After 12 years of working for my father’s company, and on the thirtieth anniversary of the company’s incorporation, I purchased Southtown Audio Video. Unlike some family business purchases, it was never assumed as I grew up–and as a matter of fact, never even talked about–that one of the children would take over the company.
As time moved forward and I shouldered more and more responsibility, my husband and I decided it was time to grab destiny by the hand and leap into the abyss of the unknown. Since it is still standing six months later, I’ve decided to make the announcement official.
Here is what I’ve learned in my first six months of ownership.
It is a lot like Monopoly. Like the game, you cannot take it too seriously, or you will be eaten alive. Eaten by the stress and eaten and spit back out by the customers. I find it easier to think that I am managing someone else's money (the company’s) and not my own. If each dollar is viewed as a personal dollar, instead of a company dollar, decisions will be made emotionally instead of pragmatically. This is where the stress comes in. Another good Monopoly lesson is to stay out of jail.
I had to decide on what type of owner I wanted to be. This ties into the way you treat you employees and your clients. You will not get to everything every day, and if you are working 80 hours a week in an attempt to do this, then you are failing. You will have lost the balance in your life and your world. For your clients, you must be proactive about the process to alleviate frustration. If it will take a week to quote a job, or you are scheduling three weeks out, then tell them up front.
This is also where your company culture also comes in. Besides a paycheck, what drives your employees? (Hint, it is different for everyone) I aim to be fair and honest, and to push my people to do their best; this is not always an easy task.
It takes a ton of focus. I looked up three weeks after taking over the books and found that nothing was scheduled for the next few days. I became lost in a world I did not completely understand and forgot to pull back. It has taken much focus to do the job of many (definition of a business owner). I have found that if I plan to accomplish certain tasks on specific days, I am more likely to get these tasks done. If I do not, I make sure it is on the top of the list for the next day and don’t stress about it (well, I try not to).
You need to set goals. If you do not know where you are going you’ll never get there. Do you crave 80 locations throughout the country? Are you trying to break the million-dollar mark? Want to retire when you are 50? Or maybe you want to be bought out.
Know your goals, and make sure they tie into what makes you happy. If you are best in front of a client, then hire a bookkeeper. Also create a strategic plan. This does not need to be a document of many pages; there are great ones out there that are only one page (See: http://www.gazelles.com/gazellesGrowthTools.html). You have the answers; this just gets them out of your head and on paper and makes you think beyond your day-to-day process. Then share them with your team.
When my friends have asked how it feels own a business, I tell them it is incredibly exciting and scary. Yet, as I look around at those who are unhappy at their jobs, or walk through a room of cubicles when quoting a boardroom, I know I have made the best choice for me and my family, for I would wilt away in a cubical.
Being in charge of your life is exhilarating (and at times, intimidating) because you are making decisions each day that will affect the future of the business. I know where I want to be and now just need to work each day to get there.
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.