Think HBR

How to get clarity on your planning priorities

Aaron Day
Knowing where to focus can be one of the biggest challenges in running your own business. There’s so much that needs your attention and so many messages and mixed advice coming from all directions for business owners and managers.
However, there’s a simple way to cut through some of the clutter and get clear about where your time and energy would best be spent. By understanding where your business is in its lifecycle you can simplify your priorities and focus on the areas that matter.
A good starting point is to understand that all businesses tend to follow a basic three phase cycle:
· Start-up
· Established and Growing
· Mature
In the Start-up phase everything is new, and it can be overwhelming, so the trick is to keep it simple. When you get to the core of it, the things that matter most when you’re starting out are usually about how to generate new business opportunities, how to convert those opportunities into paying customers, getting your basic money management processes in place, and finally getting your basic operating process under control so you can keep your customers happy.
Good places to look for outside help in this first stage are marketing consultants, website and graphic designers, bookkeepers and a business coach.
In the Established and Growing phase, things start becoming complicated as you add people to your team. In this phase many of the things you’ve been doing yourself, need to be delegated.
This is one of the trickiest phases in business; and it’s the reason many small businesses stay small.
The only way to delegate key operational tasks effectively is to build management systems into your business. In this second phase, your company structure, role descriptions, performance management, operational processes and training all become critical. These basic systems and the way they’re built are the fundamental keys to continuing your business’ growth. This is where your energy should be focused.
In this phase good resources for outside help include specialised small business consultants with expertise in building management structures and systems, and a ‘hands-on’ accountant.
In the final phase the business has solid operating systems and should be comfortably profitable. Now it’s time to move to a purely strategic role, stepping back from daily operations and focusing on the improvement of key areas such as revenue, profitability, quality, team performance and management systems. This can be a difficult transition for many business owners because their sense of meaning and identity is often closely tied into the daily habits that helped them get the business started in the early days.
In this phase, you might look for external assistance from quality and management systems consultants, business brokers, wealth management advisors, and more regular formal consultations with your company accountant.
The key thing to realise is that if you don’t shift the way you think about your role in the business through each one the three phases, the business will not progress to the next phase. Most importantly don’t try to do it all on your own, there’s just too much to do and one of the most important lessons in business is learning when and how to let go so you can move forward.
Getting good quality outside help should provide you with many times the return on your investment.
For further information contact Aaron Day on 0400 809 888, email or visit
Aaron Day Aaron Day
is the Managing Director of The3rdgear Business Consultants and specialises in small business performance improvement. He is also the author of Management Trinity – How to Manage Any Business Without Having an MBA, the inventor of The3rdgears’ patented small business management software system. He has a degree in Change Management from the AGSM,and has been working with businesses in the Hunter Region for more than 18 years.