Critical Success Factors

For the December 1999 issue of Small Business Leader I wrote an article called “Critical Success Factors for 2000”. In reading it over this week I realized the same success factors are true for 2008, so I decided to share it with you again. I’ve made minor updates, but the essence and factors are the same.

Each business has its own unique combination of critical success factors, but some are important for all businesses. Here’s my list for the year 2008.

1 – Identify and implement the technology needed to support your business and its growth.

Technology has evolved dramatically since 2000, and it’s needed even more today. You can’t afford to ignore technology. It can reduce manpower needs, increase efficiency, reduce overall costs and create the means to reach new markets, add new products and significantly improve your bottom line. The key is to know the technology that makes a difference for your business. Be careful not to take on technology for its own sake.

2 – Use the skills and resources of others to open growth opportunities and provide support outside the core mission of your business.

The virtual nature of today’s business means that you can tap into resources that previously would have to be purchased through capital expenditure, employee commitments or long-term arrangements. What you can’t provide through core capabilities can probably be better and more efficiently provided through strategic alliances where each alliance partner realizes a benefit from working together. [Read more…]

4 Ways to Boost Your Accountability and Productivity

Many clients come to me with the story of how they are struggling because they can’t get it all done, even though many of them have staff or subcontracted services in place. Not only isn’t the business moving forward as desired, but they are feeling overwhelmed, out of control and frustrated because their business isn’t performing; and neither are they. They feel stuck; up against a brick wall.

Sound familiar? Then listen up. There are actions you can take that will greatly improve your accountability and productivity, and consequently, that of your business. More importantly, there are simple tools you can use to help you provide structure and focus to your actions, so your efforts produce more of what you want.

Here are four ways you can boost your accountability and productivity.

1 – Have a Plan
If you have a plan in your head, it’s much too abstract to be of help when decisions need to be made. [Read more…]

Business Credit: How to Get It Now

Using credit to defer payment on consumer spending is a way of life for most of us. Yet we may not have taken advantage of the same option for our business. Obviously, use of credit in any circumstance must be done judiciously. For many businesses, however, use of credit can be a lifeline to even out ca$h flow as well as a way to build a credit history for future needs.

Such is the case for a new business that must purchase core product or service-related items for which ca$h is required on delivery, but the sale of those items will not take place immediately. In many cases, once the $ale is made, payment could take as long as another 60 to 90 days, depending on industry practice. Meanwhile operating expenses continue. Ouch!

For any business with a delay between expense and income or one that carries accounts receivable, a credit line can act like a bridge loan to cover expenses pending receipt of payment. It can also be used to cover any unexpected operating expenses. [Read more…]

The 3 R’s of Business Leadership

Are you a leader? If you’re the owner of a business, by default the buck stops with you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re functioning as a leader.

When you don’t step up to the plate, take charge, make a decision on a timely basis and see that it’s carried out, you’re creating a potential problem. Your job as leader is to make decisions and take action. When decisions are put off because you’re not sure what decision to make, or you take action without really making a decision, problems can start to pile up. That’s when your business can get into trouble.

Yes, it’s true, every business decision involves risk. As the leader you bear the responsibility to make the right decision in order to reach your reward. These are what I call the 3 R’s of Leadership: Risk, Responsibility, Reward.

Risk

Let’s face it, with any decision there is the risk of making the wrong choice. What do you need in order to make the right choice? One of the first places to check is the Plan you have for your business. Consider which choice will most likely lead to your goals? Also assess if the marketplace and economy will support the decision and are your internal operations able to support it? [Read more…]

How Can I Fix My Business Partnership?

I’ve found there are lots of people in a long standing business partnership who are not satisfied with the status of the relationship. They may feel stuck, frustrated, angry…or all of these. They know they’ve been silent far too long, but just don’t know what to do.

What can cause such a change in a relationship that started out with high hopes and good feelings?

Here are some of the situations I see most often. Do any of these apply to your partnership?

One partner feels like he’s carrying the bulk of the workload.

This may have happened because there wasn’t an agreement about who would do what. Job roles, responsibilities and accountability have not been discussed.

Expectations are not being met. [Read more…]

The Prime Strategies to Build Any Business in Any Economy

When I first start working with a client I ask, “What is your most critical business concern right now?”

I hear things like:

Cash flow is a real problem. I have trouble meeting my expenses.
The market has dried up. Sales just aren’t happening.
The market is out there, but I’m not ready to handle the business.
I don’t have my systems in place and I have trouble following through.
I often feel overwhelmed. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.
I want to grow my business. I just don’t know how.
These are symptoms of a common problem experienced by many people with business decision- making responsibilities. It usually boils down to [Read more…]

Start with a Vision

Let’s start at the beginning. The most basic thing about any creation is that it started from a thought, a dream, an idea, a passion. As a vision, it is intangible. The next step in making it tangible is to see it as finished in your mind.

The importance of a clear vision cannot be over- emphasized. Think of trying to build a house without first deciding what you want it to look like; with all the details, both inside and out. The same is true in creating a successful business.

To create your Business Vision, begin by giving thought to what you want your business to look like when it’s fully mature. Sometimes it’s helpful to close your eyes as you’re thinking.

The clearer you can make your Vision, the greater your chances of achieving it. The rest of your job then is to make the decisions on a day to day basis that will create it into a tangible reality.

The Vision is the first step in writing a business plan. Jim Horan’s popular book, “The One Page Business Plan: Start with a Vision, Build a Company”, uses the vision as the basis for the rest of the plan. That’s how critical it is.

I find many business owners are really not clear about their Business Vision. They just want to make it [Read more…]

7 Questions to Ask Before Launching a New Product or Service

The economy has been good to many small businesses this past year. Many are ramping up for expansion through introduction of a new product or service. This can be an ideal way to grow your business if you do it strategically.

To help increase your odds of success, I suggest you analyze your business and market history. He.re are seven questions that will assist you in analyzing your information and creating a growth plan.

1 – Is my business already on a solid foundation?
If your systems, processes and personnel are not ready, efforts to expand will overload your capabilities and set you up for failure. Make sure you are ready to handle the orders, deliver the product or service and collect your money in a systematic and timely fashion.

Also, make sure you have one or more strong indications that there is a market for what you plan to offer. Strong past $ales of something similar or a part of what you are expanding are usually a positive sign. Be careful you don’t fall in love with an idea and disregard the warning signs that the market won’t support it. [Read more…]

The 7 Questions to Ask Before Planning for Next Year

Before sitting down to start working on your plan for 2007, I suggest you give yourself the advantage of a retrospective on 2006.

A year is actually a long time in business. And often the best prepared plans don’t get carried out for a variety of reasons. One of the most frequent reasons is unexpected challenges and new opp0rtunities that come up along the way. When they do, we can easily end up off our planned course.

Since we are always using our Long Term Vision to guide our planning, year-end is the time to review that Long Term Vision against what you’ve learned during the year. In looking at the past year I find it’s helpful to ask 7 specific questi0ns and use the answers as a reference in creating next year’s plan. It’s a good idea to write the answers to these questi0ns. In reviewing them once completed, you’ll be able to see what otherwise might have been missed.

Here are the questi0ns I ask. [Read more…]

Delegation & Teamwork

Regardless of the business you’re in you’re not going to be able to build a viable, thriving enterprise without the help of others. This is where some entrepreneurs get stuck. Many of us fall into the rut of trying to do it all ourselves even as the business grows. And that’s where problems can begin.

Alfred Peet, founder and former CEO of Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Inc., admits his biggest mistake was not being able to delegate. Quoted in an Inc article, he said, “I know exactly where I want to go, but I can’t explain every thought, every idea I have for the future of this company. Many people left. I was burnt out, so I had to sell. Do you know what it’s like when you’ve given so much, there’s nothing left?” He sold Peet’s Coffee in 1979 after 13 years in business.

Burn-out takes its toll and the business feels the stress.

Don’t let your business take over. I want for you to take back control of your business and get it to support you – rather than you supporting it.

That’s a huge change in thinking.

In order for that to happen [Read more…]