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

Adopting A Mindset For Change!

In our last posting we spoke about the need to be able to change ourselves in order to cope with all those other changes over which we have little or no control but which, nonetheless, influence our personal and working lives.

Sticking with the whole change theme (which we'll be covering over the next six weeks or so) what we have to remember is that this is not about the one-offs; neither is it about the occasional adjustments we need to make, believing that they will comfortably stay with us forever.

No way!

Once you've implemented one change and started to manage its effects in those key areas of your life and business, rest assured, there will be another one waiting round the corner, poised and ready to land bang in the middle of your circumstances!

We just have to get used to it!........

The good news is that, even though change may hit you as a moving and frustrating feast of constant volatility, the more it confronts you, the better you will manage it. It's kind of like most sports. The day we can cast into our sub-conscious the need to keep the eye on the ball, the hand on the club, the pressure in the shoulders, wrist or whatever, the more we improve and hone our competitive toughness.

The not-so good news is that, by not facing change and readjusting our methods accordingly, some small business owners will wake up one day and find that everyone else has moved on. How depressing it is to see your competitors adopting those changes leaving you high and dry facing dwindling turnover, unhappy customers and, worse of all, the negativity of it all impacting your family life.

So let's not let this happen but rather embrace change as a fact of life. The other piece of good news is that change doesn't have to be a transformational firestorm that knocks all your stakeholders- staff, customers, suppliers et al - off their feet. No it can be managed in bite sized chunks once it becomes part of your way of life.

We'll be talking about effective planning for change later on but, just to whet your appetite here's a link to one of the several practitioners operating in this area covering the kind of topics that are all part of the rich change arena.

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

Relaxation Techniques

When a stress-generating event occurs, such as a lull in profitability, an order that's gone astray, or the resignation of your top performer etc. etc., we all know about the burgeoning anxiety that can cut across our business day. Then someone says, 'Just relax'!

Well, hello? ..........................

Actually, having a few relaxation techniques in our tool kit is a very useful thing and, of course, there are many. One of the key strategies on offer for whenever you're feeling particularly frazzled, scattered, and out of balance is simply to concentrate on breathing techniques. Like an anchor in the midst of a stormy sea, breath awareness is a balancing force for the mind, anchoring you in the present time.

When under stress, most of us tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths, primarily by expanding our chests. This thoracic breathing is not the most efficient way to breathe. Not only does it prevent the lungs from filling and emptying completely, it can also contribute to increased muscle tension. During stressful situations, it is especially important that we breathe from our abdomen, not just our chest. Abdominal breathing relaxes the muscles, massages the internal organs, and allows more oxygen to energise our system.

The ideal times to practice this breathing relaxation technique is when you are feeling tense or anxious or in need of energising your body or calming your mind. Just a few of these complete breaths are wonderfully calming and won't be noticed during a meeting or a phone call. This simple procedure is very effective:

1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight.

2. Exhale completely.

3. Inhale very slowly, allowing the breath to enter effortlessly through your nose. At the same time push out your abdomen as though it were a balloon expanding. Move your chest as little as possible.

4. After your abdomen is stretched, allow your chest to expand with air. This fills the middle part of your lungs.

5. Allow your abdomen to pull in slightly, and your shoulders and collarbones to rise. This fills the upper part of your lungs.

6. Gently hold your breath for a few seconds. At this point, every part of your lungs is filled.

7. Slowly begin to exhale through your nose. Breathe abdominally by lifting your diaphragm and allowing your lungs to empty. Proper exhalation releases used air and opens space for fresh air to enter.

Though at first this way of breathing may feel awkward, once you become familiar with this it, it can be done quite easily and comfortably. Try this link for more tips on the subject.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

Offset some of the stress and strain of running a small business with a healthy diet

In recent blogs we spoke about the importance of establishing good sleeping and exercise routines to help offset some of the stress and strain of our business lives. To complete this 'good habit' cycle, it's time to give a few simple tips on diet.

THERE ARE FIVE FOODS GROUPS TO ENJOY EVERY DAY:

1. Bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles (include wholegrain varieties) 
N.B. Eat from this group in moderation if trying to lose weight!
2. Vegetables (include 5 serves a day)
3. Fruit (include 2 serves a day)
4. Milk, yoghurt, cheese (choose low fat dairy products)
5. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and nuts.

It is also important to drink 6 – 8 glasses of water each day. Where possible, avoid soft drinks or high energy drinks including fruit juices – avoid sugar wherever possible.

Caffeinated drinks need to be kept to a minimum and alcohol avoided.

Here is a link to the government website, Eat for Health, for more detailed information on healthy eating.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

 

The Value of Exercise When Anxious About the State of Your Small Business

There can be any number of signs that you are anxious about the state of your business, such as:

  • Withdrawing and stopping going out
  • Feeling overwhelmed, guilty and lacking confidence
  • Relying on alcohol or sedatives 
  • Just not getting things done!

Increased fitness can lift the mood. More to the point, an exercise regime is a helpful way to block negative thoughts, provide a distraction from daily worries, increase energy levels and, when mixing it with others, make people feel less alone.

Biologically speaking, exercise can increase levels of helpful neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) that may have diminished due to depression and anxiety. It can increase the endorphins which are the 'mood-lifting' chemicals in our brains.

So, where to start? 

  • Rule no. 1 : make it simple;
  • An hour's circuit training at the gym or 50 laps of the pool may be great for you but it doesn't necessarily have to be that strenuous a workout.  If you're not that way inclined, try walking, bike riding, gardening or just commit to a household maintenance routine.
  • Importantly, do what you find enjoyable (not what others may want you to do!) but, where possible, it's good to include other people and make it a group activity.
  • Make a workable plan but ensure it has sufficient flexibility so that it does not cause added stress to the distress that you may be already experiencing. 

There are a number of websites offering more detailed tips especially if we treat exercise as medicine.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director

When Running a Business You Need Sleep Discipline

When running a business, it's good to be disciplined around sleep, diet and exercise. This enables us to manage, not just the daily highs, lows, stresses and strains of our business, but helps create a buffer against the onset of more serious matters like anxiety and depression.

This week, let's look at a few tips regarding sleep: 
• Try to get out of bed as soon as you wake. Don’t go back to sleep or try to make up for ‘lost sleep’.
• Get outside during daylight hours for both the fresh air and the daylight. Responsibly spending time in sunlight helps stabilise our body’s sleep and wake cycles.
• If you are worrying about something during the night, set aside some time for problem-solving during the day; write your problems down.
• Avoid caffeine after 4pm and try not to drink more than two cups of caffeine-type drinks each day, e.g. coffee, tea, cola or energy drinks.
• Avoid taking alcohol to help with sleep.
• Make the bedroom quiet, dim and cool. Avoid all technology and distraction, e.g. TV, phone, I-Pad.
• Avoid too many blankets and electric blankets. If you’re too hot, you won’t go into a ‘deep sleep’.

There are many websites to chose from offering help and advice on the subject of sleep. Reinforcing some of the above tips, try this one on sleep education by the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep.

Ted Beecher
BLA Director