By Robert Craven
Many businesses are run by technicians. Great at what they do, their technical skill, they aren't so great at running a business. While this article will talk about all businesses, I will be referring to agencies and consultancies in particular.
Typically, a great technician decides one day that they want to run their own business. While they might be fantastic at their job, what it is that they do, it is an entirely different matter to run your own business.
At every level, the gap between the skillset of the excellent technician and the skillset required to run a great business causes problems. Just because you are a great SEO designer and deliverer, it doesn't mean you will also know how to attract, find and retain customers. And then one needs to be able organise and co-ordinate all the other business backroom activities.
The ability to actually run a business is put under more pressure as the business grows. While small, the business success or failure often seems to depend on a series of opportunities and good old-fashioned luck. With growth, the need to deliver, to feed the mouths of one's employees, means that one can no longer leave sales and business development to luck. Yet many seem to do so.
It is clear that many growing service firms follow a familiar path of growth followed by a crisis, then a solution, then further growth until another crisis and so on. You gain a big client but need a staff member so you employ someone. You need to learn to delegate. Payment isn't forthcoming so you have to learn how to get your money. And so on.
While the learning cycle is all part of running a new business, you need to find ways to predict and pre-empt crises as soon as possible. What actually happens is that the owner-manager usually falls into the unwilling role of management whether they like it or not.
The agency or practice may be great at doing the job but it is everything else about running the business that they are pants at. So are there any magic wands or short cuts to success?
There seem to be two separate areas that need addressing for growing agencies. The how-to front end stuff is pretty do-able. You need to work with someone who has been-there-and-done-it and have really practical tools, toolkits, systems and processes appropriate to the business’s stage of growth.
The difficult thing about growing a business is not the front-end, the how-to piece that so many business consultants and developers sell. It is relatively easy to set goals, to create an organisational chart, to hire people, to dream, to communicate. The hard thing is the inevitably complicated situations. And there are no recipes for dealing with them. However, shared experience, advice and models can help people work their way through their unique situations. This requires individual attention. One-size-fits-all cookie-cutter solutions will rarely cut the mustard.
So, what is required is a combination solution: access to the appropriate and relevant tools and techniques plus access to bespoke solutions that are relevant to your specific solution.
Every industry has its unique foibles, language and quirks. Meanwhile, the basic building blocks of growing a business are pretty consistent: deliver a service that satisfies a problem need or hurt. Deliver phenomenal value to the client. Charge sensible prices. Do not compete on price but compete on the value you add to your client. Understand exactly who your customer is and talk to them in a way that makes them want to buy from you. Stand out from the crowd. Be really clear why people should buy from you when they can buy from the competition. The list goes on…
While there may appear to be some generic solutions, the trick is in fine-tuning and adapting what you hear and see to your own specific circumstances. That is why it is not enough to read a book or watch a video. Business building is not a spectator sport. You have to participate. You have to think and make decisions and take action. Massive action.
So, I am delighted that you are great at your job. I am delighted that you are a great technician. However, being technically excellent is not enough. Somehow, somewhere, you need to pick up all the skills required to run and grow a business. Hope is not a method.