A new focus

Which is better?

Eight years of sloppy success, six months of a pretend recession and the myth of dot-coms providing value, or real people with real money selling real things to real customers with real problems really soon.

Which is better?

If you’re in business, of course your goal is to sell real products or services for real money to real clients.

I have been saying for years that business owners must understand and exploit the best and highest use of themselves and their employees. However, it appears that over the past few years, many business owners and managers have avoided focusing on that within their own businesses.

Instead, they have focused on delivering whatever their target markets have demanded. Now, as demand for almost everything has shrunk, providers are scrambling to deliver only on what they do best.

Sept. 11 has turned out to be a wake-up call to focus businesses. Many of us are recognizing that 9-11 was not the only day we were blinded by technology and missed obvious signals that something was dreadfully wrong.

So what is happening in business right now?

The turnaround business is doing poorly because banks are telling companies to solve their own problems and not letting them off the hook by allowing them to file bankruptcy.

Cleveland is suffering because it is lacking a clear focus. Industry in Cleveland, and most service providers that support industry, are not focused on what they do.

There is good news. There is a groundswell around the idea of refocusing, bubbling up. Although the ostriches are still burying their heads, many are focusing now on what they do well and like doing.

In addition,there is a focus on what is real and fundamental. People are going back to the basics. Here’s what that means for your business.

Make sure you understand your customers and your competition.

The economic downturn? Ninety percent of those in business today were not yet 21 years old when the last real downturn hit between 1981 and 1985. That means a majority of those in business have no experience in taking market share and growing it at the expense of competition.

The can be done two ways:

* Externally. This is a high-risk option. In this case, a business will rely on outsiders such as venture capitalists and roll-ups to do the work. Unfortunately, this rarely creates any real value.

* Internally. This approach is less risky and oftentimes better. And, when you focus to grow internally, only two things matter when dealing with customers — trust and relationships.

Trust and relationships are key, and after Sept. 11, most people have a new appreciation for both.

Andy Birol ([email protected]) is president of PACER Associates, Inc., a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or at www.pacerassociates.com.