Soapbox: Acknowledge bad business habits and then plan to add a boom to your business

We’re all fed up with the R-word, but I believe the economic downturn has done many business owners a favour. It’s grabbed us by the profit margins and warned us to make changes to the way we do things, or else. It’s been a positive motivator. So why isn't everyone listening?

Many businesses have tumbled into debt or closure and plenty are struggling. If you had business issues before the downturn you’re probably working for someone else now or on the dole. You may have used the R-word as a convenient excuse, but I would argue there’s only one reason for failure – bad business habits.

If you are still in business, perhaps you’re treading stagnant water? Or are you desperately clinging to the wreckage of your entrepreneurial dream? You’re most likely waiting for the waters to subside so normal business can resume. But the truth is that only a fundamental change of attitude is going to beat this one.

The good news is there’s no better time to start making a positive change. Pundits predict a slight increase in GDP this year and the mood in the UK business community is becoming more optimistic.

The more positive people are those who purposely and purposefully changed their methods in response to the downturn. They have examined deeply how they did business and put their energies into seriously considered growth plans or innovative marketing ideas. They did the right thing. So why aren’t we all doing it?

The answer, of course, is: it’s not easy. It takes time, considerable effort, energy and a determination to change. It involves constant learning and continuous assessment and that’s tough. Really tough. Every aspect of business needs to be examined, minutely, and improved consistently from planning and finance to customer care and, most importantly, your personal attitude. A word of warning here: if you’re not prepared to be absolutely honest in this process, don’t bother trying.

But ... if you give it 100 per cent you’ll reap the rewards. You need to take control of all business areas, especially those you don’t enjoy. If you’ve always delegated money matters to an accountant or your finance manager you need to work with them to understand it. You, as the business owner, need to know what’s in your bank account and understand your profit margins (this is finger-on-the-pulse stuff). How can you possibly make decisions about finance if you’re not in control of them?

Within your business, you also need to take control of your people. You need to understand what impact they can have on your success because it’s not just about profit, sales and marketing. People matter, too. I would strongly suggest you surround yourself with a team that has a similar work ethic to you and if hiring, training or retaining gets fraught, get expert help.

“Major Challenges to SMEs” is the name of a report that has recently been released by accountants Bentley Jennison. It’s critical of many of the country’s 4 million SMEs, pointing out that some business owners will never achieve the financial rewards or the work-life balance they set out to because of lax business practices.

Bentley Jennison states that many SMEs do not even a draft of a plan, let alone a real plan. The reason? Business owners are too busy! The professional analysis is that this is a sign that an owner-manager lacks direction.

Surely you know that a business plan offers a host of benefits? It keeps you on track, is a doddle to get started and simple to update. All it needs is effort and your business deserves that, doesn’t it? It establishes your outcomes and objectives: a roadmap guiding you towards your ultimate destination ... unless, of course, you don’t know where you’re heading.

If you’re chasing success, if you want to build a brand, if you want to make a million, you have to plan for it and be disciplined in your approach, methods and attitude – I did just that and so can you. Having been in business, with a multi-million pound turnover, I designed and implemented a comprehensive system of Seven Business Disciplines: business planning, strategic planning, marketing management, practical finance, team building, customer commitment and personal development.

If you too use these disciplines you will learn good habits. You need to be serious about positive changes and fix each one firmly into your daily routine, fundamental business structure and your soul. It’s holistic and it does work, but you have to make them natural, an intrinsic part of the way you think, the way you act, the way you lead and the way you do business. Success? It’s yours for the taking.

Emma Wimhurst is a business turnaround expert/mentor and author of “BOOM! 7 Disciplines to CONTROL, GROW and ADD IMPACT to your Business”, (Diva Publishing, £14.99). She can be contacted at emmawimhurst.co.uk .

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