Small Business

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

Will My Small Business Work Out?

In starting up a fresh Australian small business, the last thing you want to think about is what if it doesn't work out? The reality is that about one-fifth of small business start-ups in this country don't make the first year; and only about one third manage to survive ten years or more. That's all rather frightening...

So what are some of the key reasons for these rather depressing statistics?

  • Starting up for the wrong reasons: maybe a knee jerk reaction as a result of frustrations through working for a boss for umpteen years. Often the thoughts of a better work-life balance including more time with the family take precedence over the sheer hard work, dogged passion and resilience in the face of adversity that are absolute musts when setting up your 'own show'.

  • Insufficient Planning: a good workable business plan needs to be carefully thought out and realistic. In fact you must almost let it rule your life (well, within reason!). After all it will be based on all sorts of assumptions which will always be subject to the winds of change such as a volatile economic environment, your competitors and customer behaviours.

  • Weak use of technology: make no mistake, business success these days is dependent on having a good website, effective SEO and online marketing including a strong presence on social media. This way you can instantly highlight your professionalism, effectively promote your products and services whilst explaining points of difference over your competition alongside other 'reasons to buy'.

There are several websites on this subject which will be of great value to anyone thinking about starting a small business. However, at the other end of the scale, BLA exists to help struggling small businesses which may have fallen victim to one or more of the above situations. Other factors may have come into play like insufficient capital, overzealous expansion, ineffective financial control or risk mitigation. Whatever the case, our job is to work with struggling small business owners by helping them through the 'dark times' and its negative consequences, whatever the ultimate solution might be.

By Ted Beecher
BLA Director

How Business Life Australia Helps

When a business owner starts to experience a downturn in sales, a shortfall in profits, a 'drought' in orders or excessive predatory activity by competitors, that's when the anxiety sets in alongside other negative physical conditions. Does this sound familiar?

This is where BLA is fully equipped and ready to help!

So what's likely to happen next?

Firstly, we will assign a concierge to get alongside that owner and listen carefully to their story - basically little more than that at this first meeting. BLA's primary aim at this early stage is to establish a connection of mutual trust and to create an environment of hope, whatever the eventual course of action is most appropriate for that business owner's situation.

Using the information gleaned at that initial meeting, the concierge will consult with the BLA team, including our specialist service providers, in order to map out a pathway for the business owner. That pathway will usually lead to 3 possible outcomes:

  • Business recovery and restart

  • Sale

  • Closure

At the next meeting, the concierge will discuss our conclusions with the business owner and outline the next steps they need to take. Often this involves connecting them with one or more of our service providers who, for example, may have expertise in the accountancy, marketing, legal or insolvency space. Importantly, these providers understand BLA's 'heart' and will provide initial services free of charge.

At all times, the BLA concierge will remain the owner's friend in order to provide continuous encouragement and hope in their new journey. Typically, we will work with the business owner by getting them back into the driver's seat at the most appropriate time so they can reapply their skills and initiative. At the same time we see them using the experience as a learning tool as they strive towards their new goals.

By Ted Beecher, BLA Director

Business Is Personal

Is there always joy in managing a small business?

Of course, because this is my ticket to FREEDOM after being answerable to a boss for the first 15 years of my working life.  Now it's 'little old me' running my own race, managing my own show, controlling my wealth, my team, my future, my everything!

And then it becomes so positively personal  with the family sharing that joy............ 

How good Helen feels when she has coffee with the girls every Thursday. All those 'by the way', moments': the upcoming ski trip with the kids, the ever-meticulous  dressmaker over at Double Bay , Christmas in New York!  She can't wait until someone asks about private school. The kids are loving it!  All those modern sporting facilities, the gym, the Olympic pool, acres of fields. True, Aiden is struggling with his maths but, never fear, Mr. Morgan has all the best resources at hand to quickly get him up to scratch. Oh yes, another 'BTW' moment: last weekend's sleepover at the McCarthy's waterfront mansion. (David McCarthy, of course, runs the United South Pacific Bank).

Then there's me - I love being busy, watching things grow and the money rolling in.  More customers, more staff and larger premises! 

Can just fit in lunch with the accountant today. She's great but did warn me last year about the shoebox full of invoices and bills saying I should hire a good book keeper to do them monthly. Still, you'd expect her to say that. Accountants always do err on the cautious side.

Actually, I've got three shoe boxes this year. That's surely a good sign as to where the business is going. Mind you most of that was for the first three months before I lost '5-Ways'; they made up for about 25% of our turnover. Never mind, they say you shouldn't have all your eggs in one basket.

The lull will give us time to focus on the 'UPs"; like step up our marketing, beef up the website, unclutter and tidy up the stock. Then, up the loan (so easy for the bank with the house as guarantee). 

Now we can all take a deep breath especially as it's almost  Christmas when, thankfully, the business goes dead quiet. That's ok, a return to the good times might be delayed a bit. In the meantime, let's celebrate !!  

And, boy, did we! A great family Christmas with no expense spared followed by the cruise. We certainly deserved it after all the work we'd put in.

It's now February..... the bills have accumulated. Not enough in reserve and only just enough income flowing in from the regulars to pay the staff wages (well, at least this month). As for the bank loan? Funny how I quickly take my eyes off the house when I leave for work and come home at night. 

Mmm, Judging by the amount of sleep I'm getting and the blank looks from Helen, I quickly realise how personal business really is. Even the kids have gone quiet. Suddenly I'm nervous about answering the phone. Who do I pay first? Why am I avoiding people? Maybe I should see the doctor and get some anti-depressants. Alternatively, the cellar is still fairly well stocked from the Christmas splurge...

Sound familiar? If so, we need to talk...
1800 041 218
info@businesslifeaustralia.org.au