Growing a business means balancing supply and demand, yin and yang. It’s one of the tough things that you learn as you develop. It’s no good focusing everything on sales if all you do is generate a lot of orders you can’t deliver. Building your brand value depends on consistency of delivery so it’s important that your systems keep pace.
Most of us have little idea when we start out of what this means. We think that we will grow organically, a little bit here and a little bit there and over time we will be able to build something substantial by following up the growth with the systems.
Alas it doesn’t seem to work like that. You need to always manage to keep that bit in reserve, even while you are designing elegant lean systems that let your customers get easily at what you have to offer.
To some extent it depends on what you’re doing. If you are simply working as a one man band and plying your trade you can easily manage quite well with a laptop and a broadband connection. Even if you are working as part of a gang the same is largely true. Most of the systems you need are available on a pay as you go basis and can be hosted externally.
However if you are planning to build a company that delivers tangible value and needs a physical presence, then you are going to need an internal system and well defined processes. It might even look as complicated as this.
This attempts to show how orders and delivery go hand in hand and how people and funding processes need to develop in parallel to sustain the expansion of the business.
The IT system becomes the nervous system of the business, allowing monitoring and balancing of supply and demand by building up layers of server/office products /network and email. These underpin
· mobile and flexible working,
· operational and financial software,
· the customer database
· web activity.
The different components of this might be pictured like this
Your task is to identify which of these areas are important to you and make sure that you work through the steps needed to bring your staff along with you. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve turned up to install a CAD system to be met with “What new system’s that then?” And people wonder why they don’t get productivity from their IT.
Success is all about synthesising people skills with systems vision and capacity. Left and right Brain skills in other words.
In our own business we’ve always tried to develop the 2 sides in parallel.
Our unfair advantage as growers and internet traders is that we have 25 years’ experience of writing and implementing manufacturing software. It sounds daft to say it but actually Plants4Presents is a just-in-time manufacturing operation that happens to use a live plant as part of the product. We started fulfilling because the majority of the nursery industry cannot manage the idea that an order comes in the morning and is shipped that afternoon. In extreme cases up to 10 minutes before the courier goes.
At peak times, the operation needs to be planned carefully. For Mother’s day this year we had to ship 862 plants in a day. This required us to set up 2 production lines again with 3 extra casual workers. The only way that we managed this is by building on previous experience and by engaging everyone’s intelligence in setting it up. You cannot dictate to members of a tight team and expect to get the results. All you can do is explain what has to be done and provide the framework.