Learning the ropes

Confidence monitors are important business measures. As with any surveys or research findings though, results vary depending on the questions asked and the people responding to those questions

Learning the ropes

However big the variance, the bottom line is that when times are tough there’s less certainty about the future. Have things got as bad as they’re going to get, when will they start to improve, what will it take to make them improve, how do I ride out the uncertainly when I don’t know how long it’s going to last. Stability is another important factor. If things are stable, even if they aren’t as good as we’d like them to be, we know what we’re up against for the longer term. If you add certainty and stability together you get confidence at some level. 

The question I’ve been mulling is ‘to what extend can we give ourselves more certainty and stability so that we can build and retain our confidence?’ What is it that makes some respondents to research or survey questions say that while they’re not confident in the resilience of the economy over the next 12 months, they are confident about the sustainability and resilience of their own business. Perhaps it’s a case of you get out what you put in? 

People go into business for many reasons but in the main it’s to do more of what we’re passionate about. When times are good it’s possible to get by on passion along. But when all around us grows less certain and increasingly unstable, what it is that will allow us to remain confident in our ability to ride out the storm that may blow others over the edge? For me it’s always been the strength of the rope I’ve tied the business down with.  


Even sole traders or freelancers, running single person businesses can’t know it all and do it all alone. Relationships are key and worth spending time on. And that means working out how to create a solid support network of loyal and reliable relationships with customers, suppliers, advisers, mentors, funders, memberships or trade bodies, small business organisations, anyone who can advise you, support you, help you build on your passion, guide you through tough times and keep your confidence levels up. People buy people rather than products. If they trust you and find you reliable, flexible, authentic and good to work with they will be less willing to see you fail.  


Whoever you are going to work with will have policies and processes in place so that they can have solid foundations for their own businesses and it’s very likely they will all be slightly different. Put the graft in at the beginning: negotiate terms and conditions, contracts, payment terms etc. Get everything in writing. Know everything you need to know about your customers or suppliers and how they operate, what they expect, what they mean by words they use such as standard or reasonable. When, why, what, where, who and how are the most important questions you can ask about every aspect of working with anyone. Don’t be satisfied that you will get it right until you have all those answers. That probably sounds time consuming but not nearly as time consuming as getting it wrong and having to put it right or having to look for new people to work with.  


Understand what all the necessary factors are that go into running a business and layer them on top of your passion – the paperwork and the marketing, the strategy and the implementation, the risks and the credit management, the cashflow and the finances, the regulations and the guidance, the planning and reviewing. The more willing you are to tackle the time-consuming and less passion inducing aspects of running your business at the outset, and the more watertight you make your processes the less chance there is that when the inevitable storm comes it will blow the roof off. It will still take the passion to get you out of bed in the morning but the solidity of the policies, processes and planning will give you the solid foundation to keep going. 


Constantly evaluate what’s gone well, what hasn’t gone so well, what could be improved and what changes you could make that would make it easier to do all the bits that you’re less keen on like the paperwork to allow you to concentrate on the stuff you are passionate about. Eventually the business bits become second nature and less time consuming, like driving a car, and you can look ahead to see any oncoming hazards that might cause a crash. But like the car, the business needs its MoTs and servicing to keep it running smoothly. Even then we sometimes have to accept it’s time to sell up or trade in and replace. 

In the words of the songwriter Tim Finn: ‘Weave me a rope that will pull me through these impossible times’. 

Liz Barclay
Liz Barclay

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