Posts Tagged ‘plan’

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.

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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

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One Big Reason Why Strategies Fail

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

the main reason a strategy fails is based in how it’s executedI often argue that a strategy isn’t important.

It’s the benefits a strategy delivers – more profit, increasing the value of a company – that are important. They put more money in the owner’s pocket.

To reap those benefits the strategy must, of course, be successful.

A strategy can fail for many reasons.

It could just be a lousy strategy. But that happens less often than you might think.

Even a poorly conceived strategy can deliver results – if it’s executed with focus, energy and passion.

I believe the main reason a strategy fails is based in how it’s executed.

For example:

  • There’s no link between the strategy and the actions which have to be completed if it’s to be successful.
  • Most people don’t know what the strategy is – and the part their job has to play in making it successful.
  • People, at all levels, do know what their role is – but there’s no accountability if they miss targets.

Some examples are less evident.

One in particular is quite insidious. It goes like this.

After intense discussion, the owner and management team reach a consensus on the strategy for the next 3 years. Everyone goes off determined to do the right things to execute it successfully.

However, since much of their time is taken up with running the business day-to-day, after a while, that begins to affect their perspective.

And that gradual, subtle change in perspective can have a major impact on the execution of their strategy.

It is possible to detect it and fix it. But that requires the discipline to do 2 things.

First, hold regular strategy review meetings. Second, keep the agenda off day-to-day stuff, and on measuring progress toward the 3-year goal.

Any shift in perspective can be spotted by asking one question. “Are all of the projects being discussed integrated/aligned with the strategy we chose for the next 3 years?”

The odds are there will be some drift.

That’s because the company is made up of people. And people tend to have their own priorities, concerns, agenda, and goals – which may be directly opposed to the next person’s. In the face of day-to-day pressures, people find it hard to keep the whole company perspective in mind.

But it can be restored – and one big reason why execution fails can be easily avoided.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Execution – How You Do What You Do

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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

Putting The Horse Before The Cart – That’s Strategy!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

According to Ken Favaro¹,  we often confuse “some version of a vision, a mission, a purpose, a plan, or a set of goals for a strategy”.Develop a strategy first, then execute it

Why is that important?

While these 5 things (he calls them the ‘corporate 5’) play a part in the execution of a strategy they “do not give you” a strategy.

Surprised?

To quote Favaro, “If the corporate five are the cart and strategy is the horse, leaders who put the cart first often end up with no horse at all.”

Or in my words – you’ll get better results (higher profits, a better valuation) if you first develop a strategy and then execute it – not the other way around.

In the interest of full disclosure Favaro said that corporate executives are guilty of this type of confusion.

But, guess what, in our experience the owners of family businesses and privately-owned companies are just as guilty and do exactly the same thing.

Favaro says there are 5 more fundamental questions (the ‘strategic 5’) that have to be answered before worrying about visions, plans and goals:

• What business should we be in?
• How do we add value to our business?
• Who are the target customers?
• What is our value proposition for those target customers?
• What capabilities are essential for adding value and achieving differentiation?

There’s a reason this is way more than just interesting.

Roger Martin talks about² strategy being “an integrated set of 5 choices” which are made by answering 5 questions:

• What’s our winning aspiration (or the purpose of the business)?
• Where will we play (which cities/provinces/countries, for which end users)?
• How will we win (what is our value proposition or competitive advantage)?
• What capabilities must be in place?
• What management systems are required?

See any similarities?

Martin and Lafley also talk about what strategy isn’t. They say that many leaders (thus including entrepreneurs/business owners) approach strategy in ineffective ways, for example they define strategy as a vision or as a plan.

Again, see the similarities?

Yes, I am back on the topic of the many and incredible ways in which the word strategy has been, and still is, misused. And I love it when people agree with me. Particularly when their reputation (or at least their profile) is bigger than mine.

But why should anyone who makes a living in the real world care?

Because more business owners will make better profits and add more value to their companies if they get better at executing their strategy.

And the first step is to be clear about what strategy is.

                                                                        

¹ “How Leaders Mistake Execution for Strategy (and Why That Damages Both)”, Strategy + Business, 11 February 2013
² “Playing To Win”, A. G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013, pages 3 – 15

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Made Practical

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5 Great Planning Tips

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

It’s always gratifying to hear a third party make exactly the same point you’ve been making – particularly if you’ve never met them.

It’s even better if they’ve been successful or have a higher profile than you do. That makes it satisfying as well.

By now you know where I’m going with this. Yes, that has happened to me a couple of times recently.5 great planning tips that will bring results

A few days ago I was reading a blog post which started “The key to effective leadership is to have a picture in your head and communicate that inspiration to your team…”

That is exactly what we get the business owners and management teams we work with to do. The first part of our process is to have them build a picture of what their company will look like in 3 years.

I want to share the rest of Jason Beans’ post because he gives really good, practical advice. But I differ from him on a couple of concepts so let me make those clear up front.

Jason talks about creating a plan, a document. We talk about planning, a process. He looks out 5 years. We stop at 3 years because I believe that’s as far into the future as you can make realistic, useful assumptions in our fast changing world.

That said, I think Jason’s 5 tips are great. So here they are:

1.    Write or speak in the present tense. Instead of saying “In 3 years we will….” say “We are…” Sounds a little hokey but try it. You will be surprised at how good it makes you feel. And it’s a little like the visualization top class athletes do before they begin their game or competition.

2.    Be specific about the outcome. We focus business owners and their teams on specific aspects of their company and tell them to describe them in as much detail as they would use for a picture of one of the happiest events of their lives. Jason has a nice twist. He suggests using analogies, e.g. “We are likened to……..the innovation of Google, the performance of a BMW and the security of a Volvo.”

3.    Stay General on How. He provides a great lesson for entrepreneurs. You don’t have to tell your team how to turn the plan into results. They will do that for you. First of all, they will surprise you with the great ideas they come up with. And, secondly, while working out the “how” they will buy-in to the outcome and become committed to making the process successful.

4.    Inspire. I mentioned we tell business owners and their teams to build a picture of the company in 3 years’ time. Before starting them off, we ask them close their eyes and picture one of the happiest times of their lives. We use this analogy for 2 reasons. We recall happy times in great detail. And “seeing” them again triggers strong emotion in us. We want that level of detail and that passion at work when they describe the company in 3 years. Jason describes other techniques for inspiring people. It doesn’t matter which you use. Inspiring people matters.

5.    Be Bold. Set a lofty, yet attainable, target. Aim for leadership in your market or industry – don’t settle for being one of the herd. Despite my comment earlier, if a business owner gives his/her team a glimpse of his/her vision of the company in 10 or more years it can provide context for the planning exercise.

Jason finishes off by talking about communicating the plan. We believe good, clear, frequent communication is critical to turning the plan into results and, therefore, a vital part of the process.

If you want to read Jason’s full post you can find it at 5 Steps to Creating Your Best 5-Year Plan.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Have You Ever Seen A Business Plan That Worked?

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Strategic Success Comes From 3Ps

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

This week’s guest is Dick Albu, the founder and president of Albu Consulting, a strategy management consulting firm focused on engaging and energizing leadership teams of middle market private and family business to formulate robust business strategies and follow through on execution of key strategic initiatives.

If you are like many of our clients, you and your leadership team are getting ready to launch into your strategy sessions for 2013.  This is a great time to be reminded that the success of the strategic plan depends on three key factors (“3Ps”):

(1) How good is your PLAN?
(2) How committed are you to a PROCESS to pursue your goals?
(3) How committed are your PEOPLE to staying focused and on task until your goals are achieved?

Developing the right PLAN begins with a comprehensive analysis of the business, both from an internal and external perspective. Strategic thinking creates a realistic picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the products or services you offer customers, and your market position relative to competition. A good plan takes into consideration your company’s realistic capacity and capability for profitable growth. Strategic thinking sets the stage for identifying growth initiatives that are realistic, practical and specific to your unique situation.

Commitment to a relentless follow up PROCESS is the second stretch on the road to success. The driving force behind the process must come first from the President/CEO, and then be reinforced by the senior leadership team. Successful implementation of strategy is a continuous, long term process that evolves and strengthens over time. Commitment to monthly, quarterly and annual check-ups will refresh, revise and enhance your odds of success. At the same time, it keeps everyone in the organization fully engaged and focused on achieving the company goals.

The most important “P” for success is PEOPLE. Peter Drucker stated in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “The distinction that marks a plan capable of producing results is the commitment of key people to work on specific tasks. Unless such commitment is made, there are only promises and hope, but no plan.” These specific tasks, which evolve from the PLAN and PROCESS, drive accountability and deadlines, while tracking results against agreed measures. In our opinion, seventy percent of success is the result of getting the full buy-in from key employees.

PROCESS and PEOPLE relate directly to excellence in execution. Research has found that 70% of companies fail to achieve their strategic plan goals, in many cases because they lack the process and people skills to enable a discipline for execution. A robust strategy execution management process can provide your organization with the most vital core competency of them all… the ability to execute your strategy.

Dick can be reached at 203-321-2147 or RAlbu@albuconsulting.com. For more information on Albu Consulting visit www.albuconsulting.com.

Persistence and Execution…..

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

This is a true story, it did happen.

A few years ago I was on a team that had to cross a river of fast-flowing, freezing cold water without anyone getting hypothermia. And it had to be done in a certain amount of time or there would be unpleasant consequences to face.

One of the team was appointed leader and quickly solicited input from the rest us before announcing his plan. We got to work and, for a while, things went well.

But then it began to look like the plan wasn’t going to deliver the outcome we needed – just as sometimes happens in business. The leader tried to adapt his plan several times and in several different ways. It still wouldn’t work.

By this point we were very short of time.

He continued trying to modify the plan. His team became more demotivated, and distinctly less supportive, as the minutes ticked away. As you’ve no doubt guessed…..

We didn’t make it – and there were unpleasant consequences.

The river crossing was a leadership exercise, part of our officer training program. The leader didn’t graduate. You can argue that it’s not the same as losing a company – or even losing money – but it was pretty traumatic for the guy.

Until then I’d always been taught that persistence was important. However, even though our leader persisted, we weren’t successful. Clearly, there was such a thing as too much persistence.

But how much is too much?

When do you call a halt without, in retrospect, wondering if you quit too soon, a question every business owner has to answer more than once? Like most entrepreneurs we work with, I’ve developed my own guidelines for dealing with the “persistence versus pigheaded” question.

But Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s 12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit are really good and very useful.

I particularly like the “interim” measures she proposes – are there signs of progress; has there been concrete achievements; is resistance declining? Nothing happens as quickly as we think – and plan – it will. So it’s important to look for indications that we’re on the right path.

It’s always good to get some fresh insight………….

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Bad Strategy – How To Spot It.

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I’m Not Alone………

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

It started last year.

It continued to bother me this year but I didn’t say anything to anyone. I couldn’t, I wasn’t sure how to put it.

Then I found out that someone else felt the same way. He has a much higher, more public profile than me. And he wasn’t afraid to speak out.

That tipped me over the edge.

Just as I took my first couple of tentative steps, I discovered there’s someone else, also with a higher profile than mine, who is talking about it too.

I feel so much better. So I’ll say it out loud……..

The words strategy and strategic are being overused and misused. And it’s wrong because it’s causing confusion and doing harm.

It first became clear to me………….

…..when I read Richard Rumelt’s book “Good Strategy: Bad Strategy, The Difference and Why It Matters”.  I believe 3 of Rumelt’s 4 major hallmarks of bad strategy involve misuse of the words strategy or strategic.

He describes “Fluff” as a superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords.

Rumelt’s example of fluff is a major bank stating “Our fundamental strategy is one of customer-centric intermediation.” Intermediation, accepting deposits and lending them to others, is what all banks do. And this one’s processes didn’t make it any more customer friendly than its competitors. The statement is fluff not strategy.

Then there’s “Mistaking goals for strategy”. For example he talks about a document labeled “Our Key Strategies” which was no more than a list of goals with no reference to a key strength the company could leverage to achieve the goals.

The third one is “Bad strategic objectives”. Rumelt talks about “dog’s dinner objectives”, a list of things to do with the label strategies or objectives, where 1 of the “to do’s” is to create a strategic plan. There are also “blue sky objectives”, which are simply a restatement of the desired state of affairs.

And now there’s someone else……………….

…..who is making a similar point. This week Harvard Business Review published a blog post by Joan Magretta called “5 Common Strategy Mistakes”. I think 3 of them also involve confusing strategy with something else.
First is confusing marketing with strategy. Doing that, she argues, means overlooking the point that a strategy not only requires a value proposition, it also requires a unique configuration of (companywide) activities that best delivers the value.

Next is confusing competitive advantage with what you’re good at. Companies often look inward, see a strength – and overestimate it. But to form the basis for a strategy a strength has to be something the company does better than its rivals. And that judgment can only be made by the market.

Finally there’s thinking that growth or reaching a revenue goal is a strategy. Sound familiar? Mistaking goals for strategy is on Rumelt’s list too. It’s not the goal (e.g., reach $50 million in revenue), nor is it a specific action (e.g., launch a new product, enter a new market, make acquisitions). Strategy is the set of integrated choices that define how you will achieve the goal; the actions are the path you take to execute or realize the strategy.

Now that I feel better, that I’m not alone…………

…..I’m going to continue speaking about it.

Because it will only get better if we get it into the open, get people, business owners, talking about it.

We have to stop overusing and misusing strategy and strategic. It’s causing confusion and doing harm to the most important part of a company – its business strategy.

By the way, you can see my first couple of tentative steps here and here

So Tell Me, What Is Strategy?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Look anywhere and you’ll see tweets, posts and articles containing the word strategy. Marketing strategy, social media strategy, sales strategy, financial strategy, meeting strategy – in fact every kind of strategy you can think of.

Strategy – and strategic – are becoming greatly over used words. And in some cases they’re being imbued with mystique and complexity in order to create a need for “expertise”.

Why should we care? I can think of 2 reasons.

1. Strategy should be simple.

A strategy shouldn’t be an ethereal concept or a complex by design – in fact quite the opposite. Look at the Wikipedia definition – “a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.”

What could be more straightforward? A strategy has 2 parts. Part 1 – designing the plan and part 2 – translating it into action which achieves a specific goal.

It sounds simple – but the mystique and complexity can start with the words and phrases that are used to describe the design part of business strategy. I’m thinking of environmental scans, key competencies, scenario planning, strategic options etc.

To be fair there are some companies and clients with whom it is essential to use these buzz words in order to be considered credible.

But for everyone else – particularly for companies which haven’t worked with consultants before – the strategy design process should be kept clear and simple.

Another thing I’ve never been comfortable with is the point of view that a strategy must be perfect, a thing of great beauty. Making things of great beauty is the job of artists and plastic surgeons. Business people need to be pragmatic.

Anyway, many strategies which were judged imperfect or impossible – e.g. Steve Job’s strategy for Apple in 1987 and Herb Kelleher or Richard Branson’s entry to the airline industry – resulted in great successes.

And if a strategy isn’t made to work, to deliver results, what does it matter how nice it looks or sounds – which brings me to the second reason we should care.

2. The focus should be on the translating into action, achieving the goal part.

Research has shown, fairly consistently, that the majority (around 70% by some estimates) of strategies aren’t implemented or they fail.

Assuming that at least some of them were practical and simple, and yet still were never turned into action, what chance do complex strategies stand?

And here’s something that has always struck me as ironic.

Some of the reasons for designing a new strategy or changing/adapting an existing one are outside the control of the business owner and his/her team – e.g. competitive action, changes in the industry.

But all aspects of translating a strategy into action are totally under their control.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

3. Final thoughts.

A business strategy is the means by which owners achieve their vision for their company. To do that it can’t be shrouded in mystique or only be a thing of ethereal beauty. And it can’t be complicated.

A good strategy informs all parts of the company about what they must do and how they must work together. It translates into the specific actions that must be completed to achieve clear goals which lead to the realization of the vision.

It turns the vision into results.

And don’t forget – a weak strategy implemented strongly will always beat a strong strategy implemented weakly.

 If you enjoyed this you’ll also enjoy 3 Things Which Shape A Good Strategy and 6 Tips For Getting Better Results in 2011 and Why You Want A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

The Future Of Your Business: Succession or Exit?

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Our guest this week is Jim Pullen of Concert Partners. His career has included cross-border mergers and acquisitions of international technology companies. He is a senior advisor to Tequity, a specialist M&A firm in the technology sector.

Succession or exit – it’s a stark choice, but since we are all mortal, one of these is going to happen!

A recent study of Canadian businesses showed that while 70% recognized that a transition or exit will have to take place, only 7% had a plan! And incidentally, selling at the best price at the right time doesn’t constitute a plan!

I worked for an international mergers and acquisitions company in both London (UK) and Boston (USA). While I was there we carried out a study of 250 M&A transactions we were involved in, over a span of 8 years.  The transactions took place in Europe, US, and Canada. 

We wanted to find the key areas that buyers looked for in a transaction.  Based on the study, we developed a framework for ranking and assessing a company on the factors that were proven to drive a valuation.

The main areas of value enhancement that emerged are described below.

1. Financial

This category includes basic financial metrics such as profitability and revenue growth.  Companies with high profit margins and high rates of revenue growth obviously command a higher valuation. 

Other aspects include the type of revenues a company generates.  Recurring revenues can add to a valuation as it makes the company’s cash flow more predictable. So, for example, a company that sells big ticket one-off products could look to build up more of an offering around maintenance and post-sales services for their product – where they can sign their clients into multi-year maintenance contracts. 

Companies with strong cash generation are also more attractive to buyers.  They are able to take on more debt that can be used to finance growth.  It also makes a leveraged buy-out possible.

2.   Market & barriers to entry

In this category the factors include the strength of customer relationships and degree of uniqueness the company enjoys in its market.  Companies that have a direct and strong relationship with the end users/purchasers of their product will get a higher valuation.

Brand, which clearly has to be part of a long-term strategy, plays a large role in the value a buyer places on a company.  We found that a strong brand can make up to 70% of the value in a company.

In terms of barriers to entry, companies should use many mechanisms to defend their position. Examples are legal protection though patents and trademarks, exclusive relationships with key suppliers, and building internal expertise through strategic hiring.  Anything a company can do to make it harder for competitors to enter their space will help command a premium on valuation. 

3. Human resources

In this category, the framework looks at both technical skills and management skills.  As companies grow, it is important to distribute the key skill sets deeply across the organization.  Often after an exit, the founders will want to leave, either because they have a large financial gain or they prefer to be entrepreneurs over working in a large corporation.  A buyer will place a premium on a deep management team so the company can continue to innovate and execute even with the loss of the founders.

4. Strategic fit

This factor relates to the degree that the company being acquired is a strategic fit for the buyer’s product portfolio.  We have seen cases where buyers are willing to pay a 50%-70% price premium for a company that fills out a missing piece of their product portfolio and gives them access to the markets and expertise. 

Partnerships are an excellent way to lay the foundation with a potential buyer.  A partnership is a low-commitment way for them to get deeper experience with a potential acquisition. If things work out well and strategic synergies start to develop then it is easy to take the step towards a deeper relationship.
 
5. Governance

The last factor involves good governance.  We have found that a strong board of directors can add a 25% premium to the value of a company.  This is due to the buyer having more assurance that the company has been well governed and there will be no unexpected surprises they need to deal with.

A Few Final Thoughts.

There are 3 main ways in which the succession issue can be handled: a younger generation of the family takes over; the executives buy out the owner via a management or leveraged buy-out (MBO/LBO); or there is a liquidity event (the shares are given some realizable value) by means of a trade sale or listing on a public market (Initial Public Offering or IPO).

Whichever route is taken, it is clearly in the shareholders’ interest to maximize the value of the business prior to that event.  The ideal time to begin that process is on day one, but it may not be too late; 2 years is a realistic timescale in which to groom a company for sale/transition.

Let me leave you with 2 thoughts. Begin thinking about it today. And get some help from people with experience.

Jim currently provides corporate development consulting services and mentors early stage businesses at the ventureLAB in Markham. You can contact him at jpullen@concert-partners.com

Physician Heal Thyself

Monday, September 13th, 2010

We’ve just finished the business planning session for our fiscal year which started 1 Jul 10, using the same tools and processes we use with our clients. But it’s so much easier when you’re telling someone else what to do.

The first thing was that we were late getting started. So we immediately broke one of our own cardinal rules – get next year’s plan in place before the end of the current fiscal year. This is something we preach relentlessly to the business owners we work with.

We had done all of the regular quarterly reviews of last year’s plan giving us, under some circumstances, a pretty good starting point for this year. For about a nano second I was tempted just to roll things forward.

But last year was our best year ever and the business had grown in some interesting new directions. Also, we hadn’t taken a look at our 5 year goals during the quarterly reviews. Rather than break another rule, we decided to do a full analysis and went through the lot – target market; competitive evaluation; product and service offering; pricing strategy etc.

So we set some dates on which we’d work through the steps – and then proceeded to change them, pushing them out. Well, I heard myself say, we can’t let day-to-day operations slip, there’s client work to be done; we can’t miss those deadlines. And a little voice asked “Hmmm, where have you heard that before?”

While we were figuring out where we had to be in 3 years’ time that voice in my head was back. At first I couldn’t believe it – that can’t be me. But it was – I’d slipped from consultant into business owner mode. I had to have a stern talk to myself – “Come on Jim, be realistic, where’s your objectivity?”

Going through the gap analysis and figuring out what had to be done was relatively easy. But when we got to prioritization and looking at the investments we had to make I actually broke into a cold sweat at one point.

Then I thought – I’ve done this dozens of times, what’s the problem; this isn’t nearly as difficult when we do it for other companies! The answer was really simple – it was my baby (I mean company); it was my future (I mean retirement plan); it was my money we were risking (for those nasty investments).

To make a long story short, we finished the planning process and identified 5 strategic initiatives I am convinced will take us to the next level. The action plans are in place and being worked on even as I write this. We made some minor adjustments but we confirmed again, from our own experience, that the process we use with other companies works.

And I promise to be more understanding with other business owners in the future!

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