However you are feeling about the world at the moment, there is no question that we are in a time of huge change, socially, politically, and for our businesses, potentially, financially. There is a lot of rhetoric, positive and negative in the media about the impact that Brexit is going to have on business in the UK. With so many conflicting opinions, it is hard to know what it will really mean for business and the economy.
The truth is, we never know what is around the corner, but it is all question of perception, of how stable we feel things are, not necessarily the reality. [Watch this TED talk about our perception of safety and the reality]
This kind of thinking ultimately takes us in to the future – a good thing for planning ahead, but not so good for our anxiety levels!
It would be easy to take a passive position and just wait and see, but instead I want to look at proactive, practical things you can do for your business if you are unsure how to move forward, for any reason; tools that you can use at any time of uncertainty (either because of external or internal factors) that will have a positive impact on your business and also keep you focused on why you do what you do.
Go back to the beginning
As intelligent human beings, business owners like to overcomplicate things. Our thought processes work at such lightening speed that we can often get bogged down in the details and lose sight of what inspired us to start a business in the first place.
Many clients come to see me because their reasons for starting a business have gotten lost in the day-to-day practicalities. It has been buried under all that essential admin that accompanies the running of any small business. Or they have ideas for several different projects and are finding it hard to stay focused on one.
In order to simplify things, you need to reconnect with your higher purpose. That might sound a bit deep, but all it means is answering the question: “Why do you do what you do?” Of course we all need to earn money, but why have you chosen this particular way to do it?
Another question I ask all new clients is “what would you like your legacy to be?” Most of the big questions people have about strategy, marketing, branding, how to get new clients and so on can be distilled down in to the answers to these questions so keep asking them and writing down the answers.
This leads me on to the next tool.
Update your profile
One of the things that excites me about working with small business owners and why I love the coaching process, is that we are all changing as individuals all the time. And of course this means that our businesses are changing all the time as well.
Your higher purpose may stay the same, (and it is important to clearly communicate what that is) but the way you choose to express it will change. Your job as a business owner is to communicate how you are changing to your customers.
You might have decided that you want to reach a different audience, or you may have added services/products to your existing ones, or you might have done a training course which has brought a different emphasis to your work; whatever the change may be, you need to let people know by updating your business profile on whatever platforms you engage with – your web site, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.
Keeping your profile up to date is an essential part of strengthening your brand because it ensures consistency throughout all your communications with customers. It also shows customers that you are a professional who is attentive to detail.
And, apart from a little bit of time, it doesn’t cost you anything, and may deliver surprising results. It may also help you answer the question……
“Who do I want to work with?”
Spending some time getting to know your customers (otherwise known as market research….) is never a waste of time and you can never do too much of it. Market research informs and underpins everything you do. Obviously big businesses can, and do, devote huge resources to doing extensive market research, but you don’t need to do that in order to find out what you need to know.
Here is a super quick guide to market research:
- Primary research – that is research you do yourself – talking to customers, surveys, interviews, researching your competition
- Secondary research – existing research that has come from secondary sources – trade associations, government information – The Office of National Statistics, local council web sites and so on.
- Survey tools – Survey monkey, Google consumer surveys
If you are uncertain about how to move forward with your business, conducting even a little bit of market research is a really good way to spend your time and is always a good investment for your business. Getting to know existing and potential customers better, and finding out more about what the competition is up to is ultimately going to give you valuable insights in to your own business, and that can only be a win-win!
It will also help you decide how you should invest in your business, which brings me to the next section.
How should you prioritise spending money?
This is a tough question to answer, particularly in uncertain times but let’s try.
A lot of small business owners say they would prefer to hang on to their cash if they are feeling unsure of what is around the corner, that they don’t want to tie up their cash if things go quiet. On the one hand, this is probably quite sensible, but the down side is that it may mean that you miss certain opportunities that would have enabled you to move your business forward.
By all means, be careful and ensure sure you have good systems in place (see the next section!) for monitoring cash flow, and income and expenditure. But it is also important to remember that you need to be continually investing in your business in order to develop it, so it stays fresh and does not stagnate.
Let’s look at it another way; A good coaching tool for making any decisions is to start with this simple question; does this decision expand or diminish me? Or in business terms, does this decision expand or diminish my business?
What you need to think about is whether your potential investment is something you would be able to sell on, if it is a piece of equipment or materials, or if you are deciding to do a particular kind of training, if the skills you are learning are transferable to another industry if things don’t work out?
Whatever investment you make, keep it manageable, but don’t keep things so small it that compromises your vision for your business. Of course there is a risk that things won’t go as planned, but there is always a risk in running a business.
And if you are so befuddled by the finances of running your business, then it might be time to……
….review your systems
Systems are the things you need in place to ensure that every aspect of your business is being properly monitored; finance and cash flow, invoicing, stocktaking, web traffic and SEO, marketing, HR, payroll etc. The list is endless and different for every business, depending on what kind of business you run and whether you produce products, or provide a service, or both.
So, first of all, do you have any systems?! If you feel like you are snowed under by admin all the time, and feel like you a reinventing the wheel every time you finish a project and need to invoice a client, or every time you go to place a stock order, then you probably could do with some good systems in place.
The other benefit of reviewing your systems is to look at what you can delegate to another professional. I’ll give you an example from my working life.
For several years I have been doing the bookkeeping for one of my businesses. Now I’m a decent bookkeeper, but its not my strong point and as I have been trying to develop this particular business, using skills I have accumulated over many years, I asked myself whether doing the books was really the best use of my time.
It turns out it really wasn’t. So I delegated this to a professional bookkeeper, someone who is really much better at it than me, freeing me up to do the stuff I’m good at and have been trained to do. Yes there is a cost attached to that, but because it was taking me so much longer than it takes someone who is actually qualified, and has all the proper software (rather than several Excel spreadsheets!), it was a false economy because it was taking my attention from what I needed to do to upscale the business.
When reviewing your systems ask yourself:
- If you have proper systems in place for each aspect of your business?
- If your systems are working for you and your business? I.e., are they saving you time and money?
- What could you delegate?
- If you need some new technology?
- If there is an app out there that could make your life easier?
Even if you do one thing that streamlines your business and frees you up so you can more of what you enjoy, it will be worth it.
Even when you are running the business you want to run, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like you are on a hamster wheel going round and round.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have heard me talk about sustainability and how it relates to your business. It basically means if you want to keep continually creating something new and inspire others, you yourself have to be inspired. I call it ‘filling the well’; you can’t draw water from an empty well, and you can’t inspire others if you are lacking in inspiration.
So one of the questions I always ask clients is ‘what inspires you?’ or ‘what do you do to find inspiration?’ If you want to inspire others, you need to be inspired by ideas and by doing new things.
I can hear you saying, ‘this all sounds great Marisa, but how am I going to fit anything new in to my working week when I am so busy with my business and with life?!
And of course you are right. It is hard to find the time, but it doesn’t have to be big, in fact, it is more sustainable to look at small ways you can find inspiration within your working week. Going for a walk, being in nature, reading, listening to podcasts or music, going to a gallery in your lunch hour (or for 10 minutes!); It really doesn’t matter what it is, but find small ways each week to be inspired
Here are a few things that have inspired me:
- TED talks – way way too numerous to mention specific ones here but with literally thousands available you will definitely find something that inspires you. Here are the top 20 most popular TED talks:
- “An astronauts guide to life on earth” by Chris Hadfield. If you don’t know Chris Hadfield, he is otherwise known as the singing astronaut because of this.
- “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and “Working with Emotional Intelligence” – How to communicate as a person and as a leader with clarity, assertiveness, and authenticity.
- “Quiet” by Susan Cain – If you suspect you are an introvert at heart then read this. It is a great book for anyone who feels they should be ‘selling’ themselves more, but just doesn’t feel comfortable with that way of being.
- My mentor! You will be pleased to know that I practice what I preach and check in with my mentor every few months. Together we look at ways that I can improve my work and be my best self. For more info at how mentoring can help you and your business go to this page of my web site.
Look after yourself
Clients are sometimes surprised when I ask them how they look after themselves, but it is as important as any other aspect of running a small business. Again, it is all about sustainability; in order for your business to be sustainable so you can keep moving forward, you have to look after yourself in a sustainable way. If you overcommit and are running on empty all the time, can you really be there for your clients and customers?
How we look after ourselves means different things for different people but this is what it means for me; to cultivate healthy mental habits, and healthy work habits, limit screen time and time spent on social media, (my daily cut off time is 6pm but do what works for you) get outside, find some form of exercise you enjoy and do it a couple of times a week; do whatever else makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, spend time with people that understand you and inspire you and don’t drain you.
And lastly, watch this talk by Arianna Huffington, businesswoman and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, all about just how important it is to get a good nights sleep.
We can never know for sure what lies ahead, but by keeping things simple and staying in the moment, we can make better decisions free from anxiety and fear, and that has to be good for us, and our businesses.
If you are feeling uncertain about how to move forward with your business and want to find out how business coaching can help, click here to book a 30 minute phone call.