12/05/2014

By Lara Morgan, founder of Company Shortcuts,

This extract is taken from More balls than most © 2011 (published by Infinite Ideas).

I do still find it remarkable, given the endless mistakes I made, that it all turned out right in the end. Every business makes mistakes, and I am evidence for the fact that mistakes are not – usually – fatal. On the contrary, they can enable alternative direction and progress. Here are some examples of mistakes from my experience.

• Over-diversification. Being all things to all men meant we were masters of none, and I now utterly believe in having a niche focus.

• Stock overload. This led to chaos and profit wasted through both the cost of pallet storage space and wasted goods due to non-sales and ‘best before’ batch date destruction costs.

• Skill set sinking. As the company grew in the middle phase I started to lose my self-confidence – I cannot remember why – so I went through a phase where I started to recruit more qualified people as a priority over them having the right attitude, thinking that I could change their attitude. This is quite wrong. Employ people for the fit of their attitude and the aptitude can be taught.

• Being untargeted. Get targets in early, advertise them, stick to them and measure success.

• ‘In, not on.’ Everyone goes through the phase of thinking that their business needs their expertise on a daily basis – being continually available and endlessly involved, with fingers in every pie – and I was no different. How wrong was I? The sooner I learnt not to meddle, learnt to accept that others’ methods might not be mine but might be even more successful and competent, and the sooner I stopped playing the problem solver and encouraged others to make their own decisions, the faster the business flew.

• Getting prioritisation wrong. The difference between the urgent and important and the important and non-urgent is vast, and I wasted a lot of time doing things in the wrong order. Relentlessly review what needs to get done, leading to the best return on investment of your time and effort.

• Having no barriers to entry. Every business has to learn to say no to business that does not fit their profit strategy and business focus, and we had to devise our own barriers to enable us to stay on focus.

• We introduced a system that allowed sales people to understand when to turn down client requests so that our team was not distracted following up enquiries that were not going to add long- term value for the company as a whole. We ensured that we could sometimes take on new projects that would potentially be exceptions to the rule, as sometimes a business has to catch a sprat to catch a mackerel. Many companies, though, make repeated mistakes by following business that is costing them resources and also exhausting a team by dragging them on chases that do not necessarily gain the results that are required for the overall objectives. Train people on how to turn business down in the right way (you will find this a difficult process to introduce only if you are far off the tracks in terms of process and clear commercial understanding). Adding these skills to everyone in your business through constant skills training and communication will build your potential. How often do you run internal training systems for the development of your staff?

• Investing too little in marketing. This is a common mistake, but when correcting it do make sure quality rules apply and there is overall consistency.

• Failing to network. Don’t fall into this trap just because you are busy.

And finally, do remember to consider your employees. Without people, you have nothing, and forgetting that fact is a major mistake. Continual improvement processes will pay off if they are celebrated as standard. You must lay down in your business clear expectations of what you particularly value in your team of employees. Having an ambition to continually challenge the status quo will bring positive steps, both small and large, towards making greater profits or bringing in better opportunities that eventually bring better profits. Share your ideas and endlessly encourage others to share theirs, and you will be endlessly rewarded and energised by the brilliance of those you have around you.

With staff you reap what you sow, or so I believe, and I looked to celebrate every triumph. Rewards I have given have ranged from the smallest gift – a card saying thank you, a packet of Jelly Babies for a known Jelly Baby addict, tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show for a keen gardener – to taking the entire staff on holiday to Barbados for a week. Celebrate in style, whether small or large; it all counts.