Would your Business Pass the Four Week Test?


I was talking to a friend of a friend. Entrepreneur – successful – and about to subject his business to the ultimate test.

“I’m going hiking,” he said.

“That’s good,” I replied. “Just for the weekend?”

“Four weeks,” he said. “I either do the hikes I want to do now – really challenge myself – or I admit I’m too old and unfit.”

As he looked fit enough to put several SAS members to shame I doubted that – until the following day. That’s when an e-mail dropped into my inbox.

Here you go. Some of the hikes. Promised you the link.

WARNING: If you’re scared of heights; if you’re one of those people who looks at a picture of a cliff and gets a funny feeling at the back of his legs, do not click the link.

OK, you did click the link didn’t you? So did I. And I couldn’t get it out of my mind for the rest of the day.

No, no, not the Hua Shan plank walk. The second part of our conversation from the previous day.

“…Or I admit I’m too old and unfit. Besides, I need to find out if I’ve really built a business – or whether I’m just stacking shelves in Tesco.”

That was the key question he wanted answering. Not ‘have I still got what it takes?’ but ‘have I built a business that can survive without me? Or will it grind to a halt as soon as I’m gone?’

Plenty of us go away for a fortnight in the summer – and our businesses survive. Some of us even go away for a fortnight and don’t phone the office every day – and our businesses still survive. But four weeks struck me as a different challenge. That’s going away today and coming back to work on Monday March 31st – that’s a real test of the business you’ve built.

Because if the business won’t survive without you for four weeks – or if it starts to spiral downwards – then you haven’t really built a business. You may not have been stacking shelves but, as the old saying goes; you’ve spent too much time working in your business and not enough working on your business.

You have to build a business that can pass the Four Week Test because ultimately your business is going to be sold – and if it doesn’t pass the Test then it isn’t going to be sold for very much.

So ask yourself these questions: if I walked out of the door now and didn’t come back until March 31st…

 What would happen to sales and revenues?
 What would happen to stock control, production and delivery?
 What would happen to the relationship with our clients/customers?
 What would be the biggest problem I’d face when I came back?

If the answers are nothing, nothing, nothing and ‘there wouldn’t be one’ then congratulations. You’ve passed and I salute you. But I suspect that not many of us will be able to give those answers.

For some small business owners the FWT will reveal nothing more than an inevitable drop in income if you go away – or (as was the case when we went to Oz) some fairly ridiculous time pressures either side of the break. But if the answers show that a) the business stops or b) you have to phone/e-mail/take calls every day to keep the business running, then there are clearly problems.

Next week I’ll look at the steps you need to take to make sure that you do pass the Test. Then you can reach for your hiking gear in the certain knowledge that there’ll be no impact on the business…

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2 comments

  1. Anya Mathewson · February 28, 2014

    Another spot-on post here Ed, thanks!

    Having taken 10 weeks off last year and planning to do the same this year (although not yet at 4 weeks at one time) I spent an hour last weekend trying to explain to my parents that this flexibility was (to me) a huge advantage to owning a successful business. They struggled to understand how the business could cope without me. But it does and it should, I said. They equate success with constant full time hard work until you retire. They see me as lucky – I don’t, it’s planning + work + risk = reward for me.

    Having read this article, my next aim is to extend the duration of my breaks but not to hike these heights!

    • edreidyork · February 28, 2014

      Hi Anya – The inter-generational differences are fascinating aren’t they? Work hard vs work smart. Differing success definitions are not just inter-generational though!

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