This has got to be one of the most commonplace challenges for small businesses. Their favourite and best clients use them because they trust them – the person behind the business. However, in order to grow – or to even take a short holiday – they need to be able to say, ‘It won’t necessarily be me you’ll get but the service will still be fantastic.’
When the only apparent differentiator you have is you there can appear to be a ceiling on how much you can grow
Early in my consultancy career I took an NLP Business Coaching course with Sue Knight. At the time a member of her family was gravely ill. Sue took the course for the first day then explained that she would have to hand over to a trusted coaching partner for the rest of the course. It was natural for all of us to feel disappointed that we wouldn’t have the full Sue Knight experience but we understood completely her reasons. Her replacement was wonderful – even though she wasn’t Sue. I don’t think any of us felt cheated.
The organic fruit and vegetable supplier Abel and Cole is a prime example of a service initially provided by one person and which grew well beyond him. Keith Abel started his business in 1988 selling potatoes door to door in South London. He built the business to a peak of £40m turnover in 2007. No one was expecting Keith to still be delivering the potatoes! Admittedly you could argue that Keith wasn’t what people were buying – they were buying potatoes. But the service was personal and yet he succeeded in growing it into a significant entity, employing 450 people.
So, how can it be done? Successful delivery of your products and services has several components. The way in which you combine these components can not only give you the edge over other similar suppliers but help you to create a business beyond you.
What sort of components are we talking about?
The values and credentials of the people you choose to work with or who you employ, the source of the raw materials you buy, your involvement in the community or partnering with a charity, paying a fair price for ingredients – all are examples of how you can establish a reputation as a business grounded in good values. With clear values you can identify business partners or associates who will represent your brand, possibly as well as you. You can find companies to outsource to who share your ways of thinking and working.
Know what you do best
My elder daughter is going through the orthodontic process at the moment. Each time she has an appointment I marvel at the super-efficient operational running of that practice. No one seems to spend more than 1 second doing a task that isn’t core to their role. We see the Orthodontist when a decision needs to be made about the next stage of treatment, the technician for adjustments to wires and the receptionist for appointments. Interestingly, when the Orthodontist goes on holiday the practice still runs – there are still wires to tighten. Some are revenue generating activities and some deliver the customer experience.
Similarly, as a small business owner, we can separate out the activities that deliver our service and allocate them to different roles. If we really want to grow the most powerful goal is that, ultimately, we only do what we do best – and delegate the rest.
Creating methodologies and setting standards which deliver a consistently good service can help set the foundations for releasing your time. This applies as much to a sole consultant as to a team. Look at the customer process from the first enquiry, the follow up call, the proposal, the invoice, delivering the products or services, dealing with queries, customer feedback and looking for the next sale – and create a quality process that works even without you. It’s a powerful exercise!
Most of us can quote our favourite customer experience – I’m a big John Lewis fan! But what is it about this experience that we love so much? By dissecting the experience that we want our clients to have – how we get them interested initially, how we make them feel as clients, how we communicate, how we deal with problems – we can begin to create a process that others can help us to deliver. This is one of your first steps to lying in the sun while your business makes money!
You’re one component. You undoubtedly have talents, skills and ideas and when these are wide-ranging it can be tempting to try and do everything yourself. (I can be guilty of this!) However, if your ambition is to grow your business beyond you it’s time to play to your strengths, sort your values and processes and get delegating.
Follow me …