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August 29, 2020
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Building a business is like sailing a ship

Analogies are very useful to simplify thinking and action. As a business owner, building a business in a challenging environment creates noise and chaos. Gaining clarity, certainty and confidence helps manage the noise and emotion to provide right action and timing in your journey of building your business. A good analogy helps you get this right.

Building a business is like sailing a ship. Here’s how and why.

  1. A ship sets sail with a clear destination in mind

Like a business, you start and end. The end takes one of two forms: A sale or closure. For most, its closure. In fact, 94.6% of all businesses started close at great cost to the business owner, their family, their staff, suppliers and customers and the economy in which they operate. To succeed in your journey, you need to set a clear destination. You then need to ‘chart your course’ to arrive there safely and efficiently.

For example, you set sail from Durban to get to Mumbai. It’s a 12-day journey at sea. Being smart, you take 15 days of food, fuel and water in case things go wrong. A business too, should have a resource plan to get from where it is to where its going. This means a clear destination and a plan to get there supported by a budget.

  1. A ship has a crew with specific skills and roles

A ship has a crew made up of people with varying skills and responsibilities. There’s the Captain, first and second mate, navigators, engineers, cooks and deckhands and so on. Each has a specific role to perform and is trained to perform it.

A business is made up of people too. If well organised, the team includes people best suited and skilled in marketing and sales, operations and procurement, human resources and finance. At sea, every crew member knows what to do and when to do it. The safe passage of the ship depends on it. In a business, the same applies. Failure in any one area of activities stalls your business growth and lets all your team members down.

  1. A ship is organised in three distinct areas: a bow, midships and stern

The bow of the ship is like the ‘front-end’ of your business. It breaks new water and directs the ship along its course. The stern is like the “back-end” of your business. It propels the ship forward. The midships is the control centre of the ship located between the bow and the stern. It’s like the “middle” of your business and controls the finance and human resource administration and management activities. Each area must perform its role for the ship to function well and sail successfully to its destination.

The same applies to your business. The front-end of your business: sales and marketing, leads the business direction. The back-end of your business delivers in response to sales made. The midships holds and coordinates everything together with hopefully, good metrics and data to be sure that there are sufficient resources to get to the destination.

  1. A ship has a bridge and engine room

The engine room of a ship is below deck and houses the diesel engines that drive the propeller and move the ship forward. Its mostly a dark and dingy place. The loud noises of the engines smell of diesel, it’s poorly lit and the constant issues that a sea faring ship experiences make it a tough place to be. The bridge of the ship is located above the deck at a high point on the ship. It has windows wrapped around it giving you a 300-degree view. It has a dashboard with instruments and navigation equipment. It controls the direction of the ship, it deals with speed and communications and has a Nespresso machine. It’s a great place to be.

As a business owner, where do you spend most of your time? In the engine room putting out fires or on the bridge guiding the direction and growth of your business?

Most business owners I meet are spending most of their time in the engine room. They are driven by the business and everything that makes up their business. Staff, customers, suppliers, landlords, government and more. They spend little time on the bridge because their businesses are chaotic and poorly built, requiring them to be constantly fixing and rejigging the engine room. Yet, they are the most expensive resources in their own businesses. They should be spending up to 70% of their time on the bridge. There, they can direct the ship, set the course, ensure that they get to the destination to off-load their cargo and get paid. There, they drive the business and are not driven by it.

  1. A ship sails alone in the open sea to get from A to B

The open sea is full of surprises. The waves, wind, currents and storms bash the ship and threaten its safe passage. The business environment is no different. Every day we face political regulation that hurt business, volatile currency, uncertain energy supply, bad behaviour and hectic competition. It’s a rough sea indeed.

  1. A ship is regularly maintained

A ship is an asset that if well maintained, earns income for many, many years. Regular maintenance from scrubbing the hull free of the barnacles that create drag on the ship’s momentum to removing rust and replacing the lifeboats and distress flares all improve the performance and sustainability of the ship.

In any business, the systems you build will have to be partly broken and rebuilt as you grow. The software and computing you have will need to be upgraded. It’s a process of continually ensuring that your business, as it grows, is shaped and tweaked to deliver continual performance.

  1. Build your business like a Captain sails a ship

Using this analogy, be sure that you have a clear, well-defined destination to sail to. In my view, the only port you should be sailing to is an #AssetofValue. That is a business that’s well-positioned, driven by business systems operated by a well-organised team. Importantly, an #AssetofValue can be successfully sold at any point. Importantly, it releases time for you, the Captain of your business, to be on the bridge.

The shape of your business from the front, middle and end should be well designed to ensure that your ship sails successfully and efficiently. That design coordinates the activities in the business for your crew to play their role. That crew should be well-selected and trained, only possible if the destination is clear and ship is well built.

The sea you sail through will have surprises and your being on the bridge of your business lets you look ahead and keep a clear mind to cope with them as they batter and bash your business.

Finally, you, the #businessowner, should be on the bridge. Its only there that you can grow your business beyond yourself, organise your team, coordinate the building and functioning of your business to ensure that, when you reach your destination port, you have an #AssetofValue. It’s at that destination port you can unload your cargo, or in the case of your business, you can exit with a successful, clean sale.

Working with Aurik we have a structured approach to help any established business owner build their business like a ship. We work with you from the bridge to set a clear destination, build the ship of your business to get there and with the right crew. With us you will get to the bridge and remain in it to take control of your destination and secure your eventual, successful exit.

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