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How Nicholas Bell Got 10x Growth Right And Sky Rocketed Decision Inc

Successful businesses are built through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t just deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, determines what’s stopping him from reaching them and puts strategies in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Player: Nicholas Bell
  • Company: Decision inc
  • Launched: 2008
  • Turnover: R116 million
  • Visit: decisioninc.co.za

Successful businesses are built through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t just deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, determines what’s stopping him from reaching them and puts strategies in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

“I don’t ever want a challenge to slow me down,” he says. “You can let a setback derail you, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and carry the business forward. I believe it’s important to dissect everything — even opinions and advice I don’t initially agree with. Mentors have taught me that it’s important to be adaptable and that nothing in business is hard or fast. We’re constantly faced with new sources of data needed to grow our business, and I’ve learnt that the only real question is whether you’re willing to use that data to drive the business forward.” 

Related: Nick Bell: In Search Of A Billion-Rand Business Model

Getting started

In many ways, Bell fell into entrepreneurship. He was studying to be a CA and built a merchandising app for SAB on the side. “One of my biggest strengths has always been the ability to understand the business outcomes a client wants to achieve and to help them translate that into a solution that leverages technology to bring about improvement,” he says.

“I had a friend who worked for SAB, and they had a challenge tracking in-store information around their products. I knew I could build a simple solution that would give SAB the insight they needed.”

But once Bell had built one solution, he acquired more clients, and by the time he was preparing to do his articles at EY, SAB gave him a three year deal as part of their merchandising programme.

“I chose to go into business. There was limited risk. I was 22, living with my parents. If it failed I could go back to accounting and EY.” Within a few weeks Bell had registered his business, Business Intelligent, and was actively working towards building up a client base.

“In the first year I built the business up to two developers, an admin assistant and me. I was involved in development and sales. Our turnover was R700 000.”

Years of continuous growth

By the second year turnover had grown to R1,6 million. Eight years later Bell would hit his target of R100 million, three months before his 30th birthday. Now his sights are set on building a R1 billion business that will show a 10x return. Here’s how he’s developed a strategy that will get him there.

By 2013 Bell had been in business for six years. His turnover was R21 million, he employed 25 people and his clients included Simba, Harmony, ArcelorMittal, SAB, and Sibanye Gold. He believed he’d built a business that was exceptionally scalable.

When he was chosen by Endeavor to pitch at an ISP (International Selection Panel) to join Endeavor’s international members, he focused on the fact that Business Intelligent helped businesses make better decisions through technology.

nicholas-bell-decision-inc

“I presented business intelligence (BI) as a massive global industry encompassing all other industries, highlighting that we were scalable because we catered to every business’ needs.”

The ISP disagreed. “Endeavor likes technology as a rule, but the ISP believed that if it’s not your own IP, you won’t scale. You’re also open to disruption.”

“I wasn’t in complete agreement. First, I did think we were scalable. Yes, we earned hourly rates, but we were also selling and packaging software. Our scale would also come from the ability to implement these preconfigured and packaged solutions in a significantly shorter period of time to our competitors, whilst still being able to charge a similar price, giving us margin scale into the future. I also knew that we would never build our own products because we couldn’t compete with international corporations who spend hundreds of millions on R&D.”

Related: The Case for Business Intelligence

Use feedback to critically evaluate your business

Bell didn’t dismiss the ISP’s concerns out of hand though. “The feedback made me look at the business critically and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. One strength was that we embedded on top of these platforms and we did it quickly.

We also understood business objectives and were able to match solutions to needs. But we didn’t own our own tech, and at that stage we were reliant on a single vendor, Qlik. I realised that the ISP’s question was a relevant one: What would happen if Oracle bought Qlik and suddenly we were one in 3 000 other partners?”

When Bell got back to South Africa, he sat down and asked himself the following questions: Does someone else control our licence to trade? Is our business open to disruption by forces we can’t control? Who pays us? Who bills us? Is our relationship with clients or agencies?

“We were going to remain a services firm, but I saw the risk, and I realised that if I was serious about building a business with a turnover of R100 million, I had to make some changes.”

Recognise potential business threats

One of the biggest threats Bell recognised was the risk of high concentration in clients or products. “We had over 50 clients, so we didn’t have client risk, but we did have product risk.”

Qlik is a specialist business intelligence provider, which presents the risk that it could be acquired by one of the large global software vendors.

“There’s also the risk that a partner stops liking you or working with you. Once we became Decision Inc we moved as quickly as possible to extend our partnerships to SAP, Microsoft, Adaptive Insights, Alteryx and MicroStrategy.”

Bell’s licence to trade was no longer built around one partner contract which could be disrupted. Next, he turned his attention to IP.

Ensure you can duplicate your intellectual property

“We’re an intellectual business that relies on human capital. Our IP resides in a lot of individuals’ heads. We needed to get it out of heads and into the business. What we could do in five weeks with 25 people was incredible. Our speed of business was high. But it couldn’t be easily multiplied — 75 people couldn’t do it quicker; it’s not sustainable to work at that speed and it gets exponentially more complicated. The solution was to find a different model.

“As a discipline, business intelligence is a small space at the top of the operating and decision-making pyramid. However, we make a massive impact on our clients’ strategies and operations. But because we impacted executive decisions, which were implemented at an operational ERP, CRM and data level with different service providers, our three month contract created 18 months’ work for someone else.

“If we wanted to grow, we needed to grow our share of wallet. We focused on growing the business down the line by leveraging great client relationships, which were a big competitive and strategic advantage, and moving down the value chain.”

To prepare for the growth he was targeting, Bell started reading the works of competitive advantage and strategy guru, Michael Porter.

“Porter calls them adjacent services, which basically means additional services that are along the same information continuum. This was a way to potentially solve two problems: We could increase our wallet share and IP through one strategy. We needed to stop being a BI firm, and become an IM (Information Management) firm.”

There are six disciplines that work hand-in-hand in the information continuum: BI, strategy (how to use your information to support strategy), data management, enterprise performance management; content management; and advanced analytics.

Related: Entrepreneur BB Moloi’s Inspiring Story of Rise To Success Through Grit And Hard Work

Up until this point, Bell’s company had focused solely on the BI component, which was high value, but at the top of the decision-making pyramid. To grow wallet share, he needed to leverage the excellent client relationships he had built up, and offer additional services down the value chain, implementing the strategic decisions that his company’s insights and data had helped shape.

nick-bell-entrepreneur

This would cement the business’s IP as well, as few companies successfully worked across all six disciplines. He needed a framework that supported teams with different areas of expertise that worked together to cement his differentiator.

Should the new skills be developed in-house, or did it make more sense to merge with another firm that had the requisite skills? Bell chose the latter approach.

“My management team and I met a local entrepreneur through Endeavor who worked in a similar space to us. We were both IM firms, but while we concentrated on BI, his firm was focused on other areas.

“We recognised that we shared the same problem. We all wanted to increase wallet share within our client bases, we didn’t have enough internal IP and scaling a services-based business is tricky at best.

What you should look for in a partner

“Together however, we could mitigate these challenges. Our shared disciplines also meant we could service five of the six disciplines in the information continuum — as a single service provider.”

A third business joined the discussions, and with all three partners believing in Bell’s vision and agreeing that they could do more together as a cohesive unit, a share-swop was done and the three businesses became one new entity: Decision Inc. Bell is the new company’s CEO, but all three are shareholders and managing partners.

“In many ways Decision Inc was a start-up,” says Bell. “We had a fresh, engaging offer for the market, but we weren’t starting on zero. We had billings, sales, a marketing and HR department, proper financial structures and most importantly financial insights.”

Even more significantly, the new firm, with a turnover of R65 million in its first year, was able to merge, combine its insights, and work as a team to bring new offerings to the market and all of their client bases.

Growing together after the merger

“Our first year together was all about trading, getting active in the market as Decision Inc and building our internal culture. Our firms were small enough to make merging and creating a new culture relatively seamless. We had a united vision, and our employees understood the benefits that a larger business offered them.

“In year two we made our major shift from BI to IM, which enabled us to move down the value chain. A lot of this growth and development is internal, but because we’re cash generative, we can invest in additional growth as well. We recognised the areas where we wanted to expand our services, and we made two additional acquisitions.”

In 2015 Decision Inc grew from 75 to 125 people. “This is a human capital business. HR and culture are incredibly important, so we focus a lot on career and leadership development, performance management, client engagement and satisfaction reviews. We like success — a lot. We’re here to grow, but if you’re part of our organisation, this needs to resonate with you. We have 250 clients, which gives our employees a huge opportunity. We spend significant effort on finding and developing the right talent that thrive in a high energy, high impact environment and are excited by the challenges of working with like-minded individuals to achieve our goals.”

Bell is passionate about his business, employees, partners and clients. His core focus has always been on helping his clients make better decisions and build bigger and more profitable businesses as a result, but he’s also acutely aware of the fact that he works long, hard hours because he wants to build an asset of value.

Related: Why You Should Follow Your Dreams – Not Your Passion

Ensure your effort leads to wealth

“In our early days, I recognised that we were doing a lot of activity, so where was the reward? All the effort in the world won’t automatically lead to wealth. Putting in effort is only worth it if your strategic aim is real growth.

“Too many entrepreneurs only learn this when they’re trying to sell their businesses. Instead, it needs to be an element integral to your growth strategies from day one: Who will pay you for your business? Have you built a business separate from you that holds and retains value?”

Bell recognised that by 2016 Decision Inc had the right clients, skills and opportunities. “We were our own constraint on growth,” he says.

“We didn’t need more clients, we needed more managers to go out and service them. We needed to improve our engagement processes, and our various teams’ abilities to work together and cross-sell and cross-deliver.

“We had already leveraged our client base and IP, now we needed to increase our human capital capabilities. We had the tools we needed, we just had to leverage them within the organisation. The investment had happened; now the focus was on scale.”

In addition, the cost to expand your services within an existing client’s organisation is far lower than acquiring a new client. All of this meant that Decision Inc’s margins were steadily growing, and not just its turnover.

decision-inc

“These are all crucial points when you’re building an asset of value: We’ve built an organisation that has its own institutional IP, which is shared throughout the organisation, our margins are strong, and the business is not dependant on me as the CEO.”

This did not happen without a clear focus and strategy in place. “The development of second tier leadership was so important,” says Bell. “One person’s ability to have a vision of the future would never be enough to grow the business we envisioned.

“Our business makes an impact on the frontline, so how our people engage with customers is of paramount importance. A strong middle-management meant we weren’t burdening the top tier, who could focus on top-line strategy, while the business as a whole was delivering on our value proposition of how we improve service.”

Identify what you need to reach the next stage of growth

In March 2016 Decision Inc took its first external investor on board, private equity firm Capitalworks through one of its subsidiaries, SA Enterprise Development (SAED). “Up until this point we’d relied on working capital only to fund our growth. Now we’re taking a big jump, and for that we need capital. We’ve proven that we’re able to acquire and merge businesses, and that our corporate culture supports new people joining us. We understand the transition process.

“We’ve also recognised that acquisitions are a good growth strategy for us. We’re now looking at other geographic areas, starting with Australia, and if we get that right, then the UK and EU. We believe the best way to achieve this growth is to merge with local partners in those areas, and so we are once again on the acquisition trail. This investor-led strategy will see the business doing 40% of its work offshore with a R500 million turnover in five years.

“There’s no exit strategy at this time, but we want to grow value that we can unlock at the right multiple, at the right time. Through key man development, customer concentration, and spreading our geographic risk, we’re building an asset of value that justifies the effort.

“I want a multiple of ten for this business. We will be global; we will operate in four different currencies; we will have a geographic spread and multiple key clients. That’s the goal.”

Related: Miles Kubheka of Vuyo’s on Getting the Science of Pricing Right

Moving beyond price

One of the biggest challenges Decision Inc faced was that of price. “As a business, you are always measured against your peers. If you’re seen as a tech provider, then you’re measured by what your competitors are saying. It doesn’t matter what you actually do, and what your real differentiators are, what matters is what clients think you do. Once that happens, they’re benchmarking your price point without understanding the value you offer. This was our problem. The market’s understanding of the service we delivered was what constrained us.

“We have a very customer-centric focus. We’re not commoditised, and we can’t compete on price. Our service differentiator is unique. We just needed to find a way to make the market see that.” Bell had to go back to the drawing board.

You can’t articulate who you are if you don’t understand it yourself

“We’re not a typical tech provider, because we don’t just sell products. We’re also not consultants like McKinsey, Deloitte and Accenture. Those organisations are expected to charge high prices for their IP and human capital. As a tech company, we’re expected to charge commoditised prices. The reality is that we sit in the middle. We have products and IP that we bring to the table. How could we show this value to our clients and distance ourselves from our perceived competitors?

“We have the strategic ability to bring tech and people together in such a way that we can analyse your business, service your entire decision-making needs through one vendor, and then implement any tech decisions that are made.

“But this still wasn’t enough. So we looked to our track record. We’ve done 500 projects in 2016, we have a 90% customer satisfaction rate, and 250 clients are billed annually. The referrals speak for themselves.

Have a clear conversation with your customer

“This helped, but it still wasn’t enough. Ultimately what we needed to do was be able to prove the value we bring to an organisation’s bottom line. When we go in to a client, we need to be able to say ‘We can save you R50 million, and charge you R500 000 to do it.’ More importantly, we need to quantifiably prove it.

“From that moment on we were charging on capability and not on an hourly rate. Today that’s the conversation we’re having with clients. We’re not having conversations around price and hourly rates.

“The ability to have this conversation has made a huge difference in how we engage with clients, and ultimately on our bottom line and growth trajectory.”

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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