After a very long (10 days+) break from blogging, we are back on the job for the New Year today. The time away was refreshing and helped to restore focus. One of the reasons I began writing this blog last year was to develop a discipline for getting observations about small business management and strategy out of my head and into a “written” format. At some point in 2013, we will attempt to cull through last year’s blog posts, sort and organize them, and format all of the content into a cohesive story that should make a good book. It has been over 20 years since I published my last book and it will be fun to be in print again.
Back to the matters of management and strategy…I’d like to run through a few scenarios I’ve encountered with clients recently in an effort to highlight some of the ways business owners get “stuck” in their approach. One client is in the midst of a family business transition–none of which are what one would call a “piece of cake.” As with any business worth laboring over, this one has experienced enough success in its history that all parties think it has enduring value. All parties would be right–and wrong!
Business valuations derive enhanced magnitude from observed plans for managing risk. The risk of the owner getting hit by a bus is, for instance, substantial. With no business continuity plan for such a horrible occurrence, the company that has taken years to build can be undone in a very short amount of time. Insurance is seen as a way to mitigate the impact of such an event on the financial performance of a business and its stakeholders. However, no amount of insurance can replace institutional knowledge. Most companies are operated based on lessons learned the hard way. When the person who remembers all the lessons is no longer around, others must climb the same painful learning curve and waste precious resources in the process. Taking the time to document what you have learned and how you apply that knowledge in daily management makes your company worth way more money–even if you never plan to sell it!
Another client is a professional services firm that is struggling with the industry standard of billing fees on an hourly basis and all the timekeeping and dysfunction associated with this antiquated practice. In addition to the record keeping requirements, there are collection processes that are time consuming, result in write-downs, and become demoralizing. What we are implementing, then, is a change in the way business is done. We will begin to charge clients a retainer and a success fee. The retainer is some minor amount that basically allows this specialized practice to recoup some monies for overhead obligations while the team works on client issues. It is meant to encourage more calls from clients to discuss everyday items so that we become an extension of their management and leadership teams. The success fee is structured up front to be awarded to us for doing a better than average job. We work with clients when they are prospects to identify how success will be measured before an engagement begins. we put the feedback responsibility in the hands of the client, and adjust our final payouts based on results.
These two examples illustrate how matters of strategy can be brought into the regular operations of any business. In every business we’ve encountered, there are things that are overlooked or left un-addressed because they are accepted rather than challenged. What are those things in your business that need to be tackled in 2013? How will you tackle them?