Here, we talk to William Buist, who built up a leading collaborative consultancy, and subsequently founded the exclusive xTen Club, which provides its members with the opportunity to learn from and work with other entrepreneurs.
Your business, Abelard, is a collaborative consultancy. What does this actually mean in practice?
We believe that life is too short to do mediocre business, and that to be remarkable we need to work collaboratively. We contend that the world is moving ever faster to a collaborative, rather than combative working environment. That means doing things effectively together. Business is most effective when everyone suppliers and partners, staff and associates, distributors and customers, is working to deliver the best result possible.
In practice that means spending time up front to build common understanding, shared values and mutual trust. Whilst that takes time in the short run it saves much more in the long run, and reduces the management overhead. It’s a key part of how we support our clients.
From our experience, it’s sometimes hard for business owners to look objectively at their performance and what may be holding them back. Is this something you often address with clients?
Business owners are often busy dealing with the day to day ‘things’, and get very close to the ‘things’; that can make objective review very difficult. Change is essential because markets constantly change, and business opportunities constantly arise. Implementing change well is best done within a strong strategic framework. Strong strategy requires great clarity, something that requires objectivity. Our Business Clarity Model is designed to give insight to businesses and help identify the things that hold them back and their strategic resolutions.
With your extensive experience of working with entrepreneurs, would you say there are any common characteristics shared by successful business people?
The best entrepreneurs know that their skills are not enough on their own to solve every problem that a business faces. Skills matter. The best know that the best product doesn’t always get popular attention, but that those that do will always do well. Marketing matters. They build a team of skilled experts, advisers and practitioners to support them across all that they do and all that needs to be done.
What are your views on the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate – whether entrepreneurs are born or bred?
Entrepreneurship is more about a state of mind, when compared to practitioner business owners. They have an attitude to risk which enables them to be more risk taking than the run of the mill. Those skills can be learned, but the willingness to apply them is less well defined.
Do you think all small businesses should have a business plan, when things often turn out so differently than expected?
A business plan shouldn’t be something that is done once a year or just when business is set up. We work with clients to develop a dynamic business plan that guides day to day activity, defines the way it will be measured and which adapts as the world changes around the business.
The business plan informs and guides decision making meaning that businesses make better decisions faster, which improves both profitability and growth.
Does strategic planning have a place in the life of your typical small business owner, or is it more the preserve of larger firms?
Strategy is as important, perhaps more important, in a small business. Strategic thinking, facilitates a structured approach, enables measurements to be clearly defined and for the business to adapt as it needs to whilst keeping a focus on its aims. We think strategy is at the core of success.
What inspired you to found the xTEN Club, and what benefits does it offer to its members?
The xTEN club grew out of the work we were doing with customers. The key thing that it provides to businesses, as they grow and develop, is a safe environment to discuss aspects of their business that would normally not be shared. So confidentiality and trust are key factors. The club helps to catalyse change, build deep relationships between members (from which new opportunities have been seized) and a level of accountability that is as supportive as it is compelling. It is the pinnacle of collaborative working.
We are incredibly proud of what xTEN has achieved.
About William Buist
William is owner of Abelard Collaborative Consultancy, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club – an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: ‘At your fingertips’ and ‘The little book of mentoring’. Find out more at http://Abelard-uk.com and http://Williambuist.com