Categories
Entrepreneurs Leadership

Time for thinking

How much time each week do you spend thinking about important things? I don’t mean baseball or fishing or camping or whatever (they’re important too). I mean thinking about the most important aspects of your business – whatever they are.

If it could talk, your calendar might argue with you about your answer. Take a look at it.

Does your calendar include time dedicated to considering your most important upcoming decisions?

Are there any slots set aside for thinking about other important items?

Is there time for discussing these items with your leader(s)? That’s important too – but that’s not the time for you to assemble your thoughts. That’s the time for you and your team to go over what came out of everyone’s advance thinking on the subject.

Do you think about these things on your drive home? Or while heading to the store or dinner with your family?

If that’s when your thinking happens, how distraction-free is it?

Do you remember any ideas or conclusions you arrived at during those times?

I’m guessing the answer is “No.”

Thinking is a duty

Thinking doesn’t demand “in my office, staring at wall” time – unless that’s what works best for you. The key is being distraction-free. Whether you’re fishing, walking the dog, paddling a kayak, or sitting in your office – the key is solace. Be alone with your thoughts. They need your full attention.

This time can be hard to come by unless you schedule it into your day or week. Intent is critical. “Got a minute?” has a way of destroying intent, or delaying it until tomorrow. One thing leads to another, and another – soon it’s six p.m.

If you’re a leader in the middle of an organization, these situations can be hard to avoid.

If you’re the owner, not doing this work for days, weeks, or months at a time is all but dereliction of duty. As owner, that’s your right – but is it right? Is that what you want?

Slow, turn ahead

One of the most important jobs an owner has is to be ahead of the curve. Considering and making decisions before they’re necessary. Waiting until the next challenge is in your face is not the ideal time to make complex decisions. Are there any other kind? Rarely, it seems.

These things sometimes take research. They take time to consider.

One of the worst parts is that they’re easy to forget. I suspect you’ve found a way to take some notes. At times, I’ve pulled over to make some notes while on a long, solo drive. At other times, I’ve called myself and left a voicemail.

We seem to learn the hard way how easy it is to forget that brilliant thought. Oh sure, we remember we were a little bit outside of Big Timber. But the thought itself? Gone. Poof.

The conversations we have with ourselves about important topics are often valuable. The results of our deep, focused thinking are too important to trust to our memory.

Too busy for thinking?

One of the things we get hung up on is the “busy” trap. We’re so busy attending to urgent but not important things that we forget about critical work. It’s on our todo lists, but it’s not scheduled.

Neither are “emergencies”, of course – but they get the attention they demand.

Sometimes we get sucked into emergencies even when there’s no need for us. Others are capable of handling them – yet we allow ourselves to get pulled in.

While this can make us feel like we’re important, needed, and critical to our businesses – we already are. Yet because we’re the owner, we get away with it. There’s seldom anyone with the gumption to say “Boss, we got this” – but if you look, you’ll see it on their faces.

It sends the wrong messages. Most of the time, you don’t need to be there. If they needed you, they’d ask. Being involved despite that tells them you don’t trust them.

That’s not the worst part.

If your senior staff did this, how would you react? You’d tell them to let the team do their job. Follow that advice.

Our most important job is to do the work no one else can do. Quality time thinking about the company’s biggest challenges is part of that work.

Photo by Anthony Tori on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership

Team building? Skip the hustle & chaos

I recently met an entrepreneur who recently discovered long-term planning. I don’t say this to make fun of them. I say this because it’s great and because some of you might be in the same spot with your team.

The conversation started with “The first time I ever thought more than four weeks ahead was today.” (in the context of their business)

If you’re thinking, “That’s not me, I have plans at least 90 days out” yet your team doesn’t know the details, it IS you.

This person’s business is growing and profitable, but their past sounded a bit chaotic. They commented that projects, and internal alignment were all over the place. Why? The plans, project ideas, and thoughts driving the business are all in the owner’s head – and nowhere else.

Yours might be too. You and your team might be burning time and money at a rate that isn’t necessary. If even productive days feel like chaos to your team, it IS you. Once you discover this, frustrated team members are no longer a surprise.

Old mindset, new mindset

They’ve left their “hustle” phase and now lead their business. Their discovery, not my assertion. They understand they were making execution as a team difficult and frustrating. It wasn’t intentional. They hadn’t learned what the team needed.

Most of us must learn this ourselves.

Until we do, we have false beliefs like:

  • Only I can do this work.
  • If only I work more and harder, things will change.
  • I must keep plans and ideas to myself until it’s time to do the work because no one will understand.
  • I don’t trust anyone else with my business / work / todo list
  • Unless I’m out in front leading the charge, nothing happens.

That last one… ever notice that the best leaders are at the rear?

They aren’t at the rear because they shy away from the action. It’s not easy for most to step back. Most entrepreneurs love to be right out there “at the front, in the teeth of the battle”.

The best leaders know that the well-prepared team takes the lead. Well-prepared teams know the mission, their purpose, the plan, and the expected outcome. Well-prepared teams don’t need you to get their work done.

Like a bottle rocket

We see the “hustle vibe” that some project. “Work longer and harder than the rest and you’ll get there.” Sometimes that’s true. Usually it isn’t.

Some project it to get “want-to-preneurs” off the couch. They enjoy guiding others to find their own independence. Many have something to sell. A few are charlatans.

“Hustle” too long and you end up like a bottle rocket. Burn all your fuel to get to apogee in seconds. Then what? An uncontrolled free-fall to Earth. Great for the Fourth of July. Not so great for your mortgage payment.

Many survive their hustle phase and figure out a better approach. Despite burning a lot of fuel (time and money) to get off the ground early on, they create a sustainable business.

None of the successful people projecting the hustle vibe work 18 hour days seven days a week. None of them work with no staff, no contractors, no leadership, and no shared mission / plan.

NOT ONE.

They still work hard… as a team. A group of people capable of functioning as a team does so when it has a leader rather than a VP of Team Chaos.

The VP of Team Chaos

Wondering why your team doesn’t seem to know what to do from one day to the next? Are they frustrated despite getting the work done? Do they hesitate until they get direction from you?

If you ask them “Are productive work days often chaotic and frustrating to you and the team?” is their answer “Yes”? You might be the VP of Team Chaos.

Want a recipe for chaos and frustration?

Mix the following ingredients:

  • 1 business owner
  • 1 team
  • “The plans, project ideas, and thoughts driving the business are all in my head” or similar

The entrepreneur is often the primary source of chaos. This doesn’t mean we’re bad business people. We tend to feed off the “chaos of battle”. Thing is, teams don’t. Chaos makes teams miserable even when they believe in the company and their work.

We have to lead. If that’s not us, we must find a leader and make it clear they have the authority to do so.

Work is a lot easier, fun, and more productive on a well-prepared team.

Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Categories
Entrepreneurs Small Business

What’d you learn in 2020?

Was 2020 your best year ever? Was it your worst? I’ve talked with people dealing all three types of results, except that those conversations don’t really describe three types of results. It’s more like two easy to understand types of results and a wide spectrum of results between those two extremes. After an “eventful period”, I always wonder what people and companies will do next.

As you get older, you start seeing patterns during stressful, challenging periods. Younger people today seem to grasp this earlier than I did when I was their age. At least it seems that way.

One pattern is that you learn who people and companies really are. For example: there are takers, there are givers and there are those who do both. Stressful times don’t create those tendencies, but they do tend to amplify them.

There are people who seem to need pressure to perform their best. Likewise, there are people who need no pressure to perform their best. If you manage both of these people, it’s important to understand their differences.

I wonder what you’ll do differently this year vs. last year. I wonder what you’ll do the same. What did 2020 teach you about your business, your team (if you have one), your customers, and yourself.

My biggest takeaway from 2020 had nothing to do with COVID or the election.

I realized that I need to work harder than ever to spend time with smart, talented people. People smarter than me at things I find important. I’ve done this for years but in 2020, I doubled down. I’m already working even harder on this in 2021 because the payoff from last year’s effort was major.

At the least, the one thing to take from 2020 is that you made it. Hopefully your business did too. While there were a lot of human traits on display in 2020, there was at least one that stood out.

Resilience.

We can take a punch – in whatever form that might present itself. Doesn’t mean we don’t get hurt, but we get back up and try again. Even when it’s “wrong” or ill-advised.

There’s this guy in the valley I’ve been watching. Young guy. I knew him when he was a kid. He’s tried jobs. He’s tried his own business a couple of times. It never seemed to work out, at least not with enough consistency to depend on for the long haul. I could see his frustration – and so could everyone else. He wore it on his sleeve. I worried about him. Privately sent some advice. He’s a good man. He just hadn’t yet found his thing… until he did. Somehow, he managed to find it in 2020, of all places. I don’t see him angry anymore. He’s happy. He’s enjoying his work – and his customers seem to be as well.

He kept getting back up. That’s the part I’m proud of him for.

A sizable percentage of the country’s businesses are going to have to do the same, including some right here.

Encourage them when you can. Send some business their way when you can. Help them get back up off the floor after taking the punches 2020 handed out.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if they were unable to help you a few months or years from now because they’re closed – perhaps because not enough people did a little bit to help them back in 2021.

If your business had an amazing year, great. Depending on the reasons for that result, don’t get all cocky on us and assume that success will continue simply because you’re brilliant (even if you are). Keep proving your brilliance.

If your business had an awful year, perhaps the worst since your first year in business, don’t look at yourself in the mirror like you’re an idiot (even if you are). If your business survived, that’s something.

Depending on the reason(s) for the trouble, hopefully 2021 will be your great comeback. Or maybe last year was the signal that you need to try something else. If you do change business paths, take your resilience with you, along with the lessons of last year. They’ll both come in handy.

Take care of the people who take care of your customers. Spend more time with people who are smarter than you about something you find important.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Categories
Entrepreneurs

Questions are better than answers

I’m always looking for great questions. “What exactly does a great question look like?”, you might ask. (Good question – ha!) Sometimes, you know right away, but a lot of times you don’t. It comes to you after you’ve spent two or three hours contemplating the answer, or digging into the data that hopefully contains the answer. Then… you turn a corner and think “Holy cow, -this- is why I was asked that question.” For that last type of question, it’s not often obvious until you’ve thought a while, grumbled a few times, and rooted around in the garden long enough to find that turnip.

Questions burn a little

Naturally, I have some examples of questions that have provoked a lot of thought for me. Some drove me to change my mind about something. Others clarified a decision I’d been struggling with. Some made me realize they needed to be asked because they made me defensive.

I recently heard a new one that I suspect will be valuable as I dig into it. It made me start thinking about it as soon as I heard it. The reverse of this one is also worth considering.

What you do believe about your market that most people don’t believe -and why?

Tuto Assad

This next one makes you think about how your business is structured and how (and how long) you leverage the work your firm does. And in some situations, it might burn a little.

“How much did you earn -last month- from work you finished 5 years ago?”

Perry Marshall

Questions provoke

Sometimes questions go a little further. They provoke thought, and perhaps rile you up and make you defensive.

What benefit/feature/system, if removed from your offering, would devastate your clients? Now reverse that. What aspect is missing from your offering that would devastate your clients if they lost it?

Unknown

Questions sometimes spawn more questions. This one has me wondering “How does that provoke your thinking about your products and services?” and “How does it change how you talk about what you offer?” I wonder what your clients would say and whether it would be different from what you’re thinking.

What one number, if changed, would dramatically improve your business in the next year – excluding increased sales?

Tim Francis

If your spouse had a heart attack or was in a car accident or similar and you had to care for them for two months, how would your business’ needs be attended to? How would the business bills get paid? Who would supervise current projects? Who would sell and organize the next new project and get it moving? 

The Rescue Interview

Some questions also make you work, like Tim’s. It’s easy to say “we’ll sell more” to solve a problem, but sometimes you can’t solve it that way. Questions designed to help you reach a conclusion that should be obvious, but provoke taking a look at a situation from a different angle.

The questions I find most effective are the ones that make me defensive at first. When a question finds your accomplishment, expertise, ability, motivation, and capabilities leaving something to be desired, it’s natural to be defensive at first – and it’s a good indication that you needed to hear it.

What do you *really* want?

This is one of my favorites because it gets people to discuss what they really want. It has nothing to do with the details of what you’re selling and goes straight to the person’s big picture needs. The answer seldom comes back reflecting the bullet points from your proposal or items on your invoice.

If we were getting together a year from today, what would have to happen during that year, looking back on it, for you to feel satisfied with your progress?

Dan Sullivan

More than a question

Not everything has to be a question. Sometimes a simple comment can change how you do things even if it isn’t stated in the form of a question. A couple of my favorites:

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

Andy Stanley

The day that the business doesn’t need you day to day is the day that you own a business.  Until then, you run a business.

Bryan Miles

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Categories
Business model E-myth Entrepreneurs Leadership

Selling your boomer business

I recently received a note from someone who read “Boomer Business For Sale“. They had some questions about different aspects of selling their business, and I suspect they aren’t alone, so let’s address them here. The premise of the original discussion was that there are roughly 60,000 boomers who are getting ready to retire who are also business owners, and that either someone is going to buy those businesses, or they’re going to disappear. I see this happen with increasing frequency and find it such a waste. These businesses aren’t disappearing because they’re unprofitable. They’re disappearing because they can’t find a new owner.

Recently I saw where a beloved 57 year old butcher shop in Missoula closed. A butcher shop doesn’t stay open that long if it isn’t doing things right – yet… no buyer.

If substantial numbers of these boomer owned businesses disappear, it’ll have an impact on the towns where they live, the people they employ, the people whose businesses they buy supplies and equipment from, the accountants, bankers and attorneys they use – and the revenue that feeds in other businesses.

Ideally, we (as a whole) would benefit if we could reduce the number of businesses that close rather than changing hands. Ideally, we (as a whole) would benefit if we could reduce the number of businesses that close rather than changing hands.

How do I find a buyer?

One of the questions I was asked was about how to market the business that’s for sale. In a word, carefully. Your first thought might be a business broker. In my experience, they should be your last resort because most of them put too many obstacles between you and the prospective buyer.

For starters, don’t put a “For Sale” sign out front. More often than not, tells people “We’re about to close”, which will give some customers the idea that they should look elsewhere before it’s too late. That’s not going to help you in the short term, and it’s not going to help whoever buys your business. If you find a buyer, they’re going to have to win some portion of that business back – and if you have a piece of the future, you’d prefer they didn’t have to do that.

You’ll encounter three types of prospective buyers. Some are buying a job and an income. While that’s fine, many of them will have little / no experience running a business. They will almost certainly want you to owner finance. While there’s nothing wrong with owner financing (in fact, it’s a great way to get your asking price), you’re going to be more concerned offering financing to someone who doesn’t know what it feels like to cut payroll checks, lose sleep over business issues, and deal with grumpy customers – while still keeping them

Other buyers are typically looking for an investment. Not private equity, but experienced business people who want to add to their business portfolio. They own businesses for a living.

Finally, there are competitors and complimentary businesses (the ones two or three towns down the road are good candidates). An in-town candidate is OK, but revealing your sale plans to an in-town competitor can create problems.

Don’t forget competitors

Of all the competitors and complimentary businesses in your market, which of them deserve your business? Which of them are good enough to take your business on and not embarrass you? Why? If you see your best customer in the grocery store six months from now, are you going to be happy to see them, or are you going to turn and go down another aisle?

If you sell to a competitor, you want to sell to the one who isn’t going to make you change aisles. Even though the check is cleared and you’re completely uninvolved in the business, you’re part of that community, and you don’t want to be embarrassed by the buyer’s behavior.

I’d look first at investors, as well as competitors who do what you do, but not in your community. Maybe they have a similar service three towns down the road and they’re looking to grow their business. You could have an intermediary (banker/lawyer) contact them to keep your identity under wraps at first. They don’t need to know whose business it is to examine your financials – which they should ask for very early in the conversation.

Training the new owner

If you’re actively working in the business, you’ll have to train someone to take over that job. In a business where the work is physically demanding, you might be tempted to limit candidates to people who are physically capable and willing to take on that work. If you do that, it’ll reduce the size of your pool of potential buyers.

Unless you are selling to a competitor who doesn’t need to be trained, training will come to come at the worst possible time. You’ve mentally decided to get out (and were there for months before selling), and now, you’re obligated to train this new person. Your sale isn’t really, truly final until that work is done.

The new owner may not even know that they like it yet. Perhaps they’ve done it for someone else for 15 years, and they think that’s what they want to do but they don’t know until they actually run / own it. What if it takes longer than expected? If you walk away, it could damage the business. If you have a fee for additional training in your sales deal (you should), then that still commits you to even more time.

This all started because you were ready to retire. Now you’re spending time training this person and may have to silence the “I should have kept it”, “They don’t get it”. “Will they ever learn?” thoughts. Prepare for this.

Are you really ready to retire?

The idea is that this group of 60,000 Boomer business owners is ready to retire. Are you really? Do you know what’s going to occupy your time once you cash out?

I’ve had conversations with a number of people who retired and were thrilled that they fished, hiked, and golfed every day for three months.. until they got bored. Some people don’t get bored with it. Some might cut back to every other day. Still, some are not cut out for 100% leisure.

A better question might be “Are you ready to sell, or is this about getting out of working every day?” In a business where the work is physical, it’s easy to understand the desire to back off at some point. Our bodies start telling us that they aren’t 29 anymore. Maybe climbing ladders isn’t as easy or fun as it used to be.

You don’t have to go from “I own it / work in it every day” to “I have nothing to do with it.” There are other choices.

Maybe a competitor is better?

Selling to a competitor or complimentary business should be an easier exit. Someone who is already successful and in a similar business is more likely to be able to organize the resources needed to buy you out since they’re already successful and have clientele in that market.

Somebody who owns a competitive / complimentary business is more likely to stick with it. They know what they’re getting. So if you do get to a point where you agree for at least a partial owner finance, a competitor / complimentary business is a better choice.

Don’t get me wrong, there are highly motivated, sharp people out there who are looking for an income and a job, and they’ll have bigger dreams than just buying a job. Maybe they’re going to buy yours first, then buy two or three more, and maybe make an empire out of it. You’ll know when you meet one of them – and you’ll know who is real and who is blowing smoke.

The real pain of selling

If you ask business owners who’ve sold their business, they’ll probably mention that due diligence was a pain. Someone doing proper research isn’t intentionally making it a hassle, but it’s a lot of preparation to satisfy due diligence questions. Be prepared for that before you say “It’s for sale.” Ask your banker, attorney & someone you know who has sold / bought a business recently about the processes. Prepare in advance, as it’s not fun to do that work under deadline when you have a buyer at the door, checkbook in hand. The last thing you really need is to feel the pressure of “I’ve got to produce all these documents and all these numbers under a deadline before they go buy something else.”

All this information should be available if your managerial accounting & business metrics are under control, but they usually aren’t.

Consider being an owner

This whole selling a business thing is complicated, isn’t it? Now you know why a lot of businesses simply close. Selling a business is work. It’s usually worth it, but it isn’t easy. And yet, it’s possible to avoid a fair bit of the work we’re discussing.

Some of you have been running a business for a long time. Some have been working for / in the business, as well as owning it. Running it and working for it are not the same. If you have to get in the truck every day and go out to a job site, or open the computer and stick your face in a spreadsheet or programming tool in order for your business to get paid, you’re working for the business, even if you own it.

It doesn’t have to stay that way. If you’re not sure about the pain of stepping away, consider finding someone to take on the physical part of the job. In that mode, you’re hiring skilled people for a specific job (as opposed to “business owner”).

For now, let them do the work. Do nothing but manage that business. Once you see what it takes to manage the business day by day – while doing nothing else – then you can easily identify the skills needed to bring on a manager. Perhaps you look for a manager who is interested in owning the business, perhaps in partnership with the person you hired for the “skilled position”.

Test your team – and yourself

At some point, you should have systems and processes setup so that the skilled person is handling whatever “working for the business” work that generates revenue, and your manager is… managing. Get things to the point where you can take off for three weeks and disappear (or so they think – if you need that at first).

Because you still own the place you’ll want to have internal controls in place. These inform you and your manager that everything is where it should be, running as it should be, etc. Combined with a few metrics, you can watch the business from afar.

What metrics? Think about a few pieces of info from each department that would allow you to sleep comfortably knowing your team has everything under control. Even if you don’t see them as “departments”, they still exist. Finance and Sales exist even in the smallest of companies. You already know what metrics are important. Now consider what’s important at a distance.

Finance: What’s AR look like? What’s your free cash look like? Are any payments overdue? Are we current on tax filings?

Sales: What was revenue last week? Last month? How many bookings do we have for the next 30 / 60 days?

Even though you could get the numbers yourself, a regular report from your manager that provides these figures and advises what they’re doing about them will be useful for non-distracted time away from the business and quality sleep.

Still uncomfortable? Still can’t sleep? Maybe the wrong manager. Maybe insufficient systems or metrics. Get with the manager and get to the bottom of what’s uncomfortable and have them patch that hole.

One thing to avoid, unless there’s no choice – avoid getting back into the weeds. Guide your manager through the weeds. Have them guide their team through the weeds. Don’t get into them yourself.

You have options

For the short term, ownership can be an easier option. You can be involved with the business when they need your expertise, while stepping off for a while to determine what your future looks like. All the while, you can take a distribution from the business, even though it may be lower than what you were taking before.

You’ll still have all the equity until you decide to consider your next step, like selling the business to your manager and lead “do-er”, or selling it to someone else.

The unanticipated reward is that a business that no longer requires you to be there every day is worth more and is easier to sell. Until that day comes, it’ll be easier on your mind and your back.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

Categories
Entrepreneurs Management

Are you keeping up?

Are you keeping up? Gotten a bunch done over the last few months? No? What’s wrong with you? It’s not much of a stretch to think it may have riled up your imposter syndrome or maybe a small bit of regret at your lack of productivity vs. “the hustlers”. Take a look at what some people have done. If you make the mistake of adopting it as your standard of what you should have done during that period, then surely you should’ve done more. Taylor Swift created an entire album over a 16 week period.

What’s YOUR story?

Seriously, it’s OK. You don’t know what’s behind their curtain. It’s not the same as yours. You can work on that, but it isn’t the point.

If you read this somewhat often, you may wonder how you’ll get that week’s suggestion done (when pertinent). You might still be working on implementing something from a month ago. How are you going to keep up? Thing is, that isn’t the goal of this for either of us.

Have patience

When these things are discussed, my thought process is “I ran across this and/or I do this and it works. If you’re in a similar situation, it might help.” Perhaps you’ll use the info. Maybe you’ll implement some of these things in the future when you’re ready or when they’re pertinent.

Some of the things we discuss each week can’t be done quickly. No one, least of all me, expects you to do them all. Pick the things that make the most sense for where your business is at that moment (if you have time at that moment). Once you start one, keep at it. Don’t take your eye off the ball when seven more weeks of suggestions float by and you haven’t touched them. They don’t matter until they do.

Start fewer things and finish more. There will always be time to start something else once your current tasks are done. You aren’t the only one dealing with occasional chaos.

Many large businesses have the same problems yours has. Maybe the scale of the problem is different – but relative to them, the problems are the same, more or less.

They aren’t perfect either

Let me give you an example. There’s a software as a service (SaaS) vendor we use. As a SaaS vendor, the presumption might be that it’s a reasonably “modern” business that has its act together.

They didn’t bill us for 13 months. Yes… THIRTEEN MONTHS.

This is a large company compared to most small businesses. Yet simple things like getting an invoice out every month somehow failed them for 13 months (and not for the first time). Statements? Nope. Never. Not once in five years.

We were allowed to catch up with those invoices over several months since the lack of them was their fault. Eventually, everything got back to normal.

Before long, they were bought by a public company. Presumption: well-organized company. I mean, by definition, a public company has to have accounting under control, right?

16 months goes by. Still no statements. Most months, we get an invoice. At first, cashing our invoice check takes months, then things smooth out. Because we’re working on a new contract, they recently figured out that three invoices from last fall had not been paid. In fact, the checks had been stopped because they weren’t cashed after several months. We thought they were lost and eventually forgot about them (see, it happens).

They can’t start the new contract until those invoices are paid. We hadn’t received notice about them & soon they were forgotten. $40K of accounts receivable doesn’t typically get ignored when they go unpaid. Neither you or I would do that, but… it happens. We worked it out so everything’s fine. We really like the vendor & they provide quality service.

Stay focused

I tell that story because we’ve almost all had invoicing / follow up issues. You might’ve thought “we’re such a mess I’m never going to be able to do this right” etc.

Yet, the things you beat yourself up about are the same things a publicly held company sometimes does. It happens.

Maybe next week’s suggestion helps. Read them, think about (if) they can apply to your business – but don’t lose sleep over them.

Do the best you can. Improve consistently. Slow is OK, just keep improving.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Categories
Entrepreneurs Leadership Management

React, respond or rebuild

What’s on your agenda these days? Whether your business is scraping by or flush with cash, you’re probably spending a little bit of time thinking about the future. Which future would that be? Next month, post-tourist season, post-COVID, or some other future? You might be thinking about how to react to this or that, or how you’ll do business until COVID is over, or something else more specific to your business and how things may have changed since mid-March.

React vs respond

The difference between react and respond has been on my mind a lot lately. The challenges businesses face don’t change all that much, until they do.

Remote work is a great example of this. For decades, “managers” insisted remote work couldn’t be done at their business. Suddenly, in the space of weeks, remote work somehow became possible. To be sure, it’s a challenge when you have a house full of kids, but a lot of people have made their way through that maze to a productive place.

When someone who manages people working (most) desk jobs says “We can’t do remote work”, it’s usually a reflex reaction to a perceived threat – the loss of control (as if they have ‘control’). Control is rarely what anyone thinks it is, if it exists at all. “How will I know if they’re working?” is another decades-old symptom of this.

Getting back on track, when you react, it’s typically a reflex. A reflex action logically gives control to whatever stimulated that reaction. While there can be a measured reaction, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m calling a reaction something you do that’s driven by instinct or reflex. In other words, the fight or flight amygdala is driving based on a perceived fear, even if you aren’t escaping physical danger.

When you respond, it’s something planned, measured, and (hopefully) well considered – again, defined for purposes of this discussion.

The future’s on our minds

The future might be on your mind. Is your business facing challenges that could kill it in the next quarter? The next five years? The next 20 years? Your company’s ability to deal with the speed of change might be involved, or it might be something simple like a technology you depend on that’s likely to be displaced over the next decade.

You might not care about that when it comes to forecasting next quarter’s revenue, but it could definitely impact the valuation of your business for sale in a decade. It’s easy to wave that off today when you’re worried about making your nut this month. Trouble is, these things can’t be planned for or implemented overnight. They require consideration well in advance, particular for the large number of business owners who view the sale of their business as the source of funds for their retirement.

Assumptions vary in quality

The quality of your consideration before a response occurs is everything. A lot of our consideration during this process is based on assumptions. Your assumptions might be good, true, dated, false, dogma-driven, ego-driven, and so on.

Question every single assumption that drives your plan / direction for the future. It’s painful when you find one is no longer true, but it’s better to learn that today than five years from now.

Is something still profitable? Prove it to yourself. Is something not profitable? Prove it. What should you stop doing? Does the data back up these assumptions?

Take everything down to bare metal. Make it prove itself true or false, valuable or not.

Once you arrive at what you think are your truths about the business / market going forward, it’s time to assess your current solutions and decide if they get to come along as you move toward the future.

What about rebuild?

One thing we haven’t discussed is rebuild. Going back to the assumption discussion, what if all your assumptions, experience, and knowledge are signaling a future much different from today? What’s your next step? It might be rebuild.

A rebuild is a form of response, and it’s also a longer term effort requiring even more consideration about what is, what no longer is, what never was, and what your forecast as what will be.

This thought process can be useful when things get tough, really bad, or perhaps a little weird and you’re trying to figure out how to move ahead given your forecast of whatever you think life looks like around the next curve.

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Categories
Entrepreneurs Management

Sick & tired? Might be time for a turning point.

I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago where a guy was talking about looking back at the turning points in his life (and no, he wasn’t 22). He also discussed this with some peers, discussing the high and low points in their lives and the turning points they had experienced during those periods. When you have discussions on a single subject with multiple people, patterns tend to appear. One of the things he noticed was that all of the positive or high-impact turning points occurred as he reached a point where he was fed up with an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation.

When we’re dealing with these uncomfortable, unpleasant situations, we often end up taking steps and making efforts that cause us to operate outside of our comfort zone. At the time, it can feel awful. Later, we usually wonder why we thought it was such a big deal. This stuff happens when we get sick and tired of a situation, whatever that situation might be.

The conversation described made me think about the turning points I’ve had – and the situation a lot of business owners are going through right now.

Decisions are turning points

Some of my turning points also came when I was sick and tired of an uncomfortable and/or unpleasant situation, but the most significant came when our family had made a major decision and my work was essential to our ability to make it happen.

In particular, I think back to an older gentleman I met in Jackson Hole in 1995, as we were just starting to figure out the financial and work–related details that moving back to the mountains would mean. He shoved me into the deep end with a simple comment: “Bring your own job because we don’t have enough of them here.” He moved to Jackson in the early ’60s with a station wagon full of kids and $200 in his pocket and had seen a lot in the next 35 years so I took him at his word. That conversation and our goals drove the acquisition of two software companies that set the entrepreneurial angle of my software career in motion.

What situations made you uncomfortable in the past? Perhaps there are parallels to now, perhaps not. Even if you aren’t uncomfortable, does your career or business need a turning point? If you’re not uncomfortable, but perhaps are concerned, what changes could happen over the next six months that would require a turning point?

The time to think about these things and plan for them is before you need to. What could force a turning point in your business or career? How would you re-leverage what you do, what you know – and your network?

It isn’t always about you, however. Others are facing these things even if you aren’t. How can you help, advise, or provide opportunity for someone who has reached a turning point? There are a lot of folks out of work right now. Six months ago, finding good people was difficult. Today, not so much. Do you know business owners who are having a tough time of it? Perhaps a partnership makes sense with the right business.

Pivots are similar

I mention concerns because sometimes we see things coming before they arrive, but they aren’t necessarily significant turning points like a career change or a change of market. Often times, the approach of dips in the economy send familiar signals before they hit arrive, even if the reason for the dip is different than in the past.

Experienced business owners have a pretty good idea what’s coming because they’ve struggled through these and survived in the past – even if it was ugly. Sometimes, we recognize them because we didn’t seem them coming the last time. Each time, we generally get a little better at recognizing them, and see the signs a little earlier. Hopefully, we react a little differently based on what we tried last time, what worked, and what didn’t.

Sometimes the moves are smaller – like restaurants going big on takeout and breweries transforming their parking lots into dispersed seating. With cool fall weather only a few months away, they’re probably already thinking about how they’ll handle that outdoor seating in cool (and then cold) weather. These might not be big turning points, but they will be a bit of a pivot within existing businesses.

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Categories
Compass needed Employees Entrepreneurs planning

Sick & tired of worrying? Solve problems.

If you’re sick and tired of worrying about how long you keep your job, this is for you. If you’re unemployed or underemployed right now, this is for you.

The last three months have been pretty tough on employees. Some have had hours cut. Some have been furloughed, laid off, let go, or whatever someone called it. Some might know when you’re coming back. Many people don’t. COVID didn’t start the worrying for some. It just made it worse.

It’s not only the employees. Some of you have lost your business.

Then there are the “lucky” ones. You’ve kept your job or your business, even if you’re not as busy, the tips aren’t as good and/or the hours are no longer full-time. On top of all that, some of you have been screamed at, spat on, or worse.

Many of you are trying to figure out what happens next. You have questions like these:

  • What happens when unemployment changes in a few weeks?
  • What happens when other COVID response benefits go away?
  • What happens when the tourists go home?

It’s time to think

When I say it’s time to think, I mean that it’s time to think about what your next step is.

  • What are you gonna do next month?
  • What are you going to do next week?
  • What are you going to do tomorrow?

Most importantly, I mean “What are you going to do for the rest of today?

First, go for a walk or a hike or paddle, or something. Get outside. Turn your phone off. Go for a walk. Take a hike, a bike or a paddle and think really hard about a few things…

What could I be doing would provide the biggest bang for the buck.. that will deliver the most important solution, the best value for other people?

What’s the biggest problem that I know how to solve?

And last but certainly not least… these three:

What work, what product, creation, service, labor, effort, etc am I willing to do on my worst days, and on the days when I’m not sure where the next bag of groceries is coming from?

What work will I stick to on the days when everybody around me who usually believes in me is starting to wonder?

What would you do under those conditions that’s worth something to someone else?

What does “biggest” mean?

What does biggest even mean? Biggest seems kind of vague. What’s biggest in context with your current skills? What allows you to produce the most value by solving an important problem in TODAY’S world?

Think about the people you’ve worked with/for. If they came to you for something you’re really skilled at – what would it be? What else would they have you do?

It doesn’t matter if the problems you solve are ugly, dirty, or difficult. The dirty and/or difficult ones might be easier to find a market for – as many people will gladly pay to solve them. Choose what you’re good at. You can ponder whether you want to do this for the rest of your life at some other time. Right now, it’s time to choose something, find people who need it & get paid.

These problems might be financial, involve physical danger (or reduce it), or take the friction / hassle / waste out of a process.

What makes you say “Gimme that” when someone else is doing it? Doesn’t matter if “that” is a nail gun, trowel, chainsaw, laptop, a spreadsheet or the wheel of a truck. All that matters is that you’re the expert when that tool is in your hands. One warning: Don’t start with something that requires a licensing process unless you already have one. Choose something you can do now.

Start with that.

Next year, you might have to adjust. It’ll be more than clear how your newfound business should change as the COVID-influenced world changes to whatever’s next.

Who has that problem?

Now that you’ve settled on a problem, drill down.

Who has those problems? What are the different ways that you can help them?

Next question: “Is this problem important enough that they’ll pay someone to fix it AND can they pay the bill?”

If no one (or very few) can afford for you to fix the problem or the problem isn’t terribly important, find another problem.

It’s time to get started.

Photo by Anna Claire Schellenberg on Unsplash

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Entrepreneurs Management

Predictions, models, tramps, & thieves

I know, you weren’t expecting a reference to Sonny & Cher.

Technical people (programmers, doctors, scientists and the like) aren’t typically considered to be good communicators to the public at large. Good communicators like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson stand out because they’re adept at explaining very technical subjects in a way that’s understandable to everyone. Sure, they have time to prepare, but that doesn’t guarantee content everyone else can understand.

This is one reason why we’re so frustrated with the inaccuracy of “predictions” about things like weather, fantasy football player performance, stock market behavior, hurricane tracks, asteroid paths, and COVID impacts.

How many science-y people in these roles are saying something like… “This is a model. This is how models work. A model is not a promise. It is a set of results from a bunch of calculations based on the data we have today – and the data we don’t have yet. When the data changes, the results coming from the models will change.

The lack of this kind of communication causes modeling to be devalued by everyone else.

What you don’t know

Data changes rapidly – weekly, daily, hourly. Some of today’s data could be inaccurate. We may not know that until tomorrow’s data arrives, or a sensor fails.

Consider hurricanes. Hurricane models “predict” their path & severity. The output changes as variables are added /changed / deleted, and as varialbe importance changes. As the hurricane gets closer to shore (or as the time to make your third round draft pick nears), models become more accurate because there are fewer variables, & the possible range of still-useful variables shrinks.

What don’t we know?

When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, he was asked about then-recent discoveries about WMDs in Iraq. The questions were legitimate as was his answer, though he was mocked for it at the time.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Donald Rumsfeld (2002), speaking as U.S. Secretary of Defense

Anyone who has worked with business metrics, science, or fantasy football knows that he was right.

Despite this variability & the knowledge that tomorrow could look much different, we often have to make decisions using today’s data.

Predicting people performance

If you’re trying to predict the performance of a NFL player, it’s equally difficult. We know a player has a 44″ vertical, runs a 4.2 second 40 yard dash, and is a three year All-Star (and more), yet we still can’t accurately predict his stats for next game.

We don’t know that his mother is sick, or that a tiny injury is bothering him intermittently. We might not notice tiny performance differences that affect a game’s outcome. Perhaps only the player who covers him will notice.

After the game, the coach might tell the press that they called different plays “because he’s hurting a little bit” as a ploy to distract their next opponent. It’s Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknown” to most of us.

You don’t know when you draft a great quarterback that you’ll lose him for the season in week seven because he tripped over his own feet during practice. Likewise, if you don’t know your best salesperson’s mother has terminal cancer, you won’t know that (or how) it affects their work.

Will models help you?

How’s your team? Is anyone challenged by something that impacts them like a nagging injury? How distracted would you be in that situation? What would help you? What needs do your people have that they don’t normally have? How can you help? Can they help each other?

What aspects of your clients’ performance could be predictive? What data is indicative of their performance? What *was* indicative but has changed? What don’t you know? Have you checked in with them? How can you help? Can they help each other?

Can performance modeling help you see performance changes earlier? Can models help you make better decisions earlier?

What don’t you know?