Monday, August 5, 2013

Growing Your Small Business – Working on your business and not in it (well, eventually)

growing your small businessIf you’re a small business owner, then chances are that you’ve heard about the importance of working on the business and not just in the business. 

But it does take time, self-awareness and some careful planning to reach this “higher consciousness” state in the evolution of your small business.

In the early days – it’s all about YOU
In other words, when you first establish your business you tend to be working in the business. You’re doing a lot of the operational work yourself – whether your business is plumbing or printing or baking or graphic design or hairdressing or selling insurance. It’s usually a frantic time, characterised by long hours and with you wearing a lot of different hats to help keep your expenses to a minimum.
In this start-up infancy stage, your business is typically dependent upon your technical skills and perhaps many of your customers only want to deal directly with you …... This might be because they see you as the “expert” and the one who is best suited to solve their problem. Or maybe because of the good history and relationship they have in dealing directly with you. But the problem with this business model is that you can’t afford to get sick or go on holidays - otherwise sales and revenue slow down without your presence.

However, it’s so easy to get stuck in this stage without realising it – ‘cause you’re so busy. It just seems like there’s not enough time to step back, take a deep breath and think about where you’re heading. Your focus gets stuck in just churning the work out and meeting the next deadline. You’re grateful there’s plenty of work – even though it can be overwhelming. But the reason it’s so overwhelming, is that so much of it remains reliant upon you.

Shift from being a “doer” to being a manager
Working on the business is all about building something that becomes less and less reliant upon your presence. In other words, over time you will have developed the right processes and systems, and recruited the right staff, so that the business can operate without you. It can sometimes take a while to convince customers who are used to dealing with you that they can trust the expertise of other people in your team – but again you ease yourself gradually out of being central to these client relationships and sell your customers on the experience and credentials of your staff.

Eventually, as you continue to coach and mentor your staff, you find there is no longer the imperative that you yourself be performing the operational or technical duties. You encourage your staff - who are becoming more skilled and confident - to take on more responsibility and make more decisions themselves. The investment you have made in the growth and development of your staff becomes one of the foundations supporting the growth of your business. Another foundation will have been your investment in learning how to manage and motivate staff.
You transition yourself to being more of a manager who oversees the planning, organising and timely completion of wok by your team. As you release yourself of operational duties, you then have more time to focus on business development – generating new business through expanding your customer base and developing new marketing plans (and possibly even new products or services). It should be said that not all business owners are able to “let go” of operations .... Some have a deep fear of losing control that prevents them from empowering their staff to step up and show what they are really capable of.
One small business owner, who started his business with one partner in the building industry and ended up employing more than 20 staff said this to me “ For me, learning to let go took years ….. It began by slowly letting go of the need to know all of the details ….  However the real impetus came when my doctor told me quite firmly one day that I had to take immediate steps to lower my high blood pressure, much of which was thought to be caused by stress. Then I realised  that my health was going to seriously suffer if I didn’t find a way to delegate and trust”

Grow your staff, so you can grow your business
Lance Hampton, CEO and one of the Directors of Hoepners Supply Chain Solutions shared some thoughts on this theme of growing your business through people.
“One of Hoepners greatest strengths is the quality of our people. Our employees become part of the family as they grow their careers within the company. We know it is their dedication to service and quality that keeps our clients coming back for more.
The care we have taken in recruitment and then investing in the training of our employees has been one of the key reasons the company has seen such amazing growth - but this doesn’t happen by accident. It is our company policy to promote wherever possible from within and to mentor employees to work their way up to supervisory and management positions. They are provided with career guidance and professional development to help them fulfil their potential.  This is why we have a history of retaining high quality employees, who are attracted by the rewarding work environment combined with the competitive pay structure the company offers.
My experience has taught me that for a small business to grow and be successful in a sustainable manner, it must have a strong ethical core that is based upon valuing its employees. Having said that however, let me also add that your relationships with suppliers and customers are equally critical. A business must cultivate collaborative relationships - both within, but also with trading partners. Only when all of the parties are achieving their goals and outcomes will relationships endure”

Engaging specialists in your business 
So let’s assume that you have recruited and developed the right people – and that you have learned to trust them ……  Now you should be able to start enjoying some work-life balance, spending more time with your family, because the operational work is no longer so all-consuming for you.

At this point, if the business continues to grow you might perhaps elect to contract out some of your marketing to “experts” – seeking advice on how to improve your online marketing initiatives, lift your search engine rankings, better engage with your customers through the use of social media and build alliances and partnerships with allied businesses. Alternatively, you may even do the calculations and assess that it will be more cost-effective to actually employ someone to head up the marketing function within your business.
Consistent, stable growth allows you to employ specialists who are now respectively looking after the operations, the sales, the finances and the administration within your business  
Grooming another to be “general manager” of the business
Surrounding yourself with good quality capable people who you trust, and whom you ensure get to share in some of the rewards of the growth of your business, is one of the keys to sustainable growth. A fair reward system for good staff is essential if you want to motivate your employees and retain them over time. So too is developing clear, efficient and documented procedures and systems that underpin the operations of your business

But developing a business that can genuinely function independently of you requires that you eventually start to groom a successor who can lead and manage the future of the business moving forward. This will ideally be someone from within your organisation whom you have identified possesses the right type of leadership capabilities, combined with the necessary drive to continue to grow the business. But you may need to conduct an external search to locate and attract the right person for this “general manager” role.

A company director who is no longer a manager
And once you have all of these building blocks in place – then low and behold there comes the day when you can enjoy the fruits of “semi-retirement”. As a hands-off director of the business, you have a capable general manager who is running the business and simply reporting to you.  You might perhaps continue to be involved with formulating and overseeing business strategy (perhaps thinking about franchising your business) – but you are no longer involved with the daily, weekly or monthly operations of the business.

Congratulations – your infant has grown into a young successful independent adult making their own decisions - although still consulting with you occasionally for a little advice and guidance during troubled times. This wouldn’t have happened unless you had learned how to delegate and could recognise when to start letting go.

Stepping back from the business
In closing, the point I hope you take away is this. In the same way that a parent can be guilty of holding on to their kids too tightly, the same mistake can be made by the small business owner.

Hold on too tightly and your business won’t grow. It will remain forever limited by the extent of your own capacity and your own expertise. But once you start giving good people in your business some genuine freedom to make decisions and take action – guiding them in their learning and judgement, then you really are building a strong foundation for your future business growth. What’s more, it’s likely you’ll be able to enjoy it too.

 © Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a leadership training and management coaching company based in Melbourne, Australia.