What You Learn From Realising You’re Not Very Good (at Something)

Business owners are the world’s worst at admitting when they are wrong. Fact.

This problem that has actually nothing to do with ego, but invariably has everything to do with that little Gremlin inside all of us called ‘Control-Freak’, gets worse and has even bigger consequences as business get bigger and bigger.

Don’t believe me? If you look past most of the more recent headlines regarding some big business collapses in recent weeks, you’ll actually find that one of the major factors of their collapse was that no-one was prepared to look to their strengths and get the right people in to cover the deficient weaknesses.

Let’s take Sir Phillip Green for instance. The Arcadia Group stands in ruins of soon to be empty shops, thousands of redundancies and their once famous, globetrotting brands buried under the website name of someone else. The headlines will tell you that the ‘internet’ was the death of the business and to a point they’re right. But when you think about it, something else was at work. As the triumphant purchaser, Asos Chairman Brian McBride says, “Arcadia and Debenhams didn’t die because of taxes, they died because they had bust business models and at times were run incompetently.”

Effectively, he points out that those that ran those brands never once looked at the weaknesses but incomprehensibly ploughed on with what they perceived to be their strengths, even though their customers were looking the other way. So actually, perhaps I do need to go back on my original statement about it being nothing to do with ego in Sir Phillip Green’s case, but as I don’t personally know any of the other board members on these businesses, I’ll still run with the Gremlin of being a control freak.

Why Business Fails

When you start to look at why business fail, there is more and more evidence of them failing because whoever was running them never continually looked at their strengths and weaknesses. Or were wise enough to appreciate that they were ‘perceived’ strengths that wouldn’t and couldn’t last forever as business, customers and life changes around them. The pandemic has just sped some of these up.

It could be argued that these business owners also didn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t move to cover their weaknesses and this is where problems in business processes begin to manifest. Let’s look at another example with a small business owner that I had the privilege of coaching.

Time to Make Changes

The business owner was running a multi-car driving school. They had cars and instructors in different parts of the south-east of the UK. It was no mean achievement either. Since the financial crash of 2008 the industry had been flooded by a national driving-school TV campaign to drive more trainee instructors with money to burn from the redundancies, into an industry that in truth for a majority, would give little return for long hours worked. This instructor became a business owner as they took other underperforming instructors, under their wing to show them how to charge the top whack in their areas, give real, genuine value for money for their lessons and grow a waiting list of customers. All seems great doesn’t it?

Until two things happened. One, the ‘back-end’ of the business was an absolute disaster and secondly, one of those trainee instructors that they’d taken under their wing, went off and replicated exactly what this business owner was doing.

The business owners’ strengths were training, being visionary and coaching people to be their best selves in that training environment. Their weaknesses were numbers, invoicing, branding and systemising onboarding. They were not only time poor, but financially poor. Successful to the naked eye, a disaster under the surface. Fortunately, they reached out in time.

We sat down and wrote out two processes. One for when someone wanted to join the business and how you take them from enquiry to payment, to training, to qualification, to working with their business after that. The second was what needed to be completed for the business yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily.

Everybody Lies

This was my simple assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, but I use a tool, (here is a free example, https://richardstep.com/richardstep-strengths-weaknesses-aptitude-test/) , to help me understand a business owners strengths and weaknesses and sometimes it throws up something very surprising. I also realise that in the words of Dr Gregory House, from TV series ‘House’, “Everybody lies.” We then built on those simple processes to get something that worked for them and could be scalable but grew their strengths and used other experts for their weaknesses. They’ve grown 25% in the last year. No mean feat considering…

So, when I’m with clients that I genuinely think that Gremlin called ‘control-freak’ is rocking its thing, I wait for when I see a chink in that armor and then get them to do it again…nine times out of ten, we’ll get very different, (and more honest), answers.

Go On…Admit It

To run a business successfully for you, not only do you have to admit that in some areas you’ll be weaker than others and need help, but you also need to be honest enough to work out where in the business you’re at your weakest so that you can grow and get the business your hard work actually deserves.

It seems odd that I’m talking about understanding your strengths and weaknesses when I’m talking about process. But it’s not. Far from it. It’s probably the most sensible thing you can embrace when it comes to bettering and growing your business. Why?

Because your business is not about you. It just starts with you.

My favorite phrase in business, but absolutely true. Yes, you set up the business. Yes, your blood, your sweat, your tears. Great. But without customers it was a complete and utter waste of time. THEY are the most important on your payroll.

There is only one boss; the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else. – Sam Walton.

Your business is here to serve customers. So, you have to think of what the customer wants, needs and feels when they ‘do’ business with you. You may well be the best in the world at what you do, but if you can’t onboard a customer properly; send them emails and communication on time; invoice them properly; ask them what they want, when they want it; aren’t contactable when they want you to be; try to charge premium prices for something they can down the market, etc., etc., they’ll just get up and go somewhere else. It’s all about involving your customers in a process and being honest enough to know that you my friend, are not good at everything. Not even me.

Do A Quick Sum

They say you are the sum of the five people you are surrounded by. It could be said that the examples of the two retail giants go to prove my case in point. Digging that little bit deeper into the demise of the businesses it boiled down to having yes men in situ, as opposed to visionaries, people who made things happen, and any real leadership and accountability. In the case of Debenhams, they refused to sell the business to board member Mike Ashley, and although no-one will ever admit it publicly, privately we hear it’s because he just wasn’t liked by the rest of the board. So, to me, they decided that their own way of saving the business, which was evidently flawed by everything they looked at, was more important than recognising their weaknesses and admitting they needed a different path and a different process in doing business. Twelve months later, they sold the ‘brand’ for £55million as opposed to the £125million Ashley had offered. No-one came out of this very public spat well to be fair.

But the most successful businesses around the world are run by teams that complement each other. The owner of each business ‘knows’ what needs to be done and leads that team in a way that improves and challenges their strengths, but also covers their weaknesses. And yes, smaller businesses need to do this bit by bit, but when it comes to a one-person business, they can still have a team of successful people around them to help them grow them and their business.

Look at the opportunities there are to help you with your processes and the way your customers interact with your business. The Virtual Assistant, the Marketing Expert, the Website Expert, the HR Expert, the Accounting Expert, the Sales Expert, the Social Media Expert, the Branding Expert, the Video Expert, and even this Business Coaching Expert, to name more than a few.

Look at Your Business Like This Captain

We all need experts in our teams. Look at your business like a plane. You sit as the leader, captain, and pilot for this journey in the cockpit. The body of the plane are your overheads and costs. The wings are your products and services helping you fly as high as you want. The left engine is your sales providing thrust for the business. Your right engine is the marketing that provides more thrust and at the back is the fuel where your cash flow sits to power all the other parts of the business.

Now tell me…If you were going on holiday and someone told you that ‘Bill the cleaner’ had just serviced the engines, would you get on? No, of course you wouldn’t. If the stewardess told you that there was only enough fuel to get you half-way, would you get on? Not likely.

So why do it to your business? Look for the people that can make you and your business better. Look for the people that want to make your processes seamless and work together, like every part of a plane needs to. Admit, that as captain of your plane you can’t fly it, serve the drinks, repair the engines, maintain the wings and fill the thing up.

The Captain chooses how high, fast and for how long they fly, but they’re wise enough to know that without the rest, they don’t get very far.

I know a guy that can help…

Marc Ford



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