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.

3 – Operate from a Plan based on your business vision.

Even though the speed of business will likely continue to grow, having a basic business operating plan and budget as the framework to keep things in focus and on target is more important than ever. At least quarterly, review the results of actions and update your Plan. Staying on top of the financial picture, especially cash flow, means problems will be identified early enough that you have time to take corrective action before a crisis occurs.

4 – Find the balance between online and offline activities that’s right for your business.

This includes marketing, public relations, customer service, business development and, of course, e-commerce. Certainly you’ll reach a broader market by waging a multimedia campaign, but if your budget is limited, try weighting your efforts in areas that are less expensive (online, public relations, press coverage). Make sure your online and offline messages are consistent.

5 – Improve ways to gather customer information for the purpose of personalized marketing and service.

The more you know about your customers, the better you can meet their needs. Gathering and using detailed individualized information–the basis of customer relationship management–has become a specialty industry itself. It covers everything from registering specific page visits on web sites to tracking frequency of purchases and products purchased. The value of personalization is being able to retain customers and sell them more while cutting inventory and marketing costs.

6 – Think global, even if your business is strictly local.

Today businesses of all sizes across the globe can interact and share information, technology and products. Consider what global trends are affecting availability of resources, increasing or decreasing demand for your product or service and where there’s an unfilled need you might be able to meet. Look at the global marketplace for new ways to compete. Seek global alliances that will allow you to enter a new market or augment an existing capability.

7 – Create an environment where every employee replicates your passion, caring, and sense of ownership.

Clearly communicating your vision, mission and goals to your staff is your job as leader. But by giving the incentives of ownership and decision-making freedom at every level you can attract and keep the most talented and qualified individuals for each job. By fulfilling a mentor role and instilling this attitude in all staff, the strengths of each individual can be directed toward the benefit of the organization.

With these factors in place for your business, you’re on a solid foundation to compete in an ever-expanding and competitive marketplace. Here’s to a productive and prosperous 2008!