Control Your Business and get into the driver’s seat

Control your Business

This article is about encouraging you to control your business affirmatively. It rejects the concept of passivism in business success and embraces positive, if unorthodox, steps.

Get into the driver’s seat

A common complaint amongst small business owners is that they have no control over a situation and feel like they are just a passenger to a lousy destination. This can happen in a variety of situations, whether it is large customers pushing for extended credit terms and stretching your cash flow or staff pushing unreasonable demands upon the employer. Most of you will have felt pushed at some stage and wondered Why is this happening to me?  Beware of feeling a victim of your circumstances, as this is tremendously disempowering regardless of the challenge.  It might be more useful to think How is this happening and how do I stop it? Let me use a quick example.

The wedding venue

Our law firm was approached to secure an interdict (in South Africa this is a court order requiring that somebody cease and desist from certain conduct) on behalf of a client to prevent a neighbouring property from making excessive noise nuisance, thereby severely limiting the use and enjoyment by our client of its property. The client was extremely frustrated as its property was used as a beautiful, residential weekend retreat from the mad rush of the weekday rat race.

Our client had owned its property for approximately 30 years and coexisted with its neighbour quite peacefully until the property was sold. The new owners had established a wedding and conference venue, which was not problematic in and of itself, but the noisy regular parties held every weekend until the small hours of the morning were a problem. Noise pollution is strictly regulated by law and while our client had no desire to spoil anybody’s wedding day, it required that noise levels be reduced in line with the local regulations, which could be simply achieved by the neighbouring venue implementing reasonable policies and sound-proofing measures.

Numerous approaches were made to the noisy neighbour over the course of eighteen months requesting that noise levels be reduced after 01h00 in the interests of decent neighbourly relations and as required by law, with no success. The assistance of the local police was eventually sought as a last resort. The local police were unable and unwilling to assist for reasons that go beyond the scope of this piece. The result of their ineptitude would soon spoil a number of weddings…

The wedding party

Ultimately, after exhausting all avenues available to common decency and thereafter failing to achieve the cooperation of law enforcement, the client instructed us to seek legal relief and the protection of its rights with a highly expensive court interdict. In principle, an interdict was entirely unnecessary in the light of the legislative and regulative framework in place on the issue – in fact, under ordinary circumstances and where a methodology exists to prevent or rectify the conduct complained of, an interdict would not be granted due to the existence of an alternative remedy.

The court granted the order sought and required that copies be delivered to the offending neighbouring property, as well as the local police service. That very weekend, the neighbouring property breached the court order and the local police were called in to shut down the noise (not the party itself, but merely the excessive noise nuisance) in compliance with the court order. The music was shut off and no sooner had the police departed than it was immediately booming again. This process was repeated with insane, cyclical, bang-your-head-against-the-wall predictability.

The court was approached again and a contempt of court order granted against the offending noise-makers for non-compliance with the interdict and directing the police to take action.

Nothing changed and the contemptuous attitude of the neighbours continued. Equally, the police lacked any real will to assist and finally, privately, conceded that they were not really in a position to assist meaningfully. Effectively, all legal options had come to nought.

The party pooper

At about this point – well actually, at precisely this point – a change of attitude and an enormous siren entered the fray.

Our client felt like it had been a passenger in this process for almost three years and had not had the enjoyment of its property for at least this period. In addition, it felt that it was being proactive by taking steps available to it but those efforts were constantly thwarted by the ineffectiveness of a useless police service, despite the law and a court order on our client’s side. The reality reflected that its efforts to take control of the situation were ineffective and it was, simply put, not in the driver’s seat.  After much discussion, the client decided to get into the driver’s seat.

The client purchased a huge industrial siren and a proactive plan was conceived (certainly not on our legal advice). The siren produced a piercing, unpleasant noise and was easily a match for any music system, dominating loud music like a mosquito dominates your bedroom on a summer evening. That weekend, newly armed with steely determination and a bloody, great big siren, the client took control of the situation. At 01h00 in the morning, a deafening racket still emanated from the party venue and a polite request to turn down the music was ignored. The police did not arrive after being summoned and so, the siren was turned on. Party over.

Fifteen minutes later the police did arrive – after being summoned by an understandably angry and intoxicated bridegroom. But, you see, the police had already set a precedent of taking no effective action against noise nuisance. They insisted that the siren be turned off, which it duly was… until the music was turned on again. And so it went: music on, siren on.

The offending neighbours rapidly lost all credibility as a wedding venue and became quieter and quieter. Wedding parties withheld payment and one can only imagine the frosty beginning to many a honeymoon. The police were effectively hogtied by their own behaviour – they had not enforced noise nuisance by-laws when the noise was made by the neighbouring venue and as such, they were also not able to do so when our client reciprocated with its clamorous siren.

Happily ever after

Now, I am not for one moment advocating vigilante responses to law-breaking neighbours. I am, however, strongly advocating an honest look at your reality and putting yourself firmly into the driver’s seat, using the legal framework at your disposal. Not all police services and court orders are as useless as they are in South Africa but you need to work with the system you have – much like our client did (* see note below).

An adjustment needs to take place in your approach and attitude. The necessary, honest evaluation and creative solution will often flow as a matter of course once you have elected to identify the source of the problem and overcome it. Initially, this can be a difficult decision to make, but give it a try the next time the opportunity arises and you will find it becomes more manageable and natural with practice, until it becomes a habit. By electing to identify the source of the problem, you have made a choice. It is no longer being made for you and you are proactive rather than reactive.

Look at the reality of your business and ascertain where your business is being pushed into uncomfortable corners. Do not allow yourself to be a passenger in your business – get into the driver’s seat and control your business!

*(This article is not intended as an exercise in “South Africa bashing” as it is my home of birth and choice, but all homes come with defects and this one just happens to be a real “fixer-upper”, as estate agents so euphemistically term it.)

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About rudiernst

I practiced as a qualified attorney for a number of years before leaving the legal profession in search of avenues to explore my great passion - business! I'm now part-owner and MD/CEO/general dogsbody of a small ecommerce business. We own and operate a number of online stores selling a huge array of products in South Africa, SADC region and Europe. My business? Your success! is about sharing business experiences with aspiring, young, South African entrepreneurs - to give them access to insights of numerous successful entrepreneurs familiar with the unique operating environment of the South African businessperson. The purpose of the website is to make information available to entrepreneurs in a series of easily understandable articles, each focusing on a different business lesson and highlighted with everyday experiences.