Someone once said to me… “You don’t get in a car to set out on a journey without making a plan for that journey and knowing the destination of where you are ultimately headed. So why would you do that in the all-important journey of life?” Well it’s the same with the journey to sustainable and ultimately EXPONENTIAL business growth. You need a map of where you want to go – if you ever want to get there!

So often SME business owners just go into work and well… work. They all but blow around in the business wind, flitting from one deal, project or system to another, without any kind of properly thought out plan or map or strategy for their systemised growth. They find themselves in places they never imagined they’d be. Sometimes good but mostly frustrating and sometimes just bad. It’s bad when they are stuck and want to grow but they can’t. A bit like an overeater who knows that to lose wait sustainably he or she should quit fad diets, get more exercise and just eat less processed crap and way more vegetables… but for whatever reason they just can’t stop themselves lying on the sofa, watching mindless tv and eating cake – then every now and then doing the Atkins or another extreme weight loss attempt. Hmmm, I reckon that’s pretty much the denial pattern of the frustrated SME business owner too!

So what should the metaphorically obese, Netflix-surfing, cake-eating SME owner who just can’t make it over the brow of the hill to exponential business growth in his or her current incarnation, do?

He or she needs to implement an action plan for a  ‘Systems Strategy for Growth’!

Imagine this scenario:

A really hard working and commmited SME business owner. One who has been in business for some years now. He or she may well make ‘a very-nice-living-thank-you’ and have tasted and smelled real success. But they just can’t quite seem to get over the brow of the hill in order to enjoy the realms of  EXPONENTIAL business growth.

frustratedsmebusinessowner
So what’s stopping them? Well, its usually a combination of the following… 

  • Too much time wasted on the phone doing boiler room-style cold calling to cold leads (all of whom have watched The Wolf of Wall Street – and are now way too marketing-savvy to succumb to such outdated games). It’s so frustrating to see sales guys bashing the phones like this day after day, when, with a decent website, some well worded Lead Pages and a few tweaks of an API on software like Hubspot, they could be following red hot leads instead…
  • Too much time spent assembling ‘bespoke’ quotes (and if you apply Pareto’s 80/20 rule that means 80% of time allocated to quotation creation is pretty much not financially productive). With the right ‘Quoting Software’ and when a business has all its services tidily packaged as inventory items in its accounts system (the accounts system of course should be neatly synched with the CRM!) impressive, personalised quotes can be delivered in a fraction the time.
  • Too much time spent faffing around trying to manually input bits of dislocated, financial data; then report on it using whatever old-skool book-keeping mechanism is in place (usually Excel or if the boat has been pushed out – Sage 50 – throw Paypal into the mix and you get another layer of confusion for everyone involved!) Wouldn’t it be better to report from just one place?
  • Too much time spent jumping into various systems to find out what has previously happened in a client’s relationship history, (think – flitting between a combination of: Excel, Outlook & Outlook Notes, the standalone CRM eg. ACT or Goldmine, the standalone accounts system e.g. Sage 50 or Quickbooks and the standalone Email marketing software eg. Mailchimp. The list could go on and on…).
  • Too much time spent exhausting themselves sending ‘strategy’ emails to co-workers really late at night because it’s the only time they get to think. During the day they are too busy rushing around trying to firefight all the stuff they need to in order to keep their old tanker of a business afloat. The business that, if it doesn’t get its act together and systemise ASAP, will probably waver between making a profit or loss of only 10% more or less for its entire lifespan (that’s if it doesn’t just keel over and die from exhaustion in the meantime…) AND All BECAUSE ITS SYSTEMS ARE JUST NOT FIT FOR GROWTH!
  • Too much time spent worrying about the fact that, in the event he or she should keel over and die, nobody else in the world would really have a clue how to tie all the disparate threads of the business together. Which leads to….
  • Too much time spent lying awake at night thinking “who will pay the milkman, the staff, the mortgage and keep all the children in bread and water if I go under?…”

Crikey, it’s exhausting just thinking about it, let alone living through it! Such an SME business is its own worst enemy. It is pretty much a ‘self-harmer’. Not for want of hard work and commitment of course. But this business is just fundamentally cutting off its own nose to spite its face and consequently deviating from its rightful trajectory of exponential growth and success. A trajectory that IS achievable and on offer to ALL businesses functioning in our current digital marketplace; those that is, that are brave enough to get out of the denial phase, be bothered to devote time to thorough research and ACTIVELY ENGAGE WITH THE SOLUTIONS. A trajectory that is on offer to ALL because there is a totally level digital playing field out there. A playing field made flat by the mind-blowing capabilities of APIs* and the array of cloud hosted tools and platforms that work with them and are inexpensively available today.

Such an SME  business cannot be lean and nimble and embrace its rightful trajectory to success, when it persistently wastes its own time on outmoded business practices and unproductive, self-destructive, bad business habits.

Now imagine this scenario:

The wise and visionary SME business owner who has been in business for a few years now. He or she has tasted and smelled success and is prepared to get really honest, do some hard work and really GO TO ANY LENGTHS in order to get over the brow of the hill and enjoy the fruits of their labour in the realms of well-deserved EXPONENTIAL business growth.

    • This wise SME owner realises that in order to change his or her unproductive behavioural patterns they absolutely have to take time out of the whirlwind of day-to-day business and do some (probably quite painful) work on themselves and their businesses.
    • He or she needs to do some critical deconstruction of existing processes and honest analysis of why bad habits occurred in the first place.
    • He or she needs to research & uncover essential new digital tools that will get help get them out of the rut and shed addictive, redundant, bad business habits.
    • This wise SME owner will replace pride and bloodymindedness (the two double edged character traits that have both got them where they are today and kept them going – but will also stop them from going any further) with a bit of humility and real open mindedness to knew technologies. He or she will be brave. They will be the absolute champion of this new digital open-mindedness within their organisation (they don’t necessarily need to do all the donkey work but they DO need to make sure they are onboard every step of the way in order to reinforce staff morale**).
    • He or she might well decide to get help. They realise it would be better not to do all this on their own and to get some objective help when embarking on the action plan. Possibly even outside, expert help.
    • Such an SME Business Owner needs to implement an action plan for their personal ‘Systems Strategy for Growth’!

Are you the wise SME Business Owner? Personalise this action plan & create your own ‘Systems Strategy For Growth’:

  • SCHEDULE TIME OUT. Either a chunk of time or say, an afternoon a week, for a month. Dedicate this time to thinking and reflecting on how far you have come and where you want to go. Brainstorm with a close colleague or friend if you can but make sure it is someone you can be honest with; someone who shares your vision and gets where you are planning to go. Ensure you spend this time somewhere far away from day-to-day business. If you can’t fit in a trip to a lodge with an inspiring mountain view – just leave the office and go somewhere peaceful. Take a note book and pen and DO NOT CHECK EMAILS OR TAKE CALLS.
  • WRITE ALL YOUR PROCESSES DOWN. Write down every single important task in the chain of stuff that needs to happen for your firm to deliver its product(s) and/or service(s) to clients. If there are things that some staff members do that you’re not sure about; get sure. You need to be absolutely thorough at this stage. Understanding the minutiae of process functions will massively impact on decision making after the research phase. And if you miss something out here, it could painfully blow-up a plan part-way through the implementation phase much later on! Ouch.
  • CREATE SOME MAPS. Start with an Organisation Chart if you haven’t already got one (its crazy how many SMEs don’t really know who reports to who and who’s job title is what!) Then map or chart all the software products used to complete an associated essential task and note by whom it is used. Start off with a pen and a large piece of paper (there is something quite cathartic about using pen and paper) then tech-it-up when you’re sure it’s right. Add some visuals to an online version if you can. Use a software like Lucidchart to bring maps/diagrams to life and make them collaborative/interactive.
  • EXAMINE YOUR MAPS CAREFULLY. What are you doing that really NEEDS to be done. Where do you or your colleagues ‘waste’ time the most? Where in your ‘dream’ business day would you automate a procedure. Mark it on the map. Get your team’s input at this stage. Ask them where they think or wish they could save time. Perhaps they have already researched tools that would help but just not passed on the info yet?
  • THINK ABOUT WHAT SOFTWARE CAN GO AND WHAT MUST STAY. It’s important not to get too hung up on any specific tools or platforms though. Those you’re sure you will end up with at the beginning of this ‘detox’ are not necessarily the ones you will end up with at the end! Whatever you think you are going to keep or jettison right now, don’t bet on it – just write it all down and mark it on the Map – for now.
  • DO SOME RESEARCH. A good starting point is this. If you are even 85% sure there is one thing you don’t want to change (eg. Your accounts system might be Quickbooks and you know you are happy with it but what you would like to do is automate some of the invoice creation within the programme instead of having staff members manually input the data), then use that piece of software as a starting point for your research. Work out what’s on the market that is built to marry with it or that uses API’s* to ‘talk’ to it already.
  • PICK UP THE PHONE. Speak to fellow business owners in the same industry. What do they use? Why do they use it? Suss them out. Are they ahead of the curve or behind you in terms of systemisation? Write it all down. Speak direct to the software companies you think might have solutions to your problems. Of course the sales guys and gals will always make their bit of software sound like the new best thing since sliced bread. And it might be. But it’s also possibly not quite the right fit for your business. Just write all the research about everything you stumble across down (in the same place) and come back to it later.
  • CHOOSE A PROJECT MANAGER. This should preferably be someone senior from within your organisation who shares the big picture you have for your business. But if all your staff are stretched and can’t do a proper job for want of time (or are digital dinosaurs) then get someone in from outside. Outsource the project management or get a contractor. Previous experience is helpful but not always necessary. The important thing is that you trust the person to be resourceful and act for you. They will be doing the hard graft of detailed research and ultimate implementation. There needs to be an open, honest, two way communication between you both. If you don’t trust anyone internally or can’t afford to outsource then you will have to do it yourself. Do not delegate this to a staff member who is unable to think outside the box, or who will be afraid to speak up or challenge you. The job won’t get done properly.
  • TELL YOUR TEAM THAT CHANGE IS COMING AND GET THEM ONBOARD WITH YOUR VISION. This is probably the most important point of all because you need to bring your team with you – emotionally. It’s going to be disruptive putting in new processes and they won’t necessarily get why you are trying to do it. Most employees just want to go to work and do what they are paid to do, go home, spend their salaries and not worry about the other stuff. If they wanted to worry about the future success of a business they would be running their own. So it’s a big ask to get them to embrace new ideas especially if those ideas are going to take time out of their day and ‘create more work for them’. Well, there will be more work in the short term because they will have to learn how to use new stuff. But once some steep learning curves have been mastered they’ll be relieved that their jobs get so much easier! So be sure to keep staff informed and inspired along the way.
  • REMEMBER THE FIRST STEP IS GETTING HONEST about what does and doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s easier to bounce that off an objective outsider.

If you are stuck and want some advice about how to get started, then email me and schedule your FREE 15 minute consultation to discuss a personalised game plan. We love helping our clients solve technical problems.

Footnotes:

*API (noun. COMPUTING)

  1. a set of functions and procedures that allow the creation of applications which access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other service.

** “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined”
Napoleon