Where they were once dreaming up a strategy and finalising a plan of attack, they may well now find themselves managing holiday requests and chasing invoices. It’s not very glamorous.
It’s also not very productive. In a survey of more than 1,000 SMEs, conducted by easyJet and the Telegraph, 38 per cent of respondents said that the biggest impact on being able to run a business was being held back by the pressure of day-to-day management. Being unable to think beyond today was the number-one barrier to growth, edging out cash flow worries and recruitment issues.
The classic axiom for entrepreneurs is that they need to work “on” their business rather than “in” it. James Layfield, CEO of Central Working, believes this is the issue facing nearly all business owners.
Central Working combines office space with mentoring and networking, and Mr Layfield has worked hard to ensure that appointed (and trusted) managers run the operation of the company, allowing him to take a step back.
“It’s taken me five businesses to realise that I’m the worst in the world at getting too involved in the day-to-day running of my companies,” he says.
“Now if anyone comes to me with any work query, I send them straight to their manager.
“I’m not there to get involved with the day to day. If you do [that], what you find is the very familiar situation where the founder loves to say ‘yes’ and so gets sounded out for something which undermines what the rest of the company is doing.”
Locked door policy
The need to get away from the day-to-day is so important that Nigel Botterill, founder of Entrepreneur’s Circle, believes the only way to maximise growth is to lock your door for 90 minutes each day and focus on a single task that will push the business forward.
It is the main principle he passes on to members of his small business network, and he claims it works wonders.
“It was something taught to me several years ago by a friend who used to give me businesses advice,” he says.
“He asked what the most important thing was to growing my business. When I gave my answer, he asked how long each day I spent making it happen.
Like everyone else, I wasn’t giving it any time. I was caught up in doing what my business did rather than strategising how it could move forwards.”
Each day, Mr Botterill now puts aside 90 minutes with no phones or email before 9am. “I can then open the door and spend the rest of the day running the business, and putting into practice what I’ve just been working on,” he says.
Ask a peer
David Sheepshanks is very well-known in football circles, but many people may not realise he was also a successful entrepreneur in the food industry.
The former Ipswich chairman was also the founding chairman of England’s national football centre, St George’s Park, and has more recently become a Vistage Group chair.
The group is for decision makers who want to be in a circle of fellow business leaders to learn from one another and offer advice through monthly meetings and one-to-one coaching sessions.
“Nobody knows everything and so it pays to get away from your business and seek advice and learn from your peers,” he says.
“I’m also a firm believer in long-term planning, and you’ll rarely find all the answers sitting inside your office. I was one of the first to publish a five-year plan for a football club, Ipswich Town, which people laughed at in the beginning, but then took more seriously when we were promoted in the fifth year, as I’d laid out.
“The crucial thing, though, is that you’re always going to be able to plan better and to be able to run a business better if you leave it for a day every month and seek to learn from others’ experiences and to get their advice.”
These outside influences can take any form, says Mr Sheepshanks – from a chat in an office to advice from an industry club or the local Chambers of Commerce. Being open to coaching allows business owners to get you away from the office and improve themselves.
The striking fact is that to kick-start new growth in your business, putting the out-of-office sign on might be the smartest move you can make.