Working with Small Business
Over the last 13 years we have had the opportunity to work with a number of small businesses, all owned by an individual, with some degree of family involvement. It has been truly a unique learning experience because the majority of my business background was either with larger corporations or in the academic community. In that environment, great importance was placed on growing revenue and profit. While most of these smaller businesses are motivated to grow and be more profitable, several are more interested in sustainability. Maintaining a family-centered life style can often be a chief motivator.
Our focus has not been on brand new businesses that might be classified as start-up. Our clients tend to be already well established businesses who may be in need of making changes required achieve higher levels of success. They are hardworking individuals who good at what they do. Their profitability is often not commensurate with their efforts and risk taking. Their hard work produces limited financial returns.
Most are very bright business people who are successful because of their experience, hard work and common sense. I often believe that a great deal of their business knowledge was acquired around the dinner table or in conversations with friends. Although they may not use the terms learned in business school, they follow the same proven principles.
Trust is Personal
Trust is a key element in building a working relationship between a business leader and a coach.
Small business owners should only work with a coach that they trust. So often they have worked with individuals who promised to solve all their issues with a book or a short program. There is no “silver bullet” available to help every business. There are good theories, but whether they are the right answers for each business might not be valid. It all starts with learning about the owner’s business through being a good listener. Stephen Covey is quoted as saying, first seek to understand and then to be understood.
Asking the right questions and truly understanding and defining the issues is an essential part of any coaching process.
One needs to be sensitive in a family owned business environment. I have known of business owners who had to divorce a spouse because of business issues, but that needs to be their decision with which a coach cannot be involved. On the other end of that situation is the senior family leader who is much loved and respected. A business adviser needs to be both objective but also sensitive.
Need Help with Change
We live in a dynamic and ever changing world. Working harder doesn’t always work. As an outsider, a business coach needs to be an advocate for helping the client better understand their current situation and guiding them through a change process. That change may come in many forms. A senior family member may be interested in retiring and passing the business on to a son or daughter. Making them ready to make that change is both a business and emotional challenge. The firm may also need to reasses its market focus. Sometimes that focus is into a new market and sometimes it’s about deemphasizing an existing market. During the recent recession, a company who was very active in new home construction had to move more into commercial construction. With the resurgence of the new home building, it then needed to return to its more comfortable roots. These situations require an identification of the situation and a development of the goals associated with a change in direction.
Working on the Business Not Just in the Business
Larger businesses set aside time to have staff meetings, planning meetings and even offsite retreats. Small business seem to communicate and make decisions on the run. As a small business owner, a large part of my planning occurred during my one-hour commute to the office. That being said, it is important to have regular meetings with key staff members to review results, the status of current plans and create new plans to address issues. The frequency of these meetings might be weekly, biweekly, or even monthly. Several of my clients admit that prior to meetings of this type, they rarely ever addressed the overall issues in their business.
Working on your business starts with the development of a plan. A business coach can guide you through the planning process and help overcome obstacles along the way. Too often businesses will attempt to develop a plan based upon literature they have read or a course taken at a seminar. This approach may lead to an impasse which stalls progress and leads to frustration. Here an experienced facilitator can lead the discussion in a way which will overcome the obstacle and a finalization of the plan.
The status of that business plan should be a focus of the regular meetings. What plans are we executing to achieve the business’s goals? Are they on schedule? What obstacles are interfering with their attainment? What help do people need to get back on track?
We have personally watched the firms with whom we have partnered grow in revenue and profitability. In every case, the business leadership in these firms was not found to be lacking. In fact, their knowledge of their business and markets was superior. Our contribution was to help them focus, set priorities and apply the discipline to follow through.
To learn more about our success and how they may impact your business, consider our Complimentary Advisory Service on our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org