Regional Technology


March 8, 2004


Time for a tune-up?

We're almost through the first quarter of a new year, and for many, 2004 promises a brighter business climate than in recent years. So it is tempting to exhale -- to let up just a bit, and release some of the intensity under which many of us have been operating. After all, we're still standing, and that represents a huge accomplishment these days.

But this is not the time to coast. In fact, I suggest that this is a great time to give yourself a business tune-up.

How's business?

This would be a great time to review your key indicators and do an honest assessment of your progress. Whether you start with financial, customer, technology or team development goals, taking an objective look at projected vs. actual across all aspects of your business should show you where you've missed your mark.

For some, this process can be done intuitively. I would bet that many of you do keep a rough mental status report running at all times. But it would probably be wise to really look at the numbers, milestones and your progress toward goals in a tangible format. Problems or shortcomings are much more likely to surface if you start the process in a spreadsheet or in writing. And you can easily start this process yourself. Here are some questions you might ask yourself to start your inquiry.

  • Financials -- Are you making your numbers in sales and profits? How about your margins? If you're still in R&D, are you on target for investment milestones or grant cycles? Are you seeing a financial return on marketing and business development expenditures? Are recurring revenues as strong as projected? Is it time to trim overhead or invest in new equipment? How's productivity, overall? Are there any leaks beginning to emerge?

  • Customers -- Have you spoken to your best customers lately? Are they happy with your firm and recommending you to their associates? Do they have suggestions for features that would enhance your products or services? Are there new pain-points that you might consider addressing in subsequent products or upgrades? Are high-maintenance customers eating staff time for low returns? Do you have a fix on the cost/benefit of maintaining customers vs. acquiring new ones? Have you revisited your equations lately to be sure they're still valid?

  • Team -- Are your employees happy campers? How's absenteeism? Are people thriving and enjoying new challenges as the business grows, or are they bleary-eyed and stressed? Do key team positions need an infusion of new energy? Have people reached the maximum expansion possible in "doing more with less?" As business evolves, are your new goals within the skill sets of existing team members, or do you really need to add some new capabilities? Are safety programs being followed? Are people taking unfair advantage of flexible scheduling? Are there disputes simmering just below the surface? Are your benefit programs still adequate? Are people feeling appreciated and owning their contributions to the organization as a whole?

  • Technology in the marketplace -- If your products are technology based, how are you doing with product line development? Are you tweaking minor feature changes or pressing forward with improvements to increase market share? Are you still filling a void in the marketplace or have competitors begun to close in? Do you need to revitalize those product attributes that mark you with distinction? Or is the technology on target but your distribution strategy could use a fresh approach or an image upgrade?

  • Business model -- Finally, have you looked at your business plan lately? What were the core assumptions you made about markets, revenues, competition, distribution channels, timing or any other key components of your strategy? Are you on target? How far have you strayed? What can you do to true things up?

    We do business in a relentlessly evolving world. In this dynamic reality, change is perhaps the only constant. Are you keeping pace or falling behind?

    If business is going reasonably well, it's likely that an objective assessment has given you some tune-up ideas but hasn't revealed any major emergencies. But if things seem to be severely off course, you may want to prioritize -- either by urgency or potential for further breakdown -- and get correction started without delay.

    Get help

    Once you have taken a good look at the landscape and identified the more pressing issues, you will have to decide a course of action for each adjustment. Remember that help can be found in inexpensive ways, by looking to board members, advisers, peers or even key customers or vendors for suggestions. If the problems seem to be beyond your expertise, or if your energies need to be focused on maintaining forward momentum, then finding the right consultant or service provider may make sense.

    But having a willingness to continually adjust can go a long way toward your ultimate success -- and it's a great way to launch into the challenges of a new year.

    Orion is president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Technology Alliance. She can be reached at


    March 8, 2004