If you’re the proud leader of a fledgling enterprise, there will doubtless come a time when you want to improve your business. In case you’re already reaching that point and wondering where to start, I’d like to share some tips that will help you take the first steps, with an emphasis on planning—probably the most influential factor in business improvement.
Over the many years that I’ve been involved in founding, leading, and managing companies, as well as helping my consulting clients, I’ve had plenty of practice in the art of business improvement. Much of what I know today though, came at some point as revelations that I wished had arrived sooner.
Improve Your Business By Design
Like many first-time business owners, I initially learned as I went along. I took guidance from others wiser than me. I also endured that timeless and sometimes painful process of trial and error.
Over time I came to realise that the more effectively I planned, the less I had to endure the pain of learning from mistakes.
The best planning in the world can’t prevent the need to feel your way forward to some extent—that’s an occupational hazard of being a business leader. But still, if you follow the basic guidance contained in this post, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to get things moving in the right direction and see your business start to improve and grow.
First: Know Where You Are
Preparing to improve your business is the much the same as preparing for any other journey. The only difference is that initially, you might not know exactly where you are starting from. The first step therefore, is to make sure you know what shape your business is in, especially in relation to your competitors.
It’s a great idea to begin with a SWOT analysis, which is a method of gathering information about your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Plenty of information is available online to help you perform a SWOT analysis and once completed, you should look most closely at the weaknesses and opportunities. Those categories are where you’ll find the aspects of your business that could use improvement.
Another way to assess the state of your business is to carry out a benchmarking exercise, comparing specific areas of business performance against others in your industry or commercial sector.
Next: Decide Where You Want To Be
Once you know where you are, it’s time to decide where you want to be. This is where performance benchmarking can be particularly useful. Benchmarking helps you to see how leading companies in your field are performing, so you can set objectives to move your business closer to the leaders, to match them, or if you have sufficient ambition, to get out in front of the pack.
However ambitious you are, you’re more likely to meet your goals (and so improve your business) by formalising them as specific objectives.
For example, suppose your SWOT analysis reveals that you have a weakness in terms of order fulfilment, and benchmarking shows you that leading competitors/peers have order fill rates some 10% higher than yours. Now you can easily set a target for improvement.
Of course this is a simplification and in reality, you’ll probably determine not just one, but a number of objectives to improve your business. Whether you decide on one objective or ten though, the most important thing is to get them down on paper, and make sure they are SMART, which stands for…
- Specific: each objective should state exactly what is to be achieved. (For example, achieve weekly order fill of 99.5%).
- Measurable: progress towards each objective should be possible to evaluate using a quantitative measurement.
- Achievable: each goal should be realistically achievable with the resources available to your business.
- Relevant: each objective should aim to improve your business in some tangible way, whether that’s by increasing profit, enhancing service, lifting quality, or getting better results in some other business aspect.
- Time-bound: each goal should have a specific date by which it will be achieved. Ideally you will set a timeline for completion, which includes dates by which certain milestones will be attained.
Then: Know How to Get Where You’re Going
While your objectives tell you what must be done to improve your business, you still need to plan exactly how you will meet those goals. In other words, each improvement-objective should be supported by a strategy.
There are many ways to strategise for each of your goals, but the start point should be to understand why performance stands where it currently does. Focus on identifying the root causes of your business’ weaknesses—then work on the strategies to address those causes.
This is the point at which it sometimes makes sense to call in professional business assistance. A good management consulting firm, for instance, should be able to quickly identify problems in your business operation and help you develop strategies to resolve them.
Finally: Plan Your Pit Stops and Watch Your Dashboard
The final step to improve your business is the implementation of the strategies you’ve developed. But before you finally set off on the journey, you still need to plan the itinerary in detail.
Implementation plans should include the timing, key resource needs, actions, and responsibilities for the tasks that collectively, will move your business towards each improvement goal.
Remember also to ensure measurements are in place, both to track the progress of implementation plans, and to make sure performance improvement outcomes are as you expected. These measurements, or KPIs, will make up the dashboard for the journey, and should be monitored closely as your plans are enacted.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Follow these first steps to improve your business, and you’ll soon be at the helm of a prospering enterprise. Best of all, you won’t have to suffer too many trials, or endure too many errors along the way.