BOOK REVIEW: Of course you can run a successful business

Of Course You Can! A practical guide to starting and managing your own successful business in South Africa, by Brian Adams

GIVEN our economic realities, ensuring you have a way to earn a regular income is becoming of greater concern for more people. Many have made the mistake of thinking that working for another provides safety. It does not. Ask any of the tens of thousands who thought their jobs were secure, until they weren’t.

Starting your own business with the intention of having greater control over your financial security needs to be considered with seriousness. Of course, doing so is fraught with difficulty, and that is why books like Brian Adams’ Of Course You Can! is so welcome.

The first part of the book focuses on you, the person starting the business. It is full of inspiring insights from a variety of sources.

One thing that should be clear from the outset is that even the best-made plans will inevitably get into trouble. Quoting General George Patton, Adams writes: “The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” To which Adams adds: “You don’t drown from falling in the water – you drown from staying there.”

As you contemplate starting a business, you will probably be trying to find the right time to do so. Is it when you are completely out of debt? When the kids start school? When they graduate from university? When you reach retirement age? And so on. Adams quotes an African saying: “If you see a puff adder on the path in front of you, don’t wait until you find a straight stick, hit it with the first stick that comes to hand, and hit it hard!” There is rarely a perfect time to do what is necessary.

Building a business is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. It literally takes decades to build a really good business. Microsoft, Apple and Vodacom took decades to get to where they are now, Adams notes. You will need to take a long-term view at the same time as you hold in mind your day-to-day, month-to -month responsibilities. The challenge is to hold on to both at the same time, because forgetting the short term is a short cut to failure.

“Growth is not linear, it is exponential. It is like the snowball effect. As you roll a snowball, every time it completes a rotation, it picks up more snow and gets bigger.” Every procrastinated start puts success further into the future.
This is a practical book for starting a business, not a book about thinking about starting a business.

One aspect of the cornerstone is to “Honour your creditors”. Meet your obligations on time and in full. If you cannot do so, tell your creditors early and fully how you intend to honour your commitments.

Another aspect of the cornerstone is “Be a Good Steward of your Money”. This involves never spending anything on the unnecessary, and leaving purchases that can wait until later, for later. Quoting Herbert Mashaba, Adams writes: “Never eat your seed corn!”. I have seen so many businesses get into trouble because the owners used what they should have been investing or reinvesting.

And, of course, an aspect of the cornerstone is “To Learn Continuously”. It was Henry Ford who said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” A person who does not read is no better than a person who cannot read.

Learning is particularly important because we now live much longer than our grandparents, and much longer than our pensions. Starting businesses is not, and never was, the exclusive province of the young.

Three goals to achieve

You should set yourself three goals, Adams writes. Your first goal should be to have “delighted customers in long-term relationships”. Clearly, having plenty of customers only to lose them later is to be back where you started, which is why you need to delight them.

“There is only one boss – the customer. He can fire everybody in the company.” Keep him or her delighted with your offering, every time, no exceptions.

Your second goal is to have “inspired team members who give their best each day”. As the African proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” No great business is ever the effort of a single person.

Your third goal is to ensure profits through growth and efficiency. The constant operational quest is to do more, faster and with less. This can only be achieved through an inspired team and will make you more likely to delight your customer consistently.

If you are looking for a practical book with a Christian hue to guide you in starting your business, this is a good one. It was clearly not intended to be the last book you will ever need to read (Adams provides a reading list at the end of the book), but it is a good first one.

Readability:    Light +---- Serious
Insights:       High ---+- Low
Practical:       High +---- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.

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