Perhaps the most common theme I’ve heard in working with business owners or managers is that they rarely have time to plan for the future. They are so busy with day to day tasks and responsibilities, just getting through their weekly “To Do” list or fighting fires consumes all their time and energy, and then some.
Business owners often tell us that effective marketing strategies are not in place. Why? Because they are too busy selling. New products and services are not being developed. Why? Because they are involved in the delivery of existing products and services. Long-term planning is not addressed. Why? Because they are so busy working on this week’s “To Do” list.
The solution to these scenarios is to distinguish long term functions from short term functions. This doesn’t mean deciding which tasks you will do today and which you will do at some point in the future. It means knowing which functions make the business healthy in the short term, and which functions make the business healthy in the long term. It’s not that one is more important than the other – you have to do both well.
The inevitable reality is that short term functions always crowd out long term functions. For example, let’s say I’m in the technology business and provide both “break and fix” work as well as installation of complicated networking systems. You hire me to develop a networked system for your business, which will take some time, some thought, some development. I’m about to begin this project for you when another customer calls and says, “My computer is down and I can’t work until it’s fixed. ” Of course I rush off to handle that customer’s short-term need at the expense of my long-term project with you.
Situations like this happen every day in every business. It’s common for a business owner or manager to handle both marketing and sales for her business. You know you need to sit down and develop a marketing strategy for the next quarter, but cash flow is tight so you also know you’d better get out there and sell something. Short term versus long term again.
The single most helpful action you can take to have the greatest impact on your business is to understand long term and short term functions, then separate them. Let’s take a look at examples of both short term and long term functions:
SHORT TERM (if you do these well, your business will be healthy short term): - Accounting; - Administration (systems, procedures, policies); - Sales; - Operations; - Production; - Personnel (payroll, benefits administration).
LONG TERM FUNCTIONS (if you do these well, your business will be healthy long term): - Marketing (anticipating the market & future customer needs; innovation); - Research and Development; - Finance; - Staff development & training; - Corporate culture, teamwork.
The second step is to begin separating those functions for yourself and your employees, realigning responsibilities. Take a look at all the roles you play in your business. Do you have responsibility for both long-term and short-term functions? For example, are you handling both marketing and sales? Or handling both finance and accounting? Many business owners are spread all over the map.
Now look at the responsibility of each employee and ask the same question. Are they responsible for both short term and long term functions? I’m willing to bet that if they are, the long term functions consistently fall lower on the priority list.
The best case scenario is to have different people responsible for long and short term functions, as much as possible. Consider how to realign responsibilities so that certain employees are working primarily on long term functions and others are responsible for short term functions. You may not need to hire anyone new, simply realign who is doing what.
In many businesses with a small staff, complete separation is unrealistic. The next best scenario is to be very aware that you are wearing two different hats, and specifically allocate certain days or even hours to making sure your long term functions are given enough time and attention. For example, if you are handling both marketing and sales, you might block out two entire days each week where you do not schedule sales appointments, but you work on marketing instead. Or perhaps it works better for you to divide your days into morning for sales, afternoons for marketing. It takes discipline, and it’s worth it.
Once you have the awareness, you’ll see your business through different eyes. Separating long term and short term functions is the most effective move you can make to help you grow your business.
© 2004 Darcie Harris
Darcie Harris is co-founder of EWF International®, an Oklahoma based firm providing peer advisory boards for women business owners and executives. With 30 years experience in marketing, sales, management and entrepreneurship, she is achieving her dream by helping others achieve theirs. EWF International® franchises are available throughout the Southwest.