Over the last decade, I’ve spoken to a lot of small business owners. With the exception of a small handful, they all share a lot in common with each other.
For the purpose of clarity on this article though, we’re going to talk about their vision of the future. That is, where they want to go in their personal life, and linked this with their business life. This is a bit like goal setting, but goal setting seems to be touted by anyone and everyone these days, and seems to have lost its purpose, and become a bit of a throw away, and wishy-washy term along the way.
Previously I’ve focused my thinking on what i want over the next 1, 3, or maybe 5 years, but this last year I decided that those ‘goals’ were really too short term, and to be my ‘future self’, I really need to imagine my life far into the future, that way I can position my mindset and thinking in that space too.
Whenever I make some tough decisions, I try to think from the place of ‘what would my future self think about this, how would he react to this, what would my future self do’, and this seems to help me make the right decision, perhaps not the best decision for the short term, but definitely in line with my long term aims. So rather than thinking about what I want my life to be like 1,3 or 5 years from now, I’ve set it at 25 years. What do I want my life to look like 25 years from now?
To my thinking, this puts me moving towards the end of the second half of my career, I know what my needs, but more importantly the needs of my extended family too, so in considering my desires, I’ve also considered the needs of those around me. I watch the trends in various sectors, one of those being in healthcare, and I can see that we’re probably not going to have the same elderly care support that we do now, or even had 25 years ago. The average pensioner normally needs elderly care from the age of 75+, and I know that my parents will be in that age bracket by that point. I want to make sure they have the best healthcare moving forward, and so I’ve included this into my 25 year vision.
I want everyone in my extended family network to have access to the best level of education, be around the best thinkers, and be connected with the future change makers of the world. This alone takes an incredible amount of money, and this is probably focused on the short to medium term in my plans, rather than what happens in year 25.
Likewise I want to spend a significant portion of the next 25 years experiencing foreign lands, not just being another Youtube viewer watching every travel documentary, but actually living in the local cultures. As well as the financial investment, this also needs an element of work flexibility too, as if I set my life up in a traditional way, I’d be chained to a desk, with lots of people reliant on me turning up every day. It’s for this reason, I’ve spent a few years testing out this type of living, learning how to work without a reliance on the IT guy, albeit in the ‘safe’ environment of travelling around the UK, rather than the Amazon rainforest, Masai Mara Savannah, or Aussie outback.
We can’t predict how things will be in terms of technology in 25 years time, the chancers are, it will be drastically different, hopefully for the better, but that’s not really the point. The technology & trends is just really the ‘How’ we go about achieving that vision, rather than what the vision is. To use an analogy, 25 years ago, if we wanted a Saturday Night Takeaway, We’d go to the local pizza place or supermarket and buy it. 25 years on, the trends and technology means we get that ‘vision’ (the food), except, we achieve it easier because we can order it online. So we still get the same end result, the trends and technology over time, just means we can adjust the route and the actions to get there much more easily.
Looking back at my own vision of travel and work freedom, the technology trends that have happened over the last 5 years, have really just helped with that. It would certainly have been harder to achieve, especially before the luxury of shared cloud servers like Google Drive and Dropbox.
For the purpose of this article though, we’re only going to consider the next 5 years.
So what do you actually want your life to look like 5 years from now?
If you’re like most small business owners, it’s probably a hard question to answer decisively. Now whether that’s because you’ve always got your head down, just doing the day to day, you don’t have time to think or plan 5 years into the future, or for whatever other reason there might be, that’s stopping you.
But if that’s the case, you’re letting life run you, rather than you running your life. If you’re a parent, whether planned or not, when that new life comes into the world, that individual is a long term commitment in your life. In a way you’re always subconsciously driving your child's life towards a long term vision. You have a vision of them getting a good job, being healthy, or else short term decisions would mean that you’d not be worried if they sat watching TV all day, instead of going to School. How many parents are happy for their teenager to hang around with the local hooligan kids, those you know are destined to a life of prison time. And that’s my point. You’re already subconsciously doing it, so for the sake of your own future, it’s time to set aside that time, and take your destiny back into your own hands.
If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, it’s like swimming around aimlessly. If you know what you want, you’re setting that marker in the sand, and you can start driving towards it.
I think this is such an important point to get right, especially in your business. I want you to set your target, and I want you to reach it. But I do have an ulterior motive in wanting you to set your target, which I’ll come to in a moment.
But first, did you know that over 70% of small businesses are owned by people who will reach the age of retirement in the next 10-15 years. For most people, the sad fact is, the retirement years will be lived out in the depths of poverty. If still around used, state pensions will barely pay the shopping bill, and any private pension plans will very likely not cover the lifestyle costs you’ve become accustomed to during your working life. That’s before we even consider the costs of elderly care, living costs, and the effects of inflation on our savings.
So what’s my motive in telling you all of this? Why do I care what you do?
Normally I wouldn’t care, it’s your life after all, it’s up to you what you do with it. But on this occasion I do care. I care because I have an ulterior motive. It’s not a bad ulterior motive, I’m not going to sell you something.
I want you to place your target in the sand. And I want to help you reach it. So how do I do that?
By getting you the things you want in your life. The vehicle we’ll use to achieve that, is the growth & sale of your business.
I’ve dedicated my life to growing businesses, learning the tactics and strategies, and I’ll be honest about it, I’m pretty good at what I do. It’s my passion. But I’m also passionate about helping people too, so if I can help you to move forward, then we’ll both be very happy. Growing & selling businesses, is what we live for. Although we have people to assist with the nitty gritty, we aren’t really interested in running a business day to day - That’s your domain.
Now you’re probably thinking, ‘I don’t know how to sell my business’, or perhaps ‘Why do i need you’, and to answer those two points, along with many more, including the ‘10 things you need to sell your business’, check out my posts here.
The point to this post, is to get you aiming in the right direction, toward that future target, and heading toward that vision of your future life, 5, 10 or 15 years from now.
So how do we go about defining what we want?
First of all, you might want to catalogue everything that comes into your mind on the subject. Don’t filter, just write them down. Perhaps seperate it up, say, 1 year from now, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years. Consider where you’ll be in your life.
Next beside each item, ask why you want that to be. The purpose to this step, is to determine the right vehicle to get there. For example, You might like to emigrate from the UK to Spain. To do this, you might believe you’ll need say £200,000, but by determining why you want it, we might be able to get to the same ‘why’ through a different route, or vehicle. This process is about thinking of alternative ways to reach that same target.
Everything we do, has to link between our personal, and our business life. That way, you’re more likely to get there much faster, rather than trying to work towards two separate targets. So we’ll use your business as the main vehicle to help you reach your vision for the future.
Take each target and break it down into chunks, starting at the furthest point, and work back to today. Chunk it down into smaller increments. This gives you an idea of the objectives you need to complete along the way, to make sure you reach your end target. It also keeps you driving in the right direction.
If you play golf, or even if you’ve watched it played on the TV, you’ll see the similarity in our approach to the golfing world. When you’re playing golf, you’re objective is to get your ball in the hole. Now, because of the distance, and accuracy, it’s almost impossible to get the ball in the hole with a single swing. Most of the time it takes 3, 4 or even 5 swings (or 13 if you’re me on a bad day). But we know it’s impossible, so we set the series of swings, to get there in the shortest route. We start with the big heavy club, that (normally) takes us the furthest distance. Then we move up the clubs as we move closer to the hole. From that first swing, we can barely even see our target, all that we’ve got is a flag in the ground, so that we know which direction to swing toward. But we keep moving toward that flag, toward that target, until it’s right in front of us.
Let’s take an example of how we’d plan out the target we used a few minutes ago.
Target: £1m in the bank
Timescale: 1 January 2023 (5 years)
Why: Estimated £200,000 capital investment + 20 years @ £40,000 average (considering elderly care costs & inflation)
Vehicle: Business sale in Year 5.
Tasks - Year 1 - 3
Grow business to required level
Make business ‘sale ready’
Tasks - Year 4
Source potential buyers
Tasks - Year 5
Negotiation & Sale
Now, obviously this is a very high level overview, and in the real world, you’d need to break it down into much greater levels of detail. We’d break it down into quarters, Months, weeks, and days. We’d identify the key objectives, or outcomes we need to achieve at every level, and then we’d identify the tasks that would help us achieve those outcomes in the fastest way possible.
We then allocate those tasks to the people in the business, and those around us, and make them accountable for their successful achievement. Ideally if they’re an employee of the business, we’d also structure their salary around achieving these outcomes too. This means that everyone in the business, and those around us, are all driving toward the same vision, and decisions can be made on a daily basis, that help us stay on course toward that target, based on this shared mission.
The final part to this, is to regularly review & adjust. As the captain of your ship, and the owner of your business, its ultimately your vision that everyone else is driving toward, so it's only right that you should keep checking progress, and adjusting course accordingly. To put this into context, imagine the ship analogy for a second. Let's say you get a new staff member, and you believe that you’ve explained the new recruits mission, and subsequently left him to get on with his work. If that new shipmate wasn’t paying attention, he might not be switching the engines on at the right time, thus resulting in the ship being 1000 miles off course. By continually checking progress, you can adjust your course, but you can also adjust your new shipmates actions by showing them what they were meant to be doing (or just make them walk the plank). - ‘Aye Aye Captain’
The only other question is, how do you know which person to make responsible for which roles and outcomes, but we’ll look at how to identify the right people in another post.
That’s it for this post. It’s been brief, but I hope you can take something valuable away from it, and implement it in your own business, or personal life, to reach your target.
We hope you’ve received some value from this article, and some information that you can use to move forward toward your vision.
If you’re confident that selling your business is the way to go, or perhaps you’re undecided, it’s important to consider the significant amount of effort and resource you’ll need to make it happen. It’s a full time job. - The time investment alone is enough to put anyone off. So imagine for just a minute, that you didn’t need to do all of this work. What if this could be done over the next 3 - 5 years (by someone else). Everything we’ve listed in this article, is what you’d need to do, if you were selling through a business broker, or direct to a buyer.
Unlike other private equity firms, our focus is on growing businesses at the smaller end of the market. We’ve worked in, and grown our own businesses in the exact same fields you work today. We’ve spent years coaching and supporting small businesses just like yours, developing their teams, and helping them to grow, but now, we’d like to help you.
We have a solution for business owners that need to sell their business immediately, or for those who want to stick around for a few years.
If you’re considering the options to grow or sell over the next five years, read more about how we're helping others just like you. Click here to read about our unique approach to helping you get what you want with the YokeFormula™ for your business.
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