The problem with being your own boss for a few years is that you get used to some things.
In some cases it’s setting your own hours though your hours can be dictated by your customers. You at least have the choice whether you want to attend to them rather than kowtowing to their every whim. In an ideal world, customers are a positive relationship but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that money changes hands.
I have a practice that tells me to focus on the core business and don’t be afraid to give away business that you don’t want to do. Mac-Sys did really well a few years ago by being up front with a new sector of potential customers. We had no interest in dealing with Windows clients. And there were numerous companies out there with a couple of Macs surrounded by a few dozen Windows PCs. We didn’t want to take on the PC companies who were servicing the Windows PC so we offered to work with them. This had the benefit of the PC company being able to service their clients better – their Mac clients didn’t feel ignored and the PC company didn’t feel threatened by us. This same practice has prevented me from making costly mistakes in diversification.
Other benefits can be in the decisions on how you do business and not just what you do. Allowing yourself to move out of ethically grey areas and into the clear. This means, for example, not spamming your client list or not stealing their content as a recent storm on the Irish blogosphere indicates – this can be bad for business.
You can also fire your customers. Seems like a common theme everywhere but Northern Ireland. The worst thing you can do as a company is allow your employees to retaliate when there’s a storm brewing. As the boss, make the decision on whether the business with this customer is worth the grief. If it is, make it up with them. If not, kick them the hell out. There will always be a “worst customer” so think carefully.
More satisfying however is to fire a bad supplier in my experience. Imagine my joy when a market research firm acting on behalf of my business bank called earlier this week to gauge my opinion of how they were doing. This is a bank that, when we needed them to help us, grabbed us by the short’n’curlies and yanked tight. They offered us the Small firms Loan Guarantee where the government underwrites the loan, but only if we would further underwrite it by supplying our own security – so if we defaulted, the bank would get paid twice. When we wanted a card swipe machine so we didn’t have to deal with cash and cheques, they tried to levy a 10%+ charge per transaction on us (where the norm is about 2%) and told us it was standard policy. When we worked our butts off and repaid everything, including what we realise now was a crippling interest rate, they refused to change. So, loan free, this year we walked and took our business elsewhere. And when I was finished rating them poorly in their scores I was asked by the market researcher, Dave, if I minded them contacting me about the poor ratings. I replied: If they dare. I’m really looking forward to that call.
The biggest benefit I found was that it was much easier to realign business process or, in the vernacular, cut through the crap. The ability to see a bad practise isn’t always easy. It requires you to question the way you do things, sometimes even undermining your own decisions. You shouldn’t feel emotional about this – it’s about fixing problems and at the time the decision may have seemed totally sensible and, in some cases, your only option.
Living with other people’s bad decisions is harder. And rationalising decisions made by committee, or worse, by culture is really really hard. I wish I’d counted the numbers of shrugs I got from senior people here when I’d asked why they were doing things the way they were doing things. The stock answer seems to be because it’s the way things have always been done.
This brings me to the subject of change.
One of the defining qualities of a manager seems to be in the management of change. For many cases of management, you could substitute “coping with” or even “suppression of”. Change tends to start at the top with the people least qualified to define it. Then the sequence of moving that change down to the individual producers, the people who will implement the change, will pass it through several stages of watering it down as well as self-interest allowing the change to be used for political or career purposes. The most important thing in managing change is buy-in. And by that I don’t mean lip service during a meeting. It has to be a change that everyone will see as a benefit. And if there is no benefit to the people who will make the change, why the hell are you doing it?
Make change for the better. And be sure it will make things better by checking the status of the change during and afterwards and comparing it to where you were before you started. If it’s not making things better, stop doing it. Getting past your own ego is the biggest challenge you’ll ever face.