Article number 2 written by Andy Fraser publisher of the Bristol Nine Magazine.
Previously on Business, Life and Work Coaching . . . . .
Andy met Jeanine and showed her how disorganised he was at work . . . . . Jeanine said “Don’t worry, we can work it out, I can help you find the answers” . . . . . Andy used Jeanine’s crayons and paper and drew a picture of his working life. It was a sort of graph and the wrong shape . . . . . “Lets make the graph a nicer shape” said Jeanine, and Andy agreed . . . .
I’ll come back to the nicer shaped graph at the end of the series. In the meantime I was sat with my life coach exploring work from a different perspective . . . . .
“Do you enjoy your job?” Jeanine asked me. “Absolutely” I replied, “I don’t really see it as a job. Five years on and it’s still fun – definitely better than working for a living.”
I often say to people that doing the magazine feels more like a hobby than a job because it is genuinely enjoyable, rarely stressful (which had crucified me in the past) and, because I only normally encounter nice people who say nice things, it feels pretty good. Generally I see it as people coming to me wanting help (and being happy to pay for it) rather than my old job where the people I encountered were, to be honest, predominantly problems on legs.
“So, do you think you treat producing the magazine as a hobby or a job?” Jeanine asked. The inference was that I was happy to muddle through each month in a disorganized fashion because “after all, it’s only a hobby”. So, my coach wondered, could I become more organized in the production and management of The Bristol Nine if I treated it as more of a business? I guess I become a bit defensive at this point, retreating into my corner and suggesting, entirely unconvincingly, that I did run it as a business, it just felt like an enjoyable pastime most of the time. “So, how are you doing against your business plan?” Jeanine asked. I hesitated. “You do have a business plan?” I confessed I’d had one for the first year of business but hadn’t bothered to renew it. “So, do you know how the business is doing?” she continued to probe. “It’s doing OK,” I responded “just fine”. I knew what was coming next, and it was another example of the strengths of working with a life coach, as mentioned last month – they encourage you to face up to questions that you probably know need asking and for which you also probably already know some, if not all, of the answers. And the answers aren’t necessarily the ones you want to hear yourself give. “What does “fine” mean, Andy?” Jeanine asked.
I’d been rumbled – fine meant I thought it was doing “OK” but I didn’t really know what number I could attach to “OK”. So, through perceptive, good natured and gentle probing Jeanine had led me to the realization that, other than in very basic terms, I didn’t really have an accurate picture of how the business was doing month by month. Sure, I knew that each month my revenues exceeded my costs – total value of invoices larger than printing costs + distribution costs – and that from my annual accounts the magazine’s profitability was increasing, and as a result I had concluded that things were going “OK”.
“Is OK good enough?” was the next question. I could see where the coach was taking me. Of course I wanted things to be better than “OK” because that meant better profits, greater financial stability, more set aside for a rainy day – but to achieve this I needed to be more aware of how the business was actually performing. Not year on year in crude terms but month on month in detailed terms, magazine by magazine, advertiser by advertiser, advert by advert. And why didn’t I have that information to hand?
It wasn’t difficult for me to conclude that it was because I had never really seen the need, nor found the time, to look at the business in such a forensic way, and that in turn was probably because I treated The Bristol Nine as a hobby rather than a business. I tolerated my lack of organisation and the way I ran the business because I was led by the heart rather than the head.
This “my business is run with too much heart and not enough head” conclusion led us nicely on to another issue, and with hindsight I wonder if it was no accident that Jeanine had steered me to this view. It is emerging to me that a real benefit of having a coach alongside you is that they are detached from you and your business (or relationships, career, family etc.), are able to see things objectively and dispassionately and can help provide you a real focus on key issues that are holding you back or getting you down. Deep down I reckon I probably knew that I could, indeed should, be running the magazine on a more business-like basis but it took that independent guide to lead me to openly conclude this.
Moving on then – “What stands in between you and running the magazine the way you want to?” was my coach’s next enquiry. Easy one that – difficulties with cash flow. I’d be interested to hear what answers other business owners reading this would give to that same question (assuming of course that any are reading this!) as I wouldn’t mind betting it is a common theme. “Why?” asked Jeanine, “it shouldn’t be a problem”. “Well” I responded, “you know this running the business with my heart rather than my head thing. . . .!”
. . . . To be continued next month
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