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.
Growing Your Revenue In A Slow Economy
The dos and don’ts for your business.
The most dangerous counter to the unpredictability of any economic crisis is… doing nothing. The same everyday attitude can ruin any company. But what’s the next most dangerous behaviour? Clumsy or uncontrolled reactions.
What is needed, therefore, is finding and embracing the less common but noteworthy opportunities that unveil themselves during slow economic times.
You can do this in two stages.
- First: steady your company by sheltering it from associated dangers and make sure that it has the cash flow needed to stay afloat during the crisis.
- Only once you’re confident that you’ve adequately prepared for the worst, should you approach the second stage: looking for ways to grow your revenue over time.
An article by Gulati, Nohria & Wohlgezogen in Harvard Business Review (2010), indicates that, “…a subset that deploys a specific combination of defensive and offensive moves has the highest probability of breaking away from the pack. These companies reduce costs selectively by focusing more on operational efficiency than their rivals do, even as they invest comprehensively in the future by spending on marketing, R&D, and new assets. Their multipronged strategy…is the best antidote to a recession.”
Stage 1: Steady your company
In the first stage of stabilising your business in a recession (especially one that could continue to slide), take the time to methodically evaluate its weak points.
- Test out a few economic scenarios both at department level and across the broader business. Assess how each might impact your organisation, and cautiously calculate the financial effects. Then find ways to reduce your exposure. Make sure that you have sufficient cash flow and access to capital, to sustain your financial stability.
- Make a strong and targeted effort to lower expenses and boost efficiency. But, while it’s imperative to be fast, it’s also essential to have a rational, cautious, and well-thought-out plan. Don’t make radical cuts that will damage your business in the long term – by, for example, risking valuable future opportunities.
- Remember that cutting expenses boosts profits, but only if the sales price and the quantity of sales stay the same. If a reduction in expenses affects the quality of your products, you may need to consider lowering your price to maintain sales. This is critical as it can cancel out any potential returns and ultimately end in a loss.
- As your customers’ needs change, re-evaluate your pricing strategies and product mix. This may mean raising prices through effective branding, like Coca-Cola and Sony have done. These organisations have such strong brands that they can get away with charging higher prices than many of their competitors… all while growing their market share and preserving quality status, even during recessions.
- You can sell off non-core businesses and peripheral (or poorly performing) operations. Don’t hold out for ‘better times’ in the hope that you’ll secure the price you would’ve gotten when the economy was stronger. If the company isn’t essential to your goals and it increases your risks in the recession, sell it now.
Step 2: Prepare for the future
- A common challenge that many businesses encounter is inflexible or obsolete business models. Reconsider yours. Innovation in technology and media is constant, yielding a perpetually evolving business landscape. The traditional publishing industry is a perfect example of this.
- Do things differently and don’t be afraid to stand out by marketing your product in a novel way. Take Jordan’s Furniture: a US furniture outlet that sells more furniture per square foot than any of its competitors thanks to a strategy called “shoppertainment”.
- Consider pursuing transformative opportunities like mergers and acquisitions. If your business is relatively strong financially and strategically, a recession can be a rare opportunity to boost your competitive position. According to a Harvard Business Review article by Rigby and Harding (2009), “…companies that acquire in bad times as well as in good outperform boom-time buyers over the long run.”
Bottom line? Businesses that can find calculated and clever ways to balance lowering expenses to endure today and carefully planning and investing to grow tomorrow are most likely to survive and thrive after a period of economic recession.
How To Increase Profits By Focusing On The Needs Of Customers
How a water softener company boosted sales with moves as simple as changing its ecommerce platform and hiring an AdWords advisor.
“Growing a small business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would have a business,” says Tom Tarasiuk, who knows first-hand the difficulties that small businesses go through when they try to succeed at online marketing.
As president and owner of Discount Water Softeners, Tarasiuk has helped his company streamline its efforts to provide an outstanding user experience and increase sales. This undeviating focus on the customer and a willingness to take risks have enabled the business to grow.
Here are those all-important strategies he’s used:
Customer-centric product development
Tarasiuk says that a key tactic in his company’s growth has been the work by leadership to keep overhead costs low. One way that’s been done is by eliminating the usual middle men and purchasing water systems directly from the manufacturer.
But even more important has been the company’s customer-focused philosophy. The company keeps its overall inventory minimal and develops products and features that will meet the needs of its clients. It’s done this by avoiding stocking merchandise that won’t sell because people don’t need it.
As Tarasiuk told me: “Happy customers are a critical part of our growth. We base our additional or new products on what customers are requesting or what areas of the market need a void filled.”
Improving the user experience
The company’s emphasis on the customer plays out in its online marketing strategy. Case in point is when managers decided in 2013 to switch ecommerce platforms. They had been using Volusion and transitioned to Magento.
Tarasiuk says they wanted a framework that would allow them to customize various types of content (images, videos, etc.) on any of their pages. Their goal was to improve the user experience and increase conversions. They did have some concerns about the switch, he says. They feared Magento would be less user-friendly on the back end. But without taking risks, an organisation cannot grow. The result? After changing to Magento, the company’s sales nearly doubled.
And it saw its organic SEO increase noticeably with almost no additional effort. At that time, the company completely redesigned its website. Again, prioritising the customer was key. The location of optional items and upgrades on the site was improved, for instance.
This allowed customers, Tarasiuk says, to “customise their orders and learn what upgrades would benefit them the most for their needs.” The site redesign, he says, increased company sales by as much as 15 percent.
Saving time with email
Another major part of refining the user experience and cutting costs at Discount Water Softeners entailed enabling customers to resolve some of their issues through email instead of over the phone. At one point, customer service reps were taking 45 minutes to handle each call that came through. Tarasiuk says he didn’t have enough employees to handle the volume of the calls. And hiring more workers would mean increasing overhead costs.
Instead, he solved the problem by allowing people to ask their most common questions through email. Through Magento, the company added PHP forms for people to fill out and used Crazy Egg to determine the best places on the site to put the forms. The company also increased sales by driving traffic to the forms by using Google AdWords. This solution cut, by 30 minutes, the time that its reps spent on each call, Tarasiuk says. It allowed the reps to handle a higher volume of calls without adding more employees.
Google AdWords has been crucial to growth.
Google AdWords has been crucial to the growth of Discount Water Softeners. In fact, Tarasiuk goes so so far as to call AdWords “essential to efficient performance and high ROI for sales.” He says he believes every company should have someone who is skilled at leveraging AdWords to its full potential.
Tarasiuk’s business has been using Google AdWords for over 10 years, and he describes learning how to leverage this tool as “pivotal in our growth.”
When the company first started using AdWords, it wasn’t selling much and was spending only $20 per day on the tool. But then Tarasiuk found Gail Gardner, an AdWords advisor teaching pay per click strategies at the now-defunct SearchEngineForums, and the situation changed. The advisor told him that if he wanted his company to be “discovered,” he should be spending at least $70 to $80 on AdWords per day.
Following that advice, Tarsiuk says, has revolutionized his company’s online presence and has been a decision he’s never regretted. At one point, when Gardner changed her work and switched to managing PPC accounts, the company had to go without an advisor for a period and instead rely on Google support. That situation wasn’t ideal because it wasn’t clear whether Google was prioritising the company’s campaigns or focusing on its own interests, Tarasiuk says.
Google did help keep Discount Water Softeners going, but it also didn’t see a marked improvement in its campaigns at the time. The assistance of an advisor was what really made a difference in itsprofits. So Tarasiuk contacted Gardner and asked for a recommendation for a new AdWords manager.
“That original AdWords advisor was essential at not only jump-starting our internet presence, [but] she showed us how to use and manage AdWords,” he says.
While there is no formula for growing a business successfully, there are principles that can guide you along that way. Take smart risks, and make your decisions based on what will help your customers. Because of the time and money Discount Water Softeners saved on strategies it adopted, it has been able to use the extra resources it gained to launch a new line of high-efficiency water softeners.
The company has also been able to diversify its merchandise, improve its product and benefit the environment, Tarasiuk says.
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take,” he says, quoting hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
This doesn’t mean you should be reckless. It means to get good advice, and then take a leap of faith based on that information. If you don’t, you’ll never know what you could be missing.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why Mitigating Your Risk Can Drive Up Your Fleets Profits
Business naturally comes with risk. How you mitigate that risk could mean the difference between a sustainable, profitable enterprise and a business surviving on the edge. Here’s how fleet management companies handle their risk.
“Whether your fleet consists of ten vehicles or 1 000 plus, it always boils down to the cost of maintenance, fuel and cost-efficient routes,” said Dr David Molapo, head of fleet management, vehicle and asset finance at Standard Bank, at a round table event hosted by Standard Bank to determine key impacts on profitability and growth in the fleet management industry.
To keep costs down and profits up, focus on:
- Mitigating fuel costs for business growth
- Implementing tools and telematics to save on transport and fleet spend
- Training and monitoring drivers to ensure driver and load safety
- Mitigating risks such as hijacking, driver behaviour and delivery delays
- Bringing services in-house
- Complying with legislation.
Attracting and training quality drivers
Attracting quality drivers is one of the industry’s main challenges. Businesses often have to recruit drivers and upskill them to become quality, reliable drivers.
“SAB has a programme where a driver will be sourced and run on a SAB truck for a year to 18 months,” says Con Conradie, country commodity manager: Fleet for SABMiller.
“He is assessed over a long period and once he meets the grade he can buy his own truck and receive a ten year contract.”
“We place our drivers on advanced driving courses and all our drivers are allocated to a specific vehicle, which has reduced our insurance costs,” says Dorin Charalambous, MD of DSC Transport.
Preparing for the risks
“We have branded our reps’ vehicles with a full body wrap,” says CEO of Nature’s Choice, Greshan Mandy. “Since then we have not had a single case of theft. It’s advertising for your business as well as an immediate deterrent.”
“We contracted with Driver Check to monitor our fleet and their behaviour on the road,” says Mandy.
“We also have cameras in the vehicle to watch the vehicle and the driver,” he adds.
“These can deter the drivers from driving recklessly. If your driver has not done anything wrong the camera can prove his innocence,” says Reinard Basson, financial manager for Shoprite Group Transrite National.
Delays in delivery
“A truck is scheduled to do a certain route and that whole route has been timed, from the moment it leaves the depot, when it stops at an outlet and the time it takes to offload,” says Conradie. “Each vehicle has a slot at the outlets and the vehicles have mechanised forklifts. We levelled the pavements and widened the doors at our outlets so that there would be no delays,” says Conradie.
“Sometimes we deliver palletised goods and the next day it is a delivery of cement bags. Often there is no one to assist with the offload, which results in delays while you wait for assistance,” says Hennie Engelbrecht, director of Kopano Fuel.
The need for specialist services
Transporting for niche industries is in demand, with specialist transport services required for niche products.
“Cost is important to us but delivering the product the way we want it delivered is also key,” says Carel Ganger, financial director for Ceva Animal Health. “We’re transporting a high value product and there’s a need in the transport industry to do something specific for cold chain.”
Bringing services in-house
“We used to use sub-contractors to get our product to the market as quickly as possible. Courier costs were becoming exorbitant and we were being impacted by the labour strikes in the transport industry,” says Mandy.
“We made a decision to bring transport in-house and we are now saving around R300 000 per month.”
Complying with legislation
“Our legislation and regulations are changing and many municipalities across the country are taking pride in maintaining their road infrastructures and ensuring that vehicles carrying abnormal loads have the right permits in place. This is beneficial to the industry,” says CEO of Matalana Transport, Comfort Padi.
“Customers are also ensuring that suppliers become compliant with the current legislations, such as ensuring that transport suppliers are ISO 9001 accredited and compliant.”
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