The unpredictability of running a business can be good and bad. There are many things in business that can knock you down, pick you up or even give you a hug when you least expect them to.
In the final instalment of my three-part blog series on what it’s really like to run a business, I’m talking about those unpredictable moments. Those moments you can’t plan for – because they will happen – and how I’ve attempted to prepare better for them in future, even if it’s futile!
If you missed them, check out Part 1 – The good parts of running a business and Part 2 – The bad parts of running a business!
Clients constantly changing their minds
Clients often move the goalposts or put a job on hold for the foreseeable future. This always affects so many aspects of your business, including cashflow and the team’s schedule.
In an ideal world, all projects are 100% predictable. There’s a solid start date, there’s a solid middle date and there’s a solid end date, with the same going for payment milestones.
However, the reality is very different – and this does have a knock-on effect throughout your business. You’ve got various departments working on particular projects, and one department can’t do a certain thing without another department doing their thing. So, if the client’s changed their mind and moved things around, it can stress the team out.
Now, listen. Clients are well within their right to change their minds, and as a business we remain incredibly flexible throughout the whole process. However, it still has a knock-on effect!
You go into a project, you quote for that project and a big part of a project is timeline. The beginning and end dates rarely end up matching when we look back and review a project’s timeline; it’s either twice as long or it’s taken a percentage longer than it normally would. Again, we’re flexible, that’s our job – but we still have to deal with it.
Staff making mistakes
As much as you coach, train, have meetings and remind people, nobody is perfect – and you have to account for human error. It’s going to happen! People often have to come swooping in to fix issues that are out of your hands. For example, dealing with clients who are upset because something’s not been delivered on time or on brand.
Remember, everything that happens to the business can always be traced back to you. It can be attributed to bad processes or lack of coaching and guidance – and that comes down to you, in some form or other, even indirectly.
Not looking in the mirror
This is a lesson I’ve learned massively over the years. If something bad happens in the business and somebody makes a mistake, I’ve been guilty of blaming. I’ve had a stern conversation with them maybe unfairly, without looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, is this my fault? Is it something I did to make that project difficult for that member of staff?’
Plus, I don’t realise what it’s like for the other person. I’ve been on that end of those phone calls, and it’s not very nice – the conversation ends, the person who’s spoken to you puts the phone down and they’re onto the next thing. They don’t really think about it – they’ve said their piece. However, they don’t think about the person on the other end who’s had to deal with that that’s just been thrown at them. They might be thinking, ‘It’s not my fault! I was told to do it this way and I did it this way, and it still went wrong.’
There may be things that have happened to explain these mistakes that you’re not aware of because you’re not working deep within the business, so you go straight to the blame game.
Put out fires before they start
Human error is going to happen. It will have varying degrees of impact on the business, from the most severe where you could potentially lose a client over it, so the minimal ‘bump in the road’ scenario. What’s more, your job is to put out fires before they even start. Have your eyes in every department, looking at all the different processes and trying to help people before they get to that moment.
That’s why, for me, spending a lot of time with the team is important: having those one-to-ones, setting up those processes and being fussy if things aren’t done properly may prevent a few fires in the future.
I’m talking about devastating weather conditions, disease, pandemics – stuff you cannot predict. But it happens, and you have to have something in place to be able to survive.
Of course, no one could have foreseen the COVID crisis that hit us at the start of 2020. None of us have experienced this in our lifetime, so this is unique and most of us have had to make stuff up as we go along to try and get through it. There are things out there to help – which aren’t for everybody, of course – and we’re doing what we can. However, it’s still something I would not have predicted towards the end of 2019. Yet here we are, and now we’re having to put out a lot of fires.
The state of the economy can also have a massive impact on business. Some industries can be hit harder during a downturn in the economy or a recession.
And finally, a big one for me…
Clients not paying on time!
This is bad enough – but when they don’t pay at all, this can punch a massive black hole into your cashflow and can almost cripple your business.
So, make sure you’re in control of your accounts. Again, this is something learned from experience that has taken us an age to get on top of. We’ve got a really good accounting system in place at the moment. Not everybody pays us on time; however, for the most part, it’s in a certain bracket that we’re happy with.
Clients won’t jump to pay you
In the early days, we didn’t really have a solid process in place. Clients were never going to come to us and say, ‘Oh! We need to pay you’ – most of the time, you’ve got to chase. It might be just a few days over the due date; but still, that’s a few days that your company’s going without that money, and it might be near payroll time when you’re a couple of grand too short.
This means a lot of upfront conversations, befriending the people in the client’s accounts department who end up paying the invoices and just making sure you’re reminding people when their payments are due.
If you don’t get on top of these things in the early days, they’ll just run away from you. We nearly went out of business because a client owed us circa £70k that we allowed to grow in credit over a 6, 7, 8-month period. I talk more about that experience in my blog post about redundancies and dealing with debt here.
Lessons learned from the three-part series ‘The Good, The Bad And The Unpredictability Of Running A Business’
- Growing a business from the ground up, and maintaining that business, is often a thankless task! You won’t get many people patting you on the back very often. You will, however, get lots of raised eyebrows.
- You will have to fight, fight and fight harder through all the stuff that can land in front of you on your journey. It’s all about a realistic belief in what you want to achieve. You have to believe in what you’re doing – and you have to enjoy what it is that you’re trying to achieve. The minute you lose faith – not in a religious way – it’s time to move on.
- It’s important to know why you are doing what you are doing. What do you personally want from all of this? Have you stopped for a second to think about what you want from this? Why are you literally going to war to grow your business? After all, it’s important to choose your battles wisely. Is this a battle you want to spend the next 15+ years of your life fighting? Think about that. I didn’t in the early days!
- Always expect the unexpected. Never assume anything. Try to plan for losing your biggest clients – and with that in mind, always deliver your best work and services to all clients.
- Running a business is all about future goals and expectations. It’s a journey and an unpredictable one for the most part. It’s essential to have a roadmap for your journey, but don’t ever count on staying on course! You will need to go off the beaten track to eventually end up where you want to be.
Thank you for reading this chapter of the Diary of an Entrepreneur. I must stress, I’m not trying to teach you anything. I’m just sharing my journey, and if it motivates you, then great – job done!
If you’d like to chat more business, feel free to get in touch with me here or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.