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Captain, Oh Captain. Where are you?

Having your own business is much the same as being the captain of an aircraft. So where does business come in? you ask. Simple really - you are the captain of your own business, yet as many as 96% of businesses crash in their first 10 years. Why?

Firstly, the captain [you] wasn't at his post at the time of disaster. The captain's place is in the cockpit where he can see into the distance. His role is to fly the aircraft safely from A to B. Although he carries full responsibility for everything on the aircraft he doesn't do it himself. Because if he did all of that stuff himself he wouldn't have time to be flying - which is his task.

And while you're in the cockpit you're checking the weather. Not only do you look outside through the windows, but you also monitor the weather radar so that you can anticipate what's coming up. As changes show up, you simply make decisions to make the best of each circumstance. But if you're dealing with engineering issues, you won't see the bad stuff coming. That's why aircraft have engineers - so that the captain can focus on flying. In order to guide the aircraft and passengers safely he needs time to consider and reflect and monitor.

One of the major reasons for business failure is that so many of us spend our time messing about with technical stuff instead of focusing on flying. As long as you're not looking out of the cockpit you can't be flying the aircraft - which is why the bad weather always comes as such a surprise. While many captains can do the engineers job better than the engineer - they leave it to the engineer to do it. Yet many of us captains of small businesses still try and do everything ourselves. So the engines are running ever so sweetly as the aircraft flies ever faster towards the mountains.

For most of us it's inconceivable (and often economic) that we avoid calling for help. Even a captain calls for specialist help. Each time he lands or takes off he uses the specialist air traffic controllers to get him safely up or down. Yet we business owners don't even do that - even when specialist help is clearly needed.

As a simple example, when you receive a summons - no matter who it's from or why and no matter how big it is - you should always call your attorney for help. If you don't have an attorney you can trust - then spend some time finding one - because sooner of later you're going to need good commercial advice - summons, debt collection, sale or purchase of your business. At this point the pittance you invest in his/her services will be meaningless compared to the money you would otherwise waste on school fees.

Secondly, the captain was incompetent. What would happen if the Head of Cabin Staff was suddenly needed to fly the aircraft? (I know it happens in the movies). Although he/she knows a lot about their respective areas, they know little about navigation; and even less about managing the crew.

Yet that's the way most of us SME captains start flying. We have a core skill that we can sell - but no navigation and management skills. Not only that - we don't even plot a course before we start. Most of us do very little business planning [plotting that course]. "If you don't know where you're going then any path will take you there".

The early days of flying gave us the term "flying by the seat of your pants" and that seems to be the way most small business captains still operate. Most of us tend to start operating in our new small business world without the skills we need to navigate the rough times. Sure we normally have technical (and saleable) skills but we lack management skills. No pilot ever gets to be a captain without logging up thousands of hours of experience but we small business folk blithely finish a job on Friday and start our small business on Monday. By the way, I definitely don't believe that being a manager in a medium or large business comes close to equipping us with the skills we require to fly our new small business aircraft.

Thirdly, it can be awfully stormy once we take off. Lots of unexpected terrors. And sometimes the weather is so bad that even the most accomplished captain will lose his aircraft. But, if he's prudent he will recognise the signs early enough to have time to take evasive action. Our modern day aircraft captain has the benefit of weather radar to help him identify bad weather early enough to avoid it. Not so the small business captain.

Imagine what you would do if you were suddenly appointed the captain of a 747, tasked with transporting passengers from Cape Town to London. You have no navigation skills, have no engineering skills, and your only flying efforts so far have been as a passenger. Probably the first thing you would do is locate a few folk with appropriate skills to help you - engineers, pilots, radio operator.

Chances are you wouldn't rush out to hire a school leaver to monitor the engines - simply because he is cheap. Yet that's what we business owners usually do. We don't hire the skills we need - we simply hire bodies and then get frustrated when they can't do the tasks we want done. You are the captain of your own ship, tasked with getting your aircraft flying safely. Not only that, but you've been entrusted to grow that fortune so that when you retire as captain you will have enough left over to look after yourself. The beauty about business, versus flying, is that you're able to hire skills only when you need them - not for the full journey. Just like air traffic control. Yet why is it that when we see the need for specialist skills we simply try and go it alone?

Most small businesses are just like aircraft with the same challenges. The critical difference is that most of us small business owners spend our lives focusing on everything but keeping our aircraft flying. Which is maybe why so many business aircraft crash - even when there aren't any storms!


About the Author: About the Author
Hugh Goble has spent 30 years in various businesses. For most of this time he has run his own businesses and now likes to help others get their online businesses up and running. His main sites are The e-Biz Forum where members have access to Resources, Training Materials, and the Discussion Forum to help them grow their businesses, and Team Small Business which provides valuable information and resources for Small Business owners. His other site is Kwik Info Articles which is his blog dedicated to Online Business.




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