Ready to Hire? Create a plan.

There are many ways to manage expected business growth. You can improve or streamline your systems, sub out work to independent contractors, or take on more work yourself. Yet at some point, sustained business growth may mean hiring full-time or part-time employees.

ready to hire

When you decide to hire a new employee, it’s tempting to get someone (anyone!) into the job as soon as possible. We recommend that you FIRST think through what you need, who you want, and what you can afford. Then, create a hiring plan. Proceeding carefully can make the difference between finding a temporary fix or hiring the right person for the job.

Before you hire, think carefully about:

Budget

  • How much will a hiring process cost you?
  • How will hiring a new employee add value to your business?
  • What are you able to offer in terms of salary and other benefits?

Job description

  • What are the specific tasks that need to be handled by this position?
  • What are the basics of the position (full/part-time, on-site/remote, etc.)?
  • What skills and experience are necessary to do this job well?

Be clear about the “must-have” v.s. the “would-be-nice-to-have” qualifications for this new hire.

Outreach

  • Where are potential candidates looking for jobs?
  • Who might know someone great for this job?

Diversifying your outreach will help you find the most qualified candidates. Online job sites may be the best way to promote the job but be sure to do your research. Some sites are industry-specific, some are free and some are pricey. Let colleagues, friends and customers know exactly who you seek. Word-of-mouth can be powerful! Social media, your website and e-newsletters are great ways to spread the word.

Screening candidates

  • How will you communicate with applicants?
  • What are the steps in your screening process?
  • What interview questions will help you identify the best applicants?

Consider asking applicants to answer questions by email first, and then interview select candidates by phone. Only bring the best candidates in for face-to-face interviews. Adding these screening steps may save you time in the long run. Choose your interview questions carefully. You want to explore the candidate’s range of experience and skills, how they will handle challenging situations or conflict on the job, and how they will fit into your business culture.

Evaluating candidates

  • How do you decide which applicant is best for the job?
  • How does your hiring team agree on who to hire?

Often the “right” hire isn’t completely clear. A candidate may have great qualities/skills in one area but deficiencies in another area. (We use evaluation tools with our clients to assess the pros and cons of each candidate.) Be sure to request at least three professional references and then call to confirm that your impressions match others’ experiences. When you finally come to a decision, be sure to act fast. If you love this candidate then chances are other employers do, too! Call or email to offer the job and then follow up with an offer letter.

Once you complete the hire, it’s time to create a plan to on-board this new employee!

Are you thinking about hiring someone? We help small businesses hire new staff. We develop job descriptions and interview questions, and help design the right hiring process. We can help manage the hiring process from outreach to interviews to selection. 

Hiring great professional support

In every stage of small business, whether you are an emerging or an established business owner, it is important to have trusted relationships with professionals who know you and can support and direct your business growth and long-term sustainability.

professional support

Why get professional support?

As a small business owner, you will hire outside experts for many reasons — for technology support, social media development, financial planning, bookkeeping, legal issues, personnel reviews, or to improve your business management. You may also benefit from contracting with a business advisor who can be an expert sounding board on business decision-making, holding you accountable and helping you to meet your goals.

What to consider first

First, you need to be clear about why you want help and what you want from any professional. What is your challenge or opportunity?

Next, identify the qualities that would make a professional a good match for you and your business. You want to find someone who:

  • Has skills and experience that exceed your needs
  • Is ethical, transparent and trustworthy
  • Has an approach that fits with your style
  • Is available when you need them

How to find “the right one”

It can be hard to know if someone will be a good match just from looking at a website. We recommend asking for referrals from people you know and trust, and who are also in small business. After getting referrals, though, you must still do your own due diligence! You are not just hiring someone for an hour of their time (even if for now that is all you need). You want to find someone who can be a great support person for your business for months and years to come.

Due diligence

Whether you find a professional from a Google search or a trusted colleague, you need to do your homework. When interviewing potential people to work with, it is important to:

  • Honestly represent who you are and what you are looking for
  • Ask lots of questions to verify this person has the expertise you need
  • Read their testimonials and/or reviews
  • Understand the terms of the relationship and any contract, including fees.
  • Pay careful attention to the questions he/she asks you. (They should be assessing if you are the right fit for them, too!)

(Once you are working with someone, be sure to continue to re-assess your needs and the professional relationship so that you get the outcomes desired as your business grows and your needs change.)

Finalizing the match

Take your time to make a good decision. You need to feel confident that this professional understands you and your needs, will be available when you need them, and will help you implement effective solutions. This person will be an essential business asset – giving you advice that you can use, and helping you to develop systems for your business. With the right support, you will be able to focus your energy on your clients, customers, employees and business goals… and see long-term positive results for your business!

Managing my business in partnership

The first business I owned in San Francisco was a gourmet cheese shop, called Cheshire Cheese, located in the Fillmore District. In a previous blog post I shared how my business partner, Michael, and I decided to go into business together and start Cheshire Cheese. Here’s the story of how we managed and expanded our business partnership.

Seize the opportunities

Six months after we opened Cheshire Cheese, the retail space next door became available for lease and the primary lessee offered us the master lease. (He also gave us his Pacific Heights mailing list and all his demographic studies on the neighborhood!)  We discovered that our sublease was already 75% of the master lease so we jumped at the chance to take over the entire lease.  We successfully negotiated a new 10-year lease with the building owner.  Now we could double our size with the security of a long-term lease.

With limited capital to cover the expansion, Michael and I created a new partnership.  We found two women who could bring new strengths and additional capital to the business.  Tara was a graphic designer and display expert and Lynn was experienced with HR and motivating employees.

With the new next-door location, we added a small café and expanded our identity.  Cheshire Cheese became Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea.  With the infusion of additional capital, we could now afford to hire more part-time employees.

partnership

Communicate openly

We were now four owners who each brought different skills-sets and personalities to the business.  We had our differences but we were in agreement where it mattered most: our vision for the business, the impact we wanted to have in the community and, most importantly, how we would manage the business together.

We decided on a consensus-driven approach to management.  (An early philosophical decision was to continue only offering vegetarian items and to not expand into wine sales.)  We created a written agreement that reflected our values and our equal ownership.

We held “official” business meetings every Wednesday after the store closed.  We used this time to plan work schedules, discuss personnel, review financial statements, prepare for holiday celebrations, and eat all the free samples that new vendors would drop off for us to taste.  Transparency and honesty was essential for us, so we made sure we talked about money — how we were doing both by the day, the month and based on our annual budget.

Build on lessons learned

Every day was a team learning experience.  We learned about the subtleties of food products, how to serve customers well, how to make strong relationships with vendors, and how to follow health department codes.  Through a lot of trial and error, we were also getting better at running the business profitably, managing it jointly, and working through management and personnel challenges along the way.  The best lessons learned were from hands-on experience.

Plan our exit

After running the business together for five years, two of the partners wanted to move on – one to another business and the other to go back to school.  We all decided we would sell the business.  To get ready to sell, we had to learn how to value our business as an asset, organize our internal systems, leverage our long-term lease, and negotiate with potential buyers.  After several months of planning and negotiation, we successfully sold the business to new owners!  (Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea continued to operate for 15 more years.)

Business partnership means attending to both the business and the relationship

Like a business with one owner, a  business with multiple owners must be based on a viable business concept and a solid plan for marketing, money and management.  Unlike a business with just one owner, co-owners must be constantly attuned to the needs of both the business and the owner relationship(s).

Starting off, Michael, Tara, Lynn and I were aware of the qualities that each of us brought to the business – our personalities, passions, purpose, work styles and areas of expertise.  Once we were in business together, we had to pay attention to the dynamics between us — how well our individual strengths or weaknesses meshed, and how well we communicated and made decisions together.  Our written partnership agreement was key — both as a guide for managing the business and as a road map for how we would approach our business exit.

Owning a business with others took a lot of work!  But it was also incredibly rewarding.  With business partners, we didn’t have to tackle business challenges alone and we all got to share in the business’ success.


Are you starting a business in partnership or already managing a business in partnership? At Paul Terry & Associates we help both new and established business partners understand key business issues and how to work best together.  We help co-owners define roles, address key financial issues and minimize areas of conflict.  We also help business owners write partnership agreements and create business action plans so that they can move forward with clarity.

Partnership advice from small business owners

There are many factors that must be considered when operating a business with others.  We asked some of our clients to share their partnership advice for small business entrepreneurs who are considering business co-ownership.  Here’s what they had to say!

Jane Lin of Urban Field Studio

Partnership adviceJane and her business partners provide a full range of urban design services, including strategy, design, conceptual architecture, and urban design education and communications.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Two or three is better than one!  It is good to share responsibility.  You can do more as a team.  And, it makes life outside of the business more flexible, since we can cover each other when we go on vacation.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I really like collaborating with my partners.  I learn a lot from them.  They are not just business partners but mentors.  I feel that I contribute to something bigger than just myself when I work as a team.  We all contribute energy, knowledge, encouragement, skill, support, and friendship to each other.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

Distributing responsibilities is a challenge that requires daily tending.  But, that’s what running a business is all about!

How do you deal with this challenge?

TALK.  Say exactly what you feel and state what you want.  For tougher moments it’s good to have a third partner who can hear you both out.  And, when you don’t get your way, have a good attitude about getting what you desire next time and understanding that it’s for the long haul.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Think of your potential business partner like a travel partner.  Use a similar filter as the one you apply when you are choosing a travel buddy.  This is a long journey.  You are going to get lost.  Can you handle being stuck somewhere with this person?  Will they help you figure out what you’re going to do next?  Will you choose the same path forward?

Write a partnership agreement.  The biggest deal of all is the partnership agreement.  It’s like wedding vows and a pre-nup (but not as romantic).  The value of your business is maintaining a strong relationship between you and your partner every day.  If that is strong, your relationship with your customers will also be strong.

What do you wish you had done differently?

There is not that much I would do differently, but I do need to remind myself to give props to my partners as much as possible.  I want to practice gratefulness in what they do everyday.  And, I want to make sure we are connected as much as reasonable.

Shamita Dhar of Coyote Coast Youth & Family Counseling

partnership adviceShamita and her business partners co-own a counseling business that provides therapeutic support services to teens and families experiencing emotional, behavioral and substance-related difficulties.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Being a part of a team is extremely rewarding.  We each have important strengths, which compliment one another and support a balanced approach when making important business decisions.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I like the security of knowing that if one of us is having an off day, there are two others dotting “I”s and crossing “T”s.  Building a business is filled with opportunities for both successes and failures.  It certainly feels better experiencing either case when one is not alone.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

It is inevitable that tension will build when one or more partners fails to pull their weight or during periods when a partner experiences a crisis of confidence or some ambivalence about the work.

How do you deal with these challenges?

With solid agreements, direct communication and healthy boundaries—without these, we can end up feeling misused and mistreated.  Fairness is essential for a working partnership.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Talk through every possibility and establish a solid partnership agreement, no matter how close you may be.  In fact, the closer you are, it is even more imperative to outline clear and specific agreements about how to work within the partnership and exit the partnership.

Deborah Bowes of Feldenkrais Center for Movement Awareness

partnership advice
Deborah co-owns the longest established Feldenkrais Center in the Bay Area offering individual sessions, classes and related wellness services.

Deborah’s partnership advice for other small business owners:

Make a plan.  It is important to plan for the changes that the future inevitably brings.  Not only to decide what will happen, but design a process for working through change.

Communicate openly.  Good communication skills are essential, as well as being able to have difficult conversations and still be friends, and work through different goals and values.  There will be times when you want to go in a different direction than your partner.  If you want the business to grow and develop, you have to accept the difference and see how you can make it work for everyone.  Then you can be happy to be in business.

Trust is essential.  You have to trust each other; you must trust that your partner will be honest, and fair. You may not be best friends but you both must consider each other’s needs and want the best outcome for both of you.


Are you thinking about going into business with someone else?  Check out these three important steps when considering a business partnership or joint venture.  If you currently co-own a business, what partnership advice have you received that has made a difference?  What words of wisdom would you want to share with others about business co-ownership?

Starting a business partnership

Starting your own small business can be a leap of faith.  Starting a business with others can be an even bigger leap.  How can you be sure that your business partner(s) will be the right fit – with you and the needs of the business?

business partnership

First, you have to ask a lot of questions – both of yourself and the other person.  You need to understand what you each bring to the business, how you will work together, and how you will handle the challenges.

When our clients start a business in partnership or create a joint venture, we suggest a three-step process:

STEP ONE: Self-assessment

Before getting deep into conversations with a potential business partner about the details of the business relationship, each person should ask themselves some initial questions:

  • Why do I want to do this business?
  • What is my work style and my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my goals for the business?
  • What is my level of commitment to the business?
  • What roles do I really want in the business?
  • What are my expectations from a partner?

STEP TWO: Dialogue

After each person has a better idea of what they want and what they could bring to the partnership or joint venture, they need to sit down together to discuss mutual expectations.  By talking it out, it will soon be clear if this could be a good business relationship.

  • Do you share similar values and a similar approach to business ownership?
  • Do you trust each other?
  • How will your individual qualities and skills work together?
  • In what areas do you agree or disagree?

A strong business partnership or joint venture should have:

Good chemistry

You and your business partner must actually like each other!  You will be making many important decisions together.  A foundation of mutual appreciation and respect is essential to get through tough times and make being in business a lot more fun.

Clear communication

You both/all need to be comfortable and willing to talk with each other regularly.  You need to be able to share opinions and feelings honestly and deal with them promptly.  You also need a framework for making important decisions and a process for how to deal with conflict.

Benefits for all

You each must be contributing something unique to the relationship – such as specific skills, an area of expertise, or a management style that will complement the other partner(s).  Each person should bring something critical to the business, such as financial resources, marketing expertise or important connections.  And both you and your partner(s) should feel you are gaining something from the partnership to make it worthwhile.

small business partnership

STEP THREE: An agreement in writing

After going through the self-assessment and dialogue with a potential partner, you may discover that a partnership is not the best business relationship for you or the business.  Great discovery!  Maybe one person would be better as an employee/contractor for the business instead of a co-owner.  Or, there is someone else out there who would make a better partner.

If the process thus far makes it clear that you still want to proceed as partners, a written agreement (signed by both/all partners) is critical.  It should include specifics related to roles and responsibilities, ownership percentages, compensation, decision-making and conflict resolution.  The agreement should also include a process for reviewing, amending and exiting the agreement.

Take the time necessary to figure out that you and the other person(s) are the right match and you all have what it takes to start the business together. Then put it in writing!  This solid foundation is essential for any business partnership.


At Paul Terry & Associates we help both new and established business partnerships and joint ventures.  We focus on clarifying expectations, defining roles, addressing key issues and resolving areas of conflict.  We help business partners create written agreements and action plans for how to move forward together.

Defining success

No matter how we define success — our business skills must align with our business’ needs at each stage of growth.  The skills needed initially for an emerging business must deepen and expand as the business grows.  We must consistently and continually increase our management capacity to meet our business’ complexity.  And this can be a constant juggling act!

There is a lot we can learn from other small business owners.

I recently shared six key considerations for matching business skills with the complexity of a business. Then I shared advice from Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen.  Now, here is some advice from another successful small business owner…

Rachel Saunders
Blue Chair Fruit

success

Rachel Saunders would describe herself as a complete neophyte when she started Blue Chair Fruit.  But, “what I lacked in experience, I had in determination.  Also, I had several bosses who were terrible managers and their negative examples helped orient me towards how I did NOT want to be!”

As Rachel’s business grew she realized that she had to pay attention to her business structure.  Instead of thinking about her business just in terms of herself or the people who worked for her at the moment, she started to focus on key roles and how they functioned together to support the business.  “Once I was able to step back and look at the staffing structure of my business, I was able to manage in a way that made more sense.”

Learning how to stream-line the business’ operations in general was also an important learning for Rachel.  “Big corporations can afford to have extra staff or waste, but a small or micro business cannot!  Over time, I was able to streamline things dramatically.  A leaner business is a stronger business, as long as everything is getting done!”

At one point Blue Chair Fruit Company was selling at eight farmers’ markets a week.  This was great exposure but ultimately not the most profitable sales channel.  “I realized that selling more product through a wholesale distributor, despite the lower profit margin, was actually a much cleaner, easier way to do business.  Since we scaled down to our three best farmers’ markets, our bottom line has improved!”

Rachel’s advice for success:

Take a step back and ask yourself if everything you are doing in your business is really necessary.

Determine what is actually working and worth the effort.  Scaling up is not always the answer.  Sometimes your business should be scaled back to increase profitability.  Look at your staffing.  Be clear about when and where you need the help.  How can jobs be structured to maximize efficiency?

Keep track and analyze your data.

Understand what activities lead to better returns.  Don’t commit yourself to a sales channel where you aren’t making any money.  Exposure alone isn’t good enough!


For Rachel and many other small business owners, business growth isn’t just about getting bigger.  It’s about developing the right business model and scale for success.  What does business success mean to you?

Check out Heidi Gibson’s advice for small business owners and my six tips for matching business skills to business complexity.

Business advice from the field

One of the most enjoyable moments during the Renaissance Business Planning Class is when we invite graduates back to the classroom to share their experiences and their business advice. They talk about their successes but also reveal their struggles and mistakes, and what they might have done differently. Their advice has a profound impact on the current students who are about to launch or expand enterprises of their own.

In that tradition, I asked some of my clients and past students to share their thoughts on a common growth challenge for small business owners: balancing business skills with the complexity of the business. I recently shared six key considerations on this topic. I was curious to hear from small business owners in the trenches.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened? How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution? What advice would they want to share with others?

Here is one story…

Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollak
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

advice
When Heidi and her partner Nate opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen they already had general business expertise, people management skills and financial management experience but they were new to the restaurant industry and lacked specific industry skills. Heidi and Nate’s approach was to be honest with themselves about their own abilities and get help. “We took a cold hard look at what we did and did not know how to do, and then we recruited advisers who could teach us, or hired staff who already had the skills we lacked.”

Heidi and Nate took a similar approach when opening their second location. They had never run a multi-unit operation before. They sought consulting from other multi-unit operators, and hired general managers for each store who had come from multi-unit backgrounds. “We tasked the managers in the stores with the responsibility of ensuring consistency across the stores, not just within their own. For us, hiring managers who brought experiences and skills to the table that we did not have ourselves was crucial.” With the added complexity of two locations, Heidi and Nate decided to outsource their bookkeeping, too. “We hired a bookkeeper who had deep experience with multi-unit restaurants, which brought more expertise to our operation and freed up our time to handle other issues.”

Just this month Heidi and Nate opened their third location and published a cookbook, Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between!

Heidi’s advice for other small business owners:

 

Be brutally honest about what you are good at and what you’re not.

For the things you are not good at, find a way to outsource them to someone who is good at them. This goes double for bookkeeping and accounting if you are in a high-volume, low-margin business.

Ask for help.

There are a lot of resources out there for growing business owners, including Renaissance, SBDC, ICA and most importantly, other business owners. People want to see you succeed and you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help.

Don’t skip financial forecasting.

Many small business owners underestimate their financial management needs and make mistakes with finances when starting or expanding a business. The worst-case scenario is running out of cash, and sometimes growing can really chew up cash. You’re in a much stronger position to secure financing before you run out of cash rather than waiting until you’re down to the wire. Take the time to forecast cash flow, accounting for your growth needs, and start investigating funding options early rather than late.

Check out these tips on balancing your business skills with your business’ complexity and stay tuned for more words of wisdom from small business owners!

How to Handle Business Complexity

A common issue for small business owners is the relationship between business skills or management capacity and the complexity of the business.

complexity

If you start a business slowly, you may be able to handle everything yourself.  If you only have one or two products or a limited customer/client base, your systems can be quite simple.  But…

  • Are you financially sustainable?
  • Can you generate enough capital or cash flow to reach break-even?
  • Is the business profitable?

To create a self-sufficient business, you may have to scale up or increase your business’ complexity.  And as you do so, your business skills and management capacity must keep pace.  Getting this balance right is an on-going issue.  To grow the small business, things get complicated… perhaps more than you can manage well.

  • Is it better to wait until you have all the skills to handle the increased complexity?
  • Do you go ahead and grow now and hope that you will develop the skills “on the fly” to be successful and sustainable?
  • Should you hire someone with more expertise to help you?

To manage your business’ increasing complexity, it is essential to focus on these six key areas:

1. Pay attention to the your weak links.

Your lack of skills as a small business owner in any key area of your business (management, operations, finances or marketing) can limit your success. There is a good chance you already know your areas of weakness. Cash flow management? Operational systems? Managing others? Take the time to identify a key weakness and make it a strength. (Think about a simple SWOT analysis.)

2. Improve your own business skills now.

Find the help you need NOW before your current knowledge limits your business. This may mean taking a class, reading a book, following relevant blogs, finding a peer mentor, or working with a business adviser or coach. The key is to put aside some regular time (every day, week or month) for your personal education.

3. Bring in others with the skills you need.

Being a small business owner does not mean that you have to know how to do everything yourself or that you have to do it all alone. Often the smartest approach is to hire someone who can do a particular business task better than you. This could be an outside professional or an employee with skills in the specific area of need, such as a bookkeeper to help you manage cash flow, or an employee good at sales. (It may only be a short-term need until your internal systems improve.)

4. Take a leadership role.

You may have started your business because you love making your product. But to create a successful business you may need to hire someone else who can make the product at a cheaper price. This could be an employee that works directly under your supervision, or an outside manufacturer or co-packer. (See these six tips when planning to hire employees and step into a leadership position.)

5. Put good systems in place.

It is challenging to take on larger projects, additional clients or more employees if you don’t have clear (and documented) systems. It is hard to hire someone else to help you if you need to take a lot of time to show them how to do the work because it is all in your head instead of written down. Without good systems, it is also harder to take a break!

6. Don’t stop planning.

Growing a business can sometimes feel like a set of spiral movements around and around—seemingly sending you one place and then another. Yet your business challenges and your careful responses to those challenges can create a great foundation for growth. A solid business plan can also help you predict and prepare for the complexities ahead. Remember, planning isn’t a one-time thing. It helps you to take the pulse of your business—over and over again. So, take the time to identify your weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and create a plan to take your business to the next level.


At Paul Terry & Associates, we work with many small businesses that are confronting the tension between management capacity and business complexity. Some clients are eager to grow their businesses but feel stuck, unsure how to reach the next level or increase sales given current skills or resources. Some clients are struggling to keep up with the demand for their products/services. Using an action planning approach, we work with small business owners to assess the current situation and create a road map to reach their goals. Our goal is to help clients prepare for the road ahead, manage the increasing complexities, and build businesses that are profitable and sustainable for the long term.

A new beginning

beginning

At the start of a new year, many of us want to make a change. Can we change a bad habit into a good habit? Can we make our diet more healthy? Can we start that exercise program we let slip? Can we start meditating or journal writing regularly?

At the start of a new year, we make resolutions. We will volunteer with a local non-profit. We will be active in a political campaign to get our favorite people elected to office. We will engage with our neighbors and become more a part of our community. We want to change our habits and improve our relationships and have a larger impact on the world around us. There is so much to do!

In business, the beginning of the year is a great time for long-term planning – which essentially means planning for growth or positive change. Our planning process may entail making or modifying a to-do list with key tasks and timelines or creating financial projections. For most of us who run very small businesses, the best thing we can do is sit down (either alone or with a trusted support person) and decide on a specific goal or outcome that we would like to reach by year end. We can then make monthly commitments to get there. We are now just 12 steps away from a completely different place!

That is the crux of how PTA helps clients. We help them create attainable goals, outline the steps that are needed to get there (with realistic deadlines), and hold them accountable to their plan. We help many of our clients navigate management transitions and growth. This may involve adjusting the ownership structure, adding partners/investors or improving management systems. Whatever the transition, it will definitely include creating a realistic plan to reach the goal.

As we move into the year, let’s resolve to make a plan and let’s be sure to hold onto the beginner’s mind. That’s the mind full of possibilities. Setting a goal and a particular path does not mean you have to close yourself off to other directions. Keep your eyes open, connect with others, test your assumptions, learn and be influenced. Here’s to a year of change!

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities…”
– Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki,

Baseball and small business… oh the similarities!

I’ve been a fan of baseball ever since Willie Mays roamed center field for the New York Giants. When I played Little League in Vancouver, Canada my teammates and I all had heroes who played our position in the Majors. I was a center fielder so Willie was my hero. I moved to San Francisco over 30 years ago and re-connected with my love for Giants baseball.

baseball and small business

The recent Giants World Series win (woo hoo!!) has me thinking about the similarities between playing Major League baseball and running a small business…

It takes specific skills and years of practice
A baseball player must spend years in the Minor Leagues honing his craft and developing the skills, strength and confidence to perform well. He also has to get noticed.

Similarly, in the world of small business, successful entrepreneurs are those who have had a lot of practice developing the skills relevant to their product/service. By educating yourself about your industry, doing thorough market research, working for others, and starting with a pop-up or a simple business model that can grow with time, you can set yourself up for “major” success.

Success comes from trying, failing, and trying again
An excellent batter in baseball is only successful 30% of the time. Occasionally a batter might get on base with a walk or because of someone else’s error but he has to face failure with each batting experience. It is very hard to hit a small round ball hurdling through the air from 60 feet away at 90+ miles per hour!

A small business owner won’t be able to make a sale with every customer or client interaction. Being successful means putting yourself out there and reaching out to customers and clients over and over. You may have to contact a potential client 5 to 10 times before they are convinced to “take as swing at your pitch”. Yet with every business “failure” you will gain experience and confidence.

It is a team effort of stakeholders
The pitcher needs to throw fast and get the ball over the plate, the catcher needs to catch the ball, and each infielder and outfielder needs to be ready for every pop-up, fly or ground ball. Everyone has to work in coordination to keep a runner from scoring. That coordination and synergy is central to success—both for the offensive team and those on defense.

As a small business owner, your most important asset is your team. First it starts with you as the leader. Then there are the people you hired and trained who work hard alongside you to make the business a success. Most business owners can’t do it all themselves. Even if your business is too small for employees, there are professional support people, vendors, investors, clients and customers that all have a role to play. They are all stakeholders in the business.

It requires fans
Nothing feels worse than going to a baseball game with lackluster support in the stands. The fans are the 10th “player” on the field. Their enthusiasm and encouragement (and sometimes discouragement) can make a huge difference in the course of the game.

Businesses don’t just need customers and clients, they need enthusiastic and loyal customers and clients. They need fans who will “cheer loud” and spread the word—write positive testimonials, refer the business’ products or services to friends and family, and get others excited, too. Consistent contact and positive messaging to your fan-base is needed in both baseball and in small business.

You need a great coach or advisor
Bruce Bochy is an amazing manager—coaching the Giants to three World Series in five years! As a coach, he decides who plays each position, the batting order and when the pitcher will change. His attention to detail throughout the game can affect the outcome. Players on the team also take on the role of “coach”—helping to keep their team members motivated and working together. Hunter Pence or Buster Posey play this role with their constant encouragement to their teammates.

In business, the owner is often the “coach”—training new employees, guiding staff and creating at atmosphere of trust so employees feel welcomed, supported and motivated to take risks to grow the business. But small business owners need their own coach, too. This could be a trusted business advisor or mentor or it might be peers who are grappling with similar business challenges and opportunities. (PTA plays this role for many of our clients.)

You must take a position and play to your strengths
Some baseball players have an outstanding pitching arm, others seem to always connect the bat with the ball, while others are super fast on their feet. Players must play positions best-suited to their skill-sets.

Small business owners must play to their strengths, too. First, it’s important to understand what skills are needed to run your business well. Then, to be honest with yourself about what you do well and what you don’t (and what you would rather not do). Others should be hired to fill any gaps.

There are the stars
The Giants had some real stars this season, like Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence. They performed well under pressure and made the magic happen.

Small business owners and managers need to be stars, too, by “performing” well in every customer and client interaction. You must know your products or services inside and out and consistently rise to every challenge, be they complaints, delivery issues, employees who quit, or other unexpected emergencies.

Support people make everything work
A baseball team can’t be made up of “starters” only, though. There must be a solid crew of players who can be counted on to play well and become utility players at times, pinch-hitting when there is a need. And we cannot forget about all the behind-the-scenes people who make each ball club function.

Successful small businesses also need support people to make everything tick. Even a one-person small business needs a bookkeeper, administrative services, legal and insurance help, and access to the banking community.

You must take breaks and time off to rest and recharge
For eight months of the year, baseball players practice, stay in shape and play hard. But it isn’t non-stop. They take breaks to recuperate and for intense positions, like pitcher, players won’t even play the entire game.

Small business owners are always go-go-go and do not usually get to work just eight months of the year—at least not right away. A fast and constant pace is often required to get and keep customers or clients and manage cash flow. But it is key to manage your time well, too, both on and off the job. Taking a break to rest and have creative time is essential.

When you close a deal and win, it is oh so rewarding!
Every year baseball players go through arbitration or salary disputes. Sometimes they have long-term deals for two or three years but they still have to close the deal, perform at a higher rate and sometimes move to a different team. (We will see how Pablo Sandoval does in Boston. Sometimes your competition convinces your best people to leave.)

As a small business owner, you also have to close the deal. You have to make the sale, hire or fire the employee, open a new store, bring in a new manager, and continue to meet the complexities of the business by increasing your management, marketing and financial acumen (or finding others to help). And every time you make a sale, hire a new employee, find a new location and grow, it is incredibly rewarding.

It is a lot of fun and it is hard work
Baseball players play hard and they get to revel in a great hit, catching the ball for an out, or scoring a run. After all, it is just a game!

As a small business owner, owning a business is the hardest work you will ever do. But it is also a lot of fun—you get to follow your passion, blaze your own trail, create jobs, contribute to your community, and make a difference.

Now, if only the pay rate for small business owners was in the baseball player “ballpark”, we small business entrepreneurs would have it made!