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How a robust business review can support sales growth and profitability

It seems obvious enough. If you fully understanding what’s happening in your business, then you are well placed to exploit your company’s strengths and tackle any key issues appropriately. Yet despite this pretty simplistic notion, many business owners do not have clarity on the financial health and operating complexities within their companies. When sales and profitability levels fall, it can be all too easy to focus on the wrong things particularly if you are a very hands-on owner.

All too often we see business owners taking a cut to their salary and operating their business more from a survival standpoint rather than taking a step back to see where the gaps and issues are. This was the case for a small manufacturing business whose Earnings Before Interest and Tax had dropped to -12%, with a turnover of $1m per annum.

Gibsons helped this manufacturing company to access government funding which enabled a rigorous review of the business.

Through Gibsons’ strategic review the key strengths of the business were clear to see – a small and highly skilled team headed up by an owner with a high level of technical understanding, and a satisfied and very loyal customer base who were not sensitive to changes in price. Customers valued the products and service provided by the company and the owner was very passionate about the business.

The strategic review brought to light some fundamental issues to the company’s operations. No financial performance reviews, coupled with little or no understanding of costs in estimating, were central to the profitability issues the company was experiencing. The owner was only taking a very modest salary and was unable to fund any growth to the business as a result. The company had experienced a poor financial performance for the previous 3 years. However, with no financial review being conducted, the specifics and an understanding of why this had taken place was not immediately clear.

Gibsons set into place some key actions to overturn this downward profitability trend and address the issues identified. An effective system for costing and estimating was developed and implemented, with staff trained in its use. Administration support was clearly defined and set up to better support the owner. Freeing up the owner’s time, he was better placed to focus on sales, estimating and overseeing production. Regular accounting and financial review processes were established so the company was better positioned to respond promptly as issues were identified.

Within a short timeframe, these actions moved the company from -12% to 15% EBIT and increased their turnover by $0.8m p.a. The owner was able to take a market-based salary. Gibsons continued to support the business as necessary to enable this level of performance to continue.

Without clarity on your business’ operations and financial health, it is hard for any business owner to take the appropriate actions needed to overturn a drop in profitability. An independent third-party advisor can bring an objective insight to identify and support the changes needed to enable sales and profitability goals to be met.

Quality systems for your business

To produce consistent and predictable quality outcomes you need effective systems in place in your business. Having effective systems in place also streamlines day-to-day operational activities and makes it easier to manage these activities, allowing managers time to deal with exceptions and to work on business development.

What is a system?

A system is basically a set of rules for processing information and facilitating decisions.

Another major benefit of developing and documenting systems and procedures is to help to personality-proof your business. It reduces the level of dependence on particular individuals by downloading their knowledge and documenting it so that the knowledge can be shared with other staff and become corporate knowledge rather than individual knowledge.

What happens when your business systems are lacking or ineffective?

  • Customers are dissatisfied due to unpredictable levels of service and quality.
  • Staff are often frustrated and demotivated because every task becomes a unique challenge rather than an established process with known outcomes.
  • Low productivity: without documented, effective and up-to-date systems, new employees must rely heavily on experienced staff for guidance even for the most basic of tasks resulting in low productivity for both new staff members and for those training and supporting them.

What are the characteristics of effective systems?

  • They are documented.
  • There is some level of automation in data capture and processing information.
  • They are not reliant on individual knowledge.
  • They operate in a predictable and timely manner.
  • They provide guidance in routine decision making.
  • They improve efficiency and reduce costs.
  • They accommodate the ability to measure performance.

If you don’t have systems in place in your business now, where do you start?

First establish a clear picture of the required outcomes, assess the current position, and then develop the logical, step-by-step processes required to consistently achieve the outcomes required. Incorporating input from people at the coal face who work with the processes on a day-to-day basis is essential to develop and refine these systems. They are the ones who are implementing the systems and generally know what works well and what causes frustration.

It is also important that systems adhere to relevant Quality Assurance and Workplace Health & Safety standards.

It is not too late to start developing effective systems for your business and to see predictable and consistent quality results.

Business Growth Opportunities

How Do You Evaluate Business Growth Opportunities?

It is useful to have a means of grouping and assessing the growth opportunities that are available for your business. There are four overarching business growth strategies to consider, as shown in the Anshoff matrix diagram [1].

The matrix considers existing products and new products as well as existing markets and new markets. The most straightforward growth strategy is to sell more of the products and services you already have into the markets you already know – market penetration. With this approach you don’t need to do or get to know anything new.

Anshoff-matrix-diagramThis business growth strategy is dependent on the level of market share you currently have. If your current market share is very high, further market penetration will be difficult; if it is low to moderate (as is the case with most B2B SME markets) then increasing your market penetration is the strategy of least resistance and likely to produce the fastest business growth results.

The next options to consider are either introducing existing products into new markets (market development) or new products into existing markets (product development). In both cases, one of the two dimensions is known and understood which limits the amount of change required for success. The choice of strategy will normally depend on whether the company is better at product development or marketing.

The most difficult challenge is where everything is new – diversification with new products being introduced into new markets. This requires expertise in both product development and market development.

The matrix allows you to group your potential growth opportunities for comparison and evaluation. You can identify which quadrant of the matrix sits best with your strengths and then compare and assess business growth strategies within the quadrant.

Before looking at where the growth opportunities are, it is important to consider the quantum of the growth that you are looking for. The more aggressive your growth target, the more likely you will need to look for new products or new markets or both in order to achieve it.

[1] First presented by Igor Anshoff in his book Corporate Strategy – McGraw Hill 1965.