25 Years in business...this is my biggest lesson

01st November 2017

I’ve responded to so many people personally, but I want to extend a huge “Thank you” to everyone who wished us here at Insight Associates a happy 25th anniversary last week.

You, our readers, are a core part of the Insight “tribe” and hearing your good wishes means so much to us. So thank you again!

One question I’ve been asked several times over the past few days is: “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the past 25 years?”

I gave that a bit of a stab last week, but on reflection, I have another answer.

Last week, I started telling you about how I came to found Insight Associates. 

I described my background working in senior financial roles for big corporates and then the extraordinary experience I had working as finance director for a larger-than-life company owner.

I was supremely qualified to manage other people’s finances.

I had zero experience actually running a business……

So 25 years ago, when I set up my own company, the learning curve was steep. I had to learn marketing and sales, how to scale a business and how to hire, how to train staff to do jobs I wasn’t qualified for myself, how to deal with employees’ personal issues and a million other tasks which I had never done before.

It was tough, because I set the business up to do what I loved (helping other companies manage their finances), but the skill sets I needed to use on a regular basis had nothing to do with that.

I like to think I’m one of a kind but actually I fell neatly into a very familiar stereotype.

In Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited, he calls people like I used to be “technicians”. They’re great at doing the hands-on work of the business and they often set up their own companies doing that work, because they want to capitalise on their main skill. 

At that point, though, they need to behave like entrepreneurs – whose main job is leading their company by developing its strategy and vision. 

The problem is that they don’t always make the transition. Sometimes they don’t even recognise it’s necessary. Other times they simply don’t want to give up the parts of the job they enjoy most in order to run the company.

The result is that they struggle, because there is a fundamental mismatch between what the business needs from them and what they want or are capable of delivering.

I worked hard to bridge that gap and transitioned into entrepreneurship – which is perhaps one reason we’re celebrating 25 years. 

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in that period, it’s how many  get stuck in that technician role.

Every week, I talk to company owners like this, particularly when it comes to their finances.

Starting a business is all about making money, but actually these company owners know very little about the financial aspect of their business (and occasionally are terrible at managing their personal finances too….). 

They may be great at what they do, but the words ‘cash flow’, ‘profit and loss’, ‘management accounts’ and so on are a mystery to them. 

Yet no business can succeed if its financial management is shaky. They may be profitable, but they lurch from financial emergency to emergency, and the business owner is often in the dark about their company’s real financial situation.

I give our clients full credit, because they recognise that there is a problem and hire us to help them overcome it by professionalising.

And if any of this resonates, I’d urge you to rethink your role too.

As owner, your job is to lead and manage your business – not to do the core work yourself. That mental shift will change everything for your business, allowing it to grow and flourish, instead of bump along.

The transition is not easy – but it’s key to your success.

Trust me, I’ve been there!

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