Our careers lead us many places, with many cross roads, go left and risk total loss or go right and sleep at night?. Sleep at night is ALWAYS best.
My father had always said to me “Always respect the guy who meets the pays”. As a result a goal I have had was to be ‘self’ employed. After many years, I felt I was ready. This was about this time 6 years ago. The journey to that day, was a broad one with many twists and turns. I had found after this time, I had stayed a few places for 4 years or more, but jumped from role to role looking for the right mix of stability and creativity. On reflection, it was there in every role, I just failed to see it for what it was, more on that later.
So it was 2009, I had worked about a decade in financial services for other people and a fresh start looked like the best path forward to keep progressing towards my goal. I felt I was ready to use my experiences to build a better advice experience than what I had ever been able to deliver under others’ models. With hope in my heart, I needed to figure out how I was to do that. I figured I needed to know how much money I could have to buy a business, so like many would be business owners’, I went hat in hand to the bank and got approval for a big loan. After that I went out shopping for a business to buy. Blindly thinking my solution long term was there in waiting. I felt that I could take an existing business and improve on it to a point where I was happy with it, without losing clients. All the while living on a business residual income and I could sleep better than ever knowing it was mine. What a dream…..
What I found when I reviewed the state of the markets for financial services businesses shocked me. A lot of businesses had failed to make it to a level of success to be called anything other than ‘a job’. Actually the businesses that I could afford, were only the proprietor and a small staff of one or two (that said usually the persons spouse was the second party). The reasons for this varied, but the stories had a common truth. The owners’ had lost interest, found something better to do, needed a life change as the work was absorbing all of their time or they had suffered big losses. I had discovered that thriving businesses simply were NOT FOR SALE. Why? Was it easier to keep them? Was the transition away from successful business done by selling to staff? Or was it that most businesses just don’t make it?
The stats on business ownership are pretty sobering. The rough numbers are that 80 percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months. Then of those, only around 15% survive more than 10 years. This means that failure was almost inevitable.
As disappointing this was to find out I persisted, knowing that if I found the right model, it would surely survive. After bidding on three businesses, all of which had a lot of problems, I settled on buying into a partnership with an accounting firm. This was to be my chance, start a financial planning business from scratch and use my accounting knowledge to generate income while I got going. So I went down that path, found the right business to make an offer to, they verbally agreed and while the contracts were being drawn up I found myself in ‘worry mode’. What if I fail….
My wonderful wife had sat by as the year of uncertainty (what I called ‘research’) dragged on. Eventually she pushed me to see a management consultant about what I was planning to do. This consultant reviewed my plans for the accounting business partnership and agreed I was on the right path. I walked into the hallway with confidence to get on with my new purchase, very reassured and there in the hall was Bill Zheng. Bill had been being consulted by the same consultants I had over the past few weeks, he was working out how Investors Direct could add a financial planning arm to their mortgage business. Neither of us believed in coincidence and after 3 weeks of negotiations, Bill and I shook hands on becoming business partners. Looking back it was a moment where the choices were very broad for each of us, for Bill, he could have chosen anyone who could do financial planning, for me I already had a plan and total autonomy in what I was about to do which I would have had to give up. The thing we knew was through education we could help people make smarter decisions. We also agreed that once people are educated they choose the right people to be partners with rather than blindly take advice.
In the past 6 years I have seen the industry shift towards more compliance, have endured staff arriving, learning and some leaving to get out on their own, some for lessor responsibility but both parties always better for the experience. We’ve started several additional businesses and I really have grown to accept change as part of the program. It was Heraclitus who was quoted as saying “The only thing that is constant is change”.
Anyway, there to now I have wanted to change things often, to improve to serve that client we are not serving yet. To help everyone do better, not just the ‘target client’. The things that made the business a success are the reasons to NOT CHANGE.
I thought this month to share the lessons I got from my short time as a business owner, lessons from those I met who were selling their business and from the hundreds of successful businesses I have had the privilege of serving in an advice capacity over the past 15 years. I have seen a lot of water go under the bridge for people, lessons that I could not have had without trust. I also have made many a mistake and continue to do so, all the while trying to improve our business. Many lessons I have learned from mistakes.
Here are some tips learned through the years to spur some thoughts over the holiday season, they’d work for the employer and employee alike:
- Do what you do because you love it, the money will look after itself.
- Stay interested, particularly if you are in management a fish rots from the head.
- Know what you are good at and do not jump into new business ventures that are not within that framework, unless you have done some careful planning.
- Ensure staff knows how to communicate your business core values.
- Ensure you and your staff knows who your target client is.
- Feedback is a gift, don’t abuse it. Seek it.
- Have the roles clearly defined so that current people and future people, know what it is that gets done and how to do it.
- Measure what gets done that is critical to success.
- Maintain a performance culture – reward good performers and ensure you call out low performers.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’.
- Do what you say you will do – if possible.
Putting these things into your career can only improve it, be it in business or in a job. Until next year, HAPPY HOLIDAYS.