Wamaitha runs a hardware store in Kitengela. He shop does well and has been in existence five years. The business has its ups and downs but in general, it pays the bills and supports her lifestyle quite well. Wamaitha wants to take her business to the next level. Let’s take a closer look at her business. She opens and locks the shop every day. Her customers come in and want to talk to her. She has an assistant manager and an accountant. The assistant manager handles the orders, inventory, suppliers. He rarely interacts with the customers. He can handle basic enquiries but if it gets complicated in any way he reverts to Wamaitha who happily takes over the conversation. The accountant manages bookkeeping, collections and payments. He is pretty much in front of a computer the whole day. Wamaitha keeps the business chequebook with her at all times. The day I spoke to Wamaitha, she had missed out on her son’s sports day because a large order was coming in and she couldn’t afford not to be at the store. I asked Wamaitha what taking her business to the next level would look like. She told me it would be opening more stores in high traffic areas and of course making more money. She wants to target the type of client who can give consistent orders which make cash flows more sustainable.
Taking a business to the next level is dependent on the use of time. Wamaitha’s scenario is the typical SME. Her business completely depends on her to run and that is the primary reason why many businesses cannot grow. She definitely cannot open more stores because she cannot be in several places at the same time. She needs to be able to release her current store. Fear of letting go holds us hostage and keeps us small. As we talked she realized that she is so scared of losing a sale, that she controls the conversation and jumps in. She definitely has a way of speaking to customers that puts them at ease and gives the comfort. For many of us, we read this to mean that we are the only ones who can do it whilst it should mean that we need to take note of it enough to be able to teach someone else. We also need to accept that nobody will do things exactly like you but they also bring in something you don’t have. To grow Wamaitha will need to attract and retain good people. This will not happen if they see no room for advancement. Maybe her assistant manager can actually handle clients if trained and given the opportunity. If he can do that, she can spend more time establishing relationships with the kind of clients she is after instead of being stuck at the store. As business owners, we also need to rid ourselves of a misplaced sense of importance. When we drilled down to what would happen with the large order, Wamaitha was actually not needed. The accountant can count the bags of cement and prepare the necessary paperwork. Between him and the manager, the client can be contacted to collect the supplies. Between that and training her team how to speak to clients, she could have gone for her son’s open day.
This fear also comes from lack of systems or structures. Think about them as the routines that are needed in your business. They will be different for any business. In this case, some of the routines would be around how goods are received and dispatched. It could also be the paperwork and reports that are generated so that when she does come back from her son’s sports day she can still get a good sense of the business activities for the day. Then she can stop ferrying around the chequebook and allow the accountant to at least be processing payments which she can then come and approve. Eventually, she may not even have to do this. It is a nice ego boost to look like we control everything. However, the opportunity cost is in the use of time. To grow a business, you need to spend time growing a business. Working ON it as opposed to working IN it. Moving from creating a job in a business that you just happen to own to being the leader of the business.
Waceke runs a course on Entrepreneurship. Get in touch with her on firstname.lastname@example.org|Facebook/WacekeNduati| Twitter@cekenduati