Delegate before you combust or indeed damage that which you worked so hard to build…avoid the cycle of boom and bust…
When you’re running a business, especially when it’s a business you’ve started on your own, it’s tempting to just do everything yourself. When I started Pacific Direct it was me, a brand new fax machine, my brick-like phone and the Yellow Pages. I didn’t take on my first employee for 2 years; I did everything myself. It wasn’t much fun; it almost drove me into the ground. Looking back, I see that many of the things I did actually weren’t up to the standard I would have liked them to be.
I did almost everything myself: the sales meetings; the cold calling; often the deliveries too. I was running the whole business (sometimes stupidly scrimping, to the cost of time) single handed, even down to the book-keeping and stock counts. I had never done accounts before; I didn’t have much idea what I was doing, but I was on a tight budget and knew how important it would be to my business to know where the money was. This was a good lesson in time and prioritisation, unlike my somewhat misguided view amongst many other bootstrap decisions. As the business grew I taught myself the basics of what I needed to know and turned more towards being the industry expert, connected and knowledgeable whilst I employed the experts in areas I loathed. A valued leadership trait often rightly shared is that when we employ great people around us, sticking to what we do best, things will work better. Perhaps you need to get out of your own way?
Copyright: jjesadaphorn / 123RF Stock Photo
I would suggest on reflection I left it very late, like many I have met since, to remain in solid control. There was just too much going on for me to keep track of. I could have soldiered on with my head in the books every night as I tried to make sense of where this particular expense should sit on my balance sheet; that would not have been a good use of my time. I hired my first person, of course more sales power! (For me this worked out but really I should have employed an administrator.) The next was an Office Manager, (all things to all men: logistics, admin and stock control,) finally at that point I valued the fabulous skill set of a town planning PhD Mum who wanted a way back into the workplace.
The value of being young at the start of a business is knowing that I could not possibly have known answers, I had no business degree and therefore suspect it was easier for me than others who have much broader experience. I believe a lot of my success has come from an ability to clearly and honestly see the things I’m good at, while identifying the very long list of others tasks (and anything requiring a box to be filled in), I’m not good at. I always try to be brutally honest with myself when it comes to identifying my weaknesses, and I believe that in business that’s crucial.
I know I’m good at sales; I enjoy the process and have always been passionate about selling. With the businesses I am involved with now, I still enjoy going out to trade shows and talking about the brilliant benefits and improvements our products bring to people looking for solutions; I enjoy the process of building a relationship and learning about my prospective buyer, of building a rapport and selling them something I truly believe will benefit their lives. The community build of knowing why we have our product, because we passionately believe we offer value and quality allows me still to sell only products I know deliver the promise we make.
On the other hand, I cannot build a website, I still absolutely loathe doing the accounts, I would rather never do a shipping invoice, import goods, do the basics of stock management or many other tasks required to run a great business. I could do most of these things, not all immediately and most notably the time it takes me to learn is much better spent selling for more profit than the price of getting jobs done and growing the company. Do you know your hourly rate? Making changes on my website would take me ten times as long as it would take a professional web designer, and the result would not look as good as a site built by a professional. I’ll bet most designers are pretty weak at sales, process and the close!
In any business the culture should be a relentless joint team approach on the road of striving for efficiency and improvement. The companies that stay focused win. Employing able agile individuals counts but there does come a time when you have to look honestly at the situation and admit: this is beyond my capabilities. There is no shame in admitting you do not know everything, and your business will definitely benefit from your asking for help. It might be that you can network your way, or find a world-class mentor to help you through parts of growth, I have traded my skills for lower cost recruitment services, I have traded product for lessons in marketing and I have gained discounted education through asking for grants but I have also accelerated growth through employing brilliantly talented individuals and then getting out of their way – set fair and agreeable targets, get your team clearly excited about the aims and objectives the business is targeting and get out of their way.
Many small business owners seem to suffer with a particular kind of pig-headedness whereby they refuse to admit they can’t do it all themselves, or perhaps they are scared to admit to weakness and ask for help. Perhaps they feel threatened by letting go, and in the process end up strangling their own momentum. Actually the huge element of trust required has often pushed people into poor decisions as opposed to following their gut feelings. Whatever the reason, I believe that identifying your direction and goals, sharing these at the outset of the year and then gathering the army you need around you to embrace the shared vision will set you apart from most others.
It’s also really important to remember that even if you’ve got your infrastructure set up and the business is doing well, that is never the time to rest on your laurels. There will always still be something you can learn that could improve your business in some way. At a point where my business was turning over £4.5 million I went to Cranfield Management School, embarking on their Business Growth and Development Programme. I knew I didn’t have the business knowledge to grow my company further, and that I wasn’t happy with how it was running, so I did something about it. I am sure a lot of people looked at that decision and thought I must be bonkers: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Wrong. I knew that if I wanted my company to continue to grow and improve, I needed to know what I was doing. I had been ultimately winging it in more than one aspect of running a business; it was time I learned the nitty-gritty detail, the next skill sets for success, or employed better professionals to help me.
Actionable learning too often gets bogged down in the daily rubbish of the email deluge. I am still guilty of this from time to time. It is worth noting here that many of us learn new things every single day, and then carry on with our normal daily lives without ever implementing our newfound knowledge. How often do you go to an event or seminar and come back with pages and pages of notes… but you only booked enough time out of the office to attend the event, and now you need to catch up on all the work and emails you missed while you were gone. It’s all very well learning new things, but we must also ensure we implement what we learn, even when that’s hard to do. In fact, especially when it’s hard to do. Book “grey” self appointment action time into your diary to share your learning, delegate the changes you triggered as you thought during your day “on” the business and get others to buy into the only business constant which is change.
Considering how busy I was with Pacific Direct, it would have been so easy for me to complete the Business Growth and Development Programme, get a nice certificate to frame and put on the wall, and then just carry on with business as usual. It happens more often than anyone cares to admit, even at a high level in corporations. Implementing changes off the back of my studies was time consuming and stressful, but the ultimate outcome was that the company became much more efficient, streamlined and of course profitable. It also ensured I had a greater stable assets, a happier workforce whom I led better, in fact whom I then employed a General Manager to lead, whilst I embarked on a planned international journey and could get back to doing what I was good at.
I am a lifelong student; I read business magazines and books on business voraciously and talk to everyone in order to learn new things. My advice to you would be to approach every new situation as an opportunity to learn. The world of business is constantly evolving, so even if you knew everything there was to know yesterday, there is something new for you to learn today. The businesses that weather storms are the ones whose leaders are on top of the latest research, opinion and developments. You need to be that person if you want to do well in business.