Lessons from The West Wing #2 – Parable of the man that lived by the river

In the episode ‘Take this Sabbath Day’, President Bartlett is being is being asked by his senior staff to consider commuting the death sentence of a convicted drug dealer whose appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.  The advisors seek their own advice from various sources including a rabbi, and a Quaker campaign adviser.  President Bartlett, a devout Catholic, requests his parish priest, Father Tom Cavanaugh, come to the White House for his guidance on the matter.

President Bartlett had his advisers look for a way the public would find palatable to commute the sentence.  But in the end, he said “I’m the leader of a democracy, Tom. 71% of the people support capital punishment. The people have spoken. The courts have spoken.”  Father Cavanaugh asked if president Bartlett had prayed, and the President replied that he had, and prayed for wisdom.  “And none came?” Father Cavanaugh asked to which the President replied “It never has. And I’m a little pissed off about that.”  Father Cavanaugh then told the President the parable of the ‘The Man who lived by the river’ (above).

So, put aside the underlying reason why Father Cavanaugh told this parable (I’m not going to debate capital punishment) and let’s focus on the message of the parable.  There are actually two messages to me and these relate to business too.

The first message is this parable makes me think about our expectations and how we sometimes miss the blessing/missed being blessed because we are too focused on it appearing the way, or by the means, we want or expect.  Sometimes we don’t even realise our prayers have been answered because it didn’t happen the way we had in mind.  One reason people leave good paying and secure jobs and go out on their own is they think they’ll be richer and better off.  More often than not they are disappointed and frustrated that this hasn’t eventuated or is taking a lot longer than they expect.  What they don’t see though is they have greater flexibility and freedom as to how to spend their day and prioritise both their work and home life.  There are only three reasons to be in business – to make money, to ‘fun’ have, or to make money and have fun.  I think a lot of new business owners get into trouble because they feel they don’t meet their own expectations or goals.  I have never been asked by a client what my business goals are – it’s not important to them and they are your goals.  Be nice to yourself and manage expectations.

The second lesson is simple and is that focused, successful people are often myopic.  The parable asks you to think about the messages, signals, factors that you might be missing by being so myopic.  To change from ‘buying a job’ to ‘building a business’ the blinkers need to come off and you need to focus working on the business and not in the business.

Both these topics are addressed in my new book “Run Your Business Better– Essential information every business owner should know” which will be available in print and eBook towards the end of June 2017.

Stephen Barnes, Managing Director, Byronvale Advisors

Do you have a business or a job?

One of the most common questions you might ask when you meet someone new is what they do for a living.  The response is always correct – I’m an electrician, or a web designer, or a hairdresser etc..  However, a large portion of these people would also say that they are small business owners, which makes me wonder why thy tell people about the job and not the business.

So, what is a business?  To me a business is a living, evolving entity which I contribute my expertise to meet the customer/client’s needs.  I am creating something sustainable that can exist and operate without me – if that is sitting on a beach in Bali, or departed this earth.  I have some freedom and flexibility, and I’m rewarded for my expertise.

A job however might be something I create, but it is really trading your time for money.  The enterprise is dependent on you doing all the work.  If you’re not there then no work is done and no money generated.

Now there is nothing wrong with creating a job versus owning a business, and most businesses start with someone first creating a job.  Buying a job works when you are interested in an endeavour that’s shorter term, more predictable or less draining.  Building a business is much longer term and visionary, and require you to pace your energy and seek out support that will expand your capacity. 

So, how do you transition from a job to a business?  Well it takes time and like most things is hard at the start but gets easier over time.  Four quick tips: –

  1. Identify and then develop your niche – if you’re a plumber are you a residential plumber, or just work for volume builders, or a commercial plumber, or target retirees? Don’t try to be all things to all people.
  2. Be aware if you’re trading time for money – if you’re pricing jobs based on time it will take you to complete the job, then you’re not rewarding yourself for your true expertise, experience, or overheads. Consider looking at the pricing for a job as how is your expertise worth, and how much you want to make from the project.  This will change the way you view the relationship with your client and make you aware that you provide the client is more than just time.
  3. Diversify your revenue stream – Now I’ve been guilty of this so I give you this tip with firsthand experience. When you start a business, you might end up with an ‘anchor client’ – a client that say makes up the majority of your revenue.  They are great as it gives you a sense of stability, and you are exceedingly grateful for their business and support.  However, anchor clients can be dangerous.  It’s easy to become dependent on a single client and think they’ll be there forever.  It can lead to apathy when it comes to prospecting for and developing new clients.  With anchor clients, the relationship is different and can become more akin to that of an employee/employer relationship.
  4. Systemise – I think most people know that if they systemise and document things then the process becomes more efficient and effective. Most people however will not put a little effort into systemising their business.  But without systemising your business you will never transition from buying a job to building a business – that I can guarantee.  And if you want another incentive to systemise your business then in doing so you’re create an asset in your business than can be worth far more than the value of your time spent systemising your business (and also systemising will enable you to have that relaxing holiday in Bali!).

Feeling overwhelmed now about transition from buying a job to building a business?  Contact us at Byronvale Advisors – we’ll have an obligation free chat with you about your business and how we can assist with the transition process.  Chick here to connect with us.

Lessons from The West Wing #1

While the characters of President Bartlett and press secretary C.J. Cregg) said this in The West Wing, (and it has been used extensively in speeches by Aaron Sorkin the show’s screenwriter) it was actually taken from a quote of a real US President – Harry Truman.


Recently I was having dinner with my nephew who is completing a Master’s degree in Politics, and naturally the discussion did turn to politics.  His view was that even though the majority (yes over 50%) of people voted for the New Zealand National Party in the last election they were wrong in doing so.  The Labour Party only secured around 28% of the vote.  My proposition and then question to my nephew was simple. The proposition was that maybe the National Party just did a better job at addressing the issues that mattered to the voters.  The Labour Party didn’t do a bad job getting their messages out to the voters, and in a university town like Dunedin they had a huge social media campaign to connect which the students, but the message didn’t translate into votes.  The party that can address the concerns of the voters the best will win the election.  We have seen this around the world – and now have President Trump to show for it.


The question I posed though was “Why were there around the 1 million registered voters (over a quarter of all registered voters) that did not vote, however a high percentage of ex pat kiwis (which there are around 1 million) did vote?”  It was even proven that the expat votes actually changed the results in some seats.  The point I wanted to make was that it’s all very good having a view of something but it you do not ‘show up’ and participate then you are not being part of the decision.

The Politics Education for Students program in the UK ran a workshop for a group of 60 Year 13 students at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Bedford in January 2016.  They started with the premise that young people are not interested in politics.  The reasons for young voter disengagement – where it does happen – has little to do with political interest but instead, the flaws in our systems of government.  As a group the students and the team from PEFS began to break down the differences between “politics” and “government” as concepts and processes.   All of the students could identify issues that they were interested in and which they held opinions – student loans, crime, housing, jobs, defence, the economy – but were almost unanimous in citing the unrepresentativeness of politicians, the partisan nature of Parliament and the reputation of MPs in saying that they were unlikely to vote, despite their interest in these political issues. Governing had put them off politics.  At this stage, less than 30% of the students stated they were likely to vote in the next general election.


The participants broke off in to a student led game show task.  Students were presented with ten key political events of 2015 through a variety of pictures. As a group, students came to see how each event (whether it was Donald Trump’s remarks about London, the SNP surge in Scotland or the Paris attacks) had a direct causal and consequential link to young people.


The students realised that far from being “irrelevant” to the process of government, they were crucial in driving its agenda.  As the seminar progressed there was a greater understanding among them that if the young people wanted to change the make-up of Parliament, if they wanted to force the government to focus on “younger voter issues” or if they wanted a government made up from a wider socio-economic background then THEY would have to get involved. They would have to vote, stand for elections, sign petitions, join pressure groups, register with political parties and write to their MPs. In the end, it came down to the old Truman quote, “decisions are made by those who show up”.  Young people, if they wish to be counted and governed fairly, need to show up.  To some students, it hit them like a thunderbolt.


The same message applies in business too.  Sales are made by those that show up and buy the product or service and not just opine for them.  Company Boards are changed by shareholders voting, and by people standing for election to the Board.  Work place laws were (and are) changed by workers uniting for better conditions.  Don’t complain about the political environment, or the taxation framework if you’re not prepared to have your say as a voter, or take an active role in politics.


A few years ago, I made a couple of decisions with Harry Truman’s quote in mind.  The first was I became an Australian citizen which amongst other benefits meant I was entitled to vote in the country I lived and worked in.  I wanted to not only to voice an opinion but to participate in the decision.  The second decision was to join three not-for-profit Boards – one with a social justice cause, one that gave back to the industry I was working in, and one that’s cause was deeply personal to me.  These three areas were topics which I had a strong view, so to get involved meant I also got to shape the decisions.

So today when you are posting comments on Facebook or Twiiter, or arguing with a mate about the federal budget, or you’re complaining about something at work, remember; –

Decisions are made by those that show up.  Don’t ever forget you’re a citizen of this world.

Lessons from ‘The West Wing’

Season 7, Episode 22 from the TV show The West Wing is going to air today.  It is the final episode of the final season of the hit TV show that originally ran from 1999 -2006.  Much to my wife’s disbelief this is probably the fifth time I have watched the whole seven seasons, but here’s why.


The West Wing tackled political issues of the day, but they are just as relevant and current today.  There was an episode on border security on the Mexican border, an episode around the issues between the black v Latino communities, and several episodes around the Israel/Palestine conflict.  There are episodes with issues on gender equality, conflicts passing legislative through Congress, the battlers on farms and industrial wasteland, energy security, and the environment etc…  I only wish that our politicians were made watch The West Wing during an induction into parliament – they too may see that the issues 15 years ago are still relevant today and it is about time they addressed them properly, and lost the politics in the issues.  It will be interesting tonight watching the Australian budget and reflecting on the 154 episodes of The West Wing to see if we are making any real progress.


There are however several lessons for businesses too.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some of those lessons both on the Byronvale Advisors’ website www.byronvaleadvisors.com/perspectives and on social media.  Keep an eye out for them – I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts.

Three things you should do before closing your company

Three things you should do before closing your company

(Article from ASIC InFocus April 2017 – Volume 26 Issue 3)

One of the most common questions ASIC is asked is ‘what do officeholders need to do before closing their company?’ To keep it simple, here are the three key things:

1. Ensure your company has no fees outstanding

If your company has any fees outstanding, we’ll automatically reject your deregistration application. You can check your current account balance online.

2. Ensure your company meets all the criteria for deregistration

Your company must also meet the deregistration criteria which include, all members agreeing to deregister and the company’s assets must total less than $1000. See our content on voluntary deregistration for the full list.

3. Apply for deregistration at least two weeks before your annual review date

Finally, you should apply for deregistration at least two weeks before your annual review date. If you don’t, your annual review fee will be charged and you’ll need to pay it before the company can be deregistered.

If you are planning to deregister your company, we recommend you apply as early as possible.