Imagine a situation where business is great, sales volumes are steadily increasing, your market share is growing and customers just can’t seem to get enough of your company’s latest and greatest product offering. Your company is the envy of the market, the proverbial market leader and an innovator in its field. Then, rather suddenly, everything seems to change. Everything seems to be going wrong. Your costs have increased, your sales have decreased, you’ve lost market share and you’ve hit one roadblock after another. However, did this really happen all at once and simply catch you by surprise, or is it something that has been building over time? In essence, did you simply ignore the warning signs when everything around you was screaming that it was time to redefine, revamp and reinvigorate your business plan? Unfortunately, far too many companies ignore the warning signs until it’s too late. So, what are these warning signs and what must your company do to avoid the damage they can inflict?
One of the surest signs your business model needs restructuring is when you, your management team, and your employees, all start veering away from your company’s stated goals and objectives. Often it’s the result of following where your market leads your business. After all, it may simply be a sign of an ever-changing business environment. However, when your marketplace changes, and you must change along with it to remain competitive, then take the time to revisit your company’s goals and objectives within your overall business model. Make sure your business plan accounts for the new realities within your market. It will help provide a clear path forward on pursuing these newly established objectives and provide every employee and manager with common long-term goals.
If there is one essential rule of business it most certainly has to be that profit must be protected at all times. In fact, profit is essential. It’s the reason why your company is in business. While most would assume that an increase in costs, and a decrease in sales, would immediately be recognized and dealt with, reality is entirely different. What ends up happening is that both occur gradually over time. Rarely do sales volumes plummet overnight, unless of course a major contract is lost. Instead, costs seem to slowly increase, while sales numbers slowly decrease. In most cases, the increases and decreases are gradual and not immediately obvious. This is ultimately why companies must continue to assess their overhead by analyzing their direct and indirect expenses, while at the same time tracking their profit margins on sales. Again, these warning signs are gradual in nature, but by the time they’ve taken hold of your company, it’s far too late to adopt any short-term solutions. It’s been a while in the making and it will take your business time to adjust.
Granted, it’s difficult to find issues with business growth, especially in today’s economy. However, growing too quickly can have serious consequences, especially if your business plan and model isn’t easily scalable to your new growth. It’s not hard to imagine the consequences of a business that takes on more than it can handle. Sales, marketing and customer service can suffer under the weight of increased customer expectations. Manufacturing can suddenly have issues with quality and production throughput. Inventory and supply chain management can suddenly encounter higher costs of inventory ownership as they struggle to find vendors and creditors able to deal with the extra workload. If not prepared, that increase workload can damage your company’s reputation.
Another sure sign of trouble is when your enterprise ignores key performance indicators (KPI) or continually misses one vital benchmark after another. Your company may have defined these benchmarks early in its history. In fact, your original business plan likely included several key vital benchmarks, ones you deemed essential to securing your long-term future. They were seen as pivotal milestones and periods of reflection, ones where your company could assess the success or failure of individual strategies. Once your company starts ignoring these benchmarks, and glossing over deadlines, it moves towards a period of indifference, one marked by constant rescheduling and missed opportunities. Don’t allow this to happen. Sit down with your management team when you find your enterprise is missing important deadlines. This period is essential in order to redefine your business plan and model going forward. It’s an opportunity to revise your schedule and find ways to make those benchmarks important again.
Losing a series of large customers has both immediate and definitive long-term consequences. This is often due to the 80-20 “Pareto Principle” or rule. It states that 80% of a company’s sales come from the top 20% of customers. Losing any of these large customers means a sudden and drastic decline in revenue. Unfortunately, a number of enterprises rationalize these losses, especially when they are seemingly ahead of their growth curve. However, losing one customer may seem simple to overcome, but losing multiple large customers isn’t. Therefore, be aware of where your biggest customers are and why they may be willing to move to your competition. If left unchecked, you can suddenly find yourself losing more than you thought possible.
When thinking of the impact of these five aforementioned outcomes, think back to how you originally came up with your business plan. You understood that success wasn’t guaranteed. You were well aware of the failure rates for new enterprises. As such, you laid out a plan that protected your interests, one that defined specific goals and objectives, defined your enterprise’s cost structure, outlined a plan for sustainable growth and finally, defined specific benchmarks and key performance indicators. Pay attention to those original plans before the fifth and most ominous sign occurs; losing big customers has dire consequences. Before that happens, revisit your business plan and revamp your business model to account for your new market reality.
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