Jam Tomorrow

We desperately need to do the kitchen. This work-top’s had it.

I know, I know…

It’s no use saying ‘I know.’ We can’t live like this. And that’s before we tackle the bathroom – which is barely fit for human habitation.

I know that as well…

So when are we going to do them?

Soon – alright? It’s just that I can’t afford to take the money out of the business right now…

I’d wager that all of us running our own business have had a conversation that went something along those lines…

As I said last week, entrepreneurs are by nature optimistic: they have an absolute conviction that tomorrow is going to be better than today. But the ‘jam tomorrow’ argument is a tough one. That feeling was echoed in a recent Board meeting – and in a separate one-to-one: it’s much easier to be resilient and optimistic – and to see the glass as half full – if you know the business is making some money and you can draw some cash from it.

After all it’s not just your spouse that you have to explain the ‘jam tomorrow’ argument to…

I realise there hasn’t been a pay rise for three years. But you don’t need me to tell you the state of the economy. And look at our order book. Look at the potential business we’ve got in the pipeline. You must be able to see that a year from now this will be a totally different company.

But ‘a year from now’ doesn’t pay for a summer holiday – and you’re not the only one who needs a new kitchen, bathroom or car.

However, there’s one more person you need to have the ‘jam tomorrow’ conversation with. And this one might be even harder than your spouse or your staff. The person you need to talk to is yourself. Yes, I wrote last week that entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have dark days. We wouldn’t be human if sometimes we didn’t question ourselves – and wonder if it really will be jam tomorrow, or whether we’re letting down the people we love and the people we employ.

So what’s the answer to the ‘jam tomorrow’ question? Obviously it varies from business to business and entrepreneur to entrepreneur. But there are three things your answer cannot be:

It can’t be indefinite. You can’t answer the question by turning into Wilkins Micawber and saying ‘something will turn up.’ 99% of the time something will only turn up if you plan for it and work for it.

Your answer can’t be indecisive. When you’re asked about the new kitchen or the pay rise you can’t say, Soon – alright? No, I don’t know when. How can I know when in the current economic climate? As soon as things improve. Hopefully that won’t be too long… Your spouse and your staff won’t accept that – and they don’t deserve it either.

It can’t be a lie. As 10,000 Physics teachers have said, ‘There’s no point cheating, boy. You’re only cheating yourself.’ And there’s no point lying to yourself either: if the jam tomorrow is actually jam that’s three years away, far better to admit it to yourself and to everyone else. If you’re saying to your spouse, ‘I’m sorry, you need to put your dreams on hold for a while’ then you need to be upfront and open about it.

What the ‘jam tomorrow’ question does highlight is the constant need to set realistic and challenging – but achievable – targets. Hopefully that’s where TAB comes in: rest assured that every Board member round the table has at some point realised that it won’t be ‘jam today:’ but they’ve come up with successful strategies to make sure that it definitely is jam tomorrow.

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