Our Language Is The Rudder That Steers Our Strategic Course

Imagine a large ocean liner plying its way across the sea driven by mighty and powerful winds. In order for it to reach its ultimate destination safely and on time, it has to be steered by a relatively small rudder. Similarly, the tongue is a small part of our body yet it is so powerful through the way it delivers the words that translate from our inner being. If that inner being defaults to the positive things in life, especially in the face of adversity, it means that the equivalent of that ocean liner's destination, i.e. our vision and goals, will be faced with a more determined and 'can-do' approach. Importantly too, that positivity is infectious and will spread amongst our teams and other stakeholders allowing them to participate more effectively and supportively on the journey.

By saying our tongue represents our choices in language, and whether that language comes over positively, negatively or indifferently, the other choice we have is where we pitch our language. When that pitch takes us into the realms of our vision and goals of the future, it provides perspective and positions the current reality, or the 'today' shape, of our business: where are we at, how are we doing? Asking all those sorts of questions, enables us to review our navigational (strategic) course and then reset the rudder.

Staying with our seafaring analogy, this is all very well if that course remains unaffected by the elements, like wind, storms and currents. Rarely is this the case, just like our business being bombarded by the effects of change leaving us with the question namely, 'Do we need to change course, in other words our language, remembering our tongue is the equivalent of that ship's rudder?

Safe sailing!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Conflict Doesn't Have To Be A Bad Thing

The risk of conflict is always looming its ugly head in business especially when you consider the different participants and agendas that have such an influence on what we do and why we do it. Customers, staff, competitors and suppliers are all part of that influencing mix and, for small business especially, this means your vulnerability comes to the fore when you see the ominous signs of conflict heading your way. In fact, if you are able to see them before they hit, that at least allows time to prepare. Sadly, they usually come straight out of left field without any warning. So, what to do?

Firstly, keep calm and try to salvage some thinking time to switch shoes, figuratively speaking of course. This means kicking off your shoes and stepping into the other party's. This will give you some ideas and offer assumptions as to where they are coming from. Another well-heeled metaphor to illustrate this is to remove your spectacles and delve into the box containing a variety of different ones. These are to give you a different view of the matter causing potential conflict: maybe longer sighted, shorter or even tinted (though probably not rose-coloured!)

The Participation Company provides some useful approaches towards the next steps. So, if you've chosen your lens of preference, offering either avoidance, competition, collaboration, accommodation or compromise, consider the pros and cons of that preference. Next, look at the alternatives and what steps you need to take, maybe changing from your natural default position in order to reach the ideal

Finally, conflict is not always a bad thing. Whilst it may highlight shortcomings within our operations it can also bring into the limelight opportunities and the changes we need to make to capitalise on them.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Getting To Grips With Bankruptcy and Liquidation

There are a number of myths and misunderstandings about bankruptcy and liquidation. As small business owners, hopefully these are things we won't have to worry about. However, they inevitably occur when, for example, a business is struggling with cash-flow and experiencing major difficulties in paying its bills. Contributing to this, it may be that customers are behind in their payments for goods and services because they too are having liquidity problems.

The Government regulatory bodies (ASIC and AFSA) have teamed up to give some helpful guidelines on this knotty subject. These include some simple definitions, the difference between company and personal liabilities, a few cautions regarding untrustworthy advisors and, conversely, the importance of getting good professional advice.

BLA clients are sometimes faced with the prospect of bankruptcy and liquidation so we are keen to see that they find the right pathways and information when the subject arises. So, for more information, please refer to the link below: https://www.afsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/bankruptcyliquidationbrochure.pdf

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Good Enough For The Astronauts Then Good Enough For Small Business Owners!

More than just the one small step for man.......................

So, this July we've been celebrating 50 years since the first moon landing and, for some of us, it will have very clear and specific resonance, especially if we were around at the time. For others, it maybe a case of simply, 'Oh yeah......... next?'

The link below is fascinating but, for the moment, we'll just concentrate on point 1. Life insurance for the astronauts wasn’t an option so they came up with an alternative plan to sign hundreds of autographs for each of their families so their loved ones could make some money by selling their signatures in the event of something going wrong! In a way, it serves as a reminder to small business owners that we need to support our plans and budgets with careful consideration towards the things that could disrupt or harm our forward endeavours. Likewise we may need to ask what do we need to do to mitigate those things.

When asking himself these very questions, Neil Armstrong's initial approach was to explore the insurance option. Alas......no go! This was due to the unimaginable premiums to cover risks spanning the unknowns of the Universe with no precedence at the time. So, read what the 3 astronauts did to protect their respective families' well being should the mission have failed catastrophically.

Are there actions, even remotely similar, that we should build into our business plans? By the way, whilst not 100% PC in one part and requiring a strong stomach in another, do read the remaining 10 points proving it really was more than just 'one small step for man'.

http://www.armaghplanet.com/11-strange-facts-you-didnt-know-about-the-first-moon-landing.html

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Which way is it Flowing?

Keeping a close eye on our cash, sometimes even to a point of paranoia, is an essential discipline in running a small business, particularly during its immediate post-start up period. Why? Because, we are so often unaware of the likely highs and lows of our business at this embryonic stage, what competitive forces are out there, what is affecting our customers' buying habits and so on. Then, of course, in the back of our mind, we need to remember that insufficient cash is a major reason why so many small businesses barely get off the ground and eventually fail.

So what is cash flow? Put simply, view it as how much is coming into the business as a result of your technical skills, sales and promotional efforts and, you've guessed it, how much is going out to repay any loans and, of course, to cover the expenses required to run the business. These would include rent, salaries, accounting costs and consumable items etc. If we lived in a COD (cash-on-delivery) world this task of constant monitoring would be a lot easier as we would have a day-by-day picture of money physically coming into the till and, likewise, what is going out. In the real world of course, customers often don't pay at the time of buying your products or services as a result of which your cash flow is dependent on collections of 'accounts receivable'. On the other side of the ledger (accounts payable) you have some suppliers who are happy to provide you with their goods or services on credit. As a result you need to balance what you are expecting to come in from your customers and what you owe your creditors.

So what if your business is impacted by seasonal fluctuations at different times of the year? Imagine if we were a business located in a ski resort or if you're one of the building trades which invariably go quiet over the Christmas and New Year months. This can really test us as we need to ensure that we create sufficient reserves during the 'good times' to ensure our survival in the lean ones.

There is a lot to say about this important topic but the more we are aware of the ins and outs of our business and the trends that affect these two way money streams, the more effectively we can Manage our cash flow as you will see by way of the tips offered in this helpful link.

Ted Beecher, BLA Director

That All Important 'WHY?' Question

When we look back on the day when we owners started up our small business ventures, undoubtedly there would have been a number of clear cut reasons as to WHY we decided to switch from our 'ho-hum' comfort zone and make this new and exciting journey. However ambitious, brave and even a little scary that journey may have first appeared, the all important WHY question was probably the driving force. As we continue on the journey, it's always a good idea to reflect on that original WHY and to ask ourselves whether it is still the same today. Chances are it is not because things change…don’t they? So asking this question regularly is a sound commercial discipline.

The French have a great way of illustrating this with the term, 'raison d'etre'. As small business owners, our raison d'etre is all about our purpose and WHY we do what we do. In French, raison d'etre literally means "reason for being," and in English it means about the same. Someone's raison d'etre is the most important thing to them: Michael Jordan's raison d'etre was basketball. We should always reflect on our raison d'etre or WHY, and how that may have changed or may be just about to!

A simple way we small business owners can address this is by making a list on one side of a piece of A4 of all the WHY's (or one if there's only one) that make up our raison d'etre. Next go to this link, courtesy of Success Harbor. From their list of the 50 reasons 'Why businesses fail while others succeed', put alongside your list of 'WHY's' the reasons, positive or negative, that could impact your business.

Turning to a more broader perspective, when we look at the main precursors to the questions we need answered in business, namely, How? Why? Which, When? What? etc., it's probably fair to say that the WHY is the most powerful. The reason is that the answer to the first WHY may not be the final answer. Think of a conversation like this:

A: 'Why are you starting a small business?'
B: Because I can make more money than being an employee in the same trade.

A: Why would that be?
B: Because I can fix my own charges for services and control my costs effectively.

A: Why would you want to do that?
B: So I can compete effectively , win new customers and watch my business and profits grow.

It may seem a bit over-simplistic but, in this drill-down example, just by continually probing the WHY, we go the full circle and end up having answered that first question. Buoyed by this confirmation that we are beginning on the right track, we are now poised for the next steps, namely to build our strategic plan, determine revenue expectations, project costs, create a marketing plan, build in assumptions and risks etc. WHY?

...Because we believe we are going to succeed as a small business owner and make a massive difference!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Is A Leader Born or Made?

On the back of our last posting covering the similarities between followership and leadership, this week we're going to take a brief look on the personal characteristics of a leader. A popular myth is that an effective leader is one who dominates and possesses high degrees of intelligence, confidence, initiative and limitless stamina. Even their height can be deemed a contributory factor. That is until we look at the physical stature of leaders like Napoleon or Gandi as well as the more infamous examples who turned the tides of history such as Hitler and Stalin.

Early theorists who supported these myths also assumed that leaders could only be born and not made whilst often forgetting that leadership characteristics can differ significantly. Take, for example, a general leading an army, a politician, a priest or team leader in a supermarket.

In running a small business, effective leadership embraces a number of factors:

1) Deliverables - this all about the goods and services. Things like quality control, customer satisfaction, competitive pricing and the numerous efficiencies that ultimately determine what is usually referred to as our business' bottom line.

2) People - an empathetic and considerate approach that leads to the motivation and job satisfaction of the team.

3) Education and coaching - linked closely with 2); these are the influences that govern our team players' growth in terms of knowledge and skill sets.

4) Values and culture - This ties together all of the story so far by being able to answer key questions, like exactly WHO we are, WHAT we are and WHY we do what we do. (If you're wondering about the 'HOW' and the 'WHEN', they usually sit in 1).

Think about this. In larger corporates, each of the categories above may come under the responsibility of a single executive with a CEO at the top whose job is to periodically run her or his thermometer across each of the 4 cells in order to report authoritatively (and hopefully with a few 'smileys' in tow) to shareholders and board members.

It's all a bit different in small business. An owner rarely has the luxury of being able to delegate these types of roles but rather embrace a little bit of everything themself and that's really the long and the short of it. Sound familiar?

In previous posts we've touched on a lot of things associated, directly or indirectly, with this topic. So, because of its importance, make no apology for any repetition. Indeed, we are confident, small business owner and writer, Susan Ward's take on leadership will help you on your journey, particularly the bit where she says, 'Leadership can be learned'. Enjoy the read.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Good Leaders Know How To Follow!

In Praise of Followers!

This is the title of a paper posted by Robert E.Kelley in the Harvard Business Review back in 1988 (Nov - Dec edition, pp 142-148).

The writer reminds business people of the emphasis we all place on leadership, and rightly so of course. He then quickly switches to the question of what about the people they lead? He cites Napoleon as being, without the support of his massive armies, ' merely a man with grandiose ambitions'. In the case of a business, Kelley states that they survive or fail partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead and partly how well their followers follow.

Recognising the importance of good followership, back in the last century when Jack Welch took over the reins of the massive, yet crippled, GE Corporation, he came up with an intriguing yet effective plan to save the Company. Put simply, it involved delegating responsibility by cutting through the many management layers and empowering those of the so-called lower echelons to make decisions which would collectively transform the organisation. In other words he created an army of effective followers.

Now hang on! I know BLA is all about small business, but don't be put off as the principles here can easily be applied in any size operation; even a one man band who is often a sort of leader/follower hybrid!

OK, back to Kelley. He explains that what distinguishes an effective from an ineffective follower is enthusiastic, intelligent and self-reliant participation - without star billing - in pursuit of an organisational goal. Culturally, self-confident followers see colleagues as allies, not competitors, and leaders as equals. Organisationally, more often than not, they can also see both the forest and the trees!

But how does the boss create this sort of environment? Simple!! (as that pesky meerkat would say!) Good leaders know how to follow and, in doings so, set an example for others.

By the way, do let us know if you want to know more about Jack Welch's pitch in the followership arena as we realise we barely scratched the surface by giving it the cursory air time above. In the meantime, here's another great article on the subject which hopefully will foster some practical tips on the roles of leaders and followers in the successful running of your business.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Finding Our True North

Anybody who's succeeded in the sport of orienteering, or pursuits like flying, sailing and other activities which involve navigating skills, will know the importance of maintaining a watchful eye on True North. Just to get technical for a second, True North (also called geodetic north) is the direction along our Earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole or True North Pole. Because it differs from Magnetic North, which is the direction a compass points toward the Magnetic North Pole, the navigator has to plot his or her course in order to make the necessary adjustments for that difference.

In running a small business, we must keep a keen eye on our True North. This means, figuratively speaking of course, we are standing up there on the bridge with the ocean all around us, having to constantly navigate the changes, conditions and environmental factors that impact on our plans and budgets etc. Of course, it's all a test of our leadership role and, as such, worthy of occasionally taking time out to ask ourselves a few pertinent questions, such as:

  • What's keeping us awake at night?

  • How do we want to be remembered (sorry if that sounds a bit morbid!)?

  • Who inspires us?

  • What is the one word that describes us?

'C'mon!', we hear you say. 'Isn't this all a bunch of airy fairy stuff that is so far removed from the nuts and bolts of my business. Wouldn't we all be better off if it's left in the domain one of those highly paid psychologists?'

Not so! These are just some examples of the kind of questions posed by Harvard Professor, Bill George, who emphasises the importance of finding True North in many of his postings and books. Have a peruse of his full list of questions in the link, noting that most are of a personal nature and a timely reminder of the synergy between our business world and private life. ............And perhaps a reinforcement that, since starting at 8 years or so ago, BLA's catchcry remains, Business is Personal and a key consideration when seeking our True North.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

It Takes A Community To Run A Small Business

They used to sing it at Funerals before they realised the value of COMMUNITY!

Not so long ago, in celebrating the life of 'so-and-so', and especially when the deceased was once a sharp shooter in the business world, their funeral service would often end with the famous Frank Sinatra recording of, 'I did it my way'.

Invariably there would be at least one of the mourners quietly cringing in the pew thinking, 'His way (or hers, of course)? ' 'What about the time I got him out of that hopeless mess-up with the books? Without my team's intervention, we would've soon had the liquidators knocking at the door?' Then there'd be others recalling and mumbling to themselves about all those situations where the 'My Way' factor was completely trumped by the time, effort and specialist knowledge of others.

Now let's be fair. Resilience, fortitude, tenacity, leadership and all those other 'power-words' may well be part of the DNA being eulogised on behalf of the subject in the coffin. And so they should.

But...Remember the old African proverb, ' It takes a village to raise a child '. This means that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children in order for a child to experience and grow in a safe environment. How easy it is to apply this to the small-business world. Think about it, 'An entire Community interacting'. Not a bad legacy to take with you if you were the driver behind it (and the mourners smiling at your photograph on the crematorium wall instead of glaring at it indignantly!)

Moving away from all this morbidity, let's take a look at the value of integrating into our business life the topic of community engagement as articulated in the link.

You may well be saying this Forbes HR Council article is all very well but I'm not there yet. Alternatively you may be struggling to get things started or have hit a rough patch. Come and talk to us and let's explore the ways and opportunities that may be available to you.

More to the point, let's go far beyond the undertaker's reach with another song, courtesy, Lennon and McCartney, 'I'll get by with a little Help from My Friends !!!!!'