I’m struck by how often I hear about employees needing to be ‘more commercial’ or ‘more clued up about business’. OK, Zoomly’s clients are in the creative and media sector, where historically many grad recruits have arts degrees. But that needn’t mean that the poor dears can’t get their heads round business, surely? A tad patronising methinks… A quick glance at British artists shows a pretty high degree of commercial savvy. The UK’s creative and media industry is a major earner. So it’s not as though business and creativity are separate; far from it.
So what’s commercial savvy and how to get some more if you’re feeling bereft?
- Find out how your employer makes money.
That might sound pretty basic, but you’d be surprised. I once worked on a retail business that lost money on its merchandise and made a fortune selling credit. Some firms that process large sums on behalf of others make money with overnight money market deals. Others are brilliant at cross-selling and upselling. Or just being astonishingly efficient. Different levers do the business in different employers. The point here being you need to discreetly ask a few people in very different roles, and find out what their view is about how the money is really made round here. Then watch it happen.
- Find out how your employer loses money.
Duh, you may be thinking, as you see another forest-sized floral fantasy installed in reception. It may be the taxis kept waiting outside (I’ve heard eye-watering amounts on that one). Sometimes it’s the rent, but less often than you’d think. What’s the churn in people leaving / arriving costing, just in recruitment fees, i.e. direct costs? How about work that has to be done again? That one makes many a CFO’s blood pressure shoot up – and rework is very common, often made light of and all too frequently forgotten come cost reconciliation time. Over-servicing and under-charging are regular villains of the piece in professional service firms of all persuasions – from lawyers to PR. We can be way too optimistic about how long something will take and how many people will be needed. And in this fragile economy, many such firms will undercut competition to win and retain business – losing money to make (not much) money. Again, you need to tread carefully as you ask a few well-chosen people: a mentor will be a real asset, or it could be a good opportunity to beg a few minutes of your FD’s time and wisdom.