Recognising when your business could do just that bit better
by John Nelligan May 19 2017
Like most other business owners, over the years I have been socialised by the demands of the networking circuit, and I am always ready to trot out an elevator pitch explaining what I do for my clients. I can do that in either 10 seconds or 10 minutes, as the occasion demands, and I have multiple versions of that pitch in my head which I deploy according to the nature of the audience. But, however flowery I want to make it, I cannot get away from the simple fact that I primarily help business owners with their problems.
To the BNI school of networking that might sound a little brief or bland, but that is the reality of what a business coach / advisor / mentor does: they help the owner with whatever they need help with. You can describe that help in a multitude of ways as coaching, training or consultancy, or strategy, business planning and training and development, but it always comes back to helping the owner.
Is it easy running a business?
But how does a business owner know when they need help? This is a key question, and only half-jokingly do I tell people that there is not a big demand for coaching in Yorkshire – but there is a big need. Half of the problem is the macho culture around business that is framed in language that alludes to business not being easy, learning from your mistakes, getting scars on your back etc. It implies that there are no shortcuts to success, that business must be a slog, and an unenjoyable slog at that.
The other half of the problem is to do with the locals. Before you start shouting, yes I too was born in Yorkshire and yes I have also been described as stubborn on one or two occasions over the years, just ask my wife or my mother! We Yorkshire business owners like to do it our own way, we don’t like taking advice, and we like asking for it and paying for it even less. So for all those reasons we keep going, battle on, plug away, to the bitter end, regardless of the costs to self, family, staff and associates, and sometimes ultimately the business itself.
But is there another way?
Would you take your child to the hospital if they were feeling ill or do you know enough about medicine to have a go at treating them yourself ? Would you take your car to the garage if it wasn’t running well or are you an expert in all aspects of car maintenance? No? I thought not.
I’ve always been exceptionally lucky and surrounded myself with experts in their field. Running the family business was made so much easier by the professionals that we engaged with at the bank, the accountants, the insurers, the pension providers etc. We knew about hardware, they knew about their field, and it allowed us to get on and prosper.
In the old days bank managers used to have a key role in small business, and I clearly remember my father putting on his best suit when he was visiting his bank manager at the Midland Bank in Armley. But times have changed. Banks now only want close relationships with bigger business, the rest of us are condemned to use anonymous, remote and highly impersonal service centres. Some accountants have stepped up to the mark but many others have not, and a ten minute chat in January each year is no substitute for proper business advice. Consequently a lot of business owners feel isolated, surrounded by seemingly hostile competitors, suppliers and staff, and over time it becomes difficult to see the wood from the trees.
So when does a business need advice?
It is perhaps to easier to flip that on its head. In my experience highly profitable, growing, well organised, confident and happy businesses are far less likely to need support than businesses that are struggling with one or more serious problems. All businesses have problems but serious, longstanding and / or multiple problems can be indicative of trouble at’ mill. Problems with cash flow, sales, marketing, profitability, accounts, bad debts, credit control, stock management, cost control, recruitment, budgeting to name but a few can all be game changers if the owner has not experienced them before.
So, if that’s you, recognise that support is available, take a deep breathe, pick up the phone and ask for some help.