Five pieces of business advice that rarely work in practice

SmartCompany, May 22, 2017

Plenty of people will give you advice on how to run a business. There’s no shortage of them. There are coaches, mentors and strategists galore. All sorts of people willing to offer you the one true way to business success.

But once your advisers have packed up their butchers’ paper, peeled off their post-it notes and shut down their slide decks, it’s back to work. This is where reality kicks back in, as you head back to your desk and find the same old problems facing you.  Between the consultant’s good ideas and the business owner’s reality, falls the shadow.

That shadow is set to be illuminated at an upcoming event for Vivid Ideas: Best Practice, Schmactice: What creative business owners can do when the text book fails. This one’s for business owners who have heard enough about what they’re supposed to do, and found it impossible to actually put in place.

Here are five examples of business advice that is easy to spout, but not so easy to actually do.

  1. You need to write a business plan. Do you? Why exactly? Is it really worthwhile paying a consultant to write you a detailed 30-page plan so that it can sit in your top drawer?

Two things are often forgotten about business plans. For them to be effective they need a clear purpose. And to achieve that purpose, they need to be targeted to a distinct audience. Need a business plan to attract an investor? Fine – the purpose and audience is clear.

As for the everyday running of your business, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of time and money writing a plan. Don’t get me wrong – planning for your business is essential. Writing a big ol’ document that no-one will read? Maybe not.

  1. You should rebrand your business to increase sales. Marketing agencies love a rebrand. Or a brand refresh. Or a new logo. Or a new website. And often, it’s a great idea. It can give your business a new spring in its step and attract attention.

Does it actually increase sales? Only if it’s backed up by a rigorous sales regime. And that’s about the hard slog of communicating with people who might be convinced to become customers. A new website may help, but it doesn’t actually pick up the phone and make a meeting with a prospect. Marketing and sales: different things.

  1. Work on developing a brilliant workplace culture and you’ll increase staff retention. Well, maybe. Developing a cooperative and pleasant workplace culture, one that respects flexible ways of working and embraces cooperation, is de rigeur. Everyone seems to be doing it, and that’s great … but that presents a problem for staff retention.

If every company has a great workplace culture, then it stops being a differentiator for candidates. It becomes just one more factor for an employee to weigh up, no more important than salary levels, location or career prospects.

In practice, you can’t rely on workplace culture alone – all the other factors are just as important. And there’s no substitute for making your staff feel valued and well rewarded. No amount of mufti days and free massages will replace that.

  1. You should position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Easier said than done. The theory behind this one is sound: increase your profile, get people interested in what you have to say and thus increase your brand value. You can then charge above the market rate for your services, because you’ve become a premium brand.

Trouble is this means creating content. Lots of compelling content, regularly and consistently. It means seeking out self-promotion opportunities and that’s not for everyone. And you can do all that, spending a lot of time and energy …  and it might not work. Some people can manage it, some can’t, often for no discernible reason either way.

Striving to be a thought leader may well work for you, but you have to be aware of how much time, money and resources you’re going to invest to get there. Your time might be better spent delivering an excellent product to your customers and bringing in more of them.

  1. There’s one sure-fire way to business success and this is it. There’s a process. Or a manifesto. Or a way of thinking. Or a pricing strategy. Look, it’s all set out in this book. Drop whatever else you’re doing and do this thing. It’s the bomb!

Practically speaking, it rarely works that way. Some strategies work for some people, others don’t. There’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Slow incremental improvement by trying a range of different strategies is much more the norm for small business – and much more likely to last into the long term.

By David Sharpe, director of business advisory at Generate. A version of this article was originally posted on their Better Business blog.