As a business owner, do you ever burn out or get stressed? With the travel and other demands, I know, this time of year I can burn out. It’s before 7a.m. and I am pounding away on an article that snuck up on me and thinking, oh no, not another article. I bet you get this same feeling when you are humping away on an estimate that is due any moment. Like me, I am sure you have great employees and support but something about our mortality begins to whisper in our head as we age. The recession has made business more challenging for some and created additional stress. Fortunately, business is good for everyone at PROOF Management and I love what I do, but we can all have second doubts.
First, I think it is important to remember where we started and where we are now. I have been in business more than 30 years and while the recession is challenging, business is still good. The last few years of good economy spoiled many contractors. Sustaining such smooth sailing was not realistic. The economy is getting better for progressive businesses that have changed with the times. Fortunately, many of your competitors who failed to change or were poor businesspeople are finally beginning to fade away.
Business is not forgiving. In the past, I have explored the wonder, blunder, thunder, plunder stages of contracting. When you were a start-up contractor, you wondered what business was about, and then you got some work. Soon you were blundering along with lots of work and no profit. Hopefully you figured it out and moved to thunder, where you were making money and thriving. Your goal is to avoid plunder — the last and most fatal stage of business. Plunder companies were successful but became set in their ways. Dynamic owners grew less active, employees didn’t want to change, good young employees begin to leave, and systems grew outdated.
I think a lot of things contribute to plunder, but much of it is human nature. I think we grow less excited over time and become a little bored with the business. When the business was young, it was like a mistress who was exciting and fun. Business problems, which are always there and always will be, can become a nagging headache. If you are not careful, your mistress turns into a frumpy spouse. It is important to remember the thrill of the chase and the things you enjoy in business.
As businesses mature, business problems tend to be bigger, costlier and uglier to fix. Succession, overextending assets by building too big of a shop, firing aging entitled employees and other problems are challenging. You can’t let those nagging issues keep you from what you love about your business. They are simply part of the process and must be dealt with.
As we age, most of us experience a little bit of job unhappiness and boredom. It is human nature. It happens to the postman, the factory worker, the supplier sales rep and almost everyone else. I think the thing to remember is that you own your own business and control your own destiny. There is also no question that as we age, our energy levels change. The racquetball court certainly feels like it has grown larger in the past five years. I still love to play but I have had to adjust my game. Now I am the crafty old guy who is standing in the middle of the court running the younger guys all over the place.
It is important for mature businesses to avoid catastrophic mistakes. Recovering from a huge business loss at 55 years of age is much more challenging than it is when one is 30. It is ugly to grow broke no matter how old you are, but at 55 there is simply not enough time to recover. Here are some rules for and ideas for staying active and focused in your business.
1. Go back a few years and compare business profits and expectations. There is a lot of anxiety out there; don’t let your fears talk you into things being worse than they are. Work at solving the problem but put things in perspective. The good old days may not be as good as you remember and today, not as bad as it seems.
2. Don’t see your business as your hobby or boredom solution. Try skydiving or something. This does not mean you can’t enjoy working and the thrill of the hunt, but good business is about practicing the basics.
3. Be a good leader and make progressive, well-thought-out decisions. As your companies mature you will naturally become friends with some employees but protect the whole package. If you are lonely, adopt a dog.
4. Target personal work projects that are satisfying and results oriented. As businesses mature, we tend to push more paper, take care of problems, etc. Such activities are not as gratifying as selling or the satisfaction of completing a complicated job. If you enjoyed the day to day battle, get back into it.
5. Find some youth in your business. Young folks can be too dumb to know better. Try to have at least one or two young people who are excited and moving along.
6. Help a smaller contractor or newer contractor. Funny how this shows you where you came from and helps you focus on the basics.
7. Don’t let the “bull hockey” get to you. As we age, our “bull hockey” meter has a shorter fuse. We all have employee, customer, regulatory, weather or whatever issues. Try to minimize and accept these issues as part of business.
9. Avoid old farts. We tend to hang around with people our own age and, frankly, as folks get older they tend to bitch and moan. You are who you associate with. Bitching with cronies rarely solves the problem and can really cause you to get bad advice. To hear things at some industry meetings, it is a wonder we have not all committed suicide.
10. Work on a balanced life. When working, make it meaningful, not just putting in time. Don’t pretend to do important things and waste time. When working, work hard and when away from work playing, play hard.
If business was easy, everyone would do it. Focus on the fun parts of your business while having the discipline and efficiency to quickly do the things you don’t enjoy. Life is not practice. Choose to enjoy what you do and be good at it.