Last November, our fearless Top Dog Elise Lindborg attended the highly regarded Tuck Executive Education Minority Business Program at Dartmouth College to learn how to take ZippyDogs to a new level of performance and success. What she learned can be applied to your small business, too.
All dogs must learn new tricks to stay competitive. It’s a given that a commitment to continuous improvement is key to growing success. Seems like a no-brainer—but living up to the commitment can be a real challenge. It takes regular monitoring of all aspects of your business, including strategy and implementation, analysis of financial statements, building strategic alliances and leadership skills. Not to mention delivering on the No. 1 strategy for all businesses: focus on the customer.
The week-long program presented the ideal opportunity to check the vital signs of our business, look for ways to improve and acknowledge the things we’re really good at. Our first “assessment” taught us we were all in the same boat:
The 8 most common small business weaknesses
1. Lack of customer focus
2. Lack of strategic direction
3. Employees not effectively empowered
4. Poor cash flow management
5. Underutilized control systems (budgets, goals, surveys)
6. Inefficient processes
7. Organizational structures that are “silos of inefficiency”
8. Putting all eggs in one basket (e.g., 30% revenues from one customer—not good)
More nuggets from Tuck:
Business strategy—serve your customers
Evaluate your overall business strategy. Exploit your strengths, and strengthen weaknesses. Above all, be customer-focused. Surprise and delight them! Be prepared to adapt to sudden changes in the market so you can maintain your customer focus throughout. Remember that customer satisfaction is the perception of your service minus their expectations.
Operations—avoid organizational charts that are ‘silos of inefficiency’
Make sure your systems are built to achieve your strategy, that is, to benefit your customers. Identify the tasks that others can do better or more cost-effectively and outsource; moving part of a project off your desk frees you to do what you do best.
Money—cash is king!
Know what your cash flow is up to at all times. Analyze your balance sheets and income statements. Just do it.
Marketing—finding and keeping customers
Conduct customer surveys to learn how you are doing and what customers expect from your company. On the flip side, audit your customer list to develop a profile of customers you like and who fit well with your company. That will give you a clearer picture of where to focus your marketing efforts.
Communications—inspire your customers and your team
Empower employees to deliver on your strategy; make sure they are trained to address customer priorities. Likewise, work toward getting customers to do more or communicate clearly. It can be a matter of asking the right questions, as well as telling them what you need to serve them best. Call it client school, but only to yourselves. WOOF!
A great, big WOOF! goes out to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) for providing Elise with a full scholarship to the Tuck Executive Education Minority Business Program at Dartmouth College. Learn more about NGLCC.