Five Key Things Your Business Needs this Easter

It barely seems two minutes since the first post of the year and yet here we are. Spring. At last. And the clocks go forward on Sunday – one of my favourite days of the year.

It also means that we’re a quarter of the way through the year. Hopefully you’re on track to achieve your goals, aims and ambitions: if not, there may be some serious questions at the next Board meeting…

Spring – and the Easter break – is always a good time for me. First and foremost I’m just back from our two day TAB conference which never fails to re-energise and re-focus me. And it’s impossible not to feel optimistic as you drive around North Yorkshire and see the blossom starting to appear.

It’s also a great time of year for taking stock – and there are five things I try to do every Spring/Easter to make sure I’m right on course for a successful year.

  • First and foremost, spend a brutally honest hour with your KPIs. If you’re not on target at the end of March there’s enough of the year left to do something about it – but even if you are well ahead you still need to do the same exercise. What’s gone well, what’s gone badly? Are any of the numbers looking unrealistic? And are any of your targets suddenly looking too easy? I’ve seen too many business owners get into trouble by having a blistering start to the year and then taking their foot off the gas. Like so many things in life, business is about momentum. It’s very difficult to suddenly pick it up in September if you’ve cruised through the summer.
  • Spring clean – literally. And get everyone in the office involved. A quick glance around my office tells me that I need to devote an hour to tearing up pieces of paper. And I need to admit that the ‘definitely need to read’ file on my computer definitely isn’t going to be read. Coming into your office on the day after Easter and seeing both your real and virtual desktop looking lean and mean and ready for action has always worked for me.
  • Check your online presence. I don’t mean spend thousands on a new website. I do mean check through your website and all your other social media. Is your website responsive? Does it work as well on a tablet and a mobile as it does on a PC? Are the dates correct? If it says ‘last updated 2013’ potential clients might assume that you’re not a fully paid up member of the 21st century. They might be even less impressed if there are spelling and grammar mistakes on your site – which as this article shows, cost British business a significant amount in lost revenue. After all, if the hotel I’m thinking of staying in can’t be bothered to check its website, why should I assume they’ll bother to check that my room is clean?
  • As the late Stephen Covey said, ‘sharpen the saw.’ Commit to improving one of your key skills in the next quarter. Maybe you can simply become more productive. I certainly noticed the difference when I started using Toggl to track my time – and I saw a great article in the Observer at the weekend: the top 50 apps for creative minds. These days we all need a creative mind and if you can’t find something in that list that will help you do something better or faster I’d be amazed.
  • Finally, sharpen yourself. Get out there and get some fresh air. We’ve all spent too long inside over the last three months and none of the four points above are anywhere near as important as being good to yourself. Take some time off, get some exercise and you’ll come back to the office fresher, sharper and re-focused.

Have a great weekend. Next week I’ll be publishing the blog on Thursday – and taking a look at the lessons you can learn from a $10,000 bag…

Basic Business Advice: Don’t Buy a Turtle

Footballers, eh? What a load of simpletons. Put their left boot on first. Left shin pad. One of them is always pulling his shirt over his head as they come out of the tunnel. Was it Paolo di Canio who insisted on wearing his underpants inside out? And Raymond Domenech, the former manager of France, who reputedly refused to select players if their stars weren’t aligned correctly…

Superstitious nonsense. Forget it. Roll your sleeves up, give Hazard a kicking early doors and get stuck in.

Not that cricketers are any better. Left pad, left glove, lucky numbers on their shirts, kiss the badge, lift one foot off the ground when the score is 111… And then there’s Neil McKenzie of Hampshire. He once scored a century after a teammate taped his bat to the ceiling. Guess what he does now before every innings? Oh, and he won’t go out to bat until he’s put down all the toilet seats in the dressing room.

Well thank goodness we’re businessmen. Thank goodness we’re logical, in control, focused on our KPIs, ROI and P&L. What you can measure you can manage. And you certainly can’t manage if some damn fool has stuck a cricket bat to the ceiling.

No sir. Superstition has no place in business.

Or does it?

After all, today is Friday 13th. That must have given all you paraskevidekatriaphobics pause for thought. Careful you didn’t spill the salt. No black cats in front of the car. And don’t forget to salute that magpie.

Can’t do any harm.

Besides, who are the most superstitious people on earth? The Chinese.

And whose economy has marched resolutely ahead for the last twenty years and will soon be the biggest in the world? Precisely.

So lesson number one – remember your feng shui: even Disney used it when they opened Disneyland Hong Kong in 2005. After consulting a feng shui expert, the angle of the front gate was altered by 12 degree – and a bend went into the walkway from the station to the front gate, so the positive chi didn’t shoot straight past the entrance and into the China Sea.

So that’s settled – your desk should be facing as much of the room as possible, with your back against a wall. Number two – plants in the office, to make sure there is positive energy to improve both personal and business growth. And above all, water: I’m away on holiday next week – I’m expecting a shortage of goldfish in North Yorkshire when I get back.

Not that it stops there. In China the number 4 is unlucky; the number 8 is considered very lucky – and no-one who’s serious about their business keeps a turtle as a pet. Obviously it slows you down, and it slows your business down.

Why are we superstitious? Especially in business, where logic, analysis and good management should hold sway. Psychologists will tell us that any form of superstition – or habitual behaviour – gives us a feeling of control and/or confidence. Which of us hasn’t got up in the morning and thought, ‘Important meeting today. Time for my lucky tie.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that: anything that makes you feel more confident has to be good: after all, if you think you can, you very probably will.

And maybe you can turn superstition to your advantage: maybe Friday 13th gives us the chance to think about our marketing in a different way. A few years ago Icelandair ran a promotion allowing customers to add an excursion for $7 – providing the whole trip was booked by 7/7/07. Back in China, packs of 8 tennis balls sell for more than the same tennis balls in packs of ten. And there’s always reverse psychology: five of the eleven Friday the 13th movies – a seriously successful franchise – have been released on that supposedly-unlucky date.

Anyway, enough for this week. Time to go and see a potential client. Just as soon as I’ve put the toilet seat down, pulled my iPad off the ceiling and made sure neither of the boys has bought a pet turtle…

I’m away on holiday next week. Enjoy half term week if you’re taking the time off, and the blog will be back – tanned, full of après-ski and probably with a calf strain – on Friday 27th.

The Back of a Boarding Pass

I don’t often read the Guardian – but on Tuesday I saw this headline.

Rory McIlroy reveals that he writes his yearly goals on the back of a boarding pass.

If you haven’t time to read the story, let me summarise it for you. Just as he’s about to fly out to Abu Dhabi to begin his season Rory McIlroy – the best golfer in the world – writes down his goals for the year. By hand, on the back of his boarding pass. Not in a note book he’s bought especially for the job, or on his phone or in Evernote or One Note. Then he commits the goals to memory, puts the boarding pass in his wallet and doesn’t look at it again until the end of the year.

This article worked for me on several levels – not least because one of my goals for 2015 is to reduce my handicap from 18.5 to 15. Like Rory, I’ve written it down – and sadly, there the similarity in our golf ends.

The first thing that really struck me about McIlroy’s action was the habit and the symbolism. “Every year,” he said, “Just as I’m about to get on the plane.” There’s a real sense of purpose in that statement: every year, just as he’s about to ‘suit up and go to work.’ I like the fact that he writes his goals down by hand, and that it’s become a habit. I’m sure the research would prove that goals written down by hand are more likely to be achieved than goals typed into Evernote.

And then something else struck me. We all know that goals are meant to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. I’ve always believed they should be short as well. Goals, New Year’s resolutions, company mission statements – the shorter the better. ‘Delenda est Carthago’ as I’m sure your history teacher told you.

Writing them on the back of a boarding pass pretty much guarantees they’ll be short. OK, a boarding pass is a reasonable size, but isn’t the back covered in all sorts of terms and conditions? (I’ll look more closely next time I’m in the departure lounge…)

And then McIlroy commits the goals to memory – and doesn’t look at the boarding pass again until the end of the year. I’m fascinated by that: it certainly isn’t the conventional way to do things. Then again, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the ‘oh, well, this happened so I had to change my goal/lower my expectations’ excuse.

You might think that McIlroy’s goals would be easy to guess. ‘Win the Masters’ for example. But in a real echo of the marginal gains I’ve written about so many times, the goals – or the ones he’s prepared to make public – are about what it takes to win the Masters, not simply slipping into the green jacket on an April Sunday evening.

There are a lot of parallels between being a successful golfer and building a successful business. Everything in top level golf is measured: average driving distance, greens in regulation, average number of putts, getting ‘up and down’ from bunkers. It’s exactly the same as your Key Performance Indicators in business.

So when McIlroy says he wants to be in the top 40 at strokes gained from putting all he’s doing is looking for a small gain in one of his KPIs. I suspect the other goals are similar: a slight increase in fairways hit, a marginal improvement in greens-in-regulation… If McIlroy can do that and add the improvements to what he already has in the locker, then he will win majors. The stats guarantee it, in exactly the same way that a small improvement in all your KPIs will make a huge difference to your bottom line over the year.

I’m sure everyone reading this has already recorded their goals for the year. But take a leaf out of Rory’s book. Write them down by hand. On the assumption that you’re not flying out to the Gulf to earn $1m, pull over as you’re driving to your first appointment next week. Take a 5×3 index card and commit your goals to paper. I’ll be fascinated to hear what effect that physical action has.

I’ve already written my goals down in a splendidly old-fashioned way, as a few of you know. But I’ll do the same on Monday morning. And maybe I’d better spend an hour at the driving range in the evening: don’t want Rory getting away from me…

Do All Those Numbers Really Matter?

In the olden days – when I first dipped a toe into sales management – it was fairly simple. We recorded the number of calls our guys made, the average order value, the number of new customers and… that was pretty much it. And then every month we’d sit round a table and gradually cover it with a blizzard of paper.

Occasionally, a decision would float upwards and be acted on – but you know what? If I’m honest, decisions on the sales force were only one-third dictated by our analysis. The other two-thirds was gut feeling – unless there was a diktat from the top floor, in which case everything we’d decided was irrelevant anyway.

(More of diktats from the top floor in a minute…)

Now here we are in 2014. The year when you can measure everything. All the traditional metrics are still there – plus a myriad of new toys. How many people have visited our website? What pages did they click on? How many Twitter followers do we have? How many Facebook likes?

The list is endless. And the question is obvious – do all those numbers really matter? In fact, is there too much information? Are we in danger of having so much information that what really matters gets lost in the noise?

What we need to do as owners and directors of SMEs is cut through the noise. Twelve weeks today it’s Boxing Day, so I’m confident that your planning for 2015 will be in full swing and a crucial part of that planning is identifying the numbers that are important – and which are just noise.

Why? Because you can’t monitor everything. There simply isn’t time. You need to be at the Nativity Play remember? Not worrying about how many people from Chicago have clicked on your About page.

…Which – had it been available at the time – is what I would have been doing at Nestle. On the first Friday I was there I added them up: I’d inherited 25 ‘key’ performance indicators for my sales team.

Yep, the sales team was a massive overhead. So the diktat from the top floor was simple. Measure it to death. The problem was, the sales team had no idea what they should focus on. I’m proud to say I stripped the 25 numbers they wanted down to three monthly KPIs which never changed – and another three which did change depending on what our brand priorities were. The performance of the sales team improved significantly.

As many of you know, I talk to everyone I work with about the ‘pulse’ in their business. What are the key numbers you need to look at on a Monday morning? To some it’s money in the bank: for others it’s orders taken or new customers.

The key numbers vary enormously from business to business – and sometimes they’re not the ‘headline’ numbers. One of the most important functions The Alternative Board provides is to drill down into a member’s business and help them identify what really drives the business and which numbers determine the health – or otherwise – of the business.

So as you look ahead to 2015, how do you determine the numbers that are crucial to the success of your business? Rest assured that TAB will be tackling that in some detail between now and the year end, but the first step is simple. It’s to have a really clear idea of where you want the business to be in X number of years. Know that – and knowing what you need to measure and act on instantly becomes clearer.

And here’s my commitment. Whatever you want to achieve, however ambitious your plans, TAB will never saddle you with 25 KPIs. We’ll keep the numbers that matter short, sharp and focused – so that when you need to take action, you can take action.