This is the first article in a monthly series on small business owners I have met or worked with over the years who developed beautiful successful businesses.
Stories of successful real business owners
In 35 years of doing business and working with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, I’ve learned a very important lesson: Success in small business starts by building great habits. I call these practices the “7 Highly Chilled Habits” and I find they’re best illustrated with the stories of real business owners who I happen to have had the pleasure of coaching.
The articles are based on my E-book, The 7 Habits of Highly Chilled Small Business Owners. All of my books and other resources are available for free here
Highly Chilled Habit #1:
To be successful in business, be Dependable
I can’t sell what I don’t stock… Colin
A client I once worked with imports wine from Europe and sells it to restaurants around Australia. One day, a particularly cheeky rosé from his range sold out and his Italian suppliers were running behind with fulfilling orders. The situation wasn’t going to be resolved for at least a month and some of my client’s favourite eateries were going to have to put a different rosé on their menu.
Not only were sales lost in that month, some of the substitute rosé from other distributors stuck. My client lost several big accounts and tens of thousands of dollars in revenue throughout that year alone.
When working through this challenge with my wine importing client, I was reminded of Colin. I first met Colin in the eighties during my early days as a builder in Sydney. Colin owned a builder’s timber and hardware store in the inner city, and I became a regular customer of his. This is his website: http://www.swadlingstimberandhardware.com.au/ . Colin was a grumpy bugger, but he ran an incredibly successful business that was far superior to most of his competitors.
It’s All About Trust
One of the things that made Colin’s business so successful was that they always had what we needed in stock. The team virtually never ran out of their product lines and on top of that, they generally provided same-day delivery.
I asked Colin once about the enormous range and quantity of stock he carried. It looked, to my inexperienced self, like an expensive business to run. All that money tied up in stock. Colin’s response was brilliant in its simplicity and I’ve always remembered it: “I can’t sell what I don’t stock,”.
Colin continued to build a Highly Chilled business as a Highly Chilled small business owner. By the time I left the building industry, he had 6 massive stores in locations all across Sydney and most local professional builders had a trading account with one of them. We all relied on that simple philosophy of his.
My wine importing client now holds at least a 3-month supply of any label he sells because Highly Chilled business owners make a habit of making great promises to their customers. What’s more, their customers know they’re in the habit of keeping them!
Your Homework (The Chilled Kind)
Here’s a short exercise you could carry out to start the process of making this habit your own.
Practice Highly Chilled habit #1: Take a look at all of the promises you make to your clients.
Ask yourself: Do I go to every length I can in order to fulfil every promise I make? Do I, like Colin, have everything that my clients expect me to have in stock? Or, if I say that I deliver in 24 hrs, do I actually deliver in 24 hrs – every time?
Hungry for less Netflix, more chill? Explore all 7 habits. you can download the whole E-book for free here
Next Month, We’ll talk about Habit #2: Be Specific and my brother Sebastiaan in Holland
Most business owners know they need to change, because they operate in a constant state of overwhelm because but they don’t know how to change and where to start. Does that sound familiar to you?
In my experience, the way out of overwhelm and towards “Fun” (that deep sense of reward and satisfaction you get as a result of building a business that hums along like a well-oiled machine) is primarily about knowing what step to take next and feeling confident about your ability to carry out the task, whatever it may be.
Consistency is Key
There’s a famous Chinese saying that tells us “the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step” and although this is obviously true, we sometimes forget that we have to take the second, third and fourth steps as well. I, just like every other human on this planet, am guilty of making this mistake, and when we make this mistake we don’t change and neither does our business change.
Consistency is the key to progress. It is the one thing that makes everything come together in the end. Just as the only way to get fitter is to exercise more today, tomorrow and the day after, consistently, you will only achieve your goals in business if you practice consistency too.
Consistency is Hard
Consistency is hard for everyone, but it is especially difficult for small business owners because you are all alone out there. One of the things I hear most often from new business owners is how surprised they are about all the little things that eat their time. They talk about how tough it is to get anything done because of the endless list of small and big things that need doing. There is no one else to do them and no one else to talk to.
As a business owner, there is no one to keep you accountable. No one will pull you into line or keep you focused on the things that are important in the medium and long term. There is no one to brainstorm with and no one to help keep you steady when the floor under your feet starts to wobble. Friends, family, partners and staff cannot give you this kind of support.
Every client I’ve ever had the pleasure of helping initially comes to me with feelings of loneliness and overwhelm. It is an entrepreneurial epidemic! Yet you know as well as I do that anyone who operates on their own, in this troubling state, simply doesn’t function as well as they can. Their brains don’t operate at anywhere near optimum capacity.
Building a Support System
For some reason, many business owners believe they need to do it all themselves and, if they can’t, it means they have failed some mythical test of entrepreneurship. Believe me: nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is, almost every business owner needs external support to build a Fun Business that sustains them for years to come. This assistance can come in many forms, such as a mentor, a board of advisers (formal or informal) or someone like me.
The bottom line: if you want to finally start enjoying your business (and your life!), then I urge you to go out and find some kind of external support. After all, two heads are better than one.
Whether you reach out to me or someone else, let me assure you: if you truly want to build a business that sustains you for years to come, it is so much more Fun when you don’t try to do it all on your own. I promise you.
Next Month, I’ll start a new series about the 7 Habits of Highly Chilled small business owners
Building (and growing) a Fun business: Enough is Enough
Everything we’ve been taught about business growth is a myth
More is not necessarily better
Over the years, I have been on a journey in my thinking about entrepreneurship. Part of this has involved noticing a nagging feeling that I later realised was coming from a deep discomfort around the business world’s obsession with growth.
My second book is called “The Ten Truths for making your business grow” [you can download it for free here]. Whenever I re-read sections of this work, I still come away feeling excited and pleased with the content. However, pausing on the term “great growth company”, specifically, makes me realise that I have stopped believing in the business growth myth and the entrepreneurial model.
Here’s what I now believe to be true:
A business doesn’t have to grow to be healthy.
Enough is a good place to be.
The myth sounds something like this: Every healthy business must grow and a business that doesn’t grow, dies.
This is a foundation principle of business, capitalism and society at large. Every business coach, guru, mentor, consultant, author, academic and MBA student will tell you this. I admit that until not long ago, I sang from the same songbook too.
Today, I realise that the principle sounds good but is wrong… quite wrong. I am reminded of the quote by American journalist HL Mencken, “For every complex human problem, there is a plausible solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”.
I don’t know who first stated that businesses must grow (and by extension, that more growth is better than less growth), but I do know that this “rule” is dangerous rubbish that has caused all kinds of damage to business owners, their families, their friends and society.
In fact, I think the idea that a business must grow or else it will fail exists alongside a number of other nonsensical notions on which we base the management of our society, such as celebrity worship culture and the basic belief that nothing is ever enough.
In the 21st century, we are never: thin enough, rich enough, good enough parents, educated enough, successful enough, beautiful enough, clever enough. And we are definitely never good enough as business owners. Well, unless we get to sell our business for $100 million or more.
The list of role models that we are told we must aspire to usually includes grass-roots entrepreneurs turned gazillionaires, such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Larry Page. Don’t get me wrong, I think these are all amazing individuals, but I know many other people who are just as inspiring, yet they will never become billionaires (probably not even millionaires).
My Favourite Client
I have a client who is a plumber. He has three vans and employs three people. He might end up hiring one or two more people and having one or two more vans over the next few years but that’s probably where he will stop growing. He may continue to operate his plumbing business for the next 20 to 30 years and then, possibly, one of his kids or employees might take over. In any case, someone will probably run the same business in almost the same format and size for the bulk of this century and beyond.
His business isn’t dying, though. Far from it.
My client’s business is providing him, his family, his employees and their families with a good, meaningful and rewarding life – a life that allows him to feel proud, look after the people he cares about and do the stuff he wants to do.
In my eyes, this is a perfect model of a business that sustains the owner and everyone in the business and will do so for years to come.
The Little Voice
Now, I haven’t talked about this with my client specifically, but I can guarantee there is a small part of him, the little voice in his ear, the famous critic on his shoulder (mine is called Ted, by the way. What’s yours?), who will be whispering:
“You suck as a business owner.”
“You obviously aren’t fit to polish a true entrepreneur’s boots because a proper business owner would be well on his way to dominating Australia with offices and operations everywhere, ready for a lucrative take-over by Lend Lease or some other conglomerate like that.”
What does your little voice whisper to you in the quiet moments?
We are told by all the self-help gurus, business coaches and entrepreneurs who have already “made it” that we have to have an “abundance mindset” and that there are unlimited growth opportunities offering unlimited money for everyone.
All we have to do is think right and have the right attitude: “Screw It, Let’s Do It”, as the title of one of Richard Branson’s books suggests, and you too shall have an island in the Bahamas!
Allow me to be blunt: You will not have an island in the Bahamas, and nor will I, but you know something? That is perfectly okay. Who needs all that sun, sand and sea without 4G mobile reception anyway, right?!
Brene Brown says, in her book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, that the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. She states that scarcity and abundance are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Instead, the opposite of scarcity is enough, or sufficiency.
And it is. In time, my client’s plumbing business will enable him to employ a full-time admin assistant and then spend two days per week no longer “on the tools”. This will probably be “enough” growth for him.
That doesn’t mean the business goes to sleep and stagnates. There are all sorts of things that can be improved and run more smoothly. There are efficiencies to be gained and his people can get better. The business can steadily become more profitable as well. The challenges don’t stop, life doesn’t stop, but business growth can.
The Abundance Fantasy
When we are told to let go of our scarcity beliefs and embrace the abundance mindset, we are sold a fantasy. The pressure to embrace this mentality sets us up to feel bad about ourselves. It sets us up for failure and shame.
There is only room for one Richard Branson and one Donald Trump on this earth. 99.99999999999% of the rest of us are not going to become billionaires.
Neither you nor I will likely sell our businesses for $100 million. This book may end up being read by 100,000 people, for example, and it is possible there might be one or two in that group who will sell their business for some enormous amount of money. The rest of us will simply arrive at the end of our lives and have to find another way to measure how well we’ve done with the 75 years (hopefully more!) we were given.
The Entrepreneurial Myth
The entrepreneurial myth has done us all a lot of damage. We walk around with feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame because deep down we know that we are not going to be the next celebrity entrepreneur and wealthy venture capitalists are not going to stake us with a few million dollars, only to cash out a few years later.
Enough is a great place to be. As Brene Brown says in her first TED talk, “You are enough.”
Your Homework (The Fun Kind)
So, I want to encourage you to ask yourself what “enough” looks like. What constitutes “enough” for you in your business? What do you need to achieve in your business that would mean you would be content with your achievements?
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Next Month, I’ll be talking about what next and how to make it all come together for you in your business