Freedom or Slavery?

Matt Preece, of Business Doctors, writes about finding freedom through maximising value.

 George Orwell pronounced that, ‘Freedom is slavery.’ 

Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of business. Setting up a new company requires a leap of faith.  And that leap is often prompted by a desire for freedom: freedom from the straitjacket of the 9-5 grind; freedom from being micro-managed; freedom from following someone else’s direction.  Escaping into a world driven solely by your own ambition, where you can experience the adrenaline rush of taking risks; the excitement of building something new; the truly satisfying sense of achievement, can be attractive beyond measure.

Finally, in your dreams, after a rewarding business journey, you arrive at your final destination, sell the company and retire to the sun.

However, before this happens, you have to work on the business before it works for you.  That can often result in you, as the owner, being all things to all people. You end up being in charge of finance, marketing, policy writing, systems and processes, web site, social media, customer service – the list goes on and on and on………

And then there’s networking.  It’s enjoyable.  Sometimes valuable; sometimes not.  It gets you out of the office.  But it takes acres of time and there’s so much else to do.

You get to the point where your revenue reaches a plateau.  You want to scale up but you simply don’t have the time to address it.  You’re way too busy.   The freedom you dreamed of has long gone.  Instead you are constrained by day to day responsibilities, worn down by exhaustion, unable to sleep worrying about what to do next.

At this breaking point you are no longer in control.  Your company is like a hungry mouth constantly demanding food.  It’s in charge, not you.  Things need to change.

Sadly you’ve been forced into making a choice.  You can focus on growing the business by selling more products or services, hiring staff, learning to delegate or you could decide to sell the company.  Either way you need to maximise value.

But – and it’s a big but -you find the business isn’t worth what you thought.  And the reason?  You.  Naturally you are the hub, but unfortunately you have made yourself into the spokes as well.  Without you the business falls apart.  So if you’re not there, it’s worth very little.  If anything.

So what to do next?  Well maximising value enables you to claw back your personal freedom, the  freedom to choose whether you devote all your time to driving business success, find more time for family and leisure or – whisper it - holidays or whether indeed you make the ultimate decision to sell.

The ‘what’ is the easy part.  You need to scale up, improve your cash flow and increase profits, remembering of course that profits don’t always equate with value.  You need to align with your most valuable customers, concentrate on renewable revenue and make sure that products or services do not depend solely on you. Your company needs to be self-reliant, not dependent on any particular customer, employee or supplier.  With that scenario you not only add value, you also address that work/life balance; find time for family and those dimly remembered hobbies.

The ‘how’ is more complex.   All too often it’s a mistake to over-adapt your product or service to suit each customer.  It may seem a good idea to respond to customer demand but accommodation results in too thin a spread; you can lose sight of your initial, niche offering; your raison d’être. Better to sell less stuff to more people. This will give you more control over pricing and ultimately higher margins and more money for marketing.  Then ensuring contented customers is a given, as is measuring and benchmarking satisfaction levels.

So rather than wait for that breaking point, mentioned earlier, take the company by the scruff of the neck and wrest control from it now.  Then you have clear options; ones that you choose, not ones that are thrust upon you.

That’s where true freedom lies.