Sunday, 16 October 2016

Thirty Years in Business

It was thirty years ago I started my business training career as a seminar leader with the Federal Business Development Bank. It was Small Business Week, of 1986, and I did my first workshop in Courtenay BC.   My mother couldn’t believe that someone would actually pay me to talk… but at least I had plenty of practice.  In that time, I have not only spoken to business owners and managers, I have listened to questions and concerns about starting, operating and growing small and medium sized businesses all across Canada.
Over the years, I have done thousands of presentations to tens of thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs.  Although I have done presentations to larger corporations, my heart is with those who want to start and build their own enterprise.  Some have succeeded and others have not. The best part, for me, is the great enthusiasm.  I love working with and for entrepreneurs.  It is an honour and a responsibility, one which I will continue to do with humility and enthusiasm.
In the past thirty years, some things have changed dramatically, whereas the fundamentals of business have remained remarkably consistent.  So here are my ‘top three’ in each area.

Three Great Changes in the last thirty years

Speed: Markets, information, technology and production have changed rapidly over the past thirty years. Trends and cycles are nothing new, however; these cycles happen faster than ever before. Today’s entrepreneur must be aware of these rapid changes and strive to remain relevant in a rapidly changing environment. Beware…remember Blockbuster, Nortel & Blackberry used to dominate their markets. 
Information: Information, both true and false, travels at the speed of light.  Some information growth is great.  If you want to know if there are any living cast members from Gilligan’s Island, it is only a Google search away.  That said, there is false information out there too.  Some of the ‘interesting’ medical information out there is…well incredulous.  Reputations can also be built or destroyed in a ‘heart tweet.’  When information is added to speed, ability to keep up with our business is increasingly difficult!
The Power of One: When I was at the Bay, just out of university, I did a form a forecasting called a buying plan.  We forecasted monthly revenue, and used that to determine how much money was available to buy merchandise.  I did these by hand on paper.  When my boss didn’t like the results, I started over.   I was just one of the many Assistant Department Manager doing these forecasts.  Today, I can write a spread sheet which automates the bulk of that job and allows instant updating.  This allows smaller firms and individuals to have greater impact than they could ever have had in the past.  

Three things that haven’t changed in the past thirty years

Cash Flow: No matter how much things change; cash flow is king.  For most small businesses, angel financing and venture capital are unlikely.  You must manage cash.  Cash flow management is especially difficulty when growing.  Managing profits, inventory and accounts receivable are essential parts of managing cash flow. 
Customers: Understanding your customers has all ways been important, and may be more important than ever.  As customer choice increases, business owners must understand all of the nuances that affect customers’ decisions.  Remember, good entrepreneurs know what their customers’ want, great entrepreneurs know what customers’ will want.
Talent: Much is said about today’s competition for talent.  Nonsense…this has always been true and until everything in life is automated it will continue to be important. Management fads come and go (and believe me there have been many in the past thirty years). Great managers, have always done three things:  provide clear expectations, support great people, and create a great environment. 

Now I am sure that many of my fellow sexagenarians, have other valid observations, and I certainly don’t think that these are the only changes and consistencies over the last thirty years, but perhaps, this will give you something to think about as you develop your businesses and organizations over the next thirty years.  

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