Is yours a service business? Is it difficult to explain your USP without feeling like a scratched record?
Last week I was at an event run by Mums in Business in Ealing and the speaker was Andrew Hilary. He reminded us just how powerful creating stories when talking about your business rather than simply trying to package a ‘business message’. Think of your own story, Andrew urged. How can you tell it so that people are spellbound?
I thought about one particular business I built in the past, and what a miserable experience it had been. Surely there was no seed there for a good story? But the more I thought about it, the more I could see how the experience had shaped who I am, and what I believe in passionately as a small business consultant.
So here goes.
I’d dreamed of being an entrepreneur since I first entered business and it took twenty years before a golden opportunity presented itself. As I strained to keep up with my jogging partner Jason, he told me how his firm was likely to close, too lumbering and backward-looking to keep up with the times. But Jason could see the future – the very market development which was crushing his tired, old employer presented wonderful opportunities for modifying old technology with new, to create exciting new products.
Jason planned to get a new job and work in his garage in the evenings to perfect his ideas and try to get them to market. He was excited about what could be achieved. So was I, but I told him it would be completely wrong to work away in his garage, exhausting himself and his family and, perhaps, finally reach his goal when the market had already moved on. I explained how venture capital worked and how raising £1m was likely to create £5m within three years if what he said was true.
Setting up shop
Setting up the business together was an exciting, sometimes hair-raising, experience.
- We persuaded some of Jason’s best team members to come aboard with us (we found it wasn’t them that needed convincing, it was their anxious partners).
- We secured a key customer contract even before the company was born, which, we found, made raising finance far easier.
- We found a manufacturer who was prepared to share some of the risk with us and learned how to choose a partner rather than just a supplier.
- We discovered the leverage that a business can get by cultivating powerful champions within potential client organisations and much, much more about how to build a business.
It was stressful, but we succeeded relatively quickly and safely.
What I learned
My own work objective is simple: to help the owners of small businesses create the life of their dreams through their businesses. It was only after Andrew’s session I realised why this is so important to me. Although our business together survived and then grew to become the international leader in its field, it was a miserable experience. Jason and I fought about how to run the company, what it should be, where it ought to go. We disagreed about the office layout and how to build sales. In fact, we disagreed about almost everything and every day was torment. I ended up dispirited and depressed.
Hindsight is a powerful tool and it’s easy to see now the pivotal few things which Jason and I got wrong. We weren’t clear about what the objectives of the business were, who was the overall leader and how we would take key decisions and lead the company. Each of us took it for granted that our own vision – and the way to achieve it – was not exactly shared by the other.
I don’t want others to make the type of mistakes I did (of course, each and every business team falls into different traps).
There are two points to this story. The first is that it’s very difficult to be objective about your budding business at the same time as getting carried away with all the opportunity it seems to offer. You need an objective, independent pair of eyes. The second, and for me the driver of all that I am, is that a business needs to be fun. Hard work and pressure are no problem if they combine to make you happy and fulfilled. It’s my business objective to help you shape the way you design and run your business so that for you, it’s a joy to get out of bed every morning.
Malcolm Allitt, September 2015
Malcolm Allitt is a Growth Accelerator coach working with Heart of Business in London and the Thames Valley area. Click here to view his mentor profile here.
Did you know that if your business has fewer than 250 employees you can get financial support for personal coaching and mentoring through the government’s Growth Accelerator scheme? If you’d like a conversation over a cup of coffee about how you might get the best out of your business – and have financial support in helping you do it – then telephone Malcolm on 07961 352268 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org