Whether you want to grow, to retain market share or even explore exit options, it's important that you have a good idea of what's going on in your business now.
Sometimes this can be difficult when you have more than one stakeholder, as is the case with many small independent optometry enterprises with multiple partners who are working across multiple locations.
Certainly, it is important to have different skills and ideas in business, and to build customer bases in different locations – but these need to eventually come together if you want to move forward. If your business is suffering from misalignment, it's going to be difficult to achieve the goals you've set.
Over the years, I've seen a lot of optometry businesses of this sort striving to move forward. I know a two-partner team who operate multiple clinics. Both are very fine optometrists who are working very long hours and have virtually no work-life balance. They acknowledge that they need a plan to move forward. And, they have all the information available, but they don’t have time to look at where their business is currently sitting, let alone react to it.
I can think of many other optometry partnerships, past and present, under similar pressures. A lot of issues with the business are known but unresolved because one of the most important things they don’t find time to do is come together to strategise.
At a more fundamental level this is about a misalignment of core values, the elements that form the foundation of a business’ vision, identity, culture and brand, and underpin all decision-making.
One of the first steps to moving forward is gauging the degree of alignment amongst your different partners on key issues. The idea is that once these have been laid out on the table, you'll be able to have a real discussion and eventually come to resolutions on how to move forward.
So how to measure alignment when you’re already challenged in coming together? And, for those business that don’t have their own existing board structure, getting access to independent expert advice to facilitate that process can be very difficult.
Which is where a simple diagnostic questionnaire can be useful. We’ve developed that questionnaire based on many years working alongside owner-managed SMEs and have put it into a Business Review package.
There’s a short diagnostic questionnaire and a longer one that takes around an hour will really drill down into the nitty-gritty of your business. The questionnaire will work best if each stakeholder does it independently, and from there, the key issues currently facing your business become evident – and the degree of alignment on each one.
That feeds into a diagnostic report. The areas of pressure could be anything from tax, wanting to sell, not making enough money, not getting on with your fellow partners, having no succession plan, disagreement over investments in new technology - the list goes on.
The important thing about this process isn't just getting a report, but working on a very targeted solution.
I can cite two cases of businesses that have been through this process. One was a medium-sized business operating in the IT space. They had two shareholders, one minority and the other majority, but there was serious misalignment on who their target market actually was. We used this approach to agree on a target market (in this case they decided there were more than enough consumers in New Zealand and so stopped chasing deals in Australia) and since then they've gone from strength to strength.
The other case involved a husband and wife partnership. The program helped them realise that they wanted to leave the business, so had to make sure it could still run without them. We helped them to clarify which parts of the business needed work and so their exit strategy was successful.
Ultimately, it comes It comes down to the age-old issue of too much working in the business not enough on the business - a self-replicating cycle that’s magnified when multiple partners and locations are involved.
The reality is that the solutions can be easy once the issues are diagnosed. Particularly with the wealth of digital tools we have that facilitate real-time business information and communication.
Indeed, in my next column in December I will be sharing our information on what we believe are some of the most useful Xero accounting software ‘add-ons’ in the market.
As featured in NZ Optics.