Making an impact on the world is largely to do with knowing where best to put your energy. So when I get the opportunity to do something that has a potential impact on not just my business but those of my clients and peers I grab it with both hands. Last week I was thrilled to be invited to an event run by The Entrepreneurs Network, a think tank set up to give entrepreneurs, small businesses and the self-employed a greater collective voice. It was called ‘A Parliament Fit for Entrepreneurs?’ and aimed to understand what the government needs to do to support entrepreneurs better.
I was excited to go, and at the time the discussion was absorbing and inspiring. The overwhelming message from the panel, made up of Baroness Susan Kramer, Andrew Dixon and Gilian Keegan MP was that the way to change government policy was to ‘get involved’. Lobby, speak to your MP, play your part in discussion groups and forums. ‘Great’ I thought, I’m here at this event, getting involved, changing things – that’s a start.
A week today I attended an event called Be More Gazelle - How to grow your business at speed...
I’ll start with a confession… before this event I had no idea what a Gazelle was. Obviously I know it's a kind of deer like mammal but in business terms, not a clue! It turns out I probably should have done because it’s exactly the kind of companies I work with. According to The FT it's an extremely fast growing company (20% + YOY) that maintains consistent momentum.
Are you a secret Gazelle? I can’t be the only person that doesn’t know what one is?!
The event was run by Upstream – a fab initiative that's aiming to redress the silicon roundabout East-West imbalance and make Hammersmith and Fulham the best place to do business in Europe. What an exciting vision! Are you in the West of London? Look it up and get involved. There were far too many business advisors there and not enough actual businesses and I'd love to feel as though I was part of a growing and thriving community of great businesses.
Want to know how to be a better leader? Know this - leadership is everything you do.
At a recent panel discussion I went to, the question was asked - how do I find time to lead my team? When do I lead in between all of the other priorities I have? And the answer? Leadership is everything you do. Your team will look to you for cues and clues on exactly how you want your business to run. Every conversation you have with them or someone else, you are showing them how people have conversations in your business. Every decision you make, you are showing them how decisions are made and what the priorities are in your business. The way you deal with customers and suppliers is the way that customers and suppliers are dealt with in your business.
"The bit no-one talks about is the emotional side of running your own business" - Steph Douglas, Don't Buy Her Flowers. A quote from a talk I attended at Stylist Live last Friday - three successful female business owners, on stage talking about how to start a business in an industry that ostensibly you know nothing about.
All three, very impressive women, all three, disarmingly, well, female. Maybe it was the audience (at least 99% women), maybe it was the event (a fashion and lifestyle event), it was probably the brief (make your story accessible) but they were unashamedly and wonderfully open about what it means to be a woman in business.
The one thing I hear time and time again from business owners both new and old, startup or established, big or small is a feeling of overwhelm. A feeling of doing too much, being in too many meetings, trying to succeed on too many fronts.
It's a common issue, and there's a common cause. Complexity is the downfall of many a business and business leader. In the pursuit of success we do as many things as we can to get the results we want. We launch as many products as possible through as many channels as we can, create as many connections as possible and try and be everywhere at once. It's a kind of commercial spread betting and in the start up stage, it kind of makes sense.
I’ve written about the sleep inducing powers of talking about systems and process before. It's something I've encountered the whole of my career - tell someone they need process in their business and their eyes glaze over. Ask them what they want to fix though, or what's holding them back, and they get a whole lot more animated. In 90% of those conversations, the answer to their problems or the thing that will get them unstuck is... you guessed it... a process.
There are three key processes that every business needs. The don’t need to take up huge amounts of time and if you implement and follow these three processes consistently, not only will you have a more profitable and sustainable business, you will also feel more sane and have more time for the good stuff like strategy and, well, the odd day off perhaps!
For a business to be sustainable it needs to make profit.
And so as your business starts to grow, the traditional start up model of 'sales at any cost' starts to become irrelevant.
Structure, process, systems. Three words that all have the tendency to make people’s eyes glaze over. But what if they’re exactly what you need to create the sustainable, profitable business you know you deserve? If you’ve done the start-up bit and you’re consistently making sales you will start to feel as though you’ve 'got a business’, but if you’re also still stuck in every bit of detail and you know it couldn’t survive without you then you've also got a millstone.
Whether I'm coaching business leaders or mums returning to work, I see one thing standing in people's way time and time again and that's FEAR.
It can very often be disguised as something else but it doesn't take much digging to find out what's at the root of it. Take indecision for example, what tends to be driving that is a need to ensure that we've chosen the right answer. Look at it the other way, and it's fear of choosing the wrong one. When you're running a small business (or a big one) your decisions matter exponentially, and it's quite likely that you'll have bitter experience of getting it wrong. As your business starts to grow the risks become greater and so does the fear.
Impatience, that familiar mix of slight excitement tinged with frustration. It creates an energy that has nowhere to go, and if you don’t learn to recognise it and manage it, it can be pretty damaging to your success.
It’s definitely my Achilles heel and it has led to several changes in direction for my business as, when things don’t work straight away, I have a tendency to want to move straight on to the next big idea. It's also led to blogs, web copy and Facebook posts being published with glaring typos even though I'm the worlds biggest spelling and grammar pedant - all because I'm too impatient to properly proof read things. For me, broadly, I think my impatience is driven by a need for recognition and results. I’m not very good at plugging away and sticking at things for the long term if I’m not 100% sure they’re going to work out.....