The Business Director’s Problem Page

David Southern | Date: September 9, 2016

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Entrepreneurs often report they have little time to work on business strategy and find it lonely at the top. The Business Director’s Problem Page seeks to advise on common issues

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According to a recent study, more than half of SME business owners regularly cancel nights out and a quarter have fallen ill due to stress.

Running your own business can seem frantic at times, and lack of a sound business strategy may be adding to daily stress levels.

If you find you are constantly short of time and are struggling to balance daily demands with maximising business opportunities, then The Business Director’s Problem Page is for you...

Q. Five years ago I set up on my own having worked for a large insurance firm for eleven years. I sell insurance packages to businesses and in terms of work-life balance and the income I now enjoy, I would never go back. But I miss being part of a team and having colleagues who are both friends and ‘sounding boards’. Although I employ seven people, basically I answer to myself, and I am solely responsible for all the key business decisions, and chasing business opportunities. I am fairly good at time management, and feel I can create some sense of order out of the daily chaos, but I worry that my business may not be growing at the right pace, and that I don’t have a solid business strategy. I also worry that the current skills shortage, particularly in IT, is hindering the growth of my business. IT is the area I’d like to have more of a handle on, and I don’t always feel on top of it.

A. Firstly, I think you need to congratulate yourself for everything you have achieved since going solo. Take a look back to when you were an employee and remember all the reasons why you decided to set up on your own. Clearly, it’s the ‘solo’ bit you are struggling with, though it is probably a good thing you aren’t overly friendly with your employees. Have you considered bringing a strategic partner on board to help with key areas such as IT? You are right to be worried about the skills shortage, as many IT professionals are attracted to leading technology companies or trend-setting apps rather than traditional SMEs… so if you can’t find the talent, consider outsourcing. It may well be that if you free yourself of staying on top of emerging technologies and IT functions, you will find you have the space to strategise and really plan for the future.

Also, ask yourself if you could benefit from some business mentoring. Fresh input can act as a catalyst and galvanise you into action.The problem with isolation is that unchecked worries could make you risk averse, something that is bad for small businesses.

Q. I run an accountancy firm employing 17 people. I have written my website so the business appears much bigger than it actually is, when in fact it’s just me, my business partner and 15 staff. I feel very responsible for the people I employ and in the early days I would worry all the time that I was going to have to let people go. In fact, business has really picked up lately and if anything, my main issue now is clearing enough space in my diary to work on the business, rather than the work we bring in. I am the first person everyone asks when there is a problem, and so I find I spend a large part of my day sorting out other people’s worries. We are so busy with operational issues that I can’t see the wood for the trees. I find I am working through weekends.  I take my laptop on holiday and find myself sneaking off to cafes. I feel guilty all the time and want to spend more time with my family. Help!

A. When business is booming, people often say ‘Well, that’s a great position to be in, isn’t it?’ without realising the toll it may be taking.

You can’t be director, IT officer, finance director, bookkeeper, marketing manager, PR and salesperson all rolled into one! There aren’t enough hours in the day.

First, run through a checklist to ensure you have your work-life balance right… are you able to switch off your laptop and mobile after a day’s work? Are you able to plan nights out and stick to them? Do you have a ‘no screens’ policy after a certain time? Do you get a good night’s sleep, or are you constantly worrying about work? Beware of burnout. You are your most important asset.

Your main problem is that you want to grow your business, but don’t have time to strategise effectively. Ask yourself what might free up more time for you to work on your business strategy. Finding the time for strategy can be hard, but if you analyse what you are spending your time on and then think about outsourcing at least some tasks, you may well be on your way to being able to plan your growth without affecting daily operations.

Takeaways:

Find out how you can develop a robust strategy for your business. Download: Fail to Plan - Plan to Fail: The Business Leader's Guide to Business Strategy

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail – The Business Leader's Guide to Business Strategy

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