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7 Lessons in business (from a Business Coach)

By Advertising Feature - 17 April 2012 13

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Let me say upfront that I am a Business Coach, and I hope that this doesn’t scare people off from the start. Coaching is an industry that has strong levels of opinion one way or the other depending on people’s experiences or views. We aren’t all bad, and we aren’t for everyone (just as a personal trainer isn’t for everyone, but they do help those that work with them!). I am not going to rant on about the pros and cons of business coaching as it is an individual viewpoint, what I am going to do is talk about my experiences of talking with local business owners I have met and put some common lessons that all business owners can hopefully use to learn from.

According the ABS statistics, Canberra has 24,600 businesses in operation, which showed a 600 decline on the prior year. Businesses close for numerous reasons; be it financial, relocation, personal, economic or other, but clearly there has been, and still is a trend in businesses doing it tough out there. I see this from a personal standpoint in my own business, and from those I meet with. So what can you do if you are in business to prevent becoming one of the statistics in a forced manner?

There are some common opportunities for business improvement out there and they aren’t all overly difficult to implement. I have picked the most frequent ‘gaps’ in the operation of businesses from my Audit process (in no particular order).

    1. No Business Plan developed: All start-up businesses need to establish a business plan and document it (not just keep in your head). There may be a need for this from a financial standpoint for financing from banks, but if you are in the fortunate position of starting your business without financing, the plan will help define what you want the business to achieve, how you plan on getting there, and what tools, processes and resources you will need. The plan should be active and regularly reviewed for currency and business change, not used as a door stop, or stashed away in the filing cabinet!

    2. Insufficient working capital from commencement: Nearly all businesses will require some level of capital to trade, regardless of the source i.e. personal or bank. Quite often the business commences with little or none and believes that they will trade and grow from turnover. Rarely this works, or if it does the general growth level is slower than planned. You will need to budget for marketing, staffing, your wage (or to fund lack of wage), stock, business set up costs, legal, accounting etc. The first 6 months feels like you constantly have your hand in your wallet or on your credit card (I know from my own experience). Complete a cash flow forecast in advance, or even if established to determine what your needs for the next 12 months are and to see easily if there is any shortfall.

    3. Poor people systems and processes: People are your greatest asset, but if not managed they can be your biggest liability. If you employ staff, you must ensure you have job roles, establish performance management processes, establish KPIs and generally manage their output based on your business goals. Wages, tax and Superannuation also need to correctly established in a legal manner. Do you have a customer service process and standard? How detailed and structured is your training process? All these help develop the organisation that you desire with the team to achieve it. A lot of the business owners I speak to feel trapped with poor performing staff and have a great fear of managing them.

    4. Lack of delegation from the owner: Many owners feel they have to do everything, because ‘no one else can do it as well as them’. The true power of a leader is to effectively learn to delegate tasks to others and be confident in the processes they establish to ensure tasks are completed to the desired level. Do you have role description for your position? What would you expect of someone if you were paying a commercial wage to replace you? This is your foundation for your role process and structure. Business owners working 7 days a week most likely don’t have adequate process in place, or have a fear of letting go of the minor tasks in their business. Do the exercise of working out your real hourly rate based on what you pay yourself divided by the actual hours you work- this can be scary!

    5. No marketing strategy or plan: This forms a part of the business plan as above, but is commonly missing. What is your brand?, What do you want it to represent?, What is your USE (unique selling edge), How will you engage in social media?- which ones to use and what your messages will be? Etc. Everybody is marketing, some well others not quite so well, but to build your brand you need a process and a goal, not just shooting in the air hoping to hit something- define your products, their target market, then establish how to reach them best. Most importantly, marketing is expensive, so monitor and track the performance of all marketing outcomes so you have an accurate idea of your ROI on each activity. If something didn’t reach your goals, don’t just say it didn’t work, evaluate the message used, did it have a call to action, was it just branding, or a specific promotion?

    6. Poor accountant advice (or other advisors) and lack of financial awareness: Get a good accountant! Look for one who provides proactive advice, gives ideas for business structure and tax effectiveness and isn’t just ‘someone who does your BAS’. Professional fees are expensive, so seek value from the service you pay for. In addition to this, it is a massive issue out there for business owners to rarely look at financial information regularly if at all. Review P&L, Cash Flow and Balance Sheets at least monthly to get a picture on how you are trending. Don’t wait until July when you get accountant P&L’s returned, as this may be too late if things aren’t tracking well and don’t use the bank balance as your measure of performance. Again, if you are not confident in this area, seek guidance from your accountant.

    7. Working ‘in’ not ‘on’ the business: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’- this is so true for business owners, We get so busy doing the day to day ‘things’ that we don’t spend time to plan, review and strategise. Force yourself to spend some time each day, week or month to look at the business in an overall context. Seek feedback from clients, suppliers, other businesses and mentors etc. to help identify areas you may miss from becoming ‘store blind’ in your own business from doing the same thing every day. Your staff can be a great tool in this area as they see issues that you may not, so formal meetings and open feedback from them can also drive improvement.

So there’s my list and whilst this isn’t a complete list of opportunities, from my experience these are the most common I have found exist.

My biggest piece of advice is to spend time on a regular basis to sit back and reflect or review your businesses past performance for the period, and see what worked or didn’t, and make plans for the coming period. It is always a great time over Christmas at a minimum, but half yearly or quarterly is preferable.

Good luck with your planning and goals and if there is any desire to take up my offer of a free, one hour coaching session to see if this is something that may help your business please email me at tony.ozanne@smallfish.com.au or call 0447 610 279. Alternately, check me out on www.smallfish.com.au/tonyozanne

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13 Responses to
7 Lessons in business (from a Business Coach)
smallfishtony 9:19 am 18 Apr 12

brownies said :

Hi All,
Just wanted to say I have started using Tony and his systems for 3 weeks now and I am very impressed. I was just floating around in my company with great ideas of what I would like to achieve but no strategy to attack them or system to write anything down and Prioritise. We are still in the building a 1 page plan stage and I am already putting in place things we have discussed in our sessions. I started out with the 1 hour free session and once I knew what Tony could offer I wanted to start straight away…… Its really nice to have someone with experience extract all the information you have stored in your head and put it on paper…
Highly recomended…..

Thanks brownies, pleased to hear it is working out so far, although in early stages, it does take time to establish the plan and priorities though.

smallfishtony 9:09 am 18 Apr 12

hk0reduck said :

Hi Tony,

I operate a small business from home that sells knitware (E.g Cool kids toys like Sock Puppets). Currently I mainly sell through Etsy but I’m looking to increase my web presence.

I was thinking about running an advertising campaign on a local blog and I have 5 different Sock Puppets(and counting!) ready to go that I think will really generate buzz and discussion about my business. Have you got any ideas or recommendations on how I could go about this?

Hk0reduck, I appreciate your response and your questions raised.
I am sure that the sock puppet market is a great niche for you and you can exploit it quite well to target a specific demographic given adequate planning and research if that is the question you are asking, and I point you back to the initial article for some common ‘watch outs’ for opportunities businesses face.
If the ‘5 sock puppets’ are in fact a representation of 5 posted comments that you may feel are ‘staged’ ones, I will emphasise that this is an ‘advertising feature’ on a social media website, and as per advise I would offer to businesses who use such a method, I would encourage them to inform clients, colleagues and friends of the article in anticipation that some will make some comments. This, I believe is a good way to start the discussion, which is why I chose the Riot ACT as a medium, as feedback in any form is a gift. I will add however that I haven’t dictated, solicited or encouraged any particular style of comment, or established any ‘sock puppet’ accounts, so I am confident that they are real people, including a couple of clients. All I would ask of any comment is they maintain their own integrity to comment as they feel regardless of good or bad in relation to my advice or their experiences with me, as I know I am not perfect and can always improve, so I honestly seek this type of feedback, including being challenged on the comments as per one interpretation of your post. I think it was the famous Democrats post of ‘keep the bastards honest’ which I definitely believe is apt in this case and I thank you for doing this.
Again, good luck with the sock puppet enterprise!
Tony

brownies 7:51 am 18 Apr 12

Hi All,
Just wanted to say I have started using Tony and his systems for 3 weeks now and I am very impressed. I was just floating around in my company with great ideas of what I would like to achieve but no strategy to attack them or system to write anything down and Prioritise. We are still in the building a 1 page plan stage and I am already putting in place things we have discussed in our sessions. I started out with the 1 hour free session and once I knew what Tony could offer I wanted to start straight away…… Its really nice to have someone with experience extract all the information you have stored in your head and put it on paper…
Highly recomended…..

smallfishtony 10:25 pm 17 Apr 12

Intuitive said :

All so good advice. Love this stuff.
Running a small business is not rocket science all it takes is some goal setting prowess and an ability to follow Tony’s suggestions.
Well done, Tony.

Thanks Intuitive, however I do feel the trap that some fall into is thinking that a business is just too simple, where by it may be, but you still need to establish some process and planning!

smallfishtony 10:22 pm 17 Apr 12

MissKatePrior said :

Tony great information. I know people who have started a business but did not have appropriate cash flow and closed the doors, unfortunatley shortly after starting.

I was wondering if you had any advice on performance management tools/staff appraisals. We currently complete them regularly for our staff. Once someone has finished their probabtion period, how often should we conduct them. Also there is a fine line between having an effective appraisal form. Do you have any suggestions on a form I could look at.

Kate
thanks for the comment. I agree appraisals are critical and at a minimum should be 6 monthly with your team based around a combination of both personal and business goals. The business needs to have set KPIs for all to attain but also behaviour based goals as to how they will achieve the goals.
Performance management is an ongoing daily process where by behaviours are given regular feedback, so the formal aspect (ie at 6 monthly/ annual reviews) isn’t a major surprise to the employee as you have given regular and timely feedback throughout the year as it arises, both positive and constructive.
I do have some samples which I would be happy to pass onto you if you desired them.

Kristian 4:11 pm 17 Apr 12

Thanks for the informative article Tony. I really liked the final point – about taking some time to reflect on where your business is at, what worked, and what hasn’t, before going into the next planning phase.

I would highly recommend taking Tony up on his offer of 1 hour of free coaching – this is a great starting point in terms of taking the time to reflect in a structured way.

hk0reduck 2:18 pm 17 Apr 12

Hi Tony,

I operate a small business from home that sells knitware (E.g Cool kids toys like Sock Puppets). Currently I mainly sell through Etsy but I’m looking to increase my web presence. I was thinking about running an advertising campaign on a local blog and I have 5 different Sock Puppets(and counting!) ready to go that I think will really generate buzz and discussion about my business. Have you got any ideas or recommendations on how I could go about this?

Intuitive 1:58 pm 17 Apr 12

All so good advice. Love this stuff.
Running a small business is not rocket science all it takes is some goal setting prowess and an ability to follow Tony’s suggestions.
Well done, Tony.

MissKatePrior 1:11 pm 17 Apr 12

Tony great information. I know people who have started a business but did not have appropriate cash flow and closed the doors, unfortunatley shortly after starting.

I was wondering if you had any advice on performance management tools/staff appraisals. We currently complete them regularly for our staff. Once someone has finished their probabtion period, how often should we conduct them. Also there is a fine line between having an effective appraisal form. Do you have any suggestions on a form I could look at.

smallfishtony 11:06 am 17 Apr 12

Cheryl said :

Hi Alexander
We have been working with Tony for 18 months now and I can say he has helped us to work on our business. We still flounder around a bit in our business but knowing that Tony is coming once a fortnight helps us to focus on things. Also being a husband and wife team it is great to have someone come who can assist in keeping us on track in discussions rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty. Coaching while scary initially is very helpful for business focus and growth.

Thanks Cheryl,
I think the important thing has been the process with you guys has helped you stay focussed as you say. Regardless of how or who businesses use to support, mentor or coach them, a third party can be a means to be held accountable. Im not saying people all need to rush out and get a coach, as that is not the intent, it is more to place a process around reviewing and watching out for the common traps that I have found. We need small businesses to succeed as they are a vital part of our society for many reasons. Tony

smallfishtony 10:59 am 17 Apr 12

AlexanderWatson said :

Hi Tony, I’m a sucker for working in not on the business but find it really hard to step back and plan things when work is flat out. What tips do you give for removing owners from their busy business so they can plan their future instead of just being strapped in for the ride?

Great question! Finding the time to work in vs on is a BIG challenge. One thing that does stand out however, is that if you truly look at your day/ week or month, there is always the F.A.T (I’;; call it Fluffing Around Time- you may call it other!), so start in small steps. Look for the amount of time you waste doing the distracting tasks like searching the net, Facebook or other and even if it means you find 10-15 mins a day to start to review parts of your plan, or to develop a plan, it is a start. The more disciplined you then become, you will find that the planning time actually gets results, and more importantly, focus, so you will start to find more. The old, small steps approach to eating an elephant applies, you can only take small bites! Hope this helps!

Cheryl 10:52 am 17 Apr 12

Hi Alexander
We have been working with Tony for 18 months now and I can say he has helped us to work on our business. We still flounder around a bit in our business but knowing that Tony is coming once a fortnight helps us to focus on things. Also being a husband and wife team it is great to have someone come who can assist in keeping us on track in discussions rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty. Coaching while scary initially is very helpful for business focus and growth.

AlexanderWatson 10:44 am 17 Apr 12

Hi Tony, I’m a sucker for working in not on the business but find it really hard to step back and plan things when work is flat out. What tips do you give for removing owners from their busy business so they can plan their future instead of just being strapped in for the ride?

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