One of the most common complaints I hear from the business owners I speak to, and read tales of woe from in the posts I see on LinkedIn, is of business being unpredictable, unreliable, and uncontrollable.
A typical scenario they relate to me goes along these lines:
“I have no real idea where the next customer or client is coming from. We get referrals and introductions, but sometimes we’ll be coming up to the second half of the month and I still don’t know if I’m gonna be able to make salary at the end of it.
We’ve been OK up to now and there’s some cash in the bank, but I know it’s not right and things could so very easily go tits-up at short notice”
- Bills are always looming and you have to juggle and sometimes delay to make payments when they’re due.
- You’re at the mercy of the first bad client with a substantial outstanding invoice to come along.
- You’re constantly stressed and worrying about work and money.
- You spend most of your time at work frantically chasing business or fighting fires started by clients or staff.
- It’s affecting your home life and your relationships with friends, family, and in particular with your spouse and kids.
- You’re making sales and other business decisions from a position of financial weakness and desperation.
- You find yourself offering cutthroat discounts which slash your profits to the bone (and often beyond).
Sometimes when I talk to business owners on the phone and go through this list, they tell me it’s almost as if I can read their minds.
Well… I can’t.
It seems that way only because I’ve heard this tale of woe so many times it’s almost a cliché. It doesn’t even require much thinking about on my part.
It’s little more than a very educated guess.
Why does it happen so often?
An easy one to explain…
Most of the business owners I talk to are in construction or the trades. And, typically, they came to be business owners by way of their time-served apprenticeship, followed by a stint “on the tools” as a qualified tradesman, and then, in the fullness of time, a brave and enthusiastic step out on their own as a business owner.
And more power to them, because it takes balls.
Looking at business ownership from the perceived security of employment it can seem a frightening thing to do, giving up the certainty of a job for the unknown of self-determination.
Listen up: I know of only one certainty… one day you're going to die.
Other than that, it's very much down to chance, outrageous fortune and the decisions and actions you take between now and then.
Once I'd figured all that out, my own life became a lot easier. Lack of certainty and security doesn't worry me. On the contrary, I find it liberating. Some people worry about losing that salary at the end of the month, and wonder how we business owners can stand the strain without that "security".
But what security, exactly?
They clearly forget or choose to ignore the many, many tales they must have heard about employees turning up for work to find the building locked or a "so long and thanks for all the fish" email in their inbox.
At least as a business owner I can see the problems coming and have the power to do something about them.
But, I digress.
The point is, looking from the outside in, being a business owners looks scary and those who make the leap have balls of steel.
The problem is…
… while you’re great at doing your “thing” and are confident you can make their mark with your skill and expertise, no one ever took the time or trouble to tell you how to run a “thing” business.
As far as you’re concerned, clients and contracts just appear out of nowhere, as if by magic.
No harm or foul here because none of us know what we don’t know.
None of us can fix a problem we’re not aware of.
To make matters worse, when you do set out on your own, you’ve usually got some work already lined up, typically ex-clients of your employer or just people you’ve met along the way (more than once people have told me the final kick up the arse to get them to set up on their own was someone they know needing work doing and urging them to take the leap).
And it seems so easy, doesn’t it?
All of a sudden you’re your own boss and you’re making more money than you’ve ever made before (you frequently don’t realise yet you get to keep much less of this than you’d probably like, but that’s a shock for another day).
Eventually, though, the initial work dries up and reality strikes you in the face like a wet nappy: you have to find your own work…
… and you realise
You have no fucking clue how to get it
So, you muddle through.
Here’s some more “mind-reading” for you: you get on the phone or do the legwork and start literally or metaphorically knocking on doors.
This usually pays off through sheer weight of numbers and persistence and you get the the work you’re looking for,
Except you have another problem: you’re busy but you’re not making any money.
Because of what you don’t know.
See, here’s what happens: you go hell-for-leather to get the work and make your proposition look attractive using the only thing you know: a low price.
Sure, you know you do great work and it’s worth a much heftier price tag, but because you know fuck-all about marketing your business you’re simply unaware of the other ways you can win the business without compromising your fees and joining that spiralling race to the bottom.
Before long you're one of an endless procession of unhappy bunnies writing on LinkedIn about the parlous state of your industry, how shitty your clients are, and how you're working hard but getting scant reward for it.
Alas, it's entirely your own fault, and even if it wasn't, it's your responsibility to fix.
One (part of the) answer is marketing systems designed to attract exactly the right kind of clients you want to do business with, sales systems to drive them through the pipeline until they’re at the point where you might want to get on the phone with them or agree to a face-to-face meeting, and business systems to glue everything together and make it happen how and when it’s supposed to.
Yeah, I know. This sounds great, but you’ve already decided you can’t do it because your business or your clients are somehow “different”.
… you’re wrong.
Having systems in place ensures you can have all the pre-qualification and heavy-lifting done for you, often automatically, before you get to the point where you have to engage with these people personally by phone or in a face-to-face meeting.
And they don't have to be complicated.
All you need is the will and the wherewithal to do the work to plug them into your business, and off you go.
Need help with all this?
Here's what you can do...
It’s The Shit.
And it’s free.
In fact, it’s SO good I guarantee if you heed my advice and do the fucking work then you’ll get the fucking results.
And if you can show me you've done the work and NOT got the results I promise I'll buy you a pizza to calm your tits.
You can thank me later.
Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius
Author, speaker, business mentor, and autism advocate