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Business Growth Tips: How SMEs can realistically harness their data to increase sales

Can you as a SMEs compete with Corporate’s?  Here is a Guide on how increase your sales, have life balance and make more profits.

Use your Data to Increase SalesThe biggest difference between SMEs and Corporate’s  is that they generally have more people to give more smarts to using their data and leverage that they have to enable them to increase sales.
Learning how to realistically harness your data will lead you to increase sales that can bring you in excellent profits. I state this with specific experience.
I have created and assisted many building industry related company, from SME to corporate’s. What I write here is a guide for SME’s based these companies actual experience. Now, I won’t name the companies how have been less successful, but I will later name the company, that I know is successfully harnessing their data and really making it work for them to increase sales, profits and managing their business better.
About 5 years ago, I met 2 companies that created outdoor verandas, pergolas – that style of item for home owners. Through their introduction I then did work for Bluescope Steel. All 3 companies had data and all 3 companies were looking at leveraging their data. So what did they do, that made one company really stand out from the others that was not a corporate.

With the corporate company, Bluescope steel, their marketing division had decided to create a loyalty program to get builders to purchase more products from them. They used their data to increase sales with a loyalty program. This loyalty program planned to give some nice bonuses to the builders that repeat purchased from them. So a smart idea, that had, marketing people, sales people and finally IT people involved in preparing this process. Finally they had administration that managed and maintained the idea. So a lot of staff and money for a simple idea to be implemented. Rather hard for the average SME to challenge – or is it?
This blog is really a guide for SME’s so the 2 SMEs I refer to are real live companies. I will refer to them as SME1 and SME2. SME1 eventually went out of business, SME2 is growing and getting stronger every day in every way, from Sales, Quality, and Service and of course profits. I will review the main data groups that they collect.

Increase Sales with Accounting Data.

Both SME’s in the case used MYOB Premier. Both SMEs had the ability to refer and look at their data via the MS Office tools. So what was different. SME1. Used MYOB to record and store accounts. SME2. Used MYOB to record and store accounts – plus made the accounts and interactive part of his sales process. For example, the accounts directly linked to his sales database, and showed when a person paid, amount paid, values, costs of sales. Plus, if this client was a good client – they used this data to consider “on selling” other options to this client, and to get further referrals from this client. The ability to harness accounting data is not limited to MYOB, in fact, this same function I have used with Xero, Sage, and Quick Books.

Increase Sales with Referral Data

Both SME’s asked for referrals when with a client. SME1, wrote this down in his note book and when and if he could, he has someone attempt to follow these up. SME2, really harnessed their data again, they turned every single prospect into a micro sales person. They did this by sending every single prospect their own Business card sized referral card. This card the client could then give to friends as well as suggest referrals that were immediately entered into their personalized CRM that the manager over viewed and watched. Making sure that people were contacted in a timely manner and the valuable referrals were followed whilst the lead was “Hot”.

Increase Sales with Trade Show Data

Both clients also had exhibitions at trade shows. Both collected data. SME2 had his office staff call the referrals post the trade show, and attempt to set up appointments. He hoped that they got appointments from most of these people, but he had no idea how many he got, how many appointments he got or even how long after the show that these people were contacted. He had no idea how many he lost. SME2 however, entered all his leads immediately via his IPad, had his office staff contact them within a 48 hour period, and had sales people out to communicate. He made sure quotes were timely, and costed correctly. He had procedures and standards for every step of the way, and his reporting told him exactly which sales people were succeeding or not, and to make sure that he got the most out of his sales leads.

Increase Sales with Rectification Process (Complaints)

We all have them. The way we handle these situations shows the quality of the company. SME1 gave the manager the complaints to deal with directly. SME2, has a data based rectification process, that every call, review, call back, photos etc. is recorded. When this began there were a few cases to be cared for, however the open cases at my last check were zero, and it seemed that each case that was raised was less in quantity and less in time to resolution. Having a clear process that could be tracked was definitely working for SME2, plus it seemed from report review, quite a few referrals came out of the clients that did have a complaint that was quickly and appropriately resolved.

Increase Sales with Phone Data

SME1 had gone out of business before he could cost effectively consider using this technology. SME2 however had grown and now automatically integrates the phone call in data. So if the phone rings, the database immediately opens up that phone numbers client information. This is increasing their efficiency, personal service and giving the client a much better service than previously. Plus the manager now knows of all phone numbers of new prospects so sales and leads can’t be lost.

What’s new for SME2?

Well SME2 is discussing other tools that will harness their data. Only a week ago, we discussed more mobile version of data access to assist with QA, servicing, staged photos etc. The tool we reviewed was CRM-Map.com, as this is a google maps database interface tool that allows the storage of files and photos and is not operating system dependent.
So as you can see, SME2 really did harness their data to increase sales. SME1 has since closed his doors. So you are probably wanting to know who the SME2 is – the company I have discussed here is Utter Gutters.

Utter Gutters is a fabulous SA based company, with fantastic caring, diligent staff.  The management and growth of this company that I have been able to actively watch and participate in a small way as Accede Holdings Pty Ltd. The instigator of this growth, is not myself, but the owner of Utter Gutters. I have  been privileged to be a part of the team that has acted on his initiative, and been able to watch as he led his company to increase sales by harnessing their data.

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Knowing When to Quit your Business

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Knowing when to quit your business is a question that all business owners must face one day.   We could quit because our business is taken from us, or we retire, or we choose to take another path, or we simply Quit and Stop.  Information about knowing when to quit your business will arm you with options.

I have been in the same company for 34 years.  I have also been part owner in 2 other companies that are no longer trading, one I called it quits on, and another was quit on me, while I was still a partner.  So the question is when should You call it quits.

I have faced the question of “Is it time to quit”, many times over the last 34 years.  I have read other articles like “Knowing when it is time to sell, quit or restructure your business” and “How to know when to quit as CEO

But then I also read or see inspiring thoughts like the story of Colonel Sanders – KFC. Plus so many other inspiration business stories, which are easily found on the internet.

So when is it time for you to call it quits?

Personal Life Lesson

At 19 years of age, I had been blind for almost 12 months.  I had been tested, poked, lived in hospital, hourly eye drops for weeks on end,  had no friends visit (fear was the reason I later found out). Life seemed pretty bad.  In fact it went from bad to worse.  My mother signed for the surgeons to remove my eyes, I was given the pre op, then …..  Well I thought I saw space ships, so I locked myself in a cupboard – obvious protection from alien invasion for a 19 year old girl.  But what it was, was life showing in my eyes.  The operation was called off, and today, I have 20/20 vision, but not as most people have it.  I won’t go into why my vision is different, as I can do almost everything anyone else can do that has great eye sight.    For this, I credit my surgeon Dr David Tamblyn and God.

Now you probably wonder why I gave you this story.  This is because at 19 years of age, I learnt a massive life lesson.  I learnt that while there is hope, desire and energy – don’t quit and don’t be afraid.  Pretty massive life lesson.  At the age of 20, I decided to “Quit” or deferred my music degree at Adelaide University. Simply reason, physically, I could not deal with trying to see, being treated as stupid – because of loss of vision, not due to my IQ level(which is definitely very far from stupid) and the daily discrimination.  This is part of the reason I am so dedicated to the RSB.  However, this decision to stop and review for a while ended up taking me on a new path.

Quitting can lead you to other opportunities.

During the time I stopped I worked in bars, restaurants and then one day I said –NO MORE BAR WORK.  The next day, I filled in a casual position as a receptionist for 2 weeks.  During this time, I did what I though was my job, I followed the instructions on a telex to contact industry representative businesses, offer them a onetime offer for XYZ, and without knowing it, I sold 80 main frame computers in one day.  So I was offered a job in sales, with training.  This lead to being in IT, trained from Chip burner, programmer, sales, software, etc.  2 years later, I resigned and Accede began its journey.

Quitting can also take you nowhere.

About 20 years into my business career, I decided to be a minor shareholder in a company called Kiddoodles – they made wall murals for children, sold via home party sales.  About 12 months into this venture, the company needed more funds, the 2 major shareholders refused to invest further, so the company was closed.    I ended up paying out about 20K, to settle the debt that I had a part personal guarantee on (none of the other owners would pay, and I did not want my name destroyed), and this company closed.

What did I take from this experience – Experience?  Did it take me anywhere new – No!

Should you quit because of Emotional reasons, or rejections?

If you asked this question of Bill Gates, Colonel Sanders or a range of other success stories, they would all tell you – No.

We all have bad days.  When you look at this image, do you see the sun coming through the storm or a storm brewing? The fact is we don’t know, only your emotions are giving you the answer in your head.

As I have faced this question many times, I can explain that Logic and information about Knowing when to quit your business – is essential.  Here are some steps that really matter.

Step 1. Get out of your rut.

Even if this means having a walk in a park, or reading something inspirational.  Deciding such an important decision in a rut – is not the place you should be. Now, sometimes, you can’t because of health reasons, if so, see a doctor and resolve the medical issue.  If there is no resolution, then the decision may be taken out of your hands already, and you really just need to take the best steps for you financially.

Step 2. Is there Hope?

This is a big question.  I am assuming you have a business plan, you have a budget, you know your cash flow projections, you know your costs.  Based on having this information, you need to logically work out what went wrong – why this went wrong, what you have power over, what you don’t have power over and now, what ideas of hope there are.  If there is No Hope, then once again, your decision is made, and you need to work out the best way to exit the situation you are in.

Step 3. Assess the Viability of your Hope Ideas.

Sounds easy, but this takes time, logic, energy and often external support.  Each idea you have raised, you should have written down.  Now it is time to review each idea.   What do you need to do with your business to enable this idea to be successful?  Each of these steps needs to be assessed and in the end you will clearly see what option you need to take. Once again, if none of the ideas are viable, your decision is clearly made, and you need to take the best steps to exit your business.

Step 4. Plan and Implement this change.

Well the decision is now over.  You actually have decided to plan and implement this new idea and so you are moving forward with your own business.

What about when it is time to Retire?

As my husband is older than I am, this question has also been raised by us over the last 10 years.  We had plans and ideas about retirement that have been taken through the washer.  So is retirement quitting – Yes. But quitting is not bad, it can be the fact that you quit this path, to walk another and that is what retirement really is.

You need to plan how and when you wish to retire.  Does that include selling your business? Can you sell your business?  What are you planning to do in your retirement?  These questions you need to clearly answer.

What if is just TOO much.

I don’t think there a long term business owner that has not felt this at some stage in their business career.   The facts are simple.  Can you change what is Too Much?  Do you have control?  Is this something you have elected to take on for the short term in hope of success in the long term? Can you alter the plans and get through this?

I always find that if we are going where we want to go, we can carry a huge load.  However when we are “slogging” each day,  quite often what is often a basic load in success or hope times, is just too much in these times.  So make a change.  The change should not be to quit until you have gone over the emotional steps above.

What if you aren’t achieving the success you expected?

Now, this is the best question to be asking.  If the success you expected is not being achieved, the first question you need to ask is why?  The answer of why may be:

  • That you need to adjust your plans
  • learn a new skill
  • you need a skill employed you don’t have
  • your market research did not support reality
  • an outside force has come into play, that you now have to deal with.

Whatever the reason, you need to go back over the steps, review, decide, plan and finally implement.  This could be quitting or it could be making a change, or taking a new path with the existing company.

What if you just don’t have the Energy (cash) to continue in business?

I have been here many times.  Each time I have reached this point, I have reviewed the facts and made a logical choice.  However I will admit that each time, due to keeping cash flows, budgets, plans and good accounts I have had the ability to make a choice.

Choice 1 Example of Closing the Doors, but getting something out of it for the future.

I was part owner in a company on Kangaroo Island that due to a GFC and Fires could not bring back a positive ROI.  After all options were considered, the only logical option was to close this business.  However, the knowledge and information learnt on this business venture began a new option for Accede.  This was the beginning of us considering creating products that would service this unique situation. It became the inspiration to beginning product development at Accede.

Choice 2. Example Getting Smarter

Grants, what a nightmare! Yes they can help but how to get them.  After a mass of nightmares and loads of time and money invested into drain of what not to do, I found the answer.  Someone out there knows how to get this and if we pay we can access to these funds.  So, I got smarter.  I employed BDO and they assist us in gaining the grants to R and D.  I have also learnt that I can’t do everything, so I worked out my strengths and my weaknesses.  I have now partnered with People and companies that take these essential weaknesses and lead them to strength. Some of this will mean some loss of ownership and others mean a cost.

Choice 3. Example making the move while you can.

A recent hit to Accede in August of 2015 was that we lost over night $156K in debtors and wips.  What a hit in all ways.  I did the exact steps above. Plus, I added that into my goals the ability to sell Accede in the future.  I have been able to plan and implement the planned change.  Now, success is in the plan.  What we are doing now is following this plan and reviewing your progress regularly.

Non Choice – this is made for you.

If this is I the case, then you don’t need to ask this question.  All you need to do is to try to work out the best way for you to exit.

So what is the answer to “Knowing when to quit your business”?

  • Get out of the Rut
  • Keep your plans and paperwork up to date
  • Review regularly
  • Make decisions and

Enjoy being a responsible business person.

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The 3 minute time manager: How effective, efficient business practices start with good personal time management systems

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If you’re struggling to perform at your best due to being time poor or lacking work life balance, it is certainly true that the work we do at Accede in building effective database solutions will support your drive to be more efficient.

However, after reflecting on the many business owners, boards and managers we’ve worked with over the years, I can tell you that your best systems for success start WITHIN.

I believe that if you spend the next three minutes reading these thoughts, you should find some keys for unlocking the binds that are holding you back.

My time doing ‘time management’

Why should I be writing about time management? It’s because I live it and refine it every day, and have been doing so for almost four decades.

Here are the things I’ve ‘managed’ being or doing thanks to my systems:

  • Single mother
  • SME owner with 34 years experience employing staff and servicing businesses
  • Entrepreneur
  • Property developer
  • Property owner and landlord for holiday and permanent rental properties
  • President of a large community based organisation with more than 17,000 active members
  • Full time Puppy Educator for the Royal Society of the Blind
  • Physical mum to a university-based son
  • Host mum to three international boys
  • Active Christian
  • Friend

And despite this ‘reasonably’ full plate, I have still kept time to focus on my health and ‘bounce’ into work each day with a smile (while still experiencing the ups and downs that all of us endure).

The vital work of Time Management

My time management skill has not appeared overnight but rather has been learned by reading, practice and application.

It began with the 1 minute manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.  I applied the ideas from this book in management and in life.

I also skilled up, including:

  • Learning to type
  • De-cluttering everything about my life
  • Using useful tools
  • Communicating succinctly
  • Applying the Hedgehog principle (The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing)

I do feel that there are no crumbs of time on my table of life and this matters to me because I have one life and I want to do the most I can with it. 

For example, before I leave home each morning I’ve reviewed by day and communications, had a cup of tea in bed and some private time with my husband, made lunches, dressed, prepared a guide dog to go to work. After dropping a boy to school I arrive at my office, greet my staff and check in on any important issues they’re facing and then settle in for my day’s actual work, all by 9.15am

The rest of the day is then clear for running my business and earning an income.

How to be time efficient in business

While applying time management to your business life is most likely to succeed if you share my core principles of tidiness and inner drive, there are certain tools I find essential:

  • An active task List
  • Act upon decisions, e.g. an email comes in, read it as soon as it is timely to do so, and then decide to act upon it, store it or delete it immediately
  • Use IT tools that help, e.g. I use office 365 exchange so my emails can be read and accessed on my phone or computer allowing me to complete actions on the road
  • Refuse ‘junk’ mail, e.g. certain schools started sending me time-wasting information but after I clearly informed them they should stop or send nothing, they all restricted emailing to only important information
  • Keep social media for personal use, and employ other people to perform social media tasks for business purposes
  • Delegate, e.g. understand the importance of your time and skill so if a junior can do a job like find an image for this blog, give it to them
  • Make time for friends but don’t get drawn into being abused by ‘users’, who can appear in private and business circles; seek out ‘winners’ to work and associate with
  • Allocate time for specific functions and stick to it, e.g. time for visiting family, walking and working out, preparing meals, shopping, etc.
  • Challenge rules and share the house duties, e.g. I expect my family to each pull their own weight such as having one of my boys set the table
  • Build proficiency and speed in key tasks, e.g. almost all of my meals are made from base products and prepared, cooked and on the table in 1 hour or less
  • Multitask whenever possible, e.g. cook a roast and do the ironing at the same time

Finally, take time for yourself to stop, read a book, smell the roses, review and enjoy life.

Now your 3 minutes are up and hopefully you have some hints and Ideas, and some references to explore.

It is your life, you only have the one chance to use it well.

Will you be happy that you have lived the best life you can?

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