Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Thursday, 10 April 2014

#Troubleshooter for Hire!

The original Troubleshooter TV programme with the delightful Sir John Harvey-Jones had a great formula: an experienced business leader visits and advises small and often struggling UK businesses. It made business management a popular discussion subject. Using a reality TV format it led the way for future TV series such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den.

The programme follows a great format. Present the people, the business and the issues. Introduce the business expert and watch how his attempts to improve the business performance pan out. I have met several of the Troubleshooter ‘victims’ and you get an insight into business process and the filming process.

Harvey-Jones was not, and is not, the only business troubleshooter. Some time ago, Cranfield School of Management’s Colin Barrow said that I, Robert Craven am “the closest thing that growing businesses have to a modern-day John Harvey-Jones." 

JHJ was one of a kind and I was hugely flattered to be compared with him!

I have worked with the likes of Barclays and BlackBerry and been asked to help businesses everywhere from Tehran and Zambia to Cyprus and Russia.

Whether on TV or in someone’s business, the troubleshooter role is the same. It is about asking the fundamental questions: “Where are you now, where are you going, how are you going to get there? What are the key issues in the industry, the marketplace and for your competitors?” The cunning bit is coming up with workable solutions that are appropriate for the business and its owners.

Well, both troubleshooters are back. There is a new TV series (with Digby Jones) and I am back in the SouthWest ready to help local businesses. I am offering to work with local businesses in clinics and healthchecks to identify key issues and how they can be solved.

To find out more about my Troubleshooter services, contact rc@directorscentre.com  01225 851044 www.robert-craven.com 

To find out more about the BBC New Troubleshooter programme go to the BBC website

Image linked from http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/272x153/p01wmj9b.jpg

Monday, 24 March 2014

What To Include In Your Not-To-Do (or To-Don't!) List

Here are 12 things to include in a not-to-do list.

1 Don't email first thing or last thing each day
Don't email before 10am or after 4pm. Emailing first thing screws up the day as you get distracted beyond belief. Emailing last thing screws up your sleep pattern – it can wait till tomorrow!

2 Don't check emails regularly
Check them at set times, say 10am and 3.30pm (ie: not often). You must define one important/key task for each day and that must be your first priority. Email addiction will destroy your business and screw up your brain.

3 Don't answer calls form people you don't know/recognise
Never ever answer a call unless you know who it is from. You should have a PA or virtual PA screening all your calls. Let them know who you will and who you won't speak to and instruct them as to how to handle the various different types of call, eg keynote speaking enquiries to Trish, consultancy enquiries to Jo and so forth. You should be designing the business so that it operates without you. Try putting autoresponders on your email that say, "I am out of the office but consultancy enquiries can be dealt with right now by Jo at js@directorscentre.com or on +44 (0)1225 851044 and keynote speaking enquiries can be dealt with by Trish on...." You could do the same with your direct line answerphone if you don't have someone to filter your calls for you. Just stop talking to people you don't know – the call is probably for their benefit and not for yours!

4 Do not turn up to meetings on time
This is known as Lombardi Time. The great Hall of Fame football coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, invented a strategy that he recommended to his coaches and players. Lombardi Time states: "Show up for every important business meeting 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled meeting time." The idea is to use the 15 minutes to catch your breath, collect your thoughts and pre-plan what you want to accomplish in the meeting and how you'll go about it. I hate being late. If others are late I consider it the height of rudeness. If you look closely (because you arrived early), you'll see people arrive at meetings, and this will tell you a lot about the way they lead their lives.

5 Don't work with or employ energy-sapper
This one is "stolen" from Clive Woodward. From time to time, we all work with energy sappers/zappers and don't we just know it. They seem to squeeze every last ounce of passion and excitement out of any project. Their mantra is some permutation of: 
"Yes but..." 
"If only..." 
"They won't/can't'/haven't/shouldn't/couldn't..." 
"Well, if that's what you want to do..." 
"I don't really see the point of..."

These people become high-maintenance (and usually low-profit) because of the damage they do to your own immune system. Their stress and negativity-dumping behaviour sucks the very lifeblood out of your most precious asset – your enthusiasm. Replace all energy sappers with energisers. It is as simple as that.

6 Don't build the business around yourself
In the early days it's great to see those emails and texts for you – you are important and wanted. However, this excitement soon turns into an addiction. Your definition of success starts to depend on how much you are needed. Wrong! Try to design the entire business model with the sole intention of getting it to operate without you. Start with the end in mind: if you intend to get out of your business at some point, then you need to design the whole thing with that endpoint in mind. Otherwise you end up as the tiredest person in the graveyard!

7 Don't carry a BlackBerry/iPhone 24/7
The world will not grind to a halt if you are not there to take every call. In fact, customers might treat you with a bit more deference if you ration your available time with a little more respect for what is really important.

8 Don't play it too safe
The riskiest thing is to be safe. Very good is bad because no-one notices it.

9 Don't be reasonable
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man." GB Shaw

10 Don't get the negative feedback habit
We spend 95 per cent of the time focusing on the five per cent of things in our businesses that don't work and only five per cent of the time focusing on the 95 per cent of things that really do work. When things go wrong, there is no point dragging the team into the boardroom to dissect and analyse every action that (may have) contributed to the poor result.

It is far better to take the team into the boardroom when things have gone well to dissect and analyse every action that (may have) contributed to the good result. 

11 Don't take it all too seriously
No-one enjoys working with a bore.

12 Don't forget why you are doing hti sin the first place
When you are on your deathbed, you won't say say, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." Get real, have fun, laugh and lighten up! 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Nuevos secretos de la venta: Como conseguir que le compren a usted antes que a su competencia

 Esta guía de negocios valiosa ayuda a los dueños y directores de empresas pequeñas entender y utilizar el poder del marketing y provee consejos prácticos para identificar el consumidor principal de un producto y alcanzarle de manera eficaz
This valuable business guide helps small business owners and directors understand and harness the power of marketing, and provides practical advice for identifying a product’s core consumers and targeting them effectively.

I have just found it  - I knew we were doing a Spanish version of Bright Marketing!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Business Finance Bulletin #16: Robert Craven on Strategy & Finance

"In this week's Business Finance Bulletin Rob Warlow chats with entrepreneurship guru Robert Craven on the key aspects of business growth. More news on another new entrant into the banking market which promises to support small businesses with their finance needs. And in the Tip of the Week Rob shares his thoughts on taking time out of your business which came out of a day spent with members of the Infinite Group of business advisers."

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Why the Professional Service Firm Blocks Its Own Growth

If it wasn’t true you would think that someone had made it up.  

However, the story I am going to tell you gets recounted to me every single week of the year. It is a scenario that is played out all over the world, again and again, with depressing regularity.

The place is a professional service firm. I won’t name names (not ever, rest assured!).

I get invited to lunch by the new(-ish) spritely, young(-ish) partner or partner-in-waiting or new business development partner. Essentially it is the youngest person who has been offered the keys to the executive toilet... They are referred to (by their seniors) as “The new guard”, “The wave of the future”.

Because of their age and their enthusiasm they can see what is happening to the industry (law, accounting, architecture, engineering): Clients –
  • no longer equate the five star, city centre trappings with a five star service
  • are aware of other highly competitive offering
  • talk to each other online and offline about how good your practice is
  • no longer believe the empty vacuous promises in your advertisements
  • may buy most of your services in the form of a commodity via a Google search.

At its simplest, the PSF is faced with three market challenges:
  • more demanding and increasingly price sensitive clients
  • increasing complexity of services
  • difficulty in scaling progressively more niche offerings.

Meanwhile, the practice, on the other hand:
  • maintains a ludicrous overhead cost
  • is often run to maintain the partners’ pension fund above all else
  • has few, if any, commercially-minded business leaders
  • is in an industry where constant mergers (and occasional insolvencies) sustain the partners’ appetite and greed but do little to improve the client’s lot
  • talks little, if at all, about basics of business such as the client experience, delighting clients, or moving into the 21st Century. 

Did I forget staff satisfaction or career development?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most practices suffer severe ‘five-year-itis’. They are running on five-year-old assumptions about what clients want and need, what competitors are doing, how much to charge and what is really going on.

The new kid on the block can see it. The writing is on the wall. Something has to give. Decisions need to be taken, bold ones, not half-measures, Action needs to be taken and now. However, life is not so simple.

The politics of the partners meeting now kicks into play. Senior partners are disproportionately more interested in defending their department and its headcount than working for the good of the whole practice.

The more senior a partner is, the more conservative they are. After all, “it wasn’t like this in my day... When you’ve been through as many recessions as I have” etc., etc.

More significantly, the most senior partners will be the oldest. With retirement (or early retirement) in sight, the last thing they want to do is have the boat rocked. It simply isn’t in their interests (emotionally or financially) to dismantle the machine that has looked after them so well for so many years.

In a token attempt to buck the downward trend in profits, they will employ some people in marketing/business development/account management. They won’t be given too much authority because fee-earners think they themselves must be seen to be more intelligent, worthy and grown-up.

A business that is hemorrhaging cash needs a serious injection of new clients. Marketing/business development/account management will clearly be major influences on future success. It beggars belief that this is not given the full respect it requires in terms of budget, authority, responsibility and respect. It requires a partner level responsibility from a full-time professional.

The days of amateurs playing at business are over. Just because you are a great professional (in whatever field) doesn’t mean you are a great business person. 

Which dumb rule book says that twenty years in law (or whatever) equips you to manage a team of 400 people including responsibility for budgets, profitability, marketing, HR, CPD as well as running your own department? This is just cloud cuckoo land. Some professions have understood this better than others.

Those working for you in marketing, business development and in account management know their place in every sense of the word. They know what the clients really think but they also know that the ‘powers that be’ are too thick-skinned to really listen. 

“Small wins” they say, “just keep pushing, little by little.”

Likewise our protagonist, proudly showing of his new partner status is probably emasculated by the seniors under the auspices of “don’t rock the boat” or “just let it be till he retires” or “you’ll understand what’s going on one day”.

The new partner is damned if they kick-off shouting, “Wake up everyone, smell the coffee, the emperor (= senior partner) is wearing no clothes.”

And they are damned if they say nothing and just watch the practice slowly eating away at itself in a desperate bid to understand why things aren’t like they were.

But maybe there is a third way...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

More Profit for Hotel and Catering Businesses

Traditional marketing techniques deliver ever-decreasing results. It's time for a review of how to connect and reach customers, says Robert Craven.

Most marketing doesn't work. It is progressively more expensive and results seem to be harder to come by. 
eg the ad in the local paper or at the local cinema

Meanwhile most marketing is dull, unremarkable and unfocused. It doesn’t focus on benefits and positioning is wrong all because your customer understanding is wrong. There is no great commitment, no great customer engagement and cost of winning customers is rising. It just doesn’t work like it used to. And that is a fact.

There are more competitors competing more than ever. The marketplace is too busy with too many restaurants fighting for too few customers. (Or at least that's how it feels.)

Too many competitors giving away food at stupid knockdown prices we can't compete with.

Too many high street chains flooding the prime sites and flooding the internet with their big branding budgets.

I would like to construct an argument.
  1. It is clear that most 'traditional' marketing does not work. Despite what they tell you!
  2. Despite what they claim, most hospitality firms are falling well short of customer expectations especially in terms of customer service.
  3. Only 10% of any market and particularly in the food and hospitality industry actually buys on price despite what people tell you.
  4. Customers do not keep come back because you don’t appear to care (enough) about them.
  5. Customers choose you because of your engagement with them.
  6. You can get away with murder! (Well, it appears that some competitors do!)

I am more than happy to provide evidence for all of the above but let's just take these points as read. The marketing and sales landscape in hospitality is looking pretty fragile.

So, what is marketing that stands out, that 'cuts the mustard'?

For me, 'stand-out' is about challenging and shaking the food industry (and not simply about gimmicks) and 'marketing' is about revenue generating (which it should be). So, 'stand-out marketing' is inventing (new) methods to disrupt the normal way your industry conducts business.

We can now map out how to make your marketing stand out.

How to start creating some stand-out, disruptive marketing in the hospitality industry

To improve your whole approach to marketing you need to ask five questions of your customers and your business. This can be a quick’n’dirty exercise (grab a room with a flipchart and some of the key people in the business from the kitchen or form front-of-house) or it can be constructed in a more methodical manner incorporating some research.

Ask the following five questions:
  1. What really hacks off your customers?
    A clue: lousy or lazy service
  2. Why can't you sell more stuff?
    A clue: lazy marketing.
    Another: you look/sound/talk/sell identical to your competitors.
    Another: the adverts no longer work; word-of-mouth is what matters.
    Another: shouting louder doesn’t attract attention any more.
  3. What is your job from the customer’s point of view?
    A clue: it is almost certainly NOT what you do. People do not buy what you do; they buy what you do does for them. They buy the afters, what is left after you've 'delivered'. They want a great experience... they want to feel good... they want to feel that they have been looked after....
  4. What is the usual way of doing things?
    A clue: the usual way is almost certainly boring, dull and predictable.
  5. What could/should you be doing?
    A clue: this is where the hard work starts

A few more clues might be required here. A few 'starters for ten'. You could sell on 

  • low price
  • high price
  • no price
  • payment by results
You could be the:

  • best
  • slowest
  • fastest
  • first
  • last
  • only...
I am sure you get the idea.

When everyone goes zig, you could go zag.

After all, why should people bother to buy from you when they can buy from the competition, especially when the competition might well be cheaper or faster or friendlier? 

To blindly follow the pack is a mug’s game; in a team of husky dogs pulling a sledge, the only ones with a good view are the ones at the front!

What I refer to as stand-out or disruptive marketing is an alternative to the way you do things now. In your heart of hearts you know that you could be doing so much more. 

To quote Jerry Garcia: "You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do."

It works for numerous food and hospitality firms already. They are different. They do things differently. They stand out for being different. Innocent Drinks, Bighams,  Madecasse ChocolateDans Le NoirDorset CerealsHobbs House Bakery & Cafe, One World Everybody Eats and Panera Bread Cafes. These are all food businesses with strong ethical motivations who are really well-connected to their customers. Maybe it will work for you?