Almost exactly ten years ago, I was one of four co-founders and directors of a brand new company. Heady days indeed!
Much water has flowed under the bridge since. I have moved on, and have had the privilege of working with several other owner-operated businesses, both as a communications consultant and as a business coach. Here are a few of the things I wish I had known in 2007.
1. The importance of the endgame
“Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” may be a hackeyed interview question, but it has value in this context. When starting a business, it really is a good idea to have a shared vision of where you want to take it. All partners should sign up to a short, medium and longer term view of where it’s going. Naturally this must remain flexible and adapt to take account of external, and internal, changes. In our case, this was a Global Economic Crisis. Having a clear sense of direction will influence the decisions you need to make during tough times, too.
2. ...and of understanding your own strengths (and weaknesses)
Look around your boardroom table and recognize the skills, abilities and strengths of each person there. Not everyone is good at everything. Play to each person’s strengths. And if you spot a skills gap, develop a strategy to fill it. Just because you own the company, this doesn’t mean you don’t also have training and development needs. Don’t let your ego get in the way of identifying what these are and put in place a plan to get them.
3. Not to stand around counting the trees
As business leaders, your job is to see the whole wood. Find other people you can trust to count the trees, and delegate. This is your baby and it’s your name above the door but resist the temptation to get bogged down in the detail.
4. ...and how to keep the people you need
Replacing people takes time, and money. Even companies who make good recruitment choices make mistakes that lead people to walk out of the door. Thinking ‘job done’ when the new recruit’s feet are under the desk is one of them. Nurture your employers. Consider their personal development as a core part of your strategy. Work out what you need to do to keep them engaged and motivated. Be generous with sharing your vision for the future of the company and make sure they know their part in achieving it.
5. The need to nip discord in the bud
Running a company with other people isn’t always easy. There may well be differences of opinion about what new business opportunities to follow, and how. And you won’t always agree on priorities or personnel. Be prepared to discuss, compromise and when appropriate, seek outside help to sort things out. Don’t let disagreements fester.
6. ...and respect the time needed to make the future happen
No one is denying that for every company with clients or customers, externally-focused activity takes priority. But, as business leaders, set aside time for internal meetings. As a principle (not a rule) arrange these outside of core business hours (say, not between 10am and 4pm) and make sure this time is kept sacrosanct. Leave your mobile phone on your desk when you enter the boardroom. Have an agenda and stick to it. Discussions on the day-to-day should happen first, leaving the bulk of the time free to spend on planning, discussing, questioning, approving – and making the future happen.