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All your problems are business problems – part II

Last week at our Top 5 Business Learnings breakfast, we talked about our #1 business learning for 2014, which was that for almost every client we ever see, the problem they have is a business problem or a management problem, not a problem that they can solve with their technical expertise. Technical expertise problems are easy for people to solve because they are great technicians – no-one ever comes to us and says “I’m not sure how to build this retaining wall”, “I’m a bit unsure how to get this wisdom tooth out”, or “I can’t get this truck engine going”. Unfortunately business problems aren’t always as clear.

What dawned on me after the session though, was that we didn’t really provide a clear guideline on what the process is for dealing with these business problems when they crop up, so without further ado…..here’s what to do:

1. Business or technical? – when you come up against a problem that is causing you pain, ask yourself “Is this a technical problem, or a business problem?” ie can you solve it with your specialised professional knowledge (eg dentistry, mechanics, farming, surveying, whatever) or does it need business management knowledge? If a builder has a cashflow problem, then it is probably not much to do with his bricklaying ability, and more to do with his business management.

2. Capability or system? – Lets assume that we decide that it is a management problem, not a technical problem. The next distinction to make is, is it a lack of capability on the part of the people involved, or is the system letting them down? Looking at our builder example, does he clearly understand how to manage his cashflow well, or is his accounting system not giving him good enough information?

3. a) If it is a capability issue, then the options are either upskill, or outsource – in simple terms, learn how to do it, or get an expert to do it. This might mean doing a course, getting a bookkeeper or working with an adviser like Galloway.

3. b) If it is a system issue, then it means working out where the glitch is in the system and working out how to streamline and automate it. This is about something that an owner can do, but usually it means spending quite a bit of time getting to know the various systems that are available and working out which features will give you some quick wins. Again, this is where we can help, as we have a broad experience of what works well in different types and sizes of business. For our builder, it might mean implementing a cloud-based system with tailored reporting so that he can keep an eye on cashflow at any time, no matter where he is.

The general rule is that as a business leader, you should be a decision maker as much as possible, rather than a “doer”, at least on the management side of things. If as an owner you find yourself sitting down making payments, authorising invoices, sending marketing emails and doing other administrative tasks, it is a clear sign that you need to outsource, streamline and/or automate, so that you can stick to doing great technical work in your field of expertise, and making decisions about the direction of the business.

Help me pull apart a business problem