January is a great month!

There is a lot being said about the doom and gloom of January. People are lamenting the gaping emptiness without Christmas celebrations, the pressure to give up alcohol or indeed anything else you enjoy and the sheer darkness of the mornings.

But I’m a big fan of January!

I love how uncluttered it is. Family members are back to predictable day to day routines. We have a long clear run at business before Easter interrupts the pace. There is no need to split your time and energies across far too many activities – present ideas and buying, extra social events and work.  And in the relative emptiness I see opportunities to start projects I’ve been meaning to get to and tasks I want to finish. I feel have time and choices – and those are precious. I’m determined to keep that feeling going. For me, in my business particularly, that means putting in place good processes and embedding productive habits.

I love walking and during the Christmas break I started using Audible to listen to business books rather than just zoning out to music. What a fantastic use of time that has turned out to be. I’ve been striding out to Atomic Habits by James Clear. The underlying principle is the compound effect of making marginal improvements in performance – and forming good habits is key to that success.

For someone who loves order, structure and models it’s heaven!

I have been conscious for a while that the very principles I work hard with my clients to implement in their businesses are often the ones I need to work on myself. Here a few snippets of wisdom that I nearly always have to drum home with clients:

  • Review your pricing regularly – and act on it.
  • Do a small amount of targeted marketing well rather than a variety of activities randomly.
  • Keep in touch with prospects.
  • Keep in touch with existing clients
  • Use templates where possible – even if you still need to personalise them occasionally.
  • Identify the routine activities and schedule them.
  • Outsource or delegate what you’re not best at. (Start with something small if you find this particularly hard).
  • Plan the business then plan the people

(To be fair, I’m good at some of these – but not all.)

Hopefully, I’m not alone in seeing January as a fantastic month. If you struggle to get to grips with it and can only see confusion and chaos in your business let’s talk!

February, however, is another matter. I need to do some work on keeping my spirits high for that one!

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.

Getting started Read More

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?

Read More

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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