This time of year offers a good opportunity to step back from business for a few days and take stock. How did the year compare to our plans and projections? And if things worked out differently, what can we learn from them?
I’ve asked myself these kinds of questions in Januarys past, and I’m happy to report that as Funding Options embarks on its fifth year in business, I can say that 2016 went largely to plan. We’ve more than doubled the size of our team, moved into new offices, and added some new sales team members to our London office. All this change had me tearing my hair out at times, but once the dust settled we managed to reach milestone after milestone, ending the year with three record months in a row.
But that’s not to say there isn’t lots of room for improvement. The last article I wrote for this site was about the resolutions that all business owners should consider; and it would be remiss not to commit to a few of my own. So here are my three management resolutions for 2017.
1. Better leadership and communication
Every good business has strong leadership, so my first resolution is all about improving both leadership and its communication within the business. Running a fast-moving business can be incredibly rewarding, but it inevitably means that things can fall through the cracks, leaving some members of the team unsure why something is a priority, or how their own work impacts on the business as a whole. I’m making it my focus in 2017 to better communicate to the team where the business is heading, and how each part of the organisation matters if we are going to reach our goals.
2. More collaboration
One of my repeated frustrations in 2016 was seeing the results of poor communication across the business. At times it felt like working in a big organisation with siloes and sub-teams that didn’t talk to each other — we’re only about 20 people, so it shouldn’t be this way.
Although we tend to think of Funding Options in terms of management, sales, marketing, technology, and operations, in reality they rarely stay so clearly defined. After all, directly or indirectly, we’re all focused on helping UK business owners find the right finance, even if our daily or weekly goals aren’t so obviously tied to that aim.
So this resolution is all about breaking down the barriers between the teams, and encouraging everyone to add value where they can, without worrying about what’s printed on their business card. It’s also essential for our success that each team knows what the others are up to, how that relates to the goals of the business, and how they can help each other.
The benefits of collaboration might be as simple as being able to ask one of our Business Finance Specialists about a complex product; or bigger things like the sales, marketing and tech teams tackling a customer journey problem by huddling round the same computer monitor together. The bottom line is that when we’re all in the same room, there’s no excuse not to work together effectively.
3. Better prioritisation
My first two resolutions have an obvious potential downside — not seeing the wood for the trees. With everyone in the same place it’s easy to overhear a conversation and offer to help, or for lots of us to get dragged into a meeting that really only needs two or three people. So my third resolution is to prioritise better, both on an individual level and an organisational one.
I see prioritisation as a twofold challenge — not only must we spend time on the right things, but also avoid the wrong ones. In an atmosphere of increasing energy and collaboration, it can feel counterproductive to say ‘no’, but this is another important component of our future success.
I’ve learned the hard way that if I’ve got 10 things on my mind, I should stop telling the team about 7 of them and focus on the 3 that really matter. Instead of spending effort on lots of projects with decent results, I’d rather the business did a small number of things very well.
Ultimately, my three resolutions go hand-in-hand. The management team has to communicate the business’s goals better; we need to collaborate more effectively to reach them; and we need to ensure we don’t spin our wheels by focusing on the wrong things.
We are now in a position of capability — the last year has gone by in a flurry of incremental improvements — and I hope that in January 2018 I can look back and say we were all pulling in the same direction, all year long.
Conrad Ford is chief executive of Funding Options, recently described by the Telegraph as “the matchmaking website for small businesses and lenders”. Funding Options has been selected by HM Treasury to help businesses find finance when they’re unsuccessful with the major banks, as part of the Bank Referral Scheme that launched in November 2016.