Introduction - Business is Simple

Business is simple. It really is. Which makes it such a mystery that so many business owners manage to make such a mess of something so simple.

There are businesses which are stars. They excel at looking after their customers. They produce great products and services. Their staff enjoy their jobs. And they make money.

But then there are businesses which routinely struggle to pay their bills, have constant staff turnover and have to find new customers to replace the ones who have left. And then their failure becomes terminal.

Wherever in the world you look, the figures make depressing reading – somewhere between 40 and 60% of businesses fail in the first 3 to 5 years. But it’s worse than that. It’s not just new businesses that do massive belly flops. It’s big businesses, and 100 year old businesses as well.

The cost of this failure is massive. Life savings are blown, and retirement nest eggs flushed away. Often more damage is done to the equity of the well meaning backers, whether they be friends or family, or even fools, than to the embryonic entrepreneur. But in addition to the financial havoc wreaked, many of these would-be entrepreneurs have relationships, family and spirit knocked about, or even knocked out, by failure.

But it need not be this way.

If it is so simple- where do so many go so wrong?

Over the years, I’ve started businesses, bought established businesses (both doing well, and those on the brink of death). I’ve sold businesses and watched them go down the drain with the instigation of complicated management structures. I’ve invested in startups, and advised owners and managers. In every case, the business has been the same: We sell something – be that an idea, a product, or a service –for more than the sum of what it cost us.

To me simple means understanding that there are few very fundamental basics in business which we need to do well. When we do manage to do these basics well, then we will succeed.

Yet many business managers go the other way. They complicate things rather than simplifying them. They ignore the simple solution in favour of the complex. Sometimes it is ego that pushes a manager towards complicating things, or they simply get caught up in the day to day task of fighting fires. If there is a problem, then it’s easier to add another layer of rules or procedures, rather than strip the problem back to it’s sources and simplify.

Sometimes it’s not knowing the right questions to ask in order to get the simple answers that matter. Sometimes it comes from adopting the “flavour of the month” business solution without asking the commonsense questions first.

There is no easy formula to business success. It’s not paint-by-numbers. It’s not a matter of paying for an MBA by mail (or any other way for that matter!).

The concept of business has become so seemingly complicated, and surrounded by myth and mystique (often disguised as something else), that we have lost sight of those simple building blocks which should combine to create successful businesses. We have tangled ourselves up in mission statements, and visions, and being so politically correct, that the basics are forgotten.

This book is about those basics. Basics gathered from experience, learned from trial, and from error. And honed by repetition.

The ideas you will find in simple are not mine. I have merely collated them. They have been influenced and shaped by the ideas and actions of many others. Some have been guiding lights I have read, or known, and admired. Others are bastards I have met - and very often wished I had not. They all taught me something along the way – whether or not they intended to.

But mostly simple is about lessons I have learned the hard way – often from failure. Over a career in business I experimented with many concepts, ideas and theories. Some worked. Many failed. Some failed spectacularly.

Those that succeeded were refined over time – and tested and re-tested.

Lessons learned the hard way are well remembered. Their pedigree came from both success and from failure.

Simple is a collection of business basics that I wish I had been given when I was starting out. If I had access to them when I began in business it would have saved me a lot of pain. But that is making the presumption that I would have taken some notice of them.

As the old saying goes “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. As many a business mentor and advisor knows, you can pass on the benefits of advice and experience, but the recipient has to want to learn. It comes back to the attitude that so often defines the successful businessperson from the mediocre.

Very often the best way to learn tough lessons is by experience. Hopefully my experiences will assist others to avoid some of the mistakes I have made on the path to finding the simple answers that work.

Take on board these Simple rules of business – put them into action – and you will revolutionise your business – it worked for me.

And remember – if it works tell others. If it doesn’t – tell me

Richard Keene

aka “simple” Richard

for Aventure Group