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Business depression – and how to tackle it

It’s surprising how many business owners go through a period when running their business is bringing them down rather than exciting them. That’s both natural and treatable, says Brett Davidson

Business depression is an affliction that probably affects every business owner at some point or another. It can make you feel a bit flat, a little low, or downright depressed.

I’m going to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek here, but only to make this article readable.

I’m not making light of anyone who is seriously experiencing clinical depression. That’s a very serious issue.

My point in this article is to highlight how you can find yourself on the slippery slope to a form of depression that I believe is caused entirely by your business not really working properly. That being the case, it’s eminently treatable, so read on.

What are the warning signs?

In the early stages business depression can be as mild as feeling a little flat about a business that used to excite you. If this is affecting you right now please don’t ignore this mild early symptom, because if left untreated, it can progress into a full-blown case.

In a full-blown case you can find yourself struggling to get out of bed every day and feeling quite despondent about your business future.

In extremis, you can start having daydreams of opening a coffee shop on a Greek Island.  Trust me, you don’t want to do that.

If that’s you, it’s time to get some help and quickly.

Alright, the last one is a half-joke. If you’ve ever thought of giving up financial planning for another job, business, or profession then that was aimed at you. I’m sure we’ve all been through phases when a regular job looks tempting, but you only have to speak to your friends, family and neighbours who have regular jobs to realise that’s a pipe dream.

They might be as depressed as you are when you’re having an attack of business depression.

The bottom line? Business depression hits when things are just not working right in your business.

Has your business lost its buzz?

So what are some of the causes? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of half a dozen for starters:

1. There’s not enough lead flow: You’re always hungry and scrambling to meet your financial obligations at the end of each month. Or worse, you’re drawing an income that’s less than you need personally, to subsidise the business. You’re the bank in effect. This creates a pressure that no business owner wants to be operating under for too long.

2. Your team doesn’t work: You can’t delegate effectively, and when you do, the work bounces back to your desk anyway. You work late, while your team leave at 5:00pm. You feel like you work for them (rather than them working for you).

3. You’re a busy fool: Working away in the hope that things will be better at some point in the future. However, after years and years things are not really any better. Yes, there’s been some progress, but it’s not like you’d hoped and many of these pressures are still day-to-day realities for you.

4. There’s too much to do: If you find yourself trying to do 14 hours work in eight hours it’s time to get honest; it’s never going to work. The truth is you have to do less. Sometimes a lot less. The key is to prioritise and work on the things that will actually make a difference.

5. You’re forever doing things ‘just in time’: Just in time manufacturing is great for Dell Computer, but not so great for you and your financial planning business. A business that works well plans ahead so that things are done with plenty of time to spare. Yes, that’s possible.

6. Too much jam today: and not enough jam tomorrow. If all you do is chase your tail trying to hit this quarter’s numbers you won’t be sowing some seeds for the medium and long term, and as a result, nothing is going to change. On a daily and weekly basis, you need to be addressing both short term and longer term needs of your business.

Bringing back your business joy

So, how do you address these issues to remove or avoid business depression?

Clearly, you need a plan and some time to make it work. However, the key is working on the right issues, in the right way. It’s easy to get distracted by too many issues (noise) and so I always like to remember the Team GB Rowing mantra of “Will it make the boat go faster?”. You should be asking yourself the same question as you prioritise issues to work on; will it make your business work better?

Here are six key inputs for your business to focus on:

1. People – get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, supporting you.

2. Process – continue to refine and simplify your processes. Clients want it simple too.

3. Culture (Values) – understand the values that matter, capture them in your business plan and communicate them regularly to your team.

4. Business Management – if you’ve not been to business school (and who has?) then get some business management basics under your belt, or hire a manager who can do that for you.

5. Financials – monitor your key business ratios (Profitability, Productivity and Client Selection) and use these as measurements of your success as you tinker with the other five inputs listed here. If it’s not showing up in the numbers eventually, it’s probably not making the boat go faster.6.

6. Client Profile (marketing and lead flow) – get good at generating a steady flow of leads for your business. This removes one of the key pressures; cashflow.

Take another look at your business and see if you can find some ways to alleviate, and eventually remove, any signs of business depression. You won’t know yourself when you do.

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