As you may know, my “day job” is being a coach for small business owners here in northern Colorado. I just passed my third anniversary with Small Fish Business Coaching.
It’s an interesting setup, because I joined Small Fish as a franchisee. In a very real sense, I am my own business owner, acting in partnership with a larger company which owns the brand I operate under. I make my own business decisions taking into account my partners’ needs. The most recent example is when I launched my Values-Based Business blog earlier this year.
But I can trace my roots as a business owner back to 1992, when I took over managing a software product business inside HP. This was my first opportunity to operate quite independently, because I was controlling a little-known product with exactly 27 customers around the world.
My organization reporting was within R&D, but I was able to have a number of marketing people (product marketing, documentation, and product support) attached to my team.
Now this is where it really got interesting for us.
Because this was such a tiny product, we weren’t given a whole lot of support or direction from the larger organization. So I decided to run this as its own little independent business deep down in the bowels of HP.
- We contacted each and every customer to find out what they needed from us.
- We brought the entire multi-functional team into a consecutive set of cubicles.
- We defined and monitored our own success measures.
- We developed an independent product roadmap and made our commitments based on what we thought was best and could honestly promise.
- We bought a floppy disk duplicator (remember, this was 1992) and manufactured and directly shipped our own product.
- We set up direct relationships with specific sales force representatives across the globe.
Was the product a success while we were managing it? By some measures yes, but by others no. On the whole, I’d like to think that we made important contributions to its lifetime which probably extended over a decade.
What’s 100 times more important for me, personally, is what we learned from the experience.
- The incredible power of motivation and teamwork on delivering great business results.
- What it means to “think like a business owner” even when you’re inside a larger company.
- Why attending to customer relationships is vital to everyone’s job.
- How to balance the realities of managing bosses so that they support you taking initiative and getting stuff done.
Many people working for larger corporations feel like they’re not given the freedom and power to act like a business owner. But that doesn’t mean you’re not able to THINK like a business owner.
- Understand and talk with real customers, the people who give you money for the value your company provides.
- Learn about all the pieces of work it takes to deliver that value. (Hint: most of what matters most is NOT the product or service you provide!)
- Map out all the relationships inside and outside your company for what it takes to support business success.
- Work out a financial understanding of the business: Where does the money flow?
- Even create your own business plan as if you were the top decision-maker. This is primarily a learning exercise, and will help you create future business plans.
This level of thinking is what gave me huge opportunities in my subsequent career, and led me to develop a rapidly growing coaching business today.
If you want to increase your independence for the rest of your career, learn to think like a business owner.