No one starts a business and say “I just want to run a mediocre business” or “I want to fail at business”. Of course not. You start business because you want to be successful in your business (bearing in mind we all have different definitions of what it means to be successful). The only way is to grow your business. There’s no such thing as standing still. If you’re not growing your business, you’re losing business.
If you want to grow your business, you must identify:
- the knowledge that you must have
- the strategies that must be implemented
- your fears (We all have them – me included)
- the skills that you must master
The big problem here is that we often don’t know what we don’t know. Sadly, there are business owners who do not want to know. They are often the ones who spend their time complaining that they work so hard and yet they don’t see any success.
You must remember that your current thinking got your business to where it is today. To grow your business, you must therefore be an applied student all your life. You see, knowledge on its own is useless. You must apply what you learn. Napoleon Hill said, “Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organised into definite plans of action and directed to a definite end.” In other words, if you want to grow your business, you must have “the knowledge” and apply that knowledge.
It’s useful to understand that there are 4 stages for learning any new skill. The best thing about knowing this is that you never ever go back to Stage 1 and if we are persistent with our learning, one day we will get to Stage 4. That’s when the magic happens. You walk into your business and you just KNOW that something isn’t right. It’s become intuitive – and THAT is when your business starts to fly.
It’s not just about strategies either. To grow your business, you must get your strategies right these 4 key areas of business:
- Sales & Marketing
1. Sales & Marketing
You can have the best product in the world but if you don’t learn how to market your product, you will not survive. No one will buy from you if they’ve never heard of you. By the same token, your business will not survive if you are great at marketing but you have a lousy product. Yes, they will come – but they will also soon go. You need both. So if you want to grow your business, sales and marketing is one of the 4 areas of business you must get right.
Operations is the engine room for your business. It covers everything that happens within your business to keep it running and earning money. It includes the systems and processes needed to run your business. It includes the equipment you need to use and the people you employ. When it’s running well, the business will just hum and staff turnover will be low.
Systems and processes are usually fairly “easy” to deal with mainly because it can be easily documented and measured. Equipment can be bought. The more difficult HOW is with the team. How do you build a culture that will grow your business?
How do we implement the right culture? In my view, there is only one way – that is to invest in your people. Culture is not something you can shove down their throats. It is something that has to be “caught” not forced and that can only come from running the right programs that will get you the buy-in that will grow the culture you need.
From experience, this is usually the worst of the 4 areas of business. Most see it as “unnecessary compliance” and it tends to get left to the end, often ignored completely until the taxman calls. Record keeping is foundational to your business. You would never dream of building a house without proper foundations. Yet many businesses choose not to keep proper records. Silly when you think that this can be done relatively cheaply!
No accountant or consultant cannot properly review your business and make recommendations without accurate information. The old adage of “in rubbish, out rubbish” applies here too! It never ceases to amaze me how some business consultants can review a business without even asking to see the books. Their programs do not include any way for measuring outcomes. Peter Drucker, the acknowledged world management expert, is credited with one of the most important quotes in business management: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” You can’t grow your business if you don’t know your figures.
The secret to success is good leadership. John Maxwell said “Everything rises and falls on leadership but knowing how to lead is only half the battle. Understanding leadership and actually leading are two different activities.” In the 21 Indispensable Qualities for a Leader, John Maxwell said that the key to this is character. Your character qualities activate and empower your leadership ability, or they can stand in the way of your success.” You see, the hardest person to lead is yourself. It requires discipline (that “D” word!) and it requires persistence. If you want to grow your business, you MUST grow your leadership skills.
We all have fears. We may pretend that we don’t. Napolean Hill devoted a whole chapter of his Think & Grow Rich book to “Outwitting the 6 Ghosts of Fear”. This includes fear of poverty, old age, ill health, death, criticism and loss of love. Reflecting back, I can see that my greatest fear was the fear of criticism. The greatest prison that we live in, is the fear of what other people think. The Asian “loss of face” mindset only makes it worse.
There are no physical barriers. Only mental ones. I have seen business owners paralysed by their fear of criticism and not only do they not grow their business, some stood to lose their business as a result. I have seen business owners who refuse to take action BECAUSE … The fact is that, if you are fearful, you will always find a BECAUSE. If you want to grow your business, you must choose to take action and find the HOW to overcome the BECAUSE.
Apart from the specific skills that you need for your particular industry, one of the best skills you can learn is to be able to think like an entrepreneur. Why? These are the people who are considered to have achieved business mastery because they are able to consistently realise the results for the business that they are looking for. The reality is that they have simply learnt how to “control” the outcomes. They have learnt how to play the deck of cards that the game of business deals to them. These are the people with the entrepreneurial mindset.
My friends have all said that I am one of those fortunate enough to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Was I born with that gift? I don’t believe I was. I was certainly not born with the ability to think like an entrepreneur. I had to learn that. It is a skill I learnt, and I know I’m not extra special or extra talented. So you can too – if you put your mind to it.
Let me answer the HOW I got to where I am today.
1. I Learnt to Love Reading
Let me say upfront … Reading novels do not count! Yes, you can still read them – as long as you remember that the hours you spend reading Gone with the Wind or some other equally long great novel will not improve your business mastery. I had to develop a love for reading “boring” personal mastery books. The more I read, the more my competence level increased and I realised how close I had become. And as I saw my own level of understanding increased, my interest in all these areas grew.
My reading went from just the popular classics such as Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie to the modern thought leaders such as the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, Start With Why by Simon Sinek, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen and High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. The books I read now cut across all disciplines and include business management through to psychology, human behaviour and epigenetics. I read books by a wide range of authors from today’s experts such as John Maxwell to yesterday’s old masters such as Emerson and Wallace Wattle
2. I Learnt to Take Responsibility
In the Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge said one of our learning disability is to say “the enemy is out there”. Most of us have an inclination to blame others when things go wrong. It’s my parents because they didn’t give me the right education. It’s the stupid salesman because he or she doesn’t know how to sell. It’s the lazy apprentice… It is whoever happens to be in your line of vision. It is NEVER our fault. And because it is never our fault, we don’t take responsibility and therefore, we don’t search for the answers.
When we take responsibility, we then ask the hard questions – What did I do wrong? How can I change? By bringing it back to ourselves, we look at it differently. For example, many women would say there’s a glass ceiling in their chosen career. Maybe there is. However, instead of saying “I can’t because of the glass ceiling”, you can ask instead “HOW CAN I in spite of the glass ceiling”.
3. I Learnt Time Management
Actually, there’s no such thing as time management. You can only learn to manage yourself. For me, this meant I had to give up watching my favourite TV shows. I stopped telling myself that I HAD to stay in touch with current affairs and watch the daily TV news that only churns out bad news day in, day out (Sadly, gossip and bad news do sell). I cannot remember the last time I sat down and just vegetated in front of “the box”. I also had to be more disciplined when I’m on social media. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ve cut myself off from the world. But it does mean that I am intentional about the programs I watch and how long I spend on Facebook, etc. We all have 24 hours a day. We can, therefore, choose HOW we spend that 24 hours.
4. I Learnt to Face Up To My Fears
I had to overcome my own fear of criticism. I have always been a fairly private person. I knew I had to change and put myself “out there” if I am to successfully market my business today. We come up all sorts of excuses – “I’m too told”, “I’m not pretty”, “I’m too fat”, “I’m too thin”, “I don’t know how”, etc, etc, etc. There’s always a reason you can use to justify why you cannot. When I finally stopped my excuses and embraced what had to be done, my business took off. Now that my profile is all over the internet, I do wonder what all that fuss was about!
5. I Learnt It Was OK to Fail
Any setback, whether its personal or business, can be turned into a step forward when you have the right tools and mindset to turn that loss into gain. In business, you will have winning streaks but you will also have the times when nothing you do turns out right. It’s not about Lady Luck deserting you. It’s about how you play the game.
In Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn John Maxwell provides a roadmap for winning by examining the eleven elements that constitute the DNA of learners who succeed in the face of problems, failure and losses. Google Famous Failures and you will find hundreds who “qualify”. Many have gone through bankruptcy (Is that a pre-requisite? Or is it that having been taken so far down, they had nothing to lose and therefore overcame their fears and broke through). These are people who failed again and again and yet found the grit they needed to dig deep to continue chasing their dreams.
6. I Learnt That I Had to Have A Growth Mindset
This was my first mistake! After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I felt that I had finished learning. I knew it all. I certainly did not need to waste any more of my valuable time learning – I wanted to have fun and I wanted to vegetate after 6 long years of study. The only learning I did after qualifying in 1980 was what I HAD to do to maintain my professional development. I honestly did not see any value in spending my precious time reading “rubbish”. Sadly, that is the same attitude that many college graduates take.
Did you know that 42% of college graduates never read another book after college!?!? And the average reading age on the web for adults is Grade 6 English. Today, information is available to us at our fingertips. We can choose to learn by reading or listening to podcasts. Online courses are not expensive. There are no excuses except for the “no time” excuses … And even that is not an acceptable excuse (see point 3 above!). If you want to grow your business, you must embrace an ongoing commitment to learning and have a growth mindset.
7. I Learnt I Couldn’t Do It All by Myself
Very early on in my entrepreneurial career, I worked on the premise that I could do anything. I was smart. I was capable. I was confident. I didn’t need anybody to help me achieve my goals. I wasn’t afraid of taking risks. Wind the clock forwards and with age, came wisdom. I realised that I didn’t know it all. I couldn’t do everything and there was A LOT I didn’t know. I had gone from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence.
I accepted that I needed a mentor and a coach. I needed people who knew more than me. I needed people around me who could help me become all that I know I could be, people who can pick me up when I’m down and people who would cheer me on when doubt creeps in.
EVERYONE NEEDS A COACH AND MENTOR
I disagree with this surgeon in the TED Talk video when he said “Everyone needs a coach”. I would say everyone needs a coach AND mentor with experience behind them.
No doubt, some people, especially the younger coaches, will disagree with me. There is an argument that age does not equate to coaching abilities. I disagree. By definition, the focus of coaching is usually task and performance. The role of the coach is to give feedback on what they observe. You cannot give proper feedback if you have not had any experience in the area. What would you look for? Would you even know that something isn’t right? Knowledge is therefore important. Knowledge is therefore one of the key qualities that distinguish a good coach from a great coach. How much knowledge can a young(er) person impart to you?
Did you notice who this doctor used as his coach? No, it was not the new young kid from the block who has just graduated from medical school. It was also not one of his colleagues. He approached someone who has “been there, done that”. You see, the best way is to learn from people who’ve gone before you.
MENTOR VERSUS COACH
Mentoring and coaching tends to be used interchangeably by many people. However, there is a difference.
In mentoring, you set your own goals. In coaching, your coach sets the goals. The coach comes from the premise that you actually already know the answer within you and his or her role is to ask the right questions to draw out that answer. A mentor is someone who has “been there, done that”. A mentor is someone who has done the hard yard, made his or her mistakes and learnt to fail forward. A mentor’s role is to build capability. A mentor is someone who has an ongoing relationship with you that can last a long period of time whereas a coach should only be for a set duration. A mentor will often use a mix of mentoring, coaching and teaching to take you where you want to go.
It takes more than just knowing the right questions to ask. A mentor is one who can recognise WHEN he or she should switch from a straight coaching role to a mentor or teacher role. Having had so many businesses, I can usually recognise when certain strategies will not work … irrespective of how much effort you put into it! In those situations, spending hours “drawing out the answer from within” is a waste of time.
QUALITIES YOU WANT IN YOUR MENTOR AND COACH
There’s no point in my reinventing the wheel. Just ask Mr Google. The list generally include communication skills, compassion, objectivity, knowledge, leadership, consistency, knows the person they are coaching (or has the ability to get to know the person quickly), passion and inspiring. You have to have in-depth knowledge although not necessarily in the exact industry. The key here is that the mentor must be able to apply the knowledge and experience they have to your particular circumstances.
Two qualities that are not often listed in Google’s answer are integrity and connection. Google lists often include honesty. But integrity is more than honesty. Integrity is about honesty AND having strong moral principals. If your mentor does not have integrity, how can you be sure that your mentor is doing what is best and right for you? If you are going to have a great long-term fruitful mentor-mentee relationship, then you must have connection. Can you imagine anything worse than having to meet up with someone regularly and you just cannot relate to him or her?
WHAT IS A MENTOR AND COACH WORTH TO YOU IF YOU WANT TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS?
We happily spend $150 a month (or more for some people) on coffee and all we get is a daily caffeine hit. Do the sums … $5 for a cup of “real coffee” is not unusual. Multiply that by 30 days. Is a great mentor worth $200 a month? $400 a month? $1,000 a month? If you have a mentor that’s adding real value to your business, what is that truly worth to you to be able to grow your business?
GROW YOURSELF. GROW YOUR PEOPLE. GROW YOUR BUSINESS.
Growing your business is therefore first and foremost about personal growth. Growth is your key to an abundant, successful business and life. You cannot grow your business or organization without growing your people. And you cannot grow your people unless you first know and grow yourself. You cannot take your people and your business or organization where you haven’t been.
Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not. When I see a person beginning to separate themselves from the pack, it’s almost always due to personal growth … The unsuccessful person is burdened by learning, and prefers to walk down familiar paths. Their distaste for learning stunts their growth and limits their influence. ~ John C. Maxwell
It has been said that the graveyard is the richest place on earth. In there lies the greatest treasure of untapped possibilities – the businesses that never got started, the dream that never got realised, the masterpiece that never got painted, the book that’s been sitting inside that never got written.
Entrepreneurship is a learnable skill. If this little Asian girl from Malaysia can do it, so can you. With the right mentor, it will not (and should not) take you as long as it took me. It has taken me 40 years to go from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. I’m sure you do not want to take this long. Imagine how much further and how much more you can do with a mentor and coach at your side.