As a business owner you know that you are often called upon to wear many hats, working long hours to ensure the job gets done, your customer is satisfied, your staff are paid, next week’s marketing is complete, and your taxes and government remittances are taken care of. After all it’s been said many times that being an Entrepreneur is one of the most rewarding career options out there – provided you’re willing to work 100 hour weeks.
But why don’t executives and Senior Managers in big business have to work those types of hours? After all their troubles and commitments are many multiples the size of your own. How do they manage to better balance their work and non-work lives?
The primary difference is that in a traditional “job” career you are given a narrow scope of work that is generally focused on the area of the business you know best and can bring the most focused value to. In a big business we have departments focused on Accounting and Finance, Marketing, Taxation, Sales, Operations, and (if you’re in a forward thinking organization) even Innovation.
Small business owners too often sell themselves short on their ability to balance work and life because it’s been ingrained in us that as an Entrepreneur you are supposed to wear all the hats yourself. Sure you might have a bookkeeper to help with financial administration, but you still hold accountability for the financial planning and health of your business. You might have a digital marketing partner who designs your web-site and helps with social media strategy, but you still manage and control your brand image and positioning yourself.
Isn’t that the way small business is supposed to operate?
The unfortunate reality is that as a small business owner you are probably really good at one or two aspects of the business of your business, but let’s bet frank – you basically suck at the rest. That’s why you’re still a “small” business.
The most common areas Entrepreneurs excel are sales, customer service, and the management of the product or service they leveraged to start their business. I know very few Entrepreneurs who started out as finance specialists – the exception being the Accountants who provide their services to other small and medium sized businesses.
As an Entrepreneur it is imperative that you get clear on the areas of your business that you bring the most value to, and “outsource” the rest if you’re serious about growing your business. You can be satisfied with 100% of a small tart, or you can gorge on a smaller portion of a huge pie, but to get the pie you need to leverage some outside advisors and tools.
Let’s have a look at the key functions of your business and the tools and services that are available to support your growth.
Accounting and Finance
This is one of the most common areas that Entrepreneurs are willing to accept their weakness, but too many still rely on the services of an entry level bookkeeper thinking that they can manage the difficult financial planning and decisions themselves. Sure a real Accountant operating as an outsourced CFO is more expensive and might deliver some difficult messages about cash flow or debt to equity ratios from time to time, but a good Accountant who has an ongoing and formal relationship with your business can help you weather tough financial times, keep your business in a positive cash position, and give you advance warning of financial troubles that lie ahead.
Another area most business owners recognize their limitations is in legal services. Unfortunately many Entrepreneurs look at legal services as a transaction, using the services of one lawyer to help them incorporate, then shopping around for a new lawyer to help with IP protection, and potentially a third lawyer to help with contract support. Much like a dedicated outsourced CFO who is actively involved in the operation of your business, a dedicated outsourced legal team who can take the time to learn your business can provide value added advice like helping to align corporate structure to financial needs and contracts to IP issues to ensure that you are protected as your business grows.
Contrary to the popular cliche, if you build it they won’t necessarily just come. The best sales people know how to identify and connect with the real decision makers in your customers business, identify and articulate needs, and craft a value proposition that maximizes the potential to close the sale. Many small business owners develop a generic sales approach and use the “shotgun” approach to sales where they knock on as many doors as possible in hopes that someone can filter their generic sales pitch into something that provides value. True sales professionals use laser-like focus to illustrate value at every door they knock on which results in closing many multiples more volume in sales. It is more difficult to outsource the sales function of your business because there are fewer external sales management teams on the market than lawyers or accountants, but if this is an area that is not your strength it is worth seeking these resources out. With a strong contract in place based on solid financial terms (read: use your CFO and Legal team to support this discussion) you can outsource the sales of your business until you grow to a position to bring the function in house.
Despite the common perception, marketing isn’t just another word for Advertising. Real marketing firms are not those that are peddling SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services or Social Media Strategy. Real marketers understand brand development, market positioning, and product and service design issues and can help you stitch together the overall package so you present a clear and common picture of what your business is about and the value that you bring to the table. A marketing partner can also help with your advertising strategy including SEO, Social Media, and traditional media outlets, but they will only do thatafter they build your image and positioning. You need to first build the brand and positioning before you worry about your advertising or your customers will just be confused trying to figure out the value you bring. Being in the first 10 search results or having a high Klout score doesn’t do you any good if your potential customers can’t figure out why they should do business with you.
IT Support and Services
Just because you can navigate your way around a PC or Mac doesn’t mean that you should be spending hours of your day making technology work for your business (unless your business is technology support or services). Your technology should be an enabler to your business, not a drain on your time and energy. It should just work. One of your key business partners should be your technology provider and they should be interested and aware of your business goals and direction and be able to bring recommendations on technology products and services that can help enable those goals. Should you be using tablets? Should you have Windows or Mac? Cloud or no Cloud? These are all questions that are better left to a professional who spends their life understanding the pros and cons of each of the options and who can align them to your business needs.
Yes you were the genius behind the product or service that launched your business, but that is precisely why it is all but impossible for you to be the genius behind the next product or service Innovation that will propel your business to the next level of growth. We all get emotionally attached to our own ideas and they take on a life of their own. That doesn’t mean they are bad ideas, but it does limit their ability to evolve and grow over time to remain relevant. The manual typewriter was an incredible idea but you’ll be hard pressed to find a “steno pool” in any modern office. An Innovation partner who understands your business, takes the time to keep up with your competitive space, learns about your customers and non-customers, and then challenges the assumptions of you and your core team is invaluable as your business and marketplace grow and evolve. Unless you are one of the rare few that is able to develop an idea, let it live, and move on to the next Innovation then you should be looking for a partner that will help drive your growth for the future.
While I’ve covered the core areas of your business, it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list. There are many other aspects of your business that you should be looking to build long-term relationships with a key partner which may or may not apply depending on your business and industry. Real Estate (rentals, leasing, purchase), Banking and Lending, Insurance, Project Management, Process Design and Development, and Logistics are all areas that may be critical to your business and therefore require a long-term and structured relationship with a trusted advisor. Look at your business and identify the critical functions for its operation – if you’re not an expert in one of those critical areas then you need a business partner who is to maximize your chances for success.
Your goal as a small business owner or Entrepreneur shouldn’t be to “survive” or to become a “jack of all trades”, it should be to become the CEO of your own corporation. While you may not yet be big enough to house all of your business departments under the roof of the company, your advisory partners create the same “best of breed” capabilities as the largest businesses in the world at a fraction of the cost.
Most of these business partners are open to different types of partnership models ranging from fee for services rendered (the traditional model), a retainer model (pay monthly into a retainer fund that you use as required – the insurance model), and sometimes even more innovative models such as revenue sharing or equity based models. My recommendation is to first identify your CFO and Legal team who will likely rely on either the traditional or retainer based models and then leverage their knowledge and experience to structure your other advisor relationships.
Finally, once you build your advisory team the last key to success is to introduce them to each other. As the hub of the communication between your dream management team you become a bottleneck and a filter for that communication. Introduce your partners to each other and give them explicit permission to communicate with each other in the management and growth of your business and they can be even more proactive in helping you build for the future.
If you’re happy being a “small” business, then ignore everything above and focus on survival. You may be able to build a business that provides you with sustenance for as long as you need it, but that doesn’t build real independent value or legacy that make it something you could divest or sell at some point when you decide to retire. You might also get lucky and despite all odds develop something grand. If you want to maximize your growth, create a legacy, build real business value, and above all significantly increase your potential for success rather than just survival then get started today in building your advisory dream team. Your business will thank you.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.