"Thoreau has a wonderful line about watching farmers walk down the Concord roads carrying their farms on their backs," says Jim Howard. "I see business owners carrying the same kind of burdens today when they've lost control.
"It's very common to find an owner who feels he's operating in a hostile environment. His employees are stealing from him, his suppliers are overcharging him, and he'e working incredible hours just to survive," Howard adds. "If you look more closely at this kind of business, you'll find other signs of his loss of control. Costs will probably by out of control, and the owner doesn't know it because he doesn't pay attention to financial matters. The premises will probably be dirty; the inventory will be a mess. The owner will often be cheating on his taxes and hostile about playing the game according to the same rules as everyone else."
An owner who's in control, says Howard, tends to operate in a very different way. Some of the techniques Howard recommends include the following:
1. BE AN INFORMATION COLLECTOR. "The essence of any marketplace is that it's in a continual state of flux," Howard says. "You can either jump in and dominate it, or be a passive victim. In order to flow with the flux, you need information. You have to have the demographics of your market and be able to define your business concept in terms of the need in the marketplace. You have to analyze the competition; defining your share of the market today and in the future; position what you sell, either in terms of price, or quality, or service; and define the unique selling proposition of your business."
2. KNOW YOUR OWN STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES. The owners of small companies, Howard points out, "tend to spend their time on the things they do well and get in trouble because they neglect the things they don't to well." When he was running his public relations firm, Howard created a self-evaluation checklist that he has since updated and offers to his brokerage customers. On a scale of 1 to 10, this "Good Management Scorecard" touches on such skills as record keeping, planning, marketing, budgeting, company appearance, employee and business relationships, goal-setting, and problem-solving. An owner, says Howard, should track his own performance in these areas constantly and take steps to remedy his own shortcomings.
"But having a fixation on failure is itself of shortcoming," Howard adds. "It makes sense to build a business around something you do well."
3. BUILD AN ELITE, EXPERIENCED STAFF. "I worked a long time on that word 'elite," says Howard. "I separate the world into true achievers and everyone else. The first bunch are the only kind I really feel conforable about. And I realized, finally, that these people also need to feel elite."
Howard points out that in any reasonably large organization, the owner can exiercise control only through the people who work for him. One of his own key qualifications for hiring employees for CBS -- which currently has 28 employees in five offices -- is respect for the kind of management systems Howard advocates.
4. WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. On a shelf behind Howard's desk is a row of notebooks he has filled with office procedures, business plans, manuals, and marketing ideas. His screening procedure for new business buyers is equally detailed: page after page of questions about goals, skills, financial resources, and even word associations. "We make people write down the silliest things," Howard concedes, "but it all helps define the business and the goals of the owner. When you write things down, you begin to see how everything connects."