The conclusion I've come to is that is it a combination of a number of things, pretty well all visual, although sometimes aural as well. Part of it is the appearance of the business. is it tidy, well presented, do the owners or managers have an obvious pride in the business. Or is it untidy, with mess all over the place, scraps of paper or workings, not particularly clean?
And the people tell you a story as well, both in their own presentation, and just as importantly, are they happy and cheerful. This is where the aural comes in. Do they sound happy, can you tell if they like working there? I remember going into an optometrist some years ago that had just a wonderful feeling of warmth about it. The staff really cared about that business and what they did for their customers.
Where this is leading me is to my activity for today. This is one of these days when you put something back in. I won't pretend I don't get something back, well, I may but usually takes a fair while.
Let me explain. Telstra, Australia's main telecom, for a number of years, has sponsored the Telstra Small Business Awards. The Awards recognise excellence in small businesses, across a number of categories. They are not just a matter of putting in a 'feel good' story. Applicants have to respond to a range of criteria, with the judges evaluating how effectively they have met each criteria.
This is backed by site inspections. The inspections have two roles. Obviously they allow the judges to verify that what was submitted is real. But they can also add to the submission. Not every one can write well, or put together a great submission, but they may still have an excellent business.
This is my fifth year as a Regional Judge for the Awards. I look forward to it each year because I see some great businesses. And although I'm in the business of helping small businesses plug their profit leaks and improve their businesses, I learn something new every year. Something that I can take on board and apply to other businesses, or to my own.
Today I'm off to do the site inspections for the 2006 Awards. From past experience I can tell you a couple of things already. The winner will not be someone who makes a great song and dance about their business, and usually themselves. It will be someone who just goes quietly about their business, looking after their customers. Their customers and creating a business to serve them well, are their focus, not themselves. Secondly, they will have good systems to run their business, systems which give them useful, timely information on which they can make decisions. They always do.
Some profit losses are pretty obvious - so you fix them.
BUT, what if you don't know profits are leaking, cash out the door?
Possible leaks could be anywhere.
Are there some clues or symptoms that are tell-tales?