Today we have a great article written by our guest author Ralf Weiser. Ralf is a company culture builder and organisational growth leader. We hope you will enjoy this fascinating read!
In the recent past, I have been spending a lot of time with entrepreneurs and business owners. While trying to help them through a few challenges I could not help but notice a list of regrets that they shared with me. I thought it would be a good idea to share their hindsight. Hopefully, this may prevent you from one day regretting the same things.
“If I had only known then what I know now” was often how they started recalling their issues. If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to become one, you are most likely busy putting together business plans; trying to figure out how to make your balance sheet work out, making sure you can make payroll even though cash flow is an issue, and so many more daily challenges that can put a major kink into your business. Even when things could not be better you are way too busy because you have more orders than you can possibly handle, or you are most likely still only thinking about the short-term issues. This struggle is real and there is little time to think too far ahead. It is this “busyness” that leads to overlooking the few things that we should keep focusing on.
Please find below a list of regrets that well-seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders shared with me. I am not ashamed to admit there are a few that I have also struggled with.
“I wish I had paid more attention to my health and my family”:
Common sense is not common practice, so it is no surprise how many top business leaders have health issues and/or are divorced. Let’s face it, it takes special people who take the risk of starting and running a business. It takes even more time and effort to successfully sustain it in the long run. ‘Scope creep’, or that inevitable growth of a into something we didn’t see coming, works its way into your daily routine quickly. Before you know it, you start missing workouts, your daughter’s dance recital, your wedding anniversary, etc. Have you ever seen this kind of engraving on a headstone: “If I only could have spent another day at my office”? Make your work-life balance decisions wisely.
“I wish I had worked on my business more than in it”:
Whether it’s fun or extremely stressful, you can easily get distracted dealing with your daily firefighting. Always allow time to ponder what your emerging business opportunities and challenges are. Then actively engage in working on your business. Start by focusing on one high-priority item at a time.
“I wish I had given more attention to my “Why” sooner”:
Prioritizing the right things: There is the lowercase “p” and the uppercase “W”. The lowercase p is about your products and services. Most business leaders are way too focused on filling orders, generating revenue, and profitability. The more and faster you grow, the more it is important to keep your team inspired and motivated. The upper-case W – and a much more important thing – is all about your magic sauce that makes your whole business tick. That is what’s called knowing your Why. Know your Why and your How and the What will follow.
“I wish I had paid more attention to my cash flow”:
Cash is still king. Make sure that you know how to measure success and keep track of it. Managing cash is a big priority. Customers and vendors can have an interesting habit of spending your cash. Watch your KPIs and do not let them get out of hand. Think profit first over just ‘covering cost’ – you cannot make it up by selling more of the same.
“I wish I had thought big enough fast enough”:
Perfection is the enemy of progress. Manage your risks wisely, but never lose an opportunity to start delivering your ideas. Do not lose momentum for the sake of creating a perfect plan, product, service, etc. Make decisions faster so you can fail quickly, so you can move on and adjust. You cannot go broke on a deal that you don’t do. That should be self-explanatory, but without risking anything you are unlikely to be successful. Do not be foolhardy, but once you need to decide, do it and totally own it.
“I wish I had delegated menial tasks early on”:
Delegate early and often. What are the tasks that you as the business leader, and ONLY you can and should do? Ponder how much and often your schedule is consumed by tasks that someone else should do. I get it. Sometimes there is just no one else around and there is not enough to do to justify hiring someone yet. Do not hesitate too long though as doing those tasks keeps you away from making more lucrative decisions or closing the next business deal. There is a whole fractional workforce out there just a click away that can help you fill this need.
“I wish I had listened more”:
Ask more questions than you talk. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. The answers to all your important business issues typically reside in the heads of your people. Those may work on your shop floor. Step one is to ask them relevant questions and two is to do something about what you find out. Watch morale go through the roof if you manage to listen to your folks.
“I wish I had set up a board of directors sooner”:
It is lonely at the top and your employees are always looking for you to find answers to everyday problems. Setting up a board helps solve a lot of issues before they can even arise. One great benefit is being able to bounce ideas off other business leaders who hopefully have just as much, if not more, experience as you. A well-functioning board can also provide vital business contacts.
“I wish I had worried about my business value a lot sooner”
: Being an entrepreneur can be exhilarating. Passion and drive help sustain you during the company’s pioneer phase. Knuckling down to get another low-margin job shipped halfway on time can quickly absorb all available resources though. That is sometimes getting in the way of also keeping a keen eye on how your bank, business partners, shareholders, potential buyers, etc. will look at your company value. How often do you review your EBITDA? Do you review it all? I have seen many business owners get caught totally off guard when their business value was a fraction of what they expected.
“I wish I had paid more attention to retaining my good employees”:
How was that again? People don’t leave businesses; they leave their bosses. This one really hurts my brain having been a practitioner of triple-bottom-line management. A recent article cited that every time a business needs to replace a salaried position, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary. That is between $30,000 to $45,000 in recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and training cost for an employee earning $60,000. And it is not even considering the hard-to-come-by cost due to lost productivity, morale, engagement, and losing a lot of tribal knowledge when seasoned folks quit. Invest in training your management team, middle-management, and team leads on how to be great leader-managers. Remember a golden rule: Leaders lead people, and they manage things.
“I wish I had worried about succession sooner”:
For a while now, there are more and more Baby Boomers and GenXers retiring from the active workforce. This effect is influencing more and more business leaders as well. I have noticed that most I have been working with regretted not having started developing a leadership succession plan 3-5 years sooner. The worst case I know of was a CEO who was over 80 years old with no immediate plan to retire. Besides being ignorant of their own mortality, it is irresponsible to jeopardize the livelihood of their whole workforce and client base. If you do not plan, you plan to fail.
The common thread that runs through all the previous points is a lack of intentional planning. The solution? Dedicate a set time for reflecting on issues that need your attention away from the daily whirlwind of activity. And ask yourself, what one regret of those listed, speaks to you the most, and what will you do differently from now on?