How do you ‘lean’ a business?

In these straightened times, its a great opportunity to review your business processes & establish the foundations for the future.

Never let a crisis go to waste. Rahm Emmanuel (via WSJ)

Lean means taking a fundamental look at your business & driving out waste. Some of these wastes will be obvious (work in progress, re-work, multiple sign off sheets, etc) some of the waste may be harder to identify. There are experts in “Lean” & 6 Sigma Black-Belts, these may work for you, but I would suggest that you begin with a strategic review of your purpose, then consider some systems process modelling that will show how well, or otherwise, you are working towards those strategic proposes. From there you can assign costs and added value to activities to help with cast flow forecasting.

Strategic Purpose

You need to have one.

I was lucky to spend some time with Michael Corbett (Product Box, @productbox) a couple of weeks ago using a fairly new method called the “Business Model Canvass“. We spent a couple of minutes talking about the canvass but it’s such a simple, visual method that we quickly started drawing ideas on the sheet and making connections. It was quite fun to be the ‘client’ and not to have to think too hard about the model but just concentrate on the process.

We looked at a business I was involved with and used the Canvass to work up a representation of the business model. The visual approach quickly distilled the Strategic Purpose (which I can waffle on about for ages) and encapsulated a clear  Value Proposition. The business was a good test of the canvass as it’s not a simple model of taking orders, fulfilling orders, rinse & repeat.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the stakeholders (or customer segments), activities and relationships. This actually identified a critical Value Proposition that I was completely unaware of. It had certainly not been articulated before.

We also worked out most of the rest of the business model, though without much detail. By lunch time we’d 75% of the business model captured, though not in a form that you could have presented to a third party. However, in a dozen or so post-it notes we’d encapsulated most of a traditional business plan and produced a couple of very clear value propositions that, together with the key partners & customer segments, represented a pretty good Strategic Purpose.

Fleshing out the sketch

Michael then pulled out his trump card – he’d set up a Google Site specifically designed to capture the output from our Business Canvas session. This contained all our notes, diagrams, together with a whole load of background info on the canvass, process, and associated references. Basically, all the information necessary to take the insights gained from the business canvas exercise and turn them into an action plan.

Michael explained that, given that it contains all this information in one place, and that it relates to a new product (or service) that he calls it a ProductBox™. Normally we’d have been working on the Canvass as team of business owners / founders / exec’s prior to launching a new product or service, and the ProductBox is designed to keep that team-work going on line. I just happened to be working with Michael on my own.

After our meeting I logged in to my new ProductBox and took a look at the draft diagrams & notes. Because we’d spent the time drafting the original using paper and pens, it was very easy to start using the on-line diagrams. The associated notes helped to expand the short notes with more detail.

After a couple more hours I’d got quite a detailed business model described. I’d also explored some of the panes in the canvas in more detail and put in some background information and explanatory notes on how things related to each other. One of the drawbacks with simple visual representations is that you often lose critical details, having the Product Box with all the notes kept all those notes together with the canvass. Although I was working on this alone (with Michael keeping an eye on me) the package is a wiki so naturally collaborative if you’re in company with others.

After a couple of sessions I had sufficient detail that I would naturally start using something like IDEF0 to detail the business processes needed to make the canvass work. One feature of IDEF that I really like is the concept of layering processes through parent-child relationships, while the Canvass doesn’t force on you, I can see it being a great complement to other approaches (and the wiki design of the ProductBox would help here also).

The end result (even after a couple of sessions) was sufficiently detailed that I could use the canvas as a map of the business model to describe to others. It’s also a live document that can continue to grow as more contributions are posted.

Michael and I discussed the use of the canvass. I think it’s strength is as a planning tool that very quickly and visually allows people to discuss their business model (without lots of MBA mumbo-jumbo). At first I was a little frustrated at the lack of detail, but I’ve come round to appreciate the simplicity of the presentation framework. There’s a lot more detail under the surface and the Product Box that Michael set up allows for almost infinite details if that’s what floats your boat.

Should you Canvass your business?

What I liked was the holistic view of the business model, and the expressed statement about Value Proposition. Anyone thinking of pitching their business should take a look at this approach, and have a chat with Michael.

Thanks to Michael for his comments on an earlier draft of this post and for introducing me to the Business Canvass and ProductBox.

Social Media – Recommend something

Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic
Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic

Recommend: to present as worthy of confidence, acceptance, use, etc.; commend; mention favorably

This is possibly the hardest stage and the one that most often introduces cognitive dissonance. You spend the time establishing rapport, building your understanding, demonstrating your understanding and expertise, at some point you need to recommend a solution. Obviously you want to recommend your solution, your most expensive solution (to push your ROI), or your cheapest solution (to hook them in)?

No, you want to recommend the best solution for whoever you’re talking to.

Of course if all you do is recommend others you’ll quickly go out of business, unless that is your business paid for by someone else. And here we get to a really interesting business proposition that’s been around for some time but is potentially seeing a resurgence in the business of social media business.

Commission based sales and affiliate marketing (where the sales channel takes a cut of the final transaction value) are nothing new. However, this is still a traditional sales pitch, even Google ads will present you the ad that’s paid the most for the keyword you’ve typed in even if you would actually be better off with another (cheaper) solution.

‘Proper’ social media allows you to recommend other people and yet still maintain a link with the customer for the next time, and through the joy of networks to all their connections. So when they tweet what a great consultant/business/product you’ve got, all their connections find out.

There still isn’t a decent mechanism for measuring social value. Tara Hunt‘s Wuffie Factor is an attempt but I’m not aware of it being used much in practice. LinkedIn recommendations are a bit too back-slappy and mutually appreciative which sort of devalues them.

The hardest reports I filled out were the ones where I’d been talking to a company and suggested they get in touch with another University for their £’00k research project. Of course it goes down better if that solution is from the company employing you, but its remarkable how many successful introductions to new clients came from people I’d recommended go elsewhere.

Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego
Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego

Close: to arrange the final details of; to complete or settle

If the recommendation is accepted, and it usually was, then closing is just the fine tuning of the agreement, sorting out purchase / invoice details, price, delivery, etc.

A word of warning though, just because you’ve build up this great rapport with a client, don’t begin work without a signed contract. If there is to be an exchange of money then you need at least something that sets out in writing the proposed transaction.

Having invested all this time and effort in securing a sale, keep it going, but don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that now they’ve finally made a purchase they’ll go away and leave you in peace, making monthly subscription installments; or that now they’ve bought your stuff you can pester them about every upgrade and option on the list.

I would recommend consistency above all. If you’ve provided a very light touch information stream and simple options leading up to the sale, don’t suddenly start sending bi-weekly email newsletters. Likewise, if you’ve been chatting on twitter, sending notifiers through your Facebook fan page, and so forth, don’t suddenly ignore them to chase the next client/customer.

So five posts ago I asked what was social media good for? It can be good for business, it can be good for your business, but like any tool of business, you need to spend a bit of time thinking through your strategy and implementing it to find new customers and establish rapport, lurk-a-lot (and talk with them a lot) to understand them and their needs, demonstrate you’ve been listening and really understanding, and then make some recommendations on their best course of action, eventually closing a deal with a new customer.

And if I’ve managed to build up some rapport with you, you think I might understand your needs, and have demonstrated that I understand social media, I’d recommend you drop me an email and we’ll take it from there! 🙂

Social Media – Demonstrate your skillz

Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star
Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star

Demonstrate: to make evident or establish by arguments or reasoning; to describe, explain, or illustrate by examples, specimens, experiments

Now is the time to join the conversation. Relate to your audience, demonstrate that you understand their world and needs. Demonstrate that you are an authentic person not just a marketing drone. This is where a little bit of human comment alongside the professional is more acceptable than in traditional marketing / communications strategies.

How much will depend on you, your product/service/company and your audience. Try a bit out, see what the response is, if you haven’t quite understood the social norms, apologise and tighten up a bit.

It may be that your online shopping site is able to demonstrate that you understand my need by recommending other things I’d like. At the moment this is still more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’. And frankly my experience of Facebook’s targeted ads is pretty poor (but then perhaps I’m not sharing enough to allow them to understand my every whim).

Freeagent established an early rapport with me through a review of their products on a website (can’t remember which but it was around their launch date), they clearly understood the needs of small businesses in the UK and particularly recognised the need for LLP specific accounting support (we’re incorporated as an LLP). They continue to demonstrate that they understand my needs by staying out of my face and cranking out the updates.

By contrast Greenlight Search Engine Marketing blew it completely at this point. They’d begun well, establishing rapport with a polite email referencing this site and a specific post, and followed up with a couple of phone calls which was a nice touch. I should have realised that they didn’t understand me from the email and phone calls but decided to proceed anyway because of the great job that Vodafone had done with their ‘Live Guy‘ promotion and this was also for Vodafone.

Greenlight asked me to put some links to Vodafone’s store on my post, I thought this was kind of cool (it’s always nice when someone reads, or at least notices your stuff) and wanted to add a small post-script about Greenlight, SEO in web2.0 etc and then the links. Nope, they just wanted the links and to pay me £40. Against my better judgement, and after lots of thinking, I stuck the links on (with rel=”nofollow” tags) and emailed my invoice. A few weeks later, without settling their invoice, I got another email, from someone else in Greenlight, ‘updating’ the links (which I did in good faith). Several months later, still without settling their invoice, I’ve not heard anything further and have taken the links off.

Which brings me to an important aspect of social media (which applies to any business but is amplified with online). Do a great job and your happy customer might tell one or two people what a great job you did, upset them and you’ll have United Breaks Guitars (YouTube video)!

Assuming you’ve demonstrated that you understand your client/customer/community needs, it’s time to make a recommendation on what to do next.

Social Media – build Understanding

Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi
Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi

Understand: to perceive what is meant; to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

This is the sage advice about having two ears and only one mouth, listen to what is going on. Even if you already have a very strong market leading brand; before you wade in, listen and observe (lurk in the parlance). The social norm’s don’t always apply on line and some ‘normal’ behaviour is downright rude on line. Equally, what’s ‘normal’ on twitter isn’t the same as what’s normal on LinkedIn. Think of it like international trade and those HSBC ads about cultural differences.

Social media is great for lurking and the great thing about social media is that lurking is accepted, even encouraged. You can let the river of news from most social networks flow over you while you scope out the lie of the land.

Tools like Tweetdeck mean you can keep an eye on half a dozen topic groups (by using search & group functions), most sites allow you to ‘follow’ a discussion so you get all the updates without having to spend all week hitting reload.

Set up a few Google alerts, feed them into your RSS reader. Find the social media networks relevant to your business, there is one out there and Google probably knows where it is. See what’s popular, language used, topics of discussion, OT discussions (Off-Topic, not directly related to the forum/discussion/network but of interest to the group).

Take the time to figure this out, don’t just hire a 13 year old. Like any key aspect of your business, you should understand the basics so that you can plan and act accordingly. If nothing else, you need to know when you’re being spun B.S. by your 13 year old ‘social media guru’. 🙂

You don’t need to be developing any great theory of everything, you certainly shouldn’t aim to know everything about everything. That way lies analysis paralysis, but you can build up a picture of the industry, your client, their challenges and how you can help them address those challenges.

Most social media sites have great facilities for chat, discussion forums and similar where you can ask questions and monitor replies. However, remember the opening advice above and be aware than discussions can be very robust & opinionated. Whatever you do, I would advise against getting drawn into a flame war. As recent evidence as shown, no one is really anonymous on the internet (if they ever were).

Generally I don’t say a lot at networking events, at least until I’ve stopped ‘working’ and had a couple glasses of wine. I’ll usually ask questions like ‘what are you currently excited about…’ or ‘what cool stuff are you working on’. By taking the time to understand a business in the assisted living technologies markets (primarily for the hearing impaired) I was able to identify that the key challenge was more about growth & succession planning than product development & sales. I was able to demonstrate this by asking more about their business structure & strategy than about their technologies. Having establishing my understanding and credibility I was able to recommend that two projects were developed what were around £100k each.

Having worked on understanding your customer’s needs through social media, you can begin to demonstrate that understanding and establish your position as someone who can be trusted and respected.

Social Media – establishing Rapport

Uploaded on January 11, 2009 by daviza

Rapport: relation; connection, esp. harmonious or sympathetic relation

This is ostensibly the easy bit of social media; the ‘friending’ act is usually straight forward and simple and isn’t the whole point of “social media” to be, well social?

As is often the case the answer is “Yes, but…

I think that the difference is between permission and interruption. Seth Godin is probably the leading writer/thinker about this.

In the good old days you’d interrupt what people were doing to tell them about your great product or services. Because you’d interrupted them you had to move fast before they found something else to look at, hence the high-speed / high-pressure approach made (in)famous by car salesmen on US television.

If you were networking you’d open with your elevator pitch and close by handing a business card over and demanding one in return. When you got home you’d immediately send out a follow-up letter and offer to quote for business, you might even include a ‘special offer’ because you’d met them in person.

All of which has very little to do with rapport and everything to do with words like ‘conversion’, ‘pipeline’, and ‘sales order process’. Too many people are still using the social media tools as old-school interruption opportunities. Folks on twitter who constantly tweet their blog posts, special offers, etc, Facebook apps that aggressively try to go viral by demanding that you interrupt your friends with requests to join this club, or take this test.

The plethora of tools and sites now available mean that we can genuinely begin to build harmonious or sympathetic relations with customers/clients without getting all new-agey and transcendental.

The first task, as always, is to be clear why you’re using social media tools. Where they fit in your business plan (you do have a plan right?) and what you’re hoping to achieve. From here you can think about where to begin social networking, who you’re hoping to network with, what you would like out of it and what you’re offering. Remember that to be really successful you need others to give you permission to be social with them. Your content / offer / insight / etc has to be compelling enough for people to click “Accept new Friend” or whatever the equivalent is on the platform you’re using, and you should almost certainly be on several.

Then there’s the design of your social presence, which should be sympathetic to the audience. If you’re audience is corporate business then slightly serious blues, rounded boxes, and a ‘business like’ approach is probably better than wacky layout, pastel colours, cartoon fonts, etc. This harks back to a joint post I did with Chris in March about presenting your product (or yourself) to a customer.

Think also about your avatars, are they logos, photos cartoonified versions of your photo? Think about where you are (FacebookMySpaceBeboXingLinkedInEcademyetc) is this where your customers, partners, or audience are? More importantly, is it where they expect to see you?

Most of the companies that do business with Universities are medium sized or large companies, they’re typically not start-ups. So while start-up and new media parties are great fun (and they are), they weren’t that relevant for my role back in 2002-2005. What was relevant was industry networking events, and regional networking events where the middle and senior engineers and Directors would go to find out about research, funding, and opportunities for their company. Being sympathetic meant asking about their business processes, technical challenges and opportunities they weren’t able to capitalise on just yet.

These days I’d be checking out the LinkedIn groups from Aerospace & and major primes, I’d also be signed up to the forums from the West of England Aerospace Forum (our regional membership organisation for this sector). I’d also explore Ning and some of the other less well known social media platforms to find the niche networks.

That’s how I established a rapport with the MD of Messier-Dowty Services, at an event where the interesting companies were. Messier-Dowty Services had a huge opportunity in the coming need for through life capturing of service data on every component in an aircraft’s landing gear, and a huge challenge because a single landing gear can have thousands of components and hundreds of sub-systems; all of which are being moved between individual landing gear, different aircraft, and many operators throughout their serviceable life. With even my limited database architecture experience it wasn’t hard to sympathise with that opportunity/headache.

Having established some rapport I was able to arrange some follow up meetings to understand their needs, demonstrate that understanding by developing an outline project idea and then recommend a great academic and funding source, and closing a circa £100k project between them and the University.

Once you established some element of Rapport, you can begin to build your Understanding of the person’s needs.

Social Media; what is it good for?

Specifically, how can we build business value using social media in all its forms.

Lots of smart folk have been discussing the business models (esp Alan Patrick, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson, and Sean Park) and the use of social media (esp danah boyd, Chris BroganTara Hunt, and our own Nigel Legg), you could even check out my GReader shared stream or Friendfeed to see who I’ve been reading in particular.

This particular post was triggered by two events here in Bristol. The first was the launch of the Brrism Social Media Cafe, the second was a local Federation of Small Business event. Both were good in that they were fundamentally starting from outside the echo-chamber.

As a lapsed academic with a research background in systems theory, business processes and change management I think I have a useful perspective to consider these new tools. I’m also not promoting my own business solution so perhaps offer a degree of ‘independence’. I’m lucky in that I have the freedom to experiment and to try and span organisational & industry boundaries to figure out how these tools can be used.

And they are just tools. This may be heretical, but despite all the Gen-Y / Digital Native stuff, I don’t think social media is re-wiring our brains. That probably last took place around 60,000 years ago and even if it is taking place now, its a process that’ll take several biological generations (rather than internet generations which can take place over a weekend).

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future, 1973, Ref. Wikipedia

Yes, the technology is remarkable, even amazing and close enough to Arthur C Clarke’s description of ‘magic’ as to be the best description in most circumstances. Even the humble SMS, when you actually try to break it down to fundmental processes, software and hardware, is magic.

So what can we do with this ‘magic’?

There was definitely more understanding of the community building potential for social media tools at the Brrism event (even the ‘money’ group spent most time talking about community & method rather than purpose) while the FSB folks were still making the leap from social media as a ‘free’ version of traditional marketing. However, all the talk about community, social, conversation, and similar terms took me back to a Young IoD event I went to a couple of years ago.

The speaker was Nick Drake-Knight and he has a very clear sales process. Nick advocated RapportUnderstandDemonstrateRecommend – Close. I think this provides an excellent strategy for social media usage in business, actually its a great strategy for being social in business. Over the next few days post my thoughts on how to do this and relating to real experiences that I’ve had.

Show me the Money – BSSP

Mariano Kamp, July 2008
Mariano Kamp, July 2008

In my earlier post, I revealed some analysis that I’d asked Nigel to undertake and my interpretation of that analysis. Here I offer some thoughts on what actions businesses might take away from this.

The first thing to note is that unless you’re a Bank or car company, Government support for you probably won’t change that dramatically.

For the genuine start up, life is still going to be pretty tough until you can show some revenue. The good news is that there is lots you can do yourself that doesn’t involve lots of cost. Start blogging about your service/industry, join the Twitter conversation, keep an eye on the enterprise networks around you, get out there and meet people. The tools to support good old fashioned networking and business development have never been better or cheaper (and you can’t get cheaper than free).

If there isn’t a suitable enterprise network around you, start one. BEN is a great network around Bristol but tends towards established companies, so I set up an OpenCoffee Club, OpenCoffee is a ready made template that’s free and globally recognised. So long as you’re building an entrepreneur support & growth network and not just pimping your product/service you’ll find folks are generally happy to support you.

For the company that has some revenue, or the promise of imminent revenue there are a couple of interesting options.

The first is the range of grants available for R&D from SWRDA (South West Regional Development Agency). These are to part-fund small and close to market R&D (typically £5k to £50k) with a specific focus on small companies. You identify a project value and SWRDA provides a portion of that, usually between 40% and 60%.

  1. Proof of Market Projects test the commercial potential of an innovative idea for a new technology, lasting no more than 9 months. The output should be a thorough and professional analysis of the scale of the market opportunity. Grants of £5,000 – £20,000 are available to small and medium sized businesses.
  2. Micro Projects are small scale development projects lasting no longer than 12 months. The output should be a simple prototype of a novel or innovative product or process. Aid of £5,000 – £20,000 for all micro businesses covering 45% of eligible costs is available.
  3. Research Projects involve planned research or critical investigation into the feasibility of new products or processes, lasting between 6 and 18 months. The result of the project could be new scientific or technical knowledge that may be commercially exploited. Grants of £20,000 – £100,000 for micro and small businesses covering 60% of eligible costs are available.

There are also Development grants and two Exceptional grant levels >£100k. The development grants are only 35% and the exceptional grants aren’t really aimed at the small business or start-up entrepreneur.

Next up are more general business expansion funding. A couple of days ago SWRDA announced their South West Loans Fund. This is £10m of funding for small businesses that have been refused credit elsewhere. A good slug of that cash comes from Europe (£6.25m) so the focus is on the more deprived parts of the South West (Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly get £5m), but businesses from across the South West are eligible.

All grant applications have to address two very different needs. Yours and the funders. Having written plenty of successful business grants for funding, research or collaboration myself, knowing how to frame your business innovation so that it appeals to public sector funding is more art than science.

Although most of the cash is coming from SWRDA, BSSP means you access it through Business Link who will provide you with Information, Diagnose your needs, and Broker connections to the right bits of SWRDA’s Innovation team.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there is evidence that banks are beginning to open up to good companies under the Enterprise Finance Guarantee. For business growth finance this is probably your best bet, and you’ll have to have tried (and failed) here before you approach SWRDA for a South West Loans Fund application.

Then there are the equity funding options from SWAIN, Catalyst Venture Partners, Eden Ventures, and those are just the main ones in the South West. There are other independent Angel investors and networks in London that are investing.

So as ever, there are quite a few options. I’ve only cover some here, those I feel are most relevant to the small business or start up entrepreneur. The full list of support products is available in a pdf from SWRDA.

Business Support Simplification – an analysis

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix
Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Is it possible for a Government to provide simple support to businesses?

Well the UK Government thinks it is, but recognises that it hasn’t been very good at the simple part. A few years ago some wag pointed out that there were over 3,000 different grants, programmes, schemes, advice networks, etc (nobody really knew the exact number), and that it was something of a mess. In the 2006 Budget the Government promised to reduce this to around 100. The latest plan is to get this down to 30.

As Dan Martin over at businesszone.co.uk more recently pointed out, this simple list of 30 has already become less simple.

As part of an application to the recent SWRDA post for Head of Business Innovation, I thought I’d revisit BSSP from a more strategic perspective. While I have dealt directly with several of the individual ‘products’ (as they’re called) and have been involved in various briefing and discussion around the rest, I’ve not formally reviewed the whole documentation associated with these changes.

Enter Nigel Legg at Katugas Lex. I emailed over three documents: Solutions for business: supporting success, The economic drivers of Government-funded business support: supporting analysis for ‘Solutions for business: supporting success’ and the South West Regional Development Agency’s Regional Economic Strategy. I asked Nigel to see what the key themes and constructs that emerged from within these three documents, but didn’t set any specific boundaries or expectations.

After a couple of days Nigel emailed to say he’d finished and invited me round for a presentation and discussion.

A note on the analysis method before getting into the findings. Each document was broken down and repeating words found, for each document the top 30 to 40 words were included in the supporting excel report. These words were then grouped to identify key themes with around 13 per document. Because of the way the statistics works, you don’t receive an absolute measure of thematic importance. For example, with the Economic Drivers the most connected theme was “business” with “market” being 73% as connected as “business” and “information” being 50% as connected as “business”. So you do get a very good internal feel for the focus and thrust of the document, Nigel also included a combined report of all three documents.

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support
The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

As you’d expect the dominant themes are around business, support, innovation, economics with a heavier weighting towards regional and south west for the SWRDA document. What was more interesting was what wasn’t there.

The market was clearly front and centre in the economic justification. Innovation is clearly linked to productivity and there’s a reasonable focus on benefits (through examples). Unfortunately “profit” or “finance” didn’t make the ranking for any of the documents.

Providing information is clearly seen as a benefit and service to inform the businesses understanding of the market and various support available. As I understand it this is a core function of the Business Links through their IDB (Infomation, Diagnosis & Brokerage).

Despite having a whole chapter on Skills (Chapter 3), they don’t show up as a key theme. The two main ‘products’ here are Train to Gain and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Hidden away is a very interesting sounding service “Coaching for High Growth”.

The actual semanic map of the BSSP document wasn’t that surprising on its own. The main focus was around businesses and economic achievement, with a sizable grouping around Government Support, the schemes themselves and eligibility.

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
Its worth noting at the outset that the SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy goes much wider than business innovation or government support for businesses. There were quite sizable thematic groupings around people and future communities and their connection to the broad economy of the region. There was also consideration on the challenges and changes associated with growth.

The focus in general has moved away from a historical focus on employment toward productivity (at least as far as business is concerned). Interestingly, important and business are closely linked themes.

Possibly the most noticeable shift between the two maps is the disappearances of “market”, “innovation” and “enterprise” as top level themes.

Some thoughts

  • Personally I would have liked to have seen more evidence of developing market understanding and providing solutions to problems in the market.
  • I’d also have liked to see more emphasis on developing the higher skills for entrepreneurship and innovation (principally team building).
  • The emphasis on innovation & enterprise at the national level is excellent, as is the lack government focus on specific sectors (though this has already changed with the various sector bail-outs).
  • It would have been nice to see more innovation & enterprise focus in the SWRDA RES, but moving from an employment focus to productivity is a start

Serendipity engineering

Atticus Finch Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser
Atticus Finch - Uploaded on August 21, 2006 by Dunechaser

How valuable is engineered serendipity to your business? On my way back from a meeting in the Watershed I thought I’d stick my head into UWE’s new business incubator facility in Bush House. Only opened just before Christmas they already have a good selection of tenants including the usual scattering of graduate start-ups (such as Carolyn Newton from Whale Bags, a business plan competition winner).

I also bumped into Chris, Dave, and Toby from Evans & Finch. I’d spoke to Dave & Chris last year at OpenCoffee before they’d settled so it’s great to see them finding their feet so quickly. For one thing the holding page they had back in November is now funky showcase of their work.

Chris, Toby and I threw a couple ideas around for some funding they’re thinking about applying for. They had a very strong feature set (not unusual for a software / tech company) and a pretty compelling description of the benefits, which is nice to see. The challenge we were kicking around was how to bring that to bare upon the funding call.

We took a step back from the application itself and looked at the funders as clients. This lead to some great new directions for the proposal. We’ll find out how they get on in a couple of weeks.

So how does that help jbsh? Well in the short term it doesn’t. It does build the relationship with Chris, Dave & Toby (especially if they land the funding 🙂 ) which may lead to some consultancy in the future. More likely, they’ll bump into someone that needs some business planning support and think of me.

Serendipity works like that, so long as the opportunity cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit its always a good investment.

I was in town, I could have gone straight home and sorted a couple emails or helped Chris & Dave and lay the opportunity. I think helping out Chris & Dave was a better use of my time and the emails will get answered in due course.

Customer delight

In my last post I talked about business process modeling and how it could help understand the activities in a business prior to cost cutting for survival. In this post I’m going to riff on the concept of delighting your customers so they come back.

The hygiene factor in delighting your customers is not pissing them off in the first place. How easy is to buy your product & service? Does your product & service do what your customers want (when was the last time you asked)? How you handle complaints / faults / genuine cock-ups?

The easy sell

It may sound obvious but there’s a good reason why Amazon went to all that hassle over their ‘One Click‘ purchasing system. If folks give up half-way through a transaction not only have you lost a sale, you’ve now got a dissatisfied individual that will quite happily tell everyone how poor your service is.

Some companies actually make it fun to buy their products. Moo have this absolutely nailed. Not only do they get you to do a lot of the (perceived) hard work in designing your business/greeting card/post card/etc, but its a fun and engaging process. Innocent Drinks have a delightful approach to their products that makes choosing which smoothie to buy more fun than just a straight choice between ingredients lists.

Even if you’re in the B2B market, a human somewhere will make the decision to buy your product & service so at least make it a painless decision. Think about their pain points; at this stage in the econoclapse no one wants to sign off a large order over 3 years, perhaps you can get a rolling contract with stage payments. That’ll help both your cash flow positions. Know what the sign-off limit is for your primary contact and sneak under that for each stage payment.

Does exactly what is says on the tin

Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland
Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland

The simplest form of customer feedback is your sales. If people are prepared to hand over cash then whatever you’re doing has real value to them. If you’re giving the stuff away then it’s a time investment that acts as a proxy for cash (people returning to your app/game/etc and using it over an extended time period).

Our tagline is “advancement through integrating knowledge” which is what we do, work with clients to advance their business / organisation / research through bringing together our own multidisciplinary knowledge base and integrating with the client’s knowledge base to solve whatever problem was chosen. But if that was all we did we’d be competing with every other consultancy that ‘works closely with their clients in unique partnership, blah blah blah”.

We integrate through networking and engaging in the local, regional, national and international communities we’re a part of. We share knowledge through this blog and by publishing research papers. We support the advancement of others through OpenCoffee, offering advice and reviewing journal papers, and generally trying to connect interesting people.

What low-cost but high perceived added-value can you provide to differentiate from everyone else?

Oops, mea culpa

We all make mistakes. Some are large, some small, some public some private (though you should assume everything is public these days). How we deal with these will for many define the character and long term relationship between a client and your business. With all the social media tools at our disposal, there’s no excuse for not knowing if someone’s complaining about a poor experience. Google & twitter searches with RSS feeds for your company / product names will quickly highlight opportunities to directly engage with dissatisfied people.

Carsonified recently had a promotion where they gave away some very cool journals as part of FOWA; they proved so popular they were offered for sale. There was a mix up with the orders (it happens) but rather than brush it under the carpet or get all legal, Ryan sorted it quickly, humbly and openly on Twitter.

The internet is full of people reporting poor perceived customer service and business practice, not being part of those conversations is often seen as an admission of guilt. Are you monitoring your brand online? Are you part of the conversation?

Going Above & Beyond

Delighting the customer isn’t about huge extravagant gestures (especially not in this economic climate). Mostly its about treating customers as people and offering them unexpected delights. If your basic products, services and internal processes don’t function then no amount of customer service will compensate in the long term. But in a competitive market it makes the difference between competing on price and competing on value.