Start the right things

A while back, a friend sent me a link to an old blog post called “30 things to stop doing to yourself“.

It struck me that while the list was intended for application in your personal life, the list could also be applied to your business – with a tweak or two.

Rather than talking about 30 things to stop doing, I decided to discuss a shorter list of things to start doing. Yes, lists are old school – but the things on the list require pigheaded determination to keep folks tending to them. A reminder never hurts.

Start spending time with the right kind of people. – This includes customers, mentors or other leaders of the right sort. What’s the right sort? The ones who spend their time trying to improve, grow and bring the rest of town and/or your industry with them. Don’t forget to start being the right kind of people.

Start tackling the things that challenge your business rather than waiting on them. – Few business challenges get better over time. The rest tend to fester like an untreated wound.

Start being transparent. – Not “politician transparent”, but really, truly transparent. Faux transparency is as useful as horse biscuits – yet that’s exactly what we get from most businesses. You’ll be amazed what can happen when you simply stop pretending, stop hiding, stop manufacturing spin and stop playing games. Think you aren’t doing that now? Think about it. Consider what a frank, win-win conversation with your staff, your suppliers and your customers could produce. Opportunity, for one – which will start with the next list item. Worried about the reaction? It’ll be no worse that the reaction if everyone figures out for themselves that the business they know isn’t the real business after all.

Start putting your customers’ needs front and center. – As Zig Ziglar said, if you help enough others get what they want, you’ll get what you want. If someone moves your cheese and you whine about it – you’re focused on the wrong things.

Start being what you are rather than what you aren’t. – Deliver the value you love to deliver and the right customers will love *that* business. I don’t mean the well-worn or often misguided/misinterpreted “do what you love and the money will come”. I mean do what your customers love to get from you. Not sure what that is? Ask them. They know what you rock at and they know why they value it more than anyone else’s. What do they see as the work you have the most enthusiasm and insight for – particularly that which no one else brings? Yes, I know you can do the other 37 things that everyone else in your market does. Remember that “focus on customer needs” thing?

Start making mistakes. – No, I don’t mean start goofing up intentionally. Your customers need your business to stretch so you’re ready for the place they’re going. They either go with you, or without. If you aren’t messing up, you either aren’t doing anything or you aren’t doing anything interesting or new. Your best customers are the ones who will leave you behind if you’re on cruise control.

Start having higher standards. – Seek out customers, employees, products and partners who force you to improve your processes, people, products and services. If you accept what you accept now, you may as well hit the complacency cruise control – which is all too easy when things are going well. This doesn’t mean not doing anything until you can do it perfectly. It means having a constant focus on improvement, including learning from the mistakes we just talk about.

Start accepting that you aren’t ready. – Nobody is. Start anyway. They call it comfort zone, but it has another name – the place your company was before it woke up, before it doubled our sales, before it started working with better customers, before it raised its standards, before it discovered that new market, and so on. The way it used to be that you’d never go back to if you could help it.

All of these things are going to impact your culture, processes and much more. Some employees, customers, vendors and partners will not be ready for that. Plan how you’re going to deal with that and communicate well.

Improving the conversation

Ever watch closely as a teenager or younger kid watches TV, listens to an iPod or CD? They change the channel or song constantly. They rarely seem to listen to the whole song.

Today’s guest post (I’m in a canoe, remember?) is a video of a talk by Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo (a conference). Transcript is here if you prefer to read rather than listen/watch.

Don’t change the channel if you don’t care about Web 2.0 (a thing, sorta). The talk is about time, what we do with it and so on, but there’s another message there.

It’s also about understanding your employees, what motivates them (much less your kids), and perhaps even doing a better job of understanding your clients.

If you’re a little older, this just might make you crazy.

Clay explains some of why that is, and it also just might help you understand how to improve the conversations you have with clients and with employees.

Insightful stuff.

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.