Small Business

The right business question

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The radio station I work with — 2GB in Sydney — has recently kicked off a Sunday business show hosted by my old mate Ross Greenwood, and we ask small business owners to email in their questions around the biggest challenges they have in their business. While we get questions about better marketing, more professional recruiting, wiser financial management and a whole lot of others, no one has yet asked the right question!

Switzer’s background

You know, I have been talking on the business speaking circuit since 1992, when the boss of the speaking agency ICMI in Melbourne, Barry Markoff, asked me to do a speech for a client. In those days I was working with the Triple M teams in Sydney and Melbourne and working on TV with Clive Robertson on Seven’s Newsworld.

I was lucky to be working with some of the greats of radio including the likes of Doug Mulray, the D-Generation, Richard Stubbs and the sports guy who was an up-and-comer called Eddie McGuire!

I was in great company and both Eddie and the D-Generation later created successful media companies with the latter making films such as The Castle and The Dish along with TV programs such as Thank God You’re Here and The Panel. It was great company and when you’re lucky enough to be with successful people, you learn the right lessons.

By the early 1990s I was asked to edit Australian Small Business magazine and that’s where my wife, Maureen, a lawyer who topped the university on the way through, started to develop our love of publishing. We now have a number of successful websites and publish the popular young women’s magazine and website Russh. 

Point of difference

Along the way, we developed a financial planning business, which came out of the fact that many people asked me to help them with their finances and I was referring them to others. This worried me as I had no control over what was recommended and it was at a time when advisers were pocketing commissions and flogging products driven by the fees they could pick up and not what was quality advice.

As a point of difference, we decided our uncommon offering would be to rebate commissions on investments and charge a flat dollar fee so people would know exactly what they were paying and what we would be receiving. I figured when it comes to managing other people’s money, honesty has to be the starting point.

That’s why our unique selling proposition (USP) was “Guidance you can trust.” The USP is the key message for potential customers about what your business stands for and is a crucial part of the answer to the question I think is the most important one to ask.

The big question

So, what is it? Here it is: “What do I have to do to build a successful business?”

Ask this, answer it and then use this as your guide and I reckon you increase your chances of winning in business.

Jim Collins, in the superb book Good to Great, listed a number of key factors that explained the best businesses in the USA. His team of post-graduate researchers found these factors were hiring the “right people”, having the vision be “world class”, confronting the brutal truth, having a simple plan for greatness and being incredibly disciplined. But the most important was leadership. 

The answer

Yep, the expert view was that the quality of leadership is critical to a company’s success and so if I were asked what is the secret of success, I would simply answer — leadership.

John C. Maxwell, who I reckon wrote the best book on leadership I have ever read — The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership — argues the more laws you master, the better you will be at leadership.

It will mean you will create a vision that tells you and your team what it is you are trying to create — a successful business. As you get better at leadership, hire the right people, pay for the advice — accounting, business coaching, marketing, IT, etc. — it will give you an increasingly competitive edge. You will confront the truth, become a better listener to your staff and customers, a better setter of a good example and you will learn to develop your people to become leaders as well.

Good to great

You will go from good, because only good business owners will be looking for ways to improve, to great. And as you grow in stature as a leader, your business will gain momentum driven by your 24/7 passion to make your vision become a reality.

You will seek out the company of winners — join groups of likeminded entrepreneurs — and you will benefit from the company you keep. And by including all of these crucial ingredients for building a great business, you will see a successful operation evolve.

In a nutshell, all of this can come about if you do a SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — analysis, not on your business as that comes later, but on yourself.

Two goals

Two personal goals should become uppermost in your mind. First, it’s to put as much time as possible in your strength zone while getting others to deal with areas where you have relative weakness. And secondly, commit yourself to self-improvement.

So, now comes the vital question that Maxwell was asked as a young man by his mentor. It goes like this: “What is your plan for self-improvement?”

When you get one of these, then all of what I have suggested is needed for business success should eventually come along.

If you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Thursday, February 16, 2012

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