businesslifeaustralia

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

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

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

Sometimes We Have To Change Ourselves First

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” Leo Tolstoy

The following link will help us unpack that wisdom a bit further.

There are numerous theories, books and papers on the subject of change which can sometimes baffle us and make things appear complicated. So let's have a go at fixing this myth...

As we all know from experience, our businesses are constantly affected by change, e.g. environmental issues, competitive forces, government legislation, the highs and lows of the economy etc.

To adapt to these changes, we should all know that we don't just react and then blindly surge forward. We have to take into account how it is going to affect, not just the balance sheet, as important as this is, but things like our processes, customer service, pricing, staffing and culture.

The same type of approach applies to changing ourselves. Again the 'panic' approach is almost certainly doomed. Here we have to ask, 'What are the knock-on effects of a me-change'? Will it affect my health, my family and other relationships, not to mention the things I hold dear outside of my work space, like leisure time, sport, holidays? It's also important to ensure that my values, beliefs and principles are protected in all 'me-type changes'. After all this is my DNA which impacts on, not just the 'now', but the legacies I am going to carry forward for ever and ever.

Change is challenging but also exciting, and certainly stimulating if we want to make it so. For small business owners, by properly embracing change, and especially where it involves tweaking our own persona, we keep ahead of the pack and minimise the risk of future struggle or failure.

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