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Still Learning

You, and your business, are both entirely unique and also embedded in an unswerving pattern. You have private and personal desires, dreams, thoughts, methods and expectations – but you also share aspirations and challenges with many others. The same applies to each of your staff, customers, suppliers, friends and family members.

Over the years I’ve sent a lot of emails, given a lot of advice, scribbled a lot of notes, read a lot of books and spent a lot of time pondering and discussing the hows, whats, whys and wherefores of running a business, distilling these down into areas of focus, which I’m now going to share with you.

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to the complexities of running a business. There are business owners across the country dealing with both identical and entirely different problems. People with mental and physical health problems, people dealing with grief and loss, people who want to change the world and others who want to save it. Some aspire to riches, others simply desire the weekends off. For some success is an ego trip, for others a humbling experience.

I want to explore all this and more – from the personal, emotional aspect of running a business (“How am I going to get through today?” to the practical (“What should I do next?”). Below are twelve key points which I believe require serious consideration – I’d love to hear from you with the challenges you face, the worries you have and the ambitions you crave.

1. Understand who you work with and for
Take time to engage with people inside and outside your target market and areas of expertise and interest. What are they doing well? Where (and why) are they failing? What do they need, what do they believe they need?

2. Capture interest
Develop systems to engage and interest people: new leads are the nutrition which feeds your business.

3. Earn money
Get rewarded for the valuable work you do. Understand what is worthwhile (work -v- non-work) and focus on it. What are you earning? Is it worth the effort – and if not, what are you going to change? Where are you missing out?

4. Be disciplined and accept advice
Other people can’t help you if you won’t help yourself. Be honest with yourself – where are you leaking … haemorrhaging … time, energy and money? What mistakes do you consistently make? It’s fine to make mistakes – in fact, you must – but repeating them is problematic. Discourage inappropriate and wasteful activity, be honest with yourself.

Ask for, and accept, feedback. Find people who know more than you who can provide constructive, honest advice. Don’t be intimidated, don’t react against or resist advice just because it doesn’t make for comfortable listening. Commit to act upon the advice you receive – but equally do not follow blindly. Don’t become a magpie who flits after the latest shiny thing.

5. Create a sustainable, growable business
Embrace markets, but don’t strip them. Create perpetual systems to deliver contacts and income to your business. Don’t do everything yourself. Practically: consider your impact upon the world, your community and your family. Train staff to train themselves. Never stop learning. Turn yourself into a renewable resource.

6. Don’t be wasteful
Customers who are not the right fit for your business (and there should be many of these if you’re doing it right) can be passed to others – informally or formally, reciprocally or not, for a fee or for free. Share suppliers and contacts. Consider how to make money from opportunities which at first view appear irrelevant. Don’t be lazy and inefficient just because times are good – that’s the best time to get things right. Use sales queries to write blog posts, use the blog post to send emails, use the emails to write tweets. Reuse.

7. Understand patterns
Step back: look at your industry, your community (business and personal), your customers, suppliers, staff, processes – and yourself. Observe the positive and negative patterns you seen. Good habits and bad. These are the backbone of everything that happens – sketch out the basics and fill in details as you go. The closer you get to something, the harder it is to view it objectively. Look at the whole tree, not just a single twig.

8. Bring people together
The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Bring people together – customers, suppliers, contacts, friends, neighbours, staff, job applicants, competitors. Put the right things in place and allow relationships to develop. People will support one another and all will be stronger for it.

9. Pace yourself
Small, slow systems are easier to build and maintain. Mistakes are less critical and can be corrected more easily. You avoid the highs (the anticipation of a get-rich-quick scheme) and lows (its inevitable failure). Intelligently use resources to produce a sustainable business which is less at risk to the whims of the market, fashion or legislation. Fast, big growth is exciting but can make it harder to adapt to change. The tastiest strawberry is the one which grows slowly with the season, not the one forced under artificial light and heat. Patience is a virtue. Act deliberately.

10. Be diverse
Reduce your vulnerability – take advantage of the ever-changing nature of the world to adapt to a variety of opportunities and markets. What could go wrong? Downturns, changes in society, technology, legislation, fashion, competition… you won’t predict every change, and nor should you expect to, so create systems and business structures which render you (at least partly) immune to the unexpected.

11. Love the edges
The well-trodden path isn’t always the right one to take. Interesting things happen at the edge of markets (niches) and might be the most productive and valuable. Don’t follow the crowd, look to the edges and see what’s really going on. New ideas will appear here. In nature, the ecotone is a transition area – the edge of a wood, a lake, a forest or the sea. Interesting stuff abounds.

12. Embrace change
Don’t put your head in the sand. Watch for changes in behaviour and activity on small or large scales and decide how best to respond (not responding is an option, as long as it’s a deliberate decision). Don’t fight against the tide, instead accept that we live in a constantly changing, evolving society. Intervene, adopt (and adapt) and embrace.