One big frustration faced by owners of small businesses face is that best practices from big companies aren’t applicable to small businesses. In this case study, independent executive Marc simplified tools and techniques to boost profits in small businesses
The old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is a good way of looking at some of the everyday, common-sense tools you use. As basic as they may seem to you, they may be invaluable to someone else. Think about how fundamental a meeting agenda template and guidelines for effective meetings are. We have seen these basic tools shift small businesses and start a transformation process. Think about an interim marketing executive working with a client. One of the key things the executive needs to know is the marketing budget. But the client has never put together a budget. As much as the next step should be for the client to bring in a finance executive to do a budget, that likely won’t happen in the near-term. The marketing executive could spend some time creating a template, but it doesn’t make sense to do so on his or her own time, nor for the client to pay a marketing executive to create a budgeting template. In these circumstances, we have seen executives reach out to their network or go online and secure a template. Even though there is a cost in some instances, it is much lower than creating one from scratch.
Case Study: Turning a Small Businesses One-Pager into Profits
Marc Koehler has been an independent executive for about fifteen years. The twelve years prior to that were with Fortune 100 companies such as Honeywell and Siemens, and as a submarine officer for the United States Navy. It was quite a transition going from the Navy to large corporations. On a submarine, when you say you are going to get underway at 1300, you didn’t get underway at 1259, and you didn’t get underway at 1301; you got underway at 1300. It was all about getting the mission done. For Marc, it was a tough transition going to big companies where decisions take forever to make, you feel like one of many, and you don’t feel like you’re really making a big difference.
When he initially transitioned to being independent, there were some challenges. He found that when he went into small companies, they were all over the place. Everyone would just come to work, go into their cubicle or office, work, and then they’d leave. There was no sense of, “Hey, I’m going to work today with a great sense of purpose, and I left today with a great feeling of accomplishment.” There was a big, gaping hole in all of these small businesses. And the hole was, with the speed of business today, it’s not about a command-and-control style type of leadership; it’s about a team delivering results. You create a team by helping people galvanize their own common purpose and a shared vision.
From that realization, Marc’s brand began to formulate. He noticed the one big frustration these business owners had was hearing about best practices, but not being able to apply them inside their companies. Or if they tried, they wouldn’t stick. He started by simplifying a lot of the tools and best practices that are used by big businesses. Every single time he went into a company, he followed the “Marc Koehler Process.” Eventually, his brand became a process-driven approach to helping a business owner create an engaged team. Once the team was engaged, he could focus everybody on the things that mattered most. Then he would make sure everybody was kept up to speed so that everybody on the team could help manage change and drive success.
To tell the story, he leveraged his background with the Navy. He compares a small business of 100 people to the same 100 people on a submarine. Why were they so engaged in the submarine? It was because everybody understood the big mission, and they understood their own role and everyone else’s role. They use a lot of symbolism, such as flags, to reinforce these understandings. Marc translates this in small businesses through the use of his One-Page Strategic Plan. You can walk into any business that Marc works with and ask anyone what the mission of the company is. Instead of reciting word-for-word, they will say it in one word or point to a picture on the wall that they helped choose to represent the mission.
As he was working with these companies, often other consultants were also connected to the same
companies. These others consultants looked at the one-page mission statement and said, “Hey, that’s a really neat tool. Can I use that?” Obviously, Marc had no problem with that; he just asked that they leave his name and logo at the bottom of the page. The feedback he got when they used it was, “It was fantastic. It was great. Everybody’s on the same page now. They’re all focused and everybody understands the vision of the company.”
That was Marc’s real aha moment. He could have done turnarounds for the rest of his life, doing two or three of them a year and get paid pretty well. But he saw a greater opportunity in putting together the products and tools that he had used to help small businesses be more successful. He saw a great opportunity to take them, package them up, commercialize them, and then share the result with other business owners. He did this because he believed he would be able to reach more people and affect far more lives by showing them how to use these tools; basically, teaching them how to fish instead of fishing for them. It goes back to one of the core concepts of being an interim executive: you start with the end in mind, “How do I exit the company, and how do I make sure that everything I did sticks?” That was always his goal. That’s how Marc started Lead with Purpose.
To commercialize it, he knew it had to be easily accessible, easily updated, and scalable. He worked with a programmer and created it as an online platform available to companies and consultants/coaches working with companies via a subscription model.
Marc had the same thought process as many others: “Hey, I’ve built it, and they’re going to come, and they’re going to see it, and they’re going to understand it.” He was quickly reminded of a key learning. It’s really important to know the small business owner. Marc says, “What we had to do is create that bridge so that when people signed in online, they would have all the support and tools they needed to build their own one-page plan, and they could build it on their own with their team. It was an interesting transition because there are all these other things you think are so easy for people to do. But if you stay really close to your client and the value that you want to provide them, and you keep getting feedback, it helps you to keep adjusting the offering.”
That’s what he did. He kept adjusting the offering and adding support, including videos, training sessions, etc. and finally started to gain some traction. Now, although they were solving one problem for their customers, they were creating another. They needed to focus on the support part of the product more than the product itself.
Through all of Marc’s lessons learned, the top of the list would be to really know your customer. Pay attention to what they are saying. You only know that by saddling up next to them, understanding what their challenges are, and what their fears are. That’s number one. Number two is, they’re not going to automatically or easily translate that the tool or product that you have is going to help solve those fears, or help solve those problems. Make sure that everything communicates. Are you communicating in the simplest manner, so that people can understand? As much as you can, take out all the things that are non-value-added. You have to simplify. You have to connect how your tool or product is going to help make their life better for them. That was really big.
One of the top rules of thumb any adviser would give a company is to diversify. Diversify your client base and your product/service offering. Never relying on just one product or source for your income can be critical when building a successful business. If you are just getting started, it may take some time, but always be thinking ahead about how you can diversify your revenue streams.