Growth, Innovation and Emancipation

When I talk with business owners about the focus of my work, this phrase seems to speak to them in a relatable way.  A lot is wrapped up in these words both from a business and a personal perspective  (It also kind of rolls of the tongue and is a good conversation starter).  Taking each a step further:

Growth:  The ability to operate profitable and increase the value of the business.  It’s about developing people and processes while leveraging resources and technology in ways that preserve and expand those factors that made the business successful in the first place.  It is also about the growth of the owner as an individual – changing habits and priorities in support the goals of Growth, Innovation and Emancipation.

Innovation: Having the time, focus and awareness to think strategically along with a strong, flexible operational foundation that can respond to opportunities and improvise without losing control or damaging the core activities of the business.  It also means developing the entrepreneurial capability of employees – especially those responsible for allowing the Emancipation of the owner(s).

Emancipation:  Reducing the operational dependency the business has on the owner allowing him/her to focus on the important – both in and out of the business.  It means developing customer and employee loyalty to the business and not to the individual owner.  It is about creating intrinsic value in the business and laying the groundwork for exit and succession.

No one discipline is responsible for achieving Growth, Innovation and Emancipation.  It is an ‘integration’ and ‘synthesis’ of all aspects of the business – tangible and intangible.  It requires taking into consideration the top-down, bottom-up, inside-out, outside-in view in charting a path from the current reality to the ideal vision.  The effort is exciting, challenging and rewarding since every individual owner, business operation and market is unique.  Certainly there are some common principles and frameworks – but no one size fits all. Each must work toward and achieve Growth, Innovation and Emancipation in a way that work for them.

So what’s the purpose of this post?  Simply to express the term Growth, Innovation and Emancipation as the coinage of my realm.   I thank my client Monty Rostad for initially ‘coining’ this phrase for our work together and then graciously allowing me to use it as my calling card.

Outcomes Are What Count… Hire For The Business That You Want To Be

After my post about Breaking the Habit of Intervening (and related comments) I got to thinking about the true success factors for those people who fill the positions of Client Account Manager, Customer Relationship Manager, Project Manager, Consultant, etc.. As Ian Lurie points out in his comment, there are times when customers get fed up with their Account Managers and demand action by you, the owner. Sometime it’s about the Account Manager’s technical skills; however it has been my experience that is more often about the Account Manager’s intrinsic skills, capability, style or approach.
So I decided to list what I believe are those key success factors for people in this position. These are characteristics familiar to you, the owner, since you likely have most of them and they have been key to your success. While they may be intuitive, many small to mid-size businesses don’t make the effort to:

  • Articulate and prioritize these key success factors (along with others in their particular business)
  • Look for specific ways to identify or test for them in the interview process
  • Consciously develop ways to improve them up during the training and development process
  • Create specific methods and measurements for review and accountability related to these factors

So here’s my list of the key success factors for a Client Account/Relationship/Project manager – someone who…

  • Instills confidence in others whether on the phone, in email, in person
  • Knows when to stop talking
  • Listens more than they talk
  • Asks good questions
  • Willing to say ‘I don’t know’
  • Able to say ‘I don’t know’ in a way that still instills confidence
  • Willing to tell you something you don’t want to hear
  • Able to tell you something you don’t want to hear in a way that still instills confidence
  • Takes responsibility
  • Appropriately articulates the client’s responsibility in the success of the project/relationship
  • Admits mistakes
  • Learns from mistakes
  • Can point out mistakes of others without causing them to feel incompetent or become defensive
  • Responds to mistakes by any perpetrator in a way that instills confidence
  • Flexible communication style
  • Perceptive in identifying other’s communication style and adapting accordingly
  • Understands technology as a tool to accomplish an objective – not an isolated activity
  • Anticipates problems, conflicts, log jams, etc.
  • Proactively finds alternatives to get the job done
  • Proactively communicates with the right people
  • Able to influence others in an appropriate way to get the job done
  • Interested in what’s going on in the world, community and industry
  • Likes to learn
  • Has common sense, practical approach

Of course no one has it all – but I would rather go into an employment relationship clear about areas of weakness so I could deal with it proactively. Of course identifying these in the interview process or early in the employment is not necessarily very easy – a subject for future posts.
What would you add (other than very industry specific characteristics)? Do you specifically identify these during the hiring process or early employment period? How?

Are You Tripping Over Dollar Bills To Pick Up Pennies?

Confusing the concepts of costs and investments can hurt the future of your business.
No business grows solely by cutting costs. It grows through wise investments.
One client didn’t want to spend money on new computers because it would “cost” thousands of dollars. However when we looked more deeply, he was losing significantly more than that each year by not making the investment. Here’s how:

  • His employees were wasting hours each week because of the time it took to access and refresh the primary software applications that they used. That was time that would be recovered with new computers.
  • He was also paying his computer support vendor more money to fix or simply maintain the mishmash of old systems and different configurations.
  • He was missing out on new capabilities and efficiencies that could help him serve his clients better and more profitably

I call this tripping over dollar bills to pick up pennies.
When it comes to evaluating investment versus cost, a good place to start is by considering technology upgrades. Training is another, as is hiring temporary help to complete certain projects, rather than diverting experienced employees from the primary focus of developing business.
It’s a good policy to ask your employees for their perspective. After all, they’re the people most familiar with many of the tasks, so their input can be indispensable.
In no way do I advocate a philosophy of simply throwing money at a problem. Instead, I urge you to examine all cost decisions in light of the potential for a timely return on investment.
That’s how you will prosper.

5 Principles to Maximize Your Value Proposition

A colleague and I were talking recently about how we present our value propositions. This is always a topic of interest, especially for us consultant types. Clients hire us because they trust us (who we are) and because they believe they will gain something of value from working with us (our value proposition). Both must be authentic and clear and, when it comes to the ‘something of value,’ it must be what they value. Lenora Edwards wrote a great post on this subject titled “Sell Your Result, Not Your Process”.
Your value proposition should be integrated into all aspects of your business operation. To that end, I offer these 5 principles for maximizing the impact of your value proposition:

  1. Know it – From your client’s perspective
  2. Clarify it – Including your client’s responsibilities for a successful outcome
  3. Charge for it – Don’t lose money due to mononegotiatus
  4. Deliver it – With a consistent process that always keeps the end in mind
  5. Confirm it – To know the immediate and enduring nature of your results

Know it: As Lenora explains her post, the key is to know the value that you deliver from your client’s perspective. The more you know about how your value translates to your client’s needs on all levels, the better you can effectively present your value in a way that is relevant to a particular person or situation.
Clarify it: This is more than having an elevator speech and marketing materials. It is important to convey your value proposition consistently in how you interact and communicate as well as with the content and presentation of your materials, proposals, reports, invoices, etc. I also think it is important to clarify the responsibility that your client has in achieving a successful outcome and to be up front with them about it.
Charge for it: Your fee should reflect the value of the results you deliver, not the time it takes to deliver it. If you do 1 and 2 well, your prospective clients will ‘get it’ and you become a smart investment they can’t pass up. You can sabotage yourself if you don’t truly understand or believe in the value you deliver. I wrote an earlier post on this subject referring to a common malady that I call Mononegotiatus’ – The art of negotiating against oneself on behalf of one’s client. We have all done it, and it can be costly.
Deliver it: This is where the rubber meets the road and you do what you say you can do (given that the client understands and meets their responsibilities too). While it is results that count, your process is part of generating those results. Therefore, your process should consistently reinforce your value proposition and maintain your client’s confidence in you and in a successful outcome.
Confirm it: It is important to confirm that the value you think you delivered is the value that your client thinks they received. This is a key step for fine-tuning and continuously improving your value proposition in order to maximize the results that you and your clients achieve. I believe this should be a personal process and not relegated to some questionnaire or on-line survey (at least not as a primary means). I also think that it is a good idea to do this right after the engagement and once again after some time has passed. What you learn about the enduring nature of your value proposition can be very enlightening (and also point to new opportunities to serve).
Now it’s time for me to go back and re-read this post for myself so I can do a better job in my business…

Building an Asset versus Working For a Paycheck

Choosing to build your business as a valuable asset versus a paycheck has a significant impact on how you invest your time and resources. An asset requires a strategic perspective and a consistent focus on management (hence the term ‘asset manager’ in the financial world). A paycheck requires putting in the time to do the job you get paid for (and for business owners, that’s one paycheck for a lot of different jobs).

Many owners fall into the trap of working so hard for a paycheck that they lose sight of their business as an asset. That is, until they want to sell and wonder why the business isn’t worth as much as they think it should be.
If you want to build an asset that pays its manager a salary, throws off a good income return and delivers a strong capital gain you need to focus on the right things to make that happen – like these ten I wrote about a while back. the sooner you take action the more value you will gain (think compounding).

As Seth Godin says with his elegant simplicity, don’t confuse building a job with building a business. Either approach is fine – as long as it is a conscious decision.
Other Posts related to this subject:
Nearly every post I have written…
One of my recent favorites…

You Manage Customer Information not Customer Relationships

Customer Relationship Management or CRM is and has been a hot topic for quite a while.  CRM may be a popular acronym, but it is a misnomer since Customer (or other) Relationships aren’t ‘managed’, they are initiated, developed and maintained through quality interaction, good communication and the exchange of value.  CRM refers to a system of tracking information and is simply a tool or a ‘means’ to achieve the ‘end’ of great relationships with the right customers who are loyal, profitable and refer others like them.

These days there is no excuse for not knowing a whole lot of things about your customers that can help you understand them better and serve them more effectively (or let them go). It just take some thought and a bit of effort – and you don’t need a fancy system or a huge initiative to get going.  You probably have what you need already.  Nearly all basic accounting or operational systems provide designated or ‘custom’ fields where you can track things like:

  • Useful Attributes (Industry type, size, market. etc.) – to determine your reliance on (or opportunities in) different segments of your market
  • Source (referral, marketing campaign, web, phone call, etc) – to evaluate your ROI on different channels
  • Referred By  (i.e. another client or business associate)  – so you can track the total value the referring client or source and acknowledge and/or further develop the relationship
  • Related Companies/Organizations – so you can track your concentration with any one ‘parent’ organization of affiliated group to capitalize on additional opportunities or protect from over-dependence
  • Key Dates (initial, latest transaction / next follow-up date) – so you can contact those who have not done business lately and thank those who have (while offering additional value) and be sure to follow up in a timely way

And if for some reason your program really doesn’t handle this type of tracking, there’s always web based apps or good old fashion spreadsheets.

Most systems provide custom reporting or ‘ad-hoc query’ to access the database of information and/or export with transaction information that can give you a clearerpicture of your business and your customers (volume, frequency, average transaction, etc.).  You can also typically link information to Excel workbooks, other database programs and the many automated tools for marketing and communication  All this should be second nature for your information technology resources – internal or external (If not, it’s time to look elsewhere).

Use the resources you already have to understand more about your best, most profitable customers so you can develop the strong relationships that create more value at all levels.


Lock Your Data Doors

It seems that every day we hear about some internet security breach where sensitive information is stolen or put at risk. With so much data sent flying over wires and through the air, it’s not surprising that keeping confidential information secure is more difficult than ever.
Our dependency on computerized information means data security needs to be addressed by businesses of all sizes. The complexity of this issue is growing and ultimately you can’t control what happens on the Internet. Just don’t overlook the basics that you can control… things like:

  • Making sure you have the latest software updates and security patches installed
  • Using anti-virus software and keeping it updated
  • Logging out or shutting down computers at the end of the day
  • Using strong passwords and changing them consistently
  • Making sure that your backup media is protected (and usable)

Simple practices such as these can significantly improve security. Ignoring them is like leaving your house with the doors unlocked, windows left open and the alarm system turned off.

Do You Have An Elephant Weighing You Down?

Most of us have heard the expression “the elephant in the room” as a metaphor for a significant issue or problem that is obvious to nearly everyone yet still get’s ignored. These are usually emotionally charged issues that are hard to deal with so it’s easier to pretend they are not there.

Some of the elephants I see on the loose include:

  • People talking at each other but not really listening
  • Passive aggressive conflict between individuals or departments
  • A long-term employee who no longer fits
  • Projects in trouble beneath the surface of a rote status report

Elephants are big, cumbersome and leave a mess behind them. Doing nothing just lets that mess get larger and harder to clean up. Of course first you have to identify the elephant. It’s a good idea to go on ‘safari’ periodically and sit in on meetings with fresh eyes and ears. If it’s your meeting, then perhaps a fresh look in the mirror (or a safari guide) might be appropriate.Getting rid of the elephant in the room frees up a lot of space and energy for more creativity and productivity. The sooner you face the beast and deal with it the better.

What’s Good for Your Accountant May Not Be What’s Best For Your Business

Successfully running a thriving business depends on timely, accurate information that aids you operationally as well as financially.
For many owners, the only information system they have is their accounting software. These programs are usually set up by accountants for the primary purpose of financial and tax reporting. These purposes are certainly very important and appropriate. But when it comes to running your business the tools and resources that your accountant finds useful may not provide everything you need to make informed decisions. For instance:

  • Making real-time decisions about deploying cash or acting on potential collection issues
  • Tracking profitability by channel, product line and customer
  • Measuring productivity along with the true cost of delivery
  • Understanding trends and comparing your performance with industry standards

Even if your software (e.g. Quickbooks) has the necessary reporting capabilities, your accountant may not know to provide you with this type of decision support information. If you are not getting it, ask for it.
When it comes to utilizing your information systems remember that you are in the driver’s seat of your business and your needs come first.

What Keeps You Awake At Night?

As I write this it’s 4am. I’ve been lying awake since around 3am (which is the middle of the night for me). This happens with all too much frequency, where I wake up and then I lie there ruminating about things real or imagined like:

  • All of the things on my to-do list that have been there for … years?
  • Things (not on the list) that I know I should be doing that I am not
  • Financial doom & gloom, etc., etc

I don’t know what it is about the middle of the night. Maybe it’s the quiet or the dark (both inside the house and inside my head). I do know that there are probably thousands of other business owners out there lying awake right now too (most with much weightier issues than mine – but not blogging about it).
I wonder how many of the things that keep us awake at night are real/objective issues versus those ‘ghostly voices’ of inadequacy, insecurity and self doubt that haunt (many of) us.
So I ask the question (if anyone should even read this), what keeps you awake at night?