Some of you may remember that Vending Times is an employee-owned company, and we are members of the Employee Stock Opportunity Program. This means that, in late summer, we must begin preparing for the year-end valuation report. Except for the "hard" financial data, which has already been assembled (thank goodness), much of the process is anecdotal. This requires me to have numerous conversations with ESOP experts, in which I discuss the events of the last 12 months -- a year most of us would like to forget.
Don't these accounting folks understand that marketing pros like me want to move forward and look to the future? Do we really need to rehash all this negativity again and again, and stay mired in the past? Doesn't this exercise only serve to weigh us positive thinkers down?
If you're still paying attention and reading this article, the chances are that you've already made changes to your business model that have had a positive effect on the bottom line of your company. And so have we. So if things are looking better now, what more do these "experts" need to know? I've had many passionate conversations with money managers, controllers, analysts and accounting firms on this vexing subject.
And I've concluded that they have a point. One always can do better. If you think you've cut all you can, I can't stress the importance of taking another look at your current business plan, making projections and setting goals on an ongoing basis. If you don't have the time to do this yourself because you're too busy running your business, then you need someone who can assist you.
Here are a few things that should be evaluated regularly:
• Is there something that your firm can do without?
• Does your company perform a task that that could be done more efficiently if it were outsourced?
• Are there responsibilities you can add to your own job description without compromising your primary role?
• What are you doing to retain your current clientele?
Surely we all know by now that it costs a lot more to develop new business than to maintain existing clients. And speaking of current customers, we can't forget attrition (especially now). No matter what you do, there probably are some clients who won't be around next week, next month or next year, for various reasons. What are you going to do about it?
• Speaking of client retention, what is your company's policy on customer service?
• What are you doing to replace lost revenue, promote new business and maximize topline growth?
• How are you marketing, advertising and promoting your services?
• Have you invested in new equipment?
I've spoken with clients this month who are taking advantage of the "dog days" of August to finally go through their files, toss their old paperwork, streamline their businesses, or even move their headquarters to reduce costs. If the events of last 18 to 24 months have taught us anything, it is that this is the time to cut our losses, start anew, rid ourselves of negative "energy" and move ahead.
I talk a lot about embracing fear and taking risks in my column. For those of us who have come this far and weathered the storm, don't stop now! As my fitness trainer always tells me when I'm ready to quit, "Come on, Alicia. Empty that gas tank!" Yes, sometime I swear at him, and yes, it's painful, but the feeling of accomplishment is the best high I've ever experienced.
And, while pondering this, there are a couple of lessons we can learn from history. First, when you make a change designed to cut costs without reducing effectiveness, it's a really good idea to set up some benchmarks and, in six months or a year, evaluate performance and see whether the change did what you wanted it to do. If it didn't, make another change.
And second, we need to keep in mind that there is a fine line between cutting out the fat and cutting into the bone. It is fatally easy to become too lean to survive.
As a kid, I used to refer to certain upheavals as "bridges of growth." If we allow ourselves to embrace change, somehow we seem to arrive at the other side with new insight and understanding.
So as we say goodbye to summer and plan for the year ahead, take stock in what you've done and pat yourself on the back for all you've accomplished. But also take a long, hard look at what you might have done better. Learn from the past, but don't live in it. You might think this column would be more appropriate for the holidays and should have been published in December. But by December it will have been too late! Failing to plan is planning to fail. And remember (another one of my favorite cliches) ... when you're through changing, you're through.