14 timely and timeless lessons from the first quarter of 2017

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Ken Keller: On Business & Life

Editor’s note: Today marks the debut of “Ken Keller: On Business & Life,” successor to “Brainfood for Business Owners.” Over the years, many readers have told Ken about sharing columns not only with business owners, but also with teens and other loved ones who might benefit. The new title reflects the fact that good business advice, at its best, is focused wisdom. As for brainfood, we’ll leave that to Drew Barrymore.

Towards the end of March and during this first week of April, I sat down with my clients and asked them to share with me what they had learned in the first quarter of 2017. I’ve distilled what I learned into these 14 lessons:

1. To grow revenue, think beyond one quarter. The effort has to be sustained as a major effort throughout the year; you can’t get discouraged and stop in the first quarter because it takes time to gain traction. Companies that are successful in increasing their top line develop a plan and execute it.

2. Boosting revenue is simple, not easy. There are only four tools you can use to boost revenue and they boil down to cut, charge, add and/or hike. Meaning you can reduce or eliminate discounts that have served their purpose, charge for previously free products or services, add products and services to your lineup that your customers now buy from someone else, or raise prices.

3. Be with your clients. Connect with your customers. It correlates directly to revenue retention and growth. Unfortunately, being out of sight truly puts you out of your clients’ minds. The less you see and speak with your clients the more likely it is that they will start buying from someone else. Schedule time to see clients face-to-face, and actually go do it.

4. Focus on your star clients. Some clients are worth a lot more than others. Identify those who are truly the best for your business, your stars. Then figure out how to turn the others into stars, or drop them. Do this by performing an 80/20 analysis.

5. As it is with clients, so it is with employees. If the 80/20 rule is applied to employees, 20 percent of employees create 80 percent of good results. What do the other 80 percent of your employees do all day? Why are they still on the payroll?

6. Define “focus on” quantitatively. How much time and other resources are spent servicing clients? Measure it, and then use those metrics to drive the business.

7. Cast a cold eye on costs. Every company can reduce costs and expenses. Take time to identify unnecessary expense areas. It can produce quick and often big dividends. Too many companies buy products and services that are nice to have, but not needed. Don’t do that. Every penny not spent falls right to the net income line on your profit and loss statement.

8. If you can, raise prices. It’s OK to raise prices when you are delivering value. Your customers get to define value, and they will be brutal in the defining. Remember that.

9. Adopt a sense of urgent patience. Everything takes longer to implement than planned. Instead of thinking that you can get everything done in a calendar year, take the planning and execution cycle to 18 months. This is a more reasonable time period to expect significant results to materialize.

10. Zero in on a winnable target. Focus on the one thing that can dramatically improve the business. Often there is one significant obstacle, hurdle or challenge that if successfully addressed and resolved will change the health of your business.

11. For 30 minutes a day, just think. Thirty minutes a day of planning will make the rest of the day highly productive. As a leader, you’re paid to think, not change lightbulbs. For more on this, see my Feb. 21 column, “The $300 an hour employee.”

12. Put your marketing plan in writing. Whether it’s on paper or Google Docs doesn’t matter. What matters is that your company is always marketing and that you focus resources on building a reputation in the marketplace for the long term.

13. Pace yourself. Long hours at the office are inefficient. Become and stay more efficient and productive during work hours, so you don’t need to always go in early and stay late. Those who burn too much midnight oil likely are unfocused, doing unnecessary things that could be eliminated or delegated, or are simply wasting time. Set concrete work hours and stick to them.

14. Take a vacation. It doesn’t matter where you go, or what you do, just go. Everyone needs time to rest and recharge, and doing that doesn’t need to take a lot of money. But the time spent and the memories made will be priceless.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist who focuses on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely-held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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