Structure is the one of the most undervalued and overlooked components of small business success. A business, like a building, is held up by its structure. The larger the business, the more structure is needed to hold it up, leaving less and less space for individual initiative. Hence the common “cog in the wheel” feeling amongst workers in large organisations.
One of the most common reasons people go into business is to become their own boss. Getting away from the soul-destroying routine of clocking on and clocking off is the immediate goal for many entrepreneurs. Quitting your job to start a business brings with it the exhilaration of no more contentious meetings, no boss to notice you arriving late, or petty rules on the office kitchen wall.
The downfall of some small business owners is to continue revelling in this freedom. What does it matter if you start work late or your desk is untidy? If you’re not in the mood for work today, why not just take the afternoon off to play golf, because finally there is no boss and no silly rules to worry about. After all, you didn’t go into business to have structure, you went into business to get away from it, right? Ahh, the freedom!
Yet creative endeavour is the child of structure. A small business is a creative endeavour, needing structure to survive. The smaller and more fragile the business, the greater importance of structure.
Most artists who achieve long term success have developed clear structures. American author Stephen King who has produced over 60 novels including The Shining and The Green Mile is a fine example. He maintains a strict daily regime. His references to the elusive writer’s muse can equally be applied to the discipline required of small business owners when he says:
Don’t wait for the muse…Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon, or seven ‘til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Similarly, prolific Australian alt-rock singer Nick Cave, whose creative output has spanned over 50 years in an industry known for notoriously brief careers, has said of his band’s habits:
It never occurs to us not to work, there is never a moment when we don’t work because ‘we are not feeling it’ or ‘the vibes aren’t right’. We just do our hours… The most important undertaking of my day is to simply sit down at my desk and pick up my pen.
Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files Issue #156
Small business ownership should be valued in a similar way to creative crafts like writing and music or building a beautiful wooden table. This is the exciting thing about small business; not that you are free from structure, but that you are devoting yourself to a craft. There is some irony that as a small business owner you now need to focus even more on the structure you thought you had left behind. The good news is that you can create the structure in your own style.
The two forms of business structure are time and space.
Structuring time is about planning and scheduling. For example:
What time does my workday start and end?
How long is my lunch break?
What are my rules around other breaks?
What are my rules around interruptions and distractions?
How will I plan each day to maximise the business’s potential?
How will I plan each year/month/week to maximise the business’s potential?
Structuring space is about encouraging efficient flow. Questions to consider include:
How will my desk workspace be set up?
How will my trade vehicle be organised?
How will I present myself to the public?
How will my computer and physical files be organised?
How will I organise my job sites?
Taking the time to consider these questions will give your business structure. Writing out the answers will form the basis of operating procedures, which will in turn become a source of competitive advantage, leading to higher profits and long-term success.