This book is the most recommended business book. If you only read one business book in a year then this should be the one. I’m not overly excited by the format of the book but it’s the content that blew me away.
The book consists of the author having a discussion with a business owner. Listening to her woes and hearing how tired she is, Gerber then tells her what her problem really is and how she can fix things. He tells her what problems she’s encountered in the past, how she mismanaged her solutions to these problems and how she could have managed things better to enable her to have a fully functioning business where she’s able to work fewer hours and take time off. I dislike this format, despite the effectiveness, I feel patronized. The trick with this book is to look past the conversational tone and the patronizing tone and to look at the content.
In this book Gerber details the way you can make any small business into a larger business and then make it run without you. He basically helps you become a supervisor. He starts out by making you look at your business in a different way, as if it’s not your business but someone else’s. That’s an interesting technique in itself and it’s meant to make the reader feel as if she is having a discussion with the actual author and not just reading a book. He also details the things you need to do to make things run better.
There are two things he talks about. He talks about the three types of personality a person really is: The Entrepreneur; The Manager and; The Technician. Gerber takes us through the need to balance these three personality types. It’s all very well in a company where you have multiple people, but in a sole trader with no employees you only have yourself and you have to have all these three character traits and learn to balance them properly. When you start employing people you then need to know how to supervise them, that’s part of The Manager trait.
He endeavours to make us look at the business in a whole new light, to divide the duties of the business into different jobs, pretend you are allocating them to different people and then write down the job descriptions for each one. Once this is done Gerber suggests you actually sign each one to make a contract to the business. While I like the idea of writing down different job descriptions I don’t feel the need the actually sign each individual contract, he does this to enable the business owner to pretend they are setting up the business for a franchise and there’s no way I’d be franchising my business. I am my business and you can’t franchise a personality.
Let’s just take a look at franchising for a second as that’s what Gerber is talking about. Take your regular hamburger place that has crisscrossed the world, McDonalds, there’s one at the end of my street that I haven’t been into. A franchise has a head office that has set up all the systems and support network for each individual shop. Someone has actually run the hamburger place and figured out the best way of making a hamburger and the best way to run each and every system in the shop, they have documented every single system in such a way that it can be followed by the lowest common denominator which is why McDonalds employ fairly young people in their front of house, they don’t need people who are already trained as they’ve made things so simple and well documented that almost everyone can walk in and start work with minimal training. Once they had one shop set up and documented it was a simple matter to then apply those principles to another shop and another and then forever. Why do I use McDonalds as my example? Because Gerber uses them too, he talks about the origins of the company and how the McDonald brothers used this technique in their company before being talked into making their company a franchise and then being bought out by Ray Kroc.
Gerber is not saying you need to franchise every company but merely to set down the guiding principles as if you are franchising. He’s suggesting this is a good business model as it means if/when you expand you then have all the paperwork in place to be able to fit someone else into the mix. I like this for two reasons. The first is that if you’re sick and someone needs to take over at short notice then you have everything documented and it’s easy enough for absolutely anyone to walk in and take over. The second reason is that it helps to distance you emotionally from the business and that makes it easier to work. If you’re like me then you really don’t like promoting yourself and marketing becomes very challenging as I am my business, setting youself up as if to franchise helps to distance yourself emotionally and make it easier to focus on marketing the business as if it’s someone else’s. I wrote earlier this year about the need for social media and how I was going to do so much, I haven’t managed to do this as I’m still not happy with marketing myself and I need to distance myself from the business enough to be able to do so.
At this point I’m sure you’re expecting some details on how to apply this to a bookshop but I think I’ve written far too much so that will have to wait for another article. When I do write it will be more of a guide than the definitive as I’m no expert, just someone who doesn’t always know when to shut up.
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