Is now the time to breathe some new life into your business?
When Steve Jobs died, the world went into mourning for the loss of one of the greatest technological innovators of our time. While there is no doubt about Jobs’ technical prowess, perhaps one of his greatest achievements was his business savvy in re-invigorating the Apple brand.
Jobs re-joined Apple as CEO in 1997, when the company was struggling to gain share against Microsoft in the personal computer category. His first act was to design the iMac, a sleek, powerful machine that became an instant hit and helped to lift Apple back to its winning ways. Shortly thereafter came the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, each of which re-invented industries and created new categories that hadn’t before existed.
What changed that made Apple go from a company that simply responded to market shifts to one that drove these shifts, forcing competitors to constantly play catch up? And, using this story as inspiration, is it time to realise that your business could do with some re-invigoration, and what do you need to do to make this happen?
Feeling the itch
For Angela Barter, who owns PR company @Communications, it was the recession that made her rethink her business and personal plans as her agency reached the ten year milestone. “It had become more challenging to find new business. We realised that the PR pie was getting smaller and, in order to survive we had to do something different – we had to offer clients a service that would add real value to their business in a changing corporate world,” she says.
Anton Leal says that “the seven-year business itch” made itself felt in his telecommunications company XLink in several ways – he noticed that an element of complacency had set in on the new business sales front, that some processes had become stale and sluggish over time and that key operating expenses were being ignored, which had previously been kept under tight control in the early start-up days. He realised that the business structure needed to change to accommodate the fact that it was no longer a start-up, and this would affect everything from recruitment to company culture.
Weighing the risk
Realising the need for change is one thing. Implementing it is quite another. “Change is not easy and is very risky,” comments Warren Moss, CEO of digital email advertising company Demographica. Moss did a total re-brand of his company, which included a new name, look-and-feel and culture in order to reflect their more focused approach and desire to be seen as the creative, innovative team that they are. He feels that the difference between the business owner who realises that his business is stagnating, yet continues in the same fashion, and the one who makes the realisation and decides to take drastic action comes down to perspective, coupled with risk.
“External perspective helps you make those calls. And if the call is to make a change, your appetite for risk comes into play.” Looking back, Moss says that the re-invigoration of the company look-and-feel was one of the most significant strategic decisions that they took. “We genuinely haven’t looked back since.”
Some business owners may realise that re-invigoration is needed, and be prepared to take it on, but be unsure of where or how change should happen. A conversation with Barter’s financial consultant was instrumental in opening up a new way of looking at her situation, and she says it was the catalyst she needed to take some time out to think about all the “business learnings” she had gained from teachers, past coaches, business strategists and consultants.
“I compiled a massive diagram of where my business was at the time, and then listed some options available to revive my company, such as online PR, media events, a possible new event division and consulting,” she explains. She said he was also helpful in advising her against rash decisions, and encouraging her to take stock of what had been built up over the decade and how this solid foundation could be built on.
Inspiration came unexpectedly, as it often does. Barter had a developing interest in sustainability and, after being invited to be a guest speaker on the topic of “green PR”, was overwhelmed by the positive response. After months of research and networking with key players in the industry, she launched a dedicated green PR division, the first division of its kind for a classic PR company in South Africa.
To Leal, it was obvious what needed to happen; a “gut feel”. On the sales front, they restructured all their sales efforts into one team as opposed to individual teams. This has led to better synergy and shown itself in improved sales. To eliminate cost inefficiencies, each area in the business was segmented and costs were identified and changes made where necessary. Leal had 10 people reporting in to him, which was unacceptable, especially as the employee headcount was growing. He structured the business into four key areas, with an executive heading up each division, and clear lines of accountability.
Leal realises that they need to work hard to maintain the company culture of enthusiasm, which happened naturally when the organisation was small but now needs to be facilitated through monthly catch-ups with teams, regular updates and “walkabouts” through the office.
Reaping the rewards
For Moss, the energy and excitement that re-invigoration created well exceeded expectations – in terms of business performance the company grew over 80% in the first year. They trebled their staff compliment and employees felt a renewed sense of pride, with Demographica becoming a sought-after place to work. Personally, he found the re-invigoration critical. “I’d just come out of a difficult six months and this gave us the opportunity to start afresh; and gave me renewed energy.”
While Barter is still growing their “green clientele”, she says that the response to date has been phenomenal, with clients realising the need to enlist experts who understand sustainability issues and can effectively promote their green efforts. “After ten years I feel as revived, energetic, passionate and creative as when I started my business. This passion is contagious and my whole team is as excited as I am about being at the forefront of growing green PR in South Africa,” she says.
Setting the wheels in motion
If these stories have motivated you to start thinking about change, Moss’s advice is to start speaking to business owners who have made similar moves, so that you can learn through their experiences and find out what they did right and what they did wrong. Leal recommends some external assistance, whether it be a coach to help you take stock of where you’re at, an industry expert who can fill you in on market trends or a consultant who will help define your action plans and drive the process forward. “You’ll need to agree to a vision of where you’d like the see the business in five/ten years’ time, and then work out how you’re going to get there,” he says.
Barter agrees that planning and research is necessary, but there also comes a point where you need to take a calculated leap of faith. “I spent months tweaking my game plan and all that remained to be done was to go for it. A friend finally provided the push I needed by highlighting the risk that someone else would take the gap if I waited much longer,” she says. “So when you have an idea, research it, develop a basic framework, and take the plunge. There is no other way to turn your vision into a reality.”
Re-invigorating your business may be a case of taking drastic steps, as illustrated in the scenarios above. It may be a once-off change that propels your company into a flourishing state, or a commitment to continuous innovation that changes your fortunes forever, as in the case of Apple. Or it may just be a small tweak here and there, an adjustment that gives staff an injection of motivation, or something that renews your own enthusiasm for what you do every day. Whatever the changes are, the important realisation is that your business is a living, breathing, changing thing that needs the right amount of oxygen to sustain it successfully into the future.