By Maria Thimothy, sr. consultant at OneIMS who helps businesses grow by creating & capturing demand & managing & nurturing relationships.
When you work in a business that specializes in helping other businesses, one of the most important skills to have is to be able to level up your knowledge about any business quickly. Your biggest challenge is the fact that no two businesses are the same, which means that you must constantly adapt and tailor your approach to solving problems and providing advice for each new business you work with. If you are new to the business, then you can and should be working on improving your business acumen. By focusing your questions and research on a few basic areas to really understand them in-depth, you will get a much fuller picture of the business and be able to provide the best advice.
Follow The Money
Developing knowledge about a business requires a holistic approach. Only knowing what they buy or sell at a transactional level will not give you enough information to really understand how the business operates. A better approach is to follow the flow of money through the business and learn in detail exactly where it comes from and where it goes. This means understanding who is buying their product, the value of the products they sell and how sales end up profiting their business. Understanding how much of what they take in is actually profit versus how much is reinvested into development, compensation and overheads is also key to understanding how their business works. Since helping businesses often comes down to improving their bottom line, this is a fundamental area to be familiar with.
Find The People
When we want to advise businesses, we often focus on the elusive “target market” and forget that that group is made up of individuals. Businesses cannot function without people. From the managers and employees who work for them to the clients that make up their target market, businesses need people in order to be both functional and profitable. Start by understanding the structure of the business, who founded it, what their motivation was, how many people work for the business and if they have an ethos or mission statement. It is important to understand both the hierarchy of the business as well as the psychological elements of motivation and work ethic. As for the target market, you really want to get to know how the business identifies its target market and get into the mind of those who could be potential customers. Knowing who exactly you are targeting is key to helping a business sell better as well as identify new markets they may not have previously considered.
Identify The Problems
No matter how successful a business is, there will always be issues to contend with. Whether it is not being able to shift enough product to turn a profit or being unable to keep up with demand, all businesses have their own unique problems. If a client has come to you for help, chances are they are already aware of the areas in their business they would like to improve or issues they need to solve in order to pump up their bottom line. However, be warned that these may not be the only issues they face. Often times there are other areas facing challenges, but they don’t think these are relevant to mention. So, it is your job to find out as much as you can about what the biggest challenges are in their business specifically as well as the broader market at large. Understanding these as part of the holistic picture and how they relate to our first two points of profit and people will really help you give well-rounded advice.
The Bottom Line
At the heart of all good business advice is a deep understanding of how a business works. When you are new to it, constantly trying to understand new business models will pose a challenge as the learning curve is steep. However, if you keep in mind that businesses are there to make money and are made up of people, then you will never stray too far from success. Make it a priority to understand the details of how businesses are built both structurally and financially. Understanding this together with the challenges they face will give you a good overview of how the business can be helped and what you can do to provide the best service for them.