Why businesses struggle and what to do about it

Michael E. Gerber, esteemed author of the best-selling book E-Myth Revisited, nailed the issue  when he said, “The assumption is that they understand the business because they understand – and maybe are experts at – the technical work of the business. They think they know the work, they are qualified to run a business.”

What he means is you may be a technical expert or genius practitioner, but you also need to know how to run a business. The good news is that running a business is a skill – and skills can be learned. All you need is some devotion and time. Running a business is a separate skill and job and, therefore, requires time and investment to learn and develop these skills to become capable and competent to do the job well.

Take the step from practitioner to business owner

Plumbers, electricians and builders go to trade school and undertake both practical and theoretical lessons as part of their training. Software developers, chefs, lawyers, hairdressers and doctors – they all learn the skills to do their job both capably and competently.

They then finish their education or apprenticeship and get their first job and discover they know less than they thought. So, they continue learning. After a few years, they’re an expert. However, throughout this period they are only learning to become an effective practitioner and not a successful business owner.

Unfortunately, business skills are not part of a plumbing, hairdressing or electrical apprenticeship, or part of the curriculum for lawyers, doctors or accountants (yes, that’s not a typo – contrary to popular belief, accounting courses do not equip you with the skills to run a business).

A desire to work for yourself

Most start-ups either evolve from what was once the business owner’s hobby or they are a result of someone wanting to work for themselves. Think of all the tradies, web-designers, bookkeepers, etc. These people are experts in their fields and have skills, but when they go out on their own ill-prepared they work hard and build up a customer and client base, they get even busier, and then you hear that they’ve either gone out of business and/or their family life or relationships have broken down.

Were these people incompetent or unskilled at what they do? No. Their mistake was that they did not work on their business.

It’s human nature to spend more time doing what you enjoy and what you do best. So, self-employed small-business owners gravitate to what they like doing, rather than master the business skills that they lack. The result is that they spend way too much energy in their business and not on their business.

It’s reflected in your pay

Here’s an exercise to give you a better understanding of this common problem in business. Jot down what you would pay a worker, a manager, a director and an owner of your business. Now, over the next week, diarise what work you do in 10-minute blocks. Categorise the tasks as worker tasks, manager tasks, director tasks and owner tasks. At the end of the week analyse the results.

Most businesses that are struggling are doing so because the owner is spending the majority of their time on the worker and manager roles. This is because the jobs that are attributed to these roles are, after all, where the owner has the skills and where they like to gravitate towards, as is only human nature.

However, they are not focusing on the roles and areas of the business that are going to ensure the future of the business and protect their investment.

What can you do?

If you don’t have business skills, then you will be unable to successfully be in a director role. So, you either need to acquire those skills by training yourself – actually learning how to run a business – or you need to employ someone with those skills within your business.

Stephen Barnes, Principal, Byronvale Advisors

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