What does it take to be a compelling business leader? We hear all this talk about leadership styles but, really, is any one style preferable to the others? In my observation, there is no single, universally superior leadership style. Some people are in business to save the planet or share their unique gifts with the world. Some people are in business just to make money. Either way, whatever a business does, it succeeds by making money. So let’s forget about social value, put aside purpose and look at a simple question: How do I make money in my business?
For most business owners, the answer is simple: We only get what we want if we manage it consciously. Do you manage your company’s money every day, every week and every month? Whether you’re hard-driving with huge goals or you just want to see results improve a little, a simple plan and a bit of attention will go a long way.
If we don’t make a money plan and track it daily or weekly, then our subconscious attitudes and assumptions will manage our work, time and money. That will keep us locked in at the same level of profit – and net revenue – month after month. When things are going well, you put on the brakes and go easy on yourself. You do that each week. You push when it’s slow; you ease up when you are doing well. That’s exactly the mentality that limits your business’s potential. And results never improve. That’s the problem. What’s the solution? Make a plan, track work, income and expenses daily or weekly, define the work, and track progress monthly.
1. Make a plan.
Your money plan can be a simple Excel spreadsheet. The key is to link work activities to income. What does each employee do that makes money? What do you sell?
If you sell products, you need to make individual sales projections. If you sell flat-rate services, then you need to track contracts closed and the rand value of each contract.
If you sell hourly services, track contracts closed and billable hours. The basics are:
- Up goals and consequences.
- Let each team member know what they contribute to the team, and make sure they get incentives. Whatever is good for the business has to be good for the employee. Incentives include recognition, thanks, appreciation and, of course, more money.
- Give each team member a choice.
- Set a range, with a low goal and a high goal, and provide tangible incentives for achieving the high goal. This gives the employee a sense of control. During a good month, they make the high goal. During a month when their kids get sick a lot, they still know what they need to do to satisfy you and be secure in their jobs. When people feel safe but also have an opportunity to contribute to get more, they are highly motivated.
- Avoid demotivators.
Keep distractions away from your team. If team members are worried they aren’t doing well enough, or that the company isn’t doing well enough, they won’t work well. If they feel threatened, they won’t do well. If there are unclear expectations about some part of their job, it will cut into their work time. So give everyone a clear job description and let them go for it.
2. Track work and income daily or weekly.
Check in weekly. Each week, track employees’ time and numbers with them. Ask how things are going and how they can do better. Don’t pile on pressure. Do be clear, encouraging and specific. Look at the work in relation to the plan.
This is key. Don’t look at work in relation to interruptions or excuses, or anything else. Begin with a clear commitment and, in a no-blame environment, take an honest look at the gap between the plan and actual achievement. If the team member isn’t meeting the goals, find out why. When you find the cause, determine if it’s a one-time thing or if it will happen again. If a blizzard buried your town or the guy was off on his honeymoon, then let it go and get back to work.
But what if the cause of the problem is ongoing?
This is when you need to decide whether the cause of the problem is in your control, under your influence or outside your influence entirely? Then begin working to fix things that are either in your control or under your influence. If it’s out of your control, accept what you cannot change and figure out what you can do to reach your goals. Sometimes the solution will be obvious and practical. Other times, you’ll have to get creative. Do whatever it takes.
3. Define all the work.
Employees who aren’t in sales may not be adding to revenue, but they’re affecting the bottom line. Every team member contributes to delivering value to customers, reducing cost or reducing risk. Find the critical success factor that each employee contributes to the company. For example:
- A marketing assistant may send out notices, announcements and ads that increase business
- Your tax accountant reduces your taxes
- A security guard prevents break-ins, thefts and attacks on employees
When critical activities are defined, it makes the employee’s job worthwhile. This is not a job description to file with HR. This is a tool that the team member uses daily to stay focused and that you review with them to help them improve and add more value.
4. Track expenses daily or weekly.
Too many businesses let their financial information pile up in a shoebox until the end of the year. Money is the lifeblood of a business, and you should be taking your financial blood pressure at least on a weekly basis. How much money are you spending? How does that compare to your plan? Are you spending the way you planned to spend? If you know the answer to those questions weekly, you can correct course and speed, and reach your destination.
5. Track progress monthly.
The final step of this plan is checking progress – or income – monthly. Ask yourself what you can do to earn more and spend less, and how you can deliver results sooner and get paid faster. As you keep finding ways to improve in these areas, you’ll build momentum and reach greater net revenue sooner. Businesses succeed by linking each job to earning money, reducing cost, delivering better results sooner or reducing risk. Motivate your team members by letting them know that what they do matters. Then show them how to make more of a difference, week by week and month by month. Do this and you won’t just meet your goals – you’ll exceed them.
You Are Your Own Client
Before you can build a start-up that takes over your industry, you need to treat yourself as your own best client.
In business, when you have a client, the relationship is formalised into a structured one where there are defined expectations and regular meetings. For example, if you are a consultancy and have a one-year contract to deliver services to a client, the relationship will be formalised, structured and possibly include monthly status meetings. Some may be report-back meetings while others may be briefing meetings.
Your client will receive a monthly invoice and there may be quarterly reviews of the work you have done. Your general mindset is one of service to the client because they are important and worthy of the effort. Crudely speaking, most service-provider arrangements work in a similar way because the structured model works.
In contrast, as entrepreneurs, our relationship with our own business is often far more chaotic or ‘organic’ than formal. My contention is that it is also much less effective. When I work with SMEs, one of the first things I do is encourage the entrepreneur to treat his or her own business as a client by formalising meetings, ensuring that there is a feedback loop and having a service-provider mindset. By making these philosophical and structural changes, you will create a far more efficient and well-run business.
There are four aspects to any business which, in my view, should be formalised.
It still astounds me how informal the meetings are between partners in SMEs, especially when they operate from the same office. There are no set times, no agendas and no outputs required. The fact that you might sit in the same office or chat regularly is the problem because it’s interpreted as proper communication while it’s actually a very undisciplined and unstructured process. Casual chats do not ensure that all the requisite items or issues are being properly discussed and dealt with.
The often-given excuse for not holding weekly, biweekly or monthly meetings with team members at the same date and time is that the business is fluid and the entrepreneur needs to be responsive to their clients’ urgent needs whenever these might occur. And so non-rhythmic meetings are occasionally inserted into the gaps in between the chaos.
The discipline that I try to imbed in the SMEs I work with is to hold rhythmic meetings at a certain time and day every week, month or quarter. Should there be a need to cancel this meeting for whatever reason, it should be rescheduled. The simple discipline of rescheduling and not cancelling allows for a compromise between the practical reality of an entrepreneur’s life and the discipline required to build a sustainable business.
Agendas are often seen by entrepreneurs as an icon of the structure of the corporate world. They smack of rigidity, stuffiness and boredom so they are often discarded and replaced with warm and fuzzy chats. In reality, in order for it to be an effective use of time, every meeting requires a structure, outline or agenda.
This can be a comprehensive agenda similar to that used by corporates or as simple as each person in the meeting talking about their three top-of-mind issues. What is important is that there is structure and outputs, otherwise the meeting’s output is merely that it’s nice to know. The output from a meeting with a formalised agenda is that it’s nice to do.
4. Product review
When last did you, as an entrepreneur, formally ask yourself if your products are still relevant and effective in the market? One of the greatest oversights made by SMEs is not regularly reviewing the appropriateness of their existing products or services. In a high-growth, chaotic environment that is attuned to constantly producing new products, existing products soon become the ugly stepchild, only getting attention when the client cancels the contract because your competitor has a faster, shinier and cheaper iteration of your product. An incredibly important discipline in any business is the regular and formalised review of products and services.
We resist structure as entrepreneurs and the price of that resistance is ineffective and inefficient businesses. By simply treating ourselves as we would our clients, we are able to imbed a level of structure to our businesses that will create a far more effective and enduring business.
What’s The Worst That Can Happen With A Disgruntled Silent Shareholder?
Whether a shareholder brings capital to the business, experience or connections, you need to ensure everyone has the same vision and values.
While we often hear that it can be bad to have a silent shareholder that does not want to play ball, it is not often that we make enquiries about how the governance of a company can be hindered by a disgruntled shareholder.
Most of us assume that as long as they own more than 50% of their own company, they are entirely in control of all aspects of the company and how it is governed. This is not true: Even if you are a majority shareholder, holding less than 75% of all the shares in your company can still result in headaches if a minority shareholder, holding at least 25% of the company, becomes disgruntled and neither participates in the decisions of the company, nor consents to the decisions being made.
What is set out below highlights, among others, why it is so important to give shares in a company to prospective shareholders over a period of time, rather than from the outset. This allows for shareholders to prove their worth without you potentially placing your company in a position where it could be held at ransom for many years.
The illusion of holding more than 50% of the shareholding in a company
- Many people assume that by holding more than 50% of the shares in a company they are free to do with the business as they please. This generally only holds true for basic decisions of the shareholders, such as the removal and appointment of directors. The most important decisions of a company are based on special resolutions. A special resolution requires that shareholders, either individually or collectively, holding at least 75% of all the shares in a company, vote in favour of a specific decision.
- Examples of decisions that require a special resolution include:
- Amending a company’s Memorandum of Incorporation
- Approving the issuing of shares or granting of other similar rights
- Authorising the basis for determining directors’ salaries
- Disposing of company assets
- Mergers and acquisitions.
So, what does this mean for you and your company?
- If you are a start-up looking to raise funds, apart from some exceptions, you will not be able to issue further shares to new shareholders or anyone other than existing shareholders if there is a shareholder that is effectively dead weight.
- Should you manage to vote a new director to the board, you will not be able to determine the basis on which they are compensated (their salary) without a special resolution.
- If you intend to merge with another company, you will not be able to pursue this without a special resolution.
- If you plan to raise money by disposing of or selling most of the assets of your company you will, once again, be prevented from doing so.
Accordingly, it is always best when starting a venture to vest your shares over a period of time. This means that, for example, shareholders are only entitled to have their shares allocated to them after a certain period of time to avoid a situation where you have a dead-weight equity shareholder hindering the governing of your company, and requiring possible litigation to remove them.
There’s More To Team Management Than Leadership
When you’re running a business you need to ensure that your employees are on your side, helping you to make profits. Giving them job security, taking them seriously and treating them with respect, will go a long way in enhancing loyalty and productivity.
The staff that work for you determine:
- How happy your customers are with your business
- The quality of the things that you sell
- The costs that you incur to sell your products and services
- Your risks – the things that can go wrong and how much it costs you
All of these things determine your profitability and how competitive your business becomes. How do you ensure that everyone is on the same side and helping you to make profits?
At work everyone believes that they are getting something (such as money) and are giving something in return (such as time and effort). They are weighing up in their mind “how much am I giving, how much am I getting in return and is this fair?” If they believe that they are:
- Giving too much or
- Getting too little
- Then this is unfair, and they won’t work well (poor productivity – how much they produce).
The manager needs to:
- Know what people are thinking about what they are giving and getting and
- Manage the giving or getting side
- So that people become more productive
In a smaller business you sometimes cannot afford to pay more or provide the sort of benefits (pensions, medical aid, bursaries etc.) that larger firms can and so the staff may be unhappy, not be productive and be on the look-out for something better.
How do you increase happiness without money?
- Job security – knowing that you will still have a job next year – and that you will get paid on time.
- Contributing to the success of the business. If you train staff to have the knowledge and skills to do a better job and you then encourage and support them to do this then they are happier, and you increase profits. If you then share some of these profits with the staff that helped you to make them then everyone wins!
- To be taken seriously and treated with respect. If you do this then staff are happier, and they will also treat your customers with respect.
- To be part of the team. You can often do this by having a regular briefing on what your plans are and discussing ideas. Because staff are doing the actual work they will often have good ideas and then will be motivated to implement them – it was their idea after all!
Staff leaving you all the time is a can destroy significant value. If you implement the strategy above, you will have happier staff that are more productive and a more profitable business.