Six Challenges Facing Business Owners

Having spent the last few weeks meeting with and chatting to small business owners around Essex, it became clear that they all seem to face similar challenges on a day-to-day basis.

As I expected, they are all time poor and there was an ongoing sense from these company owners or directors that they should be ‘hands on’ and across every facet of their business. But, as they told me, they may know all about their business but sometimes they need expert support and guidance to ensure their company grows and increases profitability.

Some of the challenges they faced included:

Customers
Customers are at the heart of any business. Without customers and the revenue generated then the business becomes just a good idea. One of the main challenges they faced was how to attract, retain and maximise their customers?

For me, the key to winning new business and ensuring customer retention is providing not only great products or services but adding a great customer service experience. A strategy needs to be developed for ensuring this customer growth and maximizing revenues from existing customers.

Marketing
Many business owners are not marketing experts and need strategic advice when it comes to developing a business positioning, a marketing plan, a campaign and thinking about the channels they wish to promote their business through.

The challenge is to enable the business to tell its story in a way that enables the business to grow and build customer engagement. Bringing an experienced marketer into the business either in-house or as a consultant to help develop this strategy can allow the business owner to focus on what he does best.

Time
For many business owners there are simply not enough hours in a day. All owners are stretched for time. Creating more time means sometimes saying no and focussing on what is essential for the success of the business.

This is where business owner often seek external advice from a business mentor or consultant to get them to focus on what is critical for the development of the business.

Financial Management
It is imperative for a small or medium-sized business to manage their cashflow effectively but sometimes managing the P&L seemed to be the third or fourth ‘order of the day’ for some business owners.

Getting good financial advice from a consultant who takes the time to analyse business performance, looks at aged debtors, analyses client profitability and puts effective financial planning measures in place mitigates the risk of the business getting into financial troubles.

Profitability
Business Planning seemed to be a bit of an afterthought for some of the business owners I spoke with, they were working more ‘on the fly’. Annual Planning should start a minimum of four months before the end of the financial year and should start with a formal annual budget, understanding the profitability of each client/customer, growth opportunities, business development planning and an analysis of the overheads required to service those clients/customers, market and grow the business, generate a great customer experience as well as delivering a sustainable profit margin.

Successful business owners create wealth and grow their business because they understand how to build a culture where sustainable profitability is a given.

Processes
Many business owners are not across all the processes involved in running a business so the challenge is to make the processes involved in running a business simpler. This is where an external consultant or expert support can prove highly beneficial.

Failure to manage processes such as sales, marketing, business development, building customer loyalty, operational management, HR and employee development can lead to businesses failing. Being stretched across business functions is not the best way for business owners to develop their business.

Developing the Right Opportunities

Not all of the questions you ask will have answers. For certain questions, you might get answers that do not excite you at all. However, some of the questions you ask will have answers that tell you that there might be a possibility for an opportunity to develop.

You note that I use the words “might” and “possibility” here. For an opportunity to exist, we should be able to combine four elements. Without all four, we have only a possibility, nothing more. However, as you get used to viewing the world from four different angles, you will very quickly start to think of all four elements automatically.

It is when you get to that point, that opportunities will just start “popping into your head”. It is crucial that you take notes when an answer excites you. Right at that moment, you might think that you will not forget it, but we all forget things, even very important things. Make notes of your thoughts and include any thoughts that you might have about the other three elements. Give your possible opportunity a name, as by doing this you give the opportunity a mental anchor and summarise it to its essence. You will remember it better, and your subconscious mind will work harder to expand it from the essence of the possibility, to a more complete vision of the opportunity.

During the course of the day, use any spare time you might have, to look at your card and ask questions. While travelling in your car (record your thoughts rather than writing them down!), in the elevator and on the escalator, while having a cup of coffee in the canteen. When you are doing things that do not require you to think, use that time to search for opportunities and do that by questioning the whole world around you. Yes, even when you have to go to the bathroom! And remember to jot down all the thoughts you experienced when you get answers that excited you.

Dedicate time; 15 minutes per day should do it, to reflect on your findings and what possible opportunities might arise from it. Think about each of them, and jot down any additional thoughts you might have.

Try and find the “missing three” elements for each answer that you get when asking the questions. A very simple matrix will assist you in trying to find the missing elements – turning them into opportunities for yourself.

You will start off with something like this:

Date: 04 Feb ’08
Needs: Computer keyboards, screens and mouse pads need cleaning
Means:?
Method to apply:?
Method to benefit:?
Potential:?
Notes: Saw Johnny’s workstation today – looks terrible!

Date: 05 Feb ’08
Needs: ?
Means: Old tires
Method to apply: ?
Method to benefit: ?
Potential: ?
Notes: Saw a whole heap of old tires at the scrap yard.

Date: 06 Feb ’08
Needs: ?
Means: ?
Method to apply: Carwash used to wash cars.
Method to benefit: ?
Potential: ?
Notes: Drove past carwash and saw how it applied water, soap and mechanical action to wash car.

After a while, when reviewing these entries, you might progress to:

Date: 04 Feb ’08

Needs: Computer keyboards, screens and mouse pads needs cleaning.
Means: PC cleaning box with solvent, glass cloth, water and drying chamois.
Method to apply: Provide PC cleaner with box and let him/her clean all PC user’s computers.
Method to benefit: Start PC cleaning services and get big business to contract. R15 per PC per month?
Potential: Yes! There are 6 buildings in our area, each with more than a 1000 PC’s.
That means R90 000 per month!
Notes: Saw Johnny’s workstation today – looks terrible – some keyboard keys seem sticky.

Date: 05 Feb ’08
Needs: Mine dumps need stabilization to prevent erosion and pollution.
Means: Old tires.
Method to apply: ?
Method to benefit: Set up “mine dump” stabilization business to sell service.
Potential: ?
Notes: Saw a whole heap of old tires at the scrap yard. Scrap yard will pay me to remove their old tires. Find out what mines would pay to stabilize mine dumps.

Date: 06 Feb ’08
Needs: How do fleet owners wash their large trucks?
Means: ?
Method to apply: Carwash used to wash cars.
Method to benefit: ?
Potential: ?
Notes: Drove past carwash and saw how it applied water, soap and mechanical action to wash cars.

Flag all the possible opportunities which you feel comfortable with that might turn into real opportunities. There are a number of ways in which you might like to prioritise the possible opportunities. In the above example, an overall “Potential” was used to prioritise. You might use various prioritising methods such as “Ease of implementation”, “Require least capital outlay” or even:”I like this opportunity (scale of 1 to 5)”. You decide how you would like to prioritise the opportunities. The method of prioritisation is far less important than the fact that you do prioritise and feel comfortable with how you prioritise.

As your opportunities develop over time, you will quickly realise that opportunities are very abundant to those looking for them. But opportunities alone are not enough! We have to do something with the opportunities.

In the next chapter, we will look at a terrific tool that will help you turn your opportunities into complete and compelling business visions – to get the most from your opportunities.

To find opportunities – look for alternatives, no matter how satisfied you are with a situation. Everything can be improved. Every improvement is an opportunity.

Chapter reminders:

1. Every opportunity has 4 elements:
-Needs
-Means to fulfill the need
-Method to apply the means to fulfill the need
-Method for you to benefit.

2. Get into the habit of looking at things from different angles – each angle one of the elements of an opportunity.

3. Develop opportunities by filling in the blanks!

4. Prioritise the opportunities

Developing Your 2012 Pipeline and Preparing For a Great Year of Winning Business

If you are anything like me, you’ve dealt with three challenges during the holidays – trying to keep from overindulging too much and gaining hard-to-shed pounds; fighting off a recurring cold; and trying to juggle family time with proposals that are due early to mid-January. By the way, I am officially envious if you faced no challenges or dealt with them through advance planning and orderly life. You are my hero.

This article is for everyone else who is not a planning maven, or like me, tends to pile the plate so high that no amount of planning is enough, no matter how hard I try. Now that the holiday hustle and bustle is over, and there is relatively smooth sailing through the frigid months ahead, it is time to slow down for a day or two and finally plan. Dust off your crystal ball, sharpen your pencils, and let’s talk about getting your company (and you) to that next level of growth.

My first question to you is, what does your opportunities pipeline look like for 2012? This question is relevant to everyone – not only the executives, but also capture and proposal staff, and even proposal consultants. Every business has to have a healthy pipeline to thrive. It is surprising, however, how many simply do not have one, have proposal staff that don’t know about its existence (if there is one), or have one but are skeptical about its quality and usefulness. I hear a common story that bespeaks of broken pipelines from small and large companies alike:

• “We only submitted a handful of proposals last year; we could be proud that we are picky but our win rate is so low.”
• “We cannot find opportunities that match our exact area of expertise, so our pipeline is small and won’t sustain our desired growth.”
• “We bid on everything – I think our bid-no-bid process is broken – and having everything under the sun in the pipeline simply doesn’t make sense.”
• “We keep going after bluebirds – we haven’t updated our pipeline in a while.”

Or better yet,

• “We don’t know what our Bid and Proposal budget is. Because no one has planned the pipeline for the year. Therefore, we have not decided how much investment is needed to win the opportunities that show up in the pipeline to reach our annual goal, while factoring in our win rate.”

If you recognize your company in the statements above, or have other pipeline challenges, it is time for change. You have to put business development higher on your priorities list, because a quality pipeline directly correlates to your future revenue. Or lack thereof. If you are a business owner, executive, or a consultant, make sure that you make this an investment year into your pipeline development. It will contribute to your peace of mind, and give you greater control over your destiny.

If you are working in a proposal department – wouldn’t it be nice to bring some degree of planning and order into your resources, time, and efforts? Perhaps, you would be compelled to act bolder and ask your management for more resources knowing that you are facing a churn-and-burn proposal stretch. Maybe you could dedicate more time to capture – even if you could do a little bit at a time while you are busy on other pursuits. All of it will lower your stress and contribute to your quality of life.

My second question is, have you looked at your industry’s trends? What does the immediate future hold for you and your company? For example, with the government moving more and more work to the Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) vehicles and GSA and VA schedules, have you caught up and learned how to turn your company into a task order winning machine? What was the last time you have looked at the legislative changes impacting government contractors? What areas will continue to grow, like Cyber and Security fields – and what industries are bound to shrink with the budget crunch? How are your target customers changing their procurement behaviors given the state of the economy? How will you adjust the type of opportunities you are bidding on?

Also, what are your competitors now doing to beat you? Are they cutting costs – and if so, how are they doing it? Are they investing into new initiatives?

Answers to these questions will shape your pipeline even further.

These questions may seem irrelevant to proposal managers, coordinators, writers, editors, and other proposal professionals not as directly involved in strategy and planning – but I beg to differ. It will make you a better rounded professional if you understand what the industry is doing and how your company is likely to react – and you can adjust accordingly if there are certain risks on the horizon.

Which brings me to my third question – have you looked at your career and growth opportunities for 2012? What will you do to advance yourself, earn more money, and get greater job security, while helping your business? Will you stay in the same field or will you expand your abilities? In the business development field, there are always ways to command higher pay, be more in demand, and ultimately become more successful. On the other hand, many proposal professionals narrowly specialized in one field may find themselves in less secure positions.

To change this situation, it is important that you don’t succumb to burnout-induced complacency. Explore professions that are adjacent to your fields to increase your competitiveness and pay grade. There are natural career paths for certain professions. For example, proposal managers would greatly benefit from getting training in management, capture management, orals coaching if your customer set uses orals, technical writing, pricing, desktop publishing, and graphics skills – and could definitely use training in cost proposals development. Capture managers should expand their skills into proposal management, business development, price-to-win, and cost strategy. Technical writers should consider proposal coordination and proposal management as a career path if they are comfortable with higher levels of responsibility over the team. Proposal coordinators could venture into desktop publishing, graphics, and editing; or step up and becom e proposal managers.

For executives, investing into developing more versatile proposal teams means higher success rate in winning proposals, and ability to rotate personnel from one role to another on a variety of proposals, preventing team burnout. And, ultimately, getting a more skilled resource pool may mean a different type of pipeline where you can be more aggressive in pursuing opportunities.

Determine what training courses you are going to attend in 2012 to expand your capabilities, and definitely plan to make it to the APMP-NCA’s educational events.

Well, onward and upward, as some of my dear friends like to say. If you haven’t already asked yourself or your colleagues these three questions, it may be time that you do. Life may not go according to a plan, but it is better to have one anyway. Life without a plan is almost guaranteed to have much less spectacular results. I wish you a professionally and personally rewarding year!

Why Is Dedicated Server Crucial for Business Development?

Dedicated servers are something that most businesses need but they are rarely thought about. Even if a business has one most people that are involved won’t realize that they have one because it just isn’t something that is noticed. Dedicated servers will have many options and features that can help a business to grow and thrive.

For one these servers will allow you to have much more of a command over your server and will give you more bandwidth (this is very important to avoid crashes), and IP addresses. Not to mention that it will allow for more programming opportunities.

Bandwidth is very important when dealing with internet websites because the more bandwidth that you have the fast your page will load and if your page loads faster than you can expect people to come back. Nobody wants to have to wait on a page to load. This can also help in that your website is less likely to ever go down if you have high bandwidth. If you have more IP addresses then this can help a great deal as well. IP addresses are used to measure the activity on a site, and the more that you have the better and more accurately you can measure the activity to know how well your site is doing.

The option to have more programming options is a great one. By doing this then you can actually have more options to personalize you site. This can be adding different languages or make contact forms. It would be so much easier if you could create a form where someone could submit feedback and it would go straight to an e-mail account. The number of things that can be achieved by getting a dedicated server can make a list that goes on and on. Anyone that has their own web based business should really look into getting one.

If you still aren’t convinced then do some more research, take whatever your business is and do research on how a dedicated server can specifically help your business.