I have run a few businesses, and yes – some have done much better than others. There are a few things I have learned, and a few lessons in business I should have listened to and haven’t – and since I’m not living in the Bahamas yet, I must have more learning to do!
I do love that supposedly Chinese proverb that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is right now. I’ll share my thoughts on some questions that I should have asked myself when I had warning signs for the mistakes I made. And if the warning signs have been there for a while, ask yourself the questions now!
Why are you in this business?
Did you take on the fast food franchise because you got a good redundancy/retirement payout and thought a change might be nice? Did someone say to you, “this is an awesome opportunity, you should set up in business, I’ll be your client”? Were you looking for work and this sort of ‘came along’?
Be honest with yourself, is small business really for you? Can you take knockbacks? Rude customers? What will you risk in order to be successful – is this really worth an extra mortgage on the house? I have been hooked in by some of these. You can easily ‘sleep walk’ into a decision that impacts your family, your wealth, and your wellbeing.
Is your heart in this anymore?
You’ve “done this sort of work for years”, “this product was a market leader”, “if only there was some more money for marketing” or you are “not sure what else you’d be doing if you weren’t doing this” … None of these are great reasons to keep on going, day after day, if you know the trend. Can you admit it to yourself? I can remember standing outside a business in Western Sydney one cold day wondering how I could get a yes from a continuous flow of no’s. Selling is a numbers game, so you must be resilient, and keep on pushing. But if the passion is gone, or the costs are mounting, or you can’t make your story sell – you need to stop the losses before it is too late.
Does anyone want this product?
Do your research! I have held distributorships and sales roles for businesses that used to be market leaders. Be careful when you see the opportunities to leap into firms, franchises or networks with a big brand – what pressure are they under, do they have realistic expectations and what support and reward do you get for your effort? I have loved the hand to hand combat of selling a product that is under pressure from new competitors. Struggling to sleep, dreaming about work problems when I finally got to sleep, putting on weight, having a few too many drinks after another hard day… I didn’t enjoy that so much.
How much can you take?
A wise man said to me once that your energy level is like an old battery, you can drain it until the needle on the gauge says that its charge is so low it is deep into the red zone. But if you run the battery flat too much, it eventually won’t take a full recharge – it’ll never fully come back. An electrician may argue with my analogy, but you get the drift. Your mental health and wellbeing can be like that, if you continually over stress and over tax yourself, it can be very hard to come back. Or something (or you) snaps. Everyone has a level of stress they can manage – have you made an effort to think about what your level is? How much pressure are you willing to take? How much can you or your family take? For some people stress is something they thrive on, and they can be super successful if they take smart risks and look after themselves. For the rest of us, you need to think long and hard about the risks you take and how you will cope with the pressure. How much is left in your battery?
Listen to yourself
Do we ever listen to that quiet voice in our minds asking these questions? How many more times are you going to do subbie work only to get ripped off when the main contractor’s business goes under again? How much more debt can you bear? How long since you had a holiday? Could you even take one?
Get some qualified advice
There is never any harm in having a chat with an expert. Be it about valuation, sale of business or a wind up. Maybe your business has some value that be can sold or combined into another? Maybe it’s time to ‘fall on your sword’ and salvage as much as you can? Maybe you can turn it all around – but face some tough truths and get an action plan from someone who won’t listen to all the reasons why you can’t change that system you have.
I made the choice to set the Insolve panel up because if even a few more livelihoods are saved, a few more jobs kept, some more good marriages survive financial stress – then we all win. Have a chat with someone – the times I have, I have never regretted it. The times I didn’t have help when I needed it – I’ll never, ever, forget.