A Survey Shows a BIG Disconnect

My local business weekly newspaper published the results of a July 2014 Wells Fargo/Gallup survey of 603 small business owners.  The survey asked the respondents to list the single biggest business challenge they currently face.  In looking at the survey results, I found a couple of concerns that are counter to some core ActionCOACH concepts.  Here are the survey results:

CHALLENGE                                        %

  • Attracting Customers                               13
  • Government Regulations                         11
  • Financial Stability / Cash Flow               11
  • The Economy                                              11
  • Government (general) / Taxes                10
  • Hiring Qualified Staff                                  7
  • Product Improvements / Updates            6
  • Healthcare / Obama Care                           6
  • Competition with Larger Corporations    6
  • Cost of Running Business                           5
  • Credit Availability                                         4
  • Marketing / Advertising                              4
  • Nothing / No Challenge                               2
  • Seasonal Issues                                              1
  • Employee Benefits                                        1
  • Don’t Know                                                     1
  • Other                                                                1                                             TOTAL       100%
  First of all, nearly one third (32%) of the owners are challenged by exactly the same issues (Government Regulations, The Economy and Taxes) that their competitors are faced with.  At ActionCOACH we advise our clients and aspire to live “above the line” of choice, taking Ownership/being Accountable/being Responsible for our results, rather than being “below the line”, Blaming others/making Excuses/being in Denial.  (For additional information about above/below the line, visit ozprinciple.com and/or read or listen to The OZ Principle by Roger Connors and Tom Smith and Craig Hickman).  Regulations, The Economy and Taxes are not challenges to the business owners who operate above the line and refuse to make excuses for their less than stellar results and treat these issues as opportunities to outpace their competitors. The BIG Disconnect I found within the survey results is the 9 percentage point difference between the top challenge, Attracting Customers (13%) and Marketing / Advertising (4%).  This gap demonstrates one of the top issues my colleagues and I find at our prospects and new clients, namely not viewing marketing as an investment aimed at “buying” customers.  It seems that everyone wants more customers, but do not have a realistic attitude about marketing.  It always amazes me how many business owners I meet who believe that simply having a better mousetrap and opening their doors will attract customers.  Today’s market environment is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing due to the greater opportunities to cost effectively reach very large audiences with our marketing messages.  It is a curse due to the tremendous amount of “noise” that there is out in the marketplace.  Our clients who view marketing as an investment, who therefore, establish proper and useful metrics, and are prepared to respond to what their metrics tell them, consistently outperform their rivals. If you are not pleased with the number of customers/clients/patients you have, I suggest that you contact me or one of my ActionCOACH colleagues before you contact a marketing consultant.  If you build the proper foundation and expectations, your marketing will be much more effective when you begin your next marketing campaign.

Would I Fire My Client If I Owned His Company?

During a coaching session the other day, one of my clients asked me a very interesting question.  To paraphrase his question –> given his shortcoming number one, and shortcoming number two, and etc., “if you (meaning me) owned my (meaning his) company and I was your employee, would you fire me?”  At first I was, I must admit, speechless.  After gathering my composure I realized a couple of things:
  • All of the shortcomings he mentioned represented areas that are outside of the ownership zone. They all focused on working IN the business rather than working ON the business. They revolved around tasks that he could, and should delegate.  My client owns a mid-sized manufacturing company with a front office team that has the theoretical capacity to accomplish most, if not all, of the items he mentioned.  On the other hand, his front office team may not be the right team to accomplish the items.  Which led me to my second realization …
  • Being an owner is very different from being an employee. An owner has several prime responsibilities, among them are:
    • To create and maintain a success environment for his team
    • To create, communicate and live the company’s Mission, Vision and Culture (M/V/C)
    • To design, build and lead the company and its team to ensure consistent delivery of the company’s M/V/C
So my answer to his question was that as an employee I might fire him.  As an owner however, he, as is the case for all of us, could improve.  I told him that it is time to build the kind of team to whom he could confidently delegate, not abdicate, those items that he shouldn’t be doing, is not good at or simply doesn’t like doing.  Effective and successful delegation will enable him to concentrate on working toward growing the business and fulfilling the company’s M/V/C, in other words, to grow as an owner.

Afraid To Take A Vacation?

This week’s edition of my local business weekly quoted a ADT Small Business Getaway Survey.  The survey about small business owners’ attitudes toward taking vacation found that:
  • 55% Never travel without their cellphone
  • 45% Find it hard to “check out” while away
  • 25% Feel nervous about the business while away
  • 21% Feel guilty about leaving their business unsupervised
Pretty chilling, to say the least.  Actually, I found these survey results to be quite distressing.  Why?  For several reasons, including:
  • Most of the business owners who responded are not getting the full benefits of business ownership.
  • The results reflect things that are almost completely avoidable by successful business owners.
  • The survey indicates that these business owners are not planning their businesses.
At ActionCOACH we define a successful business as A Commercial Profitable Enterprise That Works Without The Owner.  We coach our clients to invest a significant amount of their time toward working on their business, rather than working in their business.  This includes planning the growth of their business.  Without a business growth plan, a road map for the business, businesses grow organically and quite often go too far down a road that is unproductive, hitting the “Oh S**t” moment.  That is one of the prime reasons that the failure rate for new businesses is as high as it is. In order to increase your odds of success, your growth plan must include:
  • An organizational chart, now (even if your name is in every box), 1 year and 5 years in the future.
  • The complete definition of your Products and/or Services. (see my post of 8/15/2014 http://actioncoachmichaelbreitman.com/?p=182)
  • Your Mission/Vision/Culture statements
  • And many of the elements of a classic business plan, such as marketing plans, budgets, etc.
Granted, all of these items are dynamic.  However, without starting points your ability to build your business, to have the right team, to create economic growth for yourself and community will be limited. Don’t be one who is afraid to take a vacation.  Start working on your business NOW, before it is too late.  If you would like assistance with working on your business or you wish to accelerate your progress toward your business goals, contact me or the ActionCOACH business coach in your area.

What Can We Learn From Our “Almost” Competitors?

Last week, while coaching one of my medical industry clients, I had a major, multi-part Blinding Flash of the Obvious (BFO).  This client’s medical practice has many competitors, both medically and geographically.  One competitor (called LuxDocs in this blog) in particular, has positioned themselves to be “high-end”, charging an annual fee for access to their doctors. Initially, my client did not consider LuxDocs to be a direct competitor even though they address the same area of medicine.  However, as we went down the list of LuxDocs’ actual and perceived value points and benefits, 24/7 doctor access for example, it became obvious that my client offered, or could offer, many of the same perceived high value services and benefits as their “almost” competitor. Our discussion progressed into two areas:
  1. Which of the services and benefits that my client already offers are valued by their patients but are not currently emphasized within their internal perception  or external marketing?
  2. What services and/or benefits could they add that are of perceived high value by patients, but could be offered with low additional cost?
BFO Part 1 – This concept isn’t only applicable to medical practices – substitute the word Customer or Client for Patient and re-read 1 and 2 above.  Now look at your product or service through the lens of what is already included, or could be included, in your offering that are perceived as high value/benefit, but that you haven’t emphasized? BFO Part 2 – Remember, look at product or service aspects that are of high value to your clients, customers, patients or whoever makes up your target market.  This is not necessarily about what you and your team value, it is about what your market values.  In other words, work to understand the entire, complete definition of your product, not just the obvious. BFO Part 3 – This is closely related to the concepts presented in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.  Add high value items to the design of your product or service while eliminating high cost low value items. Action Steps – As many of my current clients have already done:
  • Completely define your product or service.
  • Make a list of as many; reasons to become your customer, ways you add value to your customer, and benefits, both small and large, of being your customer as you can.  Remember, from their point of view, not yours.  Shoot for 100.
  • Your complete product definition and the list of your value points form a major part of your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Make sure you constantly and consistently communicate all of these aspects of your UVP both externally and internally.
  • Read Blue Ocean Strategy.
  If you would like assistance with the process implied above or you wish to accelerate your progress toward your business goals, contact me or the ActionCOACH business coach in your area.

What Can We Learn About Business From The Boston Pops – Part 1

While at Tanglewood last night for a wonderful Boston Pops Orchestra concert under the baton of conductor Keith Lockhart, I started thinking (as I often do) about business.  It was then that a very powerful analogy struck me … a successful business is analogous to a symphonic orchestra.
  • An orchestra has sections; violins, cellos, violas, percussion, etc. – a business has, or will have, departments; production, shipping, marketing, sales, etc.
  • An orchestra has management; first chairs, section leaders, conductor, etc. – a business also has management; department heads, managers, executives, etc.
  • Most importantly, an orchestra has both a local (short-term) mission, the score of the piece they are performing and a global (long-term) mission, delivering beautiful, meaningful music to the audience. Your business, to be successful, not just in the short-term, but in the long-term as well, MUST have both a global mission and local (departmental) missions in order to consistently deliver value to your customers.
Just like the Boston Pops and The Boston Symphony benefits from the teamwork that starts with their mission and culture, and enables them to deliver beautiful music night after night, so can your business benefit from the strong team based performance that results from having a powerful, communicated and genuine mission and culture.

How To Grow My Business And Not Lose My Edge?

During many coaching sessions with my clients one theme that constantly reappears is how to grow a business in balance.  For growing businesses, losing sight of their culture, their mission, their excellence, or their operational consistency is a constant concern.  The faster the rate of growth, the greater the danger. I recently read a great article by Leigh Buchanan in the March 2014 issue of Inc Magazine that addresses exactly this important concern (http://www.inc.com/magazine/201403/leigh-buchanan/how-to-scale-your-company.html).  I am sure you will garner a few useful insights that will help you grow your business in balance.

What Can We Learn About Business From My Granddaughter?

A few weeks ago my 20-month-old granddaughter suffered a broken pinky as the result of a stroller mishap.  A few days after the accident my son-in-law sent me this photo of my granddaughter multi-tasking. After admiring how cute she is in the photo, I started thinking about, of all things, business. Many “experts” have differing opinions about the effectiveness of multi-tasking, everything from it works, it is efficient, it is possible, to it doesn’t work, it is not efficient, it is impossible.  My experience convinces me that the effectiveness of multi-tasking is highly situational.  Multi-tasking is a subject onto itself, and not the primary take away from this photo. The primary business lesson to be gained from my granddaughter is about being adaptable.  We all need to be adaptable as to our investment of our time, our plans and our products or services. First, let’s address how we invest our time.  Think about it, how often during your business day do you find yourself working on items or tasks that were the furthest things from your mind at the beginning of the day?  I am willing to bet that even those of you who are very proficient at planning how you invest your time often find yourself off track at some point during your day, I know I do.  So if we are destined to have unplanned activities occupy anywhere from a few moments to major parts of our work day we must become time adaptable. How often have you read about a very successful company that became successful after its original business plan failed to yield the results it was seeking.  For example, the company we now know as Twitter was in fact founded as Odeo, a podcasting company.  When Apple launched iTunes podcasting, and made Odeo’s podcasting platform irrelevant, Evan Williams, CEO, Biz Stone and an Odeo employee named Jack Dorsey decided to create something called Twitter instead.  (Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4#ixzz2lyym7wSj).  This turning point displays adaptability at its finest, snatching success from the jaws of failure.  Odeo was both plan and product adaptable. I could site many other examples of companies and owners being adaptable, and I am sure you can add more than a few to my list.  The point of this is really about having the attitude, mindset and culture that allows, supports and facilitates being adaptable.  When the inevitable challenges of day-to-day business arise, will you complain, display counterproductive behaviors or will you view them as opportunities to learn, outpace your less adaptable competitors and to ultimately succeed?