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Why your business should be more Monsters Inc

What do fracking and Monsters Inc. have in common?

And how did my brain make that connection?  We’ll never know the answer to the second question, so let’s press on with answering the first. 

Firstly they are both related to the power industry (I only thought this one through as I was writing my first draft and felt ultra smug that I’d found two connections). 

Fracking has been in the press a lot recently, and a bit like the EU referendum, the jury is out as to whether it’s a good or bad thing.  I feel it’s a bad thing – mostly for its environmental impact (though the pro-frackers would argue against it on a number of levels). 

But the biggest issue for me is that here we are still trying to extract the last vestiges of fossil fuels from the ground with increasingly diminishing returns (if increasingly diminishing isn’t an oxymoron?). 

Why not spend the effort on producing more cost effective and efficient technology to harness renewable energy.  We’re going to run out of fossil fuels at some stage, why not get with the programme now? 

The same happened at Monsters Inc.  For anyone that hasn’t seen it (is there anyone?), it’s about a utility plant that creates energy by capturing the screams of small children via monsters appearing in their rooms at night and scaring them.  They were having problems hitting their energy quotas resulting in a power crisis as the power of the monsters to scare children diminished over time (see the parallel?). 

Thanks to Sully and the very round, bright green and one eyed Mike Wazowski and their inadvertent capture of the human child Boo, they discover that laughter actually works a lot better than fear (a lesson many businesses could learn from…Sports Direct allegedly *coughs*). Having finally defeated the owner Waternoose, the business model is changed, Monsters Inc. recovers and the power crisis is averted. 

Monsters Inc. innovated and survived, whilst I fear that fracking just serves as a distraction to much larger issues. It feels a bit like fiddling as Rome burns. 
Other companies that have failed over time are the ones we are all familiar with:

1. Kodak – failed to change from film to digital
2. Blockbuster – doggedly stuck to videos when the world was going digital
3. HMV – refused to listen to their advisers with the advent of on-line retailers, discounted supermarket sales of CDs and people wanting downloadable content 

And every year companies that don’t innovate or fail to understand their market fail.  Look at the disastrous Tidal (the Jay Z streaming service that completely mistook its own ego for a successful business model) as a most recent example. 

It’s something that small businesses need to be careful of too. You think you have a brilliant business idea. But without the research or a proper understanding of what your customers want, you run the risk of your business not succeeding.  Or you did have a brilliant business idea, but maybe its time has come and gone and you’re still clinging on to it – fax machines, fad diets and tight perms spring to mind (always tight perms actually – may they never, ever come back).

Let’s not forget that a third of companies will fail within the first five years of starting. 

Small businesses have advantages over the big companies when it comes to innovation:

1. You can change direction on a dime
You don’t have the massive bureaucracy that the larger corporations can get mired in. Thus if an idea isn’t working, it’s relatively easy to stop it and start on something else.
2. More mobile cash 
Your money is less constrained by having to feed the monster of the larger business and can be redirected more easily
3. Team approach
If you have staff, you can get them involved easily in coming up with new ideas. And as they are likely to be in touch with your customers, they can provide valuable feedback.
4. You’re much closer to your customers
You are also likely to be in touch with your customers on a daily basis so get to hear directly from them what they like and don’t like enabling you to adapt and develop products or create solutions that meet their needs much more easily. 

The way we work has changed so much over the last five years meaning it’s much easier for us to manage our businesses much more cost effectively. There are all those on-line tools that don’t cost us much to use – CRM solutions, on-line booking tools, creating websites for hundreds of pounds rather than thousands and so on.

And there are many opportunities arising off the back of these.

Look at how the virtual assistant market has grown.  Many of us can’t afford to take on full time staff, but need support on an ad hoc or part-time basis, and we can now outsource, relatively cheaply, to excellent admin support.  It’s transformed my business by having someone support me to do the tasks that were bogging me down and stopping me from working on my business. 

The important thing is not to sit on your laurels.  There’s too much competition for us to be complacent. We have to regularly find ways of being different to remain engaged with our customers and to tempt prospective customers in. 

This means:

Talking to your customers

  • Find out what they like about your service and incorporate that into your messaging.
  • Find out what they don’t like about your service and change.
  • Find out what other problems or issues they have that you may be able to create new services around.

Regularly review the market in which you operate

  • Understand the market in which you are working. It may be larger than just what you offer. HMV being a classic case of getting it wrong – they thought they were in the CD business, but they misjudged that badly – it was all about how people want to access music and film, not the method of delivery.
  • What developments are being made that you may be able to take advantage of?
  • Are there regulatory changes coming that you need to be aware of and change how you work?
  • Do those changes provide you with any opportunities?
    I love the story about a carpet cleaning business operating in a city. A bright spark identified that the larger companies would only clean carpets in homes on the first three floors of blocks of flats due to the size of their unwieldy carpet cleaning machines. Having spotted this he developed a successful business by having equipment that meant they could easily get to the higher floors and clean carpets there. Boom!
  • What are your competitors doing – are they doing it better than you. Is there anything you can copy or do better?
  • Example – Trunki – the suitcase for kids they said would never work (well the Dragon’s Den lot said it wouldn’t anyway).

Are there better ways to deliver your products and services?

  • Look at how IT delivery services can now be delivered on-line. For example I am having problems with my laptop. The IT company I spoke to, over the phone, were able to access my laptop and run diagnostic tests to identify the problems before offering me a solution, meaning they didn’t have the expense of sending someone round.
  • This could mean offering skype meetings, webinars, downloadable software or books or whatever, or on-line sales. Assuming of course, that you have identified that this is how your customers want to work with you! See point 1 – talk to your customers!
  • Examples – Hungry House – on-line food ordering service.
    or Magic Whiteboard – which I love. Rather than using paper flip charts, the business created re-usable sheets that stick to the wall using static, so they can be taken down and used multiple times. Saves having to use (and buy) a flipchart stand and there are no ugly blue tack messes on your walls. 
    What I particularly like about them is they have developed other products too rather than just sticking (if you’ll excuse the pun) to one product line.

I think it’s more difficult for service companies to innovate or to come up with whizzy new ideas. But utilising the above to make sure you can deliver the best you can for your customers and constantly reviewing the delivery and talking to your customers, it’s possible to stay one step ahead of the completion.

So – don’t sink, be like Monsters Inc!

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About the Author:

About Karen Espley, blogging for The Chameleon GuideKaren Espley of The Chameleon Guide works with ambitious small business owners on her Profit Accelerator Programme. She brings pragmatic and real world advice in a group setting to help her clients make a significant difference to their business through increasing profits and running a highly effective business.

Offering workshops and group profit programmes for companies wanting to reach their full potential.