Process Improvement

It Was Just a…Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

I have two very sharp teenagers at home who tend to, shall we say, do the things that teenagers do. Of course, since they are boys, I get stuck having to “manage their behaviors,” which must be done. As a consultant, my goal is a) to get to the root of the problem, b) figure out what we could do differently and c) correct the problem while keeping the relationship in tact.

My teenagers, of course, have an agenda of their own, which pretty much goes a) No matter what, take no responsibility, b) find some way to blame dad for whatever the infraction is and, if all else fails, diverge, meaning, find a way to shift the topic away from the main point to something off topic that really keeps any sort of progress from being made.

I think that, sometimes, in business, we do the same thing: there are those important things that we need to do for our business that we tend to avoid, like business development, marketing, advertising, updating the accounting and the like, and focusing on the things that are right in front of us. I always refer to those things as, “the new shiny” – referring to the way a little child will instantly be in love with the shiny thing you will give them – until someone else gives them something else that is new and shiny.

The New ShinyWhat happens, though, when you avoid those things that you know are important to your business? Well, the same thing that would happen if you didn’t keep up with the maintenance on your vehicle or bicycle or even yourself: it would break down.

What does this have to do with keeping the main thing the main thing? Well, like my boys, when running a business, we can get off track performing activities that are outside of our core responsibilities (or what needs to be our core responsibilities!), which, for most business owners, is keeping the business moving toward the company vision, or where the business is headed.

Aepiphanni, for instance, has a vision of providing a suite of products and services for small businesses that will help to create strong, stable, lasting organizations. Therefore, I put all of my energy into keeping the organization moving in that direction. Anything that gets in the way of that, or slows the progress, has to be removed.

Do I get off track? Yes! absolutely! but I know what the main thing is, so that I KNOW WHEN I AM OFF TRACK, and can get myself back on target.clip_image001

Is it easy to stay on track? No! There are lots of “new shinies” that come across my desk and email every day. Can you say Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Skype? You can’t get much newer or shinier than those.

How do I avoid this and try to stay on track? EAT THAT FROG!!

Take a look at the 1:28 video from Simpletruths.com.

Remember: keep the main thing the main thing. It is vital to the success of your business.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Strategy Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping business leaders and executives organize, plan and develop strategies for their organizations. We are committed to our clients’ success.

If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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Becoming an Economic Business Statistic – Part 2

As many, many articles have discussed, riding out an economic downturn requires nothing short of a different mindset.  During the month of February, job losses were 651,000, and the nation’s jobless rate haws hit 8.1%, the highest since 1983.  In our previous post, I discussed five ways to help your organization move down the road towards becoming a statistic of the economy.  Here I will offer five more ways to ensure your inclusion in history.

(Continued from part I)

6) Don’t reduce spending logically. Hold on to the nice, shiny things you’ve acquired…get rid of some of the people…not your buddies, of course, but the quiet, mousy ones – the guy in finance, the girl in the training department, your consultant. Heck – these people are always whining at you about spending and training, anyway. Who needs it?! As long as you’ve got your buddies around you, anything can be done!!

7) Try to get over on your venders. They like that. Trust me. Make them squeal for every penny they ask for, then pay them late.clip_image002

8) Don’t give referrals, and if you do, do so with grave reservations. No one has given you referrals – why should you bother trying to help anyone else? Besides, with your new Earthquake beliefs program, you can sell anything to anyone…so go to it!!

9) Cut your marketing! Marketing is SO over rated! My gosh…you can’t even, really, describe a return on the investment. I remember the one fax you sent out a couple of years ago only landed you one sale. Granted, the fax cost you $25 and the sale was for $5,000…it just doesn’t make sense. If, however, you don’t cut your marketing altogether, I definitely recommend a buckshot approach…don’t have a narrow, targeted marketing approach…try to reach everybody once or twice…hopefully, something will stick.

10) Lastly, pursue every new idea that comes across your desk without deference. No matter what it is. Don’t worry about it. Your customers and other stakeholders value your unpredictability, and appreciate the fact that although you might not finish anything, you have good intentions. That’s what we need, in this economy – good intentions.

While this list is not conclusive or exhaustive, if you stay on track the rest of the year with two or three of these suggestions driving your decisions, maybe you’ll have every opportunity to fly to Washington to ask for a bailout.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Consulting Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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Becoming a Economic Business Statistic – Part 1

At this point, I think we all realize that things are a little different this year than they were last year. Realizing that some have been bathed in financial security, I just want you to know that we are in an economic recession. That means that people are buying and spending less, creating a ripple effect making it harder for businesses to stay in business and keep all assets and resources, resulting in an exponentially expanding catch 22 – “I can’t spend because I lost my job because my company cannot sell their widgets which people can’t buy because they lost their job…”

I believe that (in case anyone missed it) all of the articles on how to survive the recession, have been written, and going into Q2, it is time to have our noses to the grindstone and get to running our businesses and being as successful as possible. Now, if you are interested in becoming a statistic, i.e., “one of the 3 million businesses closed in 2009”, I have put together a number of steps, categorically, that you can take. Maybe, possibly, they will get you on the bailout list.clip_image002

Here are the first five suggestions:

1) Don’t stay true to your company’s belief statements. Heck, they are only fancy words that you use, anyway. The “whatever goes” mentality works fabulously well. I call it the ‘Earthquake” belief program.

2) Try to reach all of the people, all of the time. While this will make you stretch your marketing dollars infinitely thin trying to reach all of them, this approach might actually work. Of course, your core customers may feel that your business has gone in another direction, and may wish to do business with another, more focused organization, but that’s okay…it’s only temporary…you can get them back any time you want.

3) Skip steps and cut corners. Everyone understands that this is a bad economy. They will put up with substandard quality, lateness and unpredictability. Don’t worry about it.

4) Don’t set up systems and processes. These are a waste of time and money. Just because you will be able to operate more efficiently – more done at a lower cost – doesn’t mean that it would be worth investing the time it takes to develop them.

5) Stay tunnel-visioned. By keeping your head low and to the grindstone, you won’t have to worry about things that are happening in the marketplace. SWOT analysis are for students and teachers, anyway. Most importantly – don’t pay attention to your market’s spending habits – that could be detrimental.

While these are great suggestions, and can ensure your proper placement in history, please stay tuned for the final five ways you can ensure your business becomes a statistic in this economic downturn.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Consulting Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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I Know How to Do It…

As a business, it’s great knowing that you are an expert at what you do.  It is outstanding knowing that you have it down to a science.  You know, full well, that you can do everything you need to do in your sleep.

Problem is, the business is you.  When you go to sleep, when you are sick, when you have personal challenges that you must address, the business will stop.  Basically, you have a job and you work for yourself.  Maybe that is the epitome of success for you.  This is an excellent and honorable stay.  But…

  1. Are you planning to retire some day?
  2. Would you like to take a vacation without having to close the business for a week?
  3. Do you have a backup plan, in case you can no longer do what it is you do?
  4. Are you going to pass the business down to a family member, or sell it to one of your competitors.

For many people, owning and running a business is their ultimate expression of giving back to their communities.   Others simply feel that they want to work for themselves, and feel like they can do things a lot better than their previous supervisor or boss.  Others, still, do it for a sense of freedom or for a means to an end.  Certainly, there are those who simply love to be in business, start, run and sell businesses.

Unfortunately, many of these dreams are ill-fated, even from the outset.

Businesses thrive when there are systems and processes in place for getting things done.  Businesses fail when they don’t.  Because you know what to do doesn’t mean you are going to be a success.

I was speaking with one of my favorite clients about her business and about her processes.  I reminded her that she can no longer “be the business” meaning that everything in the business revolves around her.  She readily agreed and we got to work listing out the things that needed to be done in order to run her business.  It would go something like:

“So, Michelle, how do you do this?”clip_image002

“Well, I just do…it just takes me a few minutes.  It’s not a problem.”

“Okay…excellent.  What do you do.”

“Well, I do this, then I do that.”

I’ve heard this in the restaurant industry, as well:

“How much does the recipe cost you?”

“Oh – about $4.50, $4.75 or so, I guess”

“How do you know?”

“Kinda guess, I suppose”

“Do you have a recipe so we can cost it out”

“Yeah…you just throw some of this, and some of that…a little of this….”

In both cases, the processes were much more complex (and costly!) then they’d realized!  After writing the process down, in both cases, they were able to talk about ways to reduce the costs in the processes by redesigning the way they did things.  This is called Process Improvement.  Here are a few benefits to process improvements:

  1. You can evaluate what steps can be given to other people
  2. By freeing up your time, you can do other things, such as grow the business or increase capacity
  3. By teaching your team the documented steps, you can take a vacation every once in a while
  4. If you decide to sell the business, it is less likely to die once you walk away, making it more appealing to a savvy buyer
  5. You will have less waste!  Be it food, employees, paperwork or innovation, by developing written processes
  6. When there is a breakdown, it will be easy to identify where the problem is and how to fix it
  7. When you need to reduce costs, you can logically decided where it is safe to cut them without damaging your business

So, while you can do it all yourself, the reasons for not doing outweigh them, substantially.  The word is PROCESS.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Consulting Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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A Case for Innovation

More and more of the same old thing will get you more of…the same old thing.

Doing the same old thing, over and over, and expecting different results…

While those of us with an entrepreneurial mind set often tell people about how we embrace change, and that change is the lifeblood of what we do, there are those who embrace stability, who fear change more than anything else.  It goes back to that old statement, “if the boat and broke…don’t fix it.”

Problem is that the rate of change in the environment doubles every time a new technology comes to fruition.  Consider the evolution of the computer or clip_image002[8]refineries.  Interestingly, we are now – on a global scale – looking at the effects of an industry that was very slow to change – in some aspects failed to change – the auto industry and its impending bailout.  What are the remedies on the table driven by?  Change.  See “Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Detroit Economic Club.”

Another problem that many entrepreneurs face is the failure to plan.  New ideas come a dime a dozen – many people have dozens of ideas every day.  What drives change is putting these ideas into plan – bringing them to fruition.  Innovation.  I often recommend to my clients to have a process for innovation, similar to that of the scientific method:

 

  1. Define the idea
  2. Consider what resources are available
  3. Create a vision
  4. Consider what options make sense – consider brainstorming at this step
  5. Perform the appropriate research – begin with – is there an actual (versus perceived) need?
  6. Determine which options are the best based on the resources available and the most direct path
  7. Define the goals necessary to reach the vision
  8. Create strategies to reach the goals
  9. Execute – at this phase, one might assemble a project team, define a project manager, build a team, etc.  Your needs will be defined by your resources.

Change is essential to staying viable in the marketplace, especially in a volatile marketplace.  You cannot afford to sit back and see what will happen.  Remember, some of the greatest changes, inventions and innovations in history have developed out of necessity.  Every economic downturn breeds new necessity.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Consulting Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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Strategies for 2009

The end of the year is here.  Hopefully, you are thinking about how to move forward into the next year…what will be the same…what will be different?  What do you hope will happen?  What do you dread?

If you are smart, you are thinking about these things, but also thinking about the end game: where does all of this lead?

Strategic planning will help you navigate the business climate in order to achieve the goal you are after.  Just like in any sport or when making something, you need to have an understanding of what the end result of what you are doing is going to look like.

The strategy is not an in stone set of steps you must take – it exists, rather, inside the framework of your mission, vision and values.  It is not reactionary – that is, it doesn’t respond in knee-jerk reaction.  Rather, it is proactive – it says, “okay – this or that may or may not happen…if it happens, then I will do that…”

So – I think the easiest way to begin to address your organization’s strategic planning needs is to be equipped – have the tools and the processes or systems in place to do it, effectively.

  1. Be clear on your company’s mission, vision and values statement
  2. Don’t try to do all of your strategic planning at one setting.
  3. Have something with you to record your ideas and observations, as you have them.  A friend of mine uses notebooks.  I happen to use a program called clip_image002the PersonalBrain.
  4. Reflect or journal on things that have gone right or wrong, and consider how you might be proactive with the event in the future.  Again, some people write this, others use a recorder of some sort.  You have to do what works for you.
  5. Review these – on purpose, regularly.  Keep whatever works within your framework (mission, vision, values) and toss out whatever doesn’t fit.
  6. Distinguish between wants and needs
  7. Distinguish between urgency and importance
  8. Flesh out the ideas to see what really makes sense
  9. Prioritize the ideas and put achievable dates to them – you’ve just created goals
  10. Set a monthly meeting to review and update goals, and to look at what other opportunities or threats might be on the horizon.

Strategic planning is essential to any business that is seeking longevity.  Even the process of selling the business should have some type of strategy.  Make this an issue, and part of your goals for 2009.  Think strategically and be proactive.

Happy Holidays!!

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are a Small Business Consulting Firm dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].


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IT and the Small Business that Could

When you are a small business, it is hard to get your head around some of the new technologies coming around the corner.  You’ve got the obligatory cell phone and the ubiquitous office PC’s and maybe some type of laptop computer.  You’ve heard horror stories of losing data, security flaws and frankly contradictory information.  clip_image002Sometimes, it simply comes down to, “What’s the point?”

I think that many IT pros will say, “yes, it will make your life better,” while other business owners will tell you, “it’s easier to do it on pen and paper.  The computer is always breaking down.”

Well, both of these are true.  More than likely, your computer will allow you to do all kinds of things much faster, and in a bigger way.  The mere fact you can read this article is a testament to that.

However, like anything else, you’ve got to maintain your system, be it you laptop, your server, your smart phone or your email systems.  There is no reason to expect that these things won’t break down.  It would be quite unwise to not have a plan for when the systems do break down.

What it comes down to is simple: if you are not an IT pro, you’ll want to work with two people: 1- a management consultant like myself who will help you evaluate your entire business and strategies to help you choose the best technologies for your organization, and 2 – an IT consultant who can work with you to make your final decision, with the goal of getting the best solution for your organization, help you learn how to use the system and help you choose a maintenance program that makes sense.

In most cases, there is no need to over-purchase your IT solutions.  If you are a small business, you are probably not going to be the best candidate for SAP, a blade server system and a full-time tech person.  Your consultants should help you make the best decision.

Can you afford to hire two consultants?  Is it worth it?  Well, would it be worth wasting 10,000 on IT that is wrong for your organization that you cannot use?

Trust the professionals.  Welcome to the 21st Century.

“The man who does things makes mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all-doing nothing. ” ~Benjamin Franklin

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Hurricane Gustav: A Lesson in Process Improvement

As with many, I decided that I wanted to stay abreast of everything that was going on with Hurricane Gustav, the massive Hurricane that hit the gulf coast yesterday, 8/1/08. My heart truly went out and goes out to the people in LA that have been displaced by the hurricane. Thankfully, many if not most people will be able to return to their homes and businesses with minimal cleanup.

What impressed me the most, however, was the movement of 2 million people out of harms way in what seemed to be an orderly manner. Now, this wasn’t just a local parish event, or even a city event; this was a coordinated event involving city, state and federal agencies. When contrasting this to Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, even a casual viewer would notice the huge differences. The process has improved.

This process improvement, however, was no accident. Coordination between the different entities didn’t just happen. Ensuring that the travelers had some place to stay when they reached whatever destination was not some casual happenstance. It was all planned and review and reviewed. Models were created, processes were developed, other scenarios were integrated into the modeling and contingencies were created. This was a carefully orchestrated operation that could probably be adjusted and dropped anywhere in the country.

In your business, creating processes and improving on those processes is key to your ongoing growth and success. While hurricanes are events that you cannot predict, precisely, there are always indicators that suggest that a particular event is approaching. The most important thing you can do, as a business owner, is have some understanding of what could happen, and have some process for dealing with this.

We all have our hurricanes of life and in business. Your reaction could be like that of Hurricane Katrina or like that of Hurricane Gustav; it’s up to you. Yes, there are people who say, “I don’t need any process,” as there were people that said, “I don’t need to leave for a hurricane.” In both cases, there are those who lived through their Katrina’s to tell about it, but there are many more who embrace greater satisfaction and less scarring because they developed their processes ahead of time.

At Aepiphanni Business Solutions, we are dedicated to serving the needs of small business owners. We specialize in helping you develop strategies for your organization, and are committed to your success. If you have further questions about creating your strategy or developing your vision, please give me, Rick Meekins, a call at 678-265-3908, or email us at [email protected].

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