Systems, again — three thoughts on what works (or not) in business, and why.

Pareto principle or eighty-twenty rule represented on isolated vintage wood letterpress printing blocks
planning meeting
At the annual planning meeting: No earth-shaking inspiration, but plenty of shared ideas.

If you read business management books, you’ll be reminded about systems. Set up a replicable process, ideally using scientific models, and you’ll have a baseline for success and growth. As well, of course, check your systems to make sure you aren’t doing wasteful and counter-productive things by habit, which have lost meaning or value, and should be discarded.

Fair enough. But can we boil these concepts down to three simple rules (for sales and marketing) that anyone can implement with a bit of thought? ?I think so. So here are my three “systems advice” concepts for you to consider as the weekend approaches.

Remember the?80/20 Pareto principle, and focus at least once a week (or if you prefer a more leisurely pace) once a month on augmenting the 20 per cent that is helpful to your business, and the 20 per cent that is harmful.

Based on my ongoing survey data, I can tell you that you will almost certainly achieve more than 70 per cent of your business from repeat and referral clients. So it makes sense to do anything you can to enhance these business sources — remember a 10 per cent improvement in repeat/referral business would generate an instant seven per cent gain in net sales. Since repeat/referral leads generally cost the least to acquire, that means a really major boost to your bottom line, right away. (And you could fund extra incentives, such as an organized thank-you event or special referral gifts, if legally possible, by cutting one or another of your time and money-wasting activities.)

Meetings are important. Too many (or two few) meetings are counter-productive.

I’ve tried to work out an ideal mandatory meeting/staff ratio, and conclude that you should spend about ?5 per cent of your working time in organized internal meetings, including major annual (or semi-annual or quarterly, perhaps) get-togethers, coupled with more substantive weekly sessions and very brief daily huddles. ?If you have fewer than this number, your organization will begin breaking down into anarchy and you’ll spend far more time putting out fires and solving communications missteps than you would have by getting everyone together for a meeting. Too many meetings, and you’ll spend far too much?of your time-wasting time.

Now, even with this system and guidelines, I’ve discovered some meetings are more productive than others. There are days/weeks when there really isn’t much pressing or urgent to discuss, and so things run on autopilot. But if you keep the meeting time short, this “waste” doesn’t cost that much, and it keeps things on track for when you have serious issues to discuss/resolve/communicate.

Purpose counts. It really does. But I’m not sure how religious you can get about business.

There are many marketing/business advice books discussing the importance of purpose, meaning, and mission. ?I get it. You need to have a reason for your work and inevitably you need to deliver some real value to your clients, or there won’t be a business. However, ideals aside, I scratch my head for example about the “value” behind vacation interval/timeshare deals where prices are so badly over-inflated by the sales process, the value of the deal is purely in your fantasy mind if you pay for it. Yet this is still a valid business (and presumably enough people find value in the process that they pay top dollar for the service.)

In some ways, I respect/admire the AEC business, because you almost inevitably must deliver products and services that are tangible and useful to earn your way. Buildings and civil works need to be designed and constructed properly at competitive prices — and designers and engineers need to create projects that are both functional and appealing.

Publishers and advertising supported ?media, like my business, on the other hand, deliver our best content and value mostly for free (editorial), and charge hefty prices for advertising, which works some of the time but not always. I created this blog and other resources to redress the imbalance, figuring that if the advertisements aren’t always effective, some solid and time-tuned marketing advice would almost always result in real value to our clients. However, there is (despite internal marketing) a disconnect: ?Third party readers read my books, and this blog, and sometimes send me money for advice — but the advertisers who need the advice the most continue buying the ads, without much thought about why they are spending their money.

In other words, you can set lofty goals, try to do the best, and things don’t quite work out logically all the time. But (and I know this sounds contradictory), if you don’t have higher goals you will probably flounder and fail, even though it is hard to figure out correlating reasons.

There — three concepts, to summarize:?Constantly keep your priorities in focus, have a systematized meeting system, and remember that while it is good (and in fact essential) to do good, there may not be an obvious correlation with business success.

I welcome your thoughts and observations. You can comment below or email

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