2015 – A Year of Change

2015 is going to be an interesting year for Starlit Citadel. We are undertaking a large number of changes in the business and I thought some of you might be interested in reading more about it.

Firstly, Kaja our Manager and co-host of the video reviews has left Starlit to pursue self-employment as a teacher in her business Valkyrie Martial Arts. Kaja has been with us for over 3 years (since mid-2011) and has seen the company grow through a significant number of changes and has been instrumental in ensuring the growth has been as smooth as possible. Among other things, she’s the reason we have some of the most up-to-date and well-written processes and procedures I’ve ever seen. Like, seriously – we have better documentation for our processes than multi-million dollar companies I’ve worked for before do. And of course, she’s been the ‘face’ of our video reviews for years.

Kaja’s leaving prompted us to review the video reviews and it’s place in our business and finally, our decision to cut them from our core business activities. While each video itself takes 20 – 30 hours to shoot, there’s also countless hours managing the various platforms and replying to viewers. With over 116 videos shot, we’ve decided that it’s time for us to move on and find better uses for the funds.

With the new funds, we’d like to review new channels and promotions. Perhaps one of our best forms of marketing have been our infographic and game app. However, they are now a year and a half out of date (only a year for the gameApp) and need updating, so we’ll need to fix that as well. We’d love to expand that further, potentially developing the app directly into the site.

Lastly, our second business Fortress Geek has begun to pick up significantly. It’s taken us a while to figure out the marketing and inventory for it, but now that we have we expect to see significant gains in sales – which will require more time dedicated to it by both the staff and myself.

Overall, I’m looking forward to 2015 but expect it’ll be a little rough in the beginning as we all settle down to the new changes.

Delegating Tasks, Not Responsibility

It’s strange, I’m sure I’ve written this post before but I can’t find it. Apologies if this is a repetition on something I’ve written before, it certainly seems a repetition in my head.

One of the first things I learnt when I started managing tasks (sometime in school, I can’t recall when); was that there is a difference between delegating a task and the delegation of responsibility.

Delegating Tasks

Grow big enough, or heck, deal with outside contractors and sooner or later you’ll end up delegating tasks and projects.  You have to if you want to grow a business.   There are only so many hours available in a day, and only so many projects that you can manage before you burn out or let something fall through the cracks.

Delegation is an interesting topic in of itself – you have to weigh both the existing skills of the individual involved (and potential skills you want to grow) as well as the task itself.  Some tasks require a degree of involvement and access to knowledge that is not viable to delegate to another (e.g. managing the accountant or lawyer); while others require such a ramp-up in skills (e.g. developing the marketing plan) that it often seems to be foolish to delegate but can, in the long-term, be worthwhile.

In all cases, when you delegate the task, you hopefully delegate the authority to complete the task.  That includes both the authority to commandeer resources as well as the knowledge / access to information the task needs to be completed.

Not Responsibility

This is where many of us stumble.  As business owners, we generally understand instinctively that everything that happens in the business is our responsibility.  As such, it’s really, really hard in many ways to delegate anything especially anything of substance.  Need someone to take out the trash? Sure, we can delegate that.  Need someone to negotiate the garbage collection contract? Uhh…

What sometimes happens then is that when we do get around to delegating, we do so completely – walking away from the entire task because otherwise, we micromanage.  Unfortunately, delegating the task often does not mean the final delegation of responsibility.  As the owners, it’s still our responsibility at the end of the day; even if we had no direct connection to the task.  If the garbage isn’t taken out and the place stinks, customers will blame us – not the staff member involved.

Tips & Tricks

So what do you do? I don’t know what you do, but here’s a few things I use:

  • SMART criteria for tasks / projects
  • Metrics – for on-going tasks & projects (e.g. number of orders shipped, number of games sold, etc)
  • Regular & scheduled check-in’s – These can range from meetings to regular reports
  • Unannounced / informal check-in’s
  • Parallel projects – doing the work yourself as well as delegating the job.  This is especially useful when you’re conducting a time sensitive project which you’d also like to use a teaching project.

The Great Unknown

Running a business is partly about being comfortable with the unknown and then making decisions based on that lack of knowledge.  It means being okay with things not going the way you want it all the time, and not ever having full control of your daily routines.

Business Forecasting

The obvious point here is sales.  I can tell you, roughly, that November to December is our busiest season, that Mondays to Fridays are pretty busy with Mondays and Thursday’s our busiest.  Normally.  There’s no certainty though – we’ve had Wednesday’s be our busiest day’s by far and Thursday’s dead.  We’ve had months that were just as busy as our November.  And there’s definitely no information out there about the industry and retail numbers.

If you are not a person who’s okay with making decisions with limited, partial or completely misleading information; you won’t last long in this business.  Or any entrepreneurial business really.  You’ve also got to accept the fact that sometimes, yo’ll make the wrong call – and being able to shrug your shoulders and get on with it.

Routines

Very recently, my entire day was thrown off because Kaja forgot her keys.  Every couple of weeks, I have to deal with emergency server / website issues that consume my day.  An employee gets sick, and you have to cover for them.

There are a lot of people who like a 9 to 5, routine job.  There’s very few set in stone pieces of work that we have though, and certainly few that are mine alone.  There’s no routine and my workload varies on a daily basis – and sometimes, hourly. If you need everything to be pre-planned out, then running a game store isn’t for you.

The Unknown is part of the fun really, part of the joy of running your own business.  There’s no more boss, no more routine and learning to embrace it just makes things all the better.

It’s the little things that get you – Stress

Stress.  It’s a quite (or not so quiet) constant in business.

The Early Years

In the first few years, you’re always thinking ‘will we make enough to cover the bills? How long before I run out of money?’.   It’s an intense refrain, one that continues for days and hours till you finally make it.  Then you start wondering if you’ll make enough to pay yourself a salary.  It’s incredibly stressful, and sometimes you wonder why you decided to get into this business at all.

For most, this period lasts 1 to 2 years, 3 at the outside before you ‘breakeven’. And for a moment, there’s euphoria.  Then the stress comes back.

The Growing Years

It’s an equilibrium that is made up of a minimal salary & expenses.  Of course, no one wants to earn a minimal salary and that equilibrium isn’t stable anyway.  If you’re lucky, it moves in the right direction and you get even more business.  Of course, that business just adds more work and suddenly you need to hire.

And a new kind of stress comes – that of people.  It’s one thing when you only had to worry about yourself, about your own salary. It’s another when you realise you have paychecks to meet.  If things were slow one month, I could cut my pay and no one was the wiser.  You can’t do that to employees so you suddenly need a reserve.  One that is significantly larger than your previous one.

Then you realise that you keep running out of stock because business has picked up so much.  Now you need to carry more stock – a larger investment in capital.  More stress, as you scramble to find the money to devote to increasing stock.  You can’t touch your salary reserve, so you have to find it somewhere else.  Maybe a loan or line-of-credit? Maybe you just short-change yourself (again) for a few months.  Either way, stress.

And on it goes.  It never ends.

Coping

As a business owner (and human); the only thing you can do is learn to deal with the stress.  Whether it’s meditation, exercise, talking about it, learning to partition or just going out and enjoying your life – it’s a necessary must.  I think part of the reason most business owners fail is because they burn out; by not learning to cope with the daily stress of running a business.  It’s not easy at all and if you’re prone to ulcers; you might consider avoiding being an entrepreneur.

Managing & Personnel

As many of you know, we’ve recently been hiring and are now are a 3 person company.  That’s a great thing for us (if slightly a strain on our cashflow at the moment); but the real change has been in me having to relearn management.  It has been quite a few years since I had to manage anyone other than myself and relearning best practices has been a journey for me.

There’s a few stumbling blocks I’ve had / have and I thought I’d articulate them here as a reminder to myself:

Project Timelines

Perhaps my biggest frustration at the moment; and one that I keep forgetting.  I hand-out projects to the employees; and while I get updates, I’ve been forgetting to ask for timelines and deadlines.  Now, in the course of our business, we receive a number of set-backs and delays (a rush of orders, delays in getting products in which force us to have multiple receiving days, etc.); but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t at least have deadlines clearly articulated and pushed back (if necessary).

My biggest stumbling block here; and frustration is that I often intuitively have a deadline in mind for a project when I start it (or assign it).  I rarely articulate it (after all, who am I articulating to other than myself?); but it’s there.  Unfortunately, not articulating to employees doesn’t exactly work – and then having a project not completed to an unarticulated deadline just causes frustration.  Mostly with myself; but to a small extent the employee.  Which is obviously not fair to them.

Tasks & Documentation

Another major  area that I have a problem with currently is actually documenting the variety of tasks that I do on a daily basis; and that the company does.  It might seem strange needing to document things as simple as ‘Approve Reviews daily’ or ‘Transfer PayPal funds’ but if you don’t; and for some reason I can’t do it (like a holiday); it doesn’t get done.  As I try to shift more mundane tasks like that away from myself to the employees; forgetting to tell them about minor tasks like that becomes a major problem that can fall through the cracks.

Delegating

Of course, that’s when I do want to let go.  Much of the delegating right now is to move ‘easier’ tasks away from me so I can tackle more complex tasks.  However, at the same time I need to learn to delegate even the more complex tasks and that’s tough. Part of that is of course the old maxim – You can delegate authority but not responsibility. It’s my company, so I still feel responsible for even the smallest tasks.  It’s a tough thing, learning to let go.

Training

Lastly there’s training.  Adding new tasks requires training, adding new projects often requires training (sometimes in simple things like project management).  Then there’s the entire realm of online sales and the complexity that is running such a site – everything from using FTP programs to uploading new modules to payment gateways.  All that at some point will need to be taught, to create redundancy in the company.   Unfortunately, I’m not necessarily the best teacher – sometimes because I’m still learning the subject matter; at other times because of my lack of patience.