Entrepreneurs Growing Forward

Today our guest blogger Lindsey Harper Mac writes about the choices  small companies may have to make to survive the economic winter.  Lindsey is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area. She specializes in writing guest posts on social media and education. Currently, Lindsey is completing work on her master’s degree.

Entrepreneurs Growing Forward

When a business has been in existence for a few years, has solid cash flow and all is running smoothly, the life of the business owner can look easy to outsiders. But chances are, getting the company to that point required the owner and founder long hours of hard work and great financial and lifestyle sacrifices.

Independent small business owners often start their businesses by investing their life savings, taking out small business loans and even maxing out their credit cards to get the company started until funds from client billings start coming in. Many don’t even give themselves a paycheck for the first year or longer. This is a huge risk and sacrifice they and their families make. Even if the business succeeds, it means that numerous purchases, vacations and any spending that is not absolutely essential must be put on hold until the business gets on solid financial ground.

Likewise, the new business owner must often work long hours to get the business running smoothly and to get enough client billings in the pipeline so there is sufficient cash flow. This can take several months and sometimes years, creating an unbalanced lifestyle that is essentially all work and no play. Not everyone is willing to make these sacrifices. They aren’t willing to work that hard, that long or do without the things they want to make it happen.

But, if they don’t, and the business should fail, all the money they borrowed to invest in it is gone and must still be paid back.

Additionally, even owners of established companies must make hard decisions when the economy takes a downturn, or when a major client decides to cut costs and do in-house what they had been outsourcing to your small company.

One small company, Quality Environmental Professionals, Inc., or QEPI, headquartered in Indianapolis, had tough decisions to make late in 2008 and early 2009 when the economy took a downturn.

QEPI owner, Deb Peters, cut her company’s reliance on color copying, which was costing $9,000 every quarter, and implemented sharing files electronically, and using black and white copies when paper was necessary. Another change she made was in the employee break room, where she stopped buying employees’ coffee in individual packets and began purchasing large cans of coffee from Sam’s Club. By making these and other cuts, Peters was able to keep all of her 34 employees instead of making cuts by layoffs.

Other small businesses cut back on hiring cleaning and lawn care help and asked their employees to help with those tasks to prevent in-house layoffs. A survey of 100 human resource executives conducted by consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas found that more than 66.7 percent of these companies cut travel expenses, and more than 6 percent began letting their employees telecommute to cut office space expenses. Work instead could be done through online conference calls and other technology, such as instant messaging, to communicate with their customers, materials suppliers, vendors and with company employees in satellite offices. In some cases, the satellite offices were dispensed with altogether, resulting in even more savings, and employees in those offices now work from home.

Working together to get through lean times usually strengthens a business overall and positions it for growth during the next economic boom.

About the author: Lindsey Harper Mac is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area. She specializes in writing guest posts on social media and education. Currently, Lindsey is completing work on her master’s degree.

Also by Lindsey Harper Mac

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Out-sourcing – how to be good at it!

In the present climate the pressure to seek value for money through out-sourcing is stronger than ever.

Yes, you can save money but getting the full value from your outsourced service and making sure that it supports your business in the way you intended is complicated.

The financial benefits alone are often not properly understood.  The results of research by Warwick Business School working with IT group Cognizant showed that less than half (43 per cent) of all CIOs and CFOs have attempted to calculate the financial impact of outsourcing to their bottom line let alone determined the real value to their organisations. They don’t know the real value and it is doubtful that they are getting the outcomes they expected!

Here are some steps you can take to ensure you achieve real value from your out-sourcing activity.

1. Know why you are doing it

Don’t out-source just because the competition does it!

What do you expect from the service and what resource will be available to support it?

Can you specify what you need and will you be able to measure and monitor it when it is delivered?

Have you got experience of managing outsourced services or can you afford to buy that expertise?

How essential is this service to your business operations?

Can you afford to take the risk?

2. Be systematic but keep it simple

Work out a strategy for out-sourcing that your organisation can cope with!

If you are new to out-sourcing don’t go for a complicated strategy that involves many suppliers.

If you go for a complex supply chain, you will need to know how to manage it

If you go for multiple suppliers, you will need to know how to coordinate them

Start with a single and relatively simple business function and a single supplier and build from there.

Gain experience as you develop the approach

3. Know how you are going to measure and monitor

Many companies rely on service level agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are crucial to outsourcing arrangements but you will need more than a traditional SLA if you are interested in business improvement!

Measuring against an SLA will tell you about delivering the status quo

Most SLAs will not tell you if the service is really delivering benefits and the right outcomes to your operation!

You need to focus on business improvement rather than just service improvement processes!

Determine what evidence of success and the right outcomes really looks like and use it!

Use industry benchmarks IF they are useful to your business

4. Invest in the relationship for long-term value

Demands and expectations change over time!

This can lead to disagreements with your supplier which can erode the relationship

Agree at the start how you will recognize and respond to changes together

Share information honestly between you

6. Be an intelligent client

Don’t hand all your talent across to the supplier with the service

Keep enough expertise available so you can talk intelligently to your supplier about performance

Keep enough expertise to cope with changing your contractor if necessary in response to supplier failure or market changes

Keep enough expertise available to cope with business innovation.

Be honest with your supplier about your expectations and your customer base

But be prepared to learn from your supplier

You can find this as a slide presentation on LinkedIn at the following link  http://slidesha.re/hc0HyK

Outwitting the lovely Ondine, or making the right choices in hard times!

I watched a piece on breakfast television about a small child with something that sounded sinister, Ondine’s Curse.  This is a respiratory disorder that is fatal if untreated as sufferers stop breathing during sleep. It is very rare and the name is a reference to the myth of Ondine, a water nymph who had an unfaithful mortal lover. He swore to her that his every waking breath would be a testimony of his love. He was unfaithful so she cursed him; if he should fall asleep, he would forget to breathe. Eventually, he fell asleep and his breathing stopped. Anyway the story this morning was really about the child being able to be at home for Christmas because someone had invented a ventilator that was small enough for a child’s room!

Ventilators are usually large, cumbersome and difficult to accommodate! So this invention, not only adds to the happiness of a small child and her family, it also reduces the cost of her care to the NHS. No longer will she need expensive hospital resources, even with back up at home from community nursing staff, there will be a saving!

What struck me most was the need to take a long view when reducing costs. Inventing new equipment to reduce costs (and hopefully improve quality) long-term takes time and investment. Also, it requires creativity and teamwork! None of these qualities thrive in hard and uncaring environments. To achieve a climate that can deliver long-term ‘efficiency’ improvements while maintaining (or even improving) quality takes great leadership.

Exam question for December 2010 – do you think your leadership abilities would be up to the challenge? How are you going to maintain/improve them next year?

I would like to wish all readers a very Happy Christmas and a very creative New Year in this time of challenge! I hope you will come back because there will be lots more here next year to help you manage the changes you face!

Alice down the rabbit hole – or customer service and schizophrenia in the downturn!

I’m reading ‘Surviving Change – A Manager’s Guide’ from Harvard Business Press. It advises on managing in the downturn and opens with a discussion of different survival strategies – hard and soft!  In fact, most change is a mixture of the two and the strategy chosen usually reflects the underlying culture of the organisation!   How the mix works is critical because if it is not well managed it can become fraught with conflict and demoralising for people in the organisation; it can lead to a schizophrenic approach to customers.

The ‘hard’ approach to change is usually short-term and about economics  – cut costs and increase cash flow! If a unit, or an employee, cannot demonstrate how they add financial value, out they go with very little ceremony or concern for personal well-being. The change is usually hard driven from the top with little wider engagement.  Often consultants advise the magic inner circle and HR consultants deal with casualties that might cost the organisation.

Soft change focuses on developing the organisation to meet new conditions with high engagement across the piece from the leaders. Employees trust in the informal contract they have with the organisation and work towards its well being.

Sadly experience shows that neither soft or hard approaches work in isolation.  The hard approach works in the short term but with that alone you are usually left with a demoralised and disloyal workforce – your best employees probably left at a rate of knots when you started the change.  The soft approach can take years to embed and the market doesn’t stand still!

Most successful change is a combination of hard (rationalisation well managed) and soft (employee engagement and encouragement to learn new skills).  But if change is a reflection of underlying culture and that has conflicts within it, a change can put the whole organisation out of kilter.  What I’m thinking of here is an organisation that pays lip service to soft but is really hard.  I believe in the downturn this is likely to be an increasing problem, particularly in the service sector.

Clients of service companies, particularly in the UK public sector, like to hear how well the company manages its employees.  A tender panel may take great interest in training and development approaches but, of course, the final decision is usually made on the keenest price.  In the present climate the client is likely to continue to seek cost reductions, which mean lots of change to be managed.  This can lead a company into a kind of schizophrenia.  It flags up all the good things its HR team would like to do but finds itself increasingly having to make hard, and very short-term, decisions.  As a consequence, its own employees and its middle managers in particular, become confused and a little cynical!  In turn this impacts on the service delivered to the client – so the client pushes harder!

What is the answer.? Well maybe it starts with a little more honesty on both sides!   Perhaps clients should start being more realistic about how they expect their service companies to manage for the price they are prepared to pay.  Perhaps the companies should be a little more honest with clients, and  with themselves, about the real costs of delivering ‘cuts’  At the end of the day, a client gets what they pay for and it they want to see services well managed with employees committed to the services they deliver, they need to recognise there will always be a cost even in the downturn!

MAKING PERFORMANCE MEANINGFUL WITH MPM REVIEWS

Geoff Edmundson and I have founded G&W Consulting.  We both have a depth of experience in contract management as well as project & programme management and the management of organisational change. G&W Consulting will provide MPM Reviews – evidence based contract performance reviews, peer reviews and healthchecks across the lifecycle of service contracts; this includes advice and guidance on handling the follow-on business improvement issues and related assurance & risk governance mechanisms. G&W Consulting has developed and successfully piloted a peer review methodology – the MPM Review. This investigates the readiness, fitness-for-purpose, direction and performance of service contracts, service delivery operations and organisation throughout the lifecycle of the contract. We provide independent practitioners from outside of the organisation who use their experience and expertise to examine the progress and likelihood of successful service delivery. The MPM Review is used to provide a valuable additional perspective on the issues facing the responsible team and external challenges to the robustness of an organisation, systems, plans and processes. If you wish to find out more about G&W Consulting and the services we provide follow this link

FIVE TIPS FOR YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY FOR HARD TIMES

We are all going through change all the time.  But at the moment many of us are going through changes we would not have chosen as a result of the poor state of the Economy.

All change requires some form of communications/media management.  It’s vital that you have a strategy in place especially if you’re hoping that social media will play a role in your career advancement or your business survival business.

Here are 5 tip for your social media strategy

1. Integrate Online and Offline
Your communication’s strategy needs to cover both your off line and and online activities (see our recent post about managing your brand)  – you want to maximise both forms of interactions.  You are going to make every effort, campaign, and initiative count.

2. Start with a plan
Before you jump in, make sure you have a plan – think about who you are trying to influence.  Who has an interest in you or your business and what you want to provide.  List them and then decide – how important they are  – how much influence they have over your future – you can score them out of five under each heading!  Those with the highest score are the people to concentrate on. For social media you are usually looking at communities – what communities are you going to engage in?  Now what will  engagement will look like? What is the message and where are you going to communicate it – blogs, social network sites, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook etc.?  How much time have you got and how many resources do you have available?  Now we are going to concentrate on social media

3. Engage in Conversations
When you use social media, it’s important to engage in conversations and get to know people just like in the off-line world.  Don’t just get in there and start pitching – it will just put people off!  Don’t be anxious to promote yourself or business at first,!  Add value and expertise and win respect in your conversations.  When you have done that opportunities will open up to talk about you and your business.  You need to win the right to pitch!

4. Monitor your Brand
Use tools like Google Alerts, Scoutlab, and Radian6 to monitor what’s being said about you, your company, your competitors and the market you are targeting. Knowing what’s being said about you and/or your brand can make you aware of your brand evangelists as well as your brand assassins. Knowing what’s being said about your competitors and the market can also make you more competitive. Simply putting your name and the name of your company into a search engine regularly will tell you a lot about your web presence!

5. Focus and Ignore the Noise
There are so many conversations taking place and so much interesting content that it easy to be distracted.  This is where your plan comes in – remind yourself what you are trying to say and the communities you want to address.  Stick to the plan – but review it at regular intervals as you get to understand more about social media.  You can streamline your plan to better target individuals and the communities that you need to be a part of. It also saves time – social media is so enjoyable to use it can be the greatest time waster in the world!

Above all remember –  “If content is king, then conversationion is queen.” – John Munsell, CEO of Bizzuka

GETTING READY FOR THE UPTURN

One thing is for certain, the recession will end and there will be an upturn in the economy!

What can we do?

  • For years in the “good times” we’ hoped for an island of calm – a period of consolidation to shore up the foundations. A chance to get those IT systems “sorted”, a chance to really look at costs and get even better deals with suppliers, exploit the the systems we have rather than add more systems, a chance to exploit Knowledge Management and show the value it can really deliver.  As an individual, a chance to get some training done or at least to read the latest business books and research on the internet.
  • It’s a time to review our approach to technology and where it is going.  How can we future proof our organisation and be ready to exploit what is available when the upturn appears. And not be chasing the pack trying to implement these systems when they are the norm and our firms are growing. Remember some of the new technologies now will be the next equivalent of corporate email (and email will probably be dead!). As an individual now is the time to educate ourselves about these new developments – social networking is an obvious example
  • Time to be wary and look after your remaining staff. Growth will bring churn into your departments, there will be opportunities galore for people as other firms grow and need to move beyond the skeleton staff they’ve had to operate with under current times. Your best people will be out the door first if they haven’t been “looked after”.  As an individual again begin to look out for the signs and prepare to be wanted again – what choices will you make for yourself?
  • Maybe now it’s time to use any downsizing to re-organise and refresh your teams, mould them for what’s to come. Not for what is now but for the future! How can you and your employees work more flexibly and be ready for future changes – how can you become more resilient?

But basically get out of the bunker, be creative and get ready! The upturn is coming!

10 PERSONAL BRANDING TIPS TO HELP IN YOUR JOB SEARCH

These tips will help you create and communicate a brand that will help employers choose you:  Remember you are the product, and the employer is the consumer. A clear and compelling career brand helps employers understand the benefits of your product and give you an advantage in the job market.

  1. Successful career brands weave together three A’s: Authentic image, Advantages, and Awareness. Project an image of your authentic self, focus on the advantages you offer in getting the job done, and make employers aware of those advantages.
    • Authentic Image: Your brand should be founded on authenticity. It should be about who you are, your work-life purpose and what you are committed to in life. As a starting point to develop your brand, brainstorm a list of all the things you are good at. Then identify your passion. Using your brainstormed list of what you’re good at, circle those items you are most passionate about. What is number one?
    • Advantages: Once you’ve identified your top pick, determine the advantages to that item. For instance, if you are good at resolving conflicts what could be the advantages to a new employer – greater cooperation among team members, which leads to enhanced productivity. List at least three distinct advantages for your brand.
    • Awareness: Internationally known consultant and author Alan Weiss, states that a brand is “an awareness factor.” Above all, look for opportunities to make the right people aware of your brand. Get on the radar screen. The best brand in the world is useless unless people are aware of it. Initiate an orchestrated campaign to “brandish” your brand. You can get your name out there by writing articles, speaking at association meetings, doing some voluntary work.
  2. Conduct some some analysis to determine what the market conditions are for your emerging brand. Is there a need for what you offer? Are companies hiring in that area? Are there competitors for what you want to do? If the answers to these questions are negative, consider fine-tuning your brand.
  3. Once you’ve determined your passionate competency and the market demand, begin to determine the best approach for positioning your brand. Think unique positioning. Are you the best at creating product marketing strategies, are you the first one to have mastered how to conduct electronic meetings for your work team, are you the most accomplished, award-winning sales professional in your company/industry?
  4. Branding can be accomplished through verbal and visual means. Verbal branding includes your sound bites and success stories, while visual branding is accomplished through your actions, attitude, and attire. Hone your product benefits into a short 3-Point Marketing Message that conveys your unique strengths. This message/elevator pitch should be a critical sound bite in your branding campaign.
  5. Create a statement on the benefits you bring to keep you focused in your search, help networking contacts know how to help you, and explain your value to interviewers. Align your statement with employer buying motivators, such as generating revenue, saving money, or solving a problem.
  6. Be prepared for the networking opportunities that abound, both internally and externally. Be ready with a sound bite that describes your unique brand. Mix and match your success stories and sound bites to create a comfortable yet compelling 2-Minute Introduction.
  7. Practice. You must be able to deliver your sound bites naturally, without appearing as though you’re reading a telemarketing script.
  8. Visual branding means you must look the part. Ask for wardrobe advice from someone who is successful and has a good sense of style. If uncertain about how to dress for a networking event or interview, err on the side of formality.
  9. Visual branding also means you must act the part. Candidly evaluate your mindset, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. Are these consistent with others in your field who have attained notable success?
  10. Find a person or two who will respectfully and selflessly support you in your commitment to shaping and enhancing your ideal image. A coach can be an ideal support person.

Branding will either contribute to or take away from the chemistry you want to create with employers. Remember to look for opportunities to deliver your brand. In doing so, you’ll bring value, benefits, and advantages to those you serve. Enjoy creating and communicating a clear and compelling brand!

PRIORITIES FOR THE GREAT BOSS IN A RECESSION

In an earlier post on being a great boss in a recession, we wrote about aligning your priorities with the needs of your business. We emphasized how important it was to “explain your priorities clearly to your team – make sure they understand.  If things have changed make sure they understand why!”

What should the priorities be for you in a recession? Here are some ideas!

Observation

Now is the time to work on your business, not in it! You need to understand your resources (including your suppliers), your costs and your market; and how they are moving over time. Make sure you know what resources you have you got in terms of infrastructure and staffing. Who are your suppliers and what is in their contracts? Take some time out to do some mapping  and make sure you understand the real detail of your costs. On the market front, now is the time to look at those trade journals that have been piling up in the corner and to get on the net and look at your trade association’s web site! And don’t forget to check your bills and look out for those expenses from which you gain no real benefit!

Repair

Stand back when you observe and rate your organization realistically! If you mark it out of 10 on operations, infrastructure and marketing – what mark would you give? Determine what essential improvements you need to make!  Plan those improvements and then monitor their implementation!  Do it and do it now – you may not get another chance!

Planning

Get out your business plan and revise it realistically. Re-do your SWOT analysis! Set clear targets for income and expenditure. From now on you are going to monitor it not put it back in the drawer! Some of the changes you make will be dependent on some of the later items here.

Rationalisation

If you understand your contracts, you will know how you are likely to be able to open them up and apply pressure to get better agreements. Your suppliers would probably rather reduce the price than see you go out of business but be reasonable – they are going through the same hard time. Defer non-critical investment that doesn’t have a short-term pay-off. Consolidate your infrastructure and operations where you can. Pay only for what you need and don’t over purchase equipment or services. Make sure your team understands why this is important – their jobs may depend upon it!

Keeping your customers warm

Work on the relationship and get them talking to you – there may even be new opportunities. You need to understand who is going to survive and do well in the new climate and who is not. Be very realistic about pricing – are you in a position to help them out and will that be critical to their survival?

Thinking the unthinkable

You hope that your organization will survive intact and even do well in the changed circumstances. You are a good boss and you don’t want to let people go. But you may have to. You need to understand who is essential to your business and who isn’t. Remember this is not just about their job role but also about intellectual capital! Who do you rely on for essential information in a crisis? Who has the closest relationship with your customers? Consider the alternatives to redundancy – part-time working, career breaks etc! Know what the law and good practice requires you to do if you do need to let people go and know where to go for help . Make your own plan and then keep it to yourself! I would keep it off site at home – when and if you need to tell your team about this – you want to be in charge of the message.

Communication

Involve your staff in the processes above where you can. Help them to support you and themselves and be as honest with them as you can. They want the organisation to survive. Handle their feelings with sensitivity and keep them on your side. They really are your greatest asset.

I hope all of this works for you and that you not only survive but thrive and grow! I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this and how you are doing!

10 Ways to Keep Your Job in a Recession – Stay Employed | Willie Jackson – williejackson.com

This is a great article and there is more at the link to Willie Jackson’s site below!

April 6, 2009

Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.
– Ronald Reagan

1. Have a positive attitude
Stressful economic conditions are bad for (almost) everyone – why make it worse? Wake up every morning in a posture of gratefulness that you’re employed, and make every effort to radiate that positivity to others. Choose not to add to the chatter at the waterhole (or break room, as it were) about who got fired, who might be next, and what so-and-so in HR said. Until you’re actually fired (God forbid), the anxiety and uncertainly are self-imposed. Be positive.

2. Save your company money
There is no better time than now to pitch the idea to your boss that you’ve been sitting on. Everyone in management – all the way up the ladder – is looking for ways to save money and keep things running smoothly. You have an idea to streamline inter-departmental communication?

You’ve got an idea to sell additional work to the client on one of you company’s largest accounts? Your proposal will likely get more consideration now than it ever would have before. Be proactive.

Lots more good stuff at the link

Keep Your Job in a Recession – Stay Employed | Willie Jackson – williejackson.com.