A few years back I had a bit of trouble with the Taxation Office. I was behind in my businesses' tax payments and I was struggling to find the money to pay the growing bill. Things reached a head and I had to have a mediation meeting to explain why I was behind in my taxes and, most importantly, what I was going to do about it.
There were a number of reasons why my taxes were overdue, but they were mostly normal business issues including slow-paying customers, a failure to project manage as well as we should have, and not being tough about collecting money. However, I prepared my story for the meeting along the lines of how tough it was to have a small business, especially when the economy was sluggish, as it was at the time, and how various other real but cop-out issues were affecting my business.
I turned up for the meeting and proceeded to tell my sad story. I went on for about twenty minutes and there were lots of nodding heads but sadly no tears. Then the taxation department officer said slowly, 'This is a very sad story, Mr Griffiths, but we really don't care. You are the company director; you are 100 per cent responsible for your business. We want to know when you will be paying the money you owe the Australian government. If we don't get a firm answer on that from you right now, we will be taking further legal action which will, in all likelihood, mean making you bankrupt.'
Up until that moment I had taken a bit of a loose approach to rules and regulations, particularly those concerning tax. But I realized then that, yes, my name was on the bottom of the page and I was 100 per cent responsible for every single penny my business owed. I left that meeting feeling a little like my innocence had been lost. I knew that from that day on I would take full responsibility for every single aspect of my business and, as I did, my attitude changed markedly.
Before the stern words from the taxation officer, I had been easygoing with my staff, and not that concerned about deadlines or performance. If someone were going through a tough spell, I would keep them employed for months, even though they were not contributing to the business. Now I realized that their lack of performance was costing me money and, while I was never horrible about it, I certainly reacted quickly and made it very clear that this situation had to change.
I made a point of setting budgets and targets for my staff and, most importantly, if they were not met I wanted to know why straightaway. I became much more careful about where I spent money and when I spent money. It was almost like an awakening for me and to some people it may sound strange but I had spent most of my time and energy focusing on the work that I did, not on the business itself. That led to all kinds of problems and the only way to stop them was to take the time and energy to address them one by one.
So, without doubt, the first step in making any business more resilient is to step up and take responsibility for everything that the business does and I really do mean everything: your bills, your products, your staff, your legal obligations and liabilities, your taxes, your ethics, your services and anything else that falls under the banner of your business. This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. If the crunch comes, you can blame other people or circumstances that are out of your hands, but it won't matter one bit. If your signature is at the bottom of the page, the buck stops with you.