Challenges I’ve faced running a business (and what they taught me)
After 10 years into running my own business, there’s so much I have learnt along the way. These are such valuable lessons for any leader.
It’s October (I know, how did that happen?) and it’s NSW Small Business month. I’m so pleased to see there’s lots of activities planned to celebrate this very important part of our economy.
And, I’m thrilled that Leading Edge Life Skills is a finalist in our local business awards for the second consecutive year.
Running my own business is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most challenging. But, as John Powell said, “ The only mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” So I think I’m all good!
Here’s some of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from challenges I’ve faced along the way.
- Expect the unexpected – and be prepared to adapt
We spend so much time planning for our business and making sure every event goes smoothly.
Yet I’ve had to learn that at times things can and inevitably don’t go to plan.
Sometimes, that “spanner in the works” can be something as simple and uncontrollable as the weather. What do you do when you’ve planned a great day of outdoor activities and it rains? Answer: ADAPT. Find an under cover venue. Provide raincoats and gumboots. Change up your delivery.
Uncertainty can be one of the biggest stressors at work – and in our lives in general. This ability to adapt, especially when things don’t go to plan, is an essential skill for leaders.
- Managing a team is a constant work in progress – even if you know them well
Even if you know your colleagues well, managing a well-functioning team cannot be taken for granted. In our case, we have a relatively small human team and several equine team members. We need to ensure everyone is well looked after and happy – whether human or horse.
When I first started, I assumed that knowing my horses well would make it easy to manage them. However, it took me a while to get the balance right. I thought I knew their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses well enough that the team would always perform at their best. What I underestimated was the change in job description and responsibilities. It’s exactly like when your best mangers move into leadership roles. I wrongly thought that the consistent competition horses – read for example your best sales managers – would breeze through the less physically taxing new role as an equine assisted professional development horses – read become great leaders – just because they have a new title.
My beautiful mare, Opal, is a classic example of this. Her sweet nature and calm demeanour combined with her “no BS” attitude naturally made her the best asset on our team. We were very busy with client groups ranging from youth at risk groups to corporate leadership training. Opal was always a reliable team member. But I noticed a change in her. She still did her job – as any good manager would do – but the spark left her. It broke my heart and I learnt the hard way that, as a leader, I have a huge responsibility for my team’s wellbeing on every level. For the horses, I have to continually tweak where and how often they work as it does change over time.
It doesn’t matter how well you know your team – you have to keep adjusting.
- The juggle is difficult (but worth it)
The running of my business has coincided with the raising of my family. And, like everyone in that situation, I’ve at times been overwhelmed by the juggle of having so many different things competing for my attention. This is especially true when you’re the owner as responsibility ultimately ends with you.
If I’m ever feeling fed up or stressed, I try to sit back and regain as much perspective as possible. Running a business can be hard as a parent with young children, but it also allows me some flexibility. Not to mention the enormous sense of personal satisfaction I gain from my work.
Any leader should always remember why they are doing something, even when times are tough.
- Sharing your vision can be a challenge
Leading Edge Life Skills operates a bit differently. There are many leadership training courses out there, but our unique element is that we work with horses. If you really want to know yourself and your leadership style, horses will highlight all your strengths and challenges in a neutral, non-threatening, non- judgemental way. They really make the invisible visible.
However, while I know this myself, it took a long while to learn how to explain this to others.
It’s one thing to understand your own vision, but sometimes it’s much harder to tell that to others. Sharing vision, even internally, takes consistent effort.
What challenges have you faced in business or work in general? What have you learnt? Let me know in the comments.