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 !!!!!'

Forget Perfection - Get Something Down!

Unless you're a novelist (or blog-ist!), you'll be wondering what on earth has this topic got to do with running a business. Writers earn their living from using their gifting in the written word to create plots, twists, romance and all sorts of other page-turning tactics. The purpose here is to, not only get their readers to buy their books, but to share their 'take' on a particular tale with other fans of the author. After all, becoming a much talked-about writer is the obvious short cut to fame and fortune (especially if, later on, Netflix come knocking at the door!).

When the writer is impacted by what is known as 'Writer's Block', it's usually because he or she has run out of ideas, creativity or originality and struggles to put pen to paper. This can be de-motivating and, if allowed to fester, will have a negative impact on the writer's standing and, in the longer term, their bank balance.

The condition is so common in the literary world that the famous writer, George Orwell, wrote a novel called, Keep the Aspidistra Flying where the central character struggles to complete a poem about a day in London. It turned out to be too big for him and never really progressed having crumbled into a series of unconnected sub-stories. Now, doesn't that sound familiar when likened to all the different elements of running a small business?

Let's put it into the context of a new year and we're sitting down to articulate that dream plan that is going to bring in the results like we've never seen before. OK, we may be lucky but, chances are, we soon find ourselves stuck, just like the poor old writer staring into the ceiling and waving her pen around in frustration.

One particular literary practitioner's ideas about how the writer might address this is to give himself or herself permission to write rubbish . Yes, you heard it right, rubbish. Otherwise, they're as likely to be only focused on that masterpiece of perfection . Your rubbish may be that dream of a business plan. Whatever, type it into your phone, PC or write it down and put the timer on for 3 minutes using that time to add any other supporting rubbish.

Better still, this can be done in a group where everyone is given permission to go for the rubbish, no different from the time-honoured 'no holds barred' principles in brainstorming. After all it's well known how this can help a business move forward especially when embedded into its decision-making culture.

So what happens next? Despite sounding contradictory, rarely is this type of rubbish actually wasted. The writer's golden rule is to never dump any of your original writing in the WPB as, even though it might not be applicable now, it may come alive in another text later on. Likewise those pieces of rubbish that emerged from your business' brainstorming efforts may be anything but rubbish in another context at another time!

For the moment, however, you've as likely now got a collection of wild ideas and goals. Take each in turn and apply the SMART 'litmus test'. Are they?:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Welcome to 2019!

Obviously we at BLA are hoping it's going to be a rewarding and successful one for small business especially those of you who follow us regularly. Oh yes, a big thank you for reading our weekly topics and for the feedback you take the trouble to share with us from time to time. This is really helpful in knowing we're striking the right chords.

Last year's blogs talked a lot about vision and goals and the changes that need to be put in place to turn our plans into reality rather than simply crystal ball gazing. A great way to start is to identify what those goals might look like but without necessarily trying to qualify them against too much market place detail; especially the negative stuff, such as what we're hearing in the lending space and falling property prices etc.

Start by looking at where they sit in a life-style sense: family, friends, health, well-being, values, learning and so forth. Think about how you can truly pursue your passions and return something back to the community. A vision, by definition, is more than just words but a picture, sometimes a simple illustration, other times a more detailed one, maybe even a masterpiece! Whatever the case, if hidden in the picture are lots of smiles on the faces of those close to us (family, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders), then that should spur us on towards all the practical stuff that supports our commercial endeavours.

So what exactly is that practical stuff for small business? The logical start is your new business plan for 2019, most likely based on last year's performance and how it sits against new opportunities for growth and increased revenue . Carefully ask yourself, how different are conditions likely to be in 2019 in terms of how much will they dictate the year's likely outcome?

For small business, there may well be challenges with liquidity, obtaining credit and other more onerous financial conditions so it's important to take stock of what changes there are in the world of taxation. Start with a meaningful conversation with your accountant but, before doing so, please take time to view this important ATO link which outlines those changes.

Indeed, welcome to this new year! And remember, if you do know of any small business that maybe struggling, we're ready to speak with them.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

FREEZING, THAWING AND REFREEZING!

Over recent weeks we've delved into various facets of change that impact the way we run our businesses. In particular we've looked at the effect of the ever changing environment, not just the 'green-type' things but the economy, the political landscape, legislative change, technology and those ever present competitive forces.

Pages and pages have been written by often brilliant change practitioners, some of which can be quite complex at times. Our focus has been on keeping it simple and so, to wrap up the topic of change before we all head off for a well deserved Christmas break, let's share in a very simple, tried and tested, 3 step theory of change developed some 60 years ago (Kurt Lewin 1958). Indeed, we can take this wisdom with us into the New Year and beyond:

Unfreeze; this applies when we take stock of the old ways we have been managing our business and, in doing so, create a sense of readiness where we need to confront a new changing environment. This is supported by proper diagnosis which,in turn, strengthens the very need for change in the way we do what we do.

Move/Change; this is where the hard work kicks in mainly through our setting out an implementation agenda in order to propel all necessary change interventions to maximise our effectiveness.

Refreeze; this is about stabilising the new behaviours as we embed them into our culture, practices, norms and values and, most importantly, ensure we have mechanisms in place to avoid slipping back into those ever comfortable old days and ways!

It would be nice to think that it all ends here but, as we said in a previous posting, change is very much a continuous state of affairs in the modern world. Once that refreeze is locked in, lo and behold, so often we're back again into thawing or unfreezing mode, and so the process starts all over!

The good news is that, by embracing change with enthusiasm and positivity, the more we deal with it, the easier it becomes. And so, for example, if we want to expand, re-brand or add a new feature to our product or service range, we have already embedded into our practices the versatility, energy and attitudinal qualities to enable us to proceed with all the changes associated with those strategies.

So there's some food for thought as 2018 comes to a close accompanied by all our very best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director



Christmas comes but once a year!

In both our business and personal lives, Christmas time has an impact of some sort, positive or negative.

So, before all the stress and frenzy takes over our lives, (which it probably has already!), let's all just take a deep breath and quietly ponder on what that impact is going to be. Next, we have to take control of it and, should it be gradually edging us towards the 'Dark Side', make it change direction!

Take heed of some key words like 'Joy', 'Generosity' and 'Giving' . That way we, along with our families, are more than likely to end up in the right place. To get us into the zone, there are many, many quotes about Christmas, some inspiring, some cynical, some funny and some downright depressing.

Here's a random selection coupled with BLA's Christmas wish that only the inspiring ones will make the grade for you this season:

The Good (and very true)

"We should make the Yuletide season an occasion not merely for the giving of material things but an occasion for the giving of that which counts infinitely more … the giving of self"— J. C. Penney

"Christmas day is a day of joy and charity. May God make you very rich in both" — Phillips Brooks

"Your children need your presence more than your presents"— Jesse Jackson

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give" — Winston Churchill

"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other” — Burton Hills

"A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great" — Proverbs 18:16

“To be rich in admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness – these are the gifts which money cannot buy" — Robert Louis Stevenson

The Not so Good (but sadly also very true!)

"Even before Christmas has said Hello, it’s saying ‘Buy Buy.’" — Robert Paul

"Christmas is the season when people run out of money before they run out of friends"- Larry Wilde

"What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer." Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens ‘ "A Christmas Carol"

"The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants"— John Andrew Holmes

"Wretched excess is an unfortunate human trait that turns a perfectly good idea such as Christmas into a frenzy of last-minute shopping" — Jon Anderson

The Funny

"One good thing about Christmas shopping it toughens you for the January sales". — Grace Kriley

"Let me see if I’ve got this Santa business straight. You say he wears a beard, has no discernible source of income and flies to cities all over the world under cover of darkness? You sure this guy isn’t laundering illegal drug money?" — Tom Armstrong

The Thought-Provoking

"Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words"— Harlan Miller

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Smart Goals & Know Roles

As businesses dealing with a world of constant change, we are now going to take a quick look at a couple of the things we need to embrace in order to remain truly effective. Let's dive into the important subject of goals and roles.

GOALS invariably sit at the top of the list of any good manager; also you'll get the same vibe if you talk to a change practitioner. Not surprisingly, therefore, much has been written about the subject. One of the most popular, well tried and tested theories is presented as the mnemonic, 'SMART'. What it simply tells us is that our goals need to be:

S=Specific
M =Measurable
A= Achievable
R=Relevant
T=Time bound

Here's an excellent link offering more detailed insight into this useful topic; please make sure you have a good read of it!

Moving on, let's ask ourselves about what our ROLE is in all of this? Even if we are a one-person-band, the interactions we have with our stakeholders are critical to the success of our business. So, here's a few pointers:

Networking skills - we need to establish the right contacts both internally and externally to our business, making them feel part of our decision making and goals.

Being champions of good communication, including listening, means we can effectively transmit and receive vital information which is important to our business.

Always foster ENTHUSIASM towards our planning and ideas to encourage participation, motivation and commitment. It also can be fun!

Remember to regularly hone those negotiating skills and other areas where influence is the key to getting things done.

From time to time pull back and then hover, yes, hover! This will give a 'Helicopter Perspective', taking us beyond our immediate focus and thus be able to spot new challenges and opportunities in good time. It also enables us to see what's working and what's not, things that we can easily miss when we get too absorbed in routine 'stuff'.

So there we have it for this week, a brief run-down on goal setting and some of the disciplines that will bring it to life and, in doing so, keep our businesses ahead of the pack!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director



Rising Influence of Stakeholders on Change

Stakeholders can be defined as individuals, groups of people or other organisations that can influence the functioning and success of a small business...

So, who's in charge here?

By now, we should all be in agreement that our small business world is constantly under the influence of change. In the last couple of postings we reviewed our readiness for change and how that can be fuelled by the simple art of asking questions. Let's just park that for a moment and consider exactly where lies our power base. This is really important.

Compared with 30 or 40 years ago, there has been a marked shift of influence within the Australian business community. That influence has diminished the power that a business owner could once wield in the market place. This is due to, not just that power shift towards other stakeholders, but the rise in the number of stakeholders that can impact our businesses, either positively or negatively.

Now, every business is different and, particularly with small or micro-businesses, the stakeholder mix can vary and, in some cases, only include:

  • the business owner

  • his or her customers

  • his or her suppliers of materials and/or services (including admin, accounting etc.).

Of course, that mix can easily change as fast as marketplace operating conditions change. As a result it is always a good idea to keep firmly in the back of our minds a list of other possible stakeholders, such as:

  • Employees

  • Shareholders

  • Competitors

  • Special interest or community groups (especially those who may have concerns over the effect of your business on the environment or the economy)

  • Politicians; Unions

If we look closely at this list it can be seen that stakeholders can represent both internal and external forces for change. In some cases, though, they can be significant forces against change!

And so it is that, when considering people's response to an impending change, we need to use this broad range of stakeholders as our litmus test to assist in determining growth opportunities as well as foreseeing obstacles.

So...

Keep probing, asking questions and, in doing so, continue to strengthen that wall of readiness to help manage the inevitability of change in your workplace.

This is just one way to ensure YOU stay in charge!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Make A Habit Of Asking Questions

A lot of the work of a good detective is centred on the list of questions he or she has to build from statements, suspects, witnesses, forensics and CCTV etc. Just look at almost any TV cop show or murder, mystery movie. Of course there's heaps more to it than just the questions. There's all the preliminary research, retrieval of historical evidence, pre-interview preparation and the like. Then it's all down to finding out what is behind the answers to those questions and what links with what.

Simple? Probably not…

At least we now know why our law-enforcement bodies undergo such rigid training and role playing before they are launched fully into the ever challenging and often feisty investigative world.

The whole 'question' of 'questions' needs to be a constant feature of our small business environment. All questions are important - the what?, the how?, the which?, the when? and finally, the why?, possibly the most dynamic of all the questions. Here in Australia some of us are old enough to remember watching the kids' science shows hosted by the late Professor Julius Sumner Miller. Remember, his catch phrase, 'Why is this so?' It prompted him to explain the scientific rationale behind the experiments he shared with his young audience.

Making a habit of asking the 'why' question can be a great discipline, especially in business. After all, not taking things for granted is simply a must, especially given that what is true for today may not be the same tomorrow. By asking the 'why is it so ' question, the answers will usually give you up-to-the minute clarity and perspective. Don't necessarily stop at that first layer as there may well be another 'why' that must be explored to address the answer to that first 'why!' And then another and another.......

Just drill down until you're satisfied that you can go no further to the point that, with reasonable peace of mind, you're back at your desk hopefully enjoying a thriving business.

FOR THE MOMENT THAT IS...

By regularly revisiting these 'Why' areas you become alert to what is changing on the outside, perhaps situations over which you may have little or no control. However being in a position to meet these changes head -on and then make the necessary adjustments in your own business will, over time, become a useful , healthy and fruitful habit.

In the meantime and maybe just for old-times' sake, you can easily find the late Professor's snippets of wisdom on YouTube, so enjoy!!

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Are You Ready For Change?

…'If it ain't broke don't fix it'
...'Don't change a winning team'
...'Don't change horses in mid-stream'

How often we see these kind of phrases and, let's face it, they can make pretty sound sense in their own right.

HOWEVER, when small business people like us stick with these WITHOUT taking regular temperature checks in our work and market places, things can come up and bite us (and invariably do when we least expect it!).

So, what should we do? Here's a few basics:

  • Talk regularly to customers in order to keep up to speed with the quality of our products, services and processes. Continually review their needs and draw intelligence from what is really going on their worlds, not just what we think might be.

  • Listen to suppliers on things like the effects of changing market trends or shifting environmental factors. Let's make them feel like we are true and curious stakeholders in their business (and them in ours, of course).

  • The same applies to our staff and, above all, keep them in the loop in an honest and open way. Not only does this engender team work but you never know what they pick up during the day which might have a major impact on the way we run our businesses.

Some people might refer to all this as simply risk management (an important subject for another time!); for others it's a natural default position founded on common sense and a hunger to make their businesses the best in the field.

Whatever we want to call it, one thing we can be sure, it creates READINESS for change. In other words it means we are ever alert; always on the starting blocks just waiting for that gun.

So how ready are you? To get some answers to this, just take a little time out to look at some of the questions you may need to ask yourself first.

Ted Beecher, BLA Director