‘Copy and Paste’ (appropriately), to save time money and effort.

Copy and Paste, to save time money and effort.

Up to a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the name Larry Tesler. However, when I read his obituary to mark his passing on February 17, I realised that you and I benefit enormously from his work. He invented the ‘cut/copy and paste’ commands on our various devices. And as I tip my hat to him, I’ll say it again. He invented the ‘cut/copy and paste’ commands on our various devices. “Our work today is easier thanks to his revolutionary ideas” said Xerox, the printing company.

Before his breakthrough, editors and type setters worked into the night typing and re-typing passages of text. Today we all get value from immeasurable time saving when filling out forms, creating Word documents, calculating on Excel and building PowerPoint presentations. Can you just imagine what our lives would be like without that possibility?

Tesler was also the man who had the counterculture vision that computers should be available to everyone. Steve Jobs ‘discovered’ him in 1974 and the rest is history. A specialist in user experience he also invented the scroll bar and mouse-click, where the cursor could be placed anywhere on the screen with the help of a mouse. Before mouse-click, we directed our computers by typing a command.

Although ‘copy and paste’ was a revolutionary concept back then for computing, we all ‘copy and paste’ ideas and business models all the time. We may be a small island nation, but that hasn’t stopped us from lifting our heads above the parapet and learning from the world around us. Let me share some examples that you might like to ‘copy and paste’ into your business.

‘Copy and Paste’ Tips

  • People. An essential ingredient for delivering your strategy is an effective organisation structure. You need a structure with clear reporting lines and accountabilities. If you haven’t revisited your structure chart recently, it might be worth refreshing it now and ‘copying and pasting’ from others. However, are there any changes to your model that might prompt a restructure? Have you any acquisitions or divestments in your pipeline? Do you have any pending changes to your customer target market, your product mix or route to market?

Working recently with a B2B client, after designing a new structure, we then crafted new job descriptions. We ‘copied and pasted’ relevant bits from their old files and some from mine. But we didn’t accept them as final documents and we did make appropriate changes to them.

  • Product. I was working recently with a retail convenience chain retailer, to help them develop a new strategy. During the initial discovery phase, I felt that their stores were quite mundane and almost boring. Each one was pretty much a ‘copy and paste’ of a centrally designed model, which of course is typical and appropriate for any large chain.

Over and above the ‘copy and paste’ strategy, we also encouraged each store to examine its competitive positioning in its local market. We challenged each one to reconsider its product mix and to ask what it could ‘own’ in its locale. What would make them become the ‘go to guy’? In one retailer’s case, it majors in flowers and now has a USP with ‘best fresh flowers’ in the area. That gives that retailer something different to shout about and exploit as a footfall driver.

  • Route to Market. I recently met a very ambitious young person who has a passion for fashion. She has developed a beautiful range of tote bags made from various materials, that can be personalized with all sorts of motifs. She ‘copied and pasted’ from the traditional industry route to market and has managed to sell directly to independent retailers. The challenge for her now is to scale up and to get her products listed in larger international department stores. The problem is that because she’s a small business, she’s just not relevant enough to warrant the buyer’s time and the cost of setting up a new supplier account.

This presents two options in my view. One is to find distributors to service big accounts on her behalf, provided she has enough margin to allow for them to make a profit. Alternatively, a different route to market is to sell directly on-line. This will achieve higher margin, thereby giving her money to spend on marketing.

  • Brand Development. There is so much hype and activity today on social media, that businesses feel enormous pressure to have a strong on-line presence. Yes for sure, it’s worth checking out the competition and ‘copying and pasting’ some norms in your industry. But please don’t forget that ‘likes’ are a vanity play unless they convert to sales.

I do understand this digital drive but I have also written in this column in the past about the value of traditional marketing. It hasn’t gone away you know! Whether its paid or earned, advertising, sponsorship, promotions and PR are still very strong pillars of the marketing mix.

  • Internal Controls. One organisation I work with is essentially a sales and marketing operation. It had an idea to develop a niche offer in the food business and grew very quickly. Rather than manufacture everything itself, it has an outsourced model with a number of partners. One of these partners, a manufacturer, has what seems like a very good software system that tracks purchases, sales, operations and general accounting.

My client took the advice of the manufacturer, effectively ‘copying and pasting’ the system and installed it in the early days. Now as the business moves to scale, the system is not fit for purpose and new investment is now required. ‘Copy and paste’ worked in the short term but didn’t work out so well in the long term.

  • Margin. Nor did it in this other example where a company continues to operate with a ‘copy and paste’ approach to margin. Margin of 25% has been the established norm in this industry for years and years. But costs continue to grow at a steeper trajectory than margin. Insurance costs, payroll and supply chain all take bigger chunks than before.

I have challenged this client to aim for 27.5% margin. I know it’s an odd number but I’m making a point. Why do we always have to work in round numbers? After all, with sales of fifty million euro, every half percentage point of margin equates to a quarter of a million euro landing straight onto the bottom line.

The Last Word

Plagiarism is an unfortunate outcome of this ‘cut/copy and paste’ technology, so be careful. What I’m describing here is about being sensible and appropriate.

But more importantly, don’t forget that one of the other great advantages – and probably the best part of Larry Tesler’s breakthrough, is the ability to edit after ‘copying and pasting’. Use the edit function wisely as you select ideas and business models for your business.

Alan O’Neill is Managing Director of Kara, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business.

Alan is author of “Premium is the New Black”.

© Copyright. Alan O’Neill. All rights reserved. 2019

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