If Tendo had just started school…
Tendo is five years old this month and I’m delighted we’ve reached this point. The reality is, over 50% of SME businesses do not reach this age. I’ve learned a lot since starting the business in 2010 and I am grateful for the many people I’ve encountered, built relationships with and worked for, who have all, in one way or another, contributed to Tendo’s success. Thank you to all of you.
If Tendo were a person he or she would have started school this month, and I’ve been reflecting on what the last five years have taught me. You can see me at this age in the picture above and I have been learning ever since. As with children, the first five years have included a steep learning curve and some massive developmental leaps. I could offer a list of 50 key things I have learned but this blog will focus on the top five bits of advice I would give any business based on my experiences. Whether your business is a newborn, a toddler, a junior or a graduate, I hope they will resonate with you too.
Make sure you’re solving a problem
Many entrepreneurs or business owners regardless of their sector start out with a set of skills or a product they want to sell. Maybe they’ve had a career in the corporate world, as I did, before starting their business and want to use what they’ve learned to help other businesses.
But being passionate about your skills or a product isn’t enough to build a successful business, you need to solve a problem – that’s the thing which makes customers buy from you. A deep understanding of what gives your customers pain will help you pinpoint an opportunity.
Shape your offering by listening to feedback from prospects and customers, and be prepared to tweak it to suit the market – never be afraid to change your proposition if that’s what the weight of feedback is recommending. You need to stay true to your vision and blend it with what customers and prospects want.
Henry Ford famously said if he’d asked customers what they wanted they’d have said faster horses.
I started Tendo providing interim management for businesses to solve a skills shortage and quickly realised their problems stemmed from them not having the right (or any) strategy in place. As an experienced leader I was qualified to offer this as an additional service.
Having then started providing the growth strategy I noticed that this alone wasn’t enough. There were many business owners who just weren’t being held accountable for delivering their strategy, and that’s why their companies were underperforming. It was this realisation and change which underpins the Tendo you know today.
Get the right team
To be successful your team needs to consist of two types of people – those you pay to help you (whether employed, freelance or ad hoc), and those you seek out for their wisdom. No one can possibly do it all and know it all when it comes to running a business.
You’ll need at least one sounding board to help you work on the business. Maybe that’s a mentor or a non-exec, a trusted advisor, perhaps it’s a good quality networking or mastermind group with experienced minds. It could be a combination of all of these, but you will need people to advise you, to give you feedback and to be your virtual cheerleaders.
The people you need could change over time. Someone who was a valuable voice at the start of your business may not have as much value to add as you get a few years down the road, so continually assess the people you turn to and the value you get from the relationship.
If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
Don’t be afraid to seek out people who know more than you and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls of running a business.
To effectively run your business you’ll also need a skilled team to support you working in the business – an accountant, marketing, perhaps a PA or other resources. Make sure you have a high-quality team to provide this support so you can get on with doing the thing you’re passionate about.
When you’re building your team remember this golden rule – hire slowly, fire quickly. You need to make sure you’re getting the right people for the roles, not the first people you encounter because you have an immediate need. And if you’ve made the wrong decision, don’t be afraid to exit them quickly and cleanly. It will end up costing you more than any payoff in lost time and opportunities.
Equally, as an experienced business owner, there are many ways you can offer your skills and advice to others. I volunteer for Young Enterprise, a national charity which teaches young people about entrepreneurship. As well as mentoring the local board, each week I spend an hour with a team of young people running a real limited company as part of the charity’s Company Programme. I am both in awe of their skills and enthusiasm, and pleased to be able to add value by asking them challenging questions about their business and offering my experience.
Never stop learning
Even people at the top of their industry keep up with their personal training and development as they always want to be better. Make sure you invest in yourself and your skills – both as a business owner and as a professional in your chosen field.
There are many ways to do this – from webinars and audio books you can use at your convenience to attending seminars, training courses or master classes, reading books or even going back to university. You need to stay capable and agile so you can react to changes in market conditions. The skills you have today may not be the skills you need tomorrow or next year, or the one after that.
“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” – Will Rogers
I enjoy the investment in myself and it reminds me that I still have a lot to learn. No one is the finished article in today’s dynamic business world.
Develop a clear plan for your business, with vision, goals and timescales
So many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have a plan and this hinders their ability to make the most of their business. Less than 25% of SME business owners have a formal written business plan which, with the failure statistics mentioned previously, begs the question why not.
You need to know what your purpose is, your vision, what problem you’re solving, what your values are, how to identify and secure customers and have goals to make sure you’re striving for something.
“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” – Joel A. Barker
Know the psychographic profile of your customers i.e. their pains. So don’t just profile an industry, a size of business and geography, really understand who you’re trying to reach, your niche. By asking clever questions you can filter out those businesses that aren’t interested in or will never buy your product or service, meaning you operate more efficiently. Don’t engage too many suspects promoting your great offering to win one customer, develop a detailed profile of who you’re looking for – red hot prospects, then focus on these for a greater conversion.
If you find you’re not reaching your goals, don’t change the goals or timescales, change the strategy – it’s likely that you need to alter something you’re doing to get the results you want, rather than just give yourself more time. Be ambitious, and don’t compromise on your performance.
Do what you love
Have you ever had a job that made you leap out of bed in the morning? Running your own business should light a fire inside you that means you love going to work and it’s easy to create that if your purpose is clear and your strategies are helping you fulfil this.
Once you’ve found that sense of purpose, stay focused on it; doing anything else will just drag you down. So employ or outsource those activities that don’t excite you which will create time for doing the things you love. Don’t be one of the business owners who spends 60% of their time on tasks which don’t make them money.
“Man is only great when he acts from passion.” – Benjamin Disraeli
And if you streamline your business with the right people and systems you’ll spend a high percentage of your time working on what you love. That will also mean you maintain your mojo and will carve out the lifestyle you want. Isn’t that what we’re all in business for?
These are the five stand-out learning points that I’ve gathered in my first five years in business. I couldn’t have achieved the success we have to date or learned these without the great people around me.
Running a business is tough and without the right plan, the right support and the right focus, it’s easy to become trapped. When you get to this stage, you often feel overwhelmed, stuck or uncertain as a business owner. Discover which one of four areas of your business is trapping you and how you can achieve the freedom to choose where, when and how you work.
Take our Business Trap Diagnosis test here: www.tendo-uk.com/diagnosis