Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, June 26, 2016.
Question: For years it’s been just me running my little business. But now I’ve got some opportunities to expand things and I’d like to see my business grow. What things do I need to keep in mind as my business expands?
Answer: Too often growing results in groaning. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Years ago I was riding horses in Canada. My wife will tell you that’s when I first said, “An hour on a horse is like three hours anywhere else.” She loves equine arts. Me…not so much.
On that same ride we met a group of folks that had been out riding horses on the trail for a week. My rump groaned at the thought. The riders were all tired and the horses knew the barn was near. I didn’t see exactly what instigated the excitement, but suddenly a mule tangled with a horse and sent the horse flying away at full gallop. The rider, an experienced cowboy and trail guide, fell off the horse, but his foot got stuck in the stirrup. The horse galloped wildly down the trail, pulling the helpless cowboy along, bouncing and twisting in a cloud of dust. The horse must have run a quarter mile. I thought for sure the cowboy was dead.
He wasn’t. Just badly bruised and more than a little embarrassed at his tender-foot mistake.
That cowboy being dragged by his horse reminds me of some business owners I know. Having learned the secret of growing their business, they now enjoy the fruits of their success: being dragged along, completely out of control, beaten and dirtied along the way.
If that sounds like a fate you’d like to avoid, here are a few things to keep in mind as you grow your business:
Identify Ideal. Get a picture in your mind of exactly what you want your business to do for you. Not what you will do for your business, but what it will do for you. Earning more money is not a terrible goal, just a very incomplete one. What will you do with the extra money? What “Identifying Ideal” forces you to do is confront what we should all do anyway – define what a good life is and decide how to live it.
Model Your Mission. Your business has a mission. It may be very small, inspiring to almost no one (“Make me more money!”). Or it may be a big mission, inspirational to you, your employees, suppliers and customers. It’s not enough to have a “mission statement.” Those can end up just being words on paper. Do you walk your talk? Do you live out the values that you claim permeate your business? One great (though perhaps painful) way to find out is to hire an outsider to do an anonymous survey of your employees and best customers to find out what they think about you.
Prepare Processes. The secret to successfully expanding almost any business is to identify and codify every task (large and small) everyone in your business does. If important processes in your business are in someone’s head (either yours or a key employee), you are just one death, disability or departure away from a serious problem. Almost everything you do in your business has some form of “best practice.” Figure out what that is, write it down and make sure someone can find it when you are gone.
Duplicate to delegate. Delegate anything someone else can do 80% as well as you. The secret to growth is focus. As you shed all those tasks that you thought “only you” could do, you’ll find yourself with energy to pursue your highest priority tasks with the highest return on your time. Try to do as few things as possible, so you can accomplish as much as possible.
Monitor the money. I have a dentist friend who wrote the following proverb at the top of all his financial reports: “Know well the condition of your flocks and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.”
If you don’t have deep accounting and cash flow projection skills, find someone who does and hire them. Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “There’s money in the bank, we’re fine!” Cash is the oxygen of any business; it only takes a brief time without it to result in death (physically or fiscally).
A growing business can be a boon to the owner, its employees, other businesses that supply it and, of course, the customers who benefit from its service.
Or it can be an out-of-control force, dragging you where you did not intend to go, inflicting pain and bruises you could definitely live without.
Which kind of business will you build – a growing one or a groaning one?
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