The Business Advisory Blog

The Business Advisory Blog

Insight, news and updates from Alliott NZ Chartered Accountants, Auckland New Zealand. The views expressed here are the views of the author and should be discussed in further detail should an article be relevant to your individual circumstances.

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Mike Barnes
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Eaves Dropping on / learning from Jack and Dianne

This couple and their business are like 90% of most kiwi business owners, but I thought the learning that came out of it could prove useful for others.

secret-593Jack and Dianne own a small but busy printing business. The past seven years has seen them develop their business based on delivering signage; vehicle wraps (big fancy stickers that go all over the car) neon sign lighting and the usual tasks of business cards and letterhead for those clients that only need a small number per printing run.

Five full-time staff and one part-time office assistant allow them to meet the market needs and get an occasional break from work. That said, the occasional staff hassles still occur with staff away due to sporting injuries from time to time.

The business is located in a regional NZ town, which is stimulated by a diverse range of industries but like most places, has noticed the downturn in the dairy farming industry.

Jack and Dianne earn a comfortable income from the business but are concerned that things have struggled to grow in the last 18 months. It’s always difficult to figure out how much is external related (economy etc.) and how much is internal related (staff and leadership apathy) but it’s clear that the enthusiasm to try new things has started to wane.

It’s not uncommon for athletes to ‘hit a slump’ but it seems business owners are somewhat shocked when they do the same.

Can we really expect to be ‘top of our game’ year after year?

When speaking with the couple they had this to say, “We’ve definitely noticed the ‘gloss’ is gone from being business owners; we seem to be doing much of the same old thing and don’t really have any ideas on the horizon to excite us.”

“I agree,” says Diane. “I wouldn’t say it’s bad compared to what friends of ours have gone through but we simply don’t have the excitement and vision anymore; the kids have probably noticed it too. We don’t exactly come home from work ready to be parents of the year!”

When asked why the couple are struggling to try new ideas they tended to fend off the question, “We did try a few of those things but they just didn’t seem to work.”

Jack was more specific, “I think we stuffed up in a few areas and looking back, shouldn’t have tried to get into certain industries as we spent a lot of time trying to build networks that didn’t come through for us. I certainly wish we hadn’t invested as much time as we did, our business would be way better off now if we hadn’t wasted all that time…”

This kind of thinking is not uncommon; in fact it is known as reviewing past mistakes from a ‘counter-factual’ perspective. That’s just psychobabble talk for looking back on a past mistake, wishing it didn’t happen and then imagining a better outcome if a certain action was changed.

It’s called ‘counterfactual’ because it isn’t a fact, but rather, we play the ‘movie in our head’ as if it were real. The downside of this is the self-flagellating (self-put-downs and negative self-talk) which can lead to mental fatigue and lack of motivation. It’s tough to grow a business with this kind of thinking…

There’s two ways you can view a past mistake; Subtractive thinking or Additive thinking.

Subtractive thinking is when you say “I wish I didn’t do x, if I had done it different I’d be way better off right now…” which of course stirs up all the negative emotions and basically ‘codes the brain’ to find all the excuses and/or examples of other failures in your life.

Additive thinking is when you view a past mistake by saying “That wasn’t what I’d hoped for, what MORE can I do next time to get the sort of results I want?” This style of self-talk ‘codes the brain’ to use our problem-solving regions in the brain and to find new ideas that can help us stay enthusiastic and hopeful.

Our meeting concluded with the understanding that, yes, business is a mental game; just like any sport and the way we use our mind determines the quality of our performance and therefore our results.

Jack and Dianne were left with two tasks to complete: the first was to list all the things they feel grateful for in their lives. The second, was to introduce the “But wait, there’s more” style of thinking when developing new business ideas and targets.

(Speaking of business goals and targets, Jack and Dianne were guilty of not writing any of these down for the past 26 months. “We just got kind of sloppy in this area, once our business got established we thought we knew what we needed to do and probably took our foot off the gas. We need to get back into it,” explained Jack.)

So there you have it – ordinary business owners discussing ordinary problems that we can all fall victim to occasionally. But hey, that’s what friends are for.

Mike Barnes is a professional development coach; he’s been helping accounting firms gain more ‘A’ clients since 1999 and covers all aspects of what you might call, soft skills training. What makes Mike unique is his advanced understanding of personality types; this allows Mike to work with accountants to remove the mental blockages that stop them from advancing in their career. See more at

Topics: business leadership Performance strategy team