Thinking about Work on Labor Day Weekend

Right now I’m supposed to be doing something either productive or fun, right? Its the Labor Day weekend so that means BBQ (did it yesterday), sloth (taking “Labor” as an ironic suggestion) or my more favored activity: prepping for the school year. Not that I’ve really been in school proper for a very long time but I am one of those people for whom fall means “new beginnings” of some kind. So I’m doing a bit of that but for a major distraction.

There’s a Bar Rescue marathon on and I can’t stop watching. Bar Rescue is one of a class of reality TV shows that’s about turning around failing business. You know them: Kitchen Nightmares, Restaurant: Impossible, Tabatha Takes Over, and probably others (I think there’s one about hotel makeovers?). They all have the same model: some failing business owner calls in the show’s expert, the expert wires in some hidden cameras to catch people behaving badly, they show up and scare everyone with the truth, take over for a few days, do some redecorating and boom the business (almost always) starts to succeed.

Now of course there’s a healthy dose of a work going on in most of these, the drama amped up, the turnaround magnified, but there’s also a lot of real hard truth about running businesses of any kind that make them interesting for me.

The main problem is often that the business owner is spectacularly unfit to run a business. They may have been a really great hairdresser/chef/barfly but that gives them about less than no idea what running a business is all about. And this is a classic entrepreneur mistake. There’s no correlation between being good at The Thing (as I call it) and being good at Business Things. Maybe, sometimes, those two skill sets can exist in the same person but doing the constant shuffle between them is incredibly difficult. And if the business skill set doesn’t exist? Doom.

The good news is that, as I think these shows demonstrate, it’s possible for almost anyone to learn them. That doesn’t mean everyone can take them and run with them, but they can learn them. It comes down to a few things and no matter what industry these shows are about they all have a few common elements of success:

  • staffing and the ability to hire (and fire! so many of these people have underperforming staff that they cannot bring themselves to get rid of) the right people and manage them with consistency and firmness
  • inventory and cost control – many of these entrepreneurs do not know their numbers and what each element of their business is costing them and what profit it is (or could) bring
  • professionalism – demanding it both from their staff and displaying it themselves
  • consistency of messaging which is sort of about marketing but also about making sure that each element of your business matches the clientele you want and is internally consistent

There are lots of other details of course but I think it’s hard for owners to always see these big picture elements and that’s why having an outside perspective is helpful. Unlike the experts on these shows, I don’t usually have the specific experience in the individual industries my clients are in, but I think the value I bring as a business coach is an outside perspective and not-emotionally committed thinking about what you’re doing and saying and, often, the lies you tell yourself about how it isn’t so bad or how you’re doing the right things and how it’s someone else’s fault. At the end of the day, whether you want to be good at Business Things or not, to be successful you need to be realistic about what’s going on and willing to change what isn’t working. The greatest element of success that the business owners on these shows demonstrate is the ability to ask for and incorporate outside help.

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