So, we can’t make informed judgments – fertile ground for overestimating what can be sold.

What happens if, for example, we’re going to start selling an existing product in a new geographic market? If our competitors already offer a product in that region/province/country, how much of our sales will come from the market share we’ll take away from them and how much will come from the continuing growth of the market? To begin, we must understand how our product quality, lead times and prices compare with our competitor’s and how much it will cost to get our message heard over their promotional “noise”. We can do some simple, inexpensive research to gain the detailed knowledge required to answer those questions.

When it comes to taking market share away from competitors, we have to make 2 sales. Firstly convince the customer to stop buying from our competitors and then convince them to buy our product – which is untested in this marketplace. But for most business owners, who are natural optimists and driven, type ‘A” personalities, it is not difficult to underestimate how long this will take!

Estimating the sales that will come just from market growth may seem easy by comparison. All we have to do is to convince the remaining distribution channels to sell our widget – make 1 sale instead of two (always assuming our competitors have left some distributors for us). But estimating how long our new distributors will need to ramp up requires information to help us assess how effective the distributors will be. We also want our share of the market to grow at least as quickly as the market itself. The future market growth rate can be forecast using the actual growth rate for the last 2 or 3 years (either as is, or adjusted upwards or downwards). The rate at which we grow depends on how good a Marketing plan we have. Developing an effective Marketing plan requires informed judgment. Anything less, combined with that optimistic approach of the entrepreneur, will, once again, result in overestimates.

Tip # 4. Even if you’ve worked hard and spent time gathering detailed knowledge which you used to make informed judgments, don’t stop when you develop a “final” set of numbers. Unless you’ve been unusually pragmatic in arriving at this first forecast, call it your best case. Now think of the things that are most likely to go wrong, assume that they will, change your spread sheets accordingly – and call that your worst case. Finally, it’s unlikely that everything will go against you but it’s equally unlikely that everything will go your way so take a third approach, which avoids either of the extremes, run the numbers again – and call that your most likely case.

Winning Business Ideas from “Kinky Boots”…….

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

I was indulging in one of my favorite Friday evening habits a couple of weeks ago, relaxing and watching a movie. On this particular Friday night my wife had decided (isn’t that how it works in your house?) that she wanted to see a movie that a number of people in her office had enjoyed. It’s called “Kinky Boots”.

It’s about a family run shoe manufacturer in the U.K. that has been producing a high quality product for four generations. (By the way the movie is based on a true story.) The hero inherits the business only to find that, while his father had led everyone to believe that the business was holding its own, it was, in fact, in very serious financial trouble. A visit to one of the firm’s largest customers revealed that its traditional market had been taken over by cheaper, lower quality, imported products (can anyone relate to that problem?).

The young owner has to begin immediately laying off long serving members of the workforce. While doing so, he gets a lecture from a young female employee who tells him that, instead of moping around asking “What can I do?” he should get out and find a new market niche (really, they actually use the word “niche” several times in the movie). She goes on to suggest that this was perhaps something they (management) should have done long before the firm got into trouble.

Without spoiling the plot for you – let’s just say there are alcohol and female impersonators involved – our hero does manage to find a new niche. It’s an easily identified group with a specific need which is not being met by the firm’s competitors. The group is large enough to generate sustainable profits and they want a quality product. The company uses its experience and knowledge base to develop a unique solution. It supplements that by attracting a designer with specialist knowledge of the niche’s thinking.

I couldn’t believe it. Right there in the middle of my Friday evening, was a movie about “Kinky Boots” giving pointers on leadership and an excellent example of how to develop a winning marketing strategy. And it was doing it in a far more entertaining way than many of the books and articles I’ve read or courses I’ve attended.

But there was more. The movie went on to deal with some of the other issues we face in this fast changing, demanding world in which we operate. For example, reaching quality standards which are different from those of the traditional business demands more of workers than has ever been done in the past. As an owner how do you communicate the absolute necessity of making the change? And make them understand that even if they are willing to do their traditional best it is no longer good enough? How do you push and how far do you push to maintain their enthusiasm while motivating them to do even more?

We know things never happen one at a time so while driving up quality our hero also has to meet a deadline for launching the product line. When the pressures mount on you how do you communicate a sense of urgency to a work force that already believes it is doing its best? And while you’re expecting them to change, is that enough, what about you, the owner? The movie’s example of the personal challenges owners face began at the beginning of the film when our hero decided to leave the firm. A simple sense of duty to his heritage and the employees after his father’s death pulled him back. But the changes required by the new strategy were so radical and the risks (including the personal, financial risks that all entrepreneurs take) of implementing it were so great that he had to develop enormous commitment to the success of the new direction.

Then there were the people issues which seem to dominate our lives. The company culture reflected the solid, traditional values and roles on which it was built. The potential solution, however, involved embracing customers with very different roles and values. And bringing the specialist designer into the firm raised all of the challenges associated with integrating minorities into the workplace.

Recognize any of this? Ever found yourself in a similar situation? Realistically most of us have had to deal with one or more of these issues one time or another. And it’s hardly unusual for several crises to erupt simultaneously (the perfect management storm).

I’m working with a couple of companies at the moment which missed opportunities to develop new niches when they were busy. I also see situations where owners ask “What can I do?” without knowing where to find the answer. (Alcohol and female impersonators are not universal “cure alls” and I certainly don’t recommend either or both.) Then there are companies that had a product for which they went to find a market, rather than starting with a market need first. Finally, some companies also pick niches that are too small or which require too much investment to ever yield a reasonable, sustainable profit.

But the challenges inherent in change, motivation and communication are ones which we all deal with on a day to day basis. And are ones with which we can all use some help.

Watch the movie and you’ll see how the characters made out. You’ll also see some examples of excellent strategies being put into practice – and the courage and persistence in the face of adversity that you know, as business owners, are required to implement them. You may even pick up a few tips – I know I did. And if you get nothing else out of it, you will be entertained.

 (In case you missed it…………..”Kinky Boots” is from the same team who created “Calendar Girls”).

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