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Advice from Outside the Square

Monthly Archives: November 2014

How non-financially trained people can prepare a budget in 5 easy steps

Preparing a budget is "easy" for an accountant and small business people who have some finance training. However for many it is the stuff of voodoo. But when you break it down, there is no real mystery around the preparation of a budget, it is based on your plans and intentions, costs that you can obtain from suppliers, and some judicious making of assumptions and estimates. In truth, any non-finance executive or business owner can do it if they approach the task logically. Here are 5 basic steps to take to compile your budget. 1. Tell the story of your plan first. A budget is no more than the costing of a story. Is your story one of expansion, or of reduction? Does your story include the need for more staff or capital equipment? Is your story about opening more stores? So the first step is to provide a narrative of your operational plans for the period of the budget, usually a year. If you don't have a business plan, look at your business and ask yourself what you will do within it for the year ahead. List any new initiatives, identify any areas you either want to close or reduce in size, identify your...
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Four Steps To Simplify Your Message

Do you want to explain difficult facts to clients? Do you want to get a sales message across? The first few seconds of any interaction is critical, whether you know the other person or not. This is particularly important in any business interaction today where people's time seem so limited, people seem so aware of "that sales pitch" coming and are ready to tune off. Today's SMS and social media world seem to do nothing but ready for us to listen to tweets. If you want to put your business message across, whether it is advice, technical information or a sales pitch you need to tune yourself and your communication to that frequency which is most clear. I have found that the best way to do this is to use four simple steps in any business communication. First, meet people where they are, in order to take people to where you want them to go. If you want someone to understand your message, you need to understand what they care about. They may care about cost, or they may care about ease of use, or indeed they may care about something human like not being embarrassed. Understand their hot buttons, and acknowledge it before you go...
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Stop Micro-managing!

I had a meeting with a client yesterday. Amongst other issues we discussed the fact that even as her company grew, she had to continually look over people's shoulders, tell them not only what to do, but also how to do it in a satisfactory way. When I asked her what was a "satisfactory way" she explained that it was the way she would have done it, the way her customers had come to expect how her company would do it. She gave me an example where her version of "satisfactory" included a hand-written note to the customer the next day to see if the product met his needs and if she needed to explain any aspect of it to him. In other words quality was not a fixed value but a set of behaviours that had come to represent what the customer wanted. Only, she seemed to be the only one in the growing company who seemed to understand that, despite her experienced (and expensive) new hires. Readers will tell me this is not uncommon. When you start a small business, often you and your key team members know exactly what to do, and how to "do it satisfactorily" because you...
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Change your business model with great care!

Businesses who decide to change the way they do business need to be careful of unintended consequences. They need to think of the effects to the customer first, but also to the not so obvious stakeholder groups.
For example businesses that generate significant business through referral networks need to be careful how any changes affect their referral base and not just their customers.
In some imagined country, the leading provider of accounting software to SME's is a company called Record Your Amazing Business or Ryab. Knowing that SME's made purchasing decisions about accounting software based on their accountants' opinions, Ryab provided their software free to all public accounting firms. These firms could use multiple copies of the software on a single free license as long as they used it on their own entities - clients would have to buy their own licenses, and accountants even received commissions on these sales to clients.
This was an extremely successful referral strategy to get the product in front of the ultimate customer. In short time, accountants played with the software, found it easy to use, used it in their own companies and personal business affairs and in doing so got to understand how to use it...
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