I always bring food. Gourmet donuts or expensive hipster treats. This time, I was running late, so it was a McCafe assortment of cheesecake and macarons.
Food is the way I celebrate, the way I make everything a celebration. Life is better when there’s ridiculously good food around.
Food makes long meetings feel like parties.
I pull up to that big white building, hauling boxes of books and juggling smoothies. I come bearing gifts.
I get greeted with hugs and wide smiles.
This is one of my favourite rituals.
I chose them carefully, my accountants.
These are my third set since starting in business.
With each one, as my business has grown, I’ve outgrown my old accountants.
I never want to be the big fish in a small pond. I want to be mentored and taught by accountants who know how to do business my size and beyond.
The last time I outgrew, I got disciplined in my selection process.
I knew how important accountants were to me, and I wanted them to fill my needs.
Before I had recruited accounting firms by referral, but this time I wanted to step it up.
So I created a spreadsheet of everything I wanted in an accountant:
- Experience with online businesses
- Experience with export businesses
- Using cloud software
- Quick responses to my email requests
- Managing companies that were both smaller and much larger than mine (so that they had the skill set for exactly my size).
I also had columns for:
- Whether they answered my call quickly or responded back to my enquiry quickly
- Whether I liked them on the phone and if they made me laugh. (Because, you know… FUN is important to have!)
Then I added rows for all the accounting firms in my area, and set to work on calling them to interview them over the phone.
Some accountants were rude. Some had no clue about what I was talking about. Some made it clear I was outside of their expertise of “mom and pop small businesses.” Some didn’t respond to calls.
Each one was noted. Each negative answer was marked in red, each criteria addressed was marked in green.
Rob was the star performer in that interview round.
He got me. He got my industry. I wasn’t a large anomaly to him as a 7 figure business – he advised much larger companies than I. He was kind and patient and funny.
He got all green stars.
Rob said to me much later:
You’re the only person in 20 years who has interviewed ME to be their accountant. I had to work hard in that interview too! I knew what you were like just from that phonecall.
It’s been 18 months since I started making those quarterly walks up to his office, arms overloaded with food.
We settle in. The meetings are always long.
There is so much to discuss.
Numbers paint just a part of a picture, he says.
They raise questions, but the answers can only be answered by you.
That’s what these sessions are about.
Rob shows the numbers and is the voice of the questions:
This part here? This makes me want to ask: What is happening here? Why is this part growing? Why is this number increasing?
And sometimes I already know the answers and can confidently say:
I know about that. That’s a risk I took and it paid off.
I felt like that was happening. It’s a decision I made, and it hasn’t worked out, and I need to change it.
Things become clearer when the numbers paint their picture and I fill it in.
This time around, I feel like there’s a great weight on me.
It’s our meeting to review the year beforehand, the year of 2016, the year belovedly called: What In The Holy Fuck Just Happened?
It was the year I hired a large team, went through 3 COO’s in quick succession the year that did.not.work.at.all.
Thankfully, the company continued to grow in revenue, and despite expenses skyrocketing, I still made good profit.
But it wore on me. I worked harder than I ever have. I fought for the vision and purpose of my company. I felt profoundly unsupported and misunderstood. I didn’t love what I did anymore. When I went on health retreat, I cried because I couldn’t bear going back to work again.
I finally decided: No more. It’s my way or the highway. I will claim my own power and recreate this company to fit ME.
And I did. It was surprising how quickly things felt better, how much the noise quietened once I got clear. I slashed everything that didn’t fit Pareto’s Rule (20% of your work (the core, central, good stuff) will create 80% of your profit (abundant and joyful), 80% of your work (all the excess stuff) will create 20% of revenue (hard won and salted with sweat and tears).
I’ve been returning to this writing over and over for weeks, trying to get there. Trying to create the space and the quiet in my mind for it to keep flowing forward.
I went away to an essential oil convention which was huge and wonderful and energetically intense. I have a laughter hangover from being around my favourite girl squad, more stories than I can tell. And I backed it up with running the Mindfulness and Manifesting Success event yesterday at Australian National University.
And I’m grateful I’ve done both these things… heart-glad I’ve connected and shared and turned up and experienced.
And then it comes to pay the Introvert Tax, the tax of being highly sensitive/aspie/easily stimulated/whatever you want to call it.
The comedown, the overload, the backlog of thoughts and ideas and feelings and stories and adventures that need to be processed… whether that’s by telling them to Chris, writing about them here or in my journal, or simply just reliving it myself in my head until it makes sense.
I’m reading “First We Make The Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety” by Sarah Wilson, and it’s by far the best book I’ve read on anxiety. Everything makes sense now, and I just keep telling all my mates: Go. Go now. Go get. Read now. Must. In it, she talks about her experience of anxiety (and bipolar), and what she does to keep it being a gift, not a hindrance. And it’s making me think of all the things I need to do to calm the farm – the weighted blankets, the writing, the quiet expanses of spaciousness just to… think. And create. And make sense of it all.
So it’s Thursday and my commitments from the last couple of months have ended and I feel like I have a bit more spaciousness now. To write and think again.
And there’s still backlog to work through, but this is part of it.
Gotta write it out to make sense of it all.
So I’m cocooned away, in my office, door locked, lanky now-3-year-old playing with her papa bear.
Not only that, but I’ve gone into the innermost creative cave of it… the nook of the walk-in robe just off my office… a bean bag and candles and crystals and hand cream in a corner by the window… a sanctuary away from any noise.
Here. Here I’ll return to me again. I’ve gone on many adventures. It’s time to write myself home.
I wonder, you know. I wonder how I could have been a better manager, a better hirer so that I could have scaled up into a larger-sized business.
But it’s like trying to make an antelope be an anteater.
It’s not my gift in the world. It’s not what I was born to do. It’s not what lights me up.
This, this right here does. This part about writing and sharing, this part of listening enough to hear the soft voice inside of me, that’s what I was destined to be on the planet for.
To create endless systems and check-ins to monitor and ensure my staff were at full productivity and doing the right thing?
Nope. Nope. No. Not in a million years.
It was just way too… peopley.
And I didn’t have the right people.
And I didn’t love it, at all.
And I could spend my time beating myself up about that… about the fact that I’m not born to give dictation, I’d rather just do it myself… about the fact that this particular constellation of cells needs and craves great swathes of time in order to listen to the drum in her head and tap tap tap it out onto the keyboard in simpatico. I was not born to be a manager. I was born to be a Leonie.
But what’s the point of beating myself up?
It changes nothing.
And it makes the misassumption that managers are better than introverted creative types.
The fact is, this world needs both.
I got born as the latter.
And it’s my job to craft a life and a business that sings to that and plays to my best side.
So I returned to my Hedgehog Concept… the one that I’ve always been so devout about but it got messed with when I had too many loud voices in my team so insistent that they knew better.
The Hedgehog Concept is from my (beloved business-boner-inducing) Jim Collins.
From Mind Tools – a good article about the Hedgehog Concept:
If you could choose to be a fox or a hedgehog, which would you rather be?
Many people would choose to be a fox. After all, foxes are beautiful, sleek and cunning. Hedgehogs, which are small, prickly creatures found in Europe, Asia and Africa, are quite the opposite: slow, quiet and plodding.
So what do foxes and hedgehogs have to do with your organization’s success? In short, everything.
In this article, we’ll look at the Hedgehog Concept, and we’ll discuss why it pays to be a hedgehog in business.
About the Model
The Hedgehog Concept is based on an ancient Greek parable that states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
In the parable, the fox uses a variety of strategies to try to catch the hedgehog. It sneaks, pounces, races, and plays dead. And yet, every time, it walks away defeated, with a nose full of spines. The fox never learns that the hedgehog knows how to do one thing perfectly: defend itself.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin took this parable and applied it to the modern world in his 1953 essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Berlin divided people into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs.
In his essay, he argued that foxes are sleek and shrewd animals that pursue many goals and interests at the same time. Because of this wide variety of interests and strategies, their thinking is scattered and unfocused, and they are limited in what they can achieve in the long run.
Hedgehogs, however, are slow and steady, and people often overlook them because they’re quiet and unassuming. But, unlike the fox, they are able to simplify the world and focus on one overarching vision. It’s this principle that guides everything they do, and helps them succeed against all odds.
Jim Collins developed this idea further in his classic 2001 book, “Good to Great.” According to Collins, organizations are more likely to succeed if they focus on one thing, and do it well. By doing so, they can beat their competitors and become truly great businesses.
An organization can find its “Hedgehog Concept” by making three separate assessments. First, it can understand what its people are truly passionate about. Next, it can identify what it does better than anyone else. And last, it can determine where it’s good at generating revenue.
The right way forward is where all three answers intersect, and it’s this central position that is the “sweet spot” for the organization’s strategy.
I’d always been so devout about that Hedgehog Concept… knew what worked for the workbooks and the Academy. When I listened too much externally about what I SHOULD be doing next, it led to so much feature and product bloat it wasn’t funny. Revenue went up, but expenses leapt up at the same rate. More work, more money coming in, more money going out, same profit. I took on projects that I shouldn’t have. I got burned to a crisp.
In that meeting with Rob that day, I said:
I should have said No. I should have said No so much more. I should have just listened to what I knew was right, and continued to steer the ship in the direction it needed to go. I wish I had been stronger.
Rob looks at me kindly.
You know, Leonie, you need to be gentler on yourself. And that’s not true. You DID say No. You said No a LOT. I was with you in some of those meetings with your staff. You said No to many of those things that people were pushing you to do. You always knew.
You know, you were always going to get to this point…
How so? I ask, pleading to know the answer of how I’d managed to fuck it up.
Volume was always going to kill you in the end.
You’re not a slow growth company. You’re a high growth company. Sheer volume of orders was always going to force your hand. You were going to have to decide on either of two options: hiring a large team, or outsourcing. There are pros and cons of both, and it comes down to personal choice.
You just explored the option of hiring a large team. You’ve discovered that does not bring you joy at all, or help you feel like you are fulfilling your company mission.
So now you are streamlining and outsourcing.
Either way, you were going to reach a pain point. You couldn’t have kept going the way that you were without choosing one option or the other. All you’ve done is learn which one you don’t wish to do. Excellent. And you’ve done it while staying profitable. You can count that as a win.
Oh, I say.
Maybe I couldn’t have prevented the pain. Maybe I hadn’t made a mistake. Maybe I could give up on believing that if I’d just controlled more, worked harder, I could have avoided the growing strain.
This is normal, he says.
Everyone goes through this. Everyone has their thing to work through. The pain brought on by owning a high growth company. It’s called scaling up, and it isn’t always graceful.
I will get asked this question, so I’ll pre-emptively answer: Rob is from DFK Everalls.
Yes, I recommend them.
*However* they may not be the right fit for you. It’s up to you and your criteria.
Do your own spreadsheet and interview round.
It’s worth it to find gold like this.
Maybe I’m not that special. Maybe I couldn’t have done anything else but been what I am.
I think about what Richard Branson says:
“Even if I’m falling flat on my face, I’m happy, because I know I’m still moving forward.”
I fell on my face. It was muddy and shitty and it hurt.
It did not feel graceful.
It broke my heart to see my dream – that thing I loved waking up in the morning to do, become something I didn’t want to return to.
But that right there – that time, that space – gave me the opportunity to reclaim it.
A reclamation of vision, determined to heal my dream and make it whole again.
And in doing so, I stepped into myself again. My power and my light and my joy. My salty intuition and my lioness guts.
Each step of the way as I carved off the pieces that stung and the pieces that did not fit, I felt lighter again.
This. This is what it is meant to be. This dream that was here all along. It might have got covered up with vines and barnacles… but the castle remains.
Maybe I didn’t make a mistake – I just did what everybody does.
I tried something. It didn’t work. So I’m trying something else.
Right now, it’s working.
And if it stops working, I’ll change course again.
Maybe there’s never any wrong turns, just scenic drives along the way to give you insight and travelling stories you wouldn’t have without. My eyes are different for having seen that land. My heart is stronger and wider for having felt that pain and choosing me and my dream again.
Maybe the whole point of all this is that sometimes, in life and in business,
we go to places we don’t want to go, we learn lessons we don’t want to learn, we see things we don’t wish to see.
Maybe the whole point is that growth of any kind (revenue or spiritual) doesn’t come without pains, without fumbling and near misses in the dark.
That nobody gets through this unscathed, without their war stories, without their “Holy fuck can you believe THAT just happened?”
But that maybe the whole breathless, sweaty mess crafts us into better humans, far better than if the road was always smooth, the air always sweet, the choices easily made.
That this is what we were made for, the destruction and the resurrection, the losing and the reclamation.
It’s all the more sweeter, all the more precious, to have lost it and claimed it again.