I was talking to a successful entrepreneur the other day and asked him what he valued most in entrepreneurial business leaders. His answer surprised me. All the business consultants, advisers and the coterie of small business gurus believe that they can read the mind of the entrepreneur but when you actually sit face-to-face with entrepreneurs, you know, the things they value of different to what you hear.
There is so much talk and emphasis on cash flow that I thought this successful entrepreneur would talk about the importance of financial management. This is not to say that financial management is not important but in some business operations, especially those that are in trouble, cash management becomes more important than marketing and sales as well as operations.
I would have thought the successful entrepreneur would have mentioned openness, transparency and communication. This is espoused as important for leadership. Well, it is. You can quickly spot the difference between a hired manager who is in therefore the short term, raking up fat bonuses before he or she moves on. Communication becomes one way from one source. Secretiveness prevails. Staff are left wondering.
In this economy I would have thought the entrepreneur may have touched on reducing costs. But this entrepreneur when I come to think of it, runs a tight ship. Yet he is also generous to a fault. Cost reduction is important but if you start out from a strong foundation of being frugal and only spending where it counts then you already have a competitive position. For the start-up founder, things are different. Any investments you make in new products and services are going to cost you twice as what you thought they would. This means that you need to work extremely carefully with your money, spending only where it is absolutely necessary. You also only spend money on things that are going to contribute towards bringing you a return. Cost control becomes important when there is increased competitive rivalry. With more competition, it is difficult to increase prices, which means to achieve profitability you need to make sure that your operations are run efficiently.
I really wondered what was so important to the successful entrepreneur. Perhaps it was productivity. As we know, productivity in recent years has declined considerably. What are small businesses doing to increase their productivity? Being closer to the coalface, small business owners and entrepreneurs know only too well that productivity is essential to their business. This doesn’t mean unfairly squeezing their employees for more and more. It does mean having systems in place that ensure outputs and impacts are increased. A small business I know of recently was sold because sales had declined. If you looked into the business you would see that the real problem was productivity. Without going into it now everyone in the business including the managers and employees could have been doing a lot more.
I was surprised when the owner of the successful entrepreneurial business told me that what he admires most in the successful entrepreneurs is how they build people. He mentioned that there is a celebrity business person who would only take on someone who is fully developed and use them. The successful entrepreneur said that he admires the entrepreneur who takes on someone who doesn’t necessarily have all the necessary business skills and experience but brings them into their business and develops them. This entrepreneur knows in his bones that good people matter in a business. As long as they are willing to learn and go the extra mile, he would rather employ inexperienced people and develop them himself.
What are you doing to develop people in your business? Are you proud of what you are doing? Ultimately it’s up to you what you want to do for your people but it can be hard to be successful without valuing people in your business.