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Growing and running a successful small business sometimes means admitting that you need help from someone with more knowledge or experience, but many business owners hold back.
Don’t make this mistake. Here are five “thinking traps” that could be preventing you from getting the assistance you need—and why you need to avoid them.
- Shame – “I don’t want anyone to know the hole I have dug for myself and my family.” It will come out at some point, and as John Maxwell states in his book Failing Forward, “Success is measured by your perception of and response to failure. Every person fails. Every business owner fails at some point. It is only with failure that you can truly be a success. This may sound harsh, but get over it, figure out how big the hole is, what can be done about it, LEARN from it and move on.
- Fear – “I don’t want to know what trouble I am really in.” A business was owned by a mother and daughter. They provided childcare to the community and accomplished their service in an extraordinary way. Unfortunately, the relationship between mother and daughter was often confrontational so the mother eventually ended up firing her daughter and running the business herself. While the business started to grow, the mother knew she was behind in paying bills so she stopped checking her voicemail. Her fear of what the messages would say was so great that she was unable to listen even to gather voicemails from new families seeking her services. The end result was a closed and bankrupt business, employees out of work, and another business not fulfilling its potential. Her fear was people calling for payment of late bills. The reality was that her voicemail included those very families that could have taken care of the creditors and kept the business afloat. What are your fears?
- Didn’t Know – “I did not realize there were resources out there to help me.” If you are going to own your own business, you must read, be aware, listen and not stick your head in the sand. In this age of computers and the Internet, there are many resources to help you. Not knowing is not acceptable. The challenge is to ask better questions when you do seek out help so you get the answers you need, not the answers you want. There will always be things you don’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t consider. As a business owner, try to minimize the effects of not knowing by creating a plan for learning.
MBA Know-It-All -- This is my favorite: “I don’t need help; I have an MBA.” Sorry, but having an MBA doesn’t guarantee you won’t go out of business. It may prepare you for a job at a company that wants what is taught at business school, but it seldom prepares you for handling the real-world aspects of running a business, especially a small family business. I have encountered many family business owners who don’t believe they need help because they have an MBA and know how to do the business thing. I have also encountered just as many business owners who have been humbled by losing their business because they thought they learned it all while earning their MBA. This statement may not be popular with business schools, but I will stand behind it.
Don’t fall into these traps. Understand that the more you know, the more you have to learn, and you’ll probably need help learning it as quickly as possible.
Rope is a very versatile tool. With rope, you can hang a bear bag, rescue a friend who fell off a cliff, help someone climb up to a new ledge, tie down your tent in high winds. Simply put, a rope is critical on the trail. It is insurance that protects you if you need it.
Insurance for your business is similar. You hope and pray you don’t need it, but it is invaluable if you do. There are several types of insurance your business might need: property, casualty, auto, errors and omission, and key-man life insurance. The specific list is determined by the business and the individual. Most businesses have insurance; the challenge is to understand what insurance is needed and what is covered.
In Colorado, after years of drought and wildfires, we faced times of extreme rain. These events highlighted for both individuals and family business owners how good (or in many cases, how bad) their insurance coverage really was. In one year (actually in about a four-month period) we used our car insurance (my husband was hit by a drunk driver and the car was totaled), our property insurance (a tree fell on our house), our boat insurance (the same storm that caused the tree to fall created waves that sunk our boat), and our health insurance. The only insurance we didn’t use that year was life insurance—thankfully.
One additional note on insurance: Understanding the fine print is critical. Weather happens, and one day we had over eight inches of hail in about one hour. At one office building, the rain blocked the drain pipes that lead water off the roof, and about three inches of water flowed into the top floor. Water was flowing out of electrical outlets, ceilings, and any place it could go. However, since the roof didn’t “fail” the insurance company was denying the claim for one of the tenants. Each of the other insurance companies paid, but not that one. The fine print in the policy indicated that it didn’t cover water if there was no damage to the roof.
Yes, there are many horror stories about insurance companies. Some of these can be avoided by reading the policies, asking questions, and not making assumptions about coverage. Insurance is essentially like the bear bag we use when hiking. We don’t anticipate running into that bear, and they are usually as afraid of us as we are of them. However, things can happen. We bear bag our food—all of it. Insurance offers the same kind of protection for your business.
Have you ever seen a dog follow a rabbit trail? The dog endlessly sniffs around in circles, never getting anywhere. And it seldom catches the rabbit!
A rabbit trail in business is that path you go down that wasn’t on your meeting agenda or your plan for the day. These rabbit trails can jeopardize a project’s completion, a business’s success, and an employee’s ability to get things done.
Meetings often take us down a rabbit trail when participants discuss anything but the scheduled agenda. On the other hand, some rabbit trails create the best ideas for the organization! The challenge is determining which rabbit trails are productive and which are not.
Below are recommendations for handling rabbit trails without losing the value the trail might provide for your family business.
1. Always have an agenda for meetings, even if the agenda is created as the meeting begins. What is the objective? How long should the meeting take? How will new topics be handled? Who will keep the meeting on track? These are foundational questions that should be considered prior to every meeting.
2. Always bring the discussion back to the topic at hand. Utilize the concept of a parking lot. As discussions unfold, you “park” items not on the agenda that might need to be addressed, but not in this meeting.
3. Set clear and intentional priorities.
- If you are running the meeting, keep it focused on the task at hand. This doesn’t mean you don’t give team members new projects; it just means you may (depending on the individual) need to help them prioritize their activities.
- If you are an employee and the boss suggests a new idea, ask where it ranks among the goals already set for the company and the priorities she set for you earlier in the week (or earlier in the day). Ask questions, and get clarification.
4. Set aside time for brainstorming
- Understand the old Mark Twain concept of “eat a frog for breakfast.” Essentially, focus on the most difficult thing you need to do first thing in the morning. Then you will have accomplished the hardest thing early and the rest of the day is available for all other activities— including rabbit trails if they can’t be avoided.
on a regular basis. True brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. This process can lead to some of the best business-growth ideas—and those aren’t rabbit trails.
Once you know that a rabbit trail can provide value, you can take the time to explore all that it has to offer.
Screaming into the wind out in the wilderness is virtually useless. No one can hear you. However, a whistle provides a very different type of noise. When you are truly in the backcountry (and in some places even around town), a whistle provides protection against danger.
A whistle is a necessity in the woods, especially if you aren’t around people, in which case you might find yourself uncomfortably close to the wildlife. Have you ever seen a bear and tried to scream? It is the scream that no one hears because you open your mouth to scream but nothing comes out.
Even if a scream does escape, that gentle breeze that feels so good also muffles the sound of your scream, so no one hears you. But a whistle: that sound pierces through the wind to bring help running (either toward you or away from you). When the voice has been scared right out of you, a whistle will call for help.
When you’re kayaking in the backcountry, even going to the bathroom requires a whistle. You might not ever come face to face with a bear, but being face to face with your pants down puts whole new meaning to scaring the pants off you. You know the old story about being chased by a bear: You don’t have to be the fastest runner in the group; you just can’t be the slowest. Unfortunately, with your pants down, you probably aren’t going to run very fast should that bear come upon you. (Don’t you just love that image?)
What is your whistle in your family business and career? How do you call for help when needed? Who do you hope will come to your rescue? Or maybe you are the type to run around with your pants around your ankles screaming into the wind as the bear chases you. That is another decision you get to make. In our careers, there are lots of bears that threaten our livelihood: mergers, acquisitions, new technology, new bosses, competition, changing economic landscapes, lack of attention to detail, lack of personal and business growth. All of these factors might mean that you need to call for help.
Be willing to ask for help. Our society has too much of an attitude that portrays, “I can do it alone.” or “My way is best.” or “I don’t need you.” Needing and asking for help and another person’s perspectives is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength. It may be the only way you get yourself out of your current jam.
Help can come from mentors, coaches, advisors, or trusted friends. Make sure you have people targeted that can help in certain situations and have a plan for the right people to contact based on the circumstances.
Career advice should probably come from someone older who has hit some rough spots but still succeeded in their career. Parenting advice probably comes best from parents who are at least ten years further down the road than you are and have walked through the parenting steps you’re currently taking. And of course, legal advice is always best from a lawyer.
Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to whistle for help when you need it. It’s better than facing down a bear.
You are ready—ready to start the transition process for your business. What you’d really love is to pass the business on to the next generation; keep it in the family; pass down that legacy to your kids and hopefully your grandchildren.
But your kids are hesitating. They aren’t sure they want the business, and frankly you don’t get it. Why wouldn’t they want to be their own boss, set their own hours, never work for someone else. Isn’t that the dream?
A little self-reflection might help you better understand their hesitation.
- How often did you come home and complain about your customers and how they always wanted something for nothing?
- How often did you miss events due to “the business?”
- How often did you share the good days and the joys of running your own business?
- Did you ever offer a surprise – like taking the day off unplanned just to hang out with the family? (Yes, it is possible to do this, and I’ll discuss it in future articles.)
Are you seeing a theme here? We see all the joys of owning a family business, yet we forget to practice that process of “selling it” to our kids during their formative years. After a rough day at work, it’s common to unwind (and sometimes unload) by sharing things with our family. However, if we don’t also share the excitement, the joys, and the financial opportunities of running a business, then we shouldn’t be surprised when no one wants to follow in our footsteps.
As you ponder this, ask yourself: “Would I want to follow in my footsteps? Am I selling the complete picture—the good and the bad—to the next generation so they can make an informed decision?”
Too often the answer is no. We share the downside and not the up, and then wonder what happened when our kids want to do anything else but take over the family business. Start now to share the positive as well as negative aspects of running your business, and you might find the next generation eagerly waiting for you to hand hand them the reins.