Here are some of the key lessons I have learnt over decades of being in business and continue to draw on in my strategic planning.
1. If you’ve done it this way before – there must be a better way of doing it
This is true of business presentations, sales pitches, marketing and sales campaigns, production and administration processes. When looking to enhance your delivery, it’s important to maximise new technology and persevere – because even though it may not work perfectly first time, it can open up vibrant new opportunities. Innovate at all times and you will reap the benefits.
2. Hire people brighter and smarter than you
Are you constantly talent spotting and seeking out the top talent with greater technical knowledge and expertise than you who are not necessarily in your industry? These are people who ask smart questions and live in the future as opposed to misguidedly thinking their past glories will carry them through. How great would it be to be greeted by a flood of fresh business improvement ideas from your top team first thing every Monday morning instead of worrying every Sunday evening how you will fire up the business for the week ahead. Smart business owners hire smart people to do the heavy lifting for them – building the ideas and innovations.
3. The future is not where you think it is – go seek it out
Did you discover when starting out that your key customers were not people from your previous life who promised you orders – but those you never previously knew. The same applies to the future – the team who will make your future are out there – you just don’t know them yet. Your suppliers and customers comprise a rich source of new ideas and introductions – as do conferences, seminars and exhibitions. Widen your horizons and look outside your industry. A What If Forum member asked a university business school to help find alternative uses for his old textile mill. Their ideas took him onto low cost self-storage which he has developed a thriving pick and pack operation meeting the needs of growing online businesses.
4. Discover your real friends and invest in their emotional bank account – it will pay dividends later
The past four years have been tough for everyone – however, there have been people who have helped you through the bad patches – some more than once. These are your true friends, the ones that believe in you and support you. They are one of your most valuable assets so spend time with them, listen to them and reciprocate that helping hand whenever and however you can. Your true friends are not who you expect. For me, at different times, it’s been an office landlord, major customers, and a complete stranger who was referred to me. Each in their own way and at specific times gave me support and encouragement asking nothing in return, the trick has been finding ways to repay them and I have often done this by giving them my time, company and questions.
5. Know what size of business you’re comfortable with
In the knowledge that business, sales and profits do not grow in a straight line but can be ‘lumpy’ – as a business strategist and coach I have discovered what I call the Rule of Six. You start the business and things go really well then, you add more people, turnover goes up as do costs and problems, then you take on the sixth person – and bingo you’re back in the money. The cycle repeats itself until you get to twelve people, then eighteen and then twenty four – at which stage you are employing managers / supervisors who require a written business plan to follow. The plan is something you’ve never had to do before – because it’s all been up in your head or made up as you go along. Now you’re into coaching and managing people which is alien to ‘Activity Junky’ business owners and leaders. Having progressed past this challenging stage you are beset by more challenges – namely the fiftieth employee who constitutes your first non-revenue generator. This is invariably a HR role which brings with it a mountain of paperwork and burgeoning bureaucracy. Compounded with this are the endless management meetings adjudicating the ‘name and blame game’ and keeping the warring factions and fiefdoms in check.
For some business owners and leaders these growth stages are great learning opportunities which they thrive on, for others they are a complete nightmare. The secret is to know when enough is enough. Growth for growth’s sake is not everyone’s goal and some bosses prefer to stay as small giants as described in the book of that name by Bo Buckingham.
6. Listen to your gut
We all develop our own decision making processes, some extremely objective and highly analytical, while others are very intuitive and spontaneous. Each has its place – however, from my experience, nothing beats listening to your gut – that little voice inside you that tells you the next question to ask, the next step to take or the way to move ahead. I have two little voices I’ve trained myself to listen to, the first often comes into play when discussions have stalled prompting me to ask the next question – often the difficult one which busts the whole issue open and moves things forward. The other is an early morning voice speaking to me in the shower suggesting the best way to proceed with an issue that may have been troubling me or an idea I need to progress. I ignore these voices at my own peril.
7. Harness the experience and know-how of your peers
There’s nothing new under the sun and someone, somewhere has been where you are before and learned from it. The most important things is to track down these people, question, listen and learn from them. Reading, attending conferences and seminars and talking to fellow members of your trade association are useful sources of ideas and inspiration. Yet, from my experience, the most powerful is the peer group forum where a diverse group of business owners and leaders question each other’s answers, challenge their thinking and hold each other accountable. What If Forum members will tell you that growing their businesses has been more effective since joining the group. They have become better leaders, built and developed effective management teams and operations – and enjoyed more free time in the process.
In the spirit of lifelong learning and learning from the past – these are just some of the business lessons borne of experience that continue to enable me to be almost always more successful than my competitors.