A Philosopher and A Businessman

Musings on Business and Philosophy.

Climb A Tree

Imagine you are alone in the jungle, cutting your way through dense undergrowth with a machete. It’s dark and damp. Wherever you turn it looks the same. When you’re hacking through thick vines and dodging the odd snake it’s easy to veer off course. How on earth do you know where you are going?

Here’s how. Every few minutes you pull out your water bottle, take a swig and check the compass. And maybe every hour or so you climb a tall tree, locate the lost civilisation on the other side of a vast valley and figure out which course to set to get there, grab the treasure and get back to the pub before closing time.

An army has spotter planes, strategic planners, satellite communications, GPS and real-time tracking. One group figures out what the destination should be, another works out how to get there from where you are today. Yet another group monitors progress and provides regular course correction.

You don’t have that.

Big business is the army - lots of people, lots of technology, lots of cost overheads and crazy long discussions to change the strategic objective. They have the support but not the agility.

As a small business operator you are Indiana Jones. Self-reliant, flexible, a little brash maybe. You can make decisions in an instant and track down the treasure while a whole battalion of the finest troops fall over themselves.

But you need to know where you are going. You need to stay on course. And you need to hack through the jungle and fend off snakes.

This is strategy, management and execution.

A small business operator needs to do all three. If you do the work and check the course you could very efficiently end up in the wrong valley. If you set a destination and hack away you will give your better-equipped competitors a good laugh as they see you zig-zag through the jungle, and you’ll be worn out before you reach the prize. You need all three. Execution, management, strategy. Hacking, compass-checking, climbing a tree. Work, tracking, direction.

There are reams written on this but here’s a version you can fit into your backpack:

Once a month, think “Strategy”*. Climb the tree. Work on the business:

  • If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, is there any inherent value in the business if it is sold?
  • What do I need to do to build that value?
  • What’s the quality of my revenue? Does it rely on me coming to work tomorrow?
  • Where is the market going?
  • What’s driving the market?
  • Will my products or services be relevant for the next 12 months?
  • Are each of my product lines performing? If not, why not?
  • Should I sell off a product line? Or buy or create a new one. Maybe reposition one?
  • Do I have the resources to make these changes?
  • Do I have too many resources for what we’re doing?
  • Is my marketing performing? Is my sales pipeline overflowing with goodness?
  • Are my customers complaining about things I can fix?

From this analysis you will identify course corrections or potentially a new direction altogether. You then need to follow that direction, so…

Once a week, think “Management”*. Check the compass:

  • Is my cashflow position secure?
  • How are my growth metrics?
  • What is my utilisation rate?
  • What is my support backlog?
  • Is my sales pipeline converting into business?

The actual checks will depend on your strategic direction. From this, you will make minor tweaks to your execution. For example make a few more sales calls to lift utilisation or focus on clearing the support backlog.

Put it in your calendar. Really. Right now. Once a week**, check the compass. Once a month, climb a tree.

* Plenty more to come on these topics, so don’t panic if it looks a little light even for a backpack.

** If you are an internet startup in hypergrowth mode, you are going to need to tweak these. Eg check the compass every 7 pizzas rather than every 7 days.

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