Cycles and trends in business can provide good guidance.
I was reminded the other day of the film, and later stage musical, ‘How to succeed in business without really trying’.
It’s based on a 1952 book by Shepherd Mead, who worked for US advertising agency, Benton and Bowles. He rose from working in the post-room to become a Vice-President.
It is, of course, a satire of an instruction manual. The film and the musical are indeed loose adaptations of his book. And, by the way, I don’t have the DVD!
But, it got me thinking that success in business for many of us is more about hard work; and not relying on good fortune. The latter can and will play a bit-part, though most business owners will need to have their fingers on the pulse.
Looking back over the past 10 or 20 years, and even longer, it is possible to discern particular cycles and trends. The exact events may not be entirely repeated, but they can serve to provide some guidance. You may have no connection with the fashion sector; but, if you stop to think, you will discern that colours, design and styles are brought back.
Likewise, many businesses have to reinvent themselves to remain at the top of their game. I am sure that we will all have our favourites. Apple must be one that many of us will identify with in that context.
In their process of relaunching their companies, brands and latest products, their brand messages have been important. Consistency has been their byword, in order that their customers do not lose sight of who they are, and what their business is all about.
They have ensured that they continue to remain different from their competitors with their own distinct positioning in their markets. Achieving that target is of course difficult and requires positive thinking and matching budgets. However, it should not be beyond the capability of every business-owner to make sure that their business remains different, and, as unique as possible.
History can provide some interesting guidelines. A simple case study of a Tudor baker offers an example. The first baker on that high street had the town’s population of bread eaters in his grasp. His success and that of the next two bakers, in other parts of the same town, showed that the market existed. Albeit, they each had a different percentage share of the total market. In hard times, it was more difficult for them all to show good profits.
The founding baker then stole a march by introducing new forms of bread, and producing buns for special festivals, like Easter. He opened up a new market. He attached the word ‘artisan’ to his branding. In much the same way, as today’s supermarkets have now made their own higher-quality mixed grain breads available; and use the same word to convey an up-market product.
Thirty years ago, when I started my business in electrical contracting and services it was significantly different from Yee Group today. For one thing, it was a small start-up and focussed on just two particular markets. By paying attention to the developing trends in, for example, air-conditioning and security, we have been able, with the hard-work and commitment of our staff, to expand.
Our message, like that of other Chamber members, has continued to be that ‘we offer the best available service to each and every customer’. It has served us well. We have remained true to our vision of being different from other contractors.
During my networking at events in Birmingham and Burton, whilst representing your Chamber, an unofficial straw-poll which I carried out confirmed that the majority of small and medium-sized companies all look to remain different.
The degrees to which they achieve this vary. But, they all look to show to their customers that they offer a specialised product, or service. Their customers fully understand what they are offering and, most importantly, why they should buy from them.
Fortunately, they all appreciated that achieving and maintaining that position whilst managing to expand their business cannot be achieved by magic. There is no special medicine.
My non-scientific poll showed that the key words they use are commitment, determination, enthusiasm, self-help, and an innate ability to weather the business storms and cycles, over which, they have little, if any, control.
It’s true that in one sense you might succeed ‘without really trying’ by relying on good fortune. However, the odds will be stacked against you. And, it’s not the most reliable way to achieve your goals, your business targets and, critically, support the lives and careers of all your staff.
I welcome feedback and comment on this column and the work and activities of the Chamber. You can contact me at [email protected]
President of Burton and District Chamber of Commerce
Managing Director, Yee Group Limited