I popped in to see a prospective client the other day, and after a suitably proprietorial stroll round the premises, he sat me down in his office and asked me what I thought he should be doing to grow the business.
Well, I'm all for directness, as anyone who knows me will attest, but even I was a bit taken aback: it was like going to a stockbroker with a large wad and asking him what you should do with it.
Good advice is generally based on asking the right (sometimes impertinent) questions, to establish core aims and objectives, not to mention the current situation.
Not all the answers are always forthcoming: a mixture of embarrassment and ignorance often intrudes.
I've lost count of the number of businesses who don't have monthly management accounts, and can't tell me what percentage of their business their top three clients represent. I could go on (and probably will at some point).
But even after discovering the true situation financially and operationally, and the strengths and weaknesses of the operation, there is a fundamental, underlying question that needs answering...
|WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
In most client situations (for me at least), there is an inevitability about the need for me to play, at least in part during the early stages, the role of life coach as much as business advisor.
As well as talking about where you would like to be in 5/10/20 years' time, there is the more fundamental question of why? What exactly is the business for? What do you, as owner/manager/founder, want it to achieve for you in the short, medium and long term? Is it your pension pot - or just a means of putting some money in your pocket from one month to the next?
What is your attitude to risk? How fast would you like to grow, if you could? How far do you want to take the business? In short, what is it going to look like when it's 'finished'? When you're ready to sell, retire or just sit back on your laurels, with the occasional hand on the tiller as the passive income rolls in?
It constantly surprises me how few business owners, at whatever stage in their development, have got these most basic issues clear in their minds. But if you don't know where you're going, how on earth can you plan a route map (aka business plan) to get there?
Such plans don't have to be a 50-page door-stop with detailed financial projections and breakdowns (though they will if you want to borrow to meet your objectives); they do have to express a clear vision of what you want to achieve for your business - and by extension, for yourself.
And until you have that clarity, even beginning such a document will be next to impossible. Whether you are considering working with a business coach, or despise the very idea, until you've answered that fundamental question, your business is likely to be floating rudderless: you can't put in place the many small step-changes and improvements that any business needs to keep on growing, if you haven't first worked out what it's all for.