Clear business plan and purpose leads to higher earnings, says growth guru

For Donald Cooper simple works best.

As a former employee of the Cooper hockey equipment giant and a self-made women’s fashion retailer, Cooper has learned a thing or two about thinking outside of the box and developing competitive differentiation. Now, armed with his experience and expertise, Cooper travels the continent helping other entrepreneurs to develop practical, achievable and, most importantly, successful competitive business strategies. He shared his insight at the 89th Annual Conference of the Independent Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), held at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, Ont., between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, 2009.

What to Focus On
Cooper’s advice can be simple, but poignant, such as: “Anything that can help you grow in life and business is a keeper.”

It can also be profoundly life altering. For example, he challenged the packed ballroom of IBAO delegates to honestly answer: Do you love what you do? And explains that if you don’t, then it doesn’t matter what plans or strategies you have, you will probably fall into the temporarily passionate-complacent-resentful-bitter-death cycle.

For those that do love their work, Cooper challenges them to really examine how much work they do on their business, versus in their business. “Typically we spend 90% of our time in the business and 10% of our time on the business. We need to spend more time managing that business.”

Five Fundamentals of Success
He suggests that all brokers focus all business processes around the following five fundamentals:

  1. Improving the customer experience;
  2. Creating marketing opportunities;
  3. Managing your team;
  4. Managing your ‘numbers’;
  5. Planning the future.

These five fundamentals will provide clarity and purpose, says Cooper, which is an important factor in determining whether or not a business is successful. According to Cooper, an 11 year-old survey of 207 companies showed that businesses that were committed to a clear purpose average 57,1% higher gains in earnings.

Developing a Purpose
Cooper advises that every broker and business write out a “clear and measurable statement of what you are committed to become to be a profitable and responsible market leader in three to five years.”

By developing a succinct purpose every broker and business will then be able to measure six distinct areas:

  1. Sales growth, market share and profitability;
  2. The compelling customer service value and experience that the business is committed to deliver;
  3. Key issues that the business must deal with that may pose a risk;
  4. The internal business culture that we’ll create;
  5. Operational effectiveness that will make us price-competitive, service-competitive and profitable.
  6. How we’ll make a difference—in the community and the industry.

Also from a clear purpose, a broker can determine where they and their business is currently and where they would like to be in terms of: business model; people talent; working capital and leadership.

Obstacles
Cooper explains that although these ideas are frequently discussed, often the biggest obstacle is prior knowledge and routine.

“It’s the unlearning thats tough,” says Cooper. “Unlearning requires acknowledging the stuff that doesn’t work [and] being clear and realistic about what needs to change.”

Remember, Cooper says: “Our vision feeds our mission.” Or as one broker was overheard saying: “My attention is determined by my intention.”

Originally published in Canadian Insurance Business Magazine in October 2009