Service quality and variation

Was just reading the book “Winning” by Jack Welch and I came across an interesting topic related to Quality management(Six Sigma). The thing that I found most interesting was the way he addressed the topic of variations in service delivery. It is something that I myself learnt after some time ago. Clients are always looking forward to working with people and organizations that will provide the product/service on schedule. The catch is really to understand that on schedule does not mean that delivering beforehand is good. It may at times be totally counter productive to complete a job before the client is expecting it. Imagine a scenario where a client is expecting a shipment on the 10th and you deliver it on the 1st. Now the client will need to make additional plans(and incur costs) for the additional storage!

The fact that most businesses today plan to hold as little inventory as possible and prefer to move according to schedule means that quality in service/product delivery is best when:
1. product/service meets or exceeds the specifications
2. delivered on the specified time
3. delivered at the right cost (this is more true where the product is a service rendered and charged on hourly basis)


Some great tips to retaining talent in your firm

Its great to hire an employee who is talented, professional, intelligent and willing to go the extra mile to get the job done. However, retaining such an employee in a world where talented people can be literally snatched from your firm by the bigger fish or by competitors is a true challenge.

Here are some tips to help you retain your talent pool:
1. Competitive Salary Package
You may not be able to match the deep pockets of a larger company but you should still make an earnest effort to keep your staff salaries reasonably competitive. Generally speaking salary is not always the only reason why a person will switch a job. However, this is only true when the salary is more or less reasonably competitive. Although conditions may vary across geographic regions and industries you can make rough estimates.

2. Appreciating by Differentiating
Wonderful people need to be treated wonderfully. Simple and plain. Make sure that your best employee gets the best salary package in your firm even if that person is younger/less experienced. While there may be resistance from a lot of quarters questioning your judgment, remember that its business. Businesses get most benefit from their best staff and everyone in the staff should be amply clear about what will get them the best bucks at your place. A letter of appreciation as the best employee for the year will surely help as will a bonus based on performance.

3. Job assignments
Try to give the best and most challenging job assignments to your best staff member. This will help to fulfill their desire for more growth by helping them polish their old skills and learn new ones. Moreover, it will help them to see that they have a future at your place and that your firm is not stangant.

4. Perks
Try to see if you can afford some small perks for your staff. Ofcourse, this may not be possible given the size of your firm and your financial standing. Younger companies are generally struggling in their first couple of years to get out of the red and start earning profits. However, if you can afford to do it then don’t hesitate to hand over some perks based on the competency of the staff.
It great if one can do all of the above but remember that its easy to lose focus of the whole situation. Focusing on the best of your talent is just one piece of the puzzle and it should not make you forget about the remaining of the rest of the staff.

A great business website design article

Just came across this article which makes for some nice reading on the topic of functional website design. It provides 8 key tips when setting up a new website for your business and is a must read for web designers and small business owners starting out on establishing their online presence.

Coping with global competition

Like it or not if you have not prepared for competition on a global scale then you are not far away from a rude shock that can affect the viability of your business/job at any time. Its no longer your co-worker or the shop next door thats competing with you. The rules of the game have changed and are still changing as more people signup to the idea of utilizing global resources for their business.

SInce everyone has by now realized that its not something that can be wished away – how do you cope with it?

1. Focus on core competencies
Core competencies are the unique skills/products that you can deliver at the best value. Remember its the “best value” and not the “cheapest value”.

2. Branding
As competition becomes global it becomes more important to uniquely identify your firm from the others. An easy to remember logo, a cool slogan and the image of an efficient enterprise that is socially aware of the issues that your customers face can be a great help in fending off competitors and consolidating your territory. Moreover, its a great way to hold on your on against the cheap “no name brand” competition.

3. Business Efficiency
As margins are being cut due to competition don’t forget to look into your own business practices to see where you can cut the fat. Look for ways to innovate. Track all costs no matter how small and see what can be reduced by being careful and by introducing technology to help you.

4. Outsourcing
Use intelligent outsourcing to help you focus on your core business. Routine and repetitive tasks are best left to someone else. So are tasks that someone else can do for you at a lower cost without compromising your business goals.

5. Collaborate
Network with others in your industry to see if you can find ways to help fight off the competition. Look for ways to combine your skills with someone else to see if you can come up with synergies. Remember that with the right planning and approach 1+1 can also end up being 11.

6. Rinse and Repeat
This sentence occasionally found on the usage instructions of shampoos is actually a great way of conducting business. Never be 100% satisfied with what you have and what you are doing. I am not stating a entrepreneur should be a thankless idiot. As a business owner/manager you should always celebrate at your successes(no matter how small they seem to be) and put a brave face to you failures. But never let your mind sit idle. Continue to look at ways of reducing costs and improving your business. Maybe you can negotiate a better deal with you suppliers, maybe a small perk to you employees can result in better employee morale and lower turnovers.

5 tips to develop great outsourcing relationships

Firms that provide outsourcing services to small businesses can gain a lot by developing great professional relationships with small business owners (or contact person). The reason for the service provider is simply to help build and maintain trust and credibility. Some tips on developing great outsourcing relationships are:

1. Be Honest
Everyone naturally starts off on a neutral footing. Honesty on the part of the service provider is however of utmost importance to ensure that the firm/team can be trusted with important information and assignments.

2. Be willing to go the extra mile
Small business owners are people with big ideas but comparatively small budget. However, that fact should in no way mean that their business is any less important. Be willing to go the extra mile by providing a bit more than expected. (That ofcourse doesn’t mean pitching in extra hours for unpaid work:-) ).

3. Be able to grow with the client
A number of small business owners start of by outsourcing a single project/task. They are new to the concept of outsourcing and are just testing the waters. However, assuming that the first couple of tasks have gone well they will be looking to outsource bigger tasks to help them relieve their own burden. Moreover, it is absolutely reasonable to assume that over a period of time their businesses will grow and they will need more services. Don’t be caught off guard when that happens.

4. Specialize
Its great to be a one stop shop for all the services that your clients need. However, its rarely the case that you can be great in everything that can be done on this planet. Learn where your abilities truly lie and focus on those. Continue to learn and refine skills but remember that people want to pay for the best skill for a particular cost. Its better to be someone who can design great webpages for $x rather than someone who can design average webpages but also sing a nice song for the same amount!

5. Keep communication open
Always ensure that you are communicating frequently with your clients. If you are not available then provide adequate notice for that. If they have not responded to an email that you sent earlier then send in a polite reminder. Its never a bad idea to drop hints that you have capability to pick up more assignments or if you get to learn new skills.

The top 5 types of tasks to outsource

Outsourcing can be good or bad. It all depends if you gained new work because of it or if you lost your job because of it. However, my opinion on the topic is that its really something cool for the entrepreneur. The reason is simply that it allows you to tap onto a diversified set of talent without having you hire people (translate that as maintain payroll, benefits and costs!!!). The use of intelligent outsourcing allows you to get the best talent in the world and help you focus on whats really your business.

Here are some ways that I think outsourcing can really help you:

1. Help desk support
Need someone to answer the basic questions while you work on marketing and promoting your product and services? Look for a firm providing you with help desk support. You can get 24 hour support or support for just a few hours every day. Email based support or online chat support. The choice is yours to make depending on how much you are willing to dish out.

2. Data entry
Do you need to enter old paper based records into your brand new software system? Definitely don’t do it yourself(unless the info is highly personal). Hire a firm/team to do the job for you. You can not only help to get the data in electronic format but also get someone to do basic review if you provide the right guidelines.

3. Online marketing
Even if you are good at it – don’t spend all your time doing it yourself. With all the new techniques and rules coming up all the time it’s really a full time job for someone. So go ahead and outsource it. Make a budget and hire someone to provide measurable results on that budget.

4. Market research/analysis
Outsourcing research is a great way to help free up the busy entrepreneurs mind for the more important tasks. Remember that as a small business owner you are already spending quite a lot of your time wearing different hats and organizing your business. However, always ensure that this task is carried out by someone with whom you can connect. Talk/discuss online with the person who will be undertaking the assignment. Does the person see what you are trying to do? Is your goal clear and have you communicated it clearly?

5. Event scheduling
Do you want to spend the whole of your time arranging up your meetings and setting up appointments? Probably not! Get someone to do it for you. Use all the different online tools for easy collaboration with the service provider to ensure hassle free communication.

These are really the top 5 types of tasks that i believe a small business owner must look consider for outsourcing. Outsourcing these tasks should help you free up your day so that you can take your business to the next level.

Reducing business setup costs – Open source software

One of the major problems for any business – especially a startup business – is reducing startup cost. Thats the time when money has not started to roll in and every dollar needs to be spent carefully. One very good way to reduce costs in such a situation is by using open source software to help curtail the cost that would be needed for the purchase of software licenses. Operating system, word processors, email clients, music players and whatever else you can think of. Most probably there is an open source software to cater for your needs. In some cases it is not the best or the most refined piece of software but when you consider the amount of money that can be saved the bargain is not very bad at all. According to leading IT analyst firm Gartner(quoted from zdnet):

“By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises will use open source in direct or embedded forms”

The trick in using open source software is to take a realistic approach to evaluate your needs and then make the purchase/open source decision. If setting up a linux based operating system sounds too intimidating and awesome then don’t go for it. If your needs for a word processor are simple and all you need is to type the occasional letter and manage a bit of inventory in a spreadsheet then go for OpenOffice. Some of the key points to consider before making the decision are listed below(these are ofcourse not a complete listing so if anyone additions/modifications would be welcome).

1. What is the level of your usage of the particular software?
If you need it for the basic stuff then open source would generally suffice.

2. What level of sharing of files do you need? In short what are your portability requirements.
If you need to share info with your friends or clients then go for what is the most compatible option rather than what is the cheaper option.

3. What is the level of support that you will need?
A lot of open source software comes without any proper support. There are a number of online forums and guides to help you with it but if you fail to get help there then thats really the end of the show. Most open source software that have a large user base comes with good enough support as all the members of a particular forum behave as customer support agents and problems can be resolved quite easily.

4. Do you need to extend the functionality of the application?
Open source software comes with the application code. So if you intend to do any customization(or have someone else do it for you) then its really the only option you have. Licensed software sellers will hardly ever accommodate your request for a change/addition of functionality unless its asked for by a large number of their clients (and even then it will be made available in the next version)
It is important to see that you can really create your own mix of software to help you get the most benefit with the least cost.