If it's not core - don't do it

By: Jason Currill

Date: 1 September 2011

Or, to put it another way, outsource or die! Either way, the message is still the same: starting or running a business is tough, trying to stay focused on what it was you wanted to create, sell, service or make is core.

Everything else is fluff!  Admittedly, important fluff – but fluff none the less.

A couple of years ago I was in Canada starting up a retail gift card company for a major Canadian retailer. The concept was sound, the partners were solid, the customer was signed, awesome!

Then it started to go a bit wonky, then it went really Pete Tong!

One of my biggest suppliers was sliding into administration and I worked with their board, their stakeholders and investors to try and rescue the company because I thought it was important for my company.

Big mistake : I should have moved on and fast. Instead I tried to salvage something that didn’t want to be saved and in doing so sank my own ship. Whole exercise as one of my buddies pointed out at the time was basically a real live fire MBA exercise: I lost some cash (quite a bit), I lost some sleep (also, quite a bit) but I gained valuable experience.

This is what I learned and how I now practise what I preach:

  1. If something can be leased, outsourced or serviced by someone else then choose three suppliers, pick one and have a back-up!
  2. Do not try to save others if it goes south: it will distract you and potentially destroy you.  Just default to back-up.
  3. Start with the end in mind and let this be the blueprint for how you go on.
  4. Look at the support services and infrastructure you need around you.  Imagine the business in three years’ time and work back from that.  Pick suppliers and services that can handle your growth:  you may pay a little premium for the elasticity but it will be worth it when the business takes off and you need to ratchet up a couple of gears.
  5. Try not to own anything that will depreciate over time.  Outsource your stuff and let others take the depreciation.  Do this for software, hardware, email, CRM, Finance tools etc - all the boring stuff that you need to run the business but crucially is not the business
  6. Be lean – most things these days can be purchased on per user, per month, per annum deal from ERP, CRM to storage and security, so do that. Opex is King, Capex is bad!
  7. Listen to your head, not your heart (or ego). Focus is everything; support services are just that, support, and the second they don’t work move on!
  8. To keep moving forward, stick to the plan with 10 degrees of latitude either side, not 180 degrees.
  9. Receive advice with the grace it’s delivered with. None of us knows all the answers.  The really clever person can spot the smartest person in the room and use them!

With so much bad news flying around about austerity, security and economy it’s easy to join in with moaning about things we really can’t change or influence. Ignore this ‘white noise’ and instead focus on your business and move forward with purpose.  There are very few billion dollar contracts from China floating around but there are millions of small business leaders and we can get the economy back off the ground!