Do you really want to grow the business?

So your microbusiness is doing well – you have customers, you are making sales and earning money. Life is busy and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. Now what? What’s the next step? Do you want to grow the business more?

My interviewees were in one of two groups when it came to their attitude to growth. One group frequently and repeatedly talked about the risks involved in growing the business. They also expressed their satisfaction with the status quo, their unwillingness to make further changes, the desire for a break – after all growing a business is hard work. But they also expressed some deeper issues too – some were afraid of failure and others of success. In other words, doing more, growing the business would involve greater commitment and effort and they weren’t sure whether they wanted to put the effort in.

In contrast, the other group saw growth as both necessary and desirable. They emphasised growth as being integral to their definition of success. As a consequence they concentrated on the growth and made efforts to grow their business – which paid off. The business grew.

If you think you can’t – or shouldn’t – grow the business – you won’t.

If you think you can – or must – grow the business – you will.

Advertisements

Work/life balance is so 20th century. Role integration grows businesses.

Now we come to one of the most interesting findings from my research project. Many women leave employment with the aim of achieving a level of flexibility that working for others does not permit. This desire is frequently the primary reason for setting up a (micro-)business and applies in particular if there are family demands too, such as bringing up young children. Oh yes, ladies, we are still asking ourselves “can I have it all?” And the clear answer from the interviews is “yes – but you have to work at it!” What does that mean? The women I interviewed were making clear decisions about what would take priority in their lives at the current time – and it all depends on the number of priorities, their importance to you and how you divide up your life between them.

Let me give you an example. One of my interviewees has a teenage son on the autism spectrum and was wondering how he would ever find work. She decided to set up a social enterprise that makes the most delicious handmade chocolates – and would employ her son and others on the autism spectrum in roles that would be ideally suited to them and their needs. Her daughter is involved in designing the packaging and her husband offers his complementary skills, especially relating to financial planning and other matters, in addition to his full-time job. The business and family are one and the same thing – there is no separation or conflict. The whole family is working on the business to a certain extent.

Here’s another one of my heroines: she grew up in a home with an absent mother undertaking a high-flying job and was determined that she would be available to her children. She started her business when she had a couple of very young children and would work around their needs. As time went by she was home-schooling 4 children and running a growing business from home. In fact the business (internet retailing) was taking over the whole house. The children learned their multiplication tables counting off stock for example until one Christmas they reached a crisis point. Her husband took redundancy from work, they hired a small warehouse and moved the business out of the home. With both parents working in the business, this gave them the flexibility to share family and business roles and continue home-schooling. Later, their business was hit badly – firstly by the recession and then by personal tragedy. She told me that it was extremely important at that time for the whole family to be together to recover – which would not have been possible if one or both parents had been employed. Now, some years later, the business is growing again and she felt it was the right time for the children to go to school. The family still have one toddler at home and all the business and child-care duties are shared. Their business is completed integrated into their lives. Again there is no separation between the two.

Women whose businesses had not grown had not achieved this level of integration. They felt they were juggling a wide range of responsibilities and were not able to dedicate their full energy to the business.

So this is where tough decisions are called for – and there are no right answers. To what extent do you want to integrate your life and business? Do you want to give the business your single-minded attention? Is it important for you to be involved in a wide variety of things, e.g. charities, social groups, involvement in partner’s/spouse’s business? Are other things more important than the business? How can you achieve the level of integration that gives you the flexibility you are looking for?

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.