One of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of, asked if anyone had any tips on how to attain a good work/life balance and deal with the pressure and loneliness (at times) of being a company leader. As I got a few likes on my response, I thought I would share it on my blog.
I have always had a keen interest in the entrepreneurial mindset, in fact I have written a book on it as well. Having observed lots of successful business people over the years, it would appear that those who win, have good housekeeping embedded in their company, strong customer focus and one that often gets overlooked – mental toughness and resilience.
Growing a business is a roller coaster and you should expect the unexpected, period. The loneliness of running a business is a reoccurring comment made by individuals I meet – here are some thoughts:
- Many of the things we worry about are of are own making – be careful of the conversations you have with yourself, they can be extremely destructive
- Create space to think – success is 20% thinking and 80% doing. So many business people forget the importance of ‘time to think’ (I walk my dog for 2 hours a day over the Lancashire Moors).
- Have 2-3 people whose views you respect and trust – give them a call.
- Get involved with entrepreneurial networks – we are all worrying about the same things. Be open and share.
- Aim to build a great team who can share the burden.
- Life is short – remind yourself that a late payment is not the end of the world. Far worse things could happen.
- Maintain good health – without it… Say no more.
In recent years a number of investment and financial readiness initiatives have been launched to the SME world, these have been designed to raise awareness of what businesses need to do to raise funding. Whilst these have a place in supporting enterprise, many have failed to take into account the time, effort and resource needed to be “really prepared”. Securing money to drive growth whether debt or equity is more than crafting a well-presented business plan and forecasts. Many of the challenges linked to fund raising lie in an organisations fundamental operating systems, management team and business model. A significant number of entrepreneurial SMEs fail to display good housekeeping. This makes them unattractive to potential funders.
My experience is that many entrepreneurs are just not ready to pitch to an investor or bank when the need for funding is identified – often they require a sort of MOT well in advance of their pitch. In many instances structural changes are needed within a SMEs operation – when solid foundations are in place a robust case can be confidently proposed to an investment or relationship manager. This puts key decision makers within financial institutions in a stronger position when they, in turn, make their case to the relevant credit committees.
Entrepreneurs can lose credibility with investors and banks because their business plans cannot withstand scrutiny of a due diligence or credit appraisal process. I believe there needs to be a higher level of awareness and education within the SME community as to what banks and the broader investment community need to see within a financing proposition. SME’s should never forget that the credibility of a financial forecast is built on the effectiveness and robustness of its systems, people, processes and service/product propositions. These latter issues seem to somehow often get overlooked. A failed pitch can close the door on investors or banks for months and in many instances, years.
Broader and closely related issues to fund raising would suggest that many entrepreneurial businesses often:
- Lack absolute clarity of strategy, vision and planning
- Spend too much time in the business and not on it – fail to look at the big picture
- Lack effective management teams, this puts funders on the back foot when it comes to assessing an organisations capability to deliver the plan
- Become slaves to their business and lose sight of the growth plan
- Hallucinate – their vision/strategy is a wish list
- Have financial systems and controls which are not fit for purpose
- Fail to build relationships with their funders and last minute request for funding, often when its too late, is commonplace
Because of the entrepreneur’s lack of awareness of what funders want, financial institutions have come under significant attack for poor lending strategies. Whilst this maybe true in some cases, my experience would indicate that there is no lack of funds for well run businesses, commercially viable ideas and sound new ventures supported by a strong management team. The gap often lies in what the entrepreneurial SME fails to understand about both the process and the quality of their business model. Growth hungry entrepreneurs should spend more time “living in the funders world”.
Not being able to see the wood for the trees is a common feature of life. People regularly talk about being busy and overworked – but just how much of this is self inflicted. All too often we engage in activity that brings no value to achieving our highest goals and ambitions. Without reflective time, our decision making becomes blurred and it is common to lose sight of what we want. The result is stale thought with patterns of behaviour that fail to deliver our deepest desires. Successful people have the fortunate ability to think clearly, this is helped by finding the time to take well earned breaks from being “busy”. This cleansing process provides the opportunity to de clutter the mind.
The practice of finding sanctuary helps to remove mental blockages and fosters a sense of balance between work and play. Without regular periods of reflection you will find yourself eventually in a rut – the place you don’t want to be!
You must think of Sanctuary on three levels of “time out”:
- Daily sanctuary to help us to prepare for the day ahead – time with family, exercise, meditation, prayer, reading. Starting each day with 10 minutes of deep reflection, provides a kick start to focused activity and just being aware
- Weekly sanctuary that helps divert our energies into non related activities like pursuing a hobby, sport or spending more time with family and relationships. These activities release you from the week that was – puts you in a good frame for the week ahead
- Sanctuary includes those activities that most people can only fit in two or three times a year. They would typically involve family holiday’s, short breaks or some form or retreat. This level gives you the opportunity to ask the big questions – what is my life all about? What needs to change? Should I go and do something else?
Dedication to the 3 Levels will open your mind to new possibilities and opportunities. Chasing success can be as destructive as it is constructive – practicing the art of Finding Sanctuary will build perspective into your life and help to differentiate between what is and what is not important, what brings fulfilment and what does not – embed these disciplines into your routine and you will experience a profound improvement in clarity of thought – you will see things more clearly, you will make better decisions and life will feel less hectic.
Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.
High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:
- Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
- Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
- Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.
Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship where there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time, effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold. A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.
A mentor is one of the most important tools in an entrepreneur’s kit bag. Growth companies constantly reach forks in the road – so, which way? As your business gets bigger, then hopefully the team you have created will help you to make the decision on which road to take. However, there are often BIG decisions that are outside the scope of the knowledge of the guys sat around the table. Having a mentor – someone who’s experience and judgment you trust can be a serious crutch on these occasions. Asking those very simple questions like, what would you do? How would you approach it? Who should I go and speak to? Who are the best advisers? – to someone who has experienced the scars of the pain you are feeling is all too often the answer. Every successful entrepreneur we have worked with (and that’s thousands) lean on someone they respect, all too often that advice comes over a beer or coffee. It’s not formal, it’s not shrouded in business plans and three-year P & L calculations – its good, solid common sense.
The reality is that there are so many individuals out there who have succeeded in business, who are more than happy to provide a helping hand – the fact is they have not been asked. The wisdom, experience and insight to help us make better decisions often comes free from willing souls, who just want to help others overcome the hurdles and challenges they face.
So the conclusion is, if you are trying to grow your business, find someone who has been down your path – invite them for a coffee and use the magic words – please can I ask your advice. It could be the best couple of quid you have ever spent.
Most of the battles in business you have to win are in your mind first. Your mentor can help you work out your game plan and indeed make better-informed decisions.