This post involves me asking you for some help, but in return offering you some Business Therapy that might help you look at your business in a different light.
Someone very wise once told me “The world of business is all about solving problems.” At it’s very heart that is all any business does. You have long hair – you go to a hairdresser, your garden is a mess – you get in a gardener, you need to do your tax return – you hire an accountant. Problems are at the heart of commerce.
Too often though, in the excitement of running a business we forget that and start focusing more on our own capabilities and less on the customer’s actual needs. As a business owner I’m sure you will have had some excited sales rep in your office telling you all about their amazing widget, “But this widget is market leading – it has 117 different modes, and can be installed in under a week” – Wow, but how does it actually help my business.
I am a great fan of Mary, Queen of Shops. This BBC2 Programme takes the Queen of Retail – Mary Portas who made her name at Harvey Nichols, and sets her to work turning around failing retail businesses. Whether they are a hair dresser, a DIY store, a Veg Shop, or a Charity shop she goes through a similar process.
- Who are your customers?
- What do they think of your shop?
- What do they want from a good shop?
- Make the changes
The secret to a great business model is to listen to customer’s needs. Listen again. And then a bit more. And then start to develop a business to service those needs.
Currently I am in the launch phase for my company. It would be easy for me to look at ourselves as a Technology Company, but I see us as a Business Company – helping Companies to use the new technology to change the way they do business. In order for us to be the best at this I’m spending time with as many business owners, in as many industries as possible to just talk about their business, and how it works.
- What does a typical day look like?
- How many employees are there?
- Do they work in the office or remotely?
- Where would you like them to work?
- How do you find customers?
- Would you like to find more customers?
- Would you like to sell more to your existing customers?
- How do you beat your competition?
- How do your competition beat you?
- How long do your clients take to pay you?
- How do you try to get them to pay quicker?
- How would you like your business to run better?
- Where are your pain points?
It’s these kind of discussions over a coffee or lunch that I have found extremely useful in trying to understand what your niche problems are, and I can then go back and understand whether we are able to help you to overcome some of them.
For example, I held a session with a Recruitment Agency recently and at the start of the conversation the owner said “Business is great, we’ve got some great systems and we feel we’re competitive.”
But as we spoke for a couple of hours and I learned more and more about the work that a Recruitment Agent does we started to uncover wasted time and money. The specialised recruitment software they use is hosted on their network. This means that Recruitment Consultants need to use a VPN to log-in remotely to their desktop PC in the office, and then access the software. If their PC is off, or they are at a public computer then they don’t get access. There is no mobile access. Consultants need to be in the office at least a couple of days a week to do admin when they should be with clients.
They use a separate Accounting package which their Accountant manages, adding in receipts and invoices. There is no connection between the Recruitment software and the Accounting package so there is a lot of duplicated data entry, and no tracking of which campaigns are resulting in the most revenue. There are no dashboards showing which clients are paying the quickest and which are the worst payers. The Accountant is costing upwards of £500 a month.
The key for any Recruitment Agency is getting the best 3 CV’s on the HR Director’s desk in the shortest period of time – preferably by the end of the day. This is achieved by parsing of CV’s (scanning Word and PDF CV’s and reformatting the content into the Agency’s template) and using sophisticated search techniques across thousands of stored CV’s based on keywords, location, experience, salary and so on.
In my role I am immediately thinking that techniques like CV Parsing and CV search would achieve much better results in the Cloud because of the processing power that could be thrown at each task. I now have some exciting work to get on with and come back to the Agency with some suggestions. Perhaps it is an Application that is already out there, perhaps it is developing something customised for their niche. But either way, out of the meeting we both understood a lot more about their business and where productivity and profitability improvements could be made.
If you, as a business owner, would like to spend an hour of your time discussing your business and your industry over a coffee or lunch then I would be extremely grateful. You would be helping me to understand what problems need to be solved, and I hope that you too would find some benefit in looking over your business with an independent party.
If you would like to discuss further then please use the comments form below.