Running a business can be tough.
One minute you’re riding high, and the next you can find yourself with challenges that you had neither anticipated, nor dealt with before.
Sometimes you get humbled.
You bounce back.
And you grow again.
As we all know, overnight success usually takes about 15 years.
The best way to get ahead is to think like the best businesses think.
Drawing on 15 years of consultation to a wide range of financial planning businesses, including some of the very best, here are three mindset-related ideas that I see the best businesses using.
1) It’s all business
Like it or not, when you own a business, all your decisions need to be around running a better business. That can be tough. How do you square that with being a decent human being?
It’s doable, but it’s not easy. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions that affect the people who work for you.
You hire people and sometimes you have to fire them too. That’s pretty awful, and in my experience, it never gets any easier.
You have financial responsibilities and financial pressures. That might be debt that you carry, or it might be by acting like your own business bank through taking less income than you'd earn in a normal job, just to keep the business afloat.
The best businesses take a business-like approach to things.
They have a business plan, a board or leadership group, and they take long-term decisions, knowing these usually lead to a sound and sustainable business. This in turn benefits the people who work there.
Also, when I say it’s all business, I should probably say it’s all good business.
The best financial planning businesses know they have to be wholly authentic. That means treating staff and clients at least as well as they would treat themselves.
It also means they invest in their businesses. Good staff, nice premises and the latest technology all cost money. However, assembled wisely they also lead to superior long- term business performance.
As an owner and leader of your business, you can’t delegate these responsibilities. The buck stops with you.
It takes courage to do what’s right in the face of short-term temptations or financial pressure to make a more expedient decision.
The following unattributed quote sums up how I’ve felt sometimes running my business:
“The horrifying moment when you’re looking for an adult, but then you realise that you’re an adult. So you look for an older adult, someone successfully adulting. An adultier adult.”
2) It’s not personal
An industry friend shared this idea with me years ago in a casual conversation. He was working with an executive coach who was teaching him the concept that it’s never personal. It was tough to get my head around.
However, I believe my friend is right. It’s not personal at all.
When a prospective client decides not to use you and to go with a competitor, it’s not personal.
When a staff member leaves or does the wrong thing by you and your business, it’s not personal.
When a supplier you rely on doesn’t deliver as promised, or when someone trolls you on social media - none of it is personal.
Who knows what makes people behave in ways that seem strange to us? Who’s to say that our world view isn’t strange to other people?
We haven’t had the experiences that have shaped their views and they haven’t had ours. Maybe if we’d had each other’s experiences we’d both think differently.
Legally, a business is a separate entity from the people that own it. If you can view it as an asset you own, separate from you, you can make better decisions about its future.
Maybe by viewing yourself as the custodian of the asset, keeping it in good shape ready to hand over to the next custodian, you gain some perspective and some distance between the business and yourself.
Or maybe you pretend you’re a venture capitalist who has bought this asset from someone else and is now focused on how to make it work better.
Creating some distance doesn’t mean abandoning your deeply-held core values; quite the opposite. By not taking things personally you can make decisions that are completely aligned with your values in all situations.
3) Consistent and persistent
If you do the right things for long enough, some degree of success is guaranteed.
By focusing on the inputs and letting the results take care of themselves, you control the things you can and let go of everything else.
Sometimes ending up the biggest or best company in a particular sector involves luck as well as skill. You can’t control that.
All you can do is prepare the ground for success. If amazing fame and fortune comes your way, hopefully, you’re well prepared for it. And if it doesn’t, hopefully, you’re well prepared for that too.
The most successful people I know are focused on ‘doing’ something great. Something that makes a difference to others.
Sure, there’s enough self-interest involved to keep them at it year after year, setback after setback. But personal success is only part of the story.
They have found a personal mission that allows them to stick at it for the long-term.
Their sense of purpose isn’t tied to making lots of money or becoming famous. Some of these people have already achieved both of these things, and it’s still not the motivator.
They carry on ‘doing’ something great and continuing to grow as human beings. That’s the real win; self actualisation.
Learning how to think like the best businesses is challenging because sometimes it requires you to fight hard against short-term temptations for an easier life.
That is really hard to do in the 'gotta have it all now' society we live in.
Back in the day, to become famous you had to be good at something. Today, no one bothers with that, they just get themselves on a reality TV show.
The idea of working hard for years or decades to achieve something deeply fulfilling sounds like lunacy to many.
However, that’s the way it usually goes in real life.
Most successful financial planners I know have been at it for years.
They’re in it for the long run and know that to truly succeed they need to be making good business decisions for the long term, not to take any of this personally, and to apply what they know consistently day after day.
Learn to think like the best financial planning businesses.
Let me know how you go.
P.S. Just for the record, it took Amazon 14 years to start turning a significant profit.