Archive for small business
Being a business owner is a little like being a mother and it’s judged just as harshly. Every mother (and yes, I speak from experience), at some point thinks she’s just not up to snuff – not as good as she ‘should’ be. Your child should be this or that and as a mother you should be better than you are – you should be a ‘good’ mother (a somewhat illusive thing – a bit like a unicorn).
Particularly when your kids are young, it is a constant battle with your worst inner demons. The ‘should’, however is based on myths perpetrated by media and other mothers desperately trying to make themselves feel better by putting another mother down. Too much ‘should’ for anyone’s liking. And frankly, I was thrilled to swap mothers’ group for work as soon as I could (and yes, I felt guilty about that too).
But, having a business baby isn’t that different.
Back in January, I sat with a group of friends, all business owners, supposedly having an ‘unvarnished’ conversation about how things were really going for us. Everyone had just returned from holidays and they were feeling refreshed and ready to go. Everything was on track, doing well, couldn’t be better – yada, yada, yada. Bluster and bravado.
Until one of the group shyly looked up and said, “um, actually, I’m having some cash flow issues”. And just like that, the conversation got real. Of the eight people in the conversation, six were in exactly the same spot. But no-one was actually going to readily admit to it.
Yup – three-quarters of the group were going to sit there in silence and inner turmoil thinking it was just them and indeed had already been thinking it was just them for a couple of weeks and beating themselves up for somehow not being as good as they ‘should’ be at being a ‘good business owner’.
It was Christmas for goodness sake – almost every business has cash flow issues (aside from retail) at Christmas. People forget to pay, go on holidays, invoices fall into a black hole, business owners are otherwise occupied, etc – read everything’s late being paid. Speak to any accountant or CFO and they’ll tell you the same thing.
It got me thinking how delicate a balance being a business owner can really be. That we feel the need to project our best game face all the time, even when it’s to our own detriment. That we in fact ‘should’ all over our business lives because we’re trying to live up to the image of some mythical creature called a ‘good business owner’.
You know the myths. You should only be doing what you love; if you’re doing what you love – the money should follow; you should be building a highly leveraged business; you should be rich; you should be living the good life; you should be aiming to retire at 55; you should be reaching every forward; you should be better than you are. Failure is not acceptable, but if you do you should do it quickly and be a world-wide success next time.
And my favourite, you should be working only 4 hours a week.
Ugh!! Any wonder as business owners we’re all a bit tired. We’re all chasing a myth that doesn’t really exist. When in reality, most of us are just trying to deliver value to our customers.
Had that one lone voice not spoken up, six people would have continued to ‘should’ all over their business life.
Don’t be the one that didn’t speak up for fear you’re not good enough. So if you get that chance, be that one lone voice. You’ll never know who’s sanity you might be saving that day.
The other day I was talking to a potential new client who was really keen to work with us. But then they sent me an email outlining why our project would have to wait.
I was miffed right?
Actually nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I was rather honoured.
She bared her soul in that email, telling me what had really gone on for her in the last few months and that now she desperately needed a holiday. In a nutshell, her business and our project would have to wait.
I called her as soon as I read the email to let her know not only was it fine and we could wait to do her project, but that I was really touched that she’d shared so openly about what was going on for her.
She said she felt unsure of telling anyone that she wasn’t quite on her business game – that it wasn’t really the kind of thing that you should ‘admit’ to. And that’s where she was wrong.
Humans can smell a lie a mile off. We all like to think we’re skilled at fudging things but really we’re not. We’ve all had that feeling that something’s just not right when someone’s said something and it puts us off for the next time we deal with them.
If my client had made something up, it would have come off as insincere and I would have taken it as a ‘brush off’ when nothing could have been further from her mind. And that would potentially have affected how we’d relate to each other in the future. Instead, she had enough respect for me, and more importantly herself to tell it like it really was.
And that’s something you just don’t see a lot of in business.
Better still, it brought us closer in a way we might never have been otherwise. We found commonality in her moment of truth. What she saw as a her ‘failing’, I assured her was kind of ‘normal’ and something we all shared.
For the record, I don’t think there is a business owner out there, that hasn’t experienced a day, week or month of their business life where they’ve felt off their game, or like crying with tiredness, overwork, client issues, financial issues, etc – me included. Okay maybe not actual tears, especially for the blokes, just the despair that comes with exhaustion and overwhelm that comes with handling a million things at once.
But, just like every other business owner on the planet, I’m just getting on with it, making do with what I’ve got to work with. Am I ever off my game. Some days, yes.
And guess what? Everyone has those days, it’s just that somewhere along the way, we as business owners seem to have forgotten that. As business owners, somewhere along the way, we learned to turn on the ‘bluster and bravado’ show – everything’s fine, going well, business is booming, couldn’t be better, etc. And in so doing, we’ve duped ourselves into thinking that we’re the only one that has bad days.
I for one, think it’s time we were all a little more honest with how things really are. Then maybe we’ll free ourselves up from the need to keep up appearances.
So the next time you’re about to ‘fudge’ your way into, out of or around something, stop and ask if you could build a better relationship by telling the unvarnished truth.
I’m just over halfway through a business coaching program designed to push my business to greater heights.
First came the initial period of challenge to my business development, where my somewhat haphazard book-keeping got seriously pulled into line – that was painful – in fact, dare I admit this, there were almost tears. BUT OMG, did it feel better when it was done. I could finally look at my numbers and know what on a daily basis was happening in my business. I could see what my turnover and my profit was, who owed money, who were slow payers and whether or not I was in growth or decline. Best of all, I could plan properly for the future. (thank you Tracey.)
I was challenged to grow my business too. We looked at my client base, the segments of my client population where the real revenue came from and the clients where I was spending 80% of my time for just 20% of my revenue – and that’s what often kills a business.
Then my coaching team and I set some tough numbers. But given I’m a type-A personality, if you set me a number I will kill myself trying to achieve it – but you’ve gotta love a good challenge. And I’m just a little proud to say I’ve achieve that number most months. I’ve even won (back from my old corporate days) some of my dream clients. And some months I’ve done almost double the usual number. I will most probably end this year having at least doubled (almost tripled) my turnover. Thank you to my gorgeous clients.
I’ve moved from working from home, to renting a desk in a small agency to renting my own own office and taking on team members (some in the office, some telecommute). I’ve got the beginnings of a profile on the speaker circuit. And I’ve even returned teaching at uni (my great love) one morning a week. And I get to read widely (another great love) for clients and on my own industry (making sure I stay up-to-date on an industry that moves at the speed of light).
Gosh – when I read that back – that all seems like you could say I was successful.
BUT…don’t be misled. All of this has come at considerable cost.
- Most weeks, I work 60-80hrs a week. I leave home around 6am and I get back often between8- 10pm (or later). And I usually work a 1/2 day in the office (7am-2pm – yes, that’s 7 hrs – but it’s only 1/2 of one of my days) each weekend. Just in case you’re wondering – my office is only 5 minutes from home – so travel time really doesn’t factor in.
- I haven’t had a proper week-off holiday in I can’t remember how long (it didn’t help that I’d scheduled 10 days off at Christmas and in those 10 days my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage4 breast cancer, had surgery, moved in with us (read: total house overhaul to make a comfy private room for her) to recover and then given a terminal diagnosis that knocked us all for a six – oh and we needed to find respite care for her lovely 89 yr old husband with dementia two days before Christmas – which is damned near impossible to find in Sydney – thank you Whitdon Group for finding us the only place available on Christmas Eve).
- Haven’t taken a ‘sick’ day in forever – except the time I ended up in hospital after ‘treating’ myself with some old antibiotics in drawer because I didn’t have time to go to the Dr. Yep – discovered the hard way that I’d suddenly become allergic to penicillin. Now I live in fear of being ill and swallow vitamins like a mad-woman. I simply don’t have time to get sick and the drugs to help are now distinctly limited.
- I don’t spend nearly enough time with my kids (whatever ‘enough time’ actually is). At the moment I’m trying to be home in time to spend 15 minutes each night reading with my six year old at 8pm (thank god she’s a bit of a night owl). And my dogs miss me – they’ve taken to loving my husband more
- I can’t remember the last time I went for a walk (aside from the doorstep to the car, the car to office and back again – oh and the weekly trip around woolworths – does that count?). I’ve regained the 7kgs I tried so hard to lose previously and my body feels really sluggish. Should I admit that I’ve learned to embrace the ‘kaftan’?
- Oh and the piece d’resistance? Despite a goodly turnover, after-tax take home (when you consider all the expenses of running a business) is still not what I was earning as the VP/managing director of a global agency. And I don’t get the holidays or long service accruals that went along with that either.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because not enough business owners do. Ask any business owner how they’re doing and they’ll usually tell you things are going really well (regardless of what reality is like for them).
So many people (including our ill-informed senior politicians of any flavour) have this idea that people who run their own businesses are ‘lucky’, ‘can work whenever they want to’, make ‘shedloads’ of money, pay no tax and somehow don’t really deserve the success they get. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong, but if I am, so’s everyone else.
Don’t be fooled – almost every business owner – especially in their first ‘real’ years (so, I’m not talking after merging established businesses like you see on some of those ‘fast-starters’ lists) struggles, works their asses off and wonders if it’s worth it. The women in my mentoring group – who all run considerably successful businesses, wonder if they’re the only one that is struggling with whatever the current challenge is – cash flow, work-life balance, family, staff stuff, growth, client issues, total overwhelm, etc.
When you run your own business, everything is personal. Every new business win, every staff issue is personal (you’ve taken them on and you have a responsibility for them – at least that’s how I see it). And every piece of work is personal – at least it is for me. I love what I do and I want what I do to contribute meaningfully to my clients’ business.
Yes, my business gives me the freedom to pick and choose the clients I want to work with. But it wasn’t always this way – but I’ve made it so because working with the wrong clients is devastating to your time, your productivity and your soul.
Yes, I get to take a day here and there to see my children swim or perform at school concerts – because I’ve promised myself, I will not miss their important days (and to date in 7 years of school – I’ve only missed 1 – and I’ve forgiven myself for that).
Yes, I’m teaching my girls that you don’t get paid simply for showing up, that a good work ethic never goes astray and that you never have rely on a man to provide for you or stay in a hideously abusive marriage because you’ve no place else to go – like my mother did.
And yes, most days, I dream of taking a month off to lie on a beach, with a cocktail in hand, a fiction book to read and Sven the massage therapist at the end of the deck chair poking at my feet.
But truth be told, I’d be bored after about 5 days and itching to get back to work. And that’s why I run a business.
Feel free to share why you run yours and the lessons you’ve learned below.
Today I’m speaking at Sydney Business Month on blogging and d’oh – I realised I hadn’t blogged in while. Or rather let me clarify – I haven’t written my own blog for a while. I’ve written blogs on GST, the cloud, accounting, starting businesses, closing businesses, seniors in business and women in business – all of which were done for clients. Anyhoo back to my own less than stellar blogging attempts, why anyone would bother doing it and “what is a blog?”
Given you’re probably every bit as busy as me – why would you take precious time out of your week to blog? There are several reasons;
- It does drive new business. Hubspot research showed nearly 60% of all businesses that blog saw it contribute to new business coming through their door.
- GOOGLE!! Blogging drives your position on Google. Okay – less than video, but let’s face it, it’s most likely quicker to knock up a blog than it is to put a decent video together
- Blogging builds opportunities for you and your business. Those opportunities might turn up in the form of new business – but they can also turn up, just as importantly, in the form of alliances, partnerships and relationships.
- Writing a blog for your business allows you to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry
- You can bask in the warm glow from contributing to the wider online community – you never know who you might help
- It can save you time answering those pesky questions that keep cropping up – you can point people to your blog instead
Best of all it allows for people – ie: your potential customers or those considering building relationships with you to get to know you before they pick up the telephone or put their fingers to the keys to send you an email. Many prospects will require several interactions with you before they purchase. In fact if you’re selling something that’s a little more complex than say lipstick or chips, prospects may require up to 10-12 interactions with you before they feel comfortable enough to do business with you.
Blogging and sharing on social media – as part of your integrated marketing activities, will cover off a couple of those interactions – or touchpoints. Having a great website also contributes.
If it’s at all possible, have your blog on your website. Why? Because you want visitors to click about a bit to see what else you do whilst they’re there. Google analytics (a requirement if you’re using your blog for business) tells me that every time I write a blog I get a spike in traffic. And most people have a squizzie at at least 2 other pages whilst they’re here. Especially if I direct them using links like this (which goes to my marketing makeovers for small business page).
It doesn’t really matter what you do for a living or what type of business you run – blogging will drive traffic once you do it consistently. And that’s the key. Set aside an hr every week or every fortnight and, as Nike says, JUST DO IT! After you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ll find you discover your ‘voice’ and it gets easier – the writing, not the setting aside time! At some point you’ll look back and you’ll have built a veritable repertoire of (mostly) useful content.
For other tips on blogging you might like to read this earlier blog on 11 tips to getting started with blogging – which is more of a how to and rules of type blog.
If you’d like to forgo the pain of the flashing cursor and no ideas of what to write about, you might like to get a fresh blog topic delivered daily to your inbox – drop me a note. Or you can join me on Facebook or LinkedIn (look right – and click on the buttons) where I share lots of great content about marketing, building business and using social media for client engagement. Do mention my blog though, otherwise I might think you’re a random (read: scary) stranger.
1. What do you know about my company, market, industry?
This tells you if they’ve done their homework. If they haven’t – run!
2. What campaigns have you done in a similar industry, similar company, etc?
You should ask for several examples. Listen for specifics, numbers, audience types, products. People who talk in general terms are usually not the folks you’ll want to work with. Having said that, just because someone hasn’t worked in your industry, that doesn’t mean they can’t bring something great to the table – for example there are some weird similarities between tourism and pharmaceuticals that I’m sure could be stretched to other industries too.
3. How long have you been doing this? And what did you do before that?
This will give you an idea of what they’re going to bring to your work. There’s no point in hiring a financial planner to build your website unless you’re building a financial planning website (and then you’ll want to meet the tech developer as well).
4. Have you managed consulting clients before?
Even if someone’s managed big campaigns working for a multinational – they’ve probably had agencies, juniors, admin folks sharing the load and a budget that didn’t matter if it went over a couple of hundred /thousand dollars. What you want is someone who can actually deliver on and produce the job they’ve waxed lyrical about (and manage your expectations and budget along the way).
5. Why do you keep doing this?
You’re looking to get an idea of their ongoing level of passion for what they’re doing.
6. What’s the best result you’ve had for a client so far?
Again look for specific results (see point 3).
7. Do you have references I can actually talk to? When did you work with them?
Make sure that the people you’re talking to worked with them in a similar situation to yours. There’s no point speaking to the CEO of BHP about a marketing job Joe Bloggs did for them – 5 years ago – marketing moves at a much too quick a pace for that sort of reference. If you’re interested in mine, you could start with some testimonials or check out the most recent ones on LinkedIn.
Kristin is a marketing & communication strategist who’s been doing the marketing do for almost 20 years. She can be found hanging out in social media land – for her clients’ benefit of course. You can follow her @glitteratichic or click on the LinkedIn icon on the right handside to connect there.