Resilience is the Key to Building a Great Business

The one thing you need

resilience

My time at Lifeline and what I learnt about business

I was thinking about resilience the other day, it came up in a conversation somewhere.

I’ve said it before… in fact I sound like a broken record sometimes, but being in small business can be tough. The life of a business owner does not generally go over roses and small and large setbacks are part of the territory. Paraphrasing an old joke:” You can divide the business owners of the world in two groups: those who’ve had a serious setback and those who are about to have one”.

I’ve certainly experienced significant setbacks in my career in business over the last 30 years and most of my clients have as well. I’ve come to believe that the difference between those of us who get to build Fun Businesses that sustain us for years to come and those that don’t is one word:

Resilience

This is the Wikipedia definition of resilience: “Psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. “

To be a successful small business owner I believe you must live higher up the resilience scale than the average person, because the journey of building a small business is full of traps and snags and rapids; full of stress and adversity. A resilient business owner doesn’t sit around and lick her wounds for too long when she’s hit a snag, because she knows she’ll drown if she does..

jacob ohlson A good example of resilience is a friend of mine Jacob Ohlson. His is the founder of Powernet It and he is building a really great business. Jacob is one of the most resilient people I know. Last night he took the CEO sleep out challenge in Sydney, which is all about raising money for homeless people. As it was, it rained all night and Jacob got soaked and freezing and he would be feeling miserable. But I know he’s hard at work, back in his business today… Jacob is resilient (and you can donate to his appeal here)

So if Resilience is key to building a healthy business, let’s explore where it comes from and how we can get more of it.

My romantic business failure

I think am fairly resilient in business myself, or I certainly believe I have been in the past. I’ve experienced all kinds of setbacks when developing my various businesses in the past 30 years. I remember my first exploration of business in the mid eighties, was an unmitigated disaster. I’d started out a boat repair and maintenance business on Sydney Harbour. It was a truly romantic affair, and I felt that this was what I was put on this earth for. The reality was though, that I truly had no idea what running a business meant or how I should go about it. After a year or so, I’d totally run out of money, I was insolvent and I’d generally made a mess of things. So much for romance. I decided to branch out into house carpentry and building from boats, because it looked like an easier path, but I had bills to pay then and there (we’d bought our first home and there was a mortgage to pay). So I decided to get a taxi license, because I could drive taxis in the evenings and on the weekends while developing the building business. The plan worked and I dug myself out of the hole and survived.

So yes I was resilient and my resilience meant I didn’t crumble and I came back for more.

My circumstances were quite fortunate though in many ways. We’d recently emigrated to Australia from Holland. My wife at the time was Australian, we had a big support group in Sydney and she had a job as a teacher with a solid regular income (and we bought the house for $50,000 which we thought was a fortune at the time … wry smile… )

So how do you find resilience when you are not so fortunate?

Resilience when there is no hope

I have spent a number of years working as a Volunteer Telephone Crisis Counsellor in the past 11 years (at Lifeline in Sydney) and I came across people in much much tougher circumstances than I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget this one woman who rang in frequently. The woman was known as ‘M’ at Lifeline. ‘M’ was permanently bedridden and alone. She could not get herself to the toilet so a carer would come in a lot of the day. She was increasingly blind and in permanent overwhelming pain throughout her body and she never slept at all; all she could do was listen to the radio all day and night. And yet, ‘M’ managed to make us counsellors smile sometimes and I remember many conversations  with her in the middle of the night sometimes, where I’d come off the phone with a lump in my throat, thankful for the half hour I spent talking with her. ‘M’ was inspiring and amazing, even though, for her, there was no hope, she would never get better, her life would simply get progressively worse and worse until she’d die one day.

‘M’ was more resilient than anyone I’ve ever met before or since, the kind of resilience I don’t think I could ever possess.

But ‘‘M’ and I did have something in common that has helped both of us find resilience in trying times, and that was that we were able to access support. I’ve had people around me who I trusted and cared about, who believed in me and supported me and bolstered my confidence most of my life. Lifeline gave that to ‘M’ in some small way as well. It’s the reason ‘M’ rang Lifeline most days, she just needed to hear that someone cared about her and that she “was doing alright” and just hearing that every day, combined with what must have been an amazing inner reservoir of strength, allowed her to hang in somehow.

Support team

That’s why I believe it’s so important to create a support team around you when you are developing a business. As I said before, setbacks are part of the journey of developing a business and when the setbacks happen they can knock your confidence and your hope. Having people you care about and especially people you respect as equals in business demonstrating that they believe in you will have an enormous impact in how you deal with the setback and how you get back on your feet to fight the next battle.

As a business coach I often find myself taking the role of chief supporter of my clients when the “s%$t hits the fan”. I am convinced that having me by their side increases their level of resilience. I have seen the evidence of it many times. My most successful clients have taken it even a step further and have put together a small team of trusted advisers and mentors  that they can lean on when required. One of my clients has two coaches, a financial management mentor, another mentor who has been wildly successful in the same industry before him, a human resources adviser and a marketing adviser who he leans on from time to time. All of us support him, bolster his confidence, hold him accountable and generally stand by the sidelines, cheering him on. As a consequence, he is probably one of the most resilient people in small business I know.

To build a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come, you’ll need to be resilient, and the best way I know to make sure you are as resilient as you can be is to make sure you have a bunch of great people around you, who believe in you… I promise you.

 

The Work-Life Balance myth for Small Business Owners

work life balance
work life balance myth
“By all means, put your life into your business but don’t let your business take over your life!”

I often hear people carry on about creating work-life balance. You probably do as well. Actually I reckon you’ve told yourself a few times that you should create more work-life balance, haven’t you? But work-life-balance is a myth for most people, especially for business owners.

It’s a nice concept. All ideas about life that revolve around balance are attractive and sensible.

Absolutely. Except for one thing:

For small business owners, your business is your life. So how do you go about creating a balance between two things that are largely one and the same?

Work-Life Balance is a Silly Idea for Small Business Owners

Ask any small business owner in the midst of getting his or her business off the ground and to a sustainable state, and they’ll tell you they virtually never switch off, they’re really never not at work. There is always a part of their brain that’s on the go:

  • I wonder what would happen if I bought that second vehicle?
  • Am I going to get enough money in this month to pay everyone?
  • I wonder if changing the headline on my website will have a positive impact on my Google ranking?
  • Where am I going to find my next new employee?
  • I think there’s an opportunity to offer my products to aged care facilities… How can I best approach that market?
  • We’re out of toilet paper in the office… Don’t forget to pick some up tomorrow on the way in.

It never stops… does it?

Conventioanl Wisdoms Are Not Going to Work for You

work-life balance The conventional idea of work-life balance is actually a nonsense for most small business owners. You can’t close the door behind you at 5.30, go home and switch off. Your office might be at home anyway, or you need to catch up with some admin after the kids have been put to bed.

That’s how it is in small business. Your business is such an important part of you that somehow separating it from your “life” and creating a balance between the two is simply impossible.

But at the same time it has been proven time and time again that everyone needs to switch off, everyone needs to sleep 7 to 8 hrs on average and everyone needs to have social and personal connections with others and that’s before we talk about kids and family, hobbies, sport or health.

How do you manage that as a small business owner so that you don’t burn out, become unhealthy and forget your kid’s names and birthdays (and they yours?)

I believe it starts by acknowledging that life as a small business owner is not the same as life as an employee. It won’t ever be and conventional wisdoms about work-life balance are simply not going to work for you. No point beating yourself up about it, no point telling yourself you “should” go home at 6 and not take the laptop. If you don’t finish that quote tonight you’ll miss the deadline and then the whole thing comes to a screaming halt… Tonight you’ll just have to get back to it as soon as the kids are in bed and if it takes to 2 am to finish the quote…so be it.

Frustrations and Joys

But there are both frustrations as well as great joys to being a business owner, and one of the greatest joys of being the owner is the fact that you can do exactly what you want, when you want and no bastard can tell you different.

I often work on the weekend. As a matter of fact I am writing this article on Saturday evening as we speak (Nigel no friends obviously)… But I don’t mind… On the contrary. I’m going to take off half a day on Monday to do two yoga sessions in the middle of the day and on Thursday I am spending several hours cooking dinner for my daughter and her family and I’ll probably knock off work by lunchtime.

The great joy of being your own boss is that you have the ability to design your work and your life to suit yourself:

  • Want to burn the midnight oil tonight? Great, go for it.
  • Want to sleep in tomorrow and go for a walk? Nobody’s going to stop you.
  • Wake up and the sun is shining, the surf’s up and it’s monday? Grab your board and jump in the car and have a ball.

And if that means you have to catch up tonight and tomorrow night, all good… You’re the boss.

To me, having the flexibility I have is the biggest reason I would never want to work as an employee ever again. It would drive me insane.

Idealised Pictures

Have I sketched an idealised picture of life as a small business owner? Probably.

Do most business owners actually have such a perfect life? Are most business owners actually living the dream?

No most of them don’t for one main reason: Guilt.

Guilt

guilt trip Business owners don’t take off and go surfing when the sun is out and the surf is up because of guilt.

True, right?

Tell me. how many hours a week do you think you have to be at work, working, not to feel guilty? Is it 40 or more?

Truth be told it’s not about the hours, is it? It’s about being seen to be the first one in the door in the morning and the last one out the door at night.

Really? Is that what you started your business for so you could always be the first one in the door and the last one out?

I had a first coaching session with a new client the other day. Talking about the logistics of having regular coaching sessions with me, led to her concerns about her work commitments and how to fit in the hours working with me. She said, can’t we have our sessions in the evening maybe, because today when I left the office I felt I had to make some kind of excuse about why I left the office for the afternoon. I feel guilty leaving the office when they’re all working hard on a Friday afternoon.

I often say that small business owners are the most guilt driven people on the planet (even worse than Catholics, and that’s saying something obviously)

Food for Thought

So think about this… You have created your business. You have given it life and you’ve done so, because you wanted it to provide a certain type of life for yourself and your family and to make you feel proud and challenged and excited and engaged and rewarded; to build on your resourcefulness, to maximise your skills and experience and expand your opportunities in life.

And instead? You feel guilty for wanting to sleep in tomorrow and get to the office at midday.

Do you see my point?

Exactly… You know what to do tomorrow I think!

More about the myth of work life balance and small business owners and yet build the Great Business and Life you dream off here.

1001 Business Bedtime stories… Michael Cleans Carpets and Builds Dashboards

1001 Business Bedtime stories…… Truth 3, Finger on The Pulse

Truth 3, Planning
Little richard measures and plans his business

Here follows another one of the “1001 Business Bedtime Stories” … Every story comes straight from the New Perspectives Small Business Bootcamp, stories of business and courage and they illustrate an aspect of one of The Ten Truths… You might recognise some of them from your own experience.

Once upon a time… a long long time ago in a country not unlike Australia… Michael had a carpet cleaningbusiness …

Michael owned a carpet cleaning business in Sydney. Michael had 10 vans on the road with carpet cleaning equipment and Michael would book the jobs and do the marketing and generally run the company.

Michael’s life was full of crises, in fact most of his days involved extinguishing brush fires and he would never know where the next crisis would come from. Most of the crises involved his staff not delivering the customer service or quality that Michael’s clients expected and the only way to manage these issues was by Michael going out and fixing the problems himself.

There were many factors at play of course but Michael found it difficult to keep his staff accountable to specific performance criteria on quality and customer service. How do you measure the quality of a cleaning job and how do you measure the level of customer service and satisfaction you have delivered? But as the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

“If only I had a simple way to measure “Good Work” and “Good Service” that I can apply across the board and use to manage the performance of the guys ?” kept going round and round in Michael’s head.
Michael was at the end of his tether.

The Bootcamp

Working in The Bootcamp with me, Michael learnt that you can create relative measures for intangible things. For example If you were asked to give a score out of ten how happy you felt at this moment, where “10” was that you felt delirious and “0” meant that you were at risk of self harming, you might say “6”. If I were to ask the same question again tomorrow you might answer with “7”. This would lead us to reach a valid conclusion on your state of happiness tomorrow relative to today.

This same principle can be used to measure all sorts of intangible things in life and lends itself really well to measure quality and service and satisfaction levels.

We went to work to create a self scoring system, where a staff-member filled in a small form at the end of each job in which he gave himself and the just completed job a series of scores out of 100 on a number of different measures (for example: “Give yourself a score out of 100 for being punctual”)

The forms would be collated in a spreadsheet and the numbers averaged for each staff member and for the business as a whole. Every week on Monday morning Michael received a report from his admin assistant with the average performance numbers across the company for service and quality in the last week. At the same time Michael had his assistant call 10% of all clients every week and ask them to rate the completed jobs in a similar manner and these ratings were listed side by side with the staff member’s own ratings. The staff members would be given access to the customer ratings as well and as required Michael would sit down with individual staff members, compare notes and generally help the staff improve on their ratings and become more accurate in their self-scores.

This scoring system completely changed the way Michael thought about managing his business and he realised that the way to build a great company and great business value was to step back and create management systems, scoreboards and dashboards.

So she did… and it took a lot of courage… Michael created 3 different weekly dashboards: one for operations, one for marketing and one for finances.

Now 5 years later Michael is negotiating to sell his business. The price he is likely to sell for  is at least 3 times what he would have been able to sell it for a few years back, because now he is selling a business that operates almost independently from Michael himself.

And Michael as well as the new owners of Michael’s business will live happily ever after… The End

Ask yourself… Where will you find the courage to make Profound things happen in your Business?

Find out more about the Small Business Bootcamp here

Or follow this link to New Perspectives Business Coaching