Love and Profit in a Fishbowl
Tom Stimson
May 4, 2016

I am going to make an important assumption about you and your business. At one time you were very much in love. You started with a great idea and received lots of encouragement from those around you. You dated the idea, maybe tried living together, and finally – without being certain of what all could happen, you took the plunge into a permanent relationship confident that you wanted to find out what would happen next, together. The banker closed the loan book and announced, “’Til death or sale do you part. You may make your first payment.”

Then life happens.

Having a job is like dating another person. You may be committed and monogamous, but you have to pay attention or you could get dumped. Owning a business is marriage. Once you have committed to your company, you have to keep pouring your heart and soul into it in good times and bad – or else, the love that sparked the journey will fade. However, the biggest difference is that in either case, your relationship plays out in a fishbowl in a room full of watchers.

As I write today, I am sitting in a hotel room on a visit to a client that was once ready to divorce his company. We originally spoke over the phone and it was clear that he was frustrated and out of ideas. After listening to his story, I shared with him my observations of how his aggravation was making the problem worse.

Owners that do not love their businesses any longer need to make positive change in three key areas:

Make Strong Decisions

Strong choices require confidence, joy, and optimism. Owners with broken relationships make poorer hiring decisions than when their passion was still strong. They are more likely to sell on price or compromise quality. They are less likely to stick to their strategy.

When you and your business don’t get along, you begin to choose the path of least resistance in order to get even minor things done. Then, when something really matters to you, you become a dictator, unpredictable and rash. Soon, employees wait for you to make every decision rather than risk your wrath or rejection.

Embrace Risk

Risk defines business. Can you think of a business without any? Of course, there are good and bad risks – that’s what makes owning a company fun and rewarding. The game is to have more successful choices than failures. When owners start to avoid risk, they are denying the essence of their company.

When you and your company fall out, it is stressful to think about the future. You are either inwardly or outwardly uncertain that there will be a tomorrow. The bad decisions made by you and your employees cost money, and soon all decisions are judged on their cost with an underlying assumption that the task will fail. Minimizing the financial loss becomes a priority over creating wonderful outcomes.

Share Credit

Successful businesses tend to praise openly and include employees, clients, and suppliers in their celebration. Sure, it’s easy to be happy when everything is going well, because when you are in love – you can quickly move past the bad times and look forward to the good ones to come.

If your relationship with the business becomes shaky, you might feel that you are the only one that cares. Everyone else has shut down. You blame the team and lament not having the money to hire better folks. The competition is unfair. Government, taxes, and healthcare are targeting you for failure. The playing field isn’t level. You know that you are not to blame, because you never stopped caring. You’ve tried, so it must be everyone else that’s at fault.

The Result

Back to my client, once he began to see the connection between his behaviors and the results, he perked up a bit. We brainstormed a couple of ideas, but he knew it that he had tried on his own long enough. I was hired over the phone, never having met in person before. That was a year and a half ago, and today I am proud to say that the marriage between my client and his company stronger than ever. He lets me know when he’s not having fun and we talk about what to let go and what to change. He is more aware of his strengths and weaknesses and asks his partner for help when needed. There is now a strong management team in place to shoulder the responsibilities that the owner doesn’t like to share. More importantly the team lets him do what he is good at. The result? Growth, profit, and satisfaction.

What was once headed for a fast sale is now a marriage that will last for years to come. You should settle for nothing less.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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