Telling the time

by Adina Luca, November 4, 2016

A lot of entrepreneurs do their own calculations, which often means making very simple, rule-of-thumb estimates. If a consultant starts poking their nose into such estimates, won’t it undermine an entrepreneur’s ability to make quick decisions?

This wish to avoid external interference gave rise to the saying, “I don’t need someone to take my watch to tell me the time”.

At Profitable Insights, the watch we want you to have is the one that ensures your company’s financial, customer and operational data is clean, up to date, and sufficiently integrated (or easy to integrate) so as to link everything together, properly orientate your decision-making, and ultimately boost your profits. So you can tell the time correctly.

If you want a watch to work properly, you need to keep it clean, replace its battery when necessary, and adjust it whenever you enter a different time zone. Often, however, when we go to small businesses and ask to have a look at their watches, this is what we find:

There is no watch. The entrepreneur has never invested in creating any kind of timepiece. Not even a sundial. Instead they prefer to glance at the night sky to check how the stars are aligned. Good fortune is the key to success, so let’s not worry about the present and who cares about the past anyway? In these circumstances, trying to tell the time – even approximately – quickly becomes a nightmare.

The entrepreneur doesn’t know if they have a watch. Someone (maybe the PA, or a manager with some analytical skills) has developed a tool that the staff use to monitor operations. It’s a spreadsheet that everyone is familiar with – except the entrepreneur. As it doesn’t convey the big picture or provide complete financial information, this is a watch that tells the time only partially. You know it’s 1 o’clock – but not, unfortunately, whether that’s am or pm. Still, it’s a start.

They have a simple watch that shows the time in a single time zone. Usually this means a spreadsheet which monitors weekly or monthly cash-flow, faithfully updated by a member of staff. It’s a watch that’s helpful, today, but it won’t help you tell the time tomorrow. Nor does it show you the day, month, or year, because it lacks embedded comparisons.

The watch has stopped. The entrepreneur shows us some calculations from a couple of years ago, done by another consultant, their accountant, or a friend who works in in finance. In other words, their watch used to be reasonably accurate but it stopped working quite a while ago. And so it’s left the entrepreneur stuck in the past.

The company has started to make a complicated watch, which isn’t working yet. The entrepreneur invested in a sophisticated software tool which relies on multiple inputs. Unfortunately, it turned out to be really expensive, so they’ve run out of funds to maintain it. It was going to provide “all our information at the click of a button”, but that moment hasn’t arrived. This, obviously, is a fancy watch with many clever features, including weather forecasts from all over the world. The only problem is that it doesn’t have a battery.

They have a good watch, but they don’t know how to tell the time. The data exists, it’s clean enough, and someone is putting it together – but no one uses it effectively. The entrepreneur is always too busy, or not the most numerate person in the company, so all that information ends up wasted. They rely on someone in the office to read the dials for them occasionally, though the readings tend to sound a bit abstract. They prefer not to ask questions themselves because they’re afraid the answers will contradict their existing assumptions.

They’re sure it’s midday, whatever the watch says. The entrepreneur looks at the watch face but doesn’t seem to register what they see. The in-house person is reluctant to point out what time it is because, well, they want to keep their job. And every external consultant who’s ever come in to look at the watch has been quickly discarded for being unable to tell the time correctly.

Time-keeping is crucial for your business. If you don’t have a watch, it’s not only consultants who can’t tell you the time. No one can. This is why some consultants try to use a short-cut to go around the problem: they use someone else’s watch as a reference. They feed you examples from other companies, even when they don’t actually apply to you. They leave you to try what others have tried, but you still don’t have a watch of your own. Once the consultants have left, time-telling remains a mystery. No wonder you think consultants are useless!

You need to create the tools that suit you. You need consultants who’ll build a watch with you, so that afterwards you can use and update it yourself. The watch needs to be adjusted to your size, habits, and stage of development – there’s no need for a top-of-the-range diver’s watch, water-resistant to 100 metres, if you only want to do a bit of snorkelling.

We’ve also noticed that entrepreneurs who have good watches are unafraid to call in consultants both to check that those watches are still giving the right time and to see if there’s anything else they can adjust in order to optimise their time-keeping.