Why Reducing Stress Stabilises Your Profits

As a small business consultant, I see the impact that stress has on people’s lives up close. Many times it is a good thing as it forces the business owner to adapt and excel so that his business thrives. Excelling, however, is contingent on the business owner knowing how to harness small doses of stress and manage its effects.

Unfortunately, for far too many people stress both consumes them and paralyses their decision-making abilities so that their health deteriorates and their business suffers as their short-term profits evaporate.

Elevated stress levels over time can lead to myriad health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, sleep problems, and headaches. Work relationships with employees, clients, and suppliers can also suffer as unmanaged stress can cause the owner to make more mistakes, become irritable, lack focus, and perhaps even resort to medications to lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Unmanaged stress can impact profits. The American Institute of Stress in 2014 estimated that around $300 billion is lost each year in America due to stress related absenteeism and health costs. While in the UK, the Labour Force Survey found that 11.7 million days were lost in 2015/16 due to stress.

As an owner’s ability to perform suffers due to stress, the management of the business can deteriorate. Client work will not get the attention that it deserves, staff will leave to find a less volatile work environment, and competitors will start to gain an edge. Diminishing business performance will undoubtedly cause the owner to become even more stressed, leading to further poor decision making. It will only be a matter of time before the overall business declines because its foundation, the owner, is unstable.

So, what is the small business owner to do?

  1. Remember to keep things in perspective. While the success or failure of your business endeavours are largely dependent on your efforts, there are many things outside your control, such as the economy, regulatory change, and political decisions.
  2. Focus your efforts on the task at hand. Evidence suggests that multi-tasking does not work. It only leads to ineffectiveness and inefficiencies. Just think how dangerous it is to text and drive at the same time; it is illegal, not just inadvisable, as you are repeatedly shifting your focus from the road to the phone. You cannot do multiple tasks at once and expect to do them all at the same high level of performance. Constantly switching your focus as you move between tasks drains your mental reserves.
  3. Schedule your activities to achieve control over your day. There is a reason why militaries and schools are highly regimented, and that is because routine is the best way to achieve results. If you want to have less stress, you need to have more planning, which should encourage you to schedule your activities, track the time taken to complete these activities and then follow up on them to see how it could be done better in the future.
  4. Document processes and repetitive tasks, whether they are back office or client facing. Thanks to technological advancements, this is now very cost effective with companies like Process Street or SweetProcess specialising in standardising operating procedures. Every successful business is bigger than any staff member, even the owner. Therefore, by documenting work process and key areas of organisational knowledge this will allow a new person to step in and with minimal training pick up where the last person left off. If everything is in the owner’s head, or in the heads of employees, you are putting your business in a very precarious position.

As you can see, having high levels of stress for indefinite periods of time and having no way to manage this will have a negative effect on your health and overall business performance. Managing stress is vastly more important than chasing profits because most small businesses are an extension of their owner and an owner can’t just take six months off on stress leave and have other people cover for him. A healthy owner equals a healthy business and a higher chance of converting profiits into a long term sustainable future.

Benard Chedid is a small business consultant based in Sydney, Australia. His aim is to help small businesses professionalise by filling in the missing gaps that are holding them back, whether marketing or administration, sales or bookkeeping.

Image: Flickr

5 Reasons It’s Okay To Say “No”

  1. If you are using your talents in a way that interests you for the benefit of other people, then that’s a good thing. Charities, non-profits and religions may come to you for aid, but it’s valid to refuse if your gifts to them would detract from the good work you are already doing
  2. Giving more than you can manage can create an imbalance in your relationships with other people, which can damage or destroy those relationships when you discover that they do not reciprocate to the same extent
  3. Saying “no” marks a boundary beyond which you are not willing or able to go right now, which helps to demonstrate your independence and enhance your identity
  4. It makes sense to put your own Oxygen mask on first. Helping other people when your own affairs are not in order can cause harm to you or harm to other people who may need to step in and rescue you
  5. One of the three necessary ingredients of a have strong personal, professional or corporate strategy is “focus”. Steve Jobs once said that “[p]eople think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Porter’s Generic Strategies

Three strategies to achieve above-average performance: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus

Porter's Generic Strategies

(Source: Flickr)

In order to understand Porter’s Generic Strategies, it is helpful to take a step back and examine the two things which determine a firm’s profitability in the long run.

The first is industry attractiveness, which is determined in any industry by the five competitive forces: the threat of entry by new competitors, the threat of substitutes, the bargaining power of buyers, the bargaining power of suppliers, and the rivalry among existing firms.

Five Forces

Figure 1: Porter’s Five Competitive Forces that Determine Industry Profitability

It is the collective strength of these five forces that determine whether firms in an industry will be able to earn attractive rates of return. In industries where the five forces are favourable, such as the soft drink industry, many competitors have earned attractive returns for many decades. However, where one or more of the forces exerts strong pressure on industry profitability, such as in the airline industry, few firms ever do well for very long.

Understanding industry structure, as determined by the five forces, will inform a firm’s decision to enter or exit an industry, and will also be a key consideration for industry leaders who have the ability to mould industry structure for better or for worse. For example, Coca-Cola is a leader in the soft drink industry and could, if it wanted to, encourage the production and sale of generic unbranded soft drinks. Even if this would increase Coca-Cola’s profits in the short run, it would also threaten the industry structure. Generic cola may increase the price sensitivity of buyers, lead to aggressive price competition, and lower barriers to entry by enabling new competitors to enter the market without a large advertising budget.

In addition to industry attractiveness, the second thing which determines a firm’s profitability in the long run (and this is where Porter’s Generic Strategies comes in) is a firm’s relative position within the industry. That is, can a firm position itself to achieve above average performance within its industry? Or put differently, is it possible for a firm to establish and maintain a competitive advantage?

In his 1985 book Competitive Advantage, Michael Porter explains that there are two basic sources of competitive advantage that a firm can possess: cost leadership and differentiation. A firm can also narrow the scope of its activities to compete in niche segments of the market, and so there are three generic strategies that a firm can adopt to achieve above-average performance: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus.

Porter's Generic Strategies

Figure 2: Three Generic Strategies

Porter’s generic strategies are based on the idea that in order to achieve a competitive advantage a firm needs to make hard choices. Trying to be all things to all people will put a firm on the fast track to mediocrity, and so a firm needs to decide what kind of competitive advantage to pursue and which market segments it should target.

Cost Leadership

As the name suggests, a firm that pursues cost leadership aims to be the low cost producer in its industry. While the strategy involves a primary focus on cost reduction, the cost leader will still need to produce comparable products in order to maintain prices. If a firm can sustain cost leadership while at the same time charging prices at or near the industry average, then this strategy can allow a firm to achieve above average performance.

One danger of the cost leadership strategy is that if there is more than one aspiring cost leader then this can lead to intense competitive rivalry and ultimately destroy industry profitability. If a firm wants to be the cost leader, then its best bet is to get in first in order to deter the competition.

Differentiation

Differentiation is a strategy in which a firm sets out to provide unique value to buyers. This may be achieved in various ways including producing products with unique features, serving buyers through new or different distribution channels, or by creating perceived differences in the buyer’s mind through clever marketing.

If a firm is able to charge a price premium that exceeds the cost of sustaining its uniqueness, then the firm will be able to achieve above average returns. While the strategy involves a primary focus on “being different” the differentiator still needs to manage costs, and will want to reduce costs in any area that does not contribute to differentiation.

Focus

The focus strategy involves narrowing the scope of competition in order to serve certain niche segments within the overall market. By serving these target segments well, the focuser may be able to achieve a competitive advantage in its niche even though it does not enjoy a competitive advantage in the market overall.

Stuck in the Middle

So there you have it, three generic strategies for achieving above average performance: cost leadership, differentiation and focus.

Be warned though, a firm that dabbles in each of these strategies while failing to successfully pursue any of them faces the risk of becoming “stuck in the middle” and being perpetually outperformed by the cost leader, the differentiators and the focusers.

[For more information on consulting concepts and frameworks, please download “The Little Blue Consulting Handbook“.]

3 Steps for Greater Focus

Accept what you have, visualise what you want, and orient yourself in the right direction

DO you ever feel like ‘success’ eludes you? Like you should be achieving more? Like you’re not making progress with your studies, career, or business?

There are 3 steps you can use to achieve greater focus:

  1. Acceptance: understand where you are now. What are your skills, talents, tools, and resources?
  2. Vision: be crystal clear about what you want. Visualise the future and create a plan for getting there. Find people who have already achieved your goal, or who are further along the path to success. Your journey will be much easier if you can find people who are willing and able to help you navigate the path.
  3. Orientation: ensure you are making progress and heading in the right direction. Consider your lifestyle, friends, habits, and personal priorities. Orient your life so that it is aligned with your goals for the future.