My grandfather stood six feet, six inches tall, and his personality was even larger. He had a big, booming laugh, and spoke to everybody and anybody. Inside that huge body there was also a big heart, one that struggled to say "no" to anyone who asked him for help.
When I was eight, and old enough to understand that grown-ups sometimes talk about things without referring to the actual "thing" in question, I noticed my parents and grandparents often mentioning "that man." Something in their tone told me that there was a negative connotation to "that man."
That same year, my grandparents moved into a small apartment. It was only years later that I learned the truth behind the "that man" conversations and the move we had to make.
My grandpa was a wealthy man. He owned a successful transport business. His work ethic was beyond reproach: he took calculated risks, hired good people, treated his employees well and his customers even better. However, his inability to say "no" would eventually lead to his downfall.
Enter grandpa's friend, uncle Henry – a.k.a. "that man." Henry was also in the transport business, but had fallen on hard times. Grandpa felt sorry for uncle Henry and allowed him to become his business manager. The arrangement worked well, for the first two years at least. Eventually, uncle Henry was given total control of the finances, and Grandpa trusted him.
Grandma was uneasy though, and when uncle Henry asked if he could become a partner in the business, Grandma was dead set against it. Grandpa, on the other hand, didn't want to say no to one of his oldest friends.
Five years later, uncle Henry went AWOL – with most of my grandpa's money.
Henry had wormed his way into every part of the business and proceeded to embezzle a fortune. Grandpa was 60 when he lost his business – and it broke his spirit. He died a mere six years later. And the money uncle Henry had stolen from our family was never recovered.
Running a business is tricky. Just one bad decision can make a successful business go under, as the story of my grandfather illustrates only too well.
Many people think that starting a business is a matter of having a good idea, putting up a sign, buying an extra computer, and advertising on social media – and then serving the customers who've beaten a path to the door.
If only it were that simple!
We often use the phrase "business as usual." But what does running a business look like?
In his book "On the Origin of Species," Charles Darwin said that it's not the strongest or the most intelligent species that survive, but rather the ones that adapt to change the quickest. There are countless examples of business giants that, over the years, adapted just a tad too slowly – and today they're business history.
One of the scaffolds that makes adaptation in business possible is the ability to think creatively. How can you solve a customer's problem? In what ways can you outwit your competitors? How do you navigate an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic? What is it that your customers need that they don't even know they need?
Creativity is vital for answering these questions and thinking differently to solve problems – and to predict what's coming.
It's important to develop an excellent understanding of your market and your competitors. Who will fork out money for your product, and why? Why would they support your competitors? What can you offer your customers that your competitors can't or won't?
After my grandpa passed away, uncle Henry tried to woo my grandma. No jokes. Ten days after my grandpa's funeral, "that man" came to our house unannounced and, after a cup of tea – that I had to make! – asked my grandma to go out with him. The nerve of the man!
He did go out – but out the front door. On his own. We never saw him again.
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we discussed how to run a business, and explored the important things to keep in mind when you're trying to make it a success.
Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
Q1. Why does running a business appeal to you?
@MikeB_MT It may be in my blood. I come from a family of small business owners and entrepreneurs. And though I've usually worked a full-time job with a company, I've always run a side business or two.
@MindfulLifeWork I started MLMW to scale my sphere of influence in the world... i.e. a business allows "me" to be in more than one place at a time. When impact scales, so does income... both are welcome, and both support a sustainable and reinforced growth.
Q2. What strengths would you (do you) bring to running your own business?
@CaptRajeshwar Long vision, teamwork, stakeholders involvement, ROI, listening, open communication, SWOT.
@katwife Embrace multi-tasking. You need to wear many hats. New biz, accounting, research, as well as client outreach. I do PR and marketing so it's 360 from behind the scenes to actively pitching media.
Q3. Which areas would you (do you) need help with in running your own business?
@SarahH_MT Top 3 Areas: 1. Accountancy support – this is a MUST. I've had it since Day One and wouldn't be without it. 2. Website and IT support, again a given. 3. Marketing support... I don't have it but absolutely need it.
@Yolande_MT As much as it is a strength, my work ethic is also a weakness – I overwork myself.
Q4. How will you secure the knowledge, skills and experience that you need?
@DrKashmirM No substitute for experience. We should have a team that have no ego in sharing knowledge or lack of knowledge.
@SizweMoyo Short courses are my go-to. They remind me that I'm not the only person with such problems, and give me a chance to meet those who share my shortcomings.
Q5. How would you (do you) set your business apart from others'?
@ColfaxInsurance You have to lean into your knowledge and experiences – you're the only one who can do it how YOU do it. I would just be me.
@Yolande_MT Think creatively and offer your customers an added service they didn't know they could/should get from you.
Q6. What's the biggest challenge you see/have experienced in running a business?
@bodytextpro Working with or managing friends and family can be a... challenge!
@BRAVOMedia1 When I started consulting in digital marketing and SEO – there were very few of us who understood the craft well enough to make serious gains. My industry has become saturated with consultants and DIY websites promise all the bells to success – yet they are unable to deliver.
Q7. What's the difference between working in your business and working on your business?
@MindfulLifeWork Working IN the business is primarily the delivery of services. Working ON the business falls into the realms of design, vision, strategy, systems, protocols, practices, and company culture. Working ON the business is a leadership duty.
@MikeB_MT Working in your business sounds like a day-to-day thing, possibly more reactive. Working on your business may involve more long-term planning, bigger picture thinking, and may lead to longer lasting success.
Q8. How could you (do you) balance/manage these two types of activities?
@SoniaH_MT The key to balancing/managing working IN vs ON a business is time management. Both actions are necessary; identify your peak alert times of the day/week and get to it!
@SizweMoyo Just dedicate time each week to balance the scales on those two sides of a business. Don't stick too hard to a set calendar though, because you can still have an idea about improving the "working in," while "working on" the business.
Q9. What's your succession plan? How and when will you step back?
@SarahH_MT Definitely get a mentor, don't be afraid to ask for help and network with people whom you may be able to help in return for them helping you with something you need. These are all low-cost options that in my experience really work.
@Midgie_MT I do not have a formal succession plan as I am a one-person business. I do however have a network of people who I can pass referrals to if I am unable to take on the work.
Q10. What advice would you offer to someone thinking of starting their own business?
@TheTomGReid Think twice. Maybe three times.
@Dwyka_Consult Be wise, ask for help, and don't let anyone pressure you into decisions that your gut isn't comfortable with.
To read all the tweets from our conversation, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
Some of our coaches also weighed in on the elements they deem important to running a business.
Marketing and communications professional and coach Mike Barzacchini @MikeB_MT suggested that amazing customer service can give businesses a strategic advantage:
"Amazing service used to be a given. But now, when we receive amazing service from a business, we're often surprised and delighted. We remember the experience and consciously, or subconsciously, it helps affect our decision to return and to buy again. Committing to exceptional, amazing service can be a strategic advantage for attracting and retaining customers.
"One idea to help with this is to create a service personality statement for your business. This would describe the impression you want to make on new and returning customers when you interact with them. Defining and committing to a service personality will not only help your business today, but will also help train new employees and associates when they join your business."
For Mike, staying focused and being consistent can also have huge payoffs for a business:
"If you want to provide amazing service, if you want to build a memorable brand, if you want to succeed in the long term, you also need to stay focused and consistent.
"It's easy for business owners to shift priorities and to react to trends and market conditions. But look at the businesses that have succeeded in the long term. Chances are they've focused on doing one thing well. Once mastered, then they may try to diversify and build different lines of business, but most often, that diversification is also part of a focused plan.
"You're smart, resourceful, an expert in your field. You can likely do anything you want with your business. But you can't do everything you want. Focus and stay consistent on providing the products and services that are most true to who you are, what you do best, and what your customers desire. When you're doing that, you know you're on the path to success."
Another of our career coaches, Sarah Harvey @SarahH_MT, emphasized that importance of self-care when running a business:
"People set up their businesses for various reasons, with one of the often-cited motivations being to work around other commitments and achieve a better work-life balance. Inevitably, business owners need to be prepared to make sacrifices to run their business profitably and, unfortunately, one of the unintended sacrifices tends to be work-life balance.
"In reality, looking after your well-being as a business owner often takes a back seat. You're passionate about the business you've set up, you're driven to make it a success, and you're willing to give it your all. It feels great to work for yourself and realize your dreams of working for yourself. But where does self-care fit in?
"If you make too many personal sacrifices, you'll soon find you have no life beyond your business. You may find you start eating unhealthily or stop exercising. You may not be able to find the time to see your partner, children, family, or friends as often as you'd like. You could develop poor sleeping patterns and not feel able to "switch off," so your rest and recuperation can suffer. If this continues long term you will eventually become resentful or even burnt out. And where would your business be then?"
Sonia D. Harris @SoniaH_MT is an organizer par excellence, so she shared a few thoughts about staying organized:
"As someone planning to launch a business, you may be asking yourself, 'How do I get organized?' Before answering this question, you must acknowledge and accept your skill set and tolerance levels. Ask yourself, 'What am I great at doing? What do I like doing? How much do I like performing these duties?'
"There will be operational duties that you want to manage yourself, and others that you may wish to delegate to someone else (employee, contractor or volunteer). Time is valuable, so remember to consider the cost of the opportunity. Is this task the best use of your time? And don't forget to delegate some business functions. It's okay to manage it yourself, but be prepared to use multiple tools or software to help increase your productivity.
"To stay organized each day:
If you start or run a business, the most important person to manage well is you. Next time on #MTtalk we're going to discuss how we use the words "I am" in ways that can help us or hinder us.
So, in our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know why you most often use the phrase "I am."
If you've enjoyed the chat this week and want to learn more about running your own business, take a look at some of our resources on the subject, below. (Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.)
Today, more than ever, ethics are a leadership imperative. Bruna Martinuzzi examines the power of ethical leaders and what it takes to be one.
"We can start with the question, 'What do you need me to do?' and respect their answer at the time. Let them know where you will be and BE THERE if they reach out. " @eriphar
"I have personally gone off track at times due to a lack of awareness in the moment and because my distractions have been stronger than my intentions."