The Worst of Times


I was on the receiving end of a… I don’t know. I was going to say ‘rant’ but that’s not fair. It wasn’t quite a plea for help either: just an outpouring of frustration.

It was someone I’ve sort-of-known for about six months. He knows what I do: he runs what appears to be a successful business based a few miles outside York.

I’ve tried to reproduce Michael’s words more or less exactly as he spoke – and yes, obviously I’ve changed his name.

Ed, I desperately need to go away and think for a day. Somewhere there isn’t a sea of paperwork pursuing me. Where there isn’t a client on the phone, one of my staff with a problem – where everything I see doesn’t remind me of a job I haven’t done.

The trouble is, I need the same day for client work – I’m worried that I’ll lose new or existing clients by not doing enough work.

You know what, Ed? I’ve needed this ‘away day’ for about two years. I work most nights and every weekend. Even my holidays are work related. I’m having a few days away when I’m speaking at a conference and a few days in France – guess what, speaking at another conference.

I’ve got clients I need to develop and clients I need to get rid of. And what do I do about my staff? Six people depend on me to pay their mortgage every month. The business is ready to jump to the next level: that means taking on three, maybe four more people. Do I want to be responsible for four more mortgages?

I don’t know. Maybe finding an answer is a fantasy. Maybe this is the way it is until I retire or I’m carried out in a box. You want me to sum it all up in one sentence? I am a prisoner of my business. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy it. I’m not mining coal and I’m not banging widgets mindlessly together on a production line. But I know I could enjoy it a lot more. What’s that saying? I’m in the thick of things – and I need to find a way out. But I can’t see one.

It’s now four and a half years since the first person joined TAB York and it’s been a while since I’ve had a conversation like that one with Michael. The more I thought about it, the more important I realised the conversation was – for me it was a real ‘back to basics’ reminder of why people join TAB.

The focus of TAB is on improving your business and getting results – and making sure that your work/life balanced stays balanced. ‘I work most nights and every weekend’ isn’t a phrase I want my members to use because ultimately it means that something – work or your personal life – has to give: and along the way you’ll be too tired to make effective decisions.

One of the things that really struck me about Michael’s comments was how lonely he sounded – and as we’ve said many times, no-one really understands the pressures and strains on the owner of an SME apart from another owner of an SME.

Over the last four years that’s one of the best things to emerge from TAB York: you don’t have to fight fires or make tough decisions on your own. The collective wisdom of the Board is there to help and ultimately that gives the members real peace of mind. Eight heads are most definitely better than one.

…And eight heads will hold you accountable as well. I’d love Michael to join one of our Boards and discuss his plans for taking his business to the next level – and for finding something a lot more rewarding to do with his weekends. Board members hold each other accountable for business and personal goals and they’re equally important – and equally rewarding.

I’m now off for a (hopefully!) rewarding week in France, so the blog will likewise be going on holiday next week. I’ll be back – no doubt feeling even more reflective – on Friday, August 22nd. If you’re also packing and waving goodbye to the office, have a brilliant time.

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3 comments

  1. simonjhudson · August 13, 2014

    Oh yes, that’s a familiar tale of woe. And certainly one that I have brought to the board as a problem on occasions and one that others on our board have brought.
    Some of the discussion I’ve been involved in and advice I’ve received has been spot on. By no means the least was easing us towards bringing on a member of staff to carry some of the weight of day to day operations. It’s very hard, as a founder, to let go and let those mortgages (and my own) rest in part on the decisions of someone else. But letting go is essential at that critical point of growth. As the business grows it has proven impossible to do everything myself (or myself and my business partner ); more to the point, doing all the day to day stuff risks taking the founders away from the important stuff – vision, strategy, big decision and work-left balance.

    With the help of TAB we now have taken the risk and appointed a General Manager of operations. My daily workload has improved immensely and I’m beginning to spend time on those important things again. Operations get more hands on support and better, faster decisions and improvements than I cold ever manager. It helps that he is brilliant.

    So find someone brilliant and take the risk.

    • edreidyork · August 18, 2014

      Hi Simon – great response, and great final line of advice. The risk of NOT making the hire is often greater, but less tangible, so that’s why many owners prevaricate. Really glad you guys didn’t!

  2. Pingback: The Best of Times | EdReidYork's Blog

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