What help do you need the most in your small business?
When you start a small business, especially when you are a sole trader, you need to be able to perform all the business tasks, unless you have oodles of cash or credit. A little later you will be able to buy in some outside help. The big question is who to turn to first?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Pie Man, Beggar Man, Thief
I’m going to try and keep my advice simple; however, I am going to have to dip your toe into the murky world of hierarchies.
The great thing about being a sole-trader, or running a small business, is that you do not need to be involved with complex hierarchies. There is either just you or you at the top of a small pile, which is usually a fairly level structure. As soon as you start reading any business books, magazines, stuff on the internet, etc. you will find hierarchies raising their ugly heads everywhere, it is a veritable sea of serpents. You can blame Maslow for that and consultants’ inability to be original. Maslow was a psychologist who came up with a brilliant hierarchy of needs model based on a pyramid. It has stood the test of time until recently when people have started suggesting that Wi-Fi should be inserted in there as an essential need. It was such a brilliant idea that lots of consultants adapted the idea to their needs. Some got a bit carried away and added bells and whistles.
I’ve developed a simple hierarchy of hired in business help to aid deciding where you should look to get help first; sales, accounts, marketing, social media, health & safety, logistics, the list is almost endless. I think in most areas there is plenty of information and help available online and most people can make a half decent job covering the basics. There is one area where, even if you are good, it is hard to do it yourself and unfortunately most of us are not good. The base of my hierarchy of help would be a proof-reader and if they are a copywriter as well that is even better.
You may think that odd, but the pen is mightier than the sward. I know it should be sword; my spell checker didn’t pick it up. Even though it checks for spelling, grammar, clarity, conciseness, formality, punctuation conventions and vocabulary. Apps like Grammarly will not pick it up either; a human proof-reader would have been on it like an Exocet missile.
Now back to the pen/word thingy. A spelling mistake or poor grammar in a nice glossy brochure or on a sparkly new website will slash your sales more effectively than a swashbuckling competitor. Do not expect the printer or web techie person to notice the mistake, they might, if they are not distracted by the pigs flying past the window, but it’s not their job. If you are a printer and on your website it is obvious you do not know the difference between stationery and stationary you are not going to inspire confidence in prospective customers. If you are selling DVD’s you have probably lost about half your potential customers – those people who care about the use of apostrophes. It’s not difficult, ‘s is possessive except when it isn’t, then it is its. So, no apologies for suggesting a proof-reader is the first professional you engage. I do apologise for any typos or grammar faux pas here; it is a blog post, not a glossy brochure, sparky website or a pdf you are going to email to all your business contacts.
My next level would be bookkeeper/accountant. Interesting fact about bookkeeper, it’s the only word in the English language that has three consecutive double letters. Accountants are pretty cool as well; they can help you set up a great accounting and data recording systems which will enable you to keep your finger on the business pulse. (If you are an accountant still hire one, you will leave it all to the last minute or, even worse, until it is too late.) What gets measured gets are attention.
What goes in the next levels will depend upon your individual circumstances, skills and proclivities. There is a useful grid thingy that can help you to decide. You can thank two psychiatrists for the format, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, who came up with the Johari window (it’s a combination of parts of their names). It is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. More importantly it introduced the square to management consultants who took it to heart and developed it further. For SWAT and PEST analysis no name was needed, however when the Boston Consulting Group wanted to analyse product portfolios the window became a matrix.
I will stick with grid thingy for mine when it comes to task analysis. Assessing what outside help to get next you, obviously, want to concentrate on the bottom right of the grid. Which square you tackle after that depends on whether your focus is on fun or business success. Business success = dealing with bottom left before top right.
Eventually, if you are very successful, you will start nibbling away at the top left until all that is left is playing golf. That would put me firmly in the bottom right.