Over the last few years, I have come into contact with many businesses and business owners. Here I present a very personal view of what I think makes a business successful.
The ultimate accolade in my book is to be described as a grafter. It suggests a strong work ethic, a person of principle and someone with a strong character. A grafter is focused and puts in the effort to get jobs done whatever they may be.
Now, I have met grafters in all walks of life. The effort that they make may be physical or mental. It does not matter, it’s that they put in the hard work. Accountants, electricians, lawyers, plumbers, architects, joiners – either they are grafters or they are not. Which would you prefer?
When we are recruiting trainees we prefer candidates who worked while at college or university. It shows spirit and character. The experience will also show through and they will be better able to handle the various people that they meet. It will not be a guarantee of a job but it is a box that needs to be ticked early in the selection process if the application is to progress.
We come across many intelligent people. Most are employed. Many will talk about setting up a business but shy away when they think about all the problems and risks. Many of the most successful business owners that we see probably left school as soon as they could and have made their own way. They are not slowed down by problems or thoughts of risk. These are just things to be overcome if and when they arise, not before.
I am not saying that intelligent people do not prosper in business. It depends on the particular business and the person involved. But, sometimes people can over think all the issues, problems and risks and decide not take it any further. Others just blunder through the problems, get the bruises and get the job done. These people have a “can do” mentality and do not stop to consider the reasons why it might not work.
Work smarter not harder
How many times have you heard someone say this? You are unlikely to hear it from a successful business owner. They know that you need to do both! If you are not willing to work hard to get your business off the ground, then get a job. There is a basic intelligence that you need and some basic principles to grasp. After that it is all about focus and effort. Working hard and smart.
The fundamentals of the playground
You don’t need an MBA to be successful in business. There are often some technical matters that you need to have grasped and you need some experience, but fundamentally it is about dealing with and managing people, whether these be customers, suppliers or staff. These people skills, or shall we call them soft skills, are usually learned in our early years.
The playground, the youth club, the Saturday jobs are all places where in our early years, we learn how to handle other people. Sometimes it can be the “baddies” in their youth, who did not do well in school, who learn these skills best and are most successful in business. They may or may not be technically good but they can manage people and it is these people who undertake the work of the business.
No such thing as a work life balance
Everything has a price. If you really want something. What price are you prepared to pay in order to get it? If you want to build a business, the price is time at home with your family. If you want to spend time with your wife and children, then you cannot spend that time on your business. When people speak about having a work life balance that suits them, they are really determining what is most important to them and committing to paying the price to achieve it. Career or family. It’s really about goal setting. Which of your goals is most important to you. Decide that and you will have determined your work life balance, and the price you are willing to pay.
Every day is a school day
I hear people proclaim that they have been in business for 10, 20, 30 or more years as if that means that they now know everything they need to know and so don’t need to learn anything new. If you are still motivated and pushing your business forward, it does not matter how long you have been in business, you will learn something new every day, whether it be how to react to staff issues in a modern economy or how to apply new technologies to your own long standing business to make it future proof.
There is nothing new in business. The technology moves on but the fundaments of business have been around for thousands of years. But, that does not mean to say that you know everything there is to learn. There will be things to learn until the day that you “pop your clogs” and your mind must be open to absorb the lessons that present themselves.
Age is just a number
I reckon that most people retire just at the point at which they are approaching their best. They have a huge store of experience and skills accumulated over a lifetime. What do they do with it? Love him or hate him, Rupert Murdoch is an example to the rest of us. What about Richard Branson. There are plenty of politicians all around the world in the 70s or older and still contributing. What’s your excuse?
What gets you up in the morning?
Everyone has a direction to their lives. Some people control that direction, others do not. Like a boat without a rudder some people are just swept along in the tide. Others have a clear sense of purpose and know exactly where they are heading. They may not make it to that destination but at least they are going to try.
What is the Big Hairy Audacious Gaol that you want to achieve in your life? Don’t ask if it is achievable because you will just see the problems. Better to ask yourself “how” you can achieve it. Plot your course, implement the strategies to reach your destination and then measure your progress to achieving your goal. It’s about attitude.
Stress is just a word – “We don’t do stress”
People react to the pressures of business in many different ways. If you are in business, you will be put under varying degrees of pressure. But remember that you chose to be in business and you can change your mind. You are always in control of your own destiny. If you feel that the pressures are too much, you can always just stop and get a job.
The word “stress” suggest some sort of cosh but it is largely in your own mind. This is a huge subject and I will not say more here. Suffice to say that you need to stay in control of your own thoughts and to find ways to manage the pressures around you.
Don’t forget the 5 business essentials
There are 5 essentials without which a business cannot function. They are:
1. A product or service for which there is a demand.
2. Telling people that it exists – marketing
3. Getting people to put their hands in their pockets and give you money – sales
4. Logistics of getting the product or service to the customer – fulfilment
5. The numbers work – there is enough profit that you feel it is worth your while making the product or providing the service.
You cannot have a business that does not have all 5 components. They may be present in different proportions, but they must all be present.
The one that is so often overlooked is number 5. However good your product or service, however good you are at marketing and sales, you do not have a business unless the numbers work. If you cannot generate a profit you are haemorrhaging cash and unlikely to survive. If you are only breaking even, you will eventually lose motivation because there is not enough for you to make it worth your while going through all the issues, working long hours and dealing with all the emergencies. You need to feel that you (and the people who depend upon you) are getting a fair reward that will keep you interested.
Remember that profitability is a necessary condition for existence of a business and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself. Profit is like oxygen, food, water and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.
So, what is my recipe for success?
Attitude is the key. Do you have a sound work ethic, able to focus on your goals and the particular strategies you have adopted to achieve them. People skills are important, because you need to get people to do work for you. You cannot do it all by yourself.
Don’t over think the business. You need simple measurable goals and a clear vision and strategies to achieve those goals. There will be problems but solve them if and when they arise. Most obstacles are in your mind and never materialise in practice.
Be open to learn from every experience, even the bad ones. Remember that there are no failures, just experiences.
Make sure that the 5 fundaments of business have all been covered. Without all 5 of them, you have no business.
So, if you have clear goals and are prepared to work to achieve your goals, you will succeed. Grafters with goals are unstoppable!
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Muhammad Ali.