Posts Tagged ‘strategies’

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!


Perspective – It Really Matters….

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

We know that growing a business is hard work, correct?

Long hours, low pay, taking risks that were unimaginable before we started, unfeeling lenders and employees who lack commitment – and I haven’t even mentioned difficult customers who take forever to pay!

But what if we had to deal with our homes being bombed – several times – and not by unhappy customers? Can you imagine?

Yet I read recently about a business owner to whom this actually happened. Oh – and she had to survive death threats and acid attacks.

There are some problems that most of us who live in North America simply don’t face. Can you imagine, as part of a SWOT analysis, doing an environmental scan and having the Taliban pop up? That would give a whole different meaning to Threats.

I spent some time – a long time ago – with the British services just outside Belfast during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. One of the things that struck me as being “unreal”, to use our vocabulary of the time, was that businesses continued to run despite bombs, shootings and riots.

In Afghanistan, life and business go on (as they did all those years ago in Belfast). Entrepreneurs and business owners in Greece and Spain face different challenges but which are just as hard for me to imagine.

Talking about imagination, one of the techniques we use when developing strategies with clients is to get them to build a picture of their company in 3 or 5 years’ time. We ask them to do this in quite a lot of detail.

We use the exercise for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the power of visualization. Most business owners find it different or odd at first but succeed with very little prompting.

But can you conceive of being in a situation where you simply cannot imagine or visualize an end result?

That’s because you’ve encountered years – not days, not months, not quarters – but years of failure. And you’re only 10 years old? Yet the kids pulled it off and moved on with their lives – I think that’s truly amazing.

While I’m sitting writing this the first effects of Hurricane Sandy are appearing outside. While it may be a challenge, we know that by the weekend, at worst, it will be over. For most people it will (hopefully) only be a disruption lasting a few days.

Even Sandy pales, in my opinion, when compared to the story of the Afghani woman who launched the news agency in her own country and children who have to struggle for years with learning difficulties.

So, to those who are busy with their planning and budgeting for 2013 I would say this. Take a second, step back and reflect. For no matter how hard the challenges of growing a business in a slow or no growth economy, maybe other people are dealing with different (bigger?) challenges every day of their lives.

And if they can do it – so can we.

It’s all a matter of perspective………

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy A Vision – Is It Worth Investing The Time?

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When “What If?” Becomes “What Now?”…

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012


This week’s guest is Howard Lerner, Partner at SBLR LLP Chartered Accountants, a full-service accounting and business advisory firm located in mid-Toronto.  With 9 partners and over 40 team members, including a strategic tax department, SBLR specializes in providing creative income tax solutions and high-level growth and exit strategies for profitable, privately-held companies.


One of the most important – but often ignored – reasons for preparing for the future succession of your business is to minimize the fallout from the unexpected.  While things don’t always go according to plan, the business has a much better chance of surviving if you’ve made preparations, in advance, for it to continue without you there.

The following is based on an actual story, illustrating the importance of planning ahead.  In a real-life situation, Karen, 56, started Staywell Corp, a health services business, 23 years ago. Her son John, 27, and daughter Beth, 24, have worked in the business since graduating from university.

Karen recently contracted a life-threatening virus leaving her paralyzed and unable to work.   Not having developed a strong senior management team, much of the business knowledge resided with Karen.  With the help of a few loyal employees, Karen’s children kept things together for several months, hoping in vain that their mother would quickly return to work.

Karen and her family never discussed what would happen in case of a tragic event, so John and Beth were completely unprepared for the responsibility resulting from their mother’s lengthy absence.  After six months of declining sales, John and Beth realized it was necessary to sell the business. The value received for Karen’s shares was substantially less than it should have been, as much of the intellectual capital was tied up with her.  The proceeds still resulted in a taxable capital gain to Karen of $1.2 million, thereby costing her family $110,000 in capital gains taxes.

After the sale, John and Beth left the company; only one has since found new employment.  Karen’s disability insurance, a fraction of her former CEO’s salary, means the family is struggling financially, as Karen needs full-time nursing care, and the after-tax proceeds were used to pay down debt.

How could this family have experienced a better outcome?  The answers all have one thing in common:  PLANNING.

1. Succession Planning – Karen could have developed a strong and capable management team and delegated as much responsibility as possible to the team, with the objective of making herself redundant to day-to-day operations.

2. Insurance Planning – At least bi-annually, life and disability insurance policies could have been reviewed to provide adequate coverage in case of death, illness, or disability.  Insurance strategies can often include funding the premiums using corporate assets certain situations.  This planning also involves the preparation and updating of proper wills and powers of attorney.

3. Tax Planning – A proper corporate structure also might have allowed Karen to multiply the Capital Gains Exemption on the sale of Staywell Corp’s shares, possibly eliminating all of the $110,000 of capital gains tax.

4. Exit Planning – Karen could have been developing and communicating her plans for the business, so that the key stakeholders (her family and senior management) would know and understand Karen’s wishes and how to execute them in case of disability or sudden death (yes, that happens, too).

5. Financial Planning – a solid financial plan could have established family assets in addition to the business investment, making the group less reliant on Staywell Corp for support.  Debts could have been managed to maximize interest deductibility.

Karen and her family have a tough road ahead of them but their situation offers an important lesson to the rest of us. Call your trusted advisors today and put some plans in motion to mitigate the implications of unexpected yet potentially disastrous situations.  After all “What if” can often turn into “What now?” but with a phone call or two, you can avoid that.

For more information, please contact Howard Lerner at SBLR LLP Chartered Accountants at 416-488-2345 Ext. 222 or at

5 Tips for Fast Growth in a Slow Economy

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Inc. magazine is packed full of good advice for business owners of all sizes.

An example of the great articles I’ve read in it over the last 10 years is Fast Growth In A Slow Economy from their latest (April) issue.

It focuses on 5 strategies which have transformed the business of the owners who adopted them.

Here they are.

1.    Drop your worst customers

Inc.’s emphasis is on customers who don’t pay on time, but the definition can be broadened.

We include customers who want non-standard products or services; always want a deal on price; leave it to the last minute to order; or are abusive to employees. Some bad customers do all of these

I was interviewed recently by Diane Buckner, of the Dragon’s Den, for her post, Customer from Hell? Don’t be afraid to fire them.  She comes to the same conclusion.

Get rid of the customers who drain your lifeblood.

2.    Get help from your customers

Email or on-line surveys are inexpensive ways to get insight into customers’ thinking and challenges.

In the Inc. article, Barrett Distribution, reported a 30% response rate to their survey. The fact that 56 questions could be completed in 12 minutes helped.

Barrett surveyed half of their customers immediately and half 6 months later. That allowed for quick reaction to the feedback. One opportunity they uncovered meant business with one customer quadrupled – providing, by itself, a decent ROI on the survey.

3.    Act locally, not globally

Pursuing companies with a national brand can appear to be very lucrative. However, it’s easy to find yourself competing hard just to get their attention.

The experience of Door Number 3, an ad agency, can be typical. They pursued national accounts and won fewer and fewer of them. When they examined their business, their best accounts were located in their own area.

It’s easier to build relationships with decision makers in smaller, local accounts. Travel costs are less and you can spend more time with them, getting to really understand their business.

Finally, local companies talk amongst themselves and so there’s more word of mouth promotion and referrals from them.

4.    Treat everyone as a potential employee

Virtual organizations offer many advantages (we run one at ProfitPATH). So I can relate to the consulting company in the Inc. article. The owner, Tom Koulopoulos, needed access to specialist skills to complete bids on RFPs his company had a high odds of winning.

For a number of reasons, he couldn’t add the people he needed as full-time employees. So he forged partnerships with them, exchanging a share of the contract value if they won the RFP.

Since Koulopoulos’ company was the vendor he had to find people whose values were similar to his. The key to his success his use of his network, in many cases people he had known for many years.

5.    Get small to get big (think niche)

The owner of Medisys Health Communications’ breakthrough came when she read Blue Ocean Strategy

She realized that they had to stop trying to be all things to all people, competing with everyone else doing the same, find a niche that no one inhabited – and then own it.

So they focused on something they’d been giving away free for years and ended up collaborating with her previous competitors – doing something none of them can do.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like 4 Things Every Business Owner Must Think About

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Top Ten in 2011…….

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

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

Our top 10 blog posts in 2011 were:

  1. The 2 Truths Every Business Owner Has To Face which I wrote in early May was the winner by a significant margin. It talks about why many  owners ignore the second truth.
  2. 4 Things Every Business Owner Must Think About deals with the 6 reasons companies are sold and the 2 factors which are common to all of them.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Bad Strategy – How To Spot It discusses the 4 hallmarks of bad strategy identified by Richard Rumelt in his book “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters”.
  6. Leading Business Plan Execution is the second guest post to make the list. Brian Brennan a Chartered Accountant and Chair for TEC Canada wrote this piece for us.
  7. Strategy, Culture and Leadership deals with how these 3 things affect the development and the execution of strategy.
  8. Social Media And Strategic Planning Make Interesting Bedfellows Marie Wiese of Marketing Co-Pilot demonstrates how social media can be used to strengthen the strategic planning process.
  9. 3 Surprising Strategies (Or Not) comments on 3 surprising things that emerged from the responses to our survey of 600 people in our database.
  10. 4 Laws Of Effective Implementation is one of the first pieces I ever wrote. If a weak plan strongly executed really is better than a strong plan weakly executed here are 4 “laws” that will make sure you execute effectively.

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

Social Media Strategies – We Still Have A Long Way To Go

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Our guest this week is Andrew Jenkins, Principal and Owner of Volterra Consulting, a strategy consulting firm specializing in emerging technology.  Volterra’s work spans e-business, wireless and social media with clients in Canada and Europe.

Where are we now?

Periodically, I am reminded of the fact that the ubiquity of social media is more a perception than a reality. By that I mean, because so many of my network and I are immersed in social media that I often think that everyone else must be too but then a comment or some data analysis will prove the contrary.

As I write this, I am in the process of developing a social media module for an executive education program focused on marketing. I had the opportunity to research the social media profiles of the attendees and the companies that employ them. They run the spectrum from no presence at all to being on most or all of the predominant social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

I also recently gave a presentation to a room filled with 100+ people from the cardboard manufacturing industry. Before diving into my presentation, I asked the room for a show of hands from those on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The results were what I have come to expect. LinkedIn had the most respondents followed by Facebook and Twitter respectively. However, none of them had the majority of those in the room. In fact, they collectively comprised the minority.

Now I could suggest that this was because of the industry I was presenting to but I think that that is unfair. I think it has more to do with the age of social media and the fact that not everyone has the same familiarity with social media and where and how their personal and professional interests and business strategies can be helped.

Why Are We Here?

We must remember that LinkedIn is only eight years old while Facebook and Twitter are seven and five years old respectively. To put that into context, email is over twenty years old. As business owners and companies come to operationalize social media with their organizations and people come to realize the value and power that can be derived from social media then we will begin to see the tide turn more quickly.

Right now, there is a lot of hype coupled with a lot of skepticism. Most of the discussion is around social media in a B2C context but I also believe that growth in social media discussions in the B2B space will shift things from being a “that’s what people do in their spare time” to being part of our everyday work lives.

What Are The Benefits?

Some may be resistant to social media strategies in their everyday work lives but over time they will come to see and benefit from the collaborative nature and resource value provided by social media. Those are just a couple of the aspects that I reference when sharing the power of social media with people.

I have grown revenue, been invited to join boards, expanded my professional and collaborative relationships, and received promotional opportunities because of social media. Those currently make me an exception but I cannot help but think that they will become more commonplace in the future.

Strategy – Don’t Think It, Experience It

Monday, February 14th, 2011

1. You need to feel the strategy.

Getting employees to buy in to a strategy is considered key to its success. To do that, business owners communicate their strategies so that each employee thinks about what it means for her or him.

But now there’s an argument that this isn’t good enough and that there’s a better way(1) .

The current approach hasn’t solved the problem of turning strategy into results. Execution fails because thinking isn’t enough.  Behavioural change is required in order for strategies to work and to get that employees need to experience the new strategy at an emotional level.

2. How on earth can you feel a strategy?

Strategies are intangible; they’re ideas and images of how to move from the current reality to a future state. So how can they be experienced?

For a start people seek out things that feel real to them – even although they know its part reality and part fantasy, for example, “reality TV” shows. Research says viewers aren’t looking for the truth, but the satisfying authenticity when reality interacts with desirable situations.

Next, remember that intangibles take on form and concreteness when they are expressed in words. So a strategic intent – combining the current reality and the idea of a better future – can be expressed as a story about the company’s future. Not entirely a new idea, I hear you say.

But a story isn’t enough to bring about behavioural change.

The story has to be strong enough and presented in a way that it can’t be ignored. It has to catch employees’ attention. Research shows that things people consider interesting gets their attention – and they don’t even have to be true!

People consider a story that combines the familiar with the novel interesting. Not because it states the obvious but because it offers the possibility of something not at all obvious. It can’t be too radical or employees won’t believe it – and the goal is to suspend disbelief. Employees have to want, or desire, the better future.

For example, when a new leader took over the New York Botanical Gardens he started the planning process by declaring “We are a museum of plants, not a park.” Employees easily understood the difference between the two and had the desire to change the Gardens from a park to a museum as a way of escaping from dogs, cars and picnics.

And it’s the shift from seeing the outcome as goals to be achieved to an emotional desire that drives the behavioural change required to execute successfully.

3. How do you develop a strategy you can feel?

Two things have to change. The argument goes like this.

The current strategic planning process stifles creativity and innovation because of its analytical approach and it favours incremental over substantive change. It is not in tune with the fast-moving, fast-changing world we live in. (Where have we heard that before?)

The process described above will enable employees to feel the company’s strategies are meaningful and compelling at a personal level. Once they care about the strategies they’ll adopt the new behaviours required to execute them.

4. Let’s sum all that up.

According to this new school, strategy as thought – effective communication of strategic plans that have been developed by top management and using metrics to measure the implementation of the outcomes – doesn’t translate into execution.

On the other hand, strategy as experienced – dialogue involving as many people as possible, using stories and metaphors, sustaining itself by the energy it produces – drives behavioural change.

I like the concept of strategy as experience but I’m having a hard time with the implementation.

What do you think?

(1) “Strategy As Experienced”, Jeanne Liedtka, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2011, page 29.

6 Tips for Getting Better Results in 2011.

Monday, November 8th, 2010

In a recent blog posting I wrote that business planning has started/is starting/should have started for 2011. Then the other day I came across these 6 tips which I pulled together at the end of 2008.

At that time, you may remember, there was a deluge of bad news pouring from the newspapers, Internet and TV all day, every day. Some forecasters were saying the economy would rally in late 2009, others were saying it would take years before we saw an improvement.

I made the point then that, when so much of what is going on around you seems out of control, it’s easy to stop focussing on the things that are under your control. So, since uncertainty is still with us, I thought it was worth freshening up the Tips.

Tip #1 – Remember that we have always had to deal with uncertainty when developing plans and strategies. It may be true that there is more uncertainty now than in the past. However, don’t forget that no one has ever been able to accurately predict the future with any degree of consistency.

Three ways to deal with uncertainty are – keep digging until you find the best information available before firming up assumptions; put flexibility into plans and strategies; and think through contingency plans (e.g. plan for the best, worst, and most likely outcomes and be ready to deal with all of them). A fourth technique is to review, and adjust, goals more frequently.

Tip #2 – Make sure that you actually implement your plans and strategies. According to an Ernst & Young survey, 66% of corporate strategy is never executed.

In our experience implementation is handled just as poorly in owner managed companies – which generally have fewer employees (who are often located in the same premises) and which have fewer departments and layers. All of which should make communication and coordination easier.

There are a number of reasons why strategy implementation fails and the remaining tips will help you avoid them.

Tip #3 – Develop detailed Action Plans for execution. Involve key people when figuring out your goals for 2011 – and they’ll buy into what has to be done.

Compare the goals with the current situation and gaps will appear. Then ask them what – specifically – has to be done to close the gaps, by whom and by when. The answers to those questions will form the basis of your Action Plans for 2011.

Tip #4 – Avoid attempting too much, for 2 reasons. Firstly, there may be a long list of things to be done to close the gaps and no company has the resources to attack them all. So, prioritize the things which have the most impact on your goals and focus on them. You can go back and tackle the others later.

Secondly, you want to stay flexible enough to respond to whatever happens.

Tip #5 – Commit enough resources to completing the priorities. Business owners are inclined to tackle too much at once. They also try to do everything in the minimum amount of time – while spending as little money as possible.

Think about the priorities this way. You’ve invested time identifying reasonable goals and figuring out what has to be done to reach them. That effort will be wasted unless you commit the resources required to complete those action plans.

Even if you are allocating too many resources, you’ll complete the job ahead of schedule. Who doesn’t feel good when that happens?

Tip #6 – Follow up regularly and in a structured way. There are also 2 reasons for doing this. First, because no one can accurately predict the future you have to make time to compare what you thought would happen with what has happened and adjust for reality.

Second, what could be more important than making sure you complete the action plans that will lead to achieving your goals? Not dealing with the day-to-day problems, which always seem to be “urgent”. Prevent them getting in the way of the “important” priorities by making time to review progress toward your goals once a quarter.

The odds are that you’ve heard each one of these tips before. But the reality is that a gap exists between hearing – even knowing – the right thing to do and actually doing it. That’s why 66% of the companies surveyed wasted their time.

Winners eliminate the gap.

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