Saturday, 24 November 2018

Back on the tools again

The aim of every business owner is to make themselves redundant.

Or it should be.

Over time the lucky ones, or perhaps the more organised and determined ones manage to delegate much of their activity to a capable and loyal team. Their role becomes more of being a guardian of the business. Making sure it still runs smoothly, managing growth and fixing problems.

Problems. Yes, inevitably they crop up. Stuff happens. Again, the savvy entrepreneur is selective about problems they get involved in. The tendency may be to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in if something is not working well. That may not always be the best thing. Giving the team the knowledge and the scope to fix things is a better and more sustainable long term solution.

Occasionally though something comes along which can't be left alone. Maybe a big systems failure or key staff leaving and client service beginning to suffer. In these most extreme cases the only solution might be for the business owner to get stuck in. Effectively to 'get back on the tools' again. The tools might be a paintbrush and roller, an Excel spreadsheet, an HGV or hairdressers' scissors. Whatever you need to deliver your product or service to your customers

At first it feels odd. You are a little rusty. Things have moved on a bit and you need to get used to some new technology or a new way of working. Then it starts to flow. You've still got it. This is fun! This is what I used to do. It's why I started this business. It's what I'm good at.

This is the time that the sensible business owner will pause and think about the longer term. Staying on the tools may be comfortable, familiar and rewarding. But it will take your energy and focus away from where it should be - developing and sustaining the business. So it needs to be a short term thing.

The day you start back on the tools is the day you should start planning to get back off them. Otherwise you might get stuck. Your business will stay small or you will start to burn out - doing too much of everything

For a short time it can be fun while it lasts and reassuring to know that you still have what it takes. But don't let it trap you....

Monday, 19 November 2018

What's the point in business growth?

We seem to be slightly obsessive about growth in business. 

It's a measure of success. Sales growth, profit growth, share price growth, market share growth. It's all about growth.

Or is it? Well it depends on the business and more specifically the business owners. What is important to them?

Many 'lifestyle' businesses are happy to reach a certain scale and then stop growing when they reach the optimum size to support their lifestyle. They might tweak aspects of the business and replace lost customers but growth in itself is not an objective.

I've always liked the 'buzz' around growth. Many moons ago, in my role as a management accountant for for a large food retailer I was responsible for a while for reporting weekly sales. It was exciting and immediate to analyse and present the sales figures for the previous week. Management were passionate about looking for trends in regions, departments, 'like for like' sales,  new stores etc. It helped that this was a period of high growth and dominance for the company but the culture was very much about having aggressive growth targets and tracking and measuring against these.

Since moving onto my own business I've kept that excitement about growth. I've always set targets and worked hard to achieve these. There's something rewarding and motivating about beating last week's or last month's or last year's results.

It works for me anyway

Leaving the score-keeping aside, there are serious reasons why growth is a good thing.

Some which spring to mind are:

  • It keeps the business fresh and interesting for employees
  • It creates new opportunities for the team and allows them to develop
  • Employee retention is probably better (provided people don't feel overloaded or unsupported)
  • If well managed it can lead to more profits
  • More satisfying and rewarding for the owner. The potential to create a business of scale which may endure after they move on

So growth still motivates me and keeps me excited about being in business. It's not an end in itself but in my view it makes the journey much more interesting and satisfying

A test of whether you have a growth mindset is if you know your sales target for this month and how close you are to achieving it.

Do you?

If you don't know either your target or how close you are to achieving it, I would argue that there is a gap in your reporting systems.

It's a bit like the John Lennon quote, 'If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there'.

Setting sales and profit targets and tracking against them is not a terribly radical or difficult thing to do.

In my view it is essential however if you are serious about growing your business over the longer term.

Monday, 12 November 2018

How busy is too busy?

We are all busy it seems. 

It's a bit like a badge of honour where we try to outdo each other with how hectic and out of control our lives are. 'It's been mental. I'm so busy. There's work, the kids, the elderly parents, we're having the kitchen done, Christmas is coming etc.' The busier we are, the greater the kudos.

Does it have to be this way? I'm reading, 'Tribe of mentors' by Timothy Ferriss. It's basically a book of life and business tips from a 100 or so successful people - 'Short life advice, from the best in the world', as the strapline goes. One of the contributors, designer Debbie Milan, comes out with a great quote, 'Busy is a decision'. She argues that broadly we do the things we want to do. If being busy is an excuse for not doing something, what we are really saying is it's not important enough.

I struggle a bit with how busy to be in my own small business. My ideal is that I'm the sales, client care and business development guy and everything else gets covered by the team. At times (not often) I have short windows of feeling on top of things and going into the office in the morning without a long to do list. It feels good while it lasts (which is usually not long) but it is always  accompanied by a slight feeling of guilt that I'm not busy enough.

I used to work with a business coach who was obsessive about helping his clients grow their businesses. One of his sayings was, 'Business owners don't realise how hard they need to work to be successful'. He felt it was human nature for an entrepreneur to take their foot off the gas and coast for a while when they reached a milestone and things became a little more comfortable. He believed it was his job to stop that happening and keep the owner's nose to the grindstone.

It's tax season so I'm in a busy phase now until February. No coasting or taking my foot off the pedal. That's fine and I have my browny points in the 'How busy are you?' chat with people I bump into in Sainsbury's.

But getting back to the phrase, 'Busy is a decision', I really need to sort this out. It's up to me what I do and how busy I choose to be. I will be putting my mind to soon as I get the time