94,6% of businesses started do not get sold! Our purpose as entrepreneurs should be to build our business into an asset of value, which is a business that one day could be successfully sold and fetch a premium price. It’s also a business that can successfully raise growth funding.
We should be building assets of value because our businesses are our pensions and there is nothing elegant about retiring into poverty after ten, 15, or 20 years of building an unsaleable business.
Brian is one of the most charming and affable people I have met. When he walked into my office five years ago I warmed to him within minutes. He had a firm handshake and his wide smile clearly said, “I’m so pleased to meet you and thank you for your time.” This was his way with everyone he met. We sat at the table and he began speaking.
His contagious enthusiasm about his business, his excitement about the trends that were reforming the telecommunications sector in which he traded and the open ended possibilities that this change brought into his businesses got me equally excited. His insights were delivered with a wit and intelligence and I could see that Brian took his business very seriously, but not himself. This was part of his charm and I listened intently since I knew that this would also be his shadow.
He had worked in one of the big cellular networks for a number of years before he began his business. He left a nine year corporate career to start his business and four years down the line saw his business fast approaching annual revenues of R23 million.
The idea for his business emerged from his time in the cellular networks where he had been employed in business-to-business data sales. His job was that of pre-technical sales. He met clients, interpreted their data needs and translated them back into products that his company offered.
This placed Brian at the coal-face of a dynamic market where client needs either lagged or raced ahead of what the network provider could offer. The industry was undergoing stupendous growth.
Where great ideas fail
Brian was sales. Everything about him spoke it and resulted in it. I could sense his frustration and more specifically, his exhaustion. He had taken no more than 17 days of leave in the last four years, including public holidays. This was simply unsustainable.
At the same time he had spent in excess of R300 000 in search and placement fees with three of South Africa’s best known sales-specialist recruitment agencies. They had actively head-hunted some of the best sales professionals in the sector.
All had resigned within three to six months of starting at Brian’s company and were working elsewhere.
Five sales professionals in four years and none were on the ground. I looked at their CVs. They were pros. Each one had performed in their previous employ and three made big sacrifices to leave good jobs and join Brian. So why did they leave him?
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The business systems diagnostic
As impressive as Brian’s revenues and forecasts were, the valuation I did on his business horrified him. His business model was super smart. It offered a volume based, variable pricing model for clients, cold water for new competitors and an inbuilt innovation cycle that would never allow his techies to rest; a key feature of a tech company needing excellent technical skills to innovate the market.
On top of this all, once integrated into his clients’ systems, automated billing administration worked smoothly, the reporting built trust and deepened his credibility with his clients. His self-provisioning set-up allowed clients to customise many elements of their service from Brian making switching costs very high.
With all this and racing revenues, his business spluttered a valuation between R2,8 million to R3,2 million. Brian was dismayed.
Many aspects contribute to a business valuation. A dominant feature in Brian’s and any other business is the people system. Brian’s had none. The evidence was palpable.
The source of the valuation pain came from the discount rate, one of the three elements that make up a valuation calculation. His forecasts were fantastic, the business scaled and the investment needed to sustain a robust aggregation platform was accounted for. Cash flows into the future were contracted and the envy of many entrepreneurs. We ran the business systems diagnostic.
The results came onto my desk whilst I was on the phone with one of the sales professionals who had worked for Brian. His marketing systems were okay, operations rocked, money management was tight. But his sales systems were barely existent and his people systems were all over the place.
I spoke with the other sales professionals and they echoed the same story. Brian was a fantastic guy, driven, passionate, can-do. It was very exciting to work with him at first. But then you could do nothing right.He interfered in the sales processes and got angry when certain things were not done his way. The problem was, none of them knew what his way was. If they did, they would have done it.
The high discount rate was there to counter the single biggest risk in the business, Brian himself. His shadow loomed larger than ever. Brian was the business.
Without him, there were no more sales and there were no more relationships. His single biggest strength turned into the business’s single biggest weakness. I valued the business as a buyer would and no Brian equalled no sustainable business.
We had to fix this and fast. Brian needed to raise growth funding for his Africa strategy and, in typical style, had already secured the contracts into Tanzania and Kenya.
Building business systems
Brian’s problem is not unusual. When we grow we need help and we offer jobs. We look for help so that we can focus on the many other things that a growing business demands. The successful candidate comes into the business and we start to realise that this person can’t do what we thought they could do. Do we continue to invest in them and hope that it comes right or do we move them out and start again?
The investment of our time as business owners in sourcing, selecting and then engaging new staff is enormous. The risks that we open up in our business every time we do this are enormous. The hope we place on this person within our emotional framework is enormous. And then to top it all, we pay them before we pay ourselves.
The answer lies in not offering a job to perform a business function such as sales or marketing or buying. Rather, we should be offering jobs to run business systems that we have built.
Good systems include six elements: The activities and actions that need to be taken to make something happen, organised into a sequence to deliver a measurable result within a period of time. This is then specified in a job description and supported with training materials on the activities with a carrot and stick written in a contract of employment.
These are systems we build as business owners. We test them, refine them and, only then do we employ people to run them. This way, we increase our chance of getting the right person to do the ‘job’. We can measure their performance fast, reward them effectively to keep them, remove them efficiently if they can’t get it right.
In this way we get back the precious commodity of time. Time to focus on growing our businesses to the next level since if we don’t, no one else will.
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A growing business
Within six months, Brian had a sales system in place employing three sales people. The systems achieved the sales and the people ran the systems. We had in effect systematised Brian. We redid the valuation that year. A different number emerged. Brian was no longer the business and he beamed with pride at its R8,9 million valuation.
6 Questions You Should Be Asking When Coaching
Top athletes have coaches because they’re winners. Business leaders should be the same.
Whether you’re a CEO looking for a mentor, coaching your management team, or structuring a coaching programme for your managers to implement, there are six questions that can help anyone get better at anything.
Dr Marshall Goldsmith is a best-selling author and world-renowned business educator and coach. He has coached top CEOs, including Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.
The key to a successful coaching programme is simple dialogue and establishing responsibility. The person being coached must understand and agree that success lies in their hands. They must take responsibility for their actions.
Once every few months, have a direct coaching session. Ask (or answer for yourself) these six questions:
- Where are we going?
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing well?
- Do you have suggestions for my improvement?
- How can I help you?
- So you have suggestions for me?
4 Ways To Develop The Leaders You’ll Need In The Future
One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.
One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.
It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organisations.
2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.
To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense.
How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?
Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:
1Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills
Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.
Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organisation and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values.
Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organisation. Then use that information to make a list of recognisable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.
2Broaden leadership development to more employees
People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.
Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organisation.
3Track progress and growth
There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.
Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader.
Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.
Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organisational mentors.
Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.
4Focus on continual leadership development
There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.
The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.
Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over – and this hurts both them and the organisation. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.
In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills.
That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Have You (Really) Put Your Business To The Test?
You should constantly test things in your business to see if they’re working. In that direction lies success.
There’s a pretty famous saying that people in business like to use: Always be closing, or ABC. It’s a very sales-driven concept that suggests that whatever you do, you should always be closing a sale.
I used to like that way of thinking: Drive your pipeline growth, work on the numbers and push the sales as hard as you can all the time.
That approach definitely works for certain types of businesses, but after a while it can be soul destroying work that leaves a business a bit hollow. So over the past few years I’ve been working on a tweaked methodology.
I call this method of building and selling: Always be testing or ABT.
The concept is simple. You should constantly be testing things in your business to see if they’re working. If they are working, great, you can then start testing how to improve them. If they’re not working, you find out and can start testing fixes for the problem.
This applies to your team, your product, your day-to-day strategy for selling, customer acquisition and anything else you can think of.
Start testing yourself
The obsession with testing things started in my personal life. I was doing it without realising what I was doing. I started waking up 15 minutes earlier every month and after a while I was spritely and awake by 5:30am and walking my dogs or working while everyone else was asleep.
Then I stopped eating sugar for a while to see if I’d feel better. I did. That didn’t last but I then stopped drinking coffee to see if I’d sleep better. I did. So now I don’t drink caffeine of any kind after 3pm.
I found that I was constantly testing out everything that I did and tweaking my life accordingly. So one day I realised that this model would probably work in my business: Small, frequent tests with specific goals in mind to try to learn something new or verify something old.
Testing requires reporting
Setting up tests is not difficult. But tracking the results of the test requires preparation. Interestingly, when I moved Nic Harry from a pure e-commerce company into physical retail, I discovered how slow real world retailers have been to use technology to track changes they make in store.
With nicharry.com we have been able to test, tweak and track results for years. I have many tests and lots of data to pour through when I want information about a decision. I can make a change on the homepage and see if it leads to more transactions than the previous homepage tweak. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I go back to the way it was.
I decided to take this type of thinking into our flagship store by treating each wall and window as a web page. We kept notes of which socks were on which walls and which socks sold better where in the store.
After a few months we had figured out which walls were the hotspots in the store. Then we started to move the socks around and see if we could influence who purchased what just by placing the socks in a different place.
This type of tiny testing environment helps me understand my stores, my team and me products with granular detail. However it wouldn’t be possible if my systems weren’t set up properly to help me track these changes.
Why test something that works?
People often ask me why they should test something that is clearly working. Well, what if one day your product stops selling and you don’t know why? What if your core revenue stream dries up over the course of a few months or years and you haven’t noticed?
Testing helps me to stay in front of my problems. I can think of a stand out example of a company that stopped testing and ended up losing: Blackberry. Do you remember them? I do, but not many people will in a year or two.
It’s also worth remembering Kodak. Kodak was founded in 1888 and thrived for a century, literally. Then it stopped testing in the face of innovation all around the company and from within. In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. The ironic part of the Kodak story is that digital photography killed their business. Why is this ironic? Kodak developed the first digital camera in 1975 but didn’t test it in the market. They were worried it would eat into their existing business.
If only they had tested the product before they dropped it. Tests do not have to be large and complex. Implement systems that allow you to track the changes in your business whether online or offline. Then engage with your team about how they can help you to measure and manage the tests and then start with something small.
Testing for no reason is futile. It’s imperative to know what you’re testing and why. Once you’ve figured out your goals, start testing and never stop.
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