Howard Mann, the author of Your Business Brickyard, arrived in Johannesburg yesterday for some talks he'll be doing. His 54 page book, which can be read in no more than 4 hours, has concepts that are relevant in many levels of business.
Capitalist Punks referred to it as : "a business book that other business books wish they were", but it's a bit more than just a business book. When I read it the first time; it was the cause for radical change in our company, led to developments we implemented but now it's way of measuring progress.
"Anyone can write a book, but business is different, another set of dynamics apply here", was my first thought. But after being at one of his of his talks that perception changed. No wonder he was featured by Tom Peters as one of their cool friends.
He will also be giving a talk at the Netweb Event in Johannesburg, for entrepreneurs and professionals on the 8th of July.
Before his talk I asked the following questions about his book:
Q : The Business Brickyard, for me, focuses on what makes all businesses similar and as you say in the book, “85% of all Business is the same”. So you can focus on the 15% that makes your business truly unique. How do you get that 85% locked in so you can focus on the 15%?
A : Everyone gets caught up thinking their business is unique and, therefore, what works for most businesses will not work for them. But every business has customers that need attention, has bills to pay, invoices to send out, has money to collect, etc… Those commoditized processes should be worked until they as automatic as possible until they are delivered perfectly every time. Once that is in place then you are clear to spend MUCH more time on the aspects of your product or service that truly is unique. You now have time to let the personality of your business express itself so it will be feel special to your customers. To spend more time learning from your customers and your team. The more time you spend on that which makes you unique the more unique you will truly be.
Q: For you, what separates an entrepreneur from a person who just owns a business and in essence is self-employed?
A : "Entrepreneur" has become a loaded word as it now equates to a risk taker that is “betting it all” or a gambler of some sort. To me, if you are driving to build a business that is fueled by a true sense of purpose you are an entrepreneur. Just because a Venture Capital firm gave you X millions of Rands does not make you an entrepreneur. If you take that money and hire 50 people, you are not an entrepreneur. If you build a business that can endure in every way, with or without an infusion of capital, and is loved by its market then you are truly an entrepreneur.
Q : Most entrepreneurs struggle with putting systems in place for their businesses to run. How would you suggest they do this?
A : Some people are just not into the details it takes to put together systems. We are all wired differently and what comes easy for some is impossible for others. The sooner you get clear about the aspects of running a business that simply do not suit who you are the sooner you can take action to bring in people (or find partners) that get tremendous satisfaction out of doing that same stuff.
So if financial work is not your thing then you need to add financial expertise to your team.
If managing the day to day of operations makes you go numb then you need to find someone that loves getting up each day to dig deep into operational detail.
There are people that were born to do systems. They do it and do not find it difficult.
Bring in people in to help put those systems in place or hire a leader to help you do it. But, if you are stuck getting your basics locked in, raise your hand and ask/get some help or outside perspective. You will find that asking for help turns out to be the hardest part.
Q : Among the many things I found in the book one was reconnecting with your purpose. How can one know when they start losing sight of their purpose?
A : When business becomes something you do to pay the bills. Or worse, you find yourself wondering why you do what you do every day. We all spend the bulk of our time in work mode so you need to demand that it is fulfilling. Now, there will always be days when work just, for lack of a better word, sucks. It could be weeks at a time. But when you are connected to a purpose or your business exists to make a difference then the lows will never feel too low. You will be able to constantly remind yourself why you do what you do and that answer will drive you. That purpose could be that you make money to fuel a different dream or feed your family. That is a purpose. You don’t need to change the world but just working to make money for no reason at all except to keep up with your friends gets very old very quickly.
Q : “Define your business with NO” is one of the chapters. What have you seen in most businesses which diverts them from the ability to say “No”?
A : It is a slippery slope. As your business grows you find you need to take on any and all customers or clients to help keep everyone busy and keep the growth going. In that chase to grow comes compromise about the type of work you take, how long people can take to pay you, how much debt you take on and more. So when it comes time to say “No” there are too many rationalisations that push you to say yes. Eventually, you have a business that is consumed with dealing with customers that are a pain in the ass.
How many people like to say that all or most of their customers are a pain? It is not possible that every customer is a pain or that you happen to find them all. If all of your customers are a pain, the only thing they have in common is YOU. That is what is true. From that truth, you have to figure out what you are doing that is making them a pain or what behavior you are allowing that is making them a pain. If you can come to terms with what you are doing wrong, exactly how you can change it then you can have some heart to heart chats with your customers where you are willing to say goodbye to those that will not behave in a way that honors the work you do for them. It is FAR from easy and I struggle with it all of the time. But, as I say in the book, you will define what your business is about by who and what you say no to.
Q : In the chapter titled “Fit your business on a single page” you talk about being able to know how your business is doing from reading a single page. What key things should we know every day that tell us we are still on course?
A : The short answer is that it is different for every business but every business needs to figure out a way to glance at a dashboard while it races down the road. The point of this 1 page “dashboard” is to create a document that a business owner can scan each day in 1-2 minutes so they have a grasp over how the key metrics that matter to the health of their business are doing.
In my freight business our “product” was a shipment file. It was the best way we could measure if business was growing or shrinking. My report told me how many shipment files each office opened that day, week and month. Read that every day for a week or two and you will immediately know when a number seems high or low and you can go find out why. Typically, some measure how busy or slow your business is and where it stands financially (What you owe and how much is owed to you) are good places to start.
Q : Why are the Brickyard talks relevant in business today?
A : Business has become too complex and it does not need to be. In the midst of this complexity the basics that make businesses run have been lost.
We are bombarded with information, opportunities, competition etc. . and all it does is create paralysis. Business is supposed to be fun and owning a business is one of the greatest professional freedoms I can think of.
Q : Why are so many business owners not having fun running their businesses?
A : Most business owners just try to get through the day. They are overwhelmed by their email inbox, meetings, customer complaints and the like. They are consumed with their competitors and stressed over things that are not in their control. In all of this stress and complexity we are not collecting our bills timely, we are not really listening to our customers, we are not taking time to find ways to make our companies truly great.
I think we are all longing for simpler times. And those simpler times can be found by getting back to the simple basics that have always made the great businesses great. I do not tell anyone anything new in my talks. But, I do remind them of the basics they knew when they got started and then lost under all of that stress and complexity. I give them some specific things they can do that day to start to get back to those basics.
Think about the businesses and brands you love or admire. I’ll bet they work hard to do all the little things right. I want to help create more of them and help business be as much fun to run as it is supposed to be.
How fun is your business to run?