Five questions for business owners

Q1. How do you feel about your business?

Are you still passionate about it and committed to it? If you aren't, then both you and the business are probably in some kind of holding pattern (like an airplane waiting to take off) and almost certainly not going anywhere.

And the holding pattern will be obvious to your customers, your suppliers and your staff, even if it isn't to you. 

So if you answered no to this question, you need to do some hard thinking, and consider your options. If you can't fall in love with your business again, it's probably time to let someone else run it. And deciding not to choose, ie, putting aside the decision, or telling yourself you'll think about it ‘later' is also a choice. You see, if you do nothing, you'll continue getting what you've got now.

Some kind of change (bad or good) may come whether you want it or not. Why not make it happen instead?

Q2. Have you got a written plan for at least the next year? (And preferably one for the next 3 or so?)

While everyone knows they ‘should' plan, very few of us really do. That goes for large companies as well as small ones. In fact, you might be shocked at how many large companies do planning very poorly, if at all. But if you don't plan because you're too busy reacting to problems, coping with issues that come up and fire-fighting, what you are really doing is putting all those other things right at the top of your priority list. All the time.

Because if you haven't decided and don't know where you want to go, how on earth do you expect to get there? Or have other people aim to get there too?

Q3. Have you given your team what they need to paddle the canoe with you?

No one likes working in a business that doesn't seem to know what it's doing or where it's going. People really enjoy working when they have a good leader, and usually they'll work harder and often surprisingly long hours. But they need someone who makes the plan clear ("listen up troops, this is where we're going"). And someone who ‘walks the talk' not just talks it, as the cliche goes, and is determined and decisive when necessary.

Do all your people know where you want the business to go, and how? And if not, what do you need to do in order to make that happen?

Q4. Do you pay yourself first or last?

A fundamental rule for wealth creation is to pay yourself first, not last. Yet most small and medium businesses pay everyone else before themselves. While this may help keep the economy going around, it doesn't do anything to compensate you for the time and effort involved in starting and running a business.

Make it a rule to pay yourself first. Apart from any other considerations, it'll force you to focus on your business cash flow and the bottom line.

Q5. Have you set up systems to run your business?

To run well, every business needs systems and processes. Far too many don't really have systems at all, and even those who do often don't have any written ones. Which means that not only won't they be up to ISO 9001 standard, but they also leave themselves vulnerable. Instead of systems, they just have experienced people, most often the owner(s) and/or people who've been there a long time.

Relying on a few key people often has these negative consequences: the quality of service or goods may be unreliable if those key people are absent, ill or leave. The owner can rarely afford to not be there, let alone get away for holidays, increasing their stress levels.

Contrast that with a franchise like McDonalds. That's a business that can be operated by a competent 20 year old, managing 16 year olds. And most often is. What makes the difference? Like all franchises, McDonalds has a system and it's written down. People follow the system; the system underpins the business.

Any business should aim to systematise what they do, and how, wherever it's valuable to do so. 

Some of the many benefits of systems:

As with so much that's in the standard, there's good reason for ISO 9001 demanding that the quality system be documented. It really is a basic principle of quality.

But don't think I'm in the 'you must document everything' camp because nothing could be further from the truth. You should have only what you need, no more and no less.  Easy to say; much harder to do.