In our online tailoring business, teams are always having to decide whether the focus should be on short-term results or long-term development. Although you would imagine that this is a debate confined to small businesses, friends in larger businesses are having the same discussions.
Smaller companies often do not have the reserves of the bigger businesses, so they have to be more focused on short-term results simply to ensure survival. But you could argue that, as they are often run by the owners, there is an emotional interest to see the business succeed in the long term.
Whatever the reasons, it is always difficult to decide on where resource should be spent; should you be building the infrastructure for growth or should you be getting the growth? I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer. Many businesses have developed a long-term platform, and been successful, and many businesses have incrementally improved and been equally successful.
Although I can’t say what will be right in your situation, I can tell you where I believe the most common mistakes are made.
Misstep one: ‘We need a system built to do this new thing’
Firstly, your business has decided to launch something (for example, a new invoicing process). You have decided to build a system for this invoicing process. From my experience working for years in IT, this project is almost certain to be doomed. It will take significantly longer to develop, and the development will also be very frustrating. Technology is very good at systematising an existing process but creating, refining and building a process for that system all at the same time is incredibly inefficient.
The above statement should be broken down into two simple steps. First of all, do the new invoicing process manually. This will create manual work to begin with, but you can iron out any problems while it is on paper (or maybe in an existing system, like Excel). When the process has been ironed out, then it’s worth developing a system.
Misstep two: ‘Let’s do an amazing new thing to increase conversions on our website’ (and forget about what we’ve already got)’
We all want to do something amazing and new. In fact, some of the most subtle projects can have the biggest effect on your business. Before moving on to the next big thing, confirm that there aren’t any big gains to be had in what you already have. What’s the point in launching a new project online to increase awareness of your business, when the shopping cart on your website is so confusing that no-one can purchase? When you sort out the shopping cart first, you will have the biggest gain when you drive lots of business.
Misstep three: ‘We’ve finished that now’
Often a brief is given by one team and the project is completed by the IT team. In fact, the project getting put live is actually the first step. Most of the learnings will come from observing how the project is performing live.
For example, let’s say that we decided to fix the shopping cart in the above example. Now that it’s live, we should heavily observe and refine it until we are satisfied that no more obvious improvements can be made before moving on. Once we are happy that we have observed enough users on the system, it can be signed off as complete.
In summary, when you have clear objectives, and your teams work together to achieve these, while taking the time to work on what you currently have in place, you’ll set your business up for the future while still growing at the same time.