Owning a business in today’s economy can be a challenge, but there are a few things that businesses of all sizes can do to weather the storm. In addition to great marketing, taking a look at your people, process, and product are key to maximizing your profits. We can start with the easy stuff!
Entrepreneurs are usually experts on their products. But, it can be easy to get attached to the original concept even when sales don’t back up personal bias. Business success is synonymous with innovation. We need to be prepared to change where needed, and let go of the emotional attachments we may to our old ways. Yes, change can be scary, but it’s also necessary. I can hear you know, “okay, but I don’t even know if I’m in a product rut. So how do I find out?” Well, here you go: RESEARCH! In conjunction with examining sales quantities and relationships, focus groups are an extremely useful market-research tool for making your product (or products) the best it can be.
For tangible products, letting customers use your wares and then express their honest opinion is invaluable data. If a discernible pattern turns up, then change is needed if the cost doesn’t outweigh the potential profit. For example, you sell watches. Customer feedback is overall pretty good, but you notice a theme to all the complaints; the band quality does not match the quality of the actual watch.
For online products or services, Beta testing is vitally important. Beta testing is releasing a product after quality control checks to a very limited and very experienced market. These users critique the product before it can go live en masse. For example, Beta testers of a cloud-based sales-tracking product rave about the ease of use and elegant simplicity. Only one issue seems to bother every user; every time the internet connection is lost or wavers, data is lost. That is a huge quality error in a data storage system!
Something as crucial as quality can significantly decrease sales and your bottom line; paying attention to feedback (aka data) is crucial to the success of your company. Applying product feedback early can help you to retain clients while eliminating any future client loss.
As an organizing, time management and productivity coach, I have a soft place in my heart for process improvement and systems. Though processes (especially in the online world) seem like they would be the most difficult to examine, today’s data analytics and automated systems make efficiency easier than ever. Nerds everywhere have united to create a multi-billion dollar industry completely focused on process accountability. I’m totally allowed to say that because I’m a super huge nerd. Yes, that’s right. I own it. But, I digress; tools that used to take an entire department are now widely available in easy to use software packages. Getting and understanding data is easier than ever.
With that data on your computer screen, look for bottlenecks – areas of your process which do not move as quickly as others – and try to remedy the lag. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but one very effective way is to interview the most experienced and innovative employees. These frontline individuals should be able to point out the areas that give them the most grief and slow down the process. Plus, nothing helps employee morale more than being heard and having your feedback valued.
Another option is an anonymous online forum. Online forums are a great way to understand what is really affecting production in your company. Facebook has anonymous employee chat rooms which allow for constructive criticism and innovative solutions to problems without the stress of actually going to see the boss or getting pegged as a “complainer”. It also allows people to let off steam so that they can go back to work without getting the rest of the department riled up.
You can use the same approach for “offline” processes and systems too. It’s all about perspective and objectivity. Be willing to SEE improvement where it’s needed and don’t get defensive when someone tells you something negative or suggests improvements could be made. Improvement is a CONSTANT THING. At Virtue, we’re in a constant state of process improvement, and it doesn’t stop there – I am personally in “process improvement mode” at home on a regular basis. Organizing is never ‘done’ it just becomes manageable. The same is true for process improvement.
People – as always – are the most important part of every business. Without dedicated and well-trained people, software and data are useless and will not yield the projected profits. ß I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH the importance of VALUING the people who help you. Even if you’re a one-man-show, you have support somewhere. Whether it’s your spouse or the barista at your favorite coffee place, VALUE THE PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT YOU! You aren’t you by accident, people helped to make you who you are. You don’t have to be a huge people person to value the importance of human relationships, especially when those relationships fuel your current and future successes.
More and more, corporations are focused on employee/contractor retention and employee engagement. Whether it is because of employee feedback or because corporations discovered that turnover is expensive, executives are urgently looking for a way to keep their employees around. They may also be aiming to keep their dirty laundry off of employer rating sites like Glassdoor.
Along with Indeed and CareerBuilder, Glassdoor allows current and former employees to rate their company and to give out anonymous details about salary and internal goings on. Applicants can view complaints as well as kudos about specific companies and can then check out salaries. If feedback is poor and pay is below market average, new talent will move on. More importantly though, your Brand will be tarnished. In today’s information driven market, consumers may choose to buy similar products from competitors who have happier employees.
Giving your people the tools and the knowledge to do well is one of the most important changes you can make in order to maximize profit. By investing in the right tools for your product and training every employee to use them correctly can revolutionize your business. It is the people that provide services for your consumer. It is people that troubleshoot and convince current clients to stay and invite new clients to the table.
OK, maybe not everything! But, as Forbes wisely noted in a recent article, “it is time to rethink the concept of employee engagement”. In fact, it is time to re-think the concept of employee all together!
Recent employee surveys indicate that people want to be treated with respect, paid fairly, and they want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. When an employer can fulfill these desires, people work harder and they work smarter. They care about what they are doing and they care about the overall success of the company. This translates into profit based on an ethical business model.
Feeling serious? Let Virtue Marketing lead the way! We offer expertise in marketing, brand development, and project management. We also offer training and support for organization, time management and productivity. We are called to help you find your calling! Send an email and we will get back to you with fresh ideas tailored for your needs.
In the meantime…check out this website for continuing business education! Coursera.com has TONS of classes related to leadership, organizational analysis, and data gathering.