If you switch on the news or read the papers it seems like it’s all doom and gloom: “double-dip Recession”; more people due to lose their jobs here; another company going into liquidation there – it feels like it’s never-ending. If you’re not careful you could easily fall into the negativity trap – and start believing that you’re going to go down with the apparent sinking ship. So, what can a business owner do to ensure that they not only survive these challenging times, but maintain their composure, become stronger, thrive, and even build a booming business?

Getting back to basics

When I started my training business in 1998, my goal was simply to offer a personal level of service, listen to what my customers’ were telling me about their challenges, and offer solutions that really work on a practical level for them, combined with great value for money. It seemed to work for me. But how many companies get anywhere near achieving that these days? Almost everywhere I go (with a few notable exceptions) I seem to become either frustrated, annoyed or disillusioned with the poor quality of active listening, non-acknowledgement of me as a valued customer, and the lack of basic courtesy that I expect (and feel I really deserve) as a customer.

Is it a lack of investment in customer service training or could it be some form of genetic problem involving the “can’t be bothered” gene that the present generation seem to be evidencing? I often wonder. Or maybe it’s just me: am I getting old? A youthful (in my opinion!) 48 years young, brought up with the simple credo that the most important thing in life is to treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.

We need to get back to doing it the good, old fashioned way: employ people with potential to learn, train them to understand the company philosophy, and then the skills to deliver it. Follow this up with regular performance management – performed competently by well-trained managers – ongoing training to motivate and build on skills and experience, and there you have it – the makings of a strong, enthusiastic and skilled workforce.

A great example of this, and showing that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, is a young man I met recently on a Training the Training course I was running who works for a very well known and booming spicy chicken restaurant chain. He was so excited and enthusiastic about his job and his employer. When I asked him what they were doing to make him feel so committed to his company in this way, he explained how they’re doing it the old fashioned way, and really looking after their staff – as above. What a breath of fresh air!

Getting noticed

Having a great business with a fantastic product or service and brilliant staff is half the battle. But there’s no point if nobody knows you’re there. It used to be all about keeping up with the competition, but today a forward-thinking business needs to be at least one step ahead of the competition – our customers somehow know the difference. This became very apparent to me when, for example, I was running a series of Performance Management programmes a little while ago for a well-known, global gaming console corporation. They only have one significantly close rival, but their young customer base are fully clued up on who’s ahead of the game, if you’ll excuse the pun, and who isn’t – and subsequently who they’re loyal to when buying the latest version of their favourite football or war game.

Pro-active marketing is the way to keep ahead of the game now – just sending out brochures and doing a few follow-up phone calls isn’t enough. I learnt at a recent seminar about Social Media, run by Sam Flynn of Sam Flynn Social Media that to really get noticed and start achieving the results that will grow your business significantly, you need to be doing at least 12 different types of marketing, targeted to the specific sectors of the market you want to do business with, and while you’re doing this, making sure that you’re standing out from the rest. You need to learn how to use the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In effectively, whilst bearing in mind that apparently over 80% of businesses using these media don’t get much business from these sources – they’re doing it wrong, so you have to do it differently. Nigel Botterill is an acclaimed speaker in this field. He’s built several £Million+ businesses and runs the Entrepreneur’s Circle, which focuses on helping you build a successful business quickly.

And then there’s Business Networking. If you haven’t tried Networking yet, it’s worth having a go, as long as you’re prepared to get up for an early breakfast! 4Networking are a UK-wide network that’s really getting results. I regularly attend meetings at 4 of my local venues, and I’ve found it to be a fantastic way to promote your business whilst learning from others how to develop and improve it – wherever you are in the UK.

Getting the right focus and attitude

So, you’ve got your business growing by spreading the word in lots of different ways; you’ve got the right people in place, equipped with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes. But why is it that so many businesses with lots of good people are still finding it difficult to retain their staff or worse, finding their business at breaking point?

It goes without saying that a successful business needs strong, focused leadership. Seems obvious, but I was told a few years ago by a (now non-existent) Government Department client that a recent staff attitude survey had highlighted the most common concern as “lack of direction” – people stating that they were worried about their jobs, the future of the organisation, change, and general lack of communication through the tiers of management. So, what’s your goal? How are you going to set about achieving it? (Clearly stated objectives are a must.) What measures and deadlines have you put in place to ensure your objectives have been met to the standards you expect? How and when are you going to communicate this information efficiently?

And then there’s your attitude – you’ve committed to enabling and encouraging your staff to keep learning and growing, to developing their knowledge, skills and attitudes. But what about your own? If you stop learning and growing there’s a real danger the same could happen to your business. A team looks to their leader for role model behaviour, and mirror it. So, if you’re not doing what you expect your team to do, they might start to question your leadership, which in turn may affect their performance and that of your business.
Getting around like-minded people with a positive, entrepreneurial attitude can do wonders for your self-motivation and self-esteem. Continuous learning, personal development and regular interaction with other successful people will help you stay positive, focused and motivated to achieve your potential – and the rewards that you deserve for taking a risk that most people haven’t had the courage to take.

In the words of Zig Ziglar: “See you at the top!”

Colin Adams
Director, Henley Training Associates