A bit more advice on longevity…
In my last blog, I started talking about the principles that guide me, both as a consultant and as an entrepreneur.
With each day, more and more people ask me the same question – are you sure? Obviously the reason they ask that question is because the entrepreneurial route is always the one less tread and therefore the one harder to follow. They say I made it harder for myself, because I chose to give advice to people on how to be successful, so I have no choice, but to actually be successful myself! It is a very weird situation to be in – the more successful I am, the more people will listen to me; and the more people listen to me, the more successful I will be.
Anyway, I will consider that conundrum in future blogs. For now, let me deal with my principles.
Last time, I spoke about keeping it simple. I think, this is a principle that few will ever argue against. Keeping it simple provides clarity to more people. Clarity gives a better foundation for decision making and for progress.
I also spoke about the importance of being ready for BIG. This one is not always that black and white. There is always a question of what comes first – the chicken or the egg? In my scenario, I ask myself – should I invest in the skills I need then go look for contracts, or do I win the contracts and then look for the skills? It is a tricky situation…. For which I will not share my strategy (at least not for now).
I also touched on a principle that is close to my heart – ask for help. This is slightly more difficult than keeping it simple or preparing for big. Most people who want to venture into business are usually those with strong personality types. They know what they want and they know how they intend to get it. We read about all sorts of successful business men and a consistent message is about their presence, their strength of character, their vision and commitment. All sorts of superlatives are used to describe them. One thing that does not get sufficient prominence, is their willingness to ask for help. As I said, multinationals with their deep skills and unrivalled resources, still approach consulting firms for help – that should tell us that you are never too big or too strong to ask for help.
With that recap done, I should share the last two principles that govern how I try to do my things. As with my other principles, this one will be accompanied by a short story (lest you get bored and stop reading!).
I once had this gentleman working with me. He was very good at his job and was destined for greatness in whichever field he chose. So, one day, he identified an opportunity and quickly converted it into an assignment. It was an easy, relatively straight forward and very profitable assignment. So he jumped into it like any ambitious, hardworking individual would.
As he began working on the delivery of this assignment, he decided to take a small short cut in the pre-assignment procedures. He just wanted to get into the thick of things and get on with the work! As he progressed with the work, something came up. Something that could disrupt the entire assignment. This ‘something’ related to a little check-box that he ticked in the ‘pre-assignment’ procedures, without actually applying himself to it. He suddenly found himself in a situation where he had to go back and sort out that small short cut he had taken. Sadly, the cost of dealing with the initial short cut was going to cut the profitability of the assignment…. So the only way to deal with it (in his eyes) was to take another short cut. As you can imagine, one short-cut lead to another, until one day he asked for help. The advice he got, was to go back and sort out those short cuts he had taken, one by one. As expected, the assignment was well delivered, but was not profitable.
I’m sure you are all thinking that the moral of the story is to avoid short-cuts. No that is not the moral. As my friend reflects and talks about his experience, his message is deeper than that. It talks about the reason he took the short-cuts…. he was chasing short-term profits. His message is avoid short-term profit taking, because it encourages short-term thinking.
Avoid short-term profit taking at the expense of the long-term.
Now, don’t get me wrong, profit is why we do this, but many entrepreneurs would rather have the profits today, than suffer for two years to enjoy the long-term benefit later. When you chase short-term profits, you sometimes fail to see the longer term benefit of a ‘less profitable’ option. What is lost in these decisions, is the element of sustainability. Short-term profit chasing makes you feel big and successful. It is a high that is equal to that of drugs. It doesn’t last and the drop to reality can be painful. An entrepreneur can happily talk of the profit he made this month, this quarter or this year, but fails to talk of how sustainable those profits are.
What we need to remember, is that a majority of start-ups will struggle to survive to their 3rd birthday. Even fewer will make it to 10 years old, and under 10% will see a second generation of senior management. However, you don’t have to swing to the opposite extreme and chase to be an Apple, or Toyota or Zambeef or Zanaco. What you need to chase is sustainable growth. My friend, who took a short cut, was chasing the high of a successful assignment without considering the longer term implications of his actions. Avoid this.
My last principle is quite simple, but I cannot find an appropriate example for it. Maybe because there are too many examples out there.
In business, flexibility and adaptability are critical skills of the successful entrepreneur. The boss who does not prepare for tomorrow, will be left in today. There are countless examples of how the best entrepreneurs were flexible in their approach and adapted to their environment. However, many people mistake flexibility for inconsistency. They replace adaptability with confusion. How many people have friend who started a car wash, and it slowly metamorphosed into a garage, then a boutique and lastly a bar?
Consistency is important for growth, experience, learning. But most of all, it is important for Trust. Our customers want to trust us. They struggle to trust a company that seems to be in all sorts of things or a company that has lost its compass. How many times do we hear the powerful words in an advert saying ‘Servicing customers consistently for over 30 years’? We trust someone who has been doing the same thing for a long time. The power of consistency is not one to be downplayed. If you feel the urge to dive into another business, find another vehicle through which to do it. Let each name remain succinct and distinct.
My final words are not a principle that I follow, but it is definitely a principle I think you should follow. It is simple, consistent, and ready….
With how we do business and the plan going forward, you can rely on us.