This post is a follow up the question I asked earlier today: Do you have what it takes to be your boss?
There are so many skills that go into running a successful business that it’s difficult just to isolate five important skills, but I’m going to attempt this, by saying that employees who wish to be considered, not just management material, but also owner material, need to have each of the following qualities… Guts, Vision, Knowledge, People Skills and, of course, Money.
Guts and Glory
Guts is the least talked about quality and stands as the core quality in business. Good entrepreneurs, either experienced or not, need to have guts: the sense of conviction that what they are doing is right, the bravery to follow through, all the time listening to others, and ability to accept criticism, while staying true to their vision. Guts really aren’t something that you can learn either in a book. You either have them or you don’t. Signs that people don’t have guts include failing to stand up for principles when things are tough, caving to pressure without a fight, and even being afraid to sacrifice FOR your beliefs. It’s the guts that provide the drive for success in business, because things won’t always be easy: financing will fall through, customers (big and small) will desert you, employees will quit, …
Where’s the passion?
Guts is of course predicated on something even more fundamental, though: vision. Without a vision of what you want to do, how you want to achieve, and where you will end up, as an entrepreneur, it’s going to be tough. You will be tossed about on the sea of whims of whichever customer group is your current majority, you will hear your customs and give them what they THINK they want, not realizing that what they THINK they want isn’t really what they want.
Parents in our school often come in and ask us to teach their kids more vocabulary and more language and more grammar… and yet it’s the same parents who would come back in six months and ask us why their kids no longer like English, why their English isn’t as fluent as kids from the school up the road, or why their kids’ four skills is falling behind their peers. And we’d have to say, “That’s because we’re doing what YOU asked us!” Success in business needs a vision; and it’s that vision (it’s specific nature, language and philosophy) that will help you to find the customers you need.
To know or to inquire?
Employees who look for work in our school often display a lot of experience of many years of working in other language schools, language systems, or in education, or … whatever happens to be the education fad of the moment. And, truly, they bring a lot of wonderful skills and experience that benefit our students all around.
But, when you’re considering an employee or employees as possible partners, it’s that focus on education above all else that becomes the problem: are the teachers familiar with accounting? Can the teachers deal with financial issues? Will they know what to do when the IT systems break down? Do they know what makes our business different? Are they willing to learn all of this and more…?
Often, employees we work with are tied to their past experience, and are unwilling or uninterested in learning new things, changing practices or making their work new. In the past year, we had to reassign duties from one position within our business, because technology made about 20% of one job unnecessary. Yet, the employee assigned those tasks originally felt it was unnecessary to improve the systems by simplifying things, or using computers, or whatever. Yet, in many respects, handling those issues had become simply a way for her to pass the time unproductively, while much more important needs were unaddressed, needs that would determine the future of the business and its profitability.
Worst of all, though, isn’t the lack of knowledge of important business functions, though, it’s the lack of willingness to deal with them: some say “I don’t want to know about that”, “who cares about that?”, “that’s your job, not mine!”, etc.. are all comments that I’ve heard over the years. One of the fundamental qualities of a successful entrepreneur has to be the willingness to stick one’s ness into every aspect of one’s business: whether it’s sales, marketing, production, cleaning or whatever.
It’s all about the people!
But sticking your nose into different parts of your business has to be accompanied with some sense of people skills: the ability to relate to, understand, or even walk a mile in the shoes of, other people. For without people, you don’t have any customers, you don’t have any employees, and you won’t have any suppliers. The people that will propel your business to success are all around you. To that extent, the ability to work with those people and to motivate them to do a good job is a prime quality.
It’s that ability that will allow you to say: “I know where you are coming from” or “I understand your concerns.” At the same time, empathy with other people will help you to avoid pride and arrogance that comes with phrases like “Well, I told you so.” So what if you told me so, I had to learn it for it myself… “I told you so” does not help your clients, colleagues, or bosses to do better, it merely allows you to squwak about how right you were in the first place. In other words, your mind is closed to new ideas.
Ka-ching: Putting it where it counts
But last and perhaps the most important of all, is money. It’s not that the money is important in and of itself. It’s that the money represents a serious commitment on the part of a future partner to the business: that the partner is going to be with the business through thick and thin; that the partner understands that things aren’t always going to be rosy, or even just rose-tinted.
The commitment of money to a deal signifies that an entrepreneur (or even a potential partner) has accepted that the risk of losing the money is also possible. It’s odd because, as an employee, the venturing of money in deals like this is often the riskiest kind of behavior for them. Why? Because the money risked comes out of their sweat and blood. There’s no other source.
Yet our employees often made bad financial decisions for themselves, and for our business. Typically, we found employees trying to save a penny, not realizing that it was costing almost as much anyway, if not more.
A good example: we contracted for a photocopier that cost $2200 per month, but found that each bale of paper we had to use cost $25 or more each than regular 70GSM paper. We also found that we had to call the repairman almost every week with problems wasting time on everybody’s part. We couldn’t get work done properly. We couldn’t get a tax receipt for the photocopier (meaning we couldn’t deduct the 5% tax from the annual tax bill… don’t ask me how we ended up with such a lousy deal!). If we used 6 bales of more expensive paper each month, plus 5% tax that means our total bill was already $2450 per month. Don’t forget to factor in lost printouts, frustration, wasted time, and poorer quality printouts. If we wasted even 15 minutes a week of our time calling the repairman, then that’s like $1200 just there over a month wasted. That didn’t include the cost of running a back up laser printer for when things went really bad… etc. etc.
After running a business over seven years, we’re all much more sanguine than before about risking our money. We know that without taking the risk, accepting the risk, and then moving forward, we stand no chance of being successful. Make no mistake, though: that risk isn’t just glossed over, it’s understood, it’s assessed. We know what it means. That money is the life-blood of the business, it needs to be accounted for, managed and spent wisely. As such, being a partner in a business without risking one’s own capital, no matter how much it is, isn’t really understanding what the business is about. It’s only about the good times, it’s only about the icing on the cake.
So, if you need to find a business partner, and you’re looking in your employees for possible partners (after all, who knows the business better?), you’d be wise to consider carefully who would make a much more stable business partner.