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Sustaining and growing your business – Part I

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As I said last week, a safe way to enter business is through apprenticeship, where you learn by doing.

Before starting a business in an existing industry, it is safer to find a way to work in the type of business you wish to start for some time, and while there, discover the gaps in processes and services that you can fill when you start your own business.

Apprenticeship is however not always possible, especially when you are starting a new business that has not existed. 

In the case of a totally new industry, starting small while thinking big becomes a safe way to proceed.

As demand grows for your product and you understand the market better, you are now in a position to scale successfully.

Staffing and customer service are two very important aspects in every business.

It is important to recruit right and treat your staff right if you want your business to grow. Unfortunately, people focus on the adage, ‘Customer is King’ and interpret this to mean that the only people they need to treat well are external customers.

They forget that it is staff who attend to these customers and unhappy or demotivated staff, cannot make customers happy.

Rather, they demotivate or displease existing customers and stop them and others from coming.

An entrepreneur, should therefore see staff as internal customers, who should be cared for, so that they in return care for the business and care for the customers.

A start-up should recruit carefully and gradually. Recruiting right requires understanding what the business needs and looking out for those skills when recruiting.

There is also the danger of recruiting too many people when a large order comes in. if your business is seasonal, you can recruit on contract during peak periods, so that when demand is low, you are not carrying unnecessary overheads.

As demand becomes more stable and predictable, you can then carefully recruit the staff strength required for the job.

As the number of workers in a business increases, the entrepreneur cannot afford to overlook the importance of nurturing and training staff.

Entrepreneurs should consciously seek to inspire a sense of ownership in their staff in the following ways.

Share the vision: Let your staff understand what the business seeks to achieve and what you want the business to become in future.

Let them know what’s in it for them as the business grows and as it hits the intermediate targets set in the journey to achieve your goal.

Keep in mind that for any vision to become a reality, it should be solution-driven and focused on giving the customer a better deal than competition, in terms of value.

Involvement: Involve your staff in decision -making, even when you are sure about what you want to do. Ask them questions and give less orders.

This will make the entrepreneur “ideas rich”, as your staff will feel encouraged to share their ideas with you, rather than just take orders.

We must be convinced that “none of us is as good as all of us”.

No matter how uneducated someone is there will always be something he knows that others don’t know, and is good for the business.

The entrepreneur should therefore not be the only one bringing ideas into the business.

Further, we are now in the digital world, where millennials are taking the lead.

If an entrepreneur is not tapping into the mindset of millennials, it won’t be long, before they find themselves left behind irrelevant to the new world.

Millennials provide ideas to plug your business into the new digital world order.

For your business to grow in today’s world, it must have a digital if they component.

The digital world opens businesses up to wider markets almost immediately and millennials, who are digital-natives can help an older entrepreneur migrate faster into the digital space if they are given the opportunity.

Age is therefore no longer a barrier for giving responsibilities as it is the younger generation who understand the digital world even better than the older digital migrants.

A wise entrepreneur today, should therefore have some millennials on their management team.

Welfare: Treat your staff like human beings. Treat them with empathy, which means understanding and compassion.

If you have worked before, reflect on what you did not like about the way you were treated, and avoid doing the same to your staff.

If you care for your staff, they will care for your business.

On the other hand, be quick to fire bad eggs among your staff.

If possible, try to correct and develop them, and if they fail to respond, be decisive about firing them. Business is not a marriage, where you take vows for life.

Entrepreneurs must achieve a balance between empathy and discipline.

It is wrong to equate discipline to callousness, which can be manifested in ways such as paying very poor salaries (non-living wages), inhuman working conditions (e.g. 24-hour shifts), using demeaning and destructive language when instructing staff etc.

Any business where these negative behaviours prevail, cannot be sustainable for the long term. Research has shown that companies that treat staff well, outperform those that don’t.

On the other hand, it is wrong to condone bad behavior on the part of staff, without correcting it or where required, dismissing the staff. It is not an act of kindness, when a leader fails to act decisively.

Rather, it is a weakness that unfortunately encourages bad behavior in the organization and can eventually kill the business.

Leading people in an organization is similar to parenting. Good parenting requires a balance of love, empathy and discipline.

Dr Henrietta Onwuegbuzie is a globally certified Management Consultant and a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Lagos Business School: Twitter: @honwuegbuzie; email: honwuegbuzie@lbs.edu.ng


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