All year long you’ve been in frantic motion. You’ve put out fires. Solved employee snafus and issues. Juggled conflicting priorities. Fielded exhausting back-to-back meetings, telephone calls, and endless emails. Motivated yourself and others. And, kept blocking and tackling month after month by leading and managing your company toward achieving the objectives and goals you set. In other words, it’s been a typical year in the life of a small business owner, and, suddenly, December is here, and 2013 is right around the corner. And according to Bill McBean, with a little focused thought, the last month of 2012 can also be the most valuable one.
“Sometimes the business world pauses to catch its breath in December,” says McBean, author of the new book The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t. “This may or may not be true in your industry or company. But either way, you owe it to yourself, your customers, your employees, and your future to tear yourself away from the daily grind long enough to do some end-of-the-year or early-next-year reflection and forward planning.”
Typically, entrepreneurs and small business owners have trouble seeing above the action and the dust it creates. But maintaining a cool and measured perspective on where you are, where you’re headed, and—most importantly—exactly what you need to do to get there is crucial to next year’s success.
The Facts of Business Life explains how to do this. As the title suggests, the book lays out seven of the most critical facts successful business owners use to their advantage every day. Most importantly, McBean delves into how those facts play out through the five levels of every business’s life cycle, from determining whether a business opportunity even exists to moving on when it’s time to go.
“Too many owners and their senior staff just get so caught up in the daily whirlwind that they lose sight of the realities of business ownership,” he says. “When that happens, success may not evaporate overnight, but it will, inevitably, slip away. It doesn’t have to be this way. It pays to step back and reevaluate your market and your company’s place in it by making sure your practices are in line with ‘the facts.’”
McBean has compiled a list of eight “must-dos” to tackle before the end of the year. Here are the first four!:
Hold a 2012 post-mortem: Start by analyzing whether you’ve been an effective leader. A skill every great leader has is the ability to self-analyze, away from the high fives of success and the consistent pressure tight cash flow brings.
“This is a good chance to gauge the effectiveness of your leadership,” says McBean. “Good leadership begins with defining the destination and direction of the company and deciding how the business should look and operate when it arrives. If you haven’t done those things, you aren’t leading, and if you aren’t leading, no one will follow.
“Ask yourself: Did your business have a successful year? What did it do well? What could it have done better? Where are the future opportunities that will grow your business? What are the threats to your company’s success, or what is holding your business back? These are serious questions that demand serious answers. And once answered, then it’s up to you to define the leadership skills needed to move your business from where it is today to where you want it to be tomorrow.
“The good news is that the most important aspects of leadership can be learned,” he adds. “And, the sooner you start, the better your likelihood of long-term success. But a note of caution: Before you can lead a business forward, you have to define where it is today, evaluate your personal strengths and those of your business, and compare those evaluations to those of your competitors. This self-evaluation is an important part of being a successful leader. Because at the end of the day, if your business is equal to those of your competitors, it’s the owner’s skill that makes the difference between one business being successful, and another being below average.”
Do a top-to-bottom walk-through of your systems and procedures: Examine what is working and what isn’t. You may find that a system that once worked well no longer does (because the marketplace has changed, your competitors have changed tactics and strategies, or your customers’ needs have shifted) or that your business has fallen into bad habits that hinder success. In particular, look for inconsistencies in how employees handle tasks, especially those that directly impact customers and those who handle the data you use to make decisions about the business. This allows you to catch problems before they develop into crises.
“It may not be politically correct to say so, but if you’re not controlling your procedures and processes, you don’t really ‘own’ your business,” notes McBean. “You’re just a spectator watching others play with your money. Great procedures and processes need controls, and these controls in turn create great results and skilled employees. The key to understanding the importance of processes is to understand the concept that processes operate your business—and employees operate the processes.”
Pinpoint your best customers: Give them a heartfelt end-of-the-year thank you. McBean insists that protecting your company’s assets is job one. Those assets are not just monetary—far from it. Customers are some of the most important. (After all, without them, no one gets paid.) What’s more, all customers are not created equal. Some are more profitable than others, and they’re not always who you think they are.
“Once you’ve identified your VIPs, create ways to enrich the relationship and continually create added value for them,” advises McBean. “Obviously, saying thank you doesn’t hurt, no matter how often they hear it. No one likes to be taken for granted. A call or letter from you will show them that you don’t. It’s amazing the ROI you’ll get from such a simple action.
“The bottom line for all owners is this,” he adds. “Both the gross profit and net profit you make is actually your competitor’s opportunity. Just as your opportunity is their customers and the gross profits they generate—they are worth attracting and worth fighting for.”
Don’t neglect your other big “asset”: employees: If possible, meet with each one individually. Even if it’s not a “formal” performance review, a quick end-of-year conversation one-on-one can help you shore up relationships, challenge low performers to do better, and reward and rerecruit your highest performers. (Rewards don’t have to come in the form of a big end-of-year bonus. You might offer an extra couple of days off, a gym membership, or a gift card for a spa treatment as a thank you for a job well done.)
“The idea is to show employees that you recognize and appreciate their contributions,” says McBean. “A heartfelt thank you, a compliment passed along from a customer, an inquiry into an employee’s goals and aspirations, or a simple handshake and acknowledgment can be incredibly meaningful. A good motto to follow is ‘Be firm—but fair, and show them you care.’”
About the Author: Bill McBean is the author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1180949-6-9, $24.95, www.FactsOfBusinessLife.com). A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, Bill began his career with General Motors of Canada Limited in 1976. After holding several management positions with GM, in 1981 he accepted a position with the Bank of Nova Scotia (ScotiaBank) as manager of a sizeable commercial lending portfolio. Two years later, however, GM approached him about opening a new automobile dealership in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and, along with ScotiaBank, offered to lend him the required capital. Accepting the offer, Bill began his first business as a “start-up” the following year, beginning with ten employees.
Over the next decade, Bill grew the Yorkton business, which became one of the most profitable GM dealerships in the region. Following his success in Canada, Bill was presented with an even greater opportunity in the United States. With his friend Bill Sterett, he purchased an underperforming automotive dealership in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1992.
Applying his business expertise, Bill turned the company around, increased sales revenue fivefold, and raised the employee count from 70 to almost 300. He also rearranged the local marketplace by acquiring a large portion of the market share from his competitors and by buying weakened competitors over a period of 11 years. During that period, the manufacturers he represented continually awarded him and his company honors for sales, service, customer retention, and financial excellence. Because of his company’s financial success and industry reputation, it attracted the interest of several major public companies and in 2003 was purchased by AutoNation, the world’s largest automotive retailer.
Both before and since selling the group, Bill has started several successful businesses outside the automotive industry, applying his business concepts and knowledge to other industries. He is currently general partner of McBean Partners, a family-owned investment company. He is also partner and chairman of Our-Mentors, a company that works with owners to improve their businesses for long-term success, and Net Claims Now, which provides companies in the restoration industry with invoicing, accounts receivable collections, cash flow services, business coaching, and business lead generation services.