Kendall Asks Questions To Sharpen Business Focus

Tough questions to help your business succeed by sharpening its focus.

Lynne Kendall from the Small Business Development Center blew away attenders at the June Family Business Center gathering by throwing out dozens of provocative questions business owners should ask themselves; the answers will have a major impact on planning, profitability, cash flow, and a host of other areas.

For Kendall, "business planning is ongoing … Know where you are now, where you want to go, and continually check that you are making progress toward your end goal. The answers are less important than the process. You want to start asking questions. Environments change. Your business changes day to day, by customers, competitors, external factors. What doesn't change is your process of how to shift to those changes. That's asking the questions."

Here are some of the highlights; borrow the video if you want the full list.

Overall Direction
What are the distinct competencies of your business—what does your business do well now?
What critical things has your business done to survive?
What were the key actions or events that led to the founding of your business?
Which of your business's distinct competencies will persist for the next several years, and which will not?
Can you supporting growth: systems, infrastructure, human capital, cash flow, increased production, inventory, leadership, and people skills?
How will you move toward or sustain your growth curve?

Differentiation/Product Development
What do you offer customers that is clearly better than your competitors?
How can we link this difference to what your customers want?
What key customer or client wants do you satisfy?
What other products or services seem to satisfy the same wants?
How large is the market for your product or service?
How many current and potential clients/customers exist?
Is the demand growing, stable, or declining?
Is a significant customer want NOT being satisfied by your existing product or service?
(These are your growth opportunities!)
What voids or inefficiencies exist in the product, market, or distribution systems?
What features are essential to your product 's or service's success?

Have you included direct and indirect costs, overhead, taxes, demand?
Do you know what the market will bear?
To what degree are customers or clients sensitive to pricing?
What is the relationship between the price and the value to the customer?
If you give better service, how can you charge the same as your competitors?
"See what the market will bear. Find out everything you need to know about your market and competitors. If you are truly in a price-sensitive market and you cannot raise your price, look at what costs you can cut. You want to know how to keep your profit margins
"My client who charges $60 has to do a lot more clients than my client who charges $260. If you're charging $260 and getting it, you can offer more to the customer—but make sure you are keeping your margins! I had clients who made bread by hand. They were selling for $3 a loaf. I analyzed their costs; they should have charged $8.10."

Do you have applications for financial management in place?
How often do you get a financial report—and analyze it?
How carefully do you monitor receivables?
How about your payables? Do you want to take a massive growth plan when you're past due on your payables? Make sure all your finances are in tune before you start the growth.
Learn to increase sales volume without increasing fixed costs!
"Think: Do I really need all those overhead costs to increase sales? Analyze how productive your present staff is before you hire more, If they're at 40%, you don't have to hire—you have to motivate."

Now the best news: Ira promises to have Lynn share her wisdom a few times a year.

Based on a presentation to the UMass Family Business Center

Shel Horowitz is Director of Accurate Writing & More, a family-owned firm in Northampton, MA, offering low-cost marketing strategies for businesses. His latest book is Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World. He can be reached at his web site

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