I am in a networking group and suggested we all say what are the best and worst bits of owning a business.
What was really interesting was that for the majority of us the best bit was being useful, the buzz we get from helping people. Money was very secondary.
What people disliked was the paperwork, customers who don’t pay, moany people, lack of people to delegate to and customers who let you down: eg book a table in a restaurant and don’t show up. Many of the participants are one man bands.
I also asked about people’s bliss – what makes them happy. A common theme was being on your own doing something quite wholesome (reading a book, walking the dog). But there was one eye opener for me. 2 members of the group said the best ever experience is to be at the 6 nations in Cardiff. Apparently the atmosphere is amazing, and supporters of contesting teams muck in together. I must give it a try!
There is a walk round London called the Capital Ring. It’s about 78 miles long. My husband, sons and I decided to do it by bike over 2 days. It almost killed us older members of the party. What we hadn’t factored in is that going by bike you keep missing the signs (some of which are missing anyway) and it is a walk – therefore, surprise surprise it is often through woods and parks. Cycling over hilly, stony tracks, feeling very guilty if there is a no cycling sign, is exhausting.
However, we survived and there were some really interesting parts to the walk/cycle. The bits round the Thames were fab, it was amazing to see how many thriving parks there are in the suburbs, often with excellent cafes. And some of the parks are huge.
So what are the lessons for business? Research better, prepare, but once you have started keep going. You can do it!
Lawyers are pessimists
Generally in business you need to be an optimist. An exception is lawyers – we have to think about what might go wrong. It’s desperately depressing, and possibly the reason I am happier running a business, not doing too much law. I usually think that everything will work out fine.
I also realise that I always look for the compromise. I’m proud to say that in my time as Company Secretary of Clarks I was able to negotiate many a sensible compromise, and only litigated when there really was no other option.
Sometimes I am involved on the periphery of contested probate cases. There too I can usually see both sides of the story – it’s never entirely black and white. I would always aim to meet the other side, and work out a civilised solution. However the typical litigator could not be more different. They posture, they grandstand, they don’t concede anything and they want a fight. I have to say I think it is often absurd, and gives the legal profession a bad name.
Grab good people when they approach you – don’t wait
I was recently approached by a really nice, competent lawyer who would have fitted in well here. I said I really liked her and would contact her if/when there was a vacancy. A month or so later I needed someone and got in touch, and (guess what) she had been offered another job, which she had just accepted. Being the honourable person she is she has not let down the new firm, but I know she would have liked to come here.
What a shame I didn’t grab her, and what a lesson for the future. Don’t let the good ones get away.
These days your sales should be about helping people to solve their problems. You can only know what these are by listening to them, giving them time to articulate their concerns, and finding out what they are looking for. There can be no greater turn off than the cold selling call, starting with “How are you today?”.
To all people in the business of selling (and let’s face it that is every small business owner) make sure you listen well. Be helpful. If you can’t help say so. You will reap rewards in the long run as those potential customers are highly likely to come back later when they do need you.
I have sadly lost a member of my team. Because of who I am I regard it as a personal failure, but it is inevitable and healthy that people move on. What we are is not going to suit everyone. We (including me here) are not perfect.
The individual leaving has left a space for someone else, and I’m thrilled that my former apprentice is coming back into the fold. She spent the last 18 months or so at Waitrose where she will have learnt masses, and will be able to share her knowledge with us. She may also appreciate not having to wear a uniform, work horrible shifts and have to cover endlessly for staff. Her technical skills will be a real bonus and hopefully she will soon help me to bring some new life into this blog.
So losing staff creates opportunity, while also being a loss.
Being an Oldpreneur doesn’t make me old.
I’ve noticed that when we get older we might say “I am now middle aged” and so on but mainly we don’t really believe it is true.
So, I describe myself as an Oldpreneur but I don’t think of myself as old at all. The fact that I am 20 years older than the next oldest member of my team is rather odd, that’s all. I have my tongue in my cheek when I say Oldpreneur and if you are one too I expect you to do the same.
Inside every old person is a young person who can’t quite understand what happened.
Can small things make big changes?
When you start in business you can be overwhelmed by the amount of advice you receive, and feel a failure before you start because there is no way you can do all the things you know you really should. This is one of the reasons I was attracted to read Margaret Heffernan’s latest book: Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes.
Being a somewhat lazy person I was hoping that there would be some small adjustments I could make which would transform everything. Sadly it isn’t quite that simple. However here are some of her suggestions:
- Do not be afraid of conflict – conflict is healthy, so is having a range of different personalities working together;
- don’t multi task and don’t work long hours- the brain really isn’t designed for either;
- If you think a person or group will perform well, and let them know, they probably will. And of course the flipside is complete de-motivation for everyone else not deemed to be high flyers.
All common sense really
I don’t often blog about the day job, but as this gets a wider audience than anything I blog on my Purely Probate website I am compelled to say – discourage anyone from naming their Bank as executor of their Will because your estate will be fleeced.
We are in this situation with some clients, the Bank have refused to stand down even though there is nothing complicated, and the deceased lady’s children are also all executors and beneficiaries, and have all requested she stand down. The reason is quite simple: the fee charged by them and their lawyer is 3 x the amount we had quoted.
Moral – if at all possible appoint relatives or trusted friends/advisors as your executors. They can then choose where they get their legal advice from.
I have never had a mentor. I feel very sad about that, I can’t think of anything nicer than having someone who believes in you, who supports and encourages you but also guides you in a realistic way.
I am getting a mentor as I have joined the Growth Accelerator scheme, and will have a coach. It’s not quite the same as having someone who will be with you for years and isn’t paid by the hour for time they spend with you. But I’m sure it will be great.
What I want to think about for myself is whether I can’t fulfil that role for others. It will be a real privilege to feel that I have helped and encouraged some people. It’s a sad thing that it feels much easier to do this with young people, not too set in their ways. Us oldies need help too!
The more I read about Michelle Obama the more I admire her.
She gave a speech recently about the subtle racism she has encountered throughout her life, it was astonishing. It was broadcast on the Today programme and blew me away – it was totally credible and, I’m sure, true.
There was recently an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Clarissa Prabi. Obama had visited a school in London with a high number of immigrants. She gave a fabulously motivating speech about what is possible, not settling for second best, and working hard. But she didn’t stop there. She invited some of the young women to the White House and then to Oxford. What a privilege for them, and how astonishingly motivating it must have been.
Michelle’s advice that left me feeling tearful was “picture who you want to be and reach for people who make you better”.
I love to surround myself by people who make me better. In my case they are cleverer than me, have done well, and are happy in themselves. The last trait is the most important. Those people always bring me up.
I am very fortunate to have a Korean daughter in law. She is lovely in many ways. I have learnt a lot from her –whenever she makes a suggestion about my business it is a good one. For example it was her idea to give clients a Handbook to give instructions to their executors.
But the lesson I want to mention now is that she doesn’t just accept things. It’s a British trait to be rather accepting of unsatisfactory things. With her if someone doesn’t show up on time she is on the phone straight away to sort it. Why wait?
So when that happens to me I think of her and follow in her footsteps, and it’s almost always the right thing to do. Otherwise you wait and wait and then you ring – by which time you are fuming. Or you just give up.
In order to be efficient just do one thing at a time.
It’s always obvious when you are talking to someone on the phone and they are on their computer at the same time, and only giving you a small part of their attention. But the real reason is that the work you do if you try to do several things at once is almost always substandard. It really isn’t possible to multi task (unless one or both of the tasks doesn’t use much headspace – of course I can cook and listen to the radio, but if I am cooking something tricky I won’t be paying much attention to the radio)
In the end things get done quicker too if you do them one at a time.
It’s also very tempting to think you are too busy to finish a job, but if you don’t it will take longer to get back up to speed, remind yourself what needed to be done and so on at some later time. Or the job will never get finished. Might not matter, in which case the job should be ditched, but if it does then just finish what you are doing before you move on to the next task.
We have just acquired a Wills Bank.
A very nice and competent Will Writer I know is retiring. He offered me his Wills bank to free himself from ongoing insurance costs. I take over the Wills bank, he can cancel his insurance, if I’m lucky in due course some of the Wills will convert to Probate matters, and the executors will instruct me. It might work, time will tell.
What I hadn’t quite appreciated was the size of the job going through all someone else’s Wills, and making sure we are happy with them. We are writing to every single client summarising their Will to be sure they are what the client wanted. There are 75 of them, and it has taken me and the team most of a week to get them onto our systems, read them all and write to the clients.
It’s been a really useful exercise – if it works we will do more. And if it is a larger Wills bank we will if necessary take on extra staff to deal with the process.
We have started to use Office 365.
I am NOT a technically minded person. I find it nearly impossible to keep listening when someone tells me about technology.
Having said all that until now we have used the free version of Dropbox in the business. We have hit against storage limits, and were advised to move over to Office 365 which comes with Share Point (for clever sharing) email accounts and One Drive (for some other clever thing – I will remember what it is in a moment).
It was all going to be so simple BUT a problem – we have lots of folders then sub folders in our business, and it couldn’t cope. But now it seems there is a simple solution – we move some of our folders to top level, but still have folders under each of them. Has this made any sense? Well it kind of does to me.
So next week I will try to work out a rational structure for our files and folders and off we go again.