New Year, New Challenges

Neil Pattemore shares tips on analysing your business

Published:  22 February, 2016

The Christmas cheer is well and truly behind us and the realities of business life need to be addressed to see if 2016 can be better than 2015.

Just because you survived last year does not mean that more of the same for 2016 will be good enough – your competitors will be looking to ‘up their game’ and you need to do the same. 

This does not mean a wholesale change to your business, you probably did OK last year, so much of what you are doing must be acceptable but with Spring not too far away, a bit of a ‘spring clean’ for your business is never a bad thing.

If you can, plan some time away from your business with someone you can trust to be honest with you and who can also provide reasoned and practical analysis and advice. You do not want to start any arguments (so be open minded and don’t be defensive about what you do now), so you do need to be open, honest and structured in your approach and discussions. Try and use your ears and mouth in the ratio you have them – listen twice as much as you speak!

Analyse that

You need to be somewhere that will be quiet and undisturbed; with the ability to use a flip chart or whiteboard (a good place would be to hire a small meeting room for a day). Take some time to really analyse your business – what you do well, where improvements can be made to your premises, your team members (e.g. their productivity, new training needs, new responsibilities etc.), your internal processes, if your management reporting information is sufficient (especially the key point indicators – KPIs), your customer communication, your marketing and advertising.

The idea is to take each segment of your business activity and analyse it to see where improvements can be made – for example, start with your internal activities and then imagine how others may see you as part of your external customer facing activities. However, be realistic and don’t try and change the world in your first session, but list all your ideas for both your good and bad aspects. Once you have listed them, it will be much easier to see the priorities and to start to organise the best solutions.

These solutions are likely to cover several areas and may need further investigation, for example finding a new software management system, or a new marketing agency, but don’t be put off by what you may consider a difficult or expensive challenge. Take some time and try different ideas, remember don’t change the objective, just how it can be achieved.

Once you have decided on the prioritisation plan, start to write down an action plan of what you want to do and by when. This may involve a plan for the longer term, especially if you are planning to expand the business with more workshop equipment, more staff and even larger premises, but for most businesses, it will be about making a number of

smaller changes to enhance the productivity and profitability based on

your existing premises.

Consideration

Once the action plan is clear and you have considered the changes and costs involved, you may wish to share the proposed changes with your staff – but ensure that this is done in a way that motivates them, as most people have a healthy dislike of change! Explain what you are planning to do and what the objective will be and that by achieving this objective, they will be working in a more progressive and better managed business. Feeling that you are working for a business that is improving and doing better than its competitors is in itself a motivator.

Eventually this may be reflected in improved working conditions and salary levels, as the business grows it starts to become self-fulfilling – attracting better and more productive staff, who are working in better conditions, with an increased customer base who are prepared to pay you a little more than your competitors.

I know that this sounds almost like a dream, but think about other successful businesses – their success doesn’t just happen – it’s about knowing how to be better and being able to attract the best employees, having a well-managed environment and with good marketing to attract and retain customers.

For all

Equally, many independent garages may think that this is only for those ‘suits’ who work for big employers, or who may feel that this is outside of their comfort zone but even if you feel this way, don’t be afraid to start doing this ‘spring clean’ analysis. Everyone has to learn new ideas and ways of improving both themselves and their business and even if you have never done something like this before, then try it – it can be quite good fun, as well as allowing you to see the wood for the trees. Even for someone conducting this sort of analysis for the first time, it is highly likely that some good ideas will flow from the process, but the key issue is to start to learn how to make the analysis and then the next time you do it, it will be much easier and more successful.

Additionally, be realistic about what to expect as you learn how to conduct the analysis – don’t try to change everything at your first attempt – in fact try to change a small number of points, but try and identify those points which will have the most beneficial impact and that you are able to implement within a reasonable timescale and at an achievable cost. Once you begin to understand how to evaluate the various activities of your business, it will become much easier to do more effective actions in the future.

As you progress step by step, you should be able to make a series of small but beneficial improvements and hopefully ensure that not only can you attract and keep more business, but that your customers will want to wipe their feet on the way in and not on the way out!

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