When I was a small girl, my family would gather to watch The Art Linkletter Show, a television variety show which aired once a week.
Although I have watched countless shows since that time, there is one particular segment which comes to mind when considering the many facets of starting and operating a small business. During the segment, Art Linkletter introduced a juggler who proceeded to explain how we all are jugglers. There are those who juggle as a profession; however, the analogy was applied to the rest of the population. No matter your profession, age, or socio-economic status, we can all learn from the juggler’s lesson of “The Spinning Plates.”
To offer a brief synopsis of the lesson, the juggler first began the process by placing a dowel rod on the floor and balancing a plate on top of the rod. He gave the plate a spin with this hand and stood back to watch as the plate, balanced atop the dowel rod, would spin around and around. As the first plate was spinning, the juggler would set up a second dowel rod and plate. This process continued until the juggler had twelve sets of dowel rods and plates spinning. In order to keep the plates from crashing to the ground, the juggler had to run from one to the next to keep the motion going. Inevitably, he would be too slow to attend to all of the plates and one would crash to the ground with the plates shattering into pieces. Quickly, he would set up a replacement and run from one plate to the next spinning, spinning, running, spinning, running, spinning, and running again! I was exhausted just watching the process.
The morale of the lesson is that no matter how wonderful you might be at spinning plates, you can only manage a certain number of plates effectively. Add just one too many plates and they may all come crashing to the ground. The same lesson is especially true for those of us who are business owners.
There are many aspects of your new business which will spin at the same time: financial, marketing, sales, service, employer/employee relationships, customer relationships, deadlines, industry regulations, ordering supplies, overseeing production, submitting bids, and the list goes on! With all of these responsibilities, it is no wonder that we find ourselves spinning and running just to keep all of our “plates” operating as they should. New entrepreneurs are often overwhelmed with the magnitude of responsibilities created when they decided to start and operate a new business. Realizing that all of the different areas must be effectively operating at the same time can create quite a bit of stress for the new business owner. To be successful, it is imperative that we understand our value to the new business. The primary responsibility for the new business owner is to focus time and effort on actions which contribute the greatest value to a new business. So what happens to the rest of the plates left spinning? Ah, that is the portion which must be delegated to others. In other words, the business owner should “spin” the value plates and delegate all activities that others can do. To capitalize on entrepreneurial strengths, new business owners must learn to delegate in order to spend valuable time strategizing and leading rather than doing.
Art Linkletter has been quoted as saying, “I’ve learned it is always better to have a small percentage of a big success, than a hundred percent of nothing.” An entrepreneur himself, Linkletter learned early in his career that the quality of employees he hired was in direct correlation with the success of a venture. Linkletter hired the most creative people he could find to assist with the production of his television shows, “House Party” and “The Art Linkletter Show.” Then, he shared his success with the employees, realizing that without creative employees, his ventures would not have yielded the same results. If you were to ask the 96-year old entrepreneur his secret for success, he would tell you that he has learned not to spin more plates than he could comfortably handle. Of the many books Linkletter wrote, it was the title of a book released in 1980 that states the fact entrepreneurs must remember, “I Didn’t Do it Alone!”
As this article comes to a close, I hope that you also learn from the juggler’s lesson and realize that you cannot possibly “spin all of the plates” found in your new small business. Instead, learn to delegate responsibilities to others within your organization so that you can concentrate on that which brings your enterprise most value. I’ll leave you with another bit of advice from Art Linkletter: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out!”
Keep the plates spinning.
Small Business Management Instructor