01291 622598 / 07880 794127 william@williambuist.com
Reflections – December 2019 – And a strategic start to 2020

Reflections – December 2019 – And a strategic start to 2020

That 2019 has been a year of change in the UK is really beyond question. Was it a mostly strategic or a mostly tactical time for the country?

We’ve had a year when Britain was expected to leave the EU but hasn’t (yet) and an election that created a majority for the party that brought us the years of chaos following the referendum and years of austerity and poverty. It has not been the script that many wrote, nor that any predicted. I’m open about my politics, so I really don’t need to reflect further about that here, other than to set the framework for a number of thoughts that I think are worth exploring for business people.

We have had a time of uncertainty (and that is the backdrop in which we will remain for some time yet as a country), yet the businesses that I have seen thrive have been those that have brought certainty to their markets. As this year ends, and a new one begins, we have a chance to do that better for our own businesses, if we are strategic.

What does that mean for businesses like yours and mine?

Firstly it shows how important it is to have clarity of vision. When we know where we are going we can navigate the roadblocks and adjust our course, whilst keeping focussed on the destination. Understanding why what we do matters; to whom; how we reach them; and what they need (and want) that we can provide – is vital to our success. For me this is the cornerstone of “Strategic Thinking”.

Secondly, there are risks and opportunities. Every business faces both, some beyond our control (but we can control how we will react if they happen) and for some, we can take action in advance. This is the landscape we operate in, our market and how it approaches and positions what we do. We need to create a framework in which we can both stand out and be effective. Working these things out is the cornerstone of “Strategic Analysis”.

Now we have to think through how we are going to make it real, identifying what we need to do? What we need others to do? When does it need to happen? What resources are needed? What Knowledge, Skills, or Experience? For me, this is the cornerstone of “Strategic Planning”.

Finally, we have to make it happen and be held accountable for what we commit to doing. Too often businesses try to plan too much, too far ahead. My aim, when working with clients, is to focus on progressively shorter periods for each cornerstone, planning in detail for a month or two at most, and holding actions accountable over no more than a month, before a further review. This is the cornerstone of “Strategic Action”

As we turn a year number up by one, (and in this case move into the ’20s) we have an opportunity to identify and build (on) these four cornerstones. To refresh our goals, our strategic aim, to analyse what that goal means, to build the plans that move us towards them, and to start the actions to make it real. Doing this now will mean that the business has a much better chance, in 2020, of having a year remembered for its successes.

To assist the analysis phase I’ve designed a Business Audit. It will guide you to focus on the areas of your business that need attention first, and for best effect. Read more about that and take your Audit here… or arrange a call with William.

I also firmly believe that one cannot do that alone, it needs the collective input and reflection, of a mastermind group, or a mentor, and an accountability partner.

Standing out.

Standing out.

Every day millions of people search for somebody to provide a service, or a product that they want. Of course they are not all looking for you, but for the ones that are, do you stand out?

Standing out in a crowded market is about marketing, and you. Your reputation matters, your testimonials and case studies, all play a part in building the trust that is necessary for somebody to decide to work with you.

Even when you stand out in a crowded market by being different you have to be recognisable, a reliable, trustworthy pair of hands; a colourful poppy in a safe sea of barley.

Being 60 and changing lives…

Being 60 and changing lives…

I’m enjoying being 60, it’s liberating in some interesting ways, and it has given me the freedom to reflect about many things. Yesterday was an interesting day that flowed from that reflection. It ended with me making committed decisions to things which will, I suspect, change the course of much that I do. I am excited by the anticipation and eager to get it done.

Firstly I kicked off a project to undertake considerably more research to verify, or otherwise, the impact of applying the thinking that I use when working with my clients. The results I get are sound, and the feedback superb, but there’s not enough quantitative data to go with the qualitative. That will add so much robustness and will help to further refine the thinking that I have been doing for the past 4 or 5 years.

Secondly, I will expand the podcasts that I have been doing with more long form conversations with people whose story helps to create better business, for them and those they work with. If that’s you and you want to share some of your story, get in touch.

Thirdly, I’m going, over the next two years, to write it down. To create a body of knowledge about the realities of running a small business. Built on the Business Clarity Model, the collaboration work, masterminds, the power of “Clarity, Strategy Implementation” and my experience of mentoring some remarkable people. It’s my legacy, and it’s so purposeful that I’m full of energy.

Finally, I gave myself a kick up the backside about my speaking, which I just play at. I need to be serious. “Build a better business” is the thrust, and I’m looking forward to that being on the road very soon.

Yesterday was a big day for me, and now the commitment is there for all to see, and here’s the reason… whilst I’d better get on and deliver it, I’m going to need your help, your wisdom, your support, you holding me to account and your insight.

Today I am with my mastermind group, I know they will support every part of this, but more than that they will keep me accountable and focus the effort into the right order. It all starts right now…

Strategy, In your business, who is going to make it real?

Strategy, In your business, who is going to make it real?

I’ve worked on strategy with owners of businesses for many years. It’s tough, sometimes very tough. When the business started, it was exciting, there are new skills to learn, and everything appeared in reach. Quickly though it is clear that whatever experience you have, it’s not enough to cover every aspect of the business. Then One day someone asks you to do something that doesn’t quite fit your vision, but the money’s good. Someone refers you to someone asking for support still further from your vision and it’s difficult to refuse. You hire people and the business grows and all looks great until one day you wake up and no longer recognise what you have, it’s not as special as it once was. Or is it?

I’ve seen that journey often. It usually leads to good businesses, successful ones, yet it can be unexciting, even demotivating. Sometimes such businesses just fail to reach their potential. Business owners that stop from time to time, who examine their businesses with a fresh eye, who act strategically end up back on track. Re-energised, excited, motivated, enjoying the work they do and whose clients, perfect for their mission, love it. Small changes rather than radical ones, strategically implemented to do business in focus and on purpose.

When it comes to strategy are you leading your market, or allowing it to lead you? Are you shaping your business by design, or is it being shaped by the markets you operate in? Are you working more hours than you want for a smaller return than you expected?

Strategy Workshop

I’ve created a workshop to take the first step to being back in control. Having the time you need, so that you are working with clients whom you know are perfect, and having them seek you out.  If you need to put more strategy into your business, then who will make it real? You, or the markets?

Join me on October 5th – Details here….

How to create certainty in six shrewd steps.

How to create certainty in six shrewd steps.

I can’t really remember a time when the political landscape was as uncertain as it is today. Most of the time politics and business mixes on long timescales, political decisions set the tax regime and the regulatory environment, and changes are discussed in advanced and implemented with reasonable timescales that allow well run, strategically operated businesses to plan for change. More than that, the best businesses will take the time to plan those changes to leverage competitive advantage and unlock sustainable profits that others miss. Many business owners don’t engage with the politics, it’s simply not relevant to the business to do so.

Today, politics and business are mixing on daily timescales. Business owners have to be aware of the possibility of major external change in relation to their strategy. Uncertainty about what is coming is greater than ever; planning is difficult and the risks of undertaking projects to be ready, for example, for leaving the single market, is that the end result may still be very different from the current sense of direction. Business strategy is always about aligning to long-term goals. External, and political, change can take you off track, so the best strategies are adaptive and know when to react to guarantee to reach the goals you set. Yet the costliest mistakes often result from being too eager to make changes only to find later that the basis of the original decision was inappropriate or redundant.

What to do in order to avoid costly mistakes?

  1. Focus on what you can control. If you have already planned a change that won’t be affected by other matters, get on with it.
  2. Concentrate on what is already working, so that you maximise the current value you are creating for your clients.
  3. Get even more clarity on your business model, so that you can be agile with changes as soon as there is greater certainty on the impacts of political change.
  4. Identify the risks of the principle outcomes of the elements you can’t control, such as political change, or competitor reaction to the business environment. Plan your mitigations and take any actions that are independent of the outcome of external matters.
  5. Learn where to find the reliable sources of data about the changes that could affect your business and watch them carefully.
  6. Identify how you will determine that you are certain enough to trigger action or conclude a decision.

Could the current political risks damage your business? How are you mitigating those risks? Have you delayed decisions that affect your ability to achieve your goals?

Why taking a position is the wrong way to negotiate a complicated agreement

Why taking a position is the wrong way to negotiate a complicated agreement

The typical negotiations that most people run across, or undertake, are based on two starting positions and finding a compromise that can be ‘lived with’ by both sides. You sell your house for slightly less than you wanted, and the buyer pays slightly more. It’s not win-win, but the lose-lose is bearable.

It’s not how you create a Good Friday agreement or a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in relation to the Sinai after the 6-day war. Positional bargaining doesn’t work when the positions are irreconcilable and compromise creates a lose so large (for both sides). One way to tell is that the rhetoric tends towards “no deal is better than a bad deal”. In NI and in Israel long and difficult positional negotiations repeatedly broke down and violence (no deal) became the default (better than a bad deal).

What has to happen if an agreement is diverse, multifaceted, interdependent (so nothing is agreed until everything is agreed) is that you start by agreeing principles not setting out positions. You have to agree what the outcomes could be, and not be attached to particular flavours provided the principle is met. Then you seek out and construct solutions to the challenges that nobody had thought of before going into the negotiations.

In the Good Friday agreement what broke the deadlock was power sharing, At the start of the negotiations, nobody was considering that. It was constructed during the negotiations as a way of addressing the principles both sides set out. Positionally it didn’t address either opening positions. In the Sinai, the issues of Egyptian ownership of the land and the need for Isreal not to feel threatened by Egypt’s military was a demilitarisation of the desert with independent verification. Isreal did not go to war to get that, but the principle of security was clearly important.

At the time of writing the UK is in the last days of an Election Campaign, nominally at least, mostly on the issue of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome of both events there are lessons for all businesses that we can draw on to improve our own negotiations. But some difficult elements are just being deliberately avoided. There’s no learning beyond the mistake of doing that, sadly.
One example is immigration. Our position is all about control of our borders, but why? What’s the principle we are trying to achieve? I don’t think we can tell beyond “control” and “fewer”, which aren’t really principles. There’s a host of ways to solve the immigration issue and some may allow a form of ‘free movement’ that meets the principles the EU wish. We aren’t even bothering to find out. That’s an example of positional negotiations and why they end in either no deal or a lose-lose compromise.

What this does demonstrate is that we often take positions because they are easier to both define and understand than principles, and in a two-party discussion serve our purposes in most cases. Positional negotiation is fine for me to negotiate the day rate on my next contract, but even there if I am clear about the principles of working with my client I tend to find we end up with unexpected, but mutually much more rewarding, outcomes than when I stick to a position.

What’s the best, unexpected, outcome you have had from a negotiation?

Why no-one (except you) really cares about your business model.

Why no-one (except you) really cares about your business model.

Every business has one, even if it’s never given any formal thought to what their ‘model’ is, but those that have can short circuit some of the common mistakes that businesses make as they grow.

A good business model can be viewed as having two sides to it, one side is about how revenue is generated, the other how the business is run efficiently.

The two sides link through the core purpose of the business, the reason you are in business. Once that is clear then:

On the revenue side must solve a problem that clients want to have solved. It’s important to know who those clients ideally are, how you reach them and what sort of relationship you want with them.
From there it’s beneficial to know two more things, the reaction you want to get, before during and after you do business with a client and the market position (perception) that they and others will have.

On the efficiency side – your products must map across to solve the problems that they have, and the key activities, resources, and collaborations you need to deliver the work must be designed with care, and be strongly aligned. All of that is possible because of your Knowledge Skill and Experience (KSE) and that is predominantly (especially for speakers) what makes us genuinely unique. Having clarity on which elements of KSE stand you out from the crowd makes it much easier to attract others who recognise that they want access to that. Finally, it’s useful for any business model to map out how others in your market approach what you do. Not to copy, nor to denigrate, just to understand how you differ and why.

Nobody cares about your business model, they care about the products and services you bring to them and the way they make them feel. Nobody, that is, except you, because the people who care about their business model most are the ones whose customers feel consistently fairly treated and valued, and who have sustainable results.

My model is built on the core purpose of uncovering insight – I love working with the owner leaders of established service businesses to uncover the insights they need to build sustainable profits and avoid costly mistakes. I use speaking to demonstrate the KSE that I have in my strategic work, for example, the links between the collaboration and risk management that make both easier and more powerful in business. Plus the skills and experience gathered in times of great personal and business change through the merger of Lloyds and TSB. I’m paid for supporting business leaders who want to change the performance of their business with a calm assurance, a confident, professional manner, that gives them back the freedom they sought when they started the business in the first place.