What to change about your business in 2018

Management consultant Stephen Barnes proposes three New Year's resolution you should make for your business

There is a Latin phrase, omne trium perfectum, meaning everything that comes in threes is perfect, or every set of three is complete. It is a principle known as the ‘Rule of Three’ that can be applied to business too and suggests that events or characters introduced in threes are more humorous, satisfying, or effective in executing a story and engaging the audience. The audience is also more likely to remember the information conveyed. This is because having three entities combines both brevity and rhythm with having the smallest amount of information to create a pattern. It makes the author or speaker appear knowledgeable, while being both simple and catchy.

So, to help you get back into gear after the Christmas and New Year holiday period, here are my Business Rules of Three – things to change about your business in 2018.

1. Move from practitioner to business owner

Plumbers, electricians and builders go to trade school and undertake both practical and theoretical lessons as part of their training. Software developers, chefs, lawyers, hairdressers and doctors – they all learn the skills to do their jobs both capably and competently. Then they finish their education or apprenticeship and get their first job and discover that they know less than they thought. So they continue learning. After a few years they’re an expert. However, throughout this period they are only learning to become an effective practitioner and not a successful business owner.

Running a business is a separate job and a skill too, and therefore it requires time and investment to learn and develop business skills to become capable and competent to do that job well. Unfortunately, business skills are not part of a plumbing, hairdressing or electrical apprenticeship, or part of the curriculum for lawyers, doctors or accountants. (No, that’s not a typo; contrary to popular belief, accounting courses do not equip you with the skills to run a business.)

If you look at most business start-ups, they either evolve from what was once the business owner’s hobby, or they are a result of someone wanting to work for themselves. Think of all the tradies, web designers, bookkeepers, etc. These people are experts in their fields and have skills, but this is what often happens when they go out on their own ill-prepared: they work hard and build up a customer and client base, then they get even busier, and later you hear that they’ve either gone out of business and/or their family life or relationships have broken down.

Were these people incompetent or unskilled at what they did? No. Their mistake was that they did not work on their businesses. It’s human nature to spend more time doing what you enjoy and what you do best. So, our self-employed small business owners gravitate to what they like doing, rather than mastering the business skills they lack. The result is that they spend way too much energy in their business and not on their business.

You’re running a business now, not just working. Stop being a worker and start being a director. You need to skill up and learn how to run a successful business.

2. Remember – every business is a family business

One of the nice things about working for yourself is the flexibility it gives you with regard to the hours you work. This reason alone is why lots of people head off and start their own businesses – myself included. “I’ll be able to take the kids to basketball practice”, or “I can have the whole summer holidays off and we’ll head off camping”. Sound familiar?

As the business grows, you start working harder – before the family wakes and after they have gone to bed. You take work calls while you’re driving to basketball practice Your family are supportive as they hope you
are living your dream.

Father’s Day breakfast comes along, and you go to school with your children. (You can do this because you run your own business, right?) After the breakfast, you are invited to see the children’s work in their classroom. Your eldest daughter has written a poem about Dad, and one verse goes: “Daddy – talk, talk, talk on the phone all day”.

Our self-employed small business owners gravitate to what they like doing, rather than mastering the business skills that they lack

You’ve got the message. And isn’t this the complete opposite of what you wanted when you started your own business? You have been isolating yourself from your family and not engaging with your family. Before you know it, you’re not running a business, the business is running you.

Business can destroy your family life and your family. If you have your own business and you have a family, then it’s their business too. You might be happy to work 24/7, but they won’t be.

Every business is a family business, but it is only a business and not your entire life. A business can have a profoundly negative impact on your life if you let it. It can also serve you and your family well as long as you start working on your business, and work more on the strategy and less on the tactical aspects of the business.

If you have a family and you work for yourself, then you have a family business – so you must be fair on your family and make time for them away from your business.

3. Systemise your business

If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard people say they were either too busy to have a holiday, or they couldn’t leave their business to others to run while they were away, or it wouldn’t be a holiday as they would be tethered via technology to their emails and phone calls and disengaged from their families, you’d be able to go on holiday (or stay on holiday) and still make money.

How do you overcome this? Systemise your business. Systemising is the process of documenting everything you do in your business – from answering the phone and opening the mail, to pricing work and after-care service. Without putting systems and processes in place, your business will become all-absorbing, with endless tasks to complete – like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Systems and processes allow others to share the load. These people then become what a studio recording is to Taylor Swift. A Taylor Swift song can be played by millions of people all at the same time. It sounds
the same every time it is played, and Taylor Swift collects a royalty every time the recording is played. Create a recording – a system – of your business, your talents, your way of doing something, and then, like a song, replicate it, market it, distribute it and manage the revenue.

Stephen Barnes is the principal of management consultancy Byronvale Advisors. He has spent more than 20 years advising clients, from new business start-ups to publicly listed companies and across a wide array of industries. He is also the author of Run Your Business Better – Essential Information Every Business Owner Should Know and Use. To find out how Stephen can help you run your business better, visit www.byronvaleadvisors.com.

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