Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Strategy Workout - Get What You Want... out of your business

Robert Craven introduces The Strategy Workout.

"Robert and his colleagues at The Directors' Centre work with ambitious directors of fast-growing businesses who feel that they could be doing even better. 
As a keynote speaker his style is challenging, honest and goading; free of business school hyperbole he makes his audience think. 

In this four minute clip Robert introduces the workshop 'Strategy Workout: Get More of What You Want from Your Business', in which you will create a 3 step, 3 year plan for you and your business that will get results.

"More importantly, the tools actually work to help create 'sustainable business growth'. Businesses are able to measure and deliver on their roadmap... accountability gets built into a simple but effective board room process."

The FT describes him as 'the entrepreneurship guru'. 

He is not full of theoretical rhetoric; he offers practical solutions - tangible business results. 

Robert's books Bright Marketing and Kick-Start Your Business are business best-sellers and have been acted upon by thousands of growing businesses. 

His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm."

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Why consulting firms are failing medium-sized businesses

Here is the Executive Summary from this month's White Paper, 'Why consulting firms are failing medium-sized businesses'.

Executive Summary

service delivery gap is reported consistently in consultancy practices.
  • 79% of consulting practices reported that they delivered an above-average customer experience
  • When asked, only 16% of the clients felt they received an above-average experience.
The reality is that consultancy practices are failing to deliver.
Between the synthetic siren calls of the gurus and the laden drones of certain academics lies a sweetspot that can really appeal to experienced business people.
What works for the entrepreneurial owner-directors of medium-sized businesses is something which does not have the dictatorial basis of either gurus, academics or management consultancies. Something that is more collaborative and participative. Something that is more respectful of their experience, expertise and achievements – and is more enduring.
What they want, what they lack, is a bigger picture that comes from focusing on Corporate Eudaimonia (‘human flourishing’), the best possible balance of financial, physical and moral well-being. Consequently, it has wider perspectives than pure maximisation of profit.
Experienced owner-directors don’t believe in miracles, or the efficacy of quick fixes. They think they have some – but not all – of the answers. They understandably don’t want to be preached to, nor have their experience and expertise ignored, or undervalued. They want heterarchy (a system of organisation where the elements are unranked) not hierarchy. They want to work peer-to-peer with mutual respect.
Owner-directors don’t believe that their business can be, or needs to be, transformed. They want improvement, not revolution, and they know that improvement is as much to do with how their business operates as anything related to direction or strategy.
They are looking for evolution: performance improvement over time, fitness in changing markets.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How to Win Business awards

Robert Craven shares his insights on making your awards application stand out from the crowd.
How to win business awards
Over the past few years I have been a judge for numerous national business awards and competitions: Great British Entrepreneur, Start-ups, Growing Business, Fast Growth, Bio-Tech, working with the ‘good and the great’ to recognise and celebrate the achievements of individual businesses and their owners.
The process of judging is always a humbling affair; it involves a lot of highly-heated debate as well as a lot of laughter. The refining and narrowing down of a group choice to one winner is not as scientific as a one would like, but at the end of the day the best business wins. There is a lot of similarity between the way that job applications get handled and award applications get dealt with.
The sifting process...

How to win business awards
GBEA image

Read on at

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Stop Blogging and Think

If you wish to prove that your new business is just a run-of-the-mill and unoriginal, vanilla-flavoured company like the rest, just keep on banging out those quickly-written and, to be honest, shallow blog posts.

Every so-called social media guru screams, ‘Content is King’. No! Content is not King; Engagement is King. If you put out even more mediocre, average and truly uninsightful blog posts then you will simply be adding to the mass of mediocrity that clutters our inboxes.

Do you truly believe that your audience can differentiate your unremarkable and unmemorable little blog offerings from anyone else’s? Do your “10 Tips...”, “What we can learn...”, and “How to…” –type titles really make potential clients think, “Yes, I want to buy from them!”? I doubt it. No, you just look like a breathlessly over-enthusiastic start-up. Why would they look at your sheer predictable averageness? More relevant, who does find those titles attractive? I doubt it will be the people you are trying to attract...

Friday, 8 August 2014

Owner-Directors Do Not Need Silver Bullet Advice

Owner-managers (the smaller, younger naive businesses) find it almost impossible to sort the good from the bad in the sea of offers of help. Their very naivety excludes them from knowing what they don’t know and what it actually is that they need. As a result, they tend to jump from one exciting initiative to the next.

On the other hand, owner-directors (in larger and more mature businesses) are not taken in by the breathless excitement of those selling hope to the needy. However, they find it hard to find the right assistance (being too big for the owner-manager offerings and too small for the offerings of the big consultancy houses).

As a starting point I would suggest that asking, ‘Where should the owner-director look for help and support?’ may actually be the wrong question.

The right question might be to ask ‘Exactly what is the problem and what are the underlying causes?’.

Unfortunately most suppliers of assistance do not carry out the appropriate diagnostic. Marketing consultants assume the problem is marketing, social media consultants assume the problem (and the solution) is social media and so on.

I would argue that what the business actually needs is an objective diagnostic, a look under the bonnet that examines what the key issues are and some sort of prioritised shopping list. The systematic approach is especially required for the owner-director.

Too often, the focus of interventions is on the business and the business goals and performance indicators. While it may be easier to measure and report on the easily measurable (the things that we can enter on to a spreadsheet), this rarely tells the whole story. The items that are tougher to measure are often left out of the equation. This is ironic as these are often the really important things.

The sort of questions I am referring to are less tangible but more about many owner-directors’ definition of success: Is this business fulfilling its purpose? Have we created a team and culture that is positive and self-reinforcing? Is this business sustainable in the long-run? Does it allow me to do what I really want to do with the rest of my life? Is it going to provide me with the funds I need (now and later)?

As we come out of the recession and as a little bit of pressure is coming off businesses so more and more owner-directors, managing directors and CEOs are starting to question the very fabric of their business and why they as individuals do what they do. There seem to be more and more people searching for answers, if only to validate that what they currently do is ticking all the right boxes.

Businesses are looking to create far more of a well-rounded solution recognising the need to create balance as well as a sustainable future. This requires an understanding of the bigger picture as well as its component parts: aspiring to develop a flourishing team, sales processes, cash-flow and profitability that deliver on the greater goals of the business. It seems that it is no longer just about the profit and the ROI but now there is a desire to create a more complete business that it is more satisfying and rewarding to own and run.

The owner-director may have been duped into parting with their own hard-earned cash in the past; the last thing they need right now is another guru with a magic wand. 

While a dramatic transformation, a radical revolution in how one does business may sound exciting (re-stimulating the passion and excitement of the old days), the wise owner-directors realise that what they probably need is a more delicate and evolutionary approach to growing and developing the business. The quest for explosive sales results is replaced with a desire to achieve sustainable growing profit.

The owner-director is very different from the smaller, owner-manager.

They have too much to lose (the nice car, home and holidays that come with painstakingly nurturing and growing a business) and they are no fools. What they are looking for is far-more considered support from people who have a mix of: been-there-done-it expertise, grey-haired wisdom, background credibility and the ability to communicate and assist. At this point in the business, one is looking for support in the long game, recognising the benefit of consistent and constant improvements (3% here and 4% there) that will create an engine for growth.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Work Less, Achieve More

We are endlessly told that hard work creates more profit. Work harder to create more profit in your new business. Does more work really mean more profit? Do we have to put in ludicrously long hours to be successful?

We have been brought up to believe that working more equates to being more successful. More input equates to more output. Well, I am not sure I agree. I think the logic (and many of the assumptions behind it) is flawed.

Sure, if you are a one-person-business, charging per unit of time, then more units equals more money. But most businesses try to grow by employing people to spread the workload. Or, maybe you should simply charge more per unit of time!

For those of us who are not charging by the hour, then I would argue that it may well be more profitable to work less. I repeat… to work less. Less hours… less stress… less banging your head against a brick wall.

I shall be more specific.

Jim currently works 5 days a week. In effect, he contributes 20% of a week's value on each working day. He admits that if he only worked four days a week (ie took Fridays off), then he could easily do “25% days”. In other words, with a Friday off he could and would work more productively on the other four work days.

But the maths deceives us of the real benefits of the extra day off.

If Jim spends Fridays doing whatever it is that he wants to (gardening, household/DIY chores, playing guitar, walking the dogs) then he will spend much of that time ruminating and reflecting on the days that he does work. Consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, he will be thinking about what he does on the working days. And this is where things get interesting.

With a bit of space from the work environment, Jim returns on a Monday with a new zest and vigour. But that is not all.

While Jim spends his Fridays doing his own thing, he will come up with great ideas for the business. So, he comes back to work refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to go. Except now he has a freshness and an intensity about himself. He has more focus. More focus on what is required.

FACT: You never come up with great light-bulb moments when sat in front of the computer.
MORAL: Spend time away from the computer.
ACTION: To help your business, book more days off! 

To be more effective you need to work less. My challenge to you is that you can achieve more by working less.

Working harder creates burn-out. Working harder satisfies the voice in your head, the monkey on the shoulder, who says, “If you are not working long hours then you are short-changing yourself".  What utter tosh. 

We have been sucked in by the protestant work ethic (which did apply to factory workers where longer hours equal more pay). However, most of us are not factory workers, we are knowledge workers, and our pay is proportionate to the quality of ideas rather than the number of hours that we work. 

So, what's holding you back?

Admittedly, you have to put in the hours in the early stage of your business in order to get the enterprise off the ground. If success is a consequence of the number of people that know about you then you need to meet as many people as possible. However, I would argue that there is no point being a busy fool.

Once the business is up and running, the quality of your time is more important than the quantity. You need to spend as much time working ‘on’ the business as possible, stepping back and making sure you are doing the right things. The risk of spending too much time ‘in’ the business is that you might become a busy fool where you can’t see the wood for the trees. You don’t want to build a business that is 100% dependent on you 100% of the time. You want to create a self-sustaining machine that will survive without you.

Taken to its logical extreme, anything that is a repeated task should be handed over to someone else. If you can give a task to someone who can do it for £6.50 per hour then your holding on to that task means that, in effect, you only value your time at £6.50 per hour. Surely it is worth more than that.

Here are my one-liners, to print and put by your computer screen:



Let others do the rest.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Clients see a decline in professionalism - everywhere

There was a golden age in the years before the internet.

Clients of lawyers, accountants, architects, business consultants and financial advisers looked up to and respected their advisers. In fact, it was a two-way thing.

Advisers understood what it meant to be professional. They worked on behalf of, and in the best interests of their clients. Clients trusted you and you valued the trust that they imbued in you. But that trust got shattered.

Cunning advisers in almost every field would take advantage of their position. By definition, the professional expert had been trusted to do everything in their power to improve the lot of their clients. But now things had changed. Advisers started to work on their own account. They put their own needs (or should I say greed) ahead of the needs of their client. They started to abuse the trust. 

As it happened, the next thing was that the internet came into the equation.

The actions of the few unscrupulous advisers had muddied the waters for all their kind. All got tarred with the same brush. But the internet seemed to redress the balance.

For a start, the speed and reach of the internet meant that a good or a bad reputation got spread ten times faster than in the old-days. More importantly, much of the so-called precious, hidden, ‘expert’ information was now available for all and sundry to see. It took a few clicks of Google and there it was for all to see. The big ‘secrets’ were no longer so secret.

The days when people in authority abused their power were over. Hurray! At least that’s how it seemed.

But be warned, because now there is a different kind of knowledge and it is in the hands of your clients. I am referring to the half-baked, semi-, demi-, wiki-cum-people’s knowledge that is very much a mixed blessing.

Doctors now see patients who have already self-diagnosed and are in a state of perpetual anxiety as they have looked up maybe 23 potentially life-threatening diseases they may have contracted which any expert could see was flu. Lawyers have clients quoting case law as if they had been in articles for the past five years. And on and on it goes.

Now, the downside of such a situation is clear. Everyone’s an expert and a little bit of information is a dangerous thing. The upside is that clients will be savvier, more aware, and will no longer take recommendations at face value.

I see this as an opportunity. The experts, those in authority, need to recognise that their reputations have been battered. Priests, politicians, bankers and pop stars are at the top of the list of abusers. Lawyers, accountants, architects, consultants, journalists of all kinds have all had their share of damage caused by the abusers of trust. 

To stand out in this new world requires you to have a reputation beyond reproach. You need to recognise that people have always talked but now they talk to several thousand people with the single click of the keyboard.

There will always be a place for honest servants of their clients (after all you do serve your clients!) whose actions vindicate, validate and justify the trust that has been put in them. Every industry will have their abusers. You, however, need to consistently deliver with honesty and integrity.

Actions speak louder than words. Your reputation is created and spread by your clients. End of. 

We are not talking about some kind of cover-up or euphemistically called reputation management campaign. We are talking about acting and behaving with respect for your clients and their needs. All the time. Always.

Remember, a pig with lipstick on is still a pig, no matter how you look at it.

PostScript – the same applies to food manufacturers and their inability to put the advertised ingredients into their products!