It’s hard to grow – here’s how part 9

Letting the business run you

Who is in charge of your business? Now, be honest. Are you running the business, or is it running you? And if it were to grow, would that cause you more of a problem? Would that mean that you would have even more to do in the same amount of time, and would that lead to the natural worry that something will go wrong?

We’ve mentioned elements of how to deal with this sort of issue in earlier parts. Systems, ensuring your personal and business objectives match, decent reporting, training your people so that they can take some of the load – these are all relevant and deal with most of this problem.

Clients often worry about maintaining what they’ve got, let alone growing. They feel rather out-of-control, or they are putting in long hours, and the business is barely under control, they feel stressed because they realise that they cannot keep this up for the rest of their working lives. There has to be some balance in their life – they have to be able to go on holiday and not worry about the business, take weekends off, go home at six (sometimes)! If you feel like this, the business is running you. You have the most demanding boss you could ever imagine. And you can’t leave, or argue.

We approach this by trying to do all the things we mentioned, but with very small steps at a time. We just want to pinch back a little bit of time and space to think, put in a little bit more structure so that you use that buy more time to think some more and build from that. It isn’t easy, but we have regularly managed it. We have had clients who have not had a holiday for eight years, and in the 12 months following our help have had three. And the business has grown. We have had clients who think that the business has outgrown their management capability, so we have recruited a general manager with sufficient checks and balances and regular input from us to make sure that he didn’t take over.

The message here is that it is all possible. And it’s essential you take steps for your own sanity and for the long-term survival of your business. Again, a common source of failure is management burnout or illness. You need to do the risk analysis to make sure you look after you so that you can look after your business.

Not knowing how it all fits together

The main purpose of the 16 points isn’t to teach techniques. We all know they don’t work very well, and it’s pointless buying all the new faddy management books and trying to implement it all. It’s all about how you think and rather less about what you think. Think of your business as an organism or ecosystem, not a rigid mechanical entity. Most business training teaches you how to do a functional job such as marketing or finance. It doesn’t teach you how people work and think and behave or how the functional aspects of each job interrelate with the people and the other functions. Whilst we are not asking you to unlearn things, we are suggesting you consider everything as a whole rather than as an element.

A simple analogy is that you want to lose weight. You can go on a diet, which requires self-control, a change in buying, cooking, storage, eating (size of plate, time of day et cetera), you can go to the doctor and get a pill and then you have to consider side-effects, inconvenience of some of those side-effects, you can go to the gym or some other exercise and then you have to consider time, weather, kit, and other factors. Or you can do a combination of these things. Hopefully something works, and you feel better as well as lighter. Your skin is better, your breathing is easier, clothes fit better and you look healthy, your mind is sharper and maybe your blood pressure has dropped. The point is simply there are a lot of factors to achieve a lot of factors. You know this for your personal life, so you need to expect these complications in your business life too.

Of course you do some of this analysis. But commonly you will not do it in enough depth, and you will not consider every aspect of your business as it is human nature to pigeonhole things and treat them in isolation. If you think of your business as your child, which a lot of entrepreneurs do, then you are less likely to fall into this trap. A useful way of ensuring you don’t miss anything is to make a simple list of all the major elements in your business starting with your customers and markets, through your production and purchasing, to your financing cash flow, overheads, premises, distribution and very importantly, your people. You don’t have to make 5 or 10 points under each heading, just the headings will do. When you’re making a change in your business consider every heading but instead of asking is it likely to affect each heading, assume it will until you can prove it doesn’t. That way you’re unlikely to miss anything major.

You would have noticed over these nine parts and 16 points, that many are interrelated and there has been some repetition with different emphasis here and there. We make no apology. They are interrelated but the angle at which you approach them makes them look different. These 16 points cannot be exhaustive, but the last 30 plus years of experience looking at 500 businesses or more has led us to believe that we have covered the essentials. We hope it’s been useful for you.

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