Don’t Forget to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Main thing

In the words of Brigadier General Gary E. Huffman, “The main thing to remember is, the main thing is the main thing.”

in military operations  this related to “mission creep” but it is just as apt in the world of business. Essentially, it means concentrating on your core business and not being distracted by other opportunities that end up taking resources away from your main money making activity.

If your core business is no longer profitable then naturally it may be important to consider diversification, but it may be better to refocus.

Back in 1990, Harvard academics C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel identified the need for businesses to concentrate on their “core competencies”. This means a roofer is better off sticking to roofing and not getting involved in general building, or it might not be a good idea for a security company who are known for only supplying personnel to offer equipment as well.

This idea has been taken further since the early 1990s, as large firms began to outsource parts of their business to other companies. These activities were usually those that did not generate any revenue in themselves. These included customer service call centres, delivery, and IT. As these activities consumed resources, such as management time and money, it made sense to hand these over to another company with expertise in that field.

Outsourcing leaves businesses free to concentrate on doing what they do best, and in recent years small businesses have also been able to benefit from all the advantages that it offers. These include:


  1. Freeing up time, for both managers and existing staff
  2. Keeping costs down by reducing overheads
  3. Allowing flexibility and agility in times of rapid change and uncertainty


But it is also important to remember that the right outsourcing firm is chosen. Their values need to be your values, and their vision must be aligned with yours. Attention to detail and customer service might be two of these of these values, for it’s almost certain they form part of your main thing.

Are All Your Eggs in One Basket?

Eggs in basket


Eggs come in all different sizes but pretty much the same shape. But it doesn’t really matter whether they’re from ostriches or wrens, if they’re all in one basket then you need to watch that basket.


If you’re running a business, no matter how small, you need to manage and minimise risk. You can’t eliminate it completely, of course, as all entrepreneurial activity involves risk.


You can take out insurance, but this will only protect against certain types of risk. Your terms and conditions may be cast iron but they can’t cover all eventualities. One of the biggest risks is not having a broad enough spread of customers.


It’s a tremendously exciting moment when you land your first big client but it’s important not to neglect your other clients as a result. However, it’s almost a given that once you’ve been in business for some time the Pareto Principle will begin to assert itself. The Pareto Principle is more often known as “The 80/20 Rule”, and in this context it usually means that 20 per cent of clients generate 80 per cent of your turnover.


The greatest fear will then be the loss of one of those big clients. Large clients know this, and they may try to take advantage of the fact. How then, do you reduce your exposure to this level of risk?


  1. Quantify your level of risk. How much is that big client paying you?
  2. Look after that big client, provide exceptional service, dovetail into their business, and they’ll find it difficult to leave.
  3. Never stop marketing, and aim to recruit new clients to the value of the big client as soon as possible.
  4. Do everything right. Pay attention to detail.
  5. Don’t take your eye off the ball and avoid complacency at all costs. In the words of Emil Gumbel, the German statistician, “It’s impossible that the improbable will never happen.”


But remember, that big client chose you because of what you do. Others will too.

14 Tips on What Telephone Answering Service to Use


Given that the vast bulk of the 5 million plus businesses in the UK are “small” ones, , then the number of them who have a use for a telephone answering service is significant. There could be a variety of reasons why they find it beneficial to use an answering service:

  • A roofer might not want to miss new enquiries whilst they’re out on site.
  • A solicitor will not want to be interrupted while they’re preparing a brief or in court.
  • A medical practitioner can’t be disturbed if they’re with a patient.

So if you’ve recognised the need for an answering service then it will be a good idea to think about the following:

  1. What do you need them for?
    Is it simply a case of having someone on hand to answer the phone and take messages, or do you require more complicated work to be carried out? Either way, you need to be certain that your calls will handled with professionalism at all times.
  2. Ask how long they’ve been in business.
    A good reputation takes time to acquire. So does expertise. Startups are simply unlikely to have all the resources to employ the number of staff required to operate a professional service. Those that don’t aren’t going to be around for very long. If they’ve been in business for 10 years or more then they must be keeping their customers happy.
  3. Ask for testimonials.
    These will help you sort the wheat from the chaff. A good answering service will be able to provide plenty of references and testimonials. It may also pay to ask around or do some research online.
  4. Test them out.
    At the very least, a professional telephone answering service will offer a free trial. This will allow you to gauge the quality of the service, and how many calls they might take for you.
  5. What are their response times?
    How long does it take for them to answer the phone? How did they answer the phone when you made your initial enquiry? Were you able to speak to someone about your requirements straightaway, or were they so busy it took some time for them to get back to you?
  6. Ask about accuracy.
    A common issue with call answering services is poor accuracy, with phone numbers being taken down incorrectly, and callers’ names being spelt wrong. Whilst 100 per cent accuracy can never be achieved, the agents should at least be reading back numbers and asking for unusual names to be spelt out. Familiarity with the phonetic alphabet is essential.
  7. Find a local company.
    Having some knowledge of the local area, coupled with agents speaking with the same accent as your callers will help if you want the service to be seamless.
  8. What does their website look like? Are they investing money in their shop front?
    If they’re unable to find the resources to fund an up to date website then they’re unlikely to be running a successful business.
  9. Is their technology state of the art?
    Technology has become crucial for the delivery of an efficient call answering service. Ask the provider what systems they use and how often they update them.
  10. What size are they? Too small or too big?
    A company with thousands of clients will certainly have lost the personal touch, but if they’re small with just one or two staff then their capacity won’t extend beyond handling a couple of dozen clients
  11. Treat them like your own staff.
    Ensure you brief your call answering service thoroughly, giving them as much information as you would provide to your own team.
  12. You’re investing in the future of your business.
    You may think that your calls are better handled in-house by your team, or by yourself. However, you or your team might not always be available, or you could spend your time more productively on the tasks in hand. Compare your missed call rate and potential lost business with the modest spend you’d make on telephone answering.
  13. He who buys on price buys twice.
    Beware of answering services offering out their services too cheaply. This inevitably means they have to compromise on the number of staff they employ and how much they pay them. Poorly paid staff are poorly motivated. This will be reflected in the service they provide.
  14. Is it their core business?
    There are plenty of business centres and other companies who have decided to offer or include telephone answering as a bolt on service. Most of their revenue will be derived from other sources, such as office rental. Consequently, there is no incentive for them to provide an efficient service.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs of Apple was, by most accounts, a perfectionist. When Ken Segall, an Apple consultant, failed to notice the keyboard on an iMac used in an advert was a subtly different shade of blue to the rest of computer Steve Jobs went ballistic.

You might wonder then, how Steve Jobs became CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Think of perfectionists and you might think of accountants, engineers or surveyors. They are all worthy professions but not necessarily suited to taking the helm of a business.
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Ordering Over the Internet

Ordering Online

Reassurance. Sometimes that’s all that a potential customer wants. They might have seen something they want to buy on the internet but they just want to talk it over with somebody first. Or they might already have placed an order but they want to know when it will arrive.

The personal touch maybe all that’s needed to succeed in today’s faceless world of global 24/7 online trade. To the consumer, everybody can seem the same and the unique selling point has been lost amongst a world of choice. After all, anybody can set up a website selling tools, or kitchen appliances, or racing car memorabilia, or anything else.
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Business Continuity


Fog, flood, gales, and snow. The British weather can never fail to surprise us with its sheer variety and unpredictability.

One month we can have drought and the next month it could be floods. With the strongest El Niňo event for 144 years and forecasts predicting three months of storms followed by freezing temperatures it seems we will be having another turbulent winter. If snow does fall it usually only takes an inch of the stuff for the whole country to grind to a halt. While to some snow sparks feelings of joy and guilt-free days of winter fun, to most UK business owners it’s a stark reminder of the commercial impact the elements can have.
If you or your staff can’t make it into the office, who’s providing the public face of your company to potential new clients, or taking care of your loyal and equally important existing customers?
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