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Avoid the urge to rush – don’t ruin your business engine

Avoid the urge to rush – don’t ruin your business engine

It’s a horrible feeling. That sudden realisation that the wrong fuel has gone into the car. I’ve done it myself – in fact, I did it the other day. I made the fatal mistake of putting petrol in my diesel vehicle, but fortunately I realised what I had done before starting the engine. From what I understand it is not an uncommon mistake, particularly for those that regularly swap between diesel and petrol cars.

After several phone calls I realised that the only thing I could do was to engage a ‘fuel removal specialist’. Although I had a busy day in front of me I had no choice but to wait for two hours at the filling station for the expert to arrive so he could suck the petrol out of the tank and thus avoid serious damage to my engine. Not only did this cost two hours of my time, it cost $275.00 for the service. A costly experience, but a small cost in comparison to what I would have had to pay for engine repairs, had I started my engine.

On reflection, there are two reasons why this incident happened; I was rushing and I wasn’t truly present in the moment.

Relating this experience to business, how often do employers make a rash decision because they are rushing and not present in the moment? Maybe they make a poor hiring decision and promote the ‘not quite suitable’ person from within the company, or employ an external candidate even when their gut feeling says they shouldn’t – but they do so anyway because it seems the easiest option and they just want to get it done.

I have made this mistake too and it is one that I always regretted. Like the fuel scenario, hiring the wrong person can be detrimental to business – much like putting petrol in a diesel engine. Not only can this lead to a financial cost to the business, it can also undermine the culture within the team. In this example, your investment in an effective recruitment process to ensure you have the right people on board will pay significant dividends over time and will more than compensate for the time and effort you put in.

We live in a busy, sometimes chaotic world, so we need to raise our awareness around this propensity to rush. Rushing affects our ability to be present, it increases our stress levels, it can lead to mistakes and it can inhibit our ability to make effective business decisions. So take your time – and don’t ruin your business engine.

How to boost productivity through labour efficiency

How to boost productivity through labour efficiency

New Zealand has one of the OECD’s lowest levels of productivity and to stand alone in an uncoupled world this is something we need to improve – and a very practical way to start that improvement is by understanding your businesses labour efficiency. 

In his book Simple Numbers, Greg Crabtree details what he refers to as the Labour Efficiency Ratio or LER.

It is a simple calculation as follows:

Sales – Cost of Sales = Gross Profit before Direct Labour.

If you then divide your direct labour costs into the gross profit before direct labour, it tells you how many times direct labour is covered. Generally, a score of anything less than two is problematic with the goal set above three.

Let’s look at some examples where direct labour has been managed differently using automation, more flexible staffing and other approaches. Notice the correlation between the LER and percentage net profit before tax.

Note: it is important to ensure all direct costs are captured in your cost of sales. Too often equipment hire, project travel and accommodation and other direct costs are shown in overhead expenses. These should be recoded as COS to give a true contribution margin. Similarly, direct labour needs to incorporate all those in the making of products or delivery of a service. If supervisors spend more than 50% of their time on the job, then include them as direct labour, otherwise show them as indirect labour as an overhead expense.

As you can see from the examples above, getting productivity up impacts on your bottom line.

So how can the LER be improved? Here are some ideas;

  • Staffing levels
    • Use subcontractors until there is sufficient business to support a full time equivalent
    • Employ more part time staff and map them to periods of demand
  • Staffing effectiveness
    • Ensure people know what is expected of them
    • Remove obstructions to production
    • Employ supervisors who are independent and capable of effective supervision
  • Eliminate Rework
    • Know your error rate – DIFOT (Delivery In Full On Time) for products or IFOTIS (In Form, On Time, In Specification) for service delivery. Target 98% or better
    • Follow up on all complaints and respond with a ‘Correction Action Process’
  • Post Audit Quotes & Estimates
    • Conduct post audits on project work
    • Review and recalibrate processes from findings
    • Constantly incorporate learnings into Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
    • Regularly debrief and reset SOPs – again, people need to know what is expected
  • Equipment
    • Look at using machinery to do the mundane
    • Look to introduce robotics to significantly increase throughputs
    • Use systems to capture any manual processes like books or paperwork showing units input, outputs, labour hours etc. Electronically capture and utilise API’s etc to put directly into the system.
  • Proactive Equipment Maintenance
    • Ensure your equipment is always functioning at full capacity
    • Monitor equipment downtime within
    • Have planned back up processes when failure occurs

Although not related to staffing, the following will favourably affect your LER.

  • Increase sales
    • Price increases – when was the last time you put them up?
    • Tighter terms of trade – stop discounting and provide transparent terms based on volumes and true costs to serve
    • Improved account management to increase sales
  • Improved or increased effective marketing
  • Improved buying
    • Look at your main basket of goods and get people to bid and achieve EDLP (Every Day Low Pricing)
    • Ask your suppliers for improved terms – you will be surprised
  • Know your costings
    • Forensically cost all your product lines and or services – the devil is in the detail
    • Know what margins each of your products and services deliver
    • Re-engineer unprofitable lines or services or delete them

Following all or some of these will improve your business performance.

A guide to Net Profit before Tax

Less than 5% and your business needs life support – meaning its dying.

Between 5 – 10% you are on your way to recovery, but you have a way to go.

Between 10 – 15% you are running a good business, retaining sufficient profit to manage growth and any business shocks.

15% plus puts you in a good niche but keep an eye on your competition. Unless you are nicely niched, over time, you may be seen as too pricey which will encourage new players to enter your market.

These are volatile times, and it is important we have balance sheet strength to help us get through. What is good is different for each business but as a rule of thumb, if you can access resources to sustain you for three months of overheads without any sales, then you will be better off than many others.

Simple Numbers by Greg Crabtree is available on Amazon.

A Christmas reflection

A Christmas reflection

As the year draws to a close and we get to take a much-needed break, it may be worth taking a moment to fully appreciate what we have individually and as a nation achieved in the last 12 months.

  • The early and decisive lockdown actions that sheltered us (so far) from the worst of the pandemic and made New Zealand an enviable place to be.
  • The uncertainty of the impact the pandemic might have had on us as individuals, employees and business owners.
  • The resilience and teamwork we showed as a nation in navigating the dark months of April and May.
  • The adaptions we made in learning new technologies and working from home, often with children requiring our time and attention.
  • Living without the usual connection to close family members, particularly those residing in care homes.
  • Moving into the post lockdown world, blinking in the light but equipped with new coping mechanisms around how we now manage ourselves (working from home is now much more prevalent) and our businesses (preparing for the unknown with scenario development and cash flow forecasting).

How will we approach the New Year? Certainly with more of a cautious outlook than we did in 2019, I suspect, ready to adapt to whatever is brought upon us and without the false optimism that is typically associated with the start of January. Combat ready – but even fighters need a break!

Enjoy the rest that we deserve. Spare a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves. Come back ready for another round – Round 2021!

Best wishes to all.

Americas Cup shows innovation is a process

Americas Cup shows innovation is a process

As we marvel at the speed and agility of the four America’s Cup teams on Auckland’s harbour this weekend, it is interesting to reflect on how they got there and how they continuously innovate and improve.

To innovate you need an open and collaborative process and sometimes, businesses of all types rest on their laurels and forget the creativity and passion that got them started. Many years ago, Edward De Bono developed the Six Hats thinking process to encourage productive discussion and innovation in organisations, rather than blame or arguments. The Thinking Hats take away ‘right and wrong’ and encourage people working in a team to take different views.

First is the ‘Blue Hat’ that facilitates or conducts the process and keeps the team on track.

The ‘White Hat’ analyses – for example, it produces the engineering data which helps the high performance teams work out how to get the boats to go faster.

The ‘Green Hat’ is the creative hat full of alternative ideas – who else would have thought of leg-powered bicycle grinders on our boat in Bermuda?

The ‘Yellow Hat’ is the sunshine – full of optimism, it looks for benefits. In our Bermuda bicycle example leg muscles are larger than arms. This gave the AC50 grinders more power to supply the hydraulic systems which raise and lower the foils and pull in the huge wingsail.

The ‘Red Hat’ is the intuition hat, driven by emotion. “My gut feeling is this will or will not work.” Intuition is often built on complex judgement based on years of experience and may be an art rather than a science.  Boatbuilding is an art and it is worth reflecting that, in business, restructuring often fails because the human element, the emotion, is not properly taken into account.

The ‘Black Hat’ is the caution or critical judgement hat. Engineers try to make sure the loads on these boats are safe. Get it wrong and death is a real possibility. However, imposing too much health and safety too early can kill creativity.

The boats we see in January and February will be very different to those we see this weekend. The ‘Blue Hat’ will oversee continuously trialing and optimisation on the water – proof that innovation is a continuous process.

As a small business owner, you’ll be wearing many hats – De Bono’s colourful collection and the Captain’s Hat too, as you steer your enterprise through the choppy waters of 2020 and beyond. A start up business is often born from a Green Hat creative idea, or from an optimistic Yellow Hat applying someone else’s crazy thinking. Bridging the ‘valley of death’ and not running out of cash in a start-up requires a big Blue Hat to navigate uncharted territory. Often it takes many years – and continuous innovation – to get your business model right.

I am currently working with a customer whose Black Hat thinking began an innovation process, building an automated system that manages lead generation and marketing through to sales, operations, accounting and pricing. Any information technology system implementation requires all the hats to get it to work, and because of the new automation his net profit margins are now much higher than his competitors.

As your business matures, it is easy to become stale – competitors whittle away your super profits and you continue to cut overheads. If you look at breweries, beer is in decline, and they have had to develop or acquire new categories to achieve growth or sustain profits. Innovation and creativity is the lifeblood of your business and is underpinned by your passion for what you do. Keeping your creativity alive is essential, as is innovation because, if you stop innovating or let your creativity stagnate, you can end up like Kodak.

Kodak was so blinded by its success in selling film it completely overlooked the disruptive potential of the digital camera invented by Steve Sasson, one of its engineers, in 1975. However, the real disruption occurred when cameras merged with phones and people shifted from printing pictures to posting them on social media. Kodak missed the trend and had to deal with the resulting consequences.  

So remember as you watch the boats fly through the harbour this weekend, every captain must innovate, be prepared to change course and adapt – or run the risk of losing the race.

Small Business Pulse Remains Strong As Global Pandemic Progresses

Small Business Pulse Remains Strong As Global Pandemic Progresses

Yes – it’s been a very hard year. Yes – we have all been touched by the tragedies and difficulties presented by COVID19. Yes – there are still some hard months to come but resilience, tenacity and innovation have been the watchwords for small business owners in Aotearoa and, as the COVID19 pandemic continues to rage around the world, they’re getting ready to take on 2021.

Since July, we have been checking the pulse of small businesses, following the progress of their owners and enterprises.  Inevitably there have been worries and difficulties as we collectively figure out how to operate in a pandemic but, overall, businesses outside the hardest hit sectors of tourism, travel and hospitality have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for strength in the face of adversity as they have worked tirelessly to stabilise the heart of the economy.

Amid lockdowns and restrictions, they’ve tackled employment issues, cash flow crises, supply chain and other problems – all at the same time they’ve had to reinvent the way they do business.

During this challenging period, the Pulse Check revealed a rapid rate of growth and opportunity for some, while for others, the life-blood of their business has been drained. Two constants have kept them going – government support and specialist business advice – and the indicators suggest that more government support is needed to help small business owners develop the skills and resources they need to progress. In the report you can access below you’ll be able to see how resilience and optimism has fared during COVID-19 with insights into sectors that have quietly got on with the job, providing for their staff and communities during this exceptional period. There are insights into progress, what’s needed in the years ahead and, as 2021 peers over the horizon, looks at where they are now and where they hope to head next.

Throughout the country we have found that the uncertainties and stresses of 2020 have resulted in an increasing need for the services that we provide, especially so when supported with financial assistance channeled through the Regional Business Partner network.

The Alternative Board’s Steve Wilkinson, based in Christchurch commented: “The resilience shown by our client base in Canterbury has been remarkable and reflects previous experiences.  With careful guidance and a commitment to playing what is in front of them I am delighted to see all of my clients have not only got through the COVID 19 pandemic intact, some are reaping the rewards of being well positioned to take on what is in front of them”.

The Tracker report follows the results of the Pulse Check monthly monitor for small to medium size businesses. Pulse Check was launched so we could listen to our members and associates, discover how they are managing during COVID-19, how they are, what support they need, their views on current challenges, their confidence and the opportunities ahead. You can download a copy of the tracker report here.

We will continue to check the pulse in 2021 with the next edition scheduled for early February.

Each Pulse Check has had a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

Credit issues are on the rise

Credit issues are on the rise

Our recent Business Pulse Check showed 7% of respondents have experienced more late payers and defaults, while 4% are struggling to pay creditors. In recent client coaching sessions, I am also noticing that there is an emergence of fiddly credit issues that are starting to take up a little more time for both business owners and their credit staff.  These issues range from company liquidations, more creative excuses for not paying, down to just not paying on time, or paying later than normal. In some cases, the debtor has grown their exposure with the company over recent months without any further analysis of the increasing credit risk.

In a paper I wrote earlier this year on the Changing Face of Credit Risk I emphasised the need to continue to be vigilant with your credit control processes and procedures.

With the Christmas break coming up it is critical that everyone makes sure they have robust processes in place for collecting outstanding debts – including pro-actively following up overdue amounts expediently. Anything left outstanding on Christmas Day is unlikely to be paid until late January, with the resultant impact on your company cashflow at a time when it is most needed.

In the meantime I would suggest you remain focused on the following:

  • Watch for changing signs with any clients i.e. increased exposure/delays or excuses in paying.
  • Where appropriate be pro-active in updating Terms of Trade, particularly in cases where you may not have personal guarantees and exposure is increasing.
  • Use credit checking more regularly for clients who are showing different patterns in their payments.
  • If appropriate, consider registering under the PPSR register.
  • For clients showing changes in trading/payment patterns consider putting in place credit watch processes.
Unsettled Spring brings supply chain disruptions

Unsettled Spring brings supply chain disruptions

Issues concerning working capital and supply chains have emerged in the Spring Pulse Check, with members flagging problems with orders, disruptions and payments.

Difficulties with supply chains, imports and exports have been due to port and shipping disruptions but despite the challenges, members are proactively planning their future after a year which saw most business owners change the way they operate. Some have opted for digital transformation, others increased marketing spend while still more reduced their costs and, in doing so, increased profits.

The Spring Pulse Check found that overall, confidence and optimism remain high and job prospects steady in small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality but there is a rise in the number of businesses having difficulty finding skilled workers.

At a personal level, business owners are exhausted – the majority would like nothing more than to switch off for a few weeks or, at the very least, have a bit of a rest, but the main reflections provided in the Spring Pulse Check have been the ‘three wishes’ they would ask of Government. These included continuing financial support, consistent policies plus a plea to give small businesses more work and greater involvement in discussions about their sector.

Stephen James observed: “Our members have flagged a number of issues and, although numbers are relatively low at present, it suggests there will be no smooth sailing into summer.  Member confidence levels and optimism remain high but fatigue is setting in. Having maintained confidence and resilience through the main crisis periods, their hard work and stress is starting to take its toll. 

“The ‘three wishes’ they would ask of the Government were continuing financial support, something that has been a lifeline for businesses large and small, consistent policy, so keep doing what you’re doing but do it really well and, lastly, a plea to put small businesses to work starting with less red tape and providing greater accessibility to government contracts or tenders.”

The Spring Pulse Check surveyed 269 members and associates between 30 October – 6 November with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error. You can download a copy of the results in full here.

The Alternative Board conducted the Spring Pulse Check with 269 members and associates between 30 October – 6 November with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

How’s your future looking?

How’s your future looking?

Have you started planning for 2021? How’s your confidence now New Zealand’s election is done — and what’s worrying you about business right now?

Our Spring Pulse Check has arrived and we want to know how you’re doing as we head into summer.

You can take the Pulse Check here and tell us how you are, how you’re managing and how you feel about the future. What is building your confidence and what’s causing you concern? Have you been affected by the high demand for shipping space or are you struggling to keep up with sales? And, if you had three wishes to ask of the new government, what would they be?

Let us know and, as a thank you, when you’ve finished the survey — which takes just a few minutes — you can enter the draw for some complimentary support.

Findings from recent Pulse Checks have shown small to medium size businesses in New Zealand have been holding steady and are ready to move forward despite the uncertainty that has occurred in 2020.

Your answers help us to keep you, the business owner, on track and your insights ensure we continue to have the right resources to help you.

How the Important but Not Urgent can catch you out.

How the Important but Not Urgent can catch you out.

As business owners we all undertake activities every day that loosely sit under one of four categories-:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not important and Not Urgent

At one of our recent meetings of The Alternative Board in Christchurch, we undertook an exercise to establish how our business owners planned their activities during a normal day. The results were not only relatively consistent but also quite alarming!

Everyone was able to put a particular activity they had undertaken in the previous day into one of the above categories and the following themes emanated from the ensuing conversations.

  • For obvious reasons everyone placed priority on the Important and Urgent activities above everything else
  • A significant part of some people’s day was taken up with activities relating to the Not Important but Urgent category. Further discussion reveals that a lot of this activity came from staff and other enquiries. In some cases, this reflected a lack of training or specific operating processes and procedures within the organisation. This then necessitated the business owner getting involved in urgent issues that could have been handled elsewhere had better training or processes and procedures been put in place.
  • A surprising amount of time was spent on the Not Important and Not Urgent category. This including following social media, looking at emails of little relevance to the business owner and reading the media.
  • The biggest concern that came out of this assessment was the lack of time and effort put into the Important but Not Urgent activities. This category included such activities as-:
  • Proactive communication with key clients with a view to building key strategic alliances
  • Development of Databases/CRM systems to allow proactive communication with clients and prospects
  • Further development of websites, particularly around providing online sales capability
  • Strategic Marketing
  • Development of written processes and procedures
  • Staff development

“Why is this the case?” was the question asked. And “What was required?” to ensure that more emphasis was placed on this important category of daily activities in every business owner’s life.

The general answer to these questions was that in some cases the activity needed to move into the Important and Urgent category to prompt more proactive activity.  A common comment was “No one will die if I do not do this activity.”

But guess what? Covid-19 came along and what was previously deemed Important but Not Urgent suddenly became Important and Urgent. This new sense of urgency was created through;

  • Business owners unable to communicate with clients about their status under Covid levels because they had not put the time into developing their Database/CRM system. This had a direct impact on revenue streams.
  • Business owners unable to automatically ramp up online sales due to a lack of investment of time in putting the  process in place.

So, what’s the message here?

If you leave something that you have deemed as important for too long, at some stage it will go from being not urgent to urgent. This will not only cause unnecessary stress but may lead to wrong decision making because of the urgency now created.

It’s critical that business owners have-:

  • clearly identified what the activities in this IMPORTANT and NOT URGENT category are
  • ensure that they understand the risks should that activity become IMPORTANT and URGENT at short notice
  • understand what those risks mean to the underlying stability of the business and
  • make sure there is enough time going into this activity to reflect the ongoing risk.

These Important but Not Urgent activities form part of the monthly reporting from members of our Peer Group Advisory Boards. Fellow members continue to remind each other of the importance of ongoing regular work being done on these particular objectives to avoid some of the practical pitfalls that Covid has shown us can occur, as a result of failing to do so.

A great look inside a meeting of The Alternative Board Hawkes Bay

A great look inside a meeting of The Alternative Board Hawkes Bay

Damon Harvey editor and publisher of The Profit took some time out recently to discover what really goes on inside a board meeting of The Alternative Board.

TAB was first featured in The Profit in 2018, when it was launched in Hawke’s Bay by Wayne Baird and Russell Jaggard. Back then, Wayne and Russell were just starting to establish TAB, seeing the opportunity to offer the model that was benefiting small businesses across New Zealand and the world.

The more conventional advisory structure for a business is to have a governance board, made up of experienced business people across a range of business competencies such as financial, legal, human resources and marketing and sales.

This type of structure is usually for medium-to-large businesses and is particularly common in the corporate sector as well as the not-for-profit sector.

TAB was launched in 1990 by US entrepreneur Allen Fishman as a way for small businesses to get the benefits of a board structure. In 2012, Aucklander Stephen James introduced TAB to New Zealand and it’s now in nine cities and towns across the country.

Wayne Baird is the franchisee for Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Taupo and Wairarapa, with Russell being joined by experienced business leader and start- up extraordinaire Ailne Bradley as board facilitators.

Having been a board director and chair myself for the past 14 years, it was a pleasant surprise to turn up for a TAB meeting and be asked to go to the white board and rate out of 10 how I was feeling about my own business and also how I was feeling personally.

New Zealand had just moved from COVID-19 Alert Level 3 to Level 2 and so the four of the five members of the TAB I was joining were all happy to see each other in person, instead of via a Zoom video conference call, therefore they were in relatively high spirits, with the lowest rating being 7.5 (and this was me!).

Wayne hosted of the TAB meeting that was attended by local business owners Carol Reid of Soulpreneurs, Kay Castles of Admin Plus, Alieta Uelese of Learning Innovations and newcomer Joanna Monteith of Consult Ltd. Absent was Dr Sundar Jagadeesan of new dental practice Dentiq, who had only just reopened his practice and had a backlog of patients to treat.

The agenda for the meeting followed the TAB’s well-honed formula that affords everyone around the table equal opportunity to provide updates on their business, and then report on progress from actions they agreed at the previous meeting before presenting a new challenge or opportunity their business is facing.

Following the biggest disruption to businesses and the economy and the world strike on March 24, you would have expected the mood of the table to be sombre, but in fact it was largely the opposite.

The forced physical closure of their businesses and lockdown spent at home had given these business owners the time to not only keep business going and staff motivated but also to adjust their businesses to the new normal.  When it came time to put forward a recent challenge or opportunity, the true benefit of the TAB board format came into its own.

As each member addressed their fellow board members, they were scrutinised first, responding to a range of questions, some expected but many unexpected.

The appeal of the process was that the room wasn’t full of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ people, nor those who had a vested interest due to being a staff member, director/ governor or an investor/shareholder.

The questions were tough and the advice even tougher. And that’s the gold of TAB. There are no hidden agendas, you get what you give, as your time to put something forward soon comes.

For small business owners it can be a lonely place leading from the front but with TAB, there is genuine support as well as accountability.

As the facilitator, Wayne gave everyone an opportunity to firstly ask questions rather than risk going straight to the possible solutions.

This was an easy trap for me to fall into and I quickly realised that I couldn’t shoot straight to what I thought was a solution. Instead, by asking questions you get to fully understand the situation each business owner is experiencing before putting forward any suggestions, ideas or advice.

I like to think of myself as an ‘ideas person’, so this was particularly challenging, but the approach works. Not only does it draw out the full picture but it enables the business posing the issue or opportunity to get a broader and more external perspective.

Everything is confidential; there’s no risk of ideas being leaked. As an observer I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I’m not going into any detail on what was raised.

However, two members had challenges they wanted to moot about how to evolve their businesses, while the other two members were looking at solutions to get the best out of their teams.

My summation was that the challenges and opportunities weren’t anything I hadn’t heard before but it was the process – the listening, line of questions, advice and agreement for action – that was unique.

There’s accountability and it’s not to those within your business that perhaps you can make excuses for not actioning as promised.

To close the meeting, Wayne asked each member what they intended to action before the next meeting and it was recorded. After the formal meeting, Wayne contacts and works with each member on their actions.

Kay Castle sees many benefits in becoming a member of a TAB board, saying that she always gets something valuable to further develop her administration support business.

“We all share ideas and our experiences and there’s a high level of confidence and trust in each other. We’re also very fortunate to have Wayne and the opportunity to tap into his wealth of knowledge.”

Like the board meeting format, the final word must go to Wayne (not me …).
He says his personal vision is to work alongside as many SMEs as possible to help them reach their own goals and visions for what they want their business to be.

“When you ask questions, you gain clarity. I often see business owners who leave the meeting with a completely different viewpoint. That’s the beauty of the collective wisdom around the table and one of the aspects that makes The Alternative Board different.”

As we all move out of COVID-19 and look to keep adapting our businesses, it’s worth contacting Wayne at [email protected] thealternativeboard.co.nz to discuss how TAB can assist.

How do we treat our employees?

How do we treat our employees?

Have you ever considered that the way we treat our employees has similarities to how we bring up our children?

If we don’t guide our children, establish boundaries, praise when appropriate and clearly communicate consequences, then we are probably doing them a disservice. 

A child turns into a teenager and if that teenager goes off the rails and becomes a recidivist youth offender as a result of a dysfunctional family and a lack of strong core values, who is responsible for this teenager’s anti-social and criminal behaviour?  The answer is probably both the teenager and the family. But think about the influence the parents could have had on this outcome if the teenager had been brought up in a different environment, one of

  • love,
  • empathy,
  • strong values,
  • accountability, and
  • discipline.  

If this were the case, I am sure we would be talking about a different teenager!

In this example it is easy to lay the blame of this anti-social behaviour with the teenager; some people will even say ‘lock him up and throw away the key’, as if the problem will just go away.  But we do need to ask ourselves; “Where does the real problem lie?”.

A similar philosophy applies in business.  We diligently recruit staff to give us the best chance of finding the right person, with the required skillset and strong core values to ensure they have the right attitude and attributes to fit with our organisation.   This is the first step, but once employed, similar to bringing up children, we need to provide them an environment where they can develop and flourish. 

A poor performing employee may be managed out a business or even fired, but does that performance issue rest with the employee or the employer?  The answer again is probably both, but if this employee was working for an employer that had a;

  • clear vision for the business,
  • strong values,
  • effective communication,
  • an engaged and positive culture,
  • clear goals and expectations for all staff,
  • consistency, empathy and inspirational leadership

I am sure we could well be talking about a different outcome for this employee.

Often our first instinct is to blame, in this case ‘let’s fire the troublesome employee’, but shouldn’t we first look inwards to see if we have contributed to this outcome and ask ourselves whether we have done everything we possibly can to give this employee the best chance of succeeding? 

If we can answer ‘yes’ to this question then we can move forward with conviction and certainty. Staff will still need to be praised, disciplined and some poor performers may still lose their jobs, but we can act with confidence in the knowledge that we have done everything we can to positively influence the outcome.   

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

For the third month in a row, small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality are proving confident, optimistic and actively planning for their future beyond COVID-19.

Our September Pulse Check shows exceptional levels of confidence and optimism with business levels booming or the same as last year, relatively unchanged levels of employment and sustained sales.

More than 80% of you are confident you’ll make it through, more than half report sustained or improved business levels, nearly two-thirds are optimistic about the next twelve months and 65% are already working on future strategies and getting business plans in place.

On the downside, 2020 has taken a toll with business owners feeling exhausted and that’s a real concern. Government support and business advisors have helped get through the difficult days of 2020 but despite weathering exhaustion, lockdowns, alert level changes and varying levels of uncertainty, you’re not giving up and have your head down, planning your way to the future.

For some, the forthcoming election, mainstream media stories and government policy are reducing confidence, while for others, their own resilience drawn from past experience, government policy, and the thought of open borders is a confidence booster.

Stephen James observed: “Our members are, for the most part, outside the sectors acutely affected, such as retail, tourism and hospitality. It may seem that member confidence levels and optimism are at odds with other commentary but our small business owners are efficient and resilient because they have to be. Small business owners regard their employees as family, do their utmost to retain them and are able to adapt and evolve business practices swiftly with the right support, even among those hardest hit.

“It’s heartening – and speaks volumes for business owners – that so many have got through with relatively unchanged levels of employment, due in part to the government support people have  turned to and a willingness to change where necessary.

“One of our priorities will be to help business owners cope with the high levels of exhaustion they’ve reported. We see this as a danger area as, no matter how resilient they may be, working through an ongoing crisis is hard and it is draining. Supporting our business owners helps them to help their business, so developing strategies and solutions to what we know will be an ongoing challenge is an area we will be working on with our boards and through our coaching sessions”.

The September Pulse Check surveyed 266 of our members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error. You can download a copy of the results in full here.

The Alternative Board conducted the September Pulse Check survey of 266 of its members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

For the third month in a row, small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality are proving confident, optimistic and actively planning for their future beyond COVID-19.

Our September Pulse Check shows exceptional levels of confidence and optimism with business levels booming or the same as last year, relatively unchanged levels of employment and sustained sales.

More than 80% of you are confident you’ll make it through, more than half report sustained or improved business levels, nearly two-thirds are optimistic about the next twelve months and 65% are already working on future strategies and getting business plans in place.

On the downside, 2020 has taken a toll with business owners feeling exhausted and that’s a real concern. Government support and business advisors have helped get through the difficult days of 2020 but despite weathering exhaustion, lockdowns, alert level changes and varying levels of uncertainty, you’re not giving up and have your head down, planning your way to the future.

For some, the forthcoming election, mainstream media stories and government policy are reducing confidence, while for others, their own resilience drawn from past experience, government policy, and the thought of open borders is a confidence booster.

Stephen James observed: “Our members are, for the most part, outside the sectors acutely affected, such as retail, tourism and hospitality. It may seem that member confidence levels and optimism are at odds with other commentary but our small business owners are efficient and resilient because they have to be. Small business owners regard their employees as family, do their utmost to retain them and are able to adapt and evolve business practices swiftly with the right support, even among those hardest hit.

“It’s heartening – and speaks volumes for business owners – that so many have got through with relatively unchanged levels of employment, due in part to the government support people have  turned to and a willingness to change where necessary.

“One of our priorities will be to help business owners cope with the high levels of exhaustion they’ve reported. We see this as a danger area as, no matter how resilient they may be, working through an ongoing crisis is hard and it is draining. Supporting our business owners helps them to help their business, so developing strategies and solutions to what we know will be an ongoing challenge is an area we will be working on with our boards and through our coaching sessions”.

The September Pulse Check surveyed 266 of our members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error. You can download a copy of the results in full here.

The Alternative Board conducted the September Pulse Check survey of 266 of its members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

Changes to the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme

Changes to the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme

Gordon Stuart takes a look at the recent changes made to the government’s Business Finance Guarantee Scheme.

The eligibility criteria for a Business Finance Guarantee Scheme (BFGS) loan have been loosened from the initial terms detailed back in April. The maximum amount of the loan is now up to $5m. Note the first version announced by the Government in April provided $6.25b but was largely unsuccessful with only $150m taken up by 780 customers.

The BFGS loan use criteria have been widened, so your business (which can be a company, sole trader, partnership or trust) can use credit for (a) working capital (b) funding capital assets and/or (c) projects related to responding to, or recovering from, the impacts of COVID-19. Previously it was for working capital only.

I expect take up will be better this time towards the end of the year, as forecasting hopefully becomes easier.

Recessions since 1987 have generally reduced business revenues and cash available for debt servicing. This has resulted in longer debt payback thereby creating term debt needs.

To be eligible to apply for a BFGS loan your business must:

  • Be a New Zealand based business
  • Have annual revenue of $200 million or less in its most recently completed financial year
  • Not be on your bank’s credit watchlist as at 31 January 2020 (for retail customers) or 30 September 2019 (for non-retail customers)
  • Not be a residential or commercial property developer or investor, or a local authority or council-controlled organisation

The Participating banks ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Heartland Bank, Kiwibank, SBS Bank, TSB, Bank of China and Westpac are under pressure from the Reserve Bank to lend to their capped amount. However, their requirements for financial forecasts will still be tough. The better the quality of information you submit, the higher the likely success rate and the quicker the loans can be processed.

Here are some key points worth noting:

  • Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 80% of the risk associated with eligible loans.
  • The interest rate charged is lower, reflecting the Government’s 80% share of risk and should be (c.2.5% – 3%), up to 5 years and up to $5m. For Regulatory Capital Purposes the Government is zero risk weighted. The benefit borrowers receive is a lower interest rate.
  • If your business defaults, your bank will follow its normal process to recover the debt. If the debt can’t be recovered, the bank can claim 80% of any shortfall from the Crown. Note that the Government guarantee does not limit your business’s liability for the debt
  • For borrowers that have fixed rate lending already in place, consider break costs if you refinance existing fixed rate debt via a BFGS loan early.
  • The BFGS loan needs to be repaid over 5 years but can be repaid earlier at no break cost.
  • This scheme is also available to clients who are already on COVID-19 relief packages provided by the banks or have received the wage subsidy
  • The Scheme is open for applications until 31 December 2020.

Exclusions:

  • Cannot be on the bank’s credit watch-list at 30 September 2019 and 31 January 2020.
  • Cannot be a residential or commercial property developer or investor or a local authority or council-controlled organisation.
  • Cannot be used to fund dividends – note:- there is a guaranteeing group exclusion that you should discuss with your Bank.
  • Cannot be on lent outside the business.
  • Cannot re-finance or repay more than 20% of the business’s existing term debt (term debt only). Note – there appears to be an exclusion if debt facilities mature before 31 December 2020. Discuss with your bank.

Note:- Businesses do not have to draw down all existing facilities before applying for a BFGS loan as previously required in April.

As part of your bank’s approval process for a loan under the scheme, your bank decides:

  • The loan amount (up to $5 million under one or more loans), term (up to five years) and the interest rate
  • What businesses should provide to demonstrate ability to repay the debt, such as a cashflow forecast, business plan and details of assets
  • Whether it will rely on existing or require new security and guarantees to support the debt (this is not a Government requirement)
  • Whether it will approve or decline a loan under the scheme.

Finally to reiterate two common misunderstandings.

  1. Is the Government guaranteeing the loan?
    No. You will need to provide security for the loan as you would normally. The Government and participating banks have agreed to share the risk in case of default only.
  2. What kind of security do I need to provide for the loan?
    While banks remain in control of their own lending decisions there is no Government expectation or requirement that lending requires a general security agreement or personal guarantee. Note – Banks will require security! Their job is to take minimal or no risk for maximum return.
Five Ways to Seize the Day

Five Ways to Seize the Day

Change happens.  Take control.

We’re all caught in the flux of COVID19.  Levels change, challenges arise and we rise
to overcome them. Expert at adaptation, New Zealanders – and their businesses –
have proved time and again their ability to manage change.

It’s timely to look at a few ways in which we can be prepared to grasp the opportunities and not be overwhelmed by the obstacles.

By downloading our Five Ways to Seize the Day white paper you will learn how to:

  • Strengthen your connections
  • Redefine your workplace
  • Improve your digital channels
  • Innovate and prepare for opportunity
  • Plan for long-term resilience

Download White Paper - Five Ways to Seize the Day

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Brave Small Businesses Buck The Trend

Brave Small Businesses Buck The Trend

Confident and determined to get through – that’s the verdict from members this August when we checked in to see how you were all doing

Contrary to ongoing ‘doom-and-gloom’ commentary, there’s a strong, steady pulse beating in our small business sector with business owners like you displaying remarkable resilience, high confidence and a pragmatic approach to the challenges of COVID19.

Our August Business Pulse revealed 95% of small-to-medium size enterprises are confident they’ll get through.  More than a third of small businesses have benefited from government support with only a small percentage anticipating job losses once the wage subsidy ends. Banks have been understanding, helping where necessary or carrying on with business as usual, and jobs are holding steady.

Sales and orders remain buoyant with supply lines and international transportation links for exporters seemingly intact.

“Given we are awash with negative commentary, the results were heartening” says managing director  Stephen James. “I think, in part, the focus has been on the hit taken by more visible sectors like tourism and hospitality but our members are involved in many other activities and their perspective hasn’t necessarily been reflected to date.

“The strong Pulse Check was even more remarkable as the change to Alert Level Three for Auckland and Alert Level Two for the rest of New Zealand occurred during the consultation period.”

On the down side, mainstream media is reducing confidence levels and the wish-list of things that would help business owners get through the remainder of 2020 includes more customers, more government support – and a rest, as business owners report they’re feeling exhausted.

“It is understandable that business owners are exhausted. Although confidence is high and business steady, they’ve worked extremely hard to achieve stability in our tumultuous times. I would anticipate this pace will continue as they adapt and adopt new approaches or innovations. While things may change and outlooks darken, business owners are pragmatic in their determination – the Kiwi ‘can do’ approach to adversity and an unwillingness to be beaten is certainly in evidence. They are ‘COVID courageous’ and I think their confidence level reflects this.”

Keeping in mind our members and associates are primarily involved in industries that make, supply, service, fix, invent or build things and the results may reflect that this group has been under-represented to date, with focus falling on hospitality, retail and tourism in other surveys.

Throughout all the upheaval we’ve seen in 2020, one constant has been the support of The Alternative Board, for and among its members. The majority of members who took part in August’s survey said they had looked to and received support from us and, rest assured, we continue to make sure we can deliver the support and resources you need.

The August Pulse Check survey of 275 of its members and associates was conducted between August 7 – 19 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.  You can download a copy of the results in full here and September’s Pulse Check will be opened to members on September 9 when we’ll check in to see how things are going.

The Alternative Board conducted the August Pulse Check survey of 275 of its members and associates between August 7 – 19 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

We’ve Done It Before – We Can Do It Again

We’ve Done It Before – We Can Do It Again

A sudden slip into Alert Level Three, the blast of the emergency ‘COVID’ warning through our phones and once again we’re into the balancing act of keeping our businesses moving in exceptional circumstances.

Last month our Pulse Check results told us how adaptable and flexible New Zealand’s small business are, with business owners altering operations and changing practice in order to survive the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us all. Just as we have rolled out our August Pulse Check – which you can access here if you would like to participate – the beat has changed again and, in Auckland, we are facing at least three days at Level 3, probably more, with the rest of New Zealand parked up at Level 2 for the time being.

We asked our Auckland team for their thoughts on the current situation and their advice was simple — we’ve been here before, rely on past experience and know that it will pass.

The Alternative Board’s managing director Stephen James said: “Knowing it will pass, spend some time addressing a few scenarios. For example, if Level 3 lasts, as announced, for three days what do you need to do? Or, if it remains in place for two weeks or if Level 4 is declared and we have full lockdown for an indefinite period — what then? Develop plans of action for each scenario and communicate these to your staff and stakeholders.”

Scenarios are very helpful when it comes to managing uncertainty as Alfredo Puche explained in his recent blog post. Other helpful advice is to be found in Gordon Stuart’s tips on surviving a recession and Karen Van Eden’s thought-provoking piece on thriving in times of uncertainty.

Whatever your approach, remember that The Alternative Board is here to help you, the business owner, manage and grow your business regardless of circumstances — and we are all here, ready to help you.

As Karen says: “We’ve done this before – together we can do it again. Stay safe, stay well.”

Kiwi Businesses Ready To Reinvent The Future

Kiwi Businesses Ready To Reinvent The Future

Pulse check shows members are tackling the challenges of COVID19 head-on

We asked you how you were doing and you told us loud and clear — New Zealand’s small businesses are bravely facing the future, investing in growth and ready to reinvent themselves if necessary.

Our July Pulse Check revealed you are confident you’ll make it through — even though for some it has been touch and go.

Many of you are ready to reinvent yourselves if necessary, increasing spending on marketing, digital solutions and additional staff but you are borrowing more.

Your responses reflect what we’ve been hearing from our members  — that it has been a very challenging time. What was surprising was the degree of flexibility and willingness to change.

There was no doubt that the coming months will be challenging but finding innovative solutions and meeting the challenges head-on are at the forefront of your thinking.

Government support has been the saviour for many and we were pleased to see that the majority of our members looked to The Alternative Board for help and advice.

The health and viability of our business owners is at the heart of all we do, which is why we feel this regular Pulse check is critical. Listening to you in this way means we can ensure you have the right support and advice you need not just to get through the disruption of COVID19 but to thrive and grow into the future.

Running a business in ‘ordinary’ times is demanding but it is even more so in these extraordinary times. We know members round the country have been working nonstop and, after many months, you have started to feel the effects with many business owners saying they need a rest. Unfortunately, any respite is out of reach right now as you strive to meet the many challenges we face so I would urge you to continue to look for support from your board and facilitator as the months progress and look after your physical and mental well-being.

The Pulse Check was conducted during July across its nationwide network of members and boards and we will be checking in with you again in August. In the meantime, a heartfelt thanks from all of us at The Alternative Board on behalf of all the Kiwis you work with, for and alongside – small to medium enterprises are the heartbeat of our economy and your drive and tenacity is incredible. Thank you – and remember we’re always on hand to help.

The Alternative Board conducted the Pulse Check survey of 262 of its members and associates between July 7 – 19 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

Working with ‘What If’ – Scenario Planning for Stronger Business

Working with ‘What If’ – Scenario Planning for Stronger Business

Many businesses just go with the flow but what happens when unpredicted things happen?

First reactions are often fear and uncertainty, then frustration as worrying questions come thick and fast. What is going to happen? How will I be able to continue trading and working? What will happen to my business and employees?

These feelings and questions are normal in the first moments of shock but it is possible to mitigate the effects of market upheaval for both the business and its people.

A business without goals – and plans to achieve those goals – is like playing football without knowing where the goal is. You can play well and have fun and even have a false expectation about getting good results but are these results the right ones? Do they improve the business situation you’re in or your position in the market?

The first step is to set goals and create a plan to achieve those goals. Then comes the tricky part: how do I set my goals if I don’t know what is going to happen next?

As Peter Drucker said, “You cannot predict the future, but you can create it” and the solution is to create scenarios. At minimum you should create two scenarios, the worst case and the probable case. You could add the best case if you want to.

Creating a scenario forces you to place yourself in a specific context, which can be out of normality, or focus on extreme conditions. This may create uncertainty or even fear but it also provides clarity on what you could do in a particular situation in order to achieve your goals. Once your goals for each scenario are clear, then you need to make a plan for each scenario and its set of goals.

Working with scenarios helps you to create certainty in a world of uncertainty. It allows you to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities, even those outside the scope of your imagined scenarios because, once the exercise is done, you have a broader view of the operating environment.

The ensuing reality will be different to the scenarios you created but two considerations here: the reality will generally fall somewhere between the worst and best case scenarios  and, most likely, will be closest to the probable scenario you created – and this is not coincidence. If you follow a plan well, you will most likely reach the goals you forecasted.

If market forces make it impossible to achieve a goal, having planned a series of them gives you an advantage and a more positive position. You will not be shocked or unprepared. You will be ready to take action, drawing on your thinking from the various scenarios considered or, in the worst case, you will be able to set new goals and create a new plan.

How do you create good scenarios? Work with your team, do it with your coach or get the help of your board. You will get more ideas and will cover more variables. Two heads are better than one. The resulting collaboration will be a more robust and certain position for you and your business while your team will recognise your leadership and be more engaged in working towards your goals.

Help us take the pulse – tell us how you are

Help us take the pulse – tell us how you are

Everyone is talking about New Zealand’s small businesses – but we want to listen. We want to check the pulse and see how everyone in this vital sector is getting through.

As you know, here at The Alternative Board we are dedicated to helping small-to-medium size businesses and the health and viability of our sector is at the heart of all we do. We believe it is important to find out what our sector thinks — and needs — to stay on track in 2020 and beyond. With your input we will be able to bring your concerns to Government and tackle some of the issues raised by all of you during our board meetings and coaching sessions.

We want to hear from you direct, so please take five minutes to share your thoughts on how small-to-medium businesses like yours are managing through COVID19, what’s changed for you and what support or help you might need.

You can access the survey here – https://bit.ly/PulseCheckJuly – and, as a thank you for your time, you can enter a draw for a complimentary business coaching session once you’ve shared your views.

When we’ve heard from everyone we will share the results with you, Government and the wider community to develop a better understanding of what’s needed now – and what’s needed next. We will be running the survey regularly so we can keep listening and respond appropriately to the needs that arise.

The survey is open until 19 July 2020 so please take part here https://bit.ly/PulseCheckJuly – and make your voice heard.

The Changing Face of Company Credit Risk Management in the Wake of Covid-19

The Changing Face of Company Credit Risk Management in the Wake of Covid-19

As we move back down through the Covid-19 alert levels and more businesses commence trading, it is clear that it will not be ‘business as usual’ for most businesses for some time. There may well be a small short surge as businesses open, but at present most business owners have little confidence in predicted business and public confidence beyond that period, as the impact of restructuring and redundancies take hold.

This raises the question of what steps business owners should now be taking to assess the risk of doing business with clients going forward. It would be great to be able to tighten terms of trade and insist on higher deposits or shorter payment terms, but practically that is unlikely to work in a lot of cases.

So what can a business owner do to improve credit management processes? Here are some ideas.

1. Review and update your terms of trade to ensure they are robust enough

2. Ensure, where appropriate, that you have protection through the Personal Property Securities Register by registering your interest in the goods sold.

3. Set up a credit watch arrangement with your credit agency to ensure that any issues with major clients are advised early. This at least gives you a head start over other unsecured creditors.

4. Review your client base and determine those clients where a failure to pay two months debt would severely impact on your business viability and look at taking our debtor insurance on those clients.

5. Where practical, look for higher deposits or shorter repayment terms.

6. Do proper due diligence on new customers including credit checks. This is a time when customers may be changing suppliers because of credit issues with the current one.

Like with health and safety and employment law, it is not sensible to use the old adage: “It will never happen to me”. Over the past few years some well-known companies have fallen over and I would love to have a dollar for everyone who said to me: ‘That was a surprise”.

Well-known brands in the media at present are publicly advising of difficulties, so one would be naive to think that any company is immune from failure

Now is the time to review and improve your credit risk procedures to bring them in line with the significant improvement that has occurred with health and safety processes in recent times.

– Steve Wilkinson, TAB Business Owner, Christchurch & North Canterbury

How do you navigate through these uncertain times?

How do you navigate through these uncertain times?

When our world is predictable, we plan with confidence.

But what do we when our world is not predictable – as it is now?

First, we acknowledge that we are dealing with an unpredictable world.

Why? Because most of us act as if the future is predictable – when it’s not…

Using the Cynefin framework (pronounced kenevin), we divide the world into those things that are predictable (on the right), and those that are not (on the left). Having identified this, we ask: Is the situation we are dealing with simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic?

These definitions are important. Particularly now.

In a simple world, cause and effect can be replicated. You can tell what to do simply by looking at what works and doing it.

In a complicated world, cause and effect are still predictable, but the actions we need to take are less obvious. This means we need to some research or bring in an expert to help us determine the best path forward.

In a complex world, life is unpredictable, and patterns do not repeat. We can only see a cause and effect relationship after we have acted and can look back over time and join the dots.

In a chaotic world, there is no cause and effect relationship.

So how do we chart our path through these uncertain times?

First, we need to accept that what we have learned in the past will not necessarily help us in the future. This can be a hard lesson to learn…

Then, we scan the environment as accurately as we can, to see what is happening. Then we do the next best thing we can – we experiment. Then we learn, and we course correct. Then we look again, learn some more, and course correct again. And again.

As Jean Boulton said,

“Wishing the world was predictable and controllable does not make it so and might make us disregard what is actually happening.”

At The Alternative Board, our business owners meet together regularly. And when we do, we share our best understanding of what is happening. And as we see more, and learn more, we course-correct. And then we course-correct again. And again…

If you are struggling to identify the best path forward, please call us to see how we can help you navigate through these uncertain times.

– Karen Van Eden, TAB Business Owner, Auckland West

Turning disasters into opportunity – the case for planning and the lessons learnt

Turning disasters into opportunity – the case for planning and the lessons learnt

The thing about business planning is that it presents options that are available at some future point. Having a clear view of potential options can be remarkably useful. Especially when your business collapses around you.

Take this example – a TAB member had a small engineering workshop in Tauranga, with two CNC machines that were fully committed. The opportunity to expand capacity was in the 2021 plan (built using the TAB planning tools). In mid-2019 disaster struck – one machine failed and the business was in real trouble. The machine was no longer supported by the manufacturer and after six weeks of attempted repairs and imported second-hand parts that failed to help, the reality was accepted. Customer orders had been given to competitors to supply and the machine was scrapped.

Now the choice was to re-invest or close!

Fortunately, the planning had been done on new capital investment and the monthly accounts were in very tidy order in preparation for the inevitable scrutiny by a lenders credit committee. So a new machine was purchased at $200,000 and the business began a new chapter.

Lessons learnt;

Time out of the business: This owner was forced to take time away from being completely focused by his workshop and now had time to talk to customers and potential customers. What he learnt was worth more than his lost production.

Customers: This was the opportunity to leave behind the customers who were low margin or late payers as the company took on new business.

New Investment: The new machinery catapulted the business’s capability over the competitors and gave the business a competitive edge to talk about. It changed the business’s position in the Tauranga engineering business.

New business: Was being won on the capability of the machine, at improved margins, for the reality of the market was different from the owner’s perception. It was not a priced based market! The lowest price was not the key desirable. It was reliability-based. Customers were willing to pay for surety of supply and were not interested in obtaining a lower price.

– Craig Ross, The Alternative Board Business Owner, Bay of Plenty

Do you want a solution or clarity on what you need?

Do you want a solution or clarity on what you need?

“The first secret of getting what you want is knowing what you want”

Arthur D. Hlavaty

The call came through one February afternoon during a break at The Alternative Board’s Australasian conference. “Hi, I own a professional services company. I want to grow it but I am having trouble with my sales staff and I need help and advice to sort it out”.

I thanked him for the call and promised to arrange a meeting with him once I got back home.

At the meeting, I asked him what was top of mind, and he repeated he wanted to increase his client list, and that his sales staff were underperforming. But I also uncovered the reasons for wanting to grow his business:

  • he wanted to exit his business in 3 – 5 years,
  • he had a buyer in waiting and
  • he wanted to maximise his return.

That’s great I thought, I’ve signed up a new client who has stated an interest in being a member of The Alternative Board until he sells his business in 3 – 5 years’ time.

In our first coaching session, I said “forget about the fires in front of you, what is your personal vision?” In other words – “in the ideal world what would you be doing?” My new client talked about his community, his mission at his church, his family, and using his Ph.D. to grow things that he was passionate about.

None of this was about his business, so I questioned him a little more. His response was he had been building his business for fifteen years with the goal of semi-retiring at 55 – three years away. And now he had lost the passion for doing it. So, I questioned him  – why was he still running his business? The facts were, he had a buyer that was willing to pay enough for the business to retire on and he owned commercial properties that would see him financially independent for the rest of his life.

A smile slowly came over his face, “What am I doing? It’s not about sorting out what my business needs, it’s about me sorting out what I need!”

I lost a client that day. I coached him for a few more months putting in place the plan for semi-retirement but the value I got was in the satisfaction of helping a fellow business owner find clarity – rather than a mutually beneficial solution.

I’m proud to be an independent business owner within a high CALIBRE* organisation. An organisation that puts its clients’ needs above its own.

*The Alternative Board’s Culture Statement – CALIBRE (Community, Accountability, Lifelong Learning, Innovation, Belief, Respect, Excellence)

Business Growth – Is It A Struggle?

Business Growth – Is It A Struggle?

5 Reasons Why An Acquisition May Make Sense

Are you looking for business growth? But have been frustrated by the reality of making it happen?


Here’s 5 reasons why you might consider an alternative to organic business growth: growing your business by acquisition.

  1. An attractive ROI
    Depending on many factors, it is likely that an appropriately sized SME acquisition target will be valued at a multiple of between two and six times its EBIT. Taking a simple inversion of those multiples suggests a crude return on your investment of 17% to 50%. In these days of extremely low-interest rates, where else can you find such a yield?
  2. Industry Knowledge
    Most likely you will have had many years in your industry sector and know many of the likely acquisition prospects. You will be aware of the relative strengths and weaknesses of those prospects and probably know the position of the owner(s). Using this knowledge will go a long way to mitigating risk and maximising opportunity. And, you’ll have the benefit of a “due diligence” exercise during the acquisition process.
  3. Synergy Benefits
    Synergy is commonly defined as 1 + 1 = 3. This means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts! Typical benefits that may arise from a combination of two businesses include;
    1. eliminating duplicated facilities and processes,
    2. optimising distribution channels and
    3. offering new products to a wider customer group. And all these synergy benefits increase the RoI of the acquisition!
  4. Access to Finance
    Organic growth requires funding. Funding for more production, wider distribution, more inventory, more receivables and so on. From a funders point of view, fronting up with finance for organic growth requires confidence in crystal ball forecasting. Will greater production and distribution capability generate more sales? Compare this to funding an acquisition. An acquisition where the target company has provided 5 years of historical financial information, has an existing and proven infrastructure and has been subject to a thorough due diligence process? A process probably involving firms of reputable accountants, lawyers or consultants. Which do you think would be preferable to a financier?
  5. Access to Staff
    Today’s often-repeated lament: “I can’t find qualified, experienced staff anywhere“! But, if you acquire another business, you will get access to a pool of experienced talent. In turn, this will reduce the need for the frustrating and expensive recruitment processes required by organic growth.

If this all makes sense and you’re looking for your business to grow one question remains: are you and your business ready and prepared for growth by acquisition?

Find out. Take our FREE Business Diagnostic.

January/February is the time to plan

January/February is the time to plan

Great sports teams and coaches set clear goals and plans, but remain accountable at all times.

Business owners are accustomed to wearing many hats, that of Shareholder, Director, and CEO.  The last-minute rush to Christmas brings out the frazzled Fire Fighter hat as owners juggle often unreasonable customer deadlines, family demands, and the party season before shutdown and escape to the beach.

Christmas comes and finally, the Shareholder hat comes out.  

  • Is there any gas, I mean cash, left in the tank for me?
  • How did we perform?
  • Do I still want to own this business?

The holidays are a time for reflection.  Questions to ask include;

  • What worked well?
  • Can you imitate others?
  • Or – what can you learn from change or bitter experience?

For many businesses, January is a quiet month, and at best February is like a car in second or third gear.  When you return in January fresh from rest with a clear head – this is the time to plan.  A ship without a rudder goes nowhere.  In January/ February the phone doesn’t go continuously and you can put on your Director’s hat – to work on the business – review your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and reset or revise your company goals, strategies, action plans and tactics with your team.

By March you are back into CEO mode – executing the strategy, action plans and tactics with the help of your team.

But if you don’t have a clear plan you won’t achieve your goals.

How do you grow your employees during a skills shortage?

How do you grow your employees during a skills shortage?

Skilled workers are getting harder to find – as our Spring Pulse Check revealed. The big question is how do you keep your employees happy and engaged so they’re not tempted to head somewhere new?

In pre-COVID times a pay rise might have been just the thing to keep them onboard but as times get tougher that may not be feasible. How do we tackle this tricky topic in these difficult days?

Pay and conditions are top of the list for many employees but in today’s world people look for more from their employer including the opportunity for personal and professional growth. Excellent internal communication is vital to ensure your employees know what is going on and that they feel listened to and understood. Small businesses frequently report that their staff are like family but sometimes, as can happen in any family, people don’t talk to each other enough and problems arise.

All businesses – small or large – must remember that while employee engagement is important, the employee experience is now a critical consideration. The employee experience has a number of different aspects, internal communications being one, with the others including training and development, recognition of their work, how change is managed, flexibility and a sense of purpose.

You may not be able to provide a pay rise at this point in time but the other aspects of the employee experience are within your grasp.

Focus on training and development and, again, if budgets are tight, look for help and support through schemes like the Regional Business Partner Network. Communicate constantly – keep your employees briefed on the changes and challenges the business may face and celebrate the wins. Recognise their efforts – it could be as simple as publicly acknowledging a job well done – but let them know you appreciate their skills and abilities.

After our year of working from home, working through disruption or not working at all, we all understand the need to keep people engaged when the organisation is operating remotely and there are many approaches to help with this but don’t forget to maintain the good communication habits you cultivated during the crisis and stay connected to your employees.

If you find you can’t recruit someone who has the skills necessary to support your business look to your existing staff – there may well be someone already working for you who is willing to grow and is capable of doing the job but they will need you to invest in the extra training or development to undertake the role and, of course, pay them appropriately for their work. 

Above all, be a trustworthy employer. Your employees will be looking to you to lead them through this period of time and effective communication, a good employee experience and a demonstration that you care will help keep your ‘work family’ together and growing happily.

What does your business plan look like now?

What does your business plan look like now?

We’ve all been learning fast this year as we’ve had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and growing uncertainty. As we approach the end of 2020, we’ll need to bring those learnings into sharp focus as we either renew or adapt our business plans to take account of the changes we’ve collectively experienced this year.

Take supply chain management. Many of our business owners have started to experience disruption in this area so our planning for 2021 needs to address the risks and issues around our supply chain, what that might mean for the business and what we need to adapt in our planning process in order to meet the challenge.

If this feels too hard, or trying to look ahead seems overwhelming, don’t be deterred.

Take a breath, follow the process step by step, asking the following questions:

  • Where do I want my business to be by the end of next year? Think about things like;
    • business structure,
    • revenue,
    • profit,
    • cash,
    • staff,
    • customer experience,
    • my role
  • What do I need to get right to make this happen? In other words, what are my top three Critical Success Factors?
  • What are my key objectives (no more than seven) for the year?
  • How will I know I am achieving this?
  • Who will hold me accountable for meeting my goals?

If you are struggling with any of these questions, talk to us. We’ll bring you together with a board of other business owners who want to help you to get this right and achieve your goals.

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

Small businesses look beyond COVID-19 with confidence

For the third month in a row, small-to-medium size businesses outside the hard-hit sectors of retail, tourism and hospitality are proving confident, optimistic and actively planning for their future beyond COVID-19.

Our September Pulse Check shows exceptional levels of confidence and optimism with business levels booming or the same as last year, relatively unchanged levels of employment and sustained sales.

More than 80% of you are confident you’ll make it through, more than half report sustained or improved business levels, nearly two-thirds are optimistic about the next twelve months and 65% are already working on future strategies and getting business plans in place.

On the downside, 2020 has taken a toll with business owners feeling exhausted and that’s a real concern. Government support and business advisors have helped get through the difficult days of 2020 but despite weathering exhaustion, lockdowns, alert level changes and varying levels of uncertainty, you’re not giving up and have your head down, planning your way to the future.

For some, the forthcoming election, mainstream media stories and government policy are reducing confidence, while for others, their own resilience drawn from past experience, government policy, and the thought of open borders is a confidence booster.

Stephen James observed: “Our members are, for the most part, outside the sectors acutely affected, such as retail, tourism and hospitality. It may seem that member confidence levels and optimism are at odds with other commentary but our small business owners are efficient and resilient because they have to be. Small business owners regard their employees as family, do their utmost to retain them and are able to adapt and evolve business practices swiftly with the right support, even among those hardest hit.

“It’s heartening – and speaks volumes for business owners – that so many have got through with relatively unchanged levels of employment, due in part to the government support people have  turned to and a willingness to change where necessary.

“One of our priorities will be to help business owners cope with the high levels of exhaustion they’ve reported. We see this as a danger area as, no matter how resilient they may be, working through an ongoing crisis is hard and it is draining. Supporting our business owners helps them to help their business, so developing strategies and solutions to what we know will be an ongoing challenge is an area we will be working on with our boards and through our coaching sessions”.

The September Pulse Check surveyed 266 of our members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error. You can download a copy of the results in full here.

The Alternative Board conducted the September Pulse Check survey of 266 of its members and associates between September 18 – 27 with a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

9 Steps to Safeguard your Business

9 Steps to Safeguard your Business

Rise Above Uncertain Times

Whether you’re in the midst of a crisis or simply crafting a continuity plan to protect your company against a potential emergency, these nine steps will
help you safeguard your business for long term success.

 

 

Download 9 Steps to Safeguard Your Business

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The Art of Great Communication

The Art of Great Communication

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and thought to yourself “Great! We’re on the same page”, only to find out later you were talking about apples and the other person thought you said oranges?  The result you thought you were going to get turned out to be completely different to what you visualised.  Of course, this has happened to us all.  Why is it that people just don’t listen?  In your mind it was clear, concise and really simple.  This is the source of many conflicts and frustrations as a business owner.  Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

The first thing to understand is that communication is all about what’s received not what’s sent.  It’s all well and fine for you to know exactly what you mean, however, how can you be sure that the other person does as well?  Often times we believe they were just not listening, or they deliberately did what they wanted as opposed to what we asked them to do.  Sometimes this is the case but more often than not it was because of a misunderstanding.

We all have different styles of communication and this includes our listening styles.  The key is to know yourself and to know others.  To take it to the ultimate level is for all of us to know each other.  One of the best tools I know to help do this is a behavioural assessment tool called DISC.  Interestingly the creator of DISC, William Moulton Marston, was also the first person to develop a functional lie detector and, also created the Wonder Woman character (remember the lasso of truth?).

DISC is based on 4 different behavioural styles.

D – Dominance.  People with this style tend to be ambitious, forceful, decisive, strong willed, independent and goal oriented.  They want you to communicate in a clear, specific way and for you to be brief and to the point.  Stick to business and be prepared with supporting material in a well organised package.  They tend to like to do things the Fast way.  Approx. 18% of the population are highest in the D style.

I – Influence.  People with this style are usually magnetic, enthusiastic, friendly, demonstrative and political.  They like you to create a warm and friendly environment, are not keen on hearing the detail (if you want them to get it then put it in writing) and you need to ask them feeling questions to draw out their opinions.  They like to do things the Fun way.  Approx. 28% of the population are highest in the I style.

S – Steadiness.  People with this style like you to start your communication with a personal comment to break the ice.  Present your case softly and in a non-threatening way.  They like how questions as this will draw out their opinions.  They like to do things the Traditional way.  Approx. 40% of the population are highest in the S style.

C – Compliance.  People with this style like you to prepare your case in advance.  Stick to business and be accurate and realistic.  They like the detail and for everything to be factual and to be achievable. They like to do things the Proper way.  Approx. 14% of the population are highest in the C style.

When we have a good understanding of our own behavioural style, including our strengths and our weaknesses, we are better equipped to develop strategies to meet the demands of our environment.  And being a great communicator will certainly help.  Interestingly enough almost all of us exhibit all four behavioural styles to a certain degree of intensity.  The next and more important aspect is to understand others.  When we communicate to others in a way that suits their style best, then its highly likely that what they hear is exactly what we meant them to hear.

The benefits of great communication are huge.  You may not have the “lasso of truth” however your can greatly enhance your ability to have everyone on the same page at the very least.  Talk to your local Alternative Board Facilitator to find out more.