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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Payne

"It's the economy, stupid..."

...became adopted in American political culture as an accepted public frame of reference after it was accidentally created in Bill Clinton's successful 1992 Presidential campaign. It feels and looks quite confrontational in the UK, but it was the equivalent of Homer Simpson's "Doh", a more benign use of the word stupid that referred more to the fact that the obvious was in fact staring them in the face during an internal brainstorming meeting. It ultimately won them the election, so it became a mainstream reference to looking for and sticking to what is obviously going to work, and what mattered the most.

For Clinton and his team, it was trying to understand how to beat an incumbent President in George W Bush fresh from victory in the Gulf war, with sky high approval ratings. As recession approached the US, wars were quickly forgotten, and all Americans cared about was how much money they had in their pockets. It’s the economy stupid...In the end that's what it always boils down to in electioneering, something Mrs May failed to remember when she called the snap 2017 General Election and failed to mention the economy once in her campaign in spite of it being a relative success story for the Tories since the recession of 2008. Don't over complicate it.

Homer's "Doh" for many property businesses, many small businesses in general is process, yet so many have none, or have some, but lack discipline or focus. "It's process stupid", as Bill Clinton may have said, asked what the secret for would be making a business more efficient and profitable not only in challenging times like we face now, but when times are good.

In business, Michael Gerber's E-myth is touted as one of the, if not the best book for business ever written, yet so many businesses know nothing about it, or more importantly the principles within it. A simple summary is as follows. Brilliant people come up with ideas. A framework creates a thriving business from great ideas, and those brilliant people try and break the framework, looking how they can make it better. He encourages people to look at their business as a franchise, and often quotes Ray Kroc, who turned 6 restaurants of the McDonalds brothers into the largest fast food business in the world. He had a great idea and wanted to grow a massive successful business, where he could rely on the customer getting the same experience in any restaurant they walked into, whether New York, Paris or London.

How? Simple to say at least. With a framework, a process. Every single variable parameter in the business had a process from the dress uniform, to customer greetings, to how long to toast the buns, to how thick to slice the gherkins. No stone was left unturned, no compromises were tolerated. These processes were then constantly trained into the business, tested, broken, refined, retrained, retested, rebroken, striving for improvement each time. Some call that process the theory of marginal gains, often developed in high performance sport like cycling, or Formula 1. Look for minute improvements, which alone almost look like a waste of time implementing, but improve 100 things by 1%, and you get a 100% improvement.

In small business, founders, owners, directors often think the businesses success hinges on how brilliant or skilful they or their people are, how entrepreneurial they are in their daily activities, but that does not make the customer the centre of their attentions, and it does not provide for consistency or continuity in service, standards or compliance. What happens when the brilliant people have a day off or an off day? What happens if the brilliant people all go and be brilliant in another business? In fact, it is not about doing a few things brilliantly, and the rest randomly, it is about doing all things to a reasonably competent standard that makes a business thrive. Ray Kroc never claimed or set out to make the tastiest burger the world had ever seen (perhaps in the 1 in 10 times you visited if the brilliant burger maker was on shift that day), but instead he wanted to make sure that whenever you went to McDonalds you had a pretty tasty burger, and could always rely on that being your experience every time you went in irrespective as to who was behind the counter.

Every business should have a process for everything, for their people to understand how to execute a service or deliver a product down to smallest detail, especially now in a digital age where so much is automated, instant, expected quickly, on demand 24/7 and still to the highest standards. Training should be a regular feature, so the staff buy into the vision, so they understand what their part is, what the customer should be receiving, what improvements can be made to improve quality and consistency. Processes should evolve and constantly keep up with trends, innovation, enterprise, commercial realities, and never stand still.

It doesn't matter whether you sell houses, pies, legal advice, widgets, clothes or any other product or service. Surely your ambition is that whatever product or service your business claims to offer, you want it to be of at least the standard you claim, higher if possible, and to be the same standard for the next customer, and the next, and when they all hopefully come back for a second and third time. Almost every day, I see signs where that doesn’t happen, where a mixture of poor, average or exceptional people are operating in a business but clearly aren’t following a process, or they are but it was 3 months ago they last read it or got some training, or they don’t really believe in it or understand it, so they have made their own tweaks, or god forbid, today they are just going to rely on being brilliant. Don't get me wrong we all want great people doing fantastic things in business, as business owners and as customers, but they have to operate for the greater good of the whole business and the customer within parameters.

Test it yourself, the next time you order something online, buy a coffee, walk into a local shop, drop off your dry cleaning, I do it everywhere I go, every time I have interaction with a business, and not to just to find fault, quite the opposite, to find excellence. Watch how you and other people are treated, can you spot process, ask questions about "what if..." which is often a good way to test. The spectrum is wide and varied, and yes there are some real horror shows out there, winging it, on the hoof, but there are some amazing small businesses I find, ones where I can learn from them, use that thing they did myself, but sadly they are fewer in number.

Quite often it's not the shiny offices, shops or restaurants with the marketing budget and the fancy signage, places where you might expect to see it, but the places where their focus is entirely on the customer and the bells and whistles may follow in time. When I find them, I am always quick to offer my positive feedback that I am a customer who is genuinely very pleased with my experience, got more than they expected, and look forward to coming back to use that business, to eat that pretty tasty burger, again and again.

Focus on executing all the basics reasonably well, all of the time, and your business will stand head and shoulders above a good many of your competitors. Design your machine that will get you there.


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