Essential Planning: Management, Directors and Advisors

Proverbs 24.3-6 says this:

3By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;

through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.

Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.

If these verses are applied to running a small, family-owned business, it is clear that a business (just like a “house” literally, a place or dwelling for one or more families) is built through wisdom, understanding, knowledge, guidance and advice. It is by knowledge that the rooms are filled with “rare and beautiful treasures”.

You might recall that when Peyton Manning was a two-time Super Bowl winner and was the MVP of the NFL several times. Peyton never lost sight of his need to be coached and to learn from those who were willing to pour into him their knowledge and wisdom. If only small business owners could grasp how important it is to be always learning, growing and improving – not just their technical skills – but their business skills as well.

This is why I recommend that small business owners realize and accept that as their business grows, they will need to develop and invest time with three different groups.

Management Team

The first group small business owners need to invest in is a management team. The management team runs the day-to-day operations of the business and the folks paid to lay awake at night and worry about the business. If you don’t have a management team, then most decisions will route through the owner and the business will only scale to a certain size, then stagnate. When your business is $250K/year, that’s not a big deal. But it will be rather difficult to run a $5M or $10M business without a management team. The largest I’ve ever seen is $23M – but they were paying the price in people leaving the company for better environments.

How you management team is comprised is up to you, but there are two basic ways: Organizational Chart and the Value Process. Most business owners will build their management team off of standard organization charts: managers for sales, operations, supply chain, finance and so forth. They departmentalize their company and then appoint people to manage parts of their company. It’s very common to see this. How well it works all depends on how well the business owner is able to build a team.

Advisors

This is usually the second group that most small business owners put together, but they do so grudgingly and really don’t like it because the cost of engaging and building a team of trusted advisors. Many take the position that advisors – consultants – are just there to take their money and not offer much of anything in the way of value. And while it is possible to waste money with trusted advisors, my experience is that most business owners end up paying more in other costs when they don’t properly build and engage their team of trusted advisors. Good trusted advisors will save you money, even though they have up-front costs.

Most small business owners are really good at what they do, but they are not good at accounting, contracts, compliance, hiring, firing, benefits, financial reports, banking and so forth, so it really is a good idea for them to have a team of trusted advisors who can help them work better “on” their business. And they will offer real expertise at a fraction of the cost of having the business owner him/herself read and learn the same information on their own.

Your trusted advisors should include:

  • Law firm – look for those who can help with contracts, policies, shareholder disputes (if you have a partner(s)) and HR/employment law.
  • Accounting firm – Have them do your quarterly and annual filings. Be sure to ask them about things you can do to lower taxes. And they should help you with your personal will, since that will be highly affected by the size and profitability of your business
  • Banking – look for a bank that can scale with your projected sales and size for the next five years
  • Financial Planner – be sure to pull out value out of your company on a regular basis and invest it personally for your retirement
  • HR/Benefits – you *will* need someone to help you with human resource elements such as payroll, policy manuals, job descriptions, benefits and so forth
  • Executive coach – believe it or not, an EC is become more and more common as small business owners look to sell or transition their business to their children. While most second or third generations know how to run the business, they often don’t know how to lead or how to think outside of what they have seen in their mom and dad. And often, the coaching has to help mitigate the family’s dysfunction so that the business can survive.

Board of Directors

As a business grows, so does the need for accountability and outside perspectives. A small business – even if completely owned by family members – will need outside perspectives both at the management and at the governance layers. While this is usually the last of the three groups to form, it is an important one for ensuring that proper governance is followed. Why is this important? Well, for family businesses, it is important for the family members to have a place where they can put their owner hat on and express themselves on matters pertaining to their role as an owner. What should not be happening is family members acting as owners during the day when their employee position doesn’t require it and, in fact, would negate that role for them during the day. For example, if one of the family members is an owner of 20% of the business but is employed as the Vice President of Sales, they s/he shouldn’t be talking or acting as an owner during the day.

Be aware the “outsiders” should be on your board – not just family and friends. You may want to include some trusted advisors on your board, but the board is there mainly to hold you – the business owner – accountable to accomplish certain things that you wouldn’t normally do yourself but you know you need to do. It’s a form of self-discipline. If your business is owned by your family, we highly recommend having non-family members on your board in order to get outside perspectives at the Board layer.

Summary

As your business grows, you will need to build and engage these three groups. And you, as a small business owner, will need to value what they bring to your business. Yes, it will cost you some money, but in the long run, these groups will save you money as they help you grow, become more profitable, streamline your operations and mitigate risk.

One caveat – as your business grows and you groups are formed, remember that your role will necessarily change and through delegation, you will need to know how to get more done through people than doing it yourself. This is where many entrepreneurs flinch and just say that they’ll stop growing the business so they can stay in control. That’s a legitimate business decision. But if you want to grow and sell for millions in the future, you’ll need to recognize that your role will change and you will be surprised as little you actually control after these three groups are formed. Your focus will be working “on” the business more than “in” the business, so reserving the things to yourself that allow you to work within your strengths will be very important.

Bill English

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