A while ago I was asked to speak to a group of young people who were thinking about starting a business. They wanted to know about the things I had learnt on my journey as an entrepreneur, and also any advice I would give them as they started out in business.
I came up with ten key things that I had learnt, which formed the basis of the advice I gave them. Over the next few months I thought I would expand on these things.
Some people would disagree with me, but as I've built my business I have found these the ten most important lessons, and I hope you find them helpful.
I had been running my business for just over two years when someone gave me a book that has turned into one of the most significant business books I've read. This book, The E-Myth by a chap called Michael Gerber, really opened my eyes to an often-forgotten truth about entrepreneurship; the difference between being self-employed and running a business.
The key difference, for me, between running a business and being self-employed is that a business brings in money regardless of whether the owner is working directly on the activity that brings in revenue. Someone who is self-employed will have to build the cabinets, fix the cars or make the sandwiches, whatever their business happens to be, whereas someone who runs a business works to facilitate other people to do those things. After reading this book I realised that my passion wasn't necessarily to fix computers, but to run a business that fixes computers.
For me, this has led to years of learning to work "on" and not "in" the business. By that I mean that I try and spend most of my time working on the business strategically. This might include things like new systems and processes, planning the direction of the business, looking at how best to make the business grow, work or run better. During this time I tend to ask questions like "why?", "how" and "what if ...?" For example, I might ask "why did we make this mistake?" (this often informs a system or process to fix), or "how did we get the last 10 customers?" (which then leads onto how we can improve our marketing).
The biggest challenge of working "on" the business is the very thing that makes it so important; needing to take time away from working "in" the business. I really enjoy installing servers, fixing IT issues and making sure our clients' networks are up and running, but now the needs of the business mean that I must focus my time and energy elsewhere.
Does this mean that I spend all of my time on strategy and the big picture? No. There are some things that I love to do which I still do. I still meet potential new clients, and I love to chat with people, whether clients or the guys who work with me. It's important but some of the things that the business does, I don't do any more.
Don't get me wrong, this is a real challenge and it is hard to get away from the "day-to-day" work (I will still spend much of my time dealing with the normal day-to-day issues), but if you make a real effort to do it, you can, and it will bring big rewards to your business.
For me, this was a transformational step in my learning, and was the single biggest thing that helped my business move forward.
There are some key things that make this work for me:
- Diarise time to work "on" the business. If you are really busy, start with just 10 minutes and work up from there
- Get out of the office and free you mind. Go for a walk, read, or head to a coffee shop (perhaps not the pub... you might not get much work done!)
- Ask yourself "is this my highest value activity?" If it isn't, try and focus on whatever is and delegate the rest to others
- Write your own job description. Use bullet points and add the percentage of time you think you should be spending on each element. This should give you some idea of how much time you should spend working "on" the business
- Try and get some level of admin support. If you can pay someone £10 an hour to free up your time to bill at £70 an hour, then you are £60 an hour better off!
- Start delegating. Begin with easily delegable tasks such as entering invoices, filing, photocopying. You could also use a "virtual PA"