Planning got you wrapped around the axle?

It’s that time of year: Time to assess the year as a whole, work-wise, and figure out how to go forward with what you learned. Yes… it’s time to finish next year’s planning. Yes, finish it. If you haven’t started, carve out some time over the next two weeks. I know, the holidays are here and your schedule is crazy.

Keep in mind that no one wants a meeting with you at 5:00am, so you have that time to yourself. Get up 2 hours early for a week or so. Use the solitude to complete your 2018 planning, getting yourself and your company ready for forward progress.

What didn’t go well this year?

Let’s get start by getting the ugly part out of the way. What didn’t work this year? What was unsuccessful? What didn’t live up to your expectations? What was a total failure?

Of those, which can be eliminated in the upcoming year?

For the things that didn’t go well, assess what happened. Was there a lack of planning? Did the financials work differently than expected? Did a project need more time, money and/or people than was allocated? Did the people involved need additional training or tools? Did you need different people involved?

Make a list.

What went well this year?

What went well this year? What things went so well that if they went the same way next year, you’d be pleased with the outcome? What has to happen to make things go that well for another year? Is there anything about these aspects of the business that can be improved? Is there anything you can learn from the year’s successes that you can use to improve the things that failed or disappointed this year?

Add whatever came of this process to your todo list.

What’s misunderstood about your products & services?

Failures often start as misunderstandings. With client-facing projects, it’s critical to watch what happened rather than assume why something failed.

Do you have a product that generates lots of returns that aren’t based on material or fit-&-finish complaints? If so, watch your customers try to use these things. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s hugely valuable. People will struggle, or make different assumptions than you would. You’ll see where they are frustrated & wonder how they got to that point.

Observation will usually provide the insight needed to fix the problem. With any product or service experiencing substantial returns (or churn), dig a little deeper into why people return them. There’s always something customers aren’t telling you. They bought a product, so they care about what it does. They haven’t told you the important thing because they haven’t been asked the right question.

Got a few more things on the list? Keep going.

Little hinges swing big doors

With that list of new tasks, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. It might look insurmountable, but it’ll be fine if you break it down into achievable chunks. It’s easy to look at the list you’ve made and freak out a little.

Take a deep breath.

There are probably things you do now that someone else could do, or that could be automated, or that when you really think about it… don’t need to be done at all or as often.

For the next four days, set aside 30 minutes per day:

Day One: Review your daily / weekly todo list for recurring items. Eliminate one that really doesn’t have to be done, or that doesn’t have to be done every week.

Day Two: Identify one daily or weekly task that can be automated and get the automation process going. It doesn’t matter how. Use IFTTT, ask a programmer, ask someone else to help you automate it, etc. Don’t let the how get you stuck. Ask for help.

Day Three: Delegate one daily or weekly task. “I don’t have time to train someone” & “It’s too easy for me to do this” are common refrains. Do it anyway. Invest 30 minutes to teach someone how to do something so you’ll never have to do it again. You’ll improve both your job & theirs.

Day Four: Review what’s left. Try to consolidate any of the tasks that remain.

A week later:┬áNow that you’ve seen the impact, can anything else be delegated, automated or eliminated? Open time in your day for higher value tasks that only you can do.

Plan a 2018 that leverages what you do best.

Photo by Infomastern

How not to be a survivalist

Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat in Morro Bay, CA 04 Dec 2007
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

I really try to avoid talking about survival.

I avoid it because think it’s the wrong target.

Focusing on “just surviving” places your business in a risky position.

A bad month or a consecutive series of just two or three bad months can shift many businesses from a survival position to just-plain-closed. I don’t think I have to explain how that will ripple out to your family, your employees and their families.

Not a good thing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of folks out there working hard every day to make sure their business survives, and I’d be the last person to criticize them for that.

What I would suggest is that those folks focus on what has to be done for their business to thrive, since survival tasks are usually a subset of the “do this to thrive” list. We talked about the “Stop Doing” list yesterday, so I won’t revisit that.

Focused on … what?

Let’s talk about a few other things to examine when trying to transition from a survival thought process to one focused on thriving.

What’s the biggest problem your customers have that you aren’t doing anything to solve? Why is that?

Are you teaching your clients/prospects the one thing your business does that would make the biggest difference in their lives? If not, why not?

What would your customers buy from you – that they rarely buy now – if they only knew how much it would help them. Why don’t they know? What are you doing to educate them about it? What should you add to the education/sales process?

Are there markets you don’t yet serve with your existing products and services? Are the markets you serve now in need of products or services that would compliment your existing products and services?

Ask yourself “Who needs you the most?” Ask your best customers which of their friends could benefit from what they get from you – not so much as a referral, but as a hint about a market you might not have thought of.

What’s the one question that when *answered correctly for your product* always results in a sale with a business client? And once you know that question… how can you get them to ask it? Or can you ask it yourself? You already know the question…if it isn’t already the focus of your sales process, why is that?

What local business in your area is in the most trouble due to the economy? What can your business do to help them and their clientele? If a business you knew of has already closed, is there something you do that can pick up their slack?

For that matter, is there a marginal performer who isn’t serving their market well that might benefit from merging with (and learning from) you? If there’s an upside there, it might benefit you to look around.

Have you talked with your competitors lately? “Heaven forbid”, right? Maybe they’re ready to retire and this economy is the excuse they need? Don’t have the cash to buy them out? Work out a deal that lets you both win.

In other words, look around with eyes that don’t have any sort of preconceived notion.

Ask yourself “What can my company be?”, and then step on the gas.

Are you throwing stuff overboard?

It’s a classic, if not overdone scene.

A plane, low on fuel and starved for altitude, flies over the ocean. As far as the eye can see, nothing but water. Her crew hustles to throw unnecessary items off the plane to lighten the load in hopes of gaining altitude and getting a few more miles out of what little fuel remains.

For a struggling business owner, the situation might not seem all that different.

Like a plane empty of unnecessary gear still flies because it has the essentials (thrust from the engines and lift from the wings), the business owner sometimes has to focus on survival strategies that keep them from crashing.

The trouble with working from a survival strategy is that’s all you often accomplish: Survival.

Your goal isn’t to just to keep from crashing, it’s to thrive, to accomplish that big thing that got you into this business in the first place – whatever it might be. It’s tough to see that when you’re barely afloat, but that focus is exactly what you it’ll take to get your business out of that survival mode.

Sure, spending time on the things that will get you over that current bump in the road is important – but if you do nothing else, all you’ll do is barely get over it and then be faced with the next. And another. And they’ll keep coming.

So what do you do? Take some time to think about where you really want to be. If everything worked out perfectly, what would you accomplish? It’s essential to spend time focusing on the long-term. “Where am I going?” is easy to look at as fluff, but that mission/ vision / goals stuff isn’t fluff because it drives everything else when nothing else will.

It tells you who you serve and who you don’t. It tells you what you focus on and what you ignore. It gets you out of bed in the morning when nothing else will. It’s what you talk about when anyone will listen. You know what you’re heart’s in. Admitting it to yourself is the hard part for many, especially you tough guys.

Without that and the focus it brings, your business focuses only on surviving (don’t let the plane crash), rather than cruising at 33,000 ft.

Find your mission and refocus on it

Spend some time over the next few weeks focusing on the real mission you want to accomplish. What got you interested in what you do? What gets you out of bed in the morning, excited to do this work? Cash flow – while critical – isn’t it. Sure, it’s important, but few people get into a line of work solely because of it.

You’ll spend a lot of fuel climbing to cruising altitude, just like a plane does, but you’ll still be interested in the destination once you get there.

Stumped about taking it to the next level?

Every once in a while, I happen upon someone who wants to take their business to the next level, whatever that might be for them.

Sometimes they’ve caught themselves relaxing. Sometimes someone else has caught them napping.

Others simply feel that if they aren’t growing, they’re dying.

Finally, some simply want to grow themselves out of a job and into the position of running their business as an owner rather than a (hopefully) highly paid employee.

All of these are good reasons to turn a critical eye to your business and start for formulate strategies for growth.

But how exactly do you do the actual work?

How do you know what do you look at and what to ignore?

Consider these two things as fuel to prime the strategic pump:

  • What would you do to prepare your business for sale, keeping in mind that you want to get top dollar for it?
  • If you were seeing your business for the first time, what would jump out at you as ideal areas to expand upon and improve?

Get started today.

UPDATE: Hear more on the topic of going to the next level on the July 25 Hotseat Radio show.