In a tough economy, making a profit is hard. Maintaining profit is even harder. But doubling and tripling it is a whole other ball game.
It’s not all about the money, but without money you cannot realise any of the dreams that you have for your business. You have to first make money before you can start changing lives.
We have managed to more than triple our bottom line profit from the previous year. Our team is now applying the keys and practices that enabled this growth to our clients’ companies with similar success.
I would like to share five of the most important learnings with you:
1. Focus on a specialised niche
People are willing to pay more for specialised skills than for generalists. Select a profitable niche and ensure that you are an absolute expert in the area of business you work in. Know your market and your focus area within the market.
Be at the cutting end of trends and technology within your niche and make sure that you have what it takes to serve them well. Identifying your perfect profitable niche requires both an inward and outward focus.
First, look inwards. What are your passions, purpose, natural talents, knowledge and experience. Think about what has been placed in your heart and decide what your personal message is. It’s important to position yourself to do something that you love.
Running a business will always include challenges and tribulation, but doing what you love and what you were made for will help you to persevere.
Secondly, look outwards. Focusing on what you love will only convert into profit if it’s something that sells. Health, wealth and success. Beauty, relationships and sex. Personal development and spirituality. Relationships and happiness. Technology and innovation. Make sure that your niche is something that has a definite market.
Then drill down to find that ‘inch wide and mile deep’ part of the market that you want to speak to. Instead of being just another law firm, if your passion is entrepreneurship and technology, be a law firm that specialises in tech start-ups using the latest technologies to service them.
2. Brand eminence
A hard process of cost cutting is required to grow profit without growing top line revenue. Growing profit is a lot more achievable when revenue growth is high. Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry goes a long way towards building your brand and ensuring that new business seeks you out.
Make sure that the differentiating factors of your offering have some superiority over those of the competition and that this fact is made visible. Your brand must command eminence. Being seen in such a light drastically changes what foot you start on when negotiating with a new client as well. Drive new business to fuel top line growth through an established, visible brand.
Writing good content for press distribution, taking up sensible invitations to speak at industry conferences and events, ensuring positive social media engagement and streamlining all of your communication material are all low cost ways in which to start adding bulk to your brand.
Once you are established within your industry and seen as a leader in your niche, work should be flowing in. Now the secret is not to be overwhelmed. Biting off more than you can chew could lead to non-delivery on those big promises that you and your brand have made. Delivery as promised will be required to turn once-off projects into long term, retainer clients.
Working harder and longer is not sustainable. New staff cannot always be found, trained and equipped fast enough. What you need is systems. Some work will always require your personal touch, but a large portion of work and business processes can be automated.
Yes, material hours will go into developing systems and processes. Hours that are not billable. But these sacrifices ensure that you can handle volume as your business scales. Good systems ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that your delivery is on time and up to standard. Over time, it also enables you to perform tasks faster, which increases profit margins.
Work flow, client relations management and financial reporting are three of the first areas that you need to automate. Planning workflow and keeping track of billings can be done well using an online tool like Harvest. Managing leads and saving client information can be done for free using online CRM systems like Zoho.
Bank transactions can automatically be drawn into cloud accounting packages like Xero, making month-end reporting and live financial records possible. There are amazing automation tools out there to suit almost all business processes.
4. Cash flow management
The age old concept that cash flow is king applies. Managing cash in and cash out well is a big management challenge. When sales are soaring and new contracts are coming in, careful planning is needed to ensure that short-term obligations can be met.
Accounting profit is not cash flow profit and ignorance on this topic could cost a fast-growing company the ultimate price. Be sure to build enough detail into your cash flow model to be able to effectively plan and manage the lifeblood of the business.
Start with cash in the bank at the beginning of the period (normally a month, could be a week) you are analysing. Add all expected cash inflows for that period, taking careful note of when debtors are expected to pay. Subtract all expenses that you know will need to be paid in that period.
Make sure that all repeated transactions (like rent, telephone bills, salaries) are kept in mind for each month. Also remember to prepare for the payment of all non-standard items (like that annual licence renewal or the new asset purchase due).
The end result of this sum would be your cash balance at the end of the period. If you make use of more than one bank account, be sure to add the cash movement in each of them to your calculation.
Having all of these figures plotted out for a period like a month shows you very well where your cash is coming from, where it is going and what you have left to work with.
It is far more valuable to monitor than just to look at the profit and loss for the month. As the saying goes — turnover is vanity, profit is reality, cash flow is sanity.
5. Expand revenue streams and profit centres
Once work-flow is automated and cash flows are being controlled well, your success should be reflected in your bottom line. The final step is to diversify your streams of revenue.
Explore various other avenues of revenue generation within your area of expertise and within your niche. For each new revenue stream, follow the same process of establishing eminence, engineering automation and monitoring and managing cash flows. You already have the recipe — now rinse and repeat.
The easiest way to establish a new revenue stream is to look at your existing client base and to ask — what else do they need that I am not yet supplying? If you’re a Software-as-a Service provider offering a solution to the finance industry, you might not consider offering ready-made meals to your client pool next.
Related: How Smart Managers Drive Profits
Adding a consulting arm to your solution that you also offer to your existing clients, or adding a new functionality that solves a different problem could however be good for business.
Applying these learnings to your business with persistence will ensure an uptick in profit. Patiently think them over and incorporate them in your company to ensure that critical bottom line success.