Rich Schefren is one of my business heroes, and here he gives you his tips on how to find a business mentor.
A business health check is a chance to stand back and look at your business with fresh eyes as it looks at many different aspects of your current business performance and the factors that determine future business performance.
Why You Need A Business Health Check
As the owner of a small business and a coach to other small business owners, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day issues of managing your business.
Stephen Covey the time management expert splits activities into four sections:
- Not Urgent Not Important
- Urgent Not Important
- Urgent & Important
- Not Urgent & Important
I suspect that like many managers you can get caught up in the urgent categories as you fire-fight your way through your business day.
You probably know that you shouldn’t be doing the first category – not urgent and not important. If the tasks need to be done at all, then they should be delegated or outsourced.
But do you realise that the category that can have the most impact on your performance is the fourth and last one – not urgent and important?
Think about it.
If you spend your time doing important things when they are not urgent, you don’t have to make compromises because of time pressures so the most important things get the attention they deserve.
You do them better and that leads to superior performance.
The purpose of the business health check is to help you to find these “important but not yet urgent” tasks before they become urgent and dominate your time and energy.
My Business Health Check – The Strategic Snapshot
I first developed my business health check – what I now call my Strategic Snapshot – as part of my MBA dissertation when I looked in detail at how business advisors can prevent SME clients (small and medium sized businesses) getting into financial difficulty.
The idea is simple, prevention is much easier than cure.
Businesses can be turned around but if performance is declining sharply, then the time and money needed to put the business on the right track is often not available when the business owners and management team ask for help. This causes many businesses to fail or even become bankrupt unnecessarily.
My business health check is much more strategic than many I’ve seen which focus on tactics which the business owner/management is or isn’t doing.
I believe that if you’re going to use a business health check to look at your business health, you need to look much broader than tactical activities. Businesses get into trouble for a wide variety of reasons but often it’s a strategic problem at the route cause.
My Business Health Check Format – The Five Pathways To Profit And Loss
- Pathway 1 – market attractiveness – growing or declining
- Pathway 2 – market competitiveness – growing or declining
- Pathway 3 – competitive advantage – increasing or decreasing
- Pathway 4 – management skills, planning and control – effective or ineffective
- Pathway 5 – the business owner’s inner game – str0nger or weaker
The main emphasis is on the first four pathways although over time I’ve come to realise that the inner game of the business owner and his or her vision for the business, passion and commitment and the way it translates into priorities, goal-setting and time management is a vital issue.
But it’s personal and I prefer to explore these issues, with the owner’s permission verbally rather than through a business health check questionnaire.
The idea of the pathways is simple – a weak rating in one or more area either needs to be corrected there or compensated for elsewhere by a much stronger performance.
For example, if the business is trapped in a market that can only be described as unattractive and extremely competitive, then the management team must focus on its own management skills, planning and control procedures and look to develop competitive advantages. This is a similar idea to SPACE Analysis.
The Value Of A Business Health Check
The value of the business health check comes from three sources:
- Completing the business health check questionnaire may make you acknowledge issues and uncertainties that have been nagging away at the back of your mind and undermining your confidence without being formally recognised. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever felt anxious about something but not known why – you just had a bad feeling – and you’ve been frustrated because until you pinpoint the underlying issues, you can’t take actions to reduce your concerns.
- Your internal feedback to yourself – the health check helps you to identify what needs to be done and can give you incentive to do something. For example, if you’re always struggling to balance cash flow, then it’s logical that you should spend some time on cash flow forecasting to give you advanced warning of issues and time to do something about it.
- External feedback on your answers in the business health check questionnaire. My health check draws on the major strategic planning models to identify performance patterns and issues which you probably won’t see on your own.
Is A Business Health Check A Cynical Way To Sell Business Consultancy, Coaching & Advice?
My business health check is my preferred diagnostic tool when I first get involved with a business and certainly with a business of ten or more employees. It provides structure to the review process.
Unfortunately I found resistance from prospective clients and it hasn’t been the effective lead generator I expected.
I now believe that a business health check offered by a business coach or consultant is viewed suspiciously by an entrepreneur as a cynical way to sell consultancy services rather than a problem identifier.
I can understand that.
Holding your hand up and saying that X, Y and Z are problems is admitting that you do need to do something.
But whatever a free business health check says about your business problems, it doesn’t mean that you have to do something about it or that you have to buy from the business coach or consultant providing the health check.
Just as you take a medical health check and you may be advised to take more exercise, eat more fruit, lose weight, stop smoking and cut back on the booze, it doesn’t mean that you will follow the advice.
On my last health check I was told that I needed to lose about a stone in weight but I didn’t do anything about it. Now I need to lose about two stone! The basic rule seems to be that if you ignore a problem, then it tends to get worse.
I recommend that you see the business health check as an input into how you run your business. It will confirm some things that you already knew but it may tell you about other issues that you hadn’t appreciated but which are easily cured.
I’d like to know your thoughts. Do you reject offers of a business health check from a business coach or consultant because you don’t want to be “sold”?
The full title of this book by Gino Wickman is
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business
In my review posted on Amazon.co.uk, I gave the book a 5 Stars rating. This means it is Excellent.
Here is my book review.
Comprehensive high level view of what to do to grow your business through internal excellence
I can understand why some ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners love this book. Its operating system makes a great deal of sense at a high level. While Michael Gerber’s classic small business book “The E-Myth Revisited” presents some similar ideas, this is much detailed and more of a “how to do it” guide. [continue reading…]
You may have seen that I am a business nerd and especially a marketing nerd, as shown by the vast number of marketing books I’ve read and reviewed.
This list doesn’t cover the many business growth and marketing courses I’ve worked through and there are a lot of those. I thought it would be nice to:
- Pay tribute to the main people who have inspired me and my thoughts about small businesses and marketing.
- To let you know the source of ideas I draw upon in my coaching and business advice.
This could develop into a long list of names but I want to keep it short so you can see who have been my main influences.
What I like about his ideas is the way he can find opportunities for more sales and profit in unconventional ways. He very much creates a profit opportunity seeking mindset in the people who study his methods as he looks inside and out, up, down and around. I like that because there are often hidden assets which can be turned into more revenue and profit.
Much of my knowledge of the Abraham techniques comes from expensive courses I’ve collected over the years. [continue reading…]
If you’re the owner of a small business based in the UK with a marketing problem, I offer a 90 minute consultation to help you.
I call it my Business SOS which stands for Second Opinion Session.
We’ll take a look at what’s happening in your business and what you need to do to improve your marketing results.
There’s a small payment of £60 to be made upfront and £240 more to pay when you find the consultation to be very helpful. I offer a free 60 minutes follow up call for those who pay in full but there is no obligation for further services.
To find out more, please click over to Business SOS.
I believe there are 7 big areas where marketing succeeds or fails. Any of these could be the constraint that is holding back your business and stopping you from having the success you want.
Six of them are explained in my free report, The Six Step Profit Formula and the seventh concerns the mindset of the business owner or manager making the marketing decisions.
I’ve been trying to come up with a short phrase which is the equivalent of gary Player’s legendary statement
“The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
I don’t think most of us like to focus on how much luck can be involved in business. It does have an effect but, as business owners, you and I will both have a strong preference for being in control.
What I’ve come up with is
“The More You Do Right In Your Business, The More Your Business Will Do Right By You“
This is consistent with a number of my business models which I use to explain business success:
- The five pathways to business success or failure
- The eight pillars of business prosperity
- The six steps profit formula
All involve doing more right in your business.
As for your business doing right by you…
As the business owner your profit (or loss) is what’s left after everyone else – after your suppliers have been paid, after your employees have been paid, even after the bank has been paid its interest.
Every other stakeholder in your business – employees, suppliers, bank and the tax man – has a formula for how much they will get.
You have the residual.
You want it to be positive (a profit) and hopefully highly positive but you can’t manage profit directly. You can only manage the components of profit, the sales revenue and the costs and how they can cascade down into their own detailed measures.
Your sales revenue and your costs are determined by how much you do right in your business.
The better you are at sales and marketing, the better your sales revenue.
The better you are at purchasing, the lower your costs. The better you are at managing your staff, the more they will give back for their wages and salaries.
It pays to do more right in your business.
Luckily, there is a vast range of tips, ideas and advice for you to tap into so you don’t have to learn from scratch.
You can do it yourself
Or lean on someone like me.
Get To Know Me
Business Turnaround Coaching: Who Can It Work For And Who Needs More?
What is Business Turnaround Coaching?
Business Turnaround Coaching is halfway between traditional business coaching and turnaround management.
Traditional business coaching works very well for many growing businesses and is often a six months or twelve months improvement project as the coach and business owner work together. You would systematically work through your business, improving areas of weakness and testing new ideas in areas of strength.
Turnaround management is much more dramatic. It involves a turnaround specialist taking over management control of a struggling business that is on the verge of failure. It’s normally full time and the duration depends on the severity of the problems and the size and complexity of the business.
Business Turnaround Coaching recognises the need for fast improvement in a business but is less intrusive than turnaround management but much more intensive than traditional business coaching. For example, my 30 Days Business Coaching Boot Camp has daily contact with the business owner for 30 consecutive days Monday to Friday to maintain focus and accountability on the most important improvement efforts. [continue reading…]
How Do Turnaround Management And Turnaround Coaching Compare For A Small Business In Financial Difficulties?
There are three main ways businesses get into financial trouble:
- A business start-up that has failed to achieved lift-off to become a viable business.
- A business that has hit a sudden financial problem often caused by a large bad debt, losing a contract with a major customer or a disaster situation like a major fire or flood.
- A business has gone into gradual decline.
If the business is to survive, it must be turned around before the money runs out and before it becomes insolvent without any realistic prospect of recovery.
Please note, insolvency is a legal issue where there can be serious implications for the directors and shareholders and you will need to check the legal situation in your own country. If in doubt, my advice is to consult an insolvency professional.
The turnaround solutions depend on the cause of the problem. [continue reading…]
What is A Living Business Plan And How Does It Work?
The big problem with a traditional business plan is that it takes a lot of effort to prepare, and then, when it’s done, it’s forgotten and ignored.
What a crazy waste of time, unless you must do it to get money from a bank or key support from someone else.
Plans Must Change
It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War 2 and 34th President of the United States of America who said
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”
World heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Prussian (German) field marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder said
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
Business is also a contact situation, even if you’re not killing or punching other people.
What customers say and do, should change your mind and how competitors react will also mean you need to adjust.
Eisenhower accepted that plans change but said “planning is essential“. You must think about what you’re going to do in a structured way. [continue reading…]
Some business coaches love working with successful business owners and get a great buzz from helping them to become more successful, turning them from millionaires into multi-millionaires.
Other business coaches, including me, get much more satisfaction from helping struggling business owners to turn around their businesses when they are not performing well.
The financial rewards aren’t as good but I get more satisfaction from making a big difference to people’s businesses and lives.
Small Business Turnaround Coaching
In this article I am going to look at how feasible it is for owner-managers to work with a turnaround coach to put their businesses back into the black and to create a long term profitable business.
I’ll look at:
- Whether your business is already insolvent?
- The role of a turnaround manager.
- The compromises involved with hiring a business turnaround coach.
- Whether your business can be turned around.
- The turnaround priorities.
Is Your Business Already Insolvent?
In the UK, the two main tests for whether the business is solvent rather than insolvent are:
- The cash flow test – can the business pay its debts to creditors as they fall due?
- The balance sheet test – is the value of assets greater than the value of liabilities?
A company that fails either test can be considered as insolvent.
There is also the issue of whether the company has not paid a statutory demand (including a county court judgement) of more than £750 within 21 days.
I will write more about this but if you fear your business fails these solvencies tests, you must talk to a qualified insolvency practitioner immediately.
When you are insolvent, you must act in the best interests of your creditors.
If the business continues to trade after the point when insolvent liquidation becomes unavoidable, the directors risk serious consequences including being made personally liable for the debts and being disqualified as directors in the future.
Get the proper advice from an insolvency practitioner. It’s much better to deal with knowledge of the facts rather than uncertain fears.
It doesn’t mean the end.
Some businesses can trade out of the difficulties.
Others can go through a formal insolvency procedure like a creditors voluntary arrangement (where creditors agree to write off a proportion of the debts) or administration.
Businesses That Are Technically Insolvent
Many start-up businesses are technically insolvent but the owners have the resources and intention to stand behind the business.
Ideally, they should invest their own money as share capital to correct any balance sheet deficit where liabilities exceed assets and make loans if the company doesn’t have the cash to meet its obligations as they fall due.
Older businesses that can’t build up their retained reserves may also be technically insolvent on the balance sheet test but because of a favourable working capital cycle, they may be able to meet their debts as they fall due or at least before legal action is taken.
Again the owners should increase the share capital to cover the balance sheet deficit.
They’d also be advised to take steps to improve the business so that profit could be retained in the business to build up a reserve buffer.
The Turnaround Manager Or Consultant
Large companies hire turnaround managers or consultants, often called Company Doctors.
These hard-nosed professional managers take control over the business and do what the existing senior management won’t do or can’t do.
The existing directors and owners may be completely sidelined or may be used to implement the recovery plan of the turnaround manager.
In the article Business Turnaround Specialists: Help In A Recession I explained the five stages of business decline identified by two academics Weitzel & Jonsson.
- The first stage is that managers are blind to the problems,
- The second stage is a period of inaction as they assess what is happening,
- Third is a faulty action stage where actions are taken but they fail because of inadequate diagnosis,
- The fourth stage is crisis, by which time it may be too late to recover. A firm cannot sustain losses indefinitely and
- In the fifth stage, dissolution occurs and the business is declared bankrupt.
Stage 1 can exist for a long time as the business has an inadequate system of key performance indicators and doesn’t even use break even point analysis and the margin of safety as an early warning system of the health of the business.
Eventually things get so bad, the managers can’t help but notice.
The further through the process before the turnaround manager is appointed, the less chance there is for recovery. The business runs out of resources and time.
The turnaround consultant is experienced in recognising and diagnosing the symptoms and causes of business decline and finding effective solutions. Things will stand out as unusual, odd and wrong that the owners accept as “the way things are done here”.
The Problems With Appointing A Turnaround Manager In A SME Business
- Cost – a good turnaround manager will be expensive. This is a full time role and the person won’t be prepared to work for nothing. He or she is likely to demand a payment upfront and regular ongoing payments, a success fee and even a share in the future ownership of the business.
- The owner has to give up day-to-day control. Most business owners have a big problem with this. The business is their baby and they don’t want to be bossed around. Ultimately the owner can sack the turnaround manager but it will be expensive and is likely to accelerate the decline and collapse of the business.
- The business owner has to swallow his pride and accept specific, public and implied criticisms of what has happened in the past to get the business into trouble. The turnaround manager will do things very differently to the owner and will sacrifice various sacred cows.
On the positive side, the owner may be relieved that someone else is making the tough decisions and has accepted the responsibility to prepare and implement a recovery action plan.
The Turnaround Coach – The Affordable Solution For Small Businesses In Financial Difficulty
The turnaround manager / consultant will take control from the owner-manager and do whatever is necessary to move the business towards recovery.
The turnaround coach works through the owner-manager to create change in the business.
This puts the coach as the advisor and guide but leaves the owner responsible for making the final decisions and taking the necessary actions.
This may be good:
- It costs much less than a turnaround manager and may be the only help a business owner can afford.
- It keeps the business owner in charge.
It may be bad:
- The business owner has to be persuaded and encouraged to take actions that he or she has previously dismissed or postponed.
- The coach sees the business partly through the eyes of the business owner. Instead of being there every day, seeing and hearing what is really going on, the coach has to rely on the owner accurately reporting the situation. Without going too metaphysical on you, none of us see reality but our own perception of reality influenced by our values and biases.
- Recovery is likely to take longer and be less certain. The business needs expensive intensive care but it receives less.
That may sound dismissive of the role of a turnaround coach. It’s not meant to be.
A coach is much better than having no outside help.
- The coach will challenge the way you are looking at the business. The process can give you fresh eyes so that you see for yourself what is going wrong.
- The coach will help you diagnose the problems of the business and the independent and objective view will reduce the chances of getting the diagnosis wrong.
- The coach will provide new ideas and solutions.
- The coach will help you to create a recovery plan that closes the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
- The coach will hold you accountable to the plan.
- The coach will help you solve problems implementing the plan and deciding when the plan needs to be adapted and updated to the new situation.
These actions can make a very big difference to the probability of effectively turning your business around.
Can The Business Be Saved Through Turnaround Coaching?
This depends on:
- The business owner
- The business
- The market
- The coach
Some owners don’t respond well to coaching. They resent being held accountable in their own businesses and having their thoughts, decisions and actions challenged or guided.
Others thrive on having a new “business best friend” when the going gets really tough. Someone who they can finally share what’s really going on and discuss their worries and concerns without having to put on a brave face and act confidently.
The business may be in too much trouble. The market may be too tough.
I recommend you read 21 Reasons Why Your Business Isn’t As Successful As You Want It To Be and the associated articles to take a new look at what is happening in your business.
Finally there is the coach.
The person has to be right for you and your business. General management skills are needed with a strong emphasis on finance.
Please read How To Choose A Business Coach
The earlier you start working with someone to turn around your business, the more chance there is to succeed.
Does A Small Business Owner Of A Struggling Business Have Any Alternatives To Working With A Turnaround Business Coach?
There are always alternatives but they may not be very attractive.
Assuming that a full time turnaround manager is out of the question, the business owner can:
- Do nothing. It doesn’t sound sensible but that’s exactly what happens in many troubled businesses. There are the twin problems of 1) total denial of the problem and 2) blind hope of a miracle solution.
- Do it on their own, possibly with the help of business books and courses. In one way this is good but it is time intensive when you should be taking action.
- Work with the help of a friend or relative. This can be good or it can be terrible. Sometimes friends are kind and encouraging when they need to be blunt and truthful. You may have experienced that for yourself if you’ve ever shown any marketing to a friend and heard nice things back and it flopped. Sometimes the friends can be very experienced and knowledgeable in business but not always.
- Join a mastermind group of other entrepreneurs. This can be an excellent idea for successful businesses but it’s probably not going to work fast enough for you.
If you think that your problems come from having an unbalanced management team e.g. you’re great at sales but hopeless at finance and administration, it might be an alternatie to hire a part time finance director.
Coaching is expensive and the business is short of financial resources.
I think it’s worth it to increase the chances of finding business success in the future.
But then, as a coach, I am biased.
The Business Turnaround Priorities – Establish the Position, Generate Cash, Cut Costs And Build Revenues
You might be wondering what you will do with a turnaround coach.
I believe the work falls into four main areas:
- You will need to establish the position of the business. What is the financial situation? Is it already insolvent and should you be talking to an insolvency professional? What are the underlying causes of the business problems?
- You need to get in control of your cash flow and generate more cash. It gives you more time and reduces the day-to-day stresses. Some may say generating cash is your #1 priority but decisions that are correct the right side of insolvency may be wrong if the business is beyond redemption.
- You need to cut costs. It’s not nice but reducing your cost base (which you are in control of) means you have less problems persuading customers to buy (which you don’t control).
- You need to build revenues. Cost cutting will only take you so far and to create a long term viable business, you need to get your startegy and marketing right.
I Wouldn’t Start From Here
Business turnaround is a bit like the old joke of someone stopping their car and asking for directions only to hear “if you want to go there, I wouldn’t start from here.”
It’s much better to make sure your business doesn’t get into trouble than to have to get it out.
Company A sees the problems early and can slowly and surely make changes, testing ideas to see what works and what doesn’t.
Company B has to create a much bigger change in direction and momentum. Because of the accumulated losses, it will have fewer resource and more pressure to make things happen with less time available. While there are some things that are basic common sense and the business owner won’t regret changing, there may be some risky gambles necessary. They may work, they might not.
Company C has ignored all the warnings and collapses.
If you’re are somewhere between company A and B, you should seek out help as soon as possible. Start talking to people. Face up to your situation.
If your company is between B and C, you need to talk to an insolvency professional. It doesn’t necessarily mean your business is finished because of the formal recovery procedures.