Sustaining yourself on the entrepreneurial journey
So you have made the decision to take the journey. Maybe you are already well and truly on it? If so, the more important topic is how to sustain yourself (and, indirectly therefore, those you lead) en route. Only by giving concerted thought to this dimension will you arrive at the finish post in one piece if, indeed, at all.
The answer has two parts. Firstly, the approaches you take to look after yourself directly and, secondly, the practices you put in place within your company – or the culture you create – that everyone can benefit from.
In relation to you, a previous blog post has already discussed one of the most important aspects – the ‘Important Others’. Hopefully, this has already reinforced in your mind the need to ensure that your closest do not suffer from a busy person’s thousand acts of omission. This for their sake and yours. Those closest to you help you retain a grounded perspective on your business – and its bit place in the universe of life, family and friends – don’t ever lose this.
What else should you be doing? Well, perhaps the next most important area is your physical wellbeing. Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body) is one of the most accepted pieces of folk homily but, also, one of the most often discarded. As a complete aside, there is an apocryphal story of a cobbler who put this latin phrase above his shop door hoping to attract a more discerning customer. A rival cobbler, across the road, matched it with a bigger sign – ‘Women and Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’! I digress.
Keeping in good check physically is paramount and even the most naturally active will need to resuscitate this part of their lives every so often. You see, what happens with your own business is that you invariably convince yourself you do not have the time to exercise. Thus you enter a mental trap of self-defeatism as we all know that the fitter we are, the more energy we have, the sharper we are at making decisions, the more productive we are and the better we feel generally. I fell into this trap a few times and this as someone who loves to exercise. The best mitigation for this – that I eventually got better at – was to book in two to three one-hour sessions a week (at least) in your personal diary for your preferred activity (be it running, swimming, gym, walking – anything that raises your heartbeat) and absolutely safeguard it. The first few times it is threatened by competitive demands on your time you may feel awkward holding to it but soon it will become a pattern – respected by colleagues – that is genuinely only disrupted in extremis.
Be careful with your diet also as this has another massive bearing on your energy levels and your wellbeing generally. I had another wake up moment when I described my average weekly meal routine to an interested dietician friend. His horror as I described my typical day – of no breakfast, rushed lunch and a late night chinese meal, after another long day in the office – was palpable and shocked me into a shake-up of this aspect also. This is all obvious stuff, huh, but how many of us forget the basics when we are so deeply caught up in our personal project? As soon as I reset the routine for a morning fruit smoothie, healthier snacks throughout the day and less of a carb-binge last thing at night so I felt another shift up in energy levels and productivity. Sorry, I don’t seek to patronise but the best business productivity tips often start with you.
In a similar vein, take your holidays. Don’t get caught up in the macho culture that infers time down is for wimps. Leave that concept to the brainless. Aside from re-charging, you will be amazed how much you process in your sub consciousness when better relaxed – ideas you can bring back to work. As importantly, you should also, from the off, introduce the concept that tasks can be delegated. Remember, you are building for a future where the culture, systems and processes are so strong that everyone is ultimately replaceable – even you. Start training this in early – as opposed to ‘the business can’t last a second without me’ vibe – which is often delusional or, at best, a result of poor organisation.
Read. Take an interest in your own professional development. Often, this can go by the wayside. Don’t let it. Join relevant professional organisations and enquire as to their on-going training offerings. As an example, at Moorhouse, a number of us set ourselves the goal of becoming Chartered Directors (with the UK’s Institute of Directors) and attended their courses at regular intervals. Not only was useful knowledge acquired or refreshed, the days out of the office meeting others invariably sparked new ideas and gave fresh impetus to our next business improvement effort.
Finally, on a personal level, find some external ‘critical friends’. Be they advisors (or non-executive directors) you place on your board, or a personal business mentor or another peer business owner – having an intelligent, experienced ‘sounding board’ outside of your organisation is critical. More on this in future extracts.
Sustainability, however, is about more than just your personal journey. You should also be setting the right tone within your business for others. Starting a business is a privileged opportunity to cast the culture you seek. Even if your business has been running a while, as a leader within it, you have the chance to culture set from the top. It is one of your most profound responsibilities – especially so as discharging professional services un-moderated can be a brutal career at times – quickly able to drive you and your colleagues to exhaustion and, on occasion, untenable levels of stress.
I have a number of recommendations here. There is no one ‘silver bullet’, rather a multi-dimensioned response can go a long way to making everyone’s journey more sustainable and, hence, the business more effective overall.
Firstly, avoid the macho culture I mentioned earlier. It is amazing how the working late (or at weekends) trend can feed off others. You seek committed colleagues but make sure you arrest this behaviour if it is just becoming the normalised pattern as opposed to a genuine business requirement. For example, we noticed over time that a number of us were working into weekends regularly but largely as a result of internal dialogue – no client demand sat behind it. Once one person starts this – others felt the need to do similar out of some (sadistic) form of professional validation. Look out for it as the leader. Keep such behaviour in balance.
Schedule in shared moments. I will dwell on the ‘Escape’ concept we had at Moorhouse in some detail later in relation to its place in our goal setting and planning disciplines. Simply put here, such events – at least quarterly – brought the whole team together to share stories and create new ones. As the firm grew, such events became more complicated to coordinate, more expensive, but I never left one thinking ‘that wasn’t a good investment of time and money’. Far from it. The collective re-charge you get from a well organised gathering of colleagues is invaluable. At a personal level, I took huge inspiration and succour from a few days, off-site, in the close presence of talented colleagues. These ‘Escapes’ always picked me up, reminded me why I was so fortunate to be the firm’s MD and re-stoked the engines for the next section of the climb. I know it had a similar galvanising effect on everyone in the business.
In Guide 05, I will dwell on the topic of management information (MI) – how you compile it, how you read it, the decisions you make from it etc. It occurs to me, thinking about it now, that this is a key contributor to firm-wide sustainability. With sound MI, and effective performance management processes, you establish a real sense of direction, milestone, journey and progress. We made a point of expecting every member of the team to know the business plan (that they had helped craft) for the year ahead and to track actual progress against this. With the regular stream of ‘win often’ moments (new clients, revenue plans met, new hires etc) there was a very evident sense of being involved in a growing, successful venture. Colleagues fed back that this frequent, clearly communicated progress, against bold plans, was evidence they were involved in a career-enriching experience. It reminded them they were involved in something collectively special, something on an ascendant trajectory and for such a ride they were prepared to ‘put in the extra miles’.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t allow anyone to take themselves too seriously. There is nothing more draining than an earnest colleague full of self-importance or sense of stature. I worked hard to put at the heart of Moorhouse a culture that would chop such an individual down at the knees. ‘Take your profession seriously but not yourself ’ was the clarion call. It was reinforced in our team awards, firm artefacts (e.g. ‘Young Mugs’ – everyone had a mug with their baby photo on, Look-alikey playing cards, even team pyjamas!) and the regular wind-ups (that nearly got out of hand!). Most of all it permeated just from an established atmosphere of what was expected and once this culture was set, it self-policed. Humour is an invaluable ally – especially so in times of professional adversity; the toughest journeys are sustainable, fun even, when this lies at the core.
In future editions, I will turn next to extracts from Guide 02 (The Fundamental Components of Value). These articles will examine how a buyer typically values a professional services business in order that you understand how to systematically grow this value in your own firm from the off.