Starting a small business means you’re probably on your own or maybe even a partner for a significant period while getting the venture’s framework set up. Once the business plan is rock solid, orders are coming in and fulfilment/time management becomes a problem it’s time to make what might be your most important investment: staff.
Up until this point, you have been doing most, if not all, of the work your small business requires. From now on it’s time to start delegating and overseeing the work of others. It’s time to start managing. Whether you know it or not, you’ve placed yourself in a position of leadership and that is not to be taken lightly.
The first and most important thing to understand about leadership is that it should be chosen, not bestowed or forced upon. Reluctantly accepting leadership in your small business will almost certainly lead to a begrudging attitude towards those you’re leading. Chances are this small business is your pride and joy, especially if it’s your first. Why ruin it with an ownership style you aren’t ready for? Suggestions include:
- Tone the growth back a little. Keep the business at a size where you’re able to control it yourself. It may sound counterintuitive, but growth may only lead to collapse if you aren’t prepared to carry it.
- Pursue the knowledge required to become a good leader. If you’re driven enough to embody leadership, then you’re likely to come into your own as a leader.
Secondly, remember that a transition period is important. Do not hire and step straight into your role as a dictator (ideally, never become one!), but rather understand that before hiring you must be able to translate your business model to those you’re leading so that they can conduct business in front of customers appropriately. If your business and its goals make sense in your head but you can’t explain it all clearly to your staff, then you need to reconsider whether your plan is clear enough to inspire others into following it. Try:
- Explaining your business to a child. If you know one, seriously try this. If your little brother, nephew, student, etc. understands what it is that you do then an employee certainly will, and you can build the complexity slowly from there.
- Preach at gatherings. Dinner parties, weddings, birthdays and so on, are excellent places to rehearse how you frame what your business is comprised off to friends and strangers. If you notice people getting bored, you know what to rework the next time you explain it. Practice makes perfect!
Lastly, lead through trust and understanding. Your employees are more than just worker bees. They have intricate lives and daily ordeals. Don’t just learn their names, learn their partners’ names. Hear them out if they have problems. Understand their trials and tribulations. Celebrate their achievements in and out of the workplace. Take an interest in their outside lives. Find common ground in hobbies and personal interests. Organize outings and gatherings so that your workforce also feels like family. This is key in ensuring the employees of your small business want to be there every day. Progressive strategies to employ include:
- Try to start a conversation based on something spoken about the day before. If someone told you their child was sick, check in the next day and ask how they are.
- Set up a personal birthday calendar without your employees knowing and surprise them with a small gift, cake, or secretly remind everyone else to wish them a happy birthday so they feel special. It’s simple, inexpensive and goes such a long way.
Leadership is the pinnacle of running a small business. “Leader” is not an easy title to attain and it takes a lifetime to perfect, but we all remember one boss or another we’ve had that was incredible to work for because they led by using tricks they had concocted and personalized themselves. We also remember them for the relationships they formulated with us that lasted even though we may have moved on and lost contact. Their impact is a lasting reminder of what we should strive for with our workforce as leaders in small business. Above anything else, running a small business should be a positive experience. If it doesn’t feel like one, consult these suggestions and try to find where you can improve. Good luck!