No, your business is NOT that different

13 08 2011

You’d be amazed how many business owners tell me “look, my business is really different and nobody can help me because nobody else understands what I do and how I do it.”

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Let’s agree on the front end that a business owner has a unique insight into operations and the idiosyncrasies of his people, customers and processes.  That’s not always true, of course, but most of the time the owner knows a lot about the business.

But no matter how unique the market niche, the product offering, or the operating processes, my experience has been that underneath that thin veneer of novelty, most businesses really are the same.  Think about it –name a business that doesn’t have inventory.  Sure, the inventory can take lots of different forms.  For manufacturers it’s raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods.  For retailers it’s product.  For a service firm it’s the quantum of time available from their people resources.  Every business has inventory, and every business must deal with the challenges of managing it.  Every business has customers, and must market, sell and service those customers.  All businesses must manage their employees and control their finances.  The list of common challenges is a very, very long one.

Why does this matter?  It matters because there’s a big world of operational best-practices out there, and with a little creative thinking just about all of them can apply to just about any business.  A manufacturer wants its vendors to deliver raw materials just-in-time.  This lets the manufacturer minimize its inventory investment.  The same concepts drive the consultant’s desire to maintain networks of delivery partners that can be called on to handle specific projects as needed instead of hiring personnel to handle every conceivable consulting opportunity.  Extraordinarily different business models, but the same conceptual solution reduces costs for both.  Businesses are much like people.  They might look different on the surface, but underneath the skin they’re very much the same.

I can’t think of a business that is so unique that it can’t leverage operational best practices from a variety of industries.  While it’s important to differentiate your business from your competitors, don’t neglect spending time thinking about how your business is the same as others.  Once you do that, you open up a world of opportunities to improve your business without reinventing wheels.

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