Each day we are confronted with many, many things we have to do, from the common and simple (get out of bed, go to the office/work) to the more complex (develop a riveting presentation to a prospective customer that will get the sale). Then there are the tasks that are “just going to take a minute” but end up consuming the entire day.
One of the challenges of being in business as the owner, manager or a front-line team member is differentiating between the valuable tasks that require our attention and truly must be done, versus the tasks that seem valuable but contribute nothing to the results we need.
The value of the tasks we engage in should be put into the perspective: How do they contribute to the goals we have set, or the maintenance of the structures needed to support those goals? Or are these tasks merely habits we have fallen into? The ability to properly examine, analyze and categorize these activities is essential for any successful business to maximize results.
For instance, I have been working with a company that was started in the 1930s. They have a long history of quality products and service. Their problem? Rapidly declining sales and consequently, a loss of profits and a reduction in cashflow. They are roughly one tenth the size they were ten years ago. They have gone from being a profitable brand and company to an organization on the brink of being another casualty of “outside forces” like the economy, changes in consumer buying and a host of other “explanations.”
Now this will undoubtedly sound harsh, but their problems existed long before the economy went into “recession” and there are a number of avenues to revitalize their lagging sales. In working with them to set goals and change operations, the biggest challenge is that the principals in the company “do not have time to do more.” They are busy every moment of the day, with 12-hour workdays and seven-day work weeks. They are always busy, but the business is unfocused and spending too much time and effort on the things that have no impact on its viability. This “busyness” is cutting into their ability to turn the business around. While economic and other environmental factors certainly have come into play, the core factor in this business’ struggle and decline over the past ten years is an internal issue.
Let’s start with the operational/marketing activities. In the past 10 years this multimillion dollar company (revenues reached over $10 million dollars in the late 90’s and early 2000’s), has spent less than $100,000 on marketing, sales efforts, website, and business development (less than 1% of one year’s sales)! An additional factor is that as sales declined, so did customer service, particularly in the form of the length of time it would take for a customer to get their order filled. In the past two years, delivery “promised” date has stayed the same (6 – 8 weeks), but the actual delivery period has ranged from 20 – 30 weeks, and some customers have waited over nine months for their full order! So from the customer perspective, why would I make repeat purchases when the first order I placed has not yet been delivered and I certainly wouldn’t refer anyone to make a purchase. I may be willing to wait for a custom product, but if I can find something else that will substitute, I am looking and buying elsewhere.
When it comes to “busyness”, we get caught up in meetings, “networking”, doing administrative tasks, e-mail, and when times are tough “juggling balls” to keep things going. Days fly by without impact on the things that would actually change the business.
One of the hallmark beliefs of this firm is that their customers are loyal. That may be true if you are loyal to them and continue to meet their needs, but the customer will not remain loyal when your product costs more and takes longer to receive than from a competitor. Think about it: the company has their customers’ money tied up in an advance purchase (even if it is “only” a deposit) and is causing them difficulty by making them wait beyond when they need the product in place.
Mistakes are costly in competitive markets and for organizations that are busy tending to internal matters that don’t have an impact on the customers, i.e., getting, keeping, or satisfying them. Which items would you be focused on if your business has declining sales and increasing competition and costs?
- Keeping up on e-mail
- Increasing the number of products offered and the number of options each has
- Creating a catalog of orders you used to get
- Hiring additional internal staff that do not have contact with the customer
- Opening a new facility that you think may be able to generate additional sales
- Upgrading your website and e-marketing to bring in new customers
- Developing new business strategy for identifying, reaching, and getting new customers
- Reviewing business processes and cost structure to minimize the cost of doing business while shifting resources to sales and marketing efforts
- Focusing on shipping existing orders to customers who have paid deposits and or in full for their products
- Launching virtual and real world marketing/advertising/public relations to increase visibility of your product and business
The competitive and economic environment may take a toll on your business. However, it may be revealing the existing weaknesses that have become “built-in” over time and through complacency. The economy and other factors can certainly take a bite out of you sales and profits, unless you can keep on top of the elements of your business that will keep you competitive and profitable. Don’t be so busy that you neglect the essentials of keeping your business healthy, effective, efficient and competitive. Learn to see the warning signals, identify unhealthy trends, and be willing to make the hard choices that may mean learning to do business in a new way. If you don’t, you will find yourself busy with the tasks of shutting down the business.
Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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