Seven lessons learnt from a lack of focus



If you have ever had that feeling  of “oh shit, I don’t know what I should be working on” as an entrepreneur, you now probably know that it was your previous actions that caused this horrible sensation.

This was the theme of 2015 for Sar and I. It was like we woke up one day and suddenly realised that we had eight businesses between us, we didn’t know how many team members we had, we were on multiple boards each, we were flying back and forth between Sydney and Melbourne each week (but often in the opposite direction!) and we felt sick, lost and overwhelmed.

Clearly this didn’t happen overnight, but to us at the time it did feel this way. Looking back now we can trace back how this occurred and we want to share these experiences because it was sharing experiences in EO that made us wake up to what we were doing to ourselves.

  1. When tragedy occurs, your life will turn upside down. You need to be very aware of the effects of trauma and make a plan that it may take a lot longer for you to get over it than you think. We can really link everything back to the tragic passing of Sar’s dad. We still take full responsibility for all our actions of course, however, in hindsight we underestimated the effect that this was going to have on us personally, and in turn was going to negatively impact our businesses. Take stock if/when tragedy occurs and be careful with your decision making capability as it may be off.
  2. Achieve a goal, set another goal.  Everyone needs something to work towards. In business lack of growth and progression pretty much equals death. You will find your business slowly decays and ends up being a business that you are no longer proud of.
  3. If you’re bored of your business, distractions are not the solution. Make a plan for what you will do with it. Either change what the business does to align with your interests, sack yourself and get a new leader in or even better, look to sell it.
  4. Focus on leading indicators not lagging indicators. Unfortunately we did not pick up the situation that we got ourselves into because we were foolishly looking at the wrong numbers. When you look at lagging indicators such as revenue, client numbers and net profit you may feel good about yourself at a time, when in actual fact, you should be very concerned. Always focus on leading indicators such as sales pipelines, client retention and cash flow as these will really tell you what state your business is in and they will give you time to catch yourself before you fall.
  5. Share your experiences. Sar and I are both very confident (and optimistic) people and we can at times trick ourselves into thinking that everything is fine when it is really not. You need people around you who know you well and really care for you as they will point things out that you may not be able to see for yourself. We are very grateful for our forums in EO and our mentors Warren Rustand, Ron Gauci and David Plush for looking out for us
  6. Team members need to be kept accountable. It doesn’t matter how good your team members are, they all need to be kept accountable. It is delusional to think that they will do everything that you want them to do with out some degree of accountability. Team members are either your biggest assets or your biggest liabilities, it is up to you to determine which camp they will fall into.
  7. Get your startups to a critical size before you start another one. This has probably been our biggest lesson so far! A lot of people out there believe that you should only be involved in one startup at a time. I disagree with this. It is important to play to your strengths and acknowledge your personality. Personally, we like variety and believe that having multiple businesses can actually be a positive as you benefit from shared learnings, shared resources and also variety. Where we have changed our belief-set however, is that each business needs to get to a critical size first with good cash reserves, good leaders in place and a clear plan for growth. We know we would have built larger businesses by now if we had stuck at what we had started and could have comfortably launched new ones now without the stress.

So where are we now? We have had to make a number of tough decisions and work really hard to get ourselves back on track. We have sold two businesses, bought out the partners in another, stepped out of one completely, shut down a further two, stepped off all boards and are now everyday dealing with a number of ramifications in our remaining businesses as a result of taking our eyes off the prize. Cue our mentors to say ‘I told you so’! 

All this being said, there are always positives in every situation. We look back and wonder, had we not got ourselves into this position (where we lost control), would we have launched WE LOVE NUMBERS in the US and acquired Grow My Team? We know that these two decisions will end being some of the best we have ever made, so just remember… there are always silver linings. No regrets, just lessons.

We are also clear that after the changes we have made, we have three businesses that all align with our personal values, have great proven products, excellent and capable teams, and are in a position where we can scale them.

Some lessons are tough to learn, but that’s where the growth in life is.

Are you focusing on the right things and in control of your life right now? Before you go head-on into the new year, take a moment to take stock and ask yourself these questions, because trust me it is a lot easier preventing things now, than fixing them later. 

Finn Kelly is a serial entrepreneur, investor and keynote speaker. He is currently co-founder and CEO of WE LOVE NUMBERS and co-founder of Wealth Enhancers.

Serial entrepreneur and recognised thought leader on Gen Y and leadership, Finn is a dynamic leader and visionary who knows how to get things done. Completely connected with his purpose and values, he lives life everyday to make an impact. He is a serial award winner, including SmartCompany's Hot 30 Under 30 twice. He is currently Co-founder and CEO of smart bookkeeping plus advice company WE LOVE NUMBERS. He is also the Co-founder of Gen Y financial advice and coaching company WE and an angel investor in a number of start-ups.

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