Most professional practices that fail do so because the owners refuse to acknowledge that they need to work as hard at learning how to run a business as they do at ‘doing’ the business. For example, they think that if they are a good lawyer or a good dentist, they can set up their own business and clients will just ‘come’ because they are good at what they do (they won’t).
It’s about time we dispelled the myth that anyone can run their own business or practice. The truth is anyone can learn to run a business, but you have to be prepared to learn. You weren’t born knowing how to be a dentist or write a legal agreement. You studied with people who knew how to do those things and had experience doing it, and then you put it into practice and kept learning every day, probably with continuing professional development training every year. So why would learning how to run a business be any different?
There’s a lot to learn. It was the same for me. When I switched from being a lawyer to being a business owner I realised I’d learned very little about anything other than how to provide legal advice. Suddenly I not only had to be able to do the work, I needed to be able to bring in the work, make sure I got paid for doing the work, and make sure my business survived financially whilst I was learning how to do all these things. Fortunately, I chose some great mentors and teachers to help me and they put me on the fast-track to learning the skills I needed to make sure my business succeeded. (This was what inspired me to make my business about helping others to get the same kind of help).
Why you need to understand ‘marketing’
One of the most important things any business or practice owner needs to learn is how to market the business – because without clients you don’t have a business (just a dream). But many people assume marketing is just about deciding whether to ‘do Facebook’ or whether or not to run adverts in particular publications. What they don’t take the time to learn and understand is that marketing is really about getting the right message in front of the right audience. And the right message starts with the ‘why’ – why your clients or customers need your product or service and why they should choose you to provide it. If you don’t learn how to do that, it doesn’t really matter where you advertise, you’ll generally be wasting your money.
But ‘conversion’ matters too
Good marketing is a good start. But it’s ultimately pointless if you aren’t good at turning the enquiries you get into paying customers or clients. For most business owners this means learning how to ‘sell’ so that they aren’t letting the enquiries they worked so hard to get slip through their fingers. This can be a real challenge for some business owners, as many hate the idea of ‘selling’.
One of my clients, Sarah, was like that. She wanted to set up her own business as a consultant in the fashion industry, but she hated the idea of having to ‘sell’ her services. In fact, it terrified her and she was certain she’d never be able to do it. But without being able to sell her services, how was she going to be able to convince a retailer to hire her, particularly when they didn’t really know why they needed a consultant rather than just another employee to do the work?
When I helped Sarah see how she could take a prospective client through a meeting process that would get them to want to buy the result she could achieve for them – meaning she didn’t need to ‘sell’ herself during that meeting – two things happened. She went to her first meeting with a new confidence – it was no longer about her, it was about the client and the result they wanted – and she got hired on the spot. No quibbling about her fees and no embarrassing ‘sales pitch’
Don’t forget about profits
Of course running a business is not just about being able to bring in work in. You also need to know how to create a business model that works – one which will be profitable and can be adapted as you grow. On top of that there’s learning how to manage the finances of a business (cashflow, profit and loss, balance sheets). And how to manage the staff (leadership and management are also skills we can learn and develop).
Is outsourcing the answer?
Yes, you can get help with all these things. But if you try to outsource or delegate parts of your business that you don’t understand yourself, you’re heading for disaster. I can’t tell you how many lawyers and other professionals I’ve spoken to who’ve said “We’ve tried advertising but it didn’t work”. When I ask them to tell me how they decided on the content of those adverts, they say things like “Oh, the advertising department of the newspaper/magazine put it together for us”. So they didn’t have a strategy for the advert and they didn’t play any part in deciding the content of that advert. They left it to someone else who knows very little about their brand or their business, and quite possibly not much about good marketing either. No wonder they had zero results.
I’m not saying every business owner should get involved in every detail of every aspect of their business – far from it. I’m saying the business owner needs to develop their business skills to the level where they can participate in developing the strategy for every part of their business. Then, when they give the detailed implementation of that strategy to others, they will be able to understand whether it’s being done correctly or not. Outsourcing or delegating without understanding the strategy yourself is a bit like asking someone to build you a house without having any input into its design, purpose, or cost. What are the chances you’ll get the house you want?
Why you need a plan
So if every business owner needs to develop their business skills (rather than just relying on their technical skills) then the first thing should do is create a plan for how they are going to do that. Until we’re like Keanu Reeves in the film The Matrix, we won’t be able to plug a USB stick in the back of our heads and simply download the skills and knowledge we need (so no ‘I know Kung Fu’ for us). Instead, we’re left with learning it the old school ways. Training courses can help, although they can be theoretical and hard to apply when you get back to your office. A better option is to find someone who can help you develop your strategic thinking and practical skills ‘on the job’. Someone who’ll mentor you and work alongside you to help you create your strategy and then implement, it – so that you develop your skills as you go. That way, you’ll build up the knowledge and skills you need to be a great business owner (with a great business), rather than just being great at what you ‘do’.