Growing a business? Quality comes first

With the constraints of resources and the pressure of delivering rapidly as a competitive differentiator, small to medium enterprises can be tempted to compromise on quality.

May 24, 2011

It’s a Catch 22 which Immo Böhm, MD of enterprise resource planning software specialist Afresh Consult, says must be avoided in the interests of long-term viability. He explains.

“A small but growing business will soon find itself in a position where it has more work than it has capacity. Turning work away is not an option; often, hiring more people is similarly unworkable.  So, do you tell your customers to wait, or do you rush your job?” he asks.

Quality, he says, is often the casualty in such scenarios. “Customer acquisition is one of the key challenges faced by any business. And it is a challenge most pronounced for new business owners. However, if your marketing is done right, it can have an unintended and deleterious effect: too many customers too soon.”

No business owner likes to turn away customers, especially not after the efforts which go into acquisition in the first instance. “With a deluge of business, the temptation is to ship hastily processed product and meet demand or sign up more customers than you can handle. That means knowingly sacrificing product and service quality and potentially failing to fulfil the expectations of those new customers,” says Böhm. That may scupper the chances of repeat business and the sustainability associated with it.

Dealing with this challenge is not easy, Böhm agrees. “Indeed, to my mind, a dichotomy emerges which may be the single reason why so many small businesses fail. They either fail to satisfy customers because quality suffers, or they fail to grow through an excessive focus on quality which precludes expansion.”

But deal with it the small business must, he stresses. “To put it bluntly, prosperity depends on quality. Markets today are incredibly competitive; without quality, your business will not survive in the long-term. Your customers have to love what you do or they will go elsewhere.”

As a business grows and more customers come on board, the savvy business owner will look for tools which support productivity and automate where possible. That allows for the ability to focus attention to where it is best needed. “The more business you take on, the less time you have to communicate personally with each customer. You have less time to respond immediately to their wishes, because other customers have already booked your time or filled your order book to capacity. You have sleepless nights because you don’t know how to keep all your customers happy, while at the same time taking care of your books, your staff, your family, your growing business,” says Böhm.

The critical shift comes in spending more time working ON your business, rather than IN it. “It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more time you spend implementing and building systems, processes and a team, the more customers your business will be able to serve. Document everything you do and how it is done,” he exhorts.

Understand that specialist support may be necessary – in marketing, in finance, in human resources. “Doing it all yourself may be the way that a business gets off the ground, but it is not the way that a business grows beyond its status as a small organization,” Böhm observes; and with systems in place, it becomes feasible to identify where expertise is required and to hire and train staff in support of the growing business.

A key part of this process is the choice and implementation of proper business software which transcends the capabilities of the spreadsheet and the word processor. “The right software is absolutely essential to automate, boost productivity and take your focus away from mundane, repetitive tasks which are done far better by computers,” he says. “But don’t just implement it; learn how to use it to full extent. Then you will have more time to work on your business – and more time to ensure that your quality always comes first.”