As a kid, I never imagined I would be a business owner. Even though I worked from the time I was 10 or 11, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, delivering papers, I never thought I would grow up to be an adult who did pretty much the same thing I was doing as a kid: physical labor in every kind of weather, collecting a fee for services rendered, and then keeping whatever was left after expenses got paid. Back then, I didn’t know that my older brothers sometimes stole money from my blue canvas paperboy collection bag, which I naively left sitting in plain sight on a shelf in the dining room. Some weeks sibling losses were so steep that I couldn’t even pay my bill to the Manchester Herald, let alone pay myself. My mom always made up the difference without complaint. In fact, she didn’t even seem to wonder why I had such a hard time turning a profit. Maybe she just figured I didn’t have a mind for business.
My lax security with my paper route money was one of my first business mistakes, but it certainly wasn’t my last. Probably the single biggest mistake Bill and I have made (and still make) is working so hard in the business that we don’t have much time to work on the business. Working in the business is the day-in, day-out work we do to keep the business running: answering the phone, booking moving jobs, paying the bills, doing interstate moves, making sure payroll is done on time. But working on the business is the most important work a business owner does, and it’s mostly stuff that doesn’t come easy to us, like financial management and marketing. After all, I was a creative writing grad student and Bill was a history major.
But the management piece is really important work. It’s the work of setting goals, measuring progress, creating and improving processes for everything the business does, from sales to service to employee training. If working in the business is the ground-floor view, then working on the business is the view from 10,000 feet. It’s a five-year goal and a roadmap for getting there. It’s building policies and procedures, and forever tweaking them until great reviews are common and mistakes happen less and less frequently. It’s making business changes and tracking the success or failure of those changes in the financial data. And, maybe most importantly, it’s a good answer to the question of why you want to get where you’re going in the first place. An answer besides making more money. Because in the end money isn’t really an end in itself, but a means to an end.
Right now, we don’t have a clear five-year goal or a roadmap for getting there — we’ve been spending too much time looking at trees and not nearly enough time surveying the forest. But we’ve both decided that won’t be true much longer, and we’ve already made some important changes that I’ll talk about in the next few posts. I’d like to track the progress of this transition Bill and I are making, from working in the business to working on the business (while still working in it of course). There’s a lot to running a business, and as a two-man management team we can’t do everything well. I think we’ve done a good job providing quality service to our customers, arguably the most important thing for a local service business. But then there are things we haven’t done well, or even done at all, like marketing. I’m interested in exploring both our strengths and weaknesses as we work on the business together. I’ve heard management defined as the process of bringing intelligence to bear on work. We’ll see how much intelligence and wisdom we can muster, and how much it changes the work we do.