How to identify your biggest business improvement opportunities

It’s all too tempting to think that the biggest opportunity for improving your business is to get more customers. It might be the right decision – but not necessarily. So how do you know?

Take the example of a general car repair garage which has seen a steady decline in sales. A typical, instinctive response would be to increase marketing to raise awareness and possibly tempt new customers with a price promotion. But what if, when we looked further, they had received a series of poor customer reviews? What if those reviews all pointed to surly customer service where promised call-backs weren’t made, the paper work detailing repairs was incorrect and bookings had been made for the wrong dates and times. It’s an obvious example of where the investment in improvement needs to be directed to customer service rather than marketing, at least initially.

For any business we would want to see all areas working well, all of the time. However, what should you tackle first when you have limited resources?

We have developed a business improvement checklist to help you identify the biggest opportunities to improve results in your business. When used in earnest it is effectively a system to build and maintain a robust business – one which is responsive to changes in the world around it.

You are likely to find that your business is naturally strong in some areas and vulnerable in others. Don’t panic! Even mature corporates need to be continually reviewing and improving. Uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly is the first step.

The good news is that, once you’ve completed the checklist, you’ll have narrowed down your areas of concern and created the opportunity to focus on building a stronger business.

Find the checklist on our website here, download and work through the statements. You will be asked either to decide ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or to rank your business on a scale for each statement.

The exercise should take around 15 minutes.

Let us know how you get on.

If you find you aren’t sure what to do next get in touch. We can show you how to create a plan to build a stronger business and then keep you on track to achieve it. Take the first step and download the checklist.

Why 4 Week Planning is Worth the Time

Nearly everyone is guilty of at least one of two time-management pitfalls:

  1. Under-estimating how long it will take to complete a task.
  2. Over-estimating how much time you have.

I count myself amongst the many. Symptoms include a ‘to-do-list’ with the same tasks appearing week after week after month, and regularly lamenting,  ‘Why on earth am I racing against the clock again? I thought I had allowed plenty of time.’

The 4 Week Planner tackles the second symptom. (You can download one from the link at the bottom). However, I have to warn you, creating a clear picture of just how much time you really have is often shocking, at least initially. If you can hold your nerve, it will pay off. You’ll prioritise, you’ll learn to say ‘no’ and you’ll start to create more realistic expectations – for others you work with and for yourself.

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Why marketing might not be the right answer

It’s all too tempting to think that the biggest opportunity for improving your business is to get more customers. It might be the right decision – but not necessarily. So how do you know?

Let’s take an example. Your business is a general car repair garage which has seen a steady decline in sales. A typical, instinctive response would be to increase marketing to raise awareness and possibly tempt new customers with a price promotion. But what if, when you looked further, there had been a series of poor customer reviews? What if those reviews all pointed to surly customer service where promised call-backs weren’t made, the paper work detailing repairs was incorrect and bookings had been made for the wrong dates and times. It’s an obvious example of where the investment in improvement needs to be directed to customer service rather than marketing, at least initially.

For any business we would want to see all areas working well, all of the time. However, what should you tackle first when you have limited resources?

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7 Ways To Make Your Business Plan Work

There are traditionally two reasons why you would want to write a business plan:

  • The first, to satisfy potential investors or future business partners that you have a well thought out proposition
  • The second, to create a roadmap to achieve that success.

While the first reason is externally focused, I think that the second reason, the internally focused one, has so much potential to be used to even greater effect.

7 ways to make your business plan work:

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Can Anyone Be Trained To Sell?

It’s a question I have often been asked in the context of working with teams to improve their business development processes. 10 years ago I would have said that you can probably train most people in the skills to sell, however, that doesn’t mean they will use them. Negative perceptions of sales, an unwillingness to step outside of their comfort zone and a feeling that ‘it just isn’t me’ would all have worked against putting traditional sales skills into practice.

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OK to wear headphones while serving customers? I think not!

Twice in the last week I have been served by people wearing earphones. Maddening! In both cases they were from small businesses rather than High Street names. One was the ice cream van man. That was particularly disappointing as the first ice cream of the season from a roaming van is still a mildly exciting traditional event marking the promise of summer! (He carried on talking to the person at the end of the earphones while constructing a particularly nasty sugar concoction.)

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The power of what you don’t know

Last week I was a coach on a Global Business Partnering programme with a group of senior finance people. How is that relevant, you’re wondering? What struck me most, and it’s not exclusive to this organisation at all, is that the higher up the tree you go the less able you feel to lay bare any gaps in your skills, knowledge or confidence. That is a tall order!

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Why it pays to think extraordinary

I recently presented at a high profile networking event, full of women in business. The theme was, Achieving Your Extraordinary.

My expectation was that I was being asked to talk about what it takes to run a strong and healthy business. After all, that’s what I help people to do. But no, the brief was – share your story of your extraordinary career. Clearly they had asked the wrong person! I’m no Karren Brady or Jo Malone. I’m good at what I do – see, I don’t have limiting beliefs – but I’m not extraordinary!

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5 Ways To Change Your Business

What would you change, if you could, in your business?

I hear the same themes voiced by the owners of growing SMEs – and not just in certain sectors. Broadly they sound like this:

  • How do we get our staff to feel the same about the business as we do?
  • How can we get people to share information across teams without heavy handed processes?
  • How do we avoid any duplication of effort?
  • How can we get new employees up to speed and productive more quickly?
  • If only we could get people to take personal responsibility and suggest improvements or new ideas where they see the opportunity – or even to answer a ringing phone when it’s not theirs!
  • We know we don’t spend enough time thinking strategically but how do we break the cycle of being driven by day to day operational tasks?
  • How can we reduce the amount of time spent ‘just’ managing people?

Do any of these resonate with you?

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Know your vital signs

We may not normally think of vital signs when reviewing and planning our business but what if we did? What would we notice and would it be useful?

Here are a few for each of the key business areas. Do any of these ring true for you?

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Business lessons from an 11 year old.

I have recently gone back to the business I started 11 years ago when I left the corporate world. It has been a perfect opportunity to take stock, to focus and to make sure I’m doing what clients most value and what I most enjoy.

Since 2005 I’ve been privy to the pains, frustrations, aspirations and successes of the businesses and organisations I’ve worked with. I have designed and delivered sales training for UK and international businesses, I have worked with business owners to set goals, create strategies and engage their team in the journey and I have coached, mentored and cajoled individuals in business to do their best work.

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Get your sales priorities right

I recently had a query about an interest charge on my bank account and phoned directly to my branch. They initially couldn’t explain it, and asked if they could put me on hold while they investigated. They came back to say they needed to speak to someone else – at which point I suggested they call me back.  Well within their stated two hour window they did indeed phone – and they still didn’t know why I was charged this amount.  The case needed to be referred to Head Office and I would get a reply within five days. Five days!!  (That’s around 37.5 hours to look at my previous month’s account balance, check the rate I should be charged and get the calculator out.)

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