Do you remember what life was like right before you received the message that confirmed your appointment as executive? Or before you started your own business? Or before you took over the family business?
Opportunities lay ahead like an orchard of fruit trees ripe for the picking and everything that frustrated you about your career up to that point seemed like it was finally going to change for the better. Right?
If your journey was similar to that of most business leaders, that feeling only lasted for about a year or two. Leading a business does not become easier the longer you do it, even though you become better at doing it.
New levels of complexity arise as a business matures, often forcing business leaders to work on "busyness" - or in the business - rather than working on the business.
It's easy to spend unlimited time reacting to things others highlight as urgent or important.
It's much harder to figure out how to get - and stay - on top of the things that will truly influence the sustained profitable growth of a business: purpose, products, processes and progress.
Turn PURPOSE into profit
To be able to effectively choose where to spend time, effort and resources it is of utmost importance that business leaders understand what the core purpose of their organisation is.
Running a business to sell it requires a completely different approach than growing it for long-term success. If the purpose is to grow the business then the owner or appointed executive (CEO or MD) need to be crystal clear on:
Knowing the answers to these three questions will help any business leader to make decisions based simply on the test of "will this move us towards or away from our core purpose?".
Have PRODUCTS for "now" while planning for "new"
The products and services offered by a business should not just align to its core purpose; it should also be hyper-relevant in a fast-changing world.
Business leaders have to keep an eye on developments across various markets to stay ahead of the curve. Being too busy maintaining the current offering and making no time for exploring (or assigning and monitoring) product or service innovation is a massive risk for any business.
As leader you've got to become highly skilled at making sure the business earns "now" money while simultaneously preparing to generate "new" money.
And of course, the process of buying these products and services should be as frictionless as possible for clients.
Let your PROCESSES serve them, not just you
A fantastic product that can only be bought through a cumbersome process will always be under threat. The buying process must be designed to delight the customer. Too many processes seem to serve only the convenience of the business.
In a world filled to the brim with options, customers will often buy something that might be a little bit inferior but a lot more convenient for them to buy.
Just because a buying process exists doesn't mean it should be left to carry on. Continuous process improvement must remain high on the proactive priority list of any business leader.
Chase only the PROGRESS that matters
Progress in either products/services or processes should not be allowed to just sprout and grow in any direction. It should be strategically driven by the business leader in a direction and pace that supports the financial, social and brand purpose of the business.
Progress for the sake of it often ends up just increasing the busyness of the business leader, rather than the business they need to be working on.
The approach to successfully on top of these elements for sustainable profitable growth is contained in the "Staying in the Helicopter®" programme.
It is presented across the world exclusively by Juanita Vorster and Roger Harrop and has to date enabled more than 30,000 business leaders to carve paths of success in a business world that has undergone enormous change in the last decade, with lots more change predicted to come.
Digital Marketing agency founder and former financial journalist Jonathan Faurie interviewed Juanita Vorster about her experience as female entrepreneur and motivational business speaker.
Links to individual questions:
Alex MacPhail interviews Juanita Vorster
This is the transcript of Episode 5 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
The type and quality of employees can make or break any business. As business leaders we often make the mistake of thinking we can only get the right people if we offer the biggest salaries. While people do indeed want to be paid well, they also want a number of other things to make work worth their while.
Firstly, your employees want to know what their specific roles are and what success looks like. It is your job as business leader to make sure that every person in your business knows what you expect them to do, how you expect them to do it and how what they do contributes to the overall success of the business. Don’t just leave it up to a line manager or HR person or the employees themselves to figure out.
The second thing your employees want to see is their co-workers disciplined if they step out of line. Disciplining employees is one of the hardest things any business leader has to learn how to do well but a management style that is too soft can foster an unethical workplace culture and create feelings of resentment in employees that stay within the rules.
So it is incredibly important to balance strong inspirational leadership by the will and skill to appropriately discipline employees.
Employees also want praise.
While everyone doesn’t do the same work, or everyone’s work doesn’t have the same direct impact on the business, everyone wants to know that their efforts are recognised. In business we often leave praise for big milestones … signing a new deal, delivering on a big contract, exceeding annual targets … where the type of praise employees want is often for smaller achievements.
As a business leader you set the tone for the culture of who receives praise for what. It costs nothing to send someone a note to say “good job on writing that tough email” or “that’s a brilliant idea, well done!”. In a workplace where the leader is generous with praise, employees thrive and are more willing to consistently give their best efforts.
And people want to give their best efforts without being micro-managed. If you give someone autonomy you’re saying to them “it doesn’t matter how inexperienced you are, I trust you to do the best you can and I will guide you when you get stuck”. It doesn’t mean that you let go of doing all the usual checks and balances, but it does mean that the responsibility for quality work is shared.
Employees also be impressed by their boss. As a business leader you have to consistently live the values of the organisation. You have to be honest about your shortcomings and about when you need assistance. And you have to always strive to do better … not to have something to brag about, but to lead by example.
Lastly, employees want to be part of a winning organisation. They want to know about the small steps of progress as well as about the big wins. They want to feel that they have helped achieved something bigger than just their own tasks. So remember to regularly share updates about the business’ progress with every employee and make sure that everyone knows how their work is contributing to it.
This is the transcript of Episode 4 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
Many small business owners started the business because they were really good at doing what the business does and keeping customers happy. Keeping customers happy will increase the chances of their return business and might even result in them telling others to buy from you. While this is the best way to generate business, in my experience just doing good work is not enough to bring in new customers.
Businesses also have to constantly find and sell to potential new customers. For small businesses this might mean that the owner has to be great at doing and selling. For larger businesses it means that the leader has to ensure that those employed to sell don’t just keep on selling to existing or past customers, but also actively works at identifying, researching and connecting with potential new customers.
There are so many sales training and marketing videos available for free online that it can feel a little overwhelming. So here’s a few simple things to get you going:
Start with thinking who might need what you offer. Think about what they read, which social media groups they consult, etc and make sure you have an active presence there. For example, if your target audience is moms with small children, they most probably spend quite a bit of time on Instagram. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of social media or not; if your customers are on there, and you’re not, you’re missing out on an easy way to remain top of their minds.
If your target audience is more professional, then you have to be active on Linkedin and most probably have a website that they could find everything they need to know about you and what you offer.
Your sales efforts will be a lot easier if you contact people that have already spent time online with your brand. Similarly, even if your first personal contact didn’t turn into a sale, that person might go follow you online and turn into a sale later.
So what do people want to hear or see when you sell to them? They want to know less about what the product is, and more about what it can do for them.
Which means every message you post online, every piece of wording on your website, every sales email you write and sales call you make has to immediately answer their question “how does this help me?”.
Saying you’re the best isn’t enough anymore. You’ve got to know your potential customers so well that you know what their needs are. A phone call or social media post saying “We see many home owners in your area struggle with termites over the past month, and they’ve trusted us to keep their properties damage free” will go down much better than a call or post saying “We do pest control”.
Spend time and effort researching your potential customers, and spend time and effort crating messages that will address their needs, not your awesomeness.
Make sure you follow up with customer queries as soon as you can. On social media, it should be almost instant.
Once you’ve closed a sales deal, make sure your processes and people are geared to do everything they can to offer top quality products and services in a way that delights the customer. There is nothing worse than creating high expectations during the sales process only to have those expectations shattered when it comes to getting or using what was promised.
Marketing and sales require quite a bit of effort and that’s why many businesses don’t give it enough attention, but think about it this way: as business owner or leader your number one priority should be finding and keeping customers that buy from you, otherwise you don’t have a business, you’re just someone that can make a product or offer a service.
Only once when there are customers does it become necessary to make the product or offer the service.
This is the transcript of Episode 3 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
Leading a business often means you have to make decisions that will force others to change the way they do things. These decisions and changes in life and business are inevitable, but as a leader there are a few things you can do lessen the discomfort of the change.
It helps to know how different people respond to change. A quick Google search can give you quite a bit of insight, and can help you to adjust your communication to accommodate as many as possible preferences.
The most important thing I’ve learned about change in an organisation is that we shouldn’t just give people the tools they need to do things in a new way; we should also teach them how to break old habits and establish new habits.
Communicating change is therefore not a once-off occasion; it starts with the announcement of things that are going to be different but then has to follow up regularly with check-in sessions that helps everyone deal with the discomfort of change.
Let’s start with how to make the announcement about a big change.
Many experts recommend that you include as many as possible people in the decision-making process. This sense of inclusion makes it easier for people to stick with the change even when things get tough.
There are however times where business leaders have to make decisions really quickly, or where a process of consultation will only make the decision harder. The only thing left to do then is to be really good at communicating the changes to those that will be affected by it.
First off, explain what led to change being necessary. Even if you suspect everyone already knows, it’s good to explain it from your point of view.
Then give an overview of what you kept in mind when considering the various options. This will allow others to understand that your decision wasn’t taken lightly and only with yourself in mind.
When you announce the actual change do so in a way that is clear and concise. Speak in terms everyone can understand and stick to practicalities. People often care less about what will change and more about how it will affect them, so be sure to tell them what the impact will be.
It’s no use trying to hide or sugarcoat the hard effects of change; it might feel easier for you in the moment, but it creates distrust and false hope that you WILL have to deal with later. Rather be open and honest with everyone right from the start.
Different people will have different reactions to the announcement. Some might want to immediately try and convince you that change isn’t necessary. Some might be quiet and seemingly accepting only to respond a few days later with a long list of concerns. Some might keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves and quietly boycott the change. Others might actually become champions of the change and help you drive it. All of these responses are completely natural, and you should be prepared to take it in your stride.
Announcing a change is only the first step in a much longer communication process. You should also have a schedule for how often you’re going to check in with your team to see how things are going and to listen to constructive feedback. Share this schedule with everyone so they know that they will continue to have opportunities to be heard.
Remember that each person processes change in a different way and at different speeds. As leader, you are responsible for finding a balance between being compassionate about natural resistance to change while still maintaining the discipline it takes to ensure that the business survives and thrives.
This is the transcript of Episode 2 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
When you feel your mind racing and it seems as if you can’t hold on to a single thought long enough to think it through, make a decision and get things done, you’re not broken. You’re not weak. You’re not a failure. Your brain is simply feeling overwhelmed with the things that it is holding on to.
Here’s what I do when I feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of owning and running a company.
The first thing I do is take a really really deep breath. Hold it in for as long as possible, and let it out slowly.
It sounds silly, and it definitely doesn’t solve any problems, but it does signal to your nervous system that it needs to switch from fight or flight mode to logical thinking mode.
Make a "worry list"
The next thing I do is to list everything I’m worried about. Not a list of things I need to do, but a list of things I’m worried about. While you’re making this list you will most probably still feel anxious and overwhelmed. That’s OK.
Next, go through each item on the list and ask yourself what you can do about it. Rather than thinking about it in formal business terms, keep it really simple. In business the basic things you can change are what the business does, how it gets done, who does it, how much it costs and for how much it sells. There are of course many more complexities to consider, but to deal with feelings of overwhelm you need to keep things as simple as possible at the start.
Take disciplined action
Next have a look at the answers and decide what you’re going to do first. We very often already know what we should be doing, but feeling overwhelmed robs us of the confidence and the faith that we can get it done.
Then the hard part starts. You have to implement one solution at a time as soon as possible until every task you’ve identified for yourself is complete. At this stage it is very important to keep things simple and just start somewhere. Do the first thing you know how, and then the next thing and then the next thing and so on.
This takes pure discipline.
Your mind will keep reminding you about things you are worried about. If it’s not on the list, add it. If it is already on the list, don’t spend time and effort worrying about it … rather spend the time and effort working at it.
Somewhere in the process a sense of control and confidence returns, and this makes it easier to continue working through the list of solutions you’ve written down.
Remember, it’s not enough to just have the list. You actually have to do all the things you decided to do if you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the same things later.
You don’t need to be crystal clear on how you’re going to solve a problem. Know what you want to change and be flexible about how you’re going to get to that changed state. Make sure that your solution will not harm yourself or others, start implementing your solution and review it every so often to see if it has the desired result.
Above all, remember that you can get everything done, just not all at the same time.
This is the transcript of Episode 1 from a post-pandemic business series requested by a South African radio station. The recording is available here.
In fast-changing times we must become more than creative to keep business going. Business leaders must strike the fine balance between keeping existing customers happy while also reacting to changes in the environment around them.
Being forced to change the way we’ve always done things in business is never easy, but it’s always worth it.
When we look at our businesses differently, we have to start at the basics.
Have a look at the skills, expertise, equipment and inventory you already have.
You might have used it in one way up to now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it in other ways or for different things!
Some luxury perfume companies have recently turned their production lines to making hand sanitiser, car manufacturers started to make ventilators, and clothing companies started producing face masks. They had the equipment, they just had to figure out what the new customer needs are and how they could use what they already had to serve that need.
They all had to answer two questions: what will people, companies and governments spend money on right now, and how can we use what we already have to make or offer those things.
Imagining how to use things in a different way takes creativity, and it’s hard to be creative when you’re under pressure, so it’s important that you don’t go through this innovation journey alone.
That’s when you call on people outside of your regular circles. Have a chat or a Zoom session and ask people for ideas. Explain to them in very simplistic terms what your skills or equipment can do. The lack of details and their lack of experience doing what you do can make for very interesting ideas! Think about how children draw things or how they play imagination games … they don’t let reality get in their way.
And at this stage of your thinking differently about things that’s exactly what you’re after … just ideas, whether they make sense or not.
The first rule of this type of brainstorming is to just write down all ideas from yourself or others. It is not time yet to decide yes or no or to get into a discussion on why something might not work.
Only once all the ideas are on the table then it is time to filter it through the lens of possibility and current reality.
When you look at each idea think about whether you can already do it or learn to do quickly. If you have employees ask their feedback on the ideas … they might have skills that you didn’t even know about that could turn a seemingly crazy idea into the next best thing.
If you do stumble upon something that sounds as if it is something people will buy right now, and you have the equipment and skills to bring the idea to life, the next thing you need to do is to AS QUICKLY as possible make a rough prototype or create a rough process model and test it.
The new product or new way of doing things doesn’t need to be perfect at the start. If you sit too long on a new idea by trying to make it perfect, others might launch before you do and they will have the benefit of capturing the market attention first.
The new rules of the game are get it out, then make it better, then make it awesome and keep on communicating with your staff and customers throughout the growth process.
You might need to change tack a few times to find something that really works for you. Give every somewhat feasible idea a really good go, and make tweaks as you go along. During the process you might just discover something unexpected and wonderful.
Most important of all when you are forced to look at your business, products or services differently is to remember that accepting change isn't giving up what you worked so hard for; it's signing up for taking the value of the lessons learned into the future.
Success doesn't start with a belief that you can accomplish anything. Success starts with permission. Give yourself permission to let go, to start something new, to change, and to achieve to your fullest potential.
Notes and questions from the webinar hosted by the Institute of Directors in South Africa on 29 April 2020