Wow! 50 years ago since I started my first business, how time flies when you’re having fun.
Making a judgement call
On reflection I consider the following 10 things to be the most important things that a modern small business, non-profit organisation or small community needs to learn about and understand if it is to survive and thrive.
Obviously, there are many hundreds of things that every owner and manager need to know about and address and their priority will change as the business grows and matures. You will never learn everything at once which is why you should prioritise your learning.
To me, these ten things have survived the test of time and are still important, if not critical from startup to maturity. Of course, others will have different opinions and that’s fine. What is important is you deciding on the 10 most critical things for your success and ensuring that they are well understood.
- Values. It took me years to understand why others didn’t have the same values as I did and how incongruent values causes eventual breaks down relationships and even organisations. Trustworthiness is an important value. If there is no love there is no trust and if there is no trust then productivity is always low and mistakes are made. My father and mother gave me a great moral compass that has guided me over the years. I believe I was very lucky in that regard. You know, values are sometimes all we have left after a crisis and if they are good values it’s much easier to rebuild.
- Cash flow. When I first started in the agricultural machinery business, I immediately started making sales, but there was no cash in the bank when it came time to pay the bills. I hope you don’t have to learn the hard way. I still find it hard to understand why so many businesses think they have all the money they need to keep them afloat. Very few have a good understanding of what ‘working capital’ means and they wonder why they never have any free cash, or make much progress.
- Vision and visioning. Every time I had a clear vision I had a surge in performance. The trick is to line up your passion and your strengths with your vision. As Dorothy McKellar once said, “there are none so blind as those who can see but have no vision”.
- Entrepreneurship. When I learned I was a classic entrepreneurship, I understood myself and started doing what entrepreneurs do best, but doing them on purpose. Every business needs to either have a real entrepreneur, or close access to one in order to join up the dots. Just because you are in business doesn’t make you and entrepreneur. Take on the attributes of an entrepreneur as quickly as possible.
- Planning. The old saying “if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail, is still alive and well today. However, the way we go about it has changed enormously over the years. The keys to good planning involve your business model, business plan, budget and value chain. Without a clear purpose, vision, objectives and strategies, progress is painfully slow as you continue doing the same old things and putting up with the same old problems. Your planning shows the approach that will be used to deliver the outcomes you want where wishing and hoping continues to let you down. Good analysis precedes good planning.
“It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing” Thomas Jefferson
- Technology. Information technology and communications have opened up so many opportunities over the years that today we can enjoy the benefits. Technology is a driver of all aspects of business and today if you don’t get this right you can expect the marketplace to bypass your organisation, more so than ever before.
- Changing the conversation. What a simple thing to learn and really understand. Change the conversations you have and you immediately start to change the situation you find yourself in. This also applies to having new conversations with yourself. Even one well-chosen word can make a huge difference. Arguably new conversations about modern marketing will have one of the biggest impacts on your organisation, its profitable gtowth and sustainability.
- Health and well-being. Healthy people equals a healthy business, or is it the other way around a healthy business equals healthy people. There are many things that cause stress. I have had more than my share of health problems and I believe the simple cause was not knowing the difference between distress and eustress. With today’s technology, you don’t need to work more than 50 hours a week. We never did, but because our ‘drivers were all screwed up 70-80 hour weeks were normal and holidays and breaks were wishful thinking.
- Advisors. Every time I engaged with an advisor, facilitator, coach or mentor I had a surge in performance. I only had a handful of these people in my life. The most important things they bring to the table are objectivity and perspective. It can be fatal to lean on your own understanding. Too often people rely on their own understanding. I used to think that the harder I work the more successful I would be and the luckier I would become. This is only right to a point, simply because if your are on the wrong track or using the wrong strategies you will never get where you want to go. Procrastination is a killer and causes us to have to work excessive hours, but more often than not everyone needs good advisors.
- Action orientation. Aimless action and flogging a dead horse only allows your struggles to continue. Understand how to improve your action orientation and you will be rewarded away beyond your Without consistent action, nothing much ever happens and the struggles continue. Talking is generally easy, taking action can be difficult. Actually putting your thoughts into action can be one of the most difficult things you have to do. Too many people don’t get things done because they don’t match their actions to their rhetoric. If they did they would find their creativity would improve greatly and essential innovation would become easier.
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I have experienced the frustrations and trauma of getting things wrong. You feel so stupid, but when I analyse my mistakes I can see where I went wrong and learn from it. Usually, it was because I did not put enough time into thinking things through, or I swayed against my better judgement, or I acted on bad advice. It’s just part of having a go.
Some people in business think growth is all that matters, making bigger and bigger profits, but what they don’t realise is that there is a cost to growth. Customers today have many choices so nobody should take their customers for granted. If you focus on customers they will help you grow you business better.
You have to keep learning new things as you have to look at your situation differently each step of the way and you never seem to get time for the things that really matter. Today I put my family and lifestyle first, something I should have put more time into years ago.
There will always be highs and lows which keep things interesting. The lows make you appreciate the highs. As Will Rogers once said, “if the horse is dead get off”. If you don’t have good products and services, don’t expect good outcomes.
Of course, I learned that I was not the only one to ever get things wrong, it is a natural part of having a go and it is from your mistakes and failures that you learn from the most.
Show me someone who has not made a bad mistake and I will show you someone who has taken very little risk and spends their life procrastinating. They have usually done very little with their life.