Leadership in Small Business
If you are a small business owner, your role as a leader may be the least of your priorities. Most of your time is consumed by finding customers, supervising employees, watching your cash flow and delivering you services or products. You don’t want to consider leadership because that is what corporate executives and government leaders need to learn about. Not you. We would argue that you are a leader and understanding your leadership role is an important key to success. What are some of the lesson we can learn about leadership in business?
Too often people start a small business and view it only as a job. It is something they work in but not on. Over time, they may be able to support themselves and their family through those efforts, but they are missing out on an opportunity to develop a long-term income stream and build the equity that results from those efforts. That equity can provide for a well-deserved retirement or a sale, which allows for the pursuit of other endeavors.
Have a Plan and Work It
We are unaware of any successful business or non-profit that does not either have a business or strategic plan. They may spend countless hours in meetings developing or discussing their plans. Great organizations don’t just write a plan and file it for next year. They make it a map on how they operate on a daily basis. They review the results continuously and evaluate employee performance based on their achievements relative to the plan. The planning horizon may vary from a few years to as long as five years, depending on the nature of their business. Those in the commodity business will have a longer horizon that those in the faster paced technology or fashion sectors.
As a small business owner, you may develop your plan driving to and from work. You may discuss it with your spouse or a few trusted employees. Your plan is the result of your observation of the market, an evaluation of resources, including staff and finances and your personal goals. We often hear from business people that they started a new service or launched a new product. Later, we hear that it impacted their finances or weakened their ability to service existing customers. Flexibility is a key advantage in small business, but adherence to a plan provides for steady growth. All decisions of this type need to be reviewed with respect to the plan and, if needed, modify the plan with assurance that it will not have a negative impact.
Value Your Customers and Market
Many businesses start with the great idea of an individual, but if you are not Steve Job, the idea may not prove successful. Understanding your market, potential customers, and current customers is a key to success. Ask what are their needs and expectations. In the retail business don’t just sell, listen and understand. When we hear of a business owner who spends their time in the back office doing paper work and not being with customers, that company is headed for trouble.
A friend of ours owns a local landscaping business with about four crews cutting lawns and trimming shrubbery. The other day be was filling in on a lawn cutting job and a client remarked that it was strange to see the company president working. Well, this business owner has more than doubled his business over the last few years because of that type of customer involvement. Have you ever watch the television show, Undercover Boss.
All businesses reach a point where the owner cannot do all the work by themselves. A decision of who to hire and how to treat them is not an easy task. There is much to learn from an example of successful business operations. Author Stephan Covey tell us to, first get the right people of the bus.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks does not just sell coffee but uses his associates to create an atmosphere which builds loyal customers. His associates are well trained, are properly compensated, and hired based on their personality attributes. There are many examples the mirror Schultz’s approach to building a team, but always remember that how you treat your employees is how they will treat your customers.
You as the Leader
Many business owner underestimate or don’t appreciate the role they play as the business leader. You set the culture within the business. People are watching and learning from you starting at the moment you open the door in the morning till the time you go home at night. If your regular routine is to arrive early and stay till the end of the day, others will follow. If you constantly complain about customers and clients, employees will feel less inclined to treat people with respect. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, is reported to always fly coach class. What message does that send to the staff of an organization whose motto is, Every Day Low Prices?