In the current economic climate, businesses must look at new ways to win customers. As such, many firms are now looking at strategic alliances which allow them to access new segments of the market.
If properly executed, a strategic alliance can be good for business and good for the consumer. A strategic alliance is similar to a joint venture, in that everyone remains an individual entity but comes together for a single purpose or period of time to create something that could not otherwise be created.
There are challenges that business owners and managers must consider before entering into a strategic alliance with another business. For instance, evaluating each partner’s value and capabilities is mandatory before agreeing to an alliance. The who, what, where, when and why questions all need clarification, with failsafe measures which must be agreed and documented before commencing the strategic alliance.
Here are some considerations for any business considering a strategic alliance:
Agreeing to the Terms
It is necessary to identify the areas of interest that are yours and to also identify the areas of interest that are relevant to the other partners. Strategic interests must be similar, and products or services comparable. The figures must add up – each partner must have enough economic benefit for each to remain committed. There must be an operational agreement in place, and it is advisable to engage the services of a lawyer in order to draft this and other terms.
What do you or each partner bring to the alliance? What is each person’s purpose and goals? Does each partner have something unique to offer which adds value to the business relationship?
Defining and Measuring Progress
Who is going to define or handle sales? What target market will be pursued and when? How will the revenue be generated and distributed? What will occur if the measurements aren’t met? A reporting structure should be agreed and put in place. Regular meetings (perhaps monthly or bi-weekly) should be scheduled and all key stakeholders should attend.
In summary, creating a strategic alliance is not something to be taken lightly.
In order to maximise return on investment, PR programmes should serve an actual purpose. PR for the sake of PR will most likely fail to produce a tangible result. Instead, each PR programme your business undertakes should tie in with at least one strategic objective of your enterprise. For example, your strategic objective could be to target more customers in a certain socio-economic group, or to encourage a repeat purchase.
As an industry, PR is packed full of creative people who can generate unique ideas to help you. However, all of this creativity means very little unless it is working towards a specific purpose. The starting point for any campaign, therefore, must be to identify what the commercial objectives of the business are. Business owners should consider “what success looks like” if everything goes to plan; the business should then be able to measure or quantify that success. Only at this point should you get creative and come up with the ideas to create the standout PR campaign that the business needs.
An effective PR campaign will capture the attention of the media, as well as the interest of your clients and prospects. Such a programme should aim to engage with the target audience and communicate a “call to action” in order to help the business achieve its objectives.
Remember that the profile of your brand is critical to your success. Increasingly, consumers buy products and services from companies because they value or respect the brand. Customers tend to look at the detailed features and benefits of a product or service second. The key, therefore, is to make your brand your target customer’s first choice.
Your business must live up to its brand promise and deliver what clients expect it to deliver. Your PR programme should reinforce this.
In today’s challenging business environment, many businesses are turning to outsourcing as a way to reduce costs. It is not uncommon for firms to outsource functions such as IT, payroll, back office functions etc. Now, however, firms are beginning to consider the potential of outsourcing human resources (HR).
The benefits to a business are simple: lower operational costs and increased efficiency, as the outsourced provider will generally commit to a service level agreement (SLA). However, is outsourcing HR really a viable business solution?
A business can save money by outsourcing HR: tax contributions, employee benefits, desk space etc can all be saved as a result of removing the need for direct employees. In the quest to secure the best value for money, some businesses outsource their HR function to offshore firms that have considerably cheaper labour costs than the UK. This saving can then be passed on to the client.
More Efficient Service
Because of the specialisation of these third-party service providers, the quality of service required by a company can be met consistently.
In an outsourcing scenario, front line services would still need to be delivered in the UK (assuming this is where the business is based). However, customer service, back office functions etc can be delivered efficiently from offshore locations using high speed internet connections, phone systems, video conferencing, email etc.
Just like any other aspect of running a business, outsourcing HR has its positives and negatives. The positives, as we have identified, are the cost savings and increases in efficiency. On the negative side, outsourced HR people do not know the business as well as an in-house HR team would. As a consequence, they won’t understand the strengths and weaknesses of the firm’s team and may struggle to deliver real value.
Most businesses want to grow, but with less bank finance available these days it’s not easy to just buy out a competitor. If you can’t grow by “mergers and acquisitions”, you need to develop a strategy to grow your business organically which can prove a much slower process.
Organic growth is especially prevalent during the early stages of a company’s commercial establishment, but opportunities continuously present themselves if you listen to the market. So, if your firm is committed to meeting the needs of its customers and is commercially driven with a good control over costs, you can use the following strategies to drive business growth.
Also known as the “Protect and Build” strategy, this conservative approach sees a company consolidate and stabilise its position in the market by selling more existing products to existing customers. To make this cross-selling approach work, your firm will need to leverage existing resources and capabilities; this will allow your business to capture a larger share of existing markets. This strategy is low risk as you wont need to launch new products or services – instead, just focus on selling more to existing clients and contacts.
A product development strategy focuses on creating new products or services and introducing them to existing customers. If your business is good at creating new innovations then it is probably well positioned to use this strategy. The key is utilising market research in order to identify a need or gap in the market for a new product or service. If there is potential demand and you launch the right product or service, then you stand a reasonable chance of success. There is an element of risk inherent in this strategy, as developing new products requires investment from the business.
This approach involves the promotion of existing products into new markets. These could be industry sectors or geographical territories. This approach requires the firm to invest in market research to define which markets are best to target. There is an element of risk to this strategy, as it requires both time and money in order to conduct the research and to develop appropriate marketing campaigns.
This can be a risky growth strategy because to diversify means creating new products or services and selling them into new markets at the same time. There are a lot of “unknown unknowns” involved, such as the competitor landscape and the needs / requirements of customers in that market. There is also risk inherent in the fact that the company is somewhat reliant on the strength of its brand in a market that is not necessarily familiar with. However, diversifying can give the company an opportunity to really grow if the new product / service is well received and the new target market is big enough.
Business leaders are not born – they are created. Effective training and mentoring are the foundations of most successful managers, chief executives or business owners. Business leaders of the future must learn from those that are in leadership positions today.
Future proofing your business means investing in your people to create the next generation of managers. A willingness to learn and sometimes sacrifice in order to reach goals is an absolute requirement in today’s fast-moving corporate environment – but somebody needs to guide the next generation.
Training is important in any field. Proper training is even more important in today’s demanding business environment. As a business owner or manager you should invest in the future of your business by mentoring those who are willing to learn. These people will take your business to new heights. They will bring fresh insight and in years to come keep the business moving forward.
In choosing to become a mentor for one or two talented people in your team, you should prepare to impart your knowledge, experience and tips for success. The advice and instruction that you give could be invaluable to the future of your business.
Natural talent is very difficult to find. However, if you have one or two talented people in your team take them under your wing and help them to develop their skills. Those that are mentored will bring an eagerness and flow of new ideas to your business. Your mentoring programme should be built on the following foundations:
Providing career development advice
Offering your future managers / leaders an opportunity to develop new skills and expertise
Providing access to new, commercial perspectives
Enhancing networking opportunities for your team
Setting goals (SMART objectives)
Refining organisational awareness and “big picture” thinking.
Customers of a business go on a journey that turns an initial enquiries into a sale. The best businesses really understand the journey they take their customers on. Some businesses call it Customer Experience Mapping, others call it Customer Journey Mapping and some even refer to Customer Touchpoints. The thing to understand is that the companies that use these practices recognise higher levels of customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. The reason for this is relatively simple: it adds structure and encourages the adoption of customer service standards across your business.
Mapping the ideal customer experience sets a clear expectation and consistency for customer interactions with your firm. During the mapping process, many companies also find holes in their systems, outdated or irrelevant processes, or policies that make doing business more difficult, rather than easier, for the customer. This is the perfect opportunity to address those issues or shortcomings, eliminate, improve, or enhance them, and create an even better experience for the customer. The companies that take the time to do this understand that while we all might have a great idea in our heads on what we’d like the customer to experience when they choose to do business with us, unless you have it well planned out, it’s unlikely to happen.
Customer Journey Mapping should be done to identify, as closely as possible, the ideal experience that you would like to be able to deliver to your clients. Consider the journey of the customer through your company as they do business with you. Each time the customer interacts with a person or department, this is a “Waypoint” on your map. Briefly describe (3 or 4 bullet points) the ideal experience at each waypoint. Now keep going through each step of the process until you finish at the point of sale. Then keep going for another 2 or 3 waypoints – we can’t forget about after sale follow-up…
The great customer experiences that people refer to when they talk about companies like Apple, Disney or BMW don’t just “happen”. These experiences are created. They are mapped out step by step and then clearly communicated across the business. Just because your business is smaller than these international giants, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Great customer experiences create great reputations. Great reputations build great businesses.
A never-ending inbox of emails is the cause of long working hours, stressed out managers and procrastination. It is also the reason why many people feel that they are so ‘busy’ when in fact they are often busy doing the wrong things. A full, un-manageable inbox can distract you from what you should be doing. Here are a few tips for managing email.
Read Emails in Batches
Identify two time slots in your working day to read and respond to emails. This may not be possible every day, but gain some consistency when you check in to your mails. For the rest of the day focus on getting things done and don’t worry about your inbox. If something is urgent, they can always telephone you. By introducing a bit of structure you will be more productive and will focus on your priorities.
Switch Off Any Alerts
If you structure your day with ‘email time’ as above, you don’t need to know when you receive a new email. Switch off email alerts on your smartphone or computer. You control your inbox – your inbox can’t be allowed to control you with notifications and flashing red lights!
If you want to receive less emails, send less emails
It sounds obvious, but the reason many people receive lots of emails is because they spend so much time sending them out. Reducing your output will have an impact on how many emails you receive. Try picking up the phone for a change. If you have a team or colleagues, get up from your desk and walk over to talk to them. You may achieve a lot more simply by having a conversation with the right person.
Use your ‘Out of Office’
Manage expectations. When you are on holiday, you probably use an ‘Out of Office’ response to tell people you are away. When you come back you are then faced with a mountain of emails and may feel overwhelmed. Next time you are away, leave your out of office on for an extra day or two after you get back to allow you to catch up on emails that came in while you were away
In a world where the latest generation of “millennial” workers are prone to changing jobs, the importance of a good employee induction plan can no longer be ignored. In order to get your induction process right you need to consider:
How long it takes new employees to become a productive member of the team
How long it generally takes new team members to reach a level of competency so that they can work for a key client
Getting your new recruits involved with the right people is key. Integrating your new employee with the team should involve activities which are relevant, interactive and, most importantly, fun! A dedicated mentoring relationship is also extremely helpful to your new hire as they will feel secure knowing that they have someone to turn to with their questions. The mentor should be an established member of the company and someone your new hire will feel comfortable seeking assistance from on policies, procedures and guidelines.
Prepare a Workspace
Nothing makes someone feel more welcome than when you take steps to prepare for them. Depending on their role, here are some common workplace essentials to have in place, ideally before your new hire is on board:
Email account set up
Mobile phone / BlackBerry if applicable
Security access card / fob
Computer set up with software, passwords etc
Business cards if applicable
It is important that you make your new employee feel that the business cares about them. The onboarding process should include formal training in their first week. This training could include HR, policy and procedure training, IT training for specific systems, etc.
Ensure that your training programme is timely and relevant to their position and role in the company, and that you encourage them to take part in further after-hours education, workshops or CPD training where relevant.
We all understand the importance of delegation, yet very few know how to do it properly. Here are a few tips to help you delegate work effectively.
It is important to note that overloading your team will have a negative impact, so before you delegate work make sure that you understand how much work they currently have to do. Next identify any extra capacity in your team and consider whether this is enough to complete a delegated task or project. Set a deadline that is realistic and achievable for the person or team to whom you are delegating the work.
Be Specific about What You Want Done
Be clear as to the purpose of the delegated work and what kind of results you expect. Providing a written outline of what you require can be useful, as this gives your team something to refer back to. Finally, take the time to answer your team’s questions – this takes less time than redoing the work!
Leave Them to It
Once you have delegated work to someone who is well equipped to handle the task, allow them to be imaginative in their approach and do something in a differently or better way. How they do the work doesn’t really matter, as long as it produces the right results. Remember – nobody likes to be micro managed.
Develop Your Team
You can use delegation to empower team members and encourage them to develop new skills and expertise. Make sure that they feel comfortable to ask questions: let them know that you are happy to clarify anything they may be unsure about.
Have a system in place so that your team can report their progress without having to constantly interrupt you during the day. Setting dates for progress updates can be useful.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR) AS A PROFILE RAISING TOOL.
Whether establishing a business-charity partnership or organising for a group of staff to volunteer in the local community, CSR is part of being in business. CSR is a great way to engage your staff, build teams and fulfil your business’s role as a responsible part of the wider community. Large businesses often run substantial CSR programmes but small firms can contribute by engaging with local charity events. Charity isn’t an obvious profile raising tool for businesses but it can be a great way of increasing your profile in the market while conveying a positive image as a good corporate citizen.
If you are a local business, your customers will want to see you supporting the local area. Charitable organisations are often funded purely through donations. What’s more, they often need help with more than just finance. A nice way to support such charities is to allow your staff to volunteer some time (say 1 or 2 days per year) during work to help out with the charity’s activities. Alternatively, if some of your team are sporty, they could run a marathon to raise money. They could write about their experience in the local newspaper or a relevant business journal, giving give the business and the charity some good PR off the back of the event.
Stick with what you are good at
If you want to build the profile of your business in a particular sector, you could try to support a relevant charity which you would like your business to be associated with. For example, if you offer accounting and taxation services to the social housing sector, then you could help out a social housing charity as part of your CSR programme. This would help to raise the profile of your firm in this market, while at the same time giving your business and your people the opportunity to engage in CSR.
Go with what you believe in
You may think that there is nothing you can do to help, but if there is a particular charity that you believe in then contact them. If you are passionate and enthusiastic about the chosen charity your firm supports, this will come across when you talk about it. It will make good reading in the local newspaper while generating some PR for your firm at the same time.