A thought for October from Your Critical Friend

It is October. That wonderful time of year when the seasons are changing and colours are beautiful; children are back at school and students are settling into a new phase of their education. It is all change. We are adjusting to autumn mornings and cooler temperatures and remembering how it is in our households when the days are short and the weather cold. Some of us have to find instructions to remember how winter things work!

Children at new schools and students newly at college or university are learning the rules of this new game. Where things are, how things work and how to live with new people in new environments. The formal rules were studied carefully before they arrived but now it is all about learning what they mean in practice and what to do if something is not as expected.

So what are the golden rules of your business?

Any organisation is only as good as its processes. They bring structure, order and most of all consistency. Business success is all about selling a good service or product every time and repeatedly; the same each time. That was what got McDonalds going and what customers buy – a regular menu serviced in a consistent way, the McDonald’s way. You could pluck any household brand from the air and the same would be true. We buy what we want and what we understand. We recommend services which meet and exceed our expectations and we take no risks with organisations that fall short. It is usually one strike, they are out and we go elsewhere.

These are the customer facing processes that show but behind these are the countless operations that keep the business functioning; cashflow forecasting, credit control and purchasing practices to name but three. You know the mechanisms that your business needs. My plea is that you write them down in detail step by step. A good operations manual is the backbone of business success. It ensures everyone knows exactly what should be done, where, when, how and by whom. So whoever is involved in delivering the work on Monday does it exactly the same way as the Friday person. However good the people on the team if, they have less than good processes they will have a lousy job, the result will be labour turnover and customer disquiet.

If your business is currently a one-person outfit you need to deliver your product or service in the same professional way to every customer. Even more importantly in this situation your backroom processes need to be cost effective, clearly understood and followed. They need to be the same every time. Still need convincing?

The benefits of an operations manual (or something like it) are:

  • Your processes are well thought out – or you change them! They do what needs to be done in the quickest most cost effective way.
  • They all support the brand and what it stands for.
  • They protect you from inventing solutions on the hoof that might not work effectively in all situations and incur high cost.
  • You think about them in the abstract rather than when you are under pressure and emotionally involved.
  • You think about them in relation to your customer and the way in which the competition reacts.
  • They protect your cashflow and your profitability.
  • They form the basis of all your employee or subcontractor training.
  • They form the basis of your contingency plans should disaster hit.

So which processes should you have?
I cannot answer that question it depends on the business, its position in the market place and how the competition behaves. If you do something, then you already have a process; if you have a process then record it in chronological detail. As far as I am concerned there are five vital areas in any enterprise:

The sales process
How you get people into your sales funnel and what you do to make the sale. Analysis of why a sale went well  and was secured as well as why it failed is vital. Review the facts often. It is this information that improves your conversion rate markedly.

Stunning customer service
What does your customer expect, then surpass it! How does your customer contact you? How good are the systems? Last week I spent 40 minutes waiting on the telephone to get the right person – four people later I was still giving my name and address and being told “it’s the system”. This was a national company that should know better and do better! No employee should blame the system: no system should be so cumbersome: and no one should say “I’m only the customer”.

Customer complaints process
Any complaint can only go two ways either, you deal with it well and people tell their friends how wonderful you are (and your reputation is enhanced) or, you deal with it badly and people tell their friends what a fiasco you are (and your reputation is shot). So be clear how to use it as an opportunity, reputation is everything.

The invoicing and credit control process
This is the lifeline of any business. It is my belief that the job is not finished until the invoice is issued. And whatever your terms might be start to chase any overdue payment immediately – it will not get better or easier if you leave it! Have standard emails, letters or whatever.

Weekly or monthly cashflow forecasting process
Without this you will be in trouble in weeks; you need discipline. However bad things might be you will know about it early and be able to plan as a result.

None of this is original. It has not even scratched the surface of why we should have good processes recorded in our operations manual and its usefulness.  Consistency is everything however, remember no process is fixed in this fast moving age, review them every six months or so and do not ignore what the competition is doing, their actions inform your customers’ expectations as much as what you do.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.