Friday, 16 January 2009

Want to grow your business? Grow yourself!

The idea that we should be growing our business year after year has become rather narrow – these days it seems only to mean that we should see an increase in revenue – usually by a minimum of 10%. However one of things that this latest recession has highlighted very strongly to me is that businesses need to grow in different ways. For example, a lot of the high street giants that have recently folded have been stuck in the same rut for years and haven’t taken the time to keep their brands fresh.

Having said that, most small business could learn a thing or two from the big boys and one of those is investing in training for employees, and by employees I mean YOU!

The first step towards this is to figure out how much you can afford to spend on your development, training budgets vary but I recommend setting aside a minimum of 5% of your revenue to put towards future training costs. So if your revenue is £50,000 per annum then £2,500 of that should go towards training.

TIP – always check to see how much of this can be covered by your business expenses and therefore be tax deductable.

Then, before you even start thinking about taking courses or anything else take some time to define your business goals for the next 5 years, bearing in mind what type of lifestyle you want to be living throughout this time. It’s important that you write these goals down and read them as often as possible. If this is difficult brainstorm it with a friend or with a coach.

Once you have done this start looking at the type of training you think will be best for you. In order to do this effectively, first break your business into different areas such as admin, product development, sales and marketing, budgeting and so on, then answer these questions:

1. What are you already good at?

It’s always tempting to improve areas we are already good at and although there is no harm in this make a deal with yourself that for every ‘pleasurable’ learning you undertake, you will also undertake a ‘challenging’ training.

2. What are your weaknesses?

Do you have a brilliant product but no customers? You need to learn about sales and marketing!

3 Which of these weaknesses will be the best to strengthen now?

When I first went into management and knew I would be spending a great deal more time on the computer so I went out and bought myself a teach yourself to type CD rom in order to improve my speed and save myself time, I’m not the worlds fastest typist but now my fingers do a fairly good job of keeping up with my brain! However when I set up my own business I employed a graphic designer to do my logo as I knew I could not get proficient enough quickly enough to make training in this area cost effective, ultimately you want to be spending as much time as possible doing what you are passionate about.

Then start thinking about the best way to get your training requirements met, check local business associations, the chamber of commerce and tax office in your area, a lot of them will have free or subsidised training you can take. Also look online at sites like learn direct or, if you wish, The Open University (many other universities also offer online degrees too).

There are other ways to learn new skills, one of the common problems business owners face is having to talk in public about their business, an excellent way to overcome this is to join your local division of Toastmasters, a club that teaches you how to speak in public and gives you plenty of opportunities to practice in a supportive environment as well as feedback on how to improve.

Another fantastic way to develop yourself is to pick up a book … if you think about how many hours you spend reading or watching TV for pleasure it’s easy to see how much more could be accomplished. We do need our downtime too though so what I recommend is looking at using a quarter of those hours in more positive ways. Develop a reading list that will help you grow, include on in books specifically about your specialisation, books from business experts, books about developing the habits of successful people and biographies of people you admire.

Once your list is in place – join the library and request the books … that way it won’t cost you a fortune and any books you know you want to keep you can always buy later. Or increase the amount of positive literature by buying audio books that you can listen to in the car or while taking your dog for a walk.

Another key area to growing ourselves is to maintain good health, exercise increases the supply of oxygen to the brain making you cleverer, and endurance exercise such as long distance running slows your brainwaves slightly making you more creative! Particular foods can help increase your IQ for a few hours! And not forgetting relaxation … investing in a week off work will dramatically increase our productivity when you are back, so much so that you achieve far more than if you hadn’t had a break.

These are just some of the things you can do to start growing yourself, I also recommend using a professional coach or a friend you trust and respect to help you with this, after all it’s very easy to get so bogged down by the day to day work that you defer all the improvements you could make to some later date when have time. If you know somebody else is going to ask you if you’ve done something that you yourself have defined as important to your business you are far more likely to do it, after all if you don’t make time now … you will have less time in the future..