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I call my method of learning Scar Tissue, frankly because I bled over each mistake I ever made. As a typical Ready, Fire, Aim type of entrepreneur, I learned based on mistakes, each on my own dime and time. Due to my own arrogance and lack of patience, I learned the hard way. Don’t do what I do, do what I recommend.
Here are MY 5 most important mistakes to learn from:
1. Accepting mediocrity from yourself and/or others
2. Failing to Capitalize on Market Opportunities
3. Failing to Offer Transparency for Stakeholders
4. Not Fostering Alignment and Accountability
5. Not Being Customer Centric
Scar Tissue Advice: Learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid excessive cost, loss of time, loss of relationships with team members, and a host of others.
1. Accepting Mediocrity from Yourself and/or Others
In this type of economy (false upswing, now dipping again), as in any other type of economy, it is often easier to focus on bringing the money in and letting operational issues and costs take care of themselves. Nothing could be worse than not constantly focusing on EVERY aspect of the enterprise.
To lower costs, perform a complete and constant review of your supply chain and seek out cost reduction solutions, including new suppliers, more effective transportation techniques and the like. Search out inefficiencies throughout the entire operation, making every decision toward improvement. Analyze the contributions of staff; is each on a peak performer? How effective are the processes currently in place, and what can be done to make solid improvements? Are the marketing and sales teams excelling in their respective areas?
Margins may be just where they typically are, and may be even higher than expected, but that is no reason to ignore cost centers. What if there are errors in the accounting or if the data under review is out dated and flawed?
Scar Tissue Advice: Don’t assume (ass-u-me). Stay sharp. Focus. Look into a business intelligence solution software system that can deliver timely, accurate information in a simple, easy to diagnose “Dashboard” on a computer screen. Too small for an integrated computer system? Have your number cruncher put together the top issues to review each day on paper. I use Salesforce.com to keep current information and review at the tip of my fingers. That’s no sales pitch, just what I do. There are a lot of systems fully capable of providing the needed information.
2. Missing or Ignoring Market Opportunities
I once missed an opportunity when I chose to neglect the information right in front of me. Not only did I ignore it, I thought it was not in my best interests to delve into the opportunity. What a fool I was. I had the information, but didn’t use it. I lost approximately $300,000 in lost revenues and lost market share to one of my competitors too.
Without timely information the market may escape you. Initiating new measures to roll out a marketing campaign, even with limited funds, is possible as long as you have a firm handle on the enterprise. Through the use of information a market can be penetrated and exploited by making the right decisions based on said data. Research should be current, as the market is always evolving.
Scar Tissue Advice: Knowing your market, targeting new niches with accurate information and utilizing a decision making process that is both timely and confirmed. If you have the ability to use an integrated information system, by all means purchase one. If cash is a real issue, get your financial manager to provide a graph system in Excel to provide a dashboard of information.
Read, read, read; one of the keys to market awareness. Another is marketing surveys, competitor evaluations, and of course, customer awareness.
3. Keeping Information from Those Involved
The Board of Directors of a firm I worked for was kept from critical financial information about a new market opportunity because I didn’t have a clue how to make an inroad into the niche. I later found out that a brother of one of the Board Members held a very responsible position in one of the lead companies operating in that niche. The possible inroads would have been inexpensive, quick and painless, yet I chose to ignore the opportunity. I thought it would be a sign of weakness to lean on someone else.
Transparency is crucial to your partners, your team, your investors and all of the stakeholders that are involved in your enterprise. If things are good we tend to brag, but if things aren’t going so well, it’s human nature to keep our mouths shut. New ideas can bubble to the surface by sharing the information both good and not so good. If two brains are better than one; what about a cluster of brains thinking about the issue at hand? If all parties are privy to the information and are active participants, then an efficient method for everyone to be on the same page makes good business sense. Don’t go it alone. Someone other than you may have just the solution that is needed.
Scar Tissue Advice: Stay humble, stay fully informed and keep your stakeholders informed as well. Don’t become a fool to your team through arrogance; thinking that only you have all the answers.
4. Not Fostering Alignment and Accountability
Clearly assign strategic initiatives to the operational side of the business, and make sure that all departments, divisions, team leaders and personnel understand the expectations. Additionally, inspect what you expect. Depending on the size of the enterprise, some divisions may be more “tuned in” than others, and may even keep information from others in order to “shine.” In the world of competitive capitalism, this is not unusual.
If goals and objectives are not clearly articulated, as well as the accountability for the achievement of said goals and objectives, along with a regular review of them, the “team” approach may not be as cohesive as they may be competitive. If actions go un-noticed or worse yet, ignored, you will have a serious problem with teamwork, alignment and accountability.
Scar Tissue Advice: Ensure all departments, divisions, and key stakeholders have the entire information bank necessary ready at hand. Make certain that a central control philosophy that actions have accountability is clearly understood, and create incentives and rewards for positive actions that define the benefits for working as a team. With consistent accountability, unified goals and objectives, as well as visible and rapid feedback to issues and challenges, your chance of success is greatly increased.
5. Not Being Customer Centric
The search for new customers should never be a reason to take your existing customer base for granted. It is one of the easiest things to fall prey to, but not keeping your existing customers in the forefront of your mind is paramount to revenue stream flowing. In difficult economies, such as this one, customers may have their own “tough choices” to make regarding which provider to be loyal to. Price is NOT the hook to hang your future on. It is proven that price is not the reason most customers choose one provider over another. Quality, consistency, true value and brand identity are the reasons customers buy. Service before, during and after the sale are equally important.
It is not enough to pay attention to your customers, you must ensure to the greatest extent, that they will remain loyal to you, and you alone. Build on each individual customer’s purchasing pattern, size of the order, frequency and demographics, psychographics and other pertinent information. Sure it is not an easy undertaking, but once the systems are in place, you need to modify, continually improve and make the evaluation and digestion of such information easy to create new customer incentives. You need “raving fans’ and not just customers. Create Raving Fans and have them refer customers to you; the least expensive new customer of all.
All of these mistakes could be avoided with a constant flow and review of information. From customer loyalty, new customer attainment, operational processes, alignment and the generation of “new” ideas, information can flow from a multitude of sources and be utilized to make inroads. The information gathering must be timely, organized, spread throughout the organization and be acted upon by those responsible for what outcomes are identified. An intelligent decision is one based on current, potent and discernable information. Your team needs to have a qualified Information Officer; even if it has to be you. The information flows need to travel in all directions, touching every individual involved in the enterprise.
Whether they are hand made reporting systems by the use of spreadsheets and graphic analysis or through an integrated information solution system, growth will occur quicker, and a more reliable road map can be developed. By not paying attention, pretending issues are of no concern or thinking you have all the answers, your enterprise is doomed to fail.