Pareto power for the enterprise race and the vital importance of knowing your finances
There is a massive line between attention to detail and perfectionism. There is also an unbelievable amount of challenge when it comes to building any enterprise or any kind and making it successful and the much higher chance of that company failing. The reality is however you choose to build a company it is harder than most people care to imagine and I think there needs sometimes to be a reality check for those that do not fully commit.
I am a massive and unapologetic believer in the fact that good enough at 80% of perfection is good enough to go to market in the majority of propositions. People spend too much time in planning, in consideration, in design, in anything but testing whether a product can and will sell. If a product can sell…you may have a chance but all other efforts are wasted until you have a proven sell and a building pipeline.
Why? Business is a race in every way. Last week I spent some time in Uganda at the most marvellous charity called One More Child. I have been sharing the skills I have with a bunch of children aiming to make their way in the world, initially often by being given pocket money to start their own Enterprise. Egg selling is one of the bigger “opportunities.” Imagine buying a tray of 30 eggs, boiling them, putting them in a clear bucket and then walking the street of Jinga, Uganda selling your boiled produce…benefits include additions of salt, chilli or a napkin. One boy sells sometimes 4 trays in day and clearly has the respect of his peers. He’s out there slogging in the heat, setting himself targets and running back and forth between the egg sellers and his cooking pots to speed to market.
No website, (build it but “they,” will not come…nothing proves the need other than asking the consumer. In speeches I often talk about the fact that a courier company has no real point of difference, albeit rightly they try to own one.) Everything they do is about speed…perhaps their point of difference is all about delivering their promise, the promise they are selling. You need not have a product that is so wholly unique that something else will not do but a race for the best possible customer service, the most able to act, sell, react and repeat to stop others succeeding. From the speed at which we send our samples out in response to a great enquiry or a pro-active proposal we are in a race.
Of-course in some areas of contracted agreements of business, you need to pay attention to the details in key areas – but you also cannot allow perfectionism to restrict your sales and marketing progress. I could spend hours in meetings discussing product packaging; we discuss all sorts of possible pitfalls, change colours by one or two shades before finally agreeing on the final design – and even then, we may change our minds once the product has been on the shelves for a while. When we first launched Scentered, our balms came in a small tin – which was nice enough and chosen because of the shelf space and to make a better attention piece. Ultimately we now think the mini balms are the hero of the brand and these originally came to market as sample sizes not intended for sale? I use this example to show you that even when you spend months, nearly years finalising your product, and what feels like forever designing your perfect packaging – you may well find that it is not perfect after all. If we had waited until Scentered was absolutely perfect, we would probably still be in a meeting about packaging design now.
Things like marketing, product design and of course finance are key areas in business where you should be spending time and focus – but never out of proportion to the sales effort. Attention to detail is absolutely crucial in these areas to ensure your business stays afloat. Committing to getting the number right, putting time aside to really make decisions on knowing that you can afford to push boundaries, promote products and sell based on retained profit matters. Enterprise in itself I feel is somewhat built on luck – that old adage of the harder I work the luckier I get but also turning up, being in market allows so much to happen do not be paralysed.
Too many days are lost in busy work. There is a fine line between knowing you can make things better within a reasonable timescale, and just being crippled by perfectionism – plus to take a risk can sometimes offer unexpected great outcomes…sometimes not so. Perfectionism, to be frank, in my opinion is bollocks. How can I fairly explain this? Human nature means that one person’s viewpoint allows another with a different viewpoint to see imperfections…hence is anything else really perfect? Individuals live to outdo each other, we should encourage each other to look for progress, improvement, things to make the product serve the customer better. In the same way a conversation between two people can seem utterly clear, I was once taught that what I said is not what you necessarily hear. This is very sound advice – if you really want to ensure someone gets a 100% clear message, ask them to repeat back to you what they have understood. Plus record exchanges, not to the point of paranoia but sometimes I have found an individual that spends too much time fine tuning is missing the rogue and perhaps guerilla activities that are simply executed and can also create good leaps for the business success.
With marketing and product design there is such a thing as too much attention, paralysis of progress and a huge opportunity cost simply because of too much fuss and determination to keep tweaking. An 80% perfected product will do…especially if you listen very hard indeed to the consumers’ feedback. I firmly believe that most businesses are much better off just getting the product to market, and ironing out the details as they go.
A great example of this is Kitbrix; the original brilliant bag organised system that launched at The London Triathlon show some years ago – with samples only. The product sold well and we had some fantastic feedback from our customers. Then we designed the website. In the same way, CityBrix 2 a very good quality commuter bag came to market but again and thanks to our loyal customer fans who bought this bag, we have since redesigned and in September will launch a better bag CityBrix V2. Separating out the benefits of this bag is difficult; selling it more challenging. I have never seen a great back pack commuter bag as perfectly designed for the office commuter who wants to fitness train and carry with care office kit whilst able and ready for work.
If you’ve been staring at the same point of sale designs for a week and can’t decide between two similar designs, ask your assistant or even the postman for their take on it. Find someone – anyone – who is within your target market for their opinion on the matter, then make a decision and move on. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to work in marketing to appreciate a good ad, or to say whether something appeals to you. Everyone in the business can and should take part in discussions on things like this – but for a limited amount of time only.
It is all too easy to allow the design of one particular piece of packaging or one single ad take over days or even weeks of your time. This sort of thing is a perfectionist’s nightmare, and a procrastinator’s dream. There is a popular saying: “done is better than perfect,” and really you need to just draw a line and say “ok this will do” and then get on with actually running your company. Do not forget as you fanny around others are in the market learning and trading, making profit whilst you fiddle and are unable to build revenue and feedback.
When to pay attention to the tiny details
In my opinion, finance is the major key area of your business where you should know the ins and outs of everything. You need to know about how much things are costing you, what your overheads are, how much each sales person is bringing in, what your cash flow looks like. As the business owner you need to be on top of these figures at all times, and in my opinion there is no excuse for not knowing. You cannot delegate the responsibilities for the pounds and the pennies.
If you consider yourself to be “not good with numbers,” I suggest you learn to be – and soon! Hire someone to keep your books but still you must know what they are doing. Financial alignment, capturing the detail is only one part of the decision making equasion. Unless you add to it the knowledge you have about the moving parts that impact the demands on cash you will soon be toast. Know please the financial position of your company at all times. To be out of touch with this information is in my opinion business suicide and can only end in disaster. It cannot be delegated, should not be entirely trusted to others and has to be rigorously understood. You should be paying attention to every detail so that you can make sure you are not spending unnecessarily, and that you know exactly how healthy your cash flow is. How can you sell if you are unable to know what the profit margin is and how do you know what is the stop point of a negotiating line if you do not really know your whole cost dynamics. The madness of designing a product without a clue for the end competitive required position of the retail sellable competitive zone – bonkers.
As I have said above, there are other areas in your business where it pays to take your time over things. In fact in most cases attention to detail is very important. But you should never let the details cripple you. At the end of the day, you either have a great product or you don’t – and no amount of time spent arguing over colour schemes or box shape will rescue you from poor product design – or from bad cash management.