The Other Man Who Fell to Earth

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina by Martin St-Amant. My home in a parallel universe?

I have been in a contemplative mood recently. I am another year older, and it might be tempting to wonder whether I could have made different choices in my working life which would have resulted in my being in a different place both literally and figuratively.

I am not tempted, though. I wouldn’t be anywhere but where I am now.

It would be so easy to dwell on past mistakes. Easy to wonder whether I had chosen the right career. Should I have started work with an insurance broker or a merchant bank? I wouldn’t have worked in tax then, and I could have made loads of money. On the other hand I might not have done. Actually I didn’t have the right and posh enough background to get a nice job like that in the first place coming from a family of bank clerks. Education was less important than ancestry. It’s no use worrying about that.

Should I have taken a junior role with an institution that might have sent me to Hong Kong or Buenos Aires?

Should I not have taken the job which led to my final exit from employment when they got rid of me after thirteen months? Last in, first out, an expression which used to matter in tax as well as employment, or rather in unemployment. That was a very hard fall to Earth.

Well, in some terms the financial losses as a result of certain decisions, or not being aware of what were the right decisions, have been costly. I am not sorry I have my business independence and of owning three businesses and helping in another.

I might as well say that maybe I should have married that girl I was in love with when I was twenty-one. I think she would have married me. Perhaps I let her down. Well, maybe I should have married her, but that would have meant I wouldn’t have been married to the lovely woman who is my wife now. I like what I have. In fact that’s rather understating it.

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!”

I think that is a good philosophy for having no regrets. That doesn’t mean any of us should be without ambition in our business lives . Of course we should want more in terms of business and to be more successful. We should plan to the best of our ability what we believe can control.

We should always think of the future. Accidents will happen but the more our destiny is in our own hand the safer we are, because employment makes so many hostages to fortune.

Do you have regrets? Is there any point?

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Why we need to take an outside view in business

I am in a reflective mood. I am coming to the end of an engagement helping a client; an engagement which should not be ending. This is not just because obviously an income stream will stop; I have other clients. It is that there is so much more I could do for them which they just cannot see, being such an introspective inward-looking business.

I started with this client when their firm was experiencing extreme pain due to loss of (mainly) staff but also internal disputes. My few months there have alleviated the pain and now they feel much better. However, they do not seem to realise that so far we have just dealt with the symptom and we need to cure the illness so that we do not have another bout of sickness in six or nine months time. Treatment would not be difficult if they allowed me to help. I could cut my time with them by 50 to 75%. It would not be a costly experience for the client and my work would pay for itself many times over.

I have the advantage of being an outsider able to look at the whole business rather than being an inside navel-gazer, not able to look very far, and certainly not able to look even at what competitors are doing. I can see a lot more; I have the perspective of distance and height to see the whole picture, and I wish I could persuade them as to what they need to do. I do not need to do it for them; they need a corporate exercise regime, which is why I would only need to see them occasionally in the role of a “personal trainer”; just a visit to keep them on track.

All this has made me think that I too need an outside perspective on my own business. Maybe I cannot see my wood for the trees. In the next month or so I will be having a check up from a outsider on all my marketing and probably on the whole way I approach my business.

What will you be doing that is different to help your business be better, and do you agree that asking a suitable outsider to look at your business may be what you need?

© Jon Stow 2010

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The excitement of independence

In my previous article I referred to Penny Power and her recent blog, and she and subsequent contributors including her husband and co-founder of Ecademy referred to the different attitudes we need as small business owners to those we are required to have as employees, particularly in a larger corporate environment. I started my first job in a bank, and whilst it was no ordinary bank, it was a large institution. When I finally left it was because I felt I was an under-rewarded number as opposed to a real person with aspirations and needs.

My next job, in which I lasted a good few years, was a smallish firm with one office. Whilst life was not always happy there, with occasionally difficult bosses with alcohol and mental problems, we had some great times too and the firm felt like a large family. Many of the problems are those which one might have in an extended family, but at the same time we had fun as well as doing some good work. Also, in those inflationary times, the partners did their best to pay us properly and to keep up with market rates. That, combined with the fact that the work was challenging, technically difficult and challenging in a geekish sort of way kept me pretty happy work-wise until my boss’s declining mental health (as I realised only later) forced me to move on.

One of the attractions of the next firm I joined was that it was small and I was in charge of a whole department, such as it was. I had had a brief encounter at my previous job with modern technology in the form of computerization of the department of which I was an assistant manager, and my brief in the new firm was to run it more efficiently and preside over the introduction of information technology. As it happened I also thought that it would be good to acquire wider computer skills with both hardware and software so that I was more adaptable in case I lost my job in the recession of the nineties. What actually happened was that I was not only running my department but also IT troubleshooter for the whole firm, from dealing with dodgy cables to “undeleting” what the secretaries had accidentally deleted. Such faux pas were all too easy then and I earned the gratitude of ladies who had inadvertently deleted entire reports which their bosses had spent hours dictating. It was easy stuff, we had a family atmosphere in the firm and I could more or less do what I liked within my domain without interference as long as nothing went wrong, and it didn’t, I am pleased to say.

Came the time when the firm’s useful client base was bought out by an international firm, along with the staff, and I found myself in a huge corporate environment in which one could hardly wipe one’s nose without logging it, where there were rules, a compulsory conference, and “bonding” days spoiled by people being so competitive. What was worse was that as a guy with a small firm background I was never given any decent technical work; the partners were prejudiced against all of us “hicks” whom they felt had been dumped on them and worse, these partners had no idea about commercial realities and economics.

That is why I thank the heavens every day that through whatever circumstance, I am an independent business owner in charge of my own destiny. I make all the decisions (well, I consult my wife often) but the buck stops with me, and that is fine. Also, I can do whatever I like as long as it is legal and ethical in order to make some money.

I have been trying to explain this to a small start-up business client that he needs to get out of a mindset that he only does one thing. Of course he did only one thing when he worked for someone else. Now he needs to be more flexible for his family’s sake.

I explained a while back that my wife and I needed to be open to running any sort of business for which there might be a demand. That is why we have several businesses. I love my independence, and am looking forward to starting the fifth business venture my wife and I have between us, which has come to me through networking. Those two words in that last sentence, independence and networking, illustrate why having one or more of one’s own businesses is so much fun and is so rewarding.

© Jon Stow 2009