Living on the frontier

I’ve been running small businesses now for over 20 years – both my own and other people’s. And two things have struck me in that time. One is that if you’ve never run a small business, then please don’t try and tell people who do, how to do it. I say it’s akin to riding a tiger – you’re really not sure who is in control. One minute you’re so busy you don’t know what to do first and the next everything has gone so quiet you don’t know what to do for the best!

When it goes well you can sleep at night, buy extra gifts for your children, whatever. And when it goes wrong, you lose everything. There is no redundancy pay, sometimes no sick pay either depending on how small your business is. Despite that, it’s thrilling, energising and rewarding.

The other thing is, it’s easy to think a lot of the leadership and management and business books aren’t for you. They’re for big businesses. And often they are. But we are a small business and we’ve just had our first book published and we think it applies to us and to other small businesses so we’d like to share some thoughts from it. It’s called the Seven Steps to Frontier Leadership and it talks about how all of us as leaders, both in our businesses and in our communities, need to try and think very differently given the levels of change that are happening in the world; and are going to happen for some time to come.

So based on our steps here are some thoughts for you:

Context: Your business can be and will be affected by things that happen on the other side of town, the other side of the county, the other side of the country, or the other side of the world. Try and take the time to keep an eye on the wider trends in the world and identify the things that may well impact on your business.

I believe. What’s the one thing you think will never change about your business. Now ask yourself what would happen if it did. Really challenge your thinking. Too many of us assume that tomorrow is going to be the same as yesterday and don’t give it a second thought. Try giving it one.

What I do. What are all the little ways you help your business succeed and all the little ways you hold your business back? We find thinking about decision making is a good starting place – how do you really make decisions? And is that a good way to do it?

My role. OK so it’s your business. But it wouldn’t work without your colleagues, your suppliers and your customers. It’s not going to help if you go around like the proverbial lord of the manor. Business doesn’t work that way anymore – your customers may be able to go directly to your suppliers; your colleagues could start their own businesses (yes, even if they are family) and you may struggle without your suppliers. We have to collaborate as much as we compete.

Where am I going? Think about why you are running your business as much as where you want to get to. The ‘why’ is the lifeblood of your business, it’s what will sustain and nurture it when times get hard and will enable it to flourish when it’s doing well and stop you getting greedy.

What’s it like? What’s it like working in your business? Is it a nice place to work, do you and your colleagues come in happy and go home happier? Well they should. You’re at work for a lot of your life, so why not make it an enjoyable experience – even if it is really hard work?

Put your money where your why is! If you want to delight your customers, give the power to the people who look after your customers and get the best people. Let them give customers rebates, if it’s necessary to sooth ruffled feathers. They shouldn’t need to have to ask you; trust them, believe in them and let them show you how great they are. If you’re not all about customer service – put the power and money and the best people wherever your why is.

So there you have it – some tips from our seven steps.

Yes, we know it’s simple, but don’t underestimate how hard it is to do all that.

Adrian Spurrell
Latest posts by Adrian Spurrell (see all)
close
The Business Bulletin

Don't miss out...

Enter your email address to ensure you receive the next edition of The Business Bulletin as it is published.

Adrian Spurrell

Adrian has a strong belief that people have the capacity to change and excel but frequently their existing beliefs and habits get in the way. His focuses on attitudinal and behavourial change by getting people to explore their current context, their belief and the behaviours those beliefs drive. His experience is extensive and broad including: working on a one-to-one basis leaders; top team coaching and development; facilitating leadership development workshops, developing the management skills of line managers and broadly based culture change projects for public and private organisations, with people at all grades and from diverse countries.