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Every Business Can Use a Hand

This may seem like tooting my consultant horn but I wanted to share this story and some compelling observations.  It starts off with the typical referral to a small business that is struggling with sales, marketing, operations… basically direction. Morale is low and customer experience is not tracked.  I sit down with the owner who runs the show and begin the question and answer session to find out the details. I am appalled at the state of disarray and potential risk the business owner is completely ignorant of. We dive into his personal Pandora’s box and uncover many problems and few glimmers of hope. He rattled off answers in a dejected tone and comes across as beaten down. At that point I stop, wait and ask, “Do you really love what you do?” He said, yeah. “What made you start this business?” He spent 15 minutes talking about his original ideas, how great they were, his marketing strategy, beta customers… on and on. I stopped him in mid sentence and said, “Looks like you have all the answers to correct this situation.” He looked at me puzzled. “You need to rediscover your drive and get back on the right path, the rest will take care of itself.” He said, “really?” I replied, “are you ready?” He nodded and immediately sat straighter in the chair, took a deep breath, eyes began to sparkle, and he leaned forward. “How do we start?”

Business Consulting is StrategyGet a “Good” Consultant

This story is played out in many offices, boardrooms, coffee shops, and on kitchen tables every day. The common theme is a gutsy small business owner becomes lost in the daily grind and loses touch with what made his business great. Enter a “good” consultant. I mean “good” not a hack looking for cash. Stimulation, direction, formatting, processes and brainstorming lead to rekindling of the fire and the business is off.  All this sounds great on paper. What happens when the rubber meets the road?

What to Watch

Evaluate the following areas of your business and decide if they are adequate: revenue growth, operational standardization, risk avoidance, work force stability, product development, sales and marketing efficiency, and intellectual property. These are just a few of the critical areas in a business but positive change in any one category can create immediate value within the business.

Sales Operations Example

Let’s just focus on sales operations. If you are experiencing high employee/contractor turnover, low morale, lack of team work, theft, disorganization, poor reporting, lagging sales, inability to delegate, and troubled account management, then it’s time for you to bring in an outside resource. All of these symptoms come from poor company structure and can be immediately corrected with frequent meetings, clear communications, influx of technology, and adjustments in roles and responsibilities. In many cases the results will be simply astonishing. Ask yourself, “are you ready?”

Defining Quality in Your Business

How do you define quality in your business? Is it through measured revenues, customer feedback, market share, or process controls? All of these indicators can provide Quality in Businessinsight into business quality but none of them address it holistically. As children we are taught results represent quality not  process. For instance, a clean bedroom is indicative of hard work, organization, and perseverance but doesn’t touch on emotional or psychological value. The concept of quality is intrinsic but hard to place value on.

Types of Quality in Business

There are three primary areas of quality: personnel, product, and service. Each one can be addressed individually but must report back to the whole. Quality in the work force develops from human resource practices, company goals and culture, and individual expectations. Product quality is derived from a rigorous testing program within all aspects of the business. Service quality is demonstrated by customer feedback, loyalty, and referral. In each case quality links business practices to results.

Human Capital

Human capital is employee valuation by the company encompassing the combined knowledge, skill sets, and experience of its workforce. Employees can make or break a company and require management and oversight. Quality develops from a platform built on training, evaluation, feedback, empowerment, recognition, and reward. By nature, most employees want to exceed at their position but need direction, knowledge, and stability. Even in a sole proprietorship with one “employee” this platform can be developed with outside vendors, business networking, and alliances. No company should ignore the pursuit of quality in its work force.

Product Management

Many small businesses are built on introduction of a particular devised product or product mix to a target market. Initial growth is focused on market acceptance and market share rather than developing controls and optimization. Quality is usually measured after competition is identified as a threat and adjusted pricing, manufacturing, or marketing efforts can’t address the problem. Small businesses may fail or have to restructure at this point. Creating proper quality controls out of the gate can mitigate the negative results of introducing reflective change later in the product management process. Small businesses in particular have to link business strategy to quality.

Service, Service, Service

Customer service is an overused term in business designed to be a catchall phrase when dealing with various sales, marketing, and operational processes. Businesses need to pay attention to internal customers as well as external. In small business, communication, processes, and knowledge transfer are ways to demonstrate quality but must be measured and changed proactively. Quality of service results in easier processes, faster adaptation to market conditions, and lower infrastructure costs.

Executing Quality

Now that you have some focus areas to improve, what next? Use my Seven Step Method as a guide and follow these simply steps. Step 1, identify quality in each area of your business. Then, set up a measurement system. List potential changes and vet them against a group of advisers, core  customers, and employees to make sure they will add value. Finally, execute one small change and follow it through the process. Once the kinks are worked out, go for the gold!

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