Managing a Smaller Business

Perverse as it may sound this is a big challenge! There is most of the complexity of a big business and less heads and hands to cope with it. This means that the leaders in a smaller business need to grasp a number of disciplines and ideas that would have specialists in a larger one.

The key to success is focusing on the right things. This means, in terms of your own personal time, focusing on the things that make a real difference, focusing on the things only you can do. Time is a key resource for every business but none more so that the smaller business. There are never enough hours in the day and if you keep burning the midnight oil you just get tired and lose your spark and your focus too. You have to spend your time wisely. Don’t do things that others can do; it doesn’t matter if you do it better, they need to learn. If they can’t, get someone who can! Do the things that only you can do. Ensure that you have time to think, to develop new ideas and new relationships. If you aren’t leading the business then chances are, no one is!

Delegation has all sorts of challenges for all parties involved, but it is a key to growth. If everything has to go through you then you will become the rate-limiter to growth. Delegation builds trust, relationships and confidence if it is done right. Sure they will make some mistakes. Your challenge is to make sure they are ‘safe’ ones.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” George S. Patton

All businesses are either leaders or followers. If you are not setting the pace, then you have to find some other competitive advantage such as price or convenience. You need to decide what your competitive advantage is. Are you the slickest operator, which allows you to make more profit from the same price or undercut others? Do you have a better product or service, in which case you can perhaps premium price. Or do you just have very good relationships with either key customers and / or suppliers? Knowing this will help you determine your USP (your Unique Selling Proposition). This in turn will impact on how you promote yourself, the type and location of your premises etc.

Money both in terms of overall funds and cash flow is usually a constraint too. Make sure that you use yours wisely. Invest in systems and tools that will save you time or improve quality or margins. Invest in good people and tools. The best way not to lose money through bad debts is to do a great job and then ensure you get paid promptly. In my experience, both as a supplier and a customer, I am always happy to pay on time for good work and a keen price. I tell my customers my expectations about payment before we start so that we can smooth out the bumps before we hit them! Another great tip (as an accountant in a previous life): the best time to chase for money is before it is due; why wait till you have a problem?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter F. Drucker

Choosing the right people is probably the most important thing you can do, and I am not just talking about your staff. I recently had dealings with a very successful smaller business that uses a lot of third party sub-contractors. This was neat because it meant less admin and less overheads. However, the smartest element was the people she chose. They were all professional and pleasant, just the sort of people who you would want representing you to your clients. If you aren’t that impressed by someone, chances are your customers and suppliers feel the same way. View everyone who works with you as an ambassador for your firm and you won’t go far wrong.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Dwight Eisenhower

Of course another key thing is setting the right example for your team. You can’t afford to say one thing and do another because people will always tend to do as you do rather than following what you say. Don’t tell them that “Customers are key” and then slag them off behind their backs. Don’t say “We always do a first rate job” and then skimp on quality. Treat all your staff in just the same way as you would wish them to treat your customers and you won’t go far wrong.

When hiring people, recruit people who are different from you. A lot of people make the mistake of hiring clones and then wonder why no one in their team can do certain things. You need to make sure that within your team you have people who are good at dealing with people, people who can think ‘process’, ones who are good with the technology, ones who react well under pressure and ones who plod along and get the work done. You need a mix and the art is ensuring you have the right mix.

The final message is ensure that your communications are first class; both within your team and between your team and your customers and suppliers. Clear, consistent messages align everyone and ensure mistakes don’t occur. If you are not sure if someone has understood what you want, take the time to question them, rather than just saying “Got it?” as you leave the building. Make the time to listen. It can save you a huge amount of time further down the line.

Running a business is all about balance. Get that right and you are laughing. Lose it and you are probably in the smelly stuff… Good luck!

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” Albert Einstein

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