Building a team

A family member recently started a new job and he was lamenting the fact that he is on a team of one. Even though he works for a very large corporation, he is working on an assignment by himself. And this assignment involves a topic with which he has little experience.

My immediate thought was that this is no different from the typical small business owner. Most of us likely started our business as a team of one, and most of us gave ourselves an assignment with which we had little experience–operating a business. This certainly was the case in my situation.

When I started my business, I assumed that common sense and hard work would be sufficient to address the issues that would come up. While both are important, and certainly help, they simply are not sufficient. The result was a continual process of trial and error, which was often costly, stressful, and inefficient.

On occasion I would solicit input from family or friends regarding specific issues. While their advice was often very helpful, they didn’t understand enough about my industry to provide the kind of assistance I sometimes needed. So I continued to plod along, making slow but gradual progress (with occasional pauses to pull out large tufts of hair).

The Internet certainly helped change this. With the advent of chatrooms and forums, I suddenly had access to hundreds of other people who had “been there, done that”. I was no longer dependent on trial and error.

Of course, the quality of the advice offered on the Internet varies considerably. As I identified those individuals or organizations that offered sound advice, I slowly began to include them on my “team”. In addition, I was better able to communicate my vision to my employees and subcontractors. This too improved the quality of my team.

Every small business owner should have a team, even if he is a one-man shop. Obviously a smaller business will have a smaller team, but getting quality advice and input is important no matter the size of a company. Even a one-man shop will have need for occasional advice concerning legal, accounting, marketing, or other issues. Having competent professionals available–professionals who have some understanding of your industry–can help avoid costly mistakes.

Your team can also consist of others in your industry. While a direct competitor will not be likely to share as much information, general discussions can be beneficial. If you are in a large market, there are likely many in your industry who are not direct competitors.

Running a small business can be a lonely endeavor at times. There are many ups and downs, many issues that must be addressed, and many options. Building a team can be an effective way to avoid the problems of trial and error, and build a better business.

Don’t just do something, stand there

Sometimes it is easy to get so wrapped up in running our small business that we can’t see the big picture. We get bogged down in the daily grind of meeting customers, managing employees, making widgets, and paying the bills.

While these are necessary activities, they are examples of working in our business rather than on our business. They don’t help us plan, organize, or build our business. And when we don’t spend time doing these things, tomorrow will be no different from today.

Sometimes it’s best to stop doing and survey the scenery. Sometimes we need to not do something, but just stand there. (I don’t mean this literally.) Sometimes we need to step away from the daily activities of our business.

Setting goals may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us identify where we want to go. Planning may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us identify how we will get there. Developing systems may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us implement our plan. All of these help us build a better business.

If we set goals then we know where we are going. If we plan our actions then we know how we will get there. If we develop systems our actions become more efficient and we are more likely to achieve the desired results.

Sometimes it’s best to step back and look around. Sometimes it’s best to don’t do something, but just stand there.

The franchise model

In the The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It Michael Gerber speaks of the franchise as a model for all small businesses. This does not mean that every small business owner should aspire to franchise his business. It does mean that the franchise can serve as a model to operate a more efficient and profitable small business.

The franchise model is based on systems–on performing tasks in a specific and consistent manner. When tasks are performed in a consistent manner, the results are also consistent.

Gerber uses McDonald’s as an example. No matter where in the world you go, your Big Mac will be the same. Consistent actions create consistent results. The same principle can be applied to any business, whether you are baking pies, or building widgets, or mowing yards.

Having systems and procedures in place becomes particularly important once you begin to hire employees. Systems provide a means for insuring consistent performance without micro-managing employees. So long as they follow the system, the results are the same no matter who performs the task.

Everyone benefits from systems. Employees have clear instructions on how to perform their job. The owner can focus on those aspects of the business that truly require his attention. And customers know what to expect.

While systems do not guarantee success, they certainly increase the odds. And anything that can help a small business owner overcome the challenges of entrepreneurism is worth considering.

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