Recently, I watched some episodes of Alex Polizzi’s The Fixer programme on BBC catch-up. Of all the business pundits on TV and radio, she’s the one I’ll go out of my way to watch. It’s refreshing to see her no-nonsense style and willingness to tell the truth. She also seems genuinely to care about the business and its owners, and I like that.
As I watched the various programmes, I was struck by how unwilling the business owners were to receive the hard news about why things were going wrong. When Alex suggested that, in business, you need to know what your customers are really thinking – otherwise they’ll vote with their feet – the owners insisted that they “just knew” what people wanted. They didn’t have to ask.
Actually, no. What I think they really meant was, “I’ve poured my heart and soul into this business. We worked for countless hours, evenings, weekends included, to create our vision. You have no idea how hard it’s been, so stop adding yet another job to our list.” And you could tell that it was true. They looked tired, dispirited and overwhelmed by the sheer drudgery of running a faltering business.
I can empathise. Any business owner can. No matter how hard we’re working and how well we’re doing, we’ve all had those times when we would cheerfully pull down the shutters, chuck the keys at some unsuspecting passer-by, and walk off into the sunset.
Ten tough things about business
Running a business is hard. But you’ll make it many times harder if you refuse to acknowledge these tough-but-true aspects of business life:
- Business is all about profitable sales (see my other post Business and money… and sleepless nights). You have to keep this fact at the forefront of your mind. When Alex Polizzi tries to explain to the owners that they need to know the profit margins on their products, their best-selling items, their most profitable and sought-after services, she’s often met with blank stares (and sometimes, downright hostility!).
- Hobby or business? It’s all very well having a vision, but if that vision isn’t shared by your target (ie paying!) customers, perhaps it would be better to keep your vision as your hobby.
- Keep facing forward. Just because something worked five years ago, doesn’t mean it will today. In business, you can’t stand still. If you’re not moving forward, you’re sliding backwards.
- Open your ears. If someone experienced and well-informed tries, gently, to tell you where you’re going wrong, for goodness’ sake listen. The business owners featured in the programmes had agreed to invite an experienced business owner of some ability into their premises but then spent most of their time arguing with her and saying, ‘Yes, but…’
- You’re not the only one. Remember, you are not the only person selling to your target customers! So, you should always be watching what your competitors are up to. Do some mystery shopping, have a good look around their website, if possible speak to their customers. Find out why people are buying from them. Then change and tweak and adjust what you’re offering accordingly.
- Get learning. You can – and should! – acquire the vital skills needed to run a profitable business. As Alex Polizzi said in one of the shows, “We don’t start out knowing how to do a cashflow, you need to learn.” Couldn’t agree more, Alex.
- Sell with style. Do sufficient research so you can price your product or service at a level that enables you to make a good, fair profit and leaves your customers happy with what they’ve paid and what they’ve received. Then you can sleep soundly at night, knowing that you have happy customers who will come back, time and again.
- Treat people well. Business is all about people: staff, customers, suppliers. If you treat them well, they’ll return the favour. If you treat them badly, you’ll suffer for it. Maybe not immediately, but at some point. Cared-for people will support you when things get tough.
- Get your processes in place. Document your processes and delegate them to properly trained people – staff or freelancers – whenever possible. You should be working on the business, not in it. (I know, you’ve heard that many times. That’s because it’s true.)
- Take time off. When you run your own business, you become so immersed in it, you risk becoming a business bore (ask my family, their eyes glaze over when I start talking sometimes). Lift your head up and look around you. Your business is part of your life, not the whole of it.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it
However, despite all my nodding at Alex’s comments and muttering about the pig-headed business owners, my heart still went out to them.
Each of those people had started their businesses with hope in their hearts and a spring in their steps. They had invested their hard-earned cash and savings. Each day, no matter how hard it was, they got up, dusted themselves off and tried again. The very fact that they were on the show at all is testament to that.
So, although I wanted to shake them at times, I feel enormous empathy with them. I’ve been there. I know how it feels when, despite all your best efforts, something still isn’t working.
Sometimes it’s really hard to keep going in business. But you have to. It’s part of what you’ve signed up for. You also have to stay open minded and willing to learn from people who know what they are talking about. Alex Polizzi is a good place to start.
Next time you pass a tired, slightly frazzled-looking individual in the street. Be nice to them. They probably run their own business.