Got a partner?

My previous post talked about not having all the skills required and solving that issue by finding others that have complementary skills. My research showed micro-businesses that grew were often run by two people rather than just one on her own. In other words, ladies, there really is only so much you can achieve on your own. Some of my interviewees said they were too busy and/or tired to think about growing the business. Others had plenty of work for themselves and didn’t want to push forward into new areas because that would disrupt the life/work balance they had worked so hard to achieve. Those who wanted to grow would have liked someone to bounce ideas off and discuss the business with. Many of my interviewees with growing businesses were working with their life partners/spouses; others had business partners. Either way, the interviewees valued the role of their partner a great deal. It gave them the ability to divide up tasks according to strengths and provided space to think about the future.

If you don’t have a partner, would you like one? Can you find one?

Do you have what it takes – or can you solve the problem anyway?

You’ve taken the plunge and launched your microbusiness. Or maybe you haven’t yet because something is holding you back. What would that be? “I’m not a real businesswoman”, “I can’t write a business plan”, “I’m not good with numbers”.

Running any kind of business takes a wide range of skills and there’s plenty to do – make/buy products, provide services, find customers, admin tasks, bookkeeping, solve the IT issues, possibly supervise/manage others etc. We each have our strengths and weaknesses and will do some of these things better than others – and that’s just fine. We can’t be good at everything.

My research into microbusinesses that grew showed that these were run by women who – knowing they didn’t have all the answers and skills required – were able to solve the problem anyway. They looked at the matter head on and found a solution. Here’s one example from my own business. I work for a number of customers who are located across Europe and each one has a different invoicing procedure. Certain words need to be on the invoice, it has to be issued at a certain time, have a particular date or other information on it, be submitted online, by post or email. Attention to detail for words – fine, love that! But this level of detail and it’s all numbers – no thanks. And anyway, spending all that time issuing invoices means I’m not translating – so not earning money. Answer: get someone else to do it – in my case a family member. I pay them – but I earn more translating as a result of not spending hours a month doing something necessary but I’m not good at.

My research showed that this problem-solving attitude also helped when it came to employing others – a big step for any microbusiness owner. Strategies used by growing businesses included using short-term contracts, work experience students, interns, agency staff and outsourcing.

Nobody can do it all, but can you find someone who has the skills you don’t have?

Is this micro-business your life’s mission or just a different kind of treadmill?

We have many choices and options open to us in Britain today, especially if we’ve had the benefit of a good education. However, the world of work is frequently not a satisfying experience. There are many reasons why it’s called the 9to5 and many go on a daily basis just for the salary payment each month – postponing real life until they can leave the drudgery behind. There is an increasing trend towards more flexibility in the workplace but we also want work to have a purpose. And this desire for significance can be a strong driver for establishing a micro-business. “There must be more to life than this…”

And yet, as many a freelancer for example has discovered, once established and with work flowing on a regular basis it can feel as if you have just switched from one kind of treadmill for another. And this one does not have a fixed salary payment on a particular day each month. So now you are working at full capacity and the dreams of flexibility and significance have got lost in the new type of work. You rush from deadline to deadline, appointment to appointment, training course to training course. And after the working day is done you still have the invoices to issue and chase, the tax man to keep happy and the bills to pay.

Where did the dreams go? What’s the difference to a permanent job? It must be time for a re-think. So here’s a key question for you: what is your life’s mission and are you working at fulfilling it? My research showed that if you identify closely with your business and its purpose, it is more likely to grow. If it is integral to your sense of identity and worth, you will put your all into it.

And here’s another interesting thing that emerged: business owners who talked a lot about society’s expectations of women and “juggling” various roles did not have growing businesses. Those whose businesses were growing were doing this for themselves. They knew what they wanted to achieve and were doing their utmost to achieve it. How about you?

To grow or not to grow? The challenges faced by the heroines of microbusiness

This starts a short series on the findings of my final MBA research project. This first one is mainly for the more academically minded.

 As a result of the importance of micro-businesses, entrepreneurship and business growth to economic recovery in the UK and beyond after the recent recession, the paper researches the factors that influence women micro-business owners when deciding whether to grow their businesses. It argues that business growth is a function of the level and intensity of focus that owners are able to bring to their businesses. The findings indicate that this in turn is influenced by five factors:

–          The identity of the business owner and their identification with the business (to what extent is the business integral to who you are?),

–          Their own perception of their skill level (not “do you have what it takes?” but rather “do you know how to resolve the fact that you don’t have everything it takes?”),

–          The involvement of a partner in the business (are you doing this alone or are there two of you?),

–          The level to which they have integrated the various roles in their lives (have you merged the business into your whole life or are you juggling the various roles you undertake, e.g. parent/carer/…?) and

–          The owner’s attitude to growth (is growth a good thing? Or, when you take a good, hard, honest look, would not growing actually be easier for you right now?)

 The research recommends that business owners reflect on the issues stated above in order to ascertain the potential for growth. In conclusion, it states the limitations of the project and proposes potential subjects for future research.

Managing every which way but loose

Managing up is hard work for no reward because if my customers are not happy they can simply refuse to pay. So how come I’m now responsible not only for managing myself but for managing you too? My personal development lectures taught me that we’re all looking for a saviour (Bion etc.). Clue: it’s not me! I also learned we like to find a common enemy – I’m not playing that role either.

Research on growth of micro-businesses owned by women

As part of my MBA at Cranfield University, I am undertaking an independent project on the factors that influence women micro-business owners when deciding whether to grow their businesses. In order to conduct this research I am looking to interview:

  • Women business owners (including co-owners, sole traders and directors)
  • Whose business is based in the UK
  • With 0-9 employees
  • Generating less than £1.75 million p.a. in revenue
  • Whose businesses have or have not grown over recent years and/or
  • Who intend/do not intend to grow their businesses in the future.

If you meet these criteria or know women who do and would like to take part in this research, please contact me at gill.searl@cranfield.ac.uk and I will respond as soon as possible.

The complicated inner life of an INFJ – and finally breathing good, clean air

So the MBA is nearly done – only a 6000 word project plus 4000 words on personal development – and a few more lectures in Sep/Oct. to go. I sent off a draft of the first part of the project to my supervisor and am waiting for her response. It’s August so I’m not expecting a quick reply. So with no lectures to go to and no progress on the IP I took the slightly risky decision of going back to personal development. Risky? Why risky? Well, INFJs can get so caught up in their own feelings, strengths and weaknesses that they may never emerge out of the slough of despond arising from the fact that reality is really nasty when compared to the inner perfection of our dreams. We sensitive perfectionists with pinpoint accurate understanding of others’ motivations disappear into making plans to put the world to right whilst apparently managing to forget that other people may have a completely different perspective and not appreciate ours! Research tells me I need to develop my Sensing – drawing conclusions from what my senses take in – but that all seems like hard work when Intuition has already done the job in fractions of a millisecond.

We’re kind of rare, you know – less than 3% of the population, some estimates say less than 1% – and that means that there are loads of people out there – Es, Ss, Ts in particular – who don’t get us. Well, I’m tired of trying to fit in with you all anyway – I’ve been trying to do that for most of my life. If I like you I’ll flex. If I don’t like you I’ll walk away – either physically or certainly emotionally. Why? Because God made me who I am and not like you – and He had good reasons for doing so. He wanted to create something a little different, to do something a little different in this world – because the world needs INFJs too. So if you find me complicated, confusing, irritating – or anything else for that matter, it’s probably time for you to start flexing just a little in my direction. If you put the effort in, you may actually learn something useful about yourself as well as me. And if that effort is a little too much for you, it may just help you to know that I understand that feeling – I’ve been flexing, changing what I do and say, trying to be like you ever since I was old enough to know I didn’t quite fit in. Exhausting isn’t it?

That’s why it was such a joy last week to introduce myself to someone new who got me immediately. She also got my business idea and was so encouraging that I left with a spring in my step and the desire to get started immediately.

On my second scuba dive I didn’t grip the regulator tightly enough which resulted in a combination of air and sea water – CHOKE. I think the MBA has been comparable for me – the struggle to breathe and survive in an adverse environment in less than perfect conditions. I remember the relief of my first breath of good, clean air after an ill-advised rapid ascent (from all of 6 metres). And that’s what Sarah’s encouragement – “just get started”, “email me when you get your first contract”, “you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t do it”, “you have a business model that will work – and I don’t say that very often” – represented to me: a deep breath of pure air with the energy to get the business off the ground.

No wonder INFJs are frequently represented by dolphins…