This time of year, and before the period of Christmas party time is truly upon us, it’s time for reflection on what we have achieved in the past year, and to start to thinking about the next. If you leave that thought process to the festive break, essentially you are too late to action any real plans when returning in the new year. Now, and through to the second week in December is a perfect time for many of us.
For this reason, I wanted to reflect on my year, but also give an example of a business who late in 2016 were having the same thoughts and reflecting on the past and wondering about what to do in the future, and in turn decided to commission my services early in 2017. This is a very real case study from Lee Thrower, AGA Mobility Ltd, based in Needham Market [www.agamobility.co.uk], who hadn’t fully identified the enormous potential growth in his business supplying an ageing demographic population through his excellent products and services. I have had excellent year coaching working with a diverse portfolio of clients, and this particular experience has turned into one of the most exciting stories of 2017. I wanted to share it with you in Lee’s own words…
“I brought Stuart in early in 2017. At the time we had achieved, what I have now come to realise, was a very enviable £1.3M turnover. We had entrenched ourselves into our industry over many years, and learnt a huge amount about our business sector. However, we were stagnating and I was becoming more and more concerned about how I could grow the business further. I am ambitious and was seeing other companies of a similar nature achieving incredible growth. Stories of £multi million pound sales of successful businesses in my industry. Figures thrown around demonstrating the success of a business, and company owners enjoying the fruits of their hard work. I wanted that experience, and wanted to know how I could do it. To be perfectly honest, I was ready to sell up and start again doing something else. I really had fallen out of love with the business and couldn’t see the changes I needed to make, or indeed find the determination to make those changes. We were profitable, but costs seem to be escalating, profits becoming more and more stagnant, and it felt like we were just keeping our heads above water, rather than flying to the next stage.
I took the view I needed help, and to be honest I was incredibly skeptical about taking on that help. Stuart was recommended to me, and I decided to employ his skills to make a difference in the business. I will admit now I was spending my time half believing what Stuart was telling me. I restricted or dismissed the tools Stuart was putting in place, if you put a spreadsheet, or detailed information, in front of me my first tendency was to switch off. It was just figures that I couldn’t get my head around and it took lots of encouragement, and focus from Stuart to convince me that all of the hard work he was asking me to do wasn’t outside of my comfort zone, it was something I had to embrace if I wanted my business to become the force I had imagined it to be.
Then it happened, and it was like someone had turned a switch on in my head from disengagement to fully engaged. Suddenly not only had I started to understand the figures on the spreadsheets and the tools he was creating for me, but I also got excited by them. I realised the reason why the business had reached a plateau was because we hadn’t grown with it. We were still trying to adopt the strategies and mentality of a small business, and not looking at how to become that larger business. We lacked control over many areas of the business, and long-term planning wasn’t on the agenda at all.
I now look at a set of figures with full understanding, and I have embraced the power of a spreadsheet and detailed analytical tools to tell me everything I need to know about the business as a whole, as well as the intricacies of specific parts of the business. I can see profits centres clearly now, and I don’t just mean what we make, I can see how we have made those profits, and how we need to duplicate the process bringing in new systems and people that will help us grow. I can see how we can compartmentalise the business, and look at specific services as individual profit centres, leading to where we need to focus our attention. I can see how each of our services impact on each other, providing leverage, building the value within each and every client we deal with. My original confused state has now been replaced by a continuous growing feeling of true clarity; which has become quite addictive.
That light bulb moment or positive sledge hammer blow was probably one of the most powerful experiences I have had in business, and I have been in business now for 27 years. I realised that some of the failings I had in the past were down to not finding someone like Stuart who could show me a completely different way of thinking.
Stuart is most certainly not a man of emotion, he works on hard tangible facts, but it makes those facts become crystal clear. Even when I had a wobble or two, Stuart bought me back to realism. I have now invested a lot of money on infrastructure and we are still very profitable, and we are now more visible, better at selling our services, more communicative with our clients, and so much more in control of our own destiny. We have a complete set of tools in place to confidently take the business forward.
For anyone who takes on Stuart’s advice, I have one statement to make…. “Listen, learn and take action! You are just delaying the inevitable positive outcome if you don’t. Don’t hide from facts, good or bad. Deal with the negatives and move on quickly. Every problem has a positive solution. Don’t waste your time by not moving on, that time is valuable. Lastly, don’t allow others to dwell on negatives. If your business employs a team, get them on board and singing off of the same hymn sheet.“
What can we all learn from Lee’s statement?
A lot of emotion in Lee’s statement. From my perspective, I will admit it is very easy looking from the outside in at a business, it always is in comparison to being entrenched in that business every day of the week. It is very hard for business owners to see the wood through the forest, and to find the answers they need to carry the business forward when you reach that period of stagnation.
That period of stagnation is incredibly well-known in the accountancy field. It is experienced by most businesses that stand the test of time, and due very much to what Lee mentioned. You grow and continue to work within the parameters of a small business mentality, but this actually restricts growth. You get to a point where you need to adopt a much greater understanding of your operations, sales and marketing and financials, and understanding how those figures work. You don’t realise that you need to make fundamental changes in how the business functions, or that you need to think like a larger business owner. In fact, every business owner should think that way, no matter what stage they are at or how big the business is! …But do they know where to start and the tools required?
You also forget to trust and impart responsibility to others, and still think you can do everything – that’s a hard mentality to change, but it is completely possible. Control isn’t about only you can make the decisions, it is about only you can impart responsibility for others to make decisions. Growing a business needs a team that is focused on what you are focused on. Yes, people will make mistakes, but by installing systems and operational improvements, mistakes become rare. You impart responsibility and let your team follow the path set out for them, but also let them think for themselves. True responsibility comes from those who have the freedom to make decisions, but also have the necessary guidance to make the right decisions. Remember a successful profitable business develops through evolution not revolution.
Reflection done, now let’s focus on 2018
2018 is going to be a very exciting year for Lee and his team. The business is now experiencing sustained growth, increased profits, and putting in structures that will ensure a level of stability, increase awareness of what they can do, and communicate more effectively with the market place.
Working with Lee, I am very excited by the prospects of his business in 2018 and the achievement of the goals we have set. The skills and knowledge of Lee and his team are unique and much in demand, and the market they trade in is set to grow significantly over the coming decades. The business now has the confidence to go forward. It has a growing order book, and the only real issue it has is to focus on how to maintain that growth from an operational point of view. This isn’t some form of business nirvana, there is still a lot of hard work to do, but staying focused, in control and having the confidence in the company’s ability to succeed will see the company surpassing the goals set for the next three years.
There will undoubtedly be a few wobbles, but it is how you deal with them positively, and not let those small amount of negatives get in the way of the huge positives. Deal with them and move on! ….. One of the most important attributes of running your own company is resilience.
From my point of view, it is hugely rewarding to experience the tangible and emotional changes in the businesses I coach, and as we rapidly approach 2018, I urge every business owner to take some time out to consolidate their thoughts on this year, and put those action plans in place for next. Make it happen!
If you and your business is experiencing those concerns and teething problems, or that predictable period of stagnation I would urge you to get in contact. My first two-hour introductory meeting is totally free, and I am very confident that our two hours discussing your business prospects for 2018 will be time well spent!