Categories
Creativity Employees Entrepreneurs Management

Adapt to build security, stability, & certainty

A lot of the concern you see from people right now is rooted in a loss of certainty. Ask a few business owners why they started their business and you’ll likely find security, certainty, or the desire to have more control as their reasons for starting a business. Maybe it’s the feeling that they finally have some security (or an increase in security) thanks to making some extra cash each month. It could be based on having the ability to “take a punch”, ie: withstand an unexpected week away from work, or some other temporary negative impact on your income.

Stability and security

For a business owner, one of the first steps in this path is being able to pay yourself consistently. For some, it was the ability to make payroll without nervously waiting on sales to come in before the end of the payroll period. Perhaps it was the ability to offer your team the benefits they’d expect at a larger employer. All of these are steps along the path to sleeping better at night as business owner, and at some point, as an employer.

Your employees crave the same type of stability, security, and certainty in their lives. For the employee, stability means knowing you’ll have work for the next couple of months. Having retained earnings available feels pretty good right now if you’re an employer. Perhaps you can assure their future for the next few months. Or maybe you’re as worried as they are.

Now is a great time to discuss ideas they’ve had that you might not have had time for. A weak owner with little vision will simply lay them off without any effort to find an interim solution.

If your business is slow, your sales and marketing efforts need stronger efforts. For those who never had to sell before (some businesses don’t), you might have to start. You might have to “beat the bushes”.

Some of you may never have needed to do marketing before. Others can’t survive without it. Adapting means you might have to do some things you’ve never done before. How we adapt to change says a lot about us.

What adaptation looks like

Adaptation takes many forms. A high-end, upscale, highly-regarded restaurant in Seattle closed a week or two ago, but not for good. They decided it wasn’t responsible to be a gathering place for a while. It’s possible that they may have had no choice in the matter if their clientele stayed away for a few months.

Rather than let fate, luck, or circumstances determine their destiny, they took things by the reins. Their current solution is to create three businesses. One, a food truck type of business for simple breakfasts (coffee and bagels) and another food truck type business that serves lunch. Finally, they created a service that creates family dinners to carry out and take home (to go only, no on-site service).

Once things return to normal, they might leave those three new businesses open and reopen their fancy restaurant. In the meantime, they’ve kept their people working while providing food services that some people need.

Create new certainty

These are the kind of ideas worth discussing at your office or shop. As an example, if you provide raw materials (whatever that means) for certain clients, perhaps those clients could use assemblies or packaging of your raw materials (including delivery) in a form that allows their team to work at home in their garage to build / assemble / etc the same things they build at their shop. This type of idea may not fit your business, or your clients’ business, but an adaptation might. Rethink about what you do, what they buy & how you can help them.

Think about every step in your process & theirs. How are you involved now? How can you shortcut the process or provide partial results along the way? Brainstorm possibilities with them. You might find solutions that make sense for both parties under today’s conditions. They might also fit afterward. Even if they don’t, the solution have value to others.

Can-do thinking that built resilient companies in the past & can do so again. Leaders step up when the time is right. They don’t wait. They don’t need permission. They just lead.

Photo by Balaji Malliswamy on Unsplash

Categories
Customer relationships Employees Entrepreneurs

A hero always has work

We talked last week about getting started and that one of the challenges of getting started is what to do first. Sometimes, knowing who you’re going to serve makes it easier to decide what to do next (Remember: “next” doesn’t mean forever). A good question I heard years ago that’s useful for narrowing your focus and providing some direction in this respect is “Who do you want to be a hero to?” That’s an important question because it does a nice job of narrowing down the possibilities of the work that you’re considering. It also reminds you of your “reason why”, ie: what fuels the personal satisfaction that you get from helping the people that you eventually become a hero. Still, not everyone can relate to the hero thing.

”I’m not a hero”

You might not think you can be a hero, but I suspect that’s because you’re thinking of heroism in the context of a mythical superhero with superpowers, or of a real hero, like a firefighter who risks their life to enter a burning building to rescue someone who’s trapped.

There are other ways to be a hero.

Ever been disappointed by a vendor? Then you know that a vendor that a customer can always, always, always depend on is a hero.

Ever had a consultant who was there every time you desperately needed them? You know what a hero does.

Ever had an insurance agent help you navigate a maze on one of the worst days of your life? You know what a hero does.

Ever had a manager you could always depend on? Who always had your back? You know what a hero does.

Every business has work for heroes.

Who are you a hero to?

Spending time working with the people you want to be a hero to helps confirm you’re in the right market. It can also tell you your market is exceedingly difficult to break into.

Sometimes that’s because the market’s already crowded or the people you want to be a hero to are difficult to serve. Maybe they’re of a one off nature, so it’s hard to build a good economic model from that sort of solution. That doesn’t mean give up on that solution, but it may indicate you’ll need to be more inventive, clever (etc) than you might have expected.

This may mean that you have to spend more time with the people in your target market, which frankly is always beneficial, even if you’re going in the wrong direction. While working directly with the customer you want to be a hero to, you are going to learn much faster. If you’re just starting out, then it makes sense to try the first thing that catches your eye. You’ve got plenty of time. Your very first “real” job may not have anything to do with a career and career path you end up on – and that’s OK.

Change canoes to be a hero

Likewise, just because you’re 55 or 65 and have been a CPA for decades doesn’t mean that you can’t decide to be a fly fishing guide. If you’ve got the skills, and you have the heart and mind of a teacher, and you’re willing to do some marketing and networking, then you can probably do it. What matters is that you want to do it badly enough to not let that desire sit unused on the shelf.

I saw this in a young man for a better part of a decade. He was doing well in a job that he didn’t necessarily like, and was advancing in a company that didn’t appear to have much respect or empathy for their people. It didn’t seem that they cared about their employees as much as they should have.

A decade of percolation on the thought of “what interests me” finally came to a head, and when the time was right, he made a choice. He’s since narrowed that choice and is focused on being a hero to “his people”. That’s kind of how it works for all of us whether you’re 25 or 65.

Life puts opportunities in front of us. More often than not, the key is stepping out of our comfort zone long enough to grab the opportunity to be a hero to someone.

P.S. Everyone has at least one hero story. 5 or so years ago, the owner of a company was going to send a handful of people to a very large client, perhaps their largest. This Fortune 10 company was not to be messed around with. You wanted your best people “on the field” at this place.

At the owner’s request, I suggested a few people for the trip. One of the suggestions provoked an “Are you sure???” response from the owner. I told him “This guy is going to show up in a suit, be incredibly polite, take notes, ask good questions and will never embarrass us.” The owner was surprised. He didn’t see that side of this guy (and this wasn’t a suit-wearing company), but I’d seen this guy on the playing field in the past. As expected, he did exactly as I described.

At the very least, heroes do what’s expected of them, even when no one’s looking. It matters to them, even if it doesn’t matter to you.

Photo by tom coe on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Entrepreneurs Ideas Improvement

Feeling stuck?

Without a plan and a strategy to implement that plan, we’ll always be slaves to economic factors beyond our control. – Anonymous

I don’t know where I originally found that quote. I keep a list of quotes in Evernote and this one was dated 10 years ago. Regardless, it makes a good point, particularly if your job and financial situation have you feeling like you have no control over what happens next.

You do have some control, though it may seem so small at the moment that you might discount it as meaningless. Don’t.

Most people feel stuck at some level, but you may feel like you’d prefer someone else’s “brand” of stuck to yours. Most likely, there’s someone who would prefer your current situation to theirs. In both cases, we’d prefer to extract ourselves from the current level of stuck, whatever that might be.

Why “stuck”?

While the idea of “being a slave to economic factors” seems like a fairly clear message, I prefer to be a bit more precise with my words. The “being a slave” simply isn’t accurate, and it ignores rather vast differences between actually being a slave and the pressure, inconvenience, and discomfort of feeling subject to the whims of the economy.

An obvious difference: Your boss isn’t going to shoot you if you quit working for their company, even if you can’t financially afford to quit. While you and your family will probably suffer substantial inconvenience and discomfort until a few months after things get back to whatever normal is, it’s not the same as being a slave.

“Feeling stuck” is a more accurate description, isn’t comparable to slavery, and is relatable. If someone comments about their job, their boss, a downturn in their industry, their pay, the impact of a new tariff, etc – they feel like they have no choice. They’ll almost certainly answer “Yes” if you ask them if they feel stuck.

Figure out what’s next

One of the mistakes we make when we’re stuck is that we look at the ultimate destination as the place we want to be and declare that our goal without considering all the destinations we’ll pass through on our journey to that goal.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re really good at adapting. When we take a punch, we usually change our behavior. While we may not avoid taking another punch, we prefer not to take the same one repeatedly.

We’re going to have to tolerate milestones along the way. It’s not much different from earning a new skill. A year from now, we’ll laugh or shake our heads at how naive / uninformed our original grandiose thoughts were. It’s much the same as when we look back on our abilities of a few years ago and realize how much we’ve learned.

We may decide somewhere along the journey that we want something a little bit different. The industry might change, we might select a slightly more interesting, appreciative, or better-funded customer segment. We may find something else that attracts us and makes our direction veer a bit to the left or right.

I don’t know the first step!

When I said figure out what’s next, I don’t mean the ultimate goal. Just get started and take the first step. Until you do, you’re still stuck.

That’s how journeys work.

Even if you don’t know what the first step of your journey should be, you can’t let that stop you from taking it.

Start by reverse engineering a path from where you want to end up back to where you are now. What’s the last milestone before you get to your ultimate goal? What has to happen before you get to the next to that milestone? Repeat that process until it leads all the way back to where you are now.

Now you have a first milestone and for now, a set of directions. It’s possible this set of directions and milestones won’t change. It’s critical that you expect change along the way. Your needs, wants, and motivations may change. That’s OK.

Being stuck is hard

There are many unknowns. There will be time spent outside your comfort zone. You’ll feel pressure from family, parents, peers, etc. Most of them aren’t the ones who are stuck. You are. It’s your goal, not theirs.

Getting unstuck is hard work. So is being stuck. Which would you prefer?

Photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership

Keep looking for lessons

The previous discussion about chain of command when leadership isn’t supporting their team properly generated a number of private inquiries and comments. One stood out, saying: “You sure run into a lot of broken businesses”. Perhaps so, since helping owners get their companies out of situations like that is one of the things I do. The other, which the last piece spoke to, is helping employers and employees understand each other.

Communication lessons

Employers and employees are stunningly adept at misunderstanding email messages and comments made to one another. They’re not alone. At least once a week, I’ll get an email from a client that asks me to explain what in the world I just said – not because I went too technical, but because I assumed too much. Maybe I remembered the lead up to the conversation better, worse, or differently than they did. Maybe I’m coming from a place that they’re not seeing. Maybe I misunderstood some part (or all) of our last conversation.

Employees and employers struggle with this. This week, a guy was ruffled because his team did something he asked – but in a different context than what he wanted. This happened because he didn’t put himself in their place.. in their mindset.

His people did the wrong thing because they don’t think like owners (hello – they AREN’T owners). They created the resource he asked for in the context of their work, rather than in the context of his.

Unless you explain the WHY, you’re unlikely to get the right WHAT.

Context means everything. Owners and employees are different. They must work harder to understand what each group is really, truly saying.

Ultimately, communication is a team sport. It’s a skill we first learn to do by crying and continue learning, teaching, and sometimes still crying, until the day we die. Which brings me to John Haydon.

Look for the teachers

I didn’t know John well. Like all but one person in the charitable world that I’ve encountered and served on national boards with over the last 20 or 25 years – I never met him. All of these nationally-known people know each other and have met for decades at conferences, on consulting gigs, etc – but that’s not really my work world.

I stumbled across John because of his connection with several of the folks involved in my online-only charitable board relationships. I remembered him and followed his work because of the wisdom of the things he taught, and perhaps a little because his son’s a Scout.

He was a teacher to executives, marketers, and others in the charitable world – an expert at communicating and teaching organizations how to care for the people who donate to their cause. He wasn’t simply good at showing people how to “get the message across”, but thinking about the people who would get your message and grooming that message to have the most impact possible to them. The messages were caring for, relating to, and encouraging them.

A little more than a week before he passed, he gave a very personal interview to Chris Brogan about his experience with cancer, and the conversations he was having with friends, family, and himself. Even in his last week of life, he was teaching his long-time friends and peers via a private Facebook group assembled to help his friends and family share memories with John, say their goodbyes, and eventually, deal with the inevitable.

I mention these things about John because there’s a lesson in there. Here’s a man most likely wracked with pain, knowing he’s facing death in mere days, yet he’s still helping his fellow man by passing along wisdom… on camera, in what was probably his last public act. Even then, he wasn’t done. His book “DonorCARE” is about to be published, so his teaching continues.

Looking for lessons

Those “broken businesses”, the not-so-broken ones, and the stories I tell about them are intended for one purpose: To pass along lessons to you. Sometimes these stories and their lessons fit what’s challenging you that week, sometimes they don’t.

A famous TV personality used to say “Look for the helpers.” To that I would add, “look for the teachers.” They might be a business’ behavior, the behavior of a leader, manager, employee, the staff at a business you frequent, or… a guy named John whom you barely know.

Keep looking.

Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Categories
Banking Employees Entrepreneurs

Boomer business for sale

I noticed a decades-old retail business that’s closing soon. There’s no “For Sale” sign in the window. The newspaper article about the upcoming closure says nothing about the owner’s desire or attempts to sell it. It appears they’re simply closing. I suspect their staff are looking for a new job. Later that day, I was listening to a podcast discussing data showing that 60000 U.S. boomers retire every day and that boomers own 57% of the 28.7 U.S. businesses. The impact of closing rather than selling a “boomer business” will not go unnoticed by local economies.

This boomer business data comes from the U.S. Census, Social Security Administration, the SBA, the BLS, and the financial industry. Per a JP Morgan Chase analysis of U.S. Census data, 48% of the people U.S. employees work at a small business. 18% of them work at a small business with fewer than 20 employees.

Boomer business closures

If you combine the 60000 per day figure with the 57% figure, what you get is a picture of a massive group of businesses that will change hands over the next decade or so. The troubling thing is that the sale of the business isn’t the only option.

Many business owners choose to close up shop and walk away. Perhaps they don’t have children who wish to take over the business. Maybe they don’t feel their “boomer business” is worth anything to anyone else, even though it’s probably producing an income. They may not be interested in dealing with the hassle of finding a buyer who can pay the price, much less the effort required to train the new owner.

At first, I thought this apparent hesitance to sell and train was because a long-term business required very specific, and perhaps disappearing, skills. Some fit this profile, but the JP Morgan analysis shows that 51% of small businesses are less than 10 years old, so many likely aren’t limited by that problem.

Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses. The vast majority (88 percent) of employer firms have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 40 percent of all enterprises have under $100k in revenue.

JP Morgan Chase analysis of U.S. Census data

Why this matters

There’s somewhere around 155 and 160 million Americans employed. I know, the numbers are weirdly calculated, politicized (as always), and may count people with multiple part time jobs as more than one person.

There are probably other problems with the numbers, but for the sake of discussion, let’s assume they’re inflated by 20% – a wide margin of error. That means roughly 128 million individuals have at least one job. Interestingly, a little research after the first draft of this found a Statistica report showing that same 128 million figure for full time employment in the U.S.

If 99% of the employers of these people are small businesses, and 57% (percentage owned by boomers) of them have owners nearing retirement in some form, there are a lot of jobs at some sort of risk.

You can’t simply take 57% of 99% of 128 million, of course. What we can do is accept that it’s reasonable that a very large number of people work for businesses that will either close or change hands over perhaps the next 10 years.

With the average number of employees across all businesses being fewer than 20 (16 is one of the averages I saw from BLS.gov data), every time a business sells or changes hands, 15 jobs are at some level of risk (on average, assuming one owner is an employee).

That’s a significant impact on employment, even if these calculations are off by 50%.

SBA/SUSB data shows about 115,000 businesses in Montana – a number growing by ~3400 per year. About 51% remain open after five years.

If half of them close/sell over the next decade, that affects about 118,000 employees. While these numbers are rough, it’s reasonable that resulting life upheaval will ripple through local economies.

Collaboration required

Owners: Consider a creatively-structured sale. No matter how it pencils out, you gain little by closing the doors.

Employees: Tell the owner you’re willing to keep going. Look into how the business can be kept running. Someone who already owns a business is a good candidate.

Locally-owned banks: Is it OK for these businesses to disappear? No bank understands and can serve these folks like you can.

All three groups: Look for the win-win, rather than the fantasy outcome. Everyone can be rewarded by a successful transition – including the community’s economy.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Categories
Entrepreneurs Leadership Productivity

Doing it faster, but poorly?

In today’s busy times, we’re always trying to create that little bit of extra time to get one more thing accomplished. Seldom is this item one more strategically critical task, mind you. In most cases, it’s simply one more thing because somehow we got the idea that we’re not doing enough things. No matter that we’re doing 100 things poorly – the focus is often on reaching 100.

Hearing or listening

Podcasts and audio books are a good example of this. We listen to podcasts at double speed so they don’t take as long. We listen at that speed under the illusion that we’re getting more done. This, despite the cartoonish voices and the almost certainly reduced comprehension. That way, we can listen to more of them. Or listen to them again because we didn’t really get anything out of them. We listen to more of them on the same topic because we’re struggling to absorb what we might get out of any one of them if we weren’t focused on how many we listen to and how fast.

Does it matter that you listened to 30 audio books last year if you didn’t get anything out of them? Or half of them? Obviously, audio isn’t the culprit, the same could be said for books, newspapers, blogs, or research papers. We sometimes forget that getting anything done well is better than getting that thing done faster and poorly. There is, of course, that “done is better than perfect” thing, but even “done” should have some context.

Years ago, a friend who owned several franchise locations of a fast food restaurant replied to some good natured ribbing from one of this friends who chided him that his restaurants made a lot of mistakes at the drive through window. He said “I don’t pay them to get every order right. I pay them to get the orders done quickly.” It’s a good example. Do you mind if you waited in line for five minutes if your order is right? Or would it be ok to wait in line for two minutes and frequently have your order wrong?

How is that different than whatever you’re rushing through today?

It takes an unbelievable amount of energy to resist reality.

Jim Dethmer

Advice from an old guy – and those around you

No, I wasn’t referring to me. Back in the ’60s, Earl Nightingale sold a ton of his book “The Strangest Secret” on albums. Yes, vinyl records. Some of the book revolved around his thought “Watch what everyone else does–do the opposite. The majority is always wrong.“, which I suspect rolled downhill from G. K. Chesterton’s “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

While advice like this can be less useful when lived as a hard and fast rule, it has plenty of value. The real root of it is to understand the benefit of taking the time to be observant of the behaviors of those who are, and aren’t successful. What you won’t likely see from the most successful people you know is that they’re cramming more and more into their life. It may seem like it because they are doing different things than you are – and that has the appearance that they’re simply capable of doing it all.

They aren’t.

The difference is that they make a deliberate decision to remove unimportant things from their lives (like “Big Brother” or “Survivor”) so that room is created for the things that are important to them. They subtract, rather than add. Subtracting unimportant things from their lives creates the space that they fill with the things you think you can’t possibly make time for.

Do be careful while observing these folks and selectively extracting lessons to improve your own life and business. Don’t compare your life to theirs. The difference doesn’t matter, and the difference is never what you think it is because you never know the whole story – just like those who have judged you don’t know your whole story.

Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.

Alison Beere

You’re unlikely to make your bucket of life more full by cramming more things into it. Be fiercely selective about what you let in.

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Small Business

Small Business Scorecard

I’ve long focused on helping businesses one on one, by choice. From time to time, I’ve considered mechanisms (other than my writing) that provide help in a group setting. Ideally, this would let me help more people while not drastically increasing the time required to do so. Typically, this means holding webinars, group coaching, masterminds, ie: “one to many” events. This piece is intended to fill some of the gap between one-on-one help and one-to-many help, at least for now.

How we get help differs

When it comes to seeking help, business owners appear many forms. Some repeatedly seek help from people, books, and other resources. Others tend to accept help about specific topics, or when a resource is recommended to them by a trusted friend. Some read or listen to many sources of help / advice, but are pretty choosy about the things they implement. Some seek no help at all – and this group seems to be broken down into a group that knows they need the help but never take action, and another segment that simply figures it out on their own (or doesn’t).

Efficient learning varies from person to person. Some prefer reading, while others learn / retain more from audio, video, pictures and/or diagrams. Some people prefer brief information, others tend to consume “long reads” or extensive, highly detailed video. This time around, I decided to take a self-guided approach. I’d appreciate feedback on how effective the scorecard is for you – and why.

How the scorecard works

I’m calling this a scorecard, but the goal is not to arrive at a number and think “We got a 74, so we’re doing fine as is.” It’s more of a self-assessment & introspection tool. You’ll find statements about how things work in your business. You’ll agree with some. Others will have you thinking “That’s definitely not us.” If a seemingly-negative item on the list doesn’t pertain to you, cross it off. Look at the items you circled / checked as “yep, this is us” as a milestone on the way to a stronger company. Some may need recurring attention.

Marketing

  • Our marketing is completely automated across all media, digital or otherwise.
  • Our marketing is strictly digital. We don’t make sales calls, send US Mail, visit prospects, have prospects visit us, and we don’t go to trade shows.
  • Our marketing is strictly organic. We don’t advertise, other than having a website.
  • We test new ads against our ad that performs the best.
  • We market our work consistently.
  • We spent ad money effectively.
  • We have data that tells us what works and what doesn’t, marketing-wise.
  • Our marketing is executed based on a plan or marketing calendar.
  • We collect information about people who show an interest in our products / services.
  • On a regular basis, we reach out to people who have shown an interest in us. We send offers as well as useful information that will help them make a purchase decision.
  • In marketing dollars, we know how much it costs to get a highly-qualified lead.
  • In marketing dollars, we know our lead cost on each type of media.
  • For each of the media we use for marketing (radio, tv, newspaper, direct mail, various internet options), we keep track of lead quality, lead volume, and ad investment.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We use our lead cost to drive decisions about ad purchases – including internet ad options.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We don’t really advertise with any consistency. You might say it’s driven by which ad salespeople call on us.
  • In our market, expertly-done marketing has ceased to become an edge. Everyone in our market is a good marketer.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • Most companies in our market are spray-and-pray marketers.
  • Some companies in our market are haphazard or random marketers, but there are some that we’d consider experts. They spend ad money effectively.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • We’re one of the haphazard / random marketers.
  • We’re one of the more effective marketers in our market.

Operations

  • It feels like things “fall apart” a little when critical people leave, or are out of the office.
  • When the owner or manager are gone for the day, things seem more productive.
  • When a team member is gone, it’s easy to deal with their workload because we’ve been cross trained.
  • When someone is out of the office, it can be a little tough, but we have written process / procedures documentation to help us get the work done.
  • We rarely / never have to contact someone who’s out of the office to ask them how to do something, or to get online and help us deal with this or that.
  • When our front desk takes order / job status calls, they have to call back into the shop to get someone to tell them what’s up with an order / job.
  • We sometimes run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • It’s common for us to contact someone who’s out of the office because we need help dealing with something they do.
  • Customers can tell when a critical employee is on sick, off that day, or vacation.
  • When a customer contacts us to find out the status of a job / order, any employee can easily and quickly find the info and pass it to the customer.
  • Customers can’t tell when a critical employee is out of the office.
  • We never run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • We use a system to track and manage our tasks / work.

Business model

  • Our products / services are one-off. We don’t make something once and sell it multiple times.
  • Once we make tooling, we can make and sell the same item repeatedly.
  • We sell services on a subscription basis.
  • The business doesn’t generate income when the owner isn’t working.
  • We serve a vertical (narrow) market.
  • We sell products and service them, so ongoing reputation is critical to get returning customers.
  • If we’re not on the job and billing hours, we’re not generating revenue.
  • We serve a horizontal (wide) market.
  • Our market has already been disrupted / is difficult to disrupt.
  • Once created, our services have a marginal COGS so we can make something and sell it repeatedly.
  • Our customers pay us each month. We deliver / replenish consumable products / services.
  • Our market could easily be disrupted.
  • We provide customers with a service infrastructure.

Staffing

  • We’re always understaffed.
  • We have trouble keeping people, but they don’t tell us why they leave.
  • We have trouble keeping people. They tell us why they leave, but we can’t or won’t do anything about the things they mention.
  • Customers can’t tell when an employee is brand new.
  • Our people rarely do things together outside of work.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because we’re careful to find people who fit our existing team.
  • Customers can tell when an employee is brand new.
  • We have trouble keeping people. We’re not sure why.
  • Few of our first line managers are familiar enough with the line employees’ work to take over for them in a pinch.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because candidates are hard to find.
  • We’re overstaffed, but our workloads vary wildly so we don’t want to shrink the size of our staff.
  • Our team is a family – they frequently do fun / family / activities together outside of work.
  • Our first line managers could easily handle the work our line employees do, if they needed to.
  • We tend to promote from our existing staff.
  • We rarely promote from our existing staff.
  • Our team tends to be swamped one week, and might be sitting around with nothing do the next week.
  • Most of our team members are easily replaceable.
  • We have employees who have been here for many years.

Sales

  • Our sales team says they never have enough leads.
  • The sales team feels our leads are properly qualified when they get them.
  • Customers and prospects comment that our sales team was useful in helping them make a purchase decision.
  • Salespeople often comment that they’re getting leads who aren’t suitable for our products / services.
  • Our pipeline is difficult to confidently predict more than a couple of weeks out.
  • We have quotas, but we aren’t involved in deciding what they should be.
  • We close an acceptable-to-us percentage of sales when we have a highly-qualified lead.
  • I feel confident when I give a solid lead to one of our salespeople.
  • We have sales quotas – and we’re involved in determining those numbers.
  • We’re constantly under pressure to make quota – and we know it’s because the company’s cash flow is precariously low.
  • We get very few complaints about our sales team.
  • Finance is always bugging us to give them pipeline information, but we can’t consistently tell them anticipated revenue more than a week or two in advance.
  • Our sales team has an experienced leader.
  • It’s not unusual to get comments that our sales team is pushy.
  • Finance really appreciates that we can give them dependable sales pipeline info 30-60 days in advance, so they can depend on revenue in advance of receiving it.
  • Sometimes people send in feedback saying our sales team is more interested in closing a sale than they are about helping customers decide on a purchase.
  • We have more leads than our sales team can handle, but not all of them are well-qualified.
  • Our sales quotas feel like impossible expectations rather than achievable goals based on lead flow.
  • Our sales team is lead by the salesperson who usually sells the most.
  • We have more highly-qualified leads than our sales team can handle.
  • We believe that our product / service makes a significant improvement in the lives of our customers and as such, it is our obligation to offer it to as many qualified prospective customers as possible.
  • Our sales team easily handles all the leads we give them. They keep asking for more.
  • Most days/weeks/months, our sales team can handle the leads assigned to them.

Management / Leadership

  • You can ask any of our employees what motivates us as a company, or “What’s our why”. They all know.
  • Our people are an investment in our business.
  • We have to constantly watch our people to keep them working.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here – and it’s worked great for years.
  • Our people feel like a cost / expense.
  • Sometimes new employees have to wait to get a phone, desk, computer, tools, or a space in the shop. Those things aren’t always / usually available on their first day.
  • Employees know what our company long and short term goals are.
  • We’re an open book company.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here. I think the company would positively benefit from an experienced leader.
  • We don’t share any financial performance information with our people.
  • When a new employee get to their desk / work station / shop station on their first day, they have everything they need to get to work.
  • We have a 401K.
  • Team members don’t seem to connect their work with the company’s goals.
  • It takes new employees a few weeks / months to get their act together and become effective.
  • We routinely discuss the importance of 401K participation in our employees’ future.
  • Our financial performance is none of our employees’ business.
  • Any good manager could join us, learn our business, and be effective here.
  • Only our family can manage this business.
  • Our employees understand what makes our business profitable and sustainable.
  • New employees often comment about how good / refreshing our on-boarding process is.
  • We encourage our employees to educate themselves and offer ongoing training as well.

Finance

  • We know where the funds for our next payroll will come from.
  • We’re always on top of the required state and Federal reports related to employees and such.
  • Sometimes we have to pay our invoices late, but it’s not an every month thing.
  • We get paid late by our customers and it creates issues for us.
  • We don’t have receivables.
  • Our payables are always behind.
  • We never have any issues with state or Federal tax returns or deposits.
  • We’re always on top of tax returns.
  • If sales could deliver dependable pipeline numbers for the next quarter, our finance problems would disappear.
  • The owner / management hates accounting.
  • We’re always up to date on tax deposits.
  • We’re not very good at managing the company’s finances.
  • We tend to be late on tax returns. Sometimes we have to pay a penalty.
  • Managing our finances is one of our superpowers. We suspect we’re better at this than many other companies.
  • We tend to be late on tax deposits. Sometimes we are charged penalties / interest.
  • We do all our own bookkeeping and accounting / tax work.
  • Debt is an important ingredient in our ability to grow.
  • We do our own bookkeeping, but we have a professional handle the taxes and related paperwork.
  • We outsource bookkeeping.
  • We’re focused on eliminating debt for the long term, even though we know it may slow us down from time to time.
  • We have a professional handle taxes and related paperwork.
  • Our “numbers” drive strategic decisions.

Systems

  • We understand that “systems” might include automation, but also may include manual systems – such as checklists, documented work processes, job descriptions, manufacturing reviews, and similar items.
  • New employees learn our systems as they learn their job.
  • We’re gradually systemizing parts of our business.
  • None of our systems are “perfect”, but our imperfect systems save time, keep us on track, and help us avoid missed steps.
  • There’s one person who knows it all on our systems, but that’s it.
  • As an owner, I ask myself “Whose job is this?” every time a piece of paper crosses my desk.
  • Our systems are a strategic advantage. They make our work safer and more consistent. They help us produce a more consistent outcome for our customers.
  • We routinely review our systems with feedback from the people who use them. Reviews drive upcoming system improvements.
  • The nature of our business requires that we invent most or all systems ourselves.
  • We don’t have anything we’d call “automation” but we’re definitely a systemized business.
  • We have several team members working together to know, improve, and manage our systems.
  • Over time, we train new employees on all the company’s systems so that they help in any area if someone is out.
  • We understand that automation / systems can be leveraged in any part of our business, from management to finance to manufacturing, sales, and/or marketing.
  • We’re using systems and ideas that others have refined over time.
  • Systems (and particularly automation) are something we need in order to keep up with competitors. If we didn’t have to, we’d use as few as possible.
  • Our systems have been in place for years. We rarely change them.
  • Our systems are very close to ideal. We’ve worked hard to get there.
  • Our systems are difficult to change.
  • Our systems are a mix of commonly-known systems from experts and systems specific to our industry and/or business.
  • We train new employees on all the systems in their area.
  • Adding new systems to our work is easy.
  • It’s difficult getting new systems into our workflow.
  • When we hire people. we look for experience in systemized businesses and experience with systems like ours.
  • If we find job candidates with experience with systems unlike ours, we consider this useful as we might gain an edge from that differing background.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Entrepreneurs Leadership Management

Are you holding on too tight?

Have you ever driven something to the post office because then you’d be absolutely sure it was put in the right box and actually mailed? Seemed rational at the time, right? The biggest turning point in a business owner’s life is when they trust someone enough to let them do something the business owner used to do. Yes, bigger than deciding to start the business itself. It’s one of the most difficult achievements for owners because it’s driven by fear, an emotion as primitive as there is. This fear convinces us that no one else can do the work as well as we can, even when the task is unimportant but necessary.

We have a bias toward the illusion and value of control at least in part because we did everything when there was no one else to do it. We remember the good old days when we built it alone in our basement, kitchen table, garage, etc. We did it all, thumped our chests, and drank from the skulls of our competitors. Our fond memories tell us we were in control of everything. The reality was more likely daily firefighting in an environment where we were alone and nothing was truly in our control.

Control isn’t the secret sauce

We think control is an important and essential element to building and growing a company. We think this because it’s all we know. When we’re the only one doing the work – control of everything is the default behavior model. Over time, “control of everything” stakes its claim as one of the essential ingredients of our success comes to us simply because we were the only employee. That doesn’t mean it’s the ideal.

Delegating work is one of the hardest and most valuable skills a business owner can develop. We usually won’t admit to ourselves that being bad at delegating (or not wanting to delegate) is a product of our desire to preserve our illusion of control.

We convince ourselves to stay small with thoughts like these:

  • I built this thing myself when I discovered others weren’t doing this, or weren’t doing it well.” (until I delegate to the right person with the right details, assuming this was ever true, and of course the task is so critical that I MUST be the only one to do it. Except it usually isn’t that critical, it’s simply work that must be done.)
  • No one knows what we went through.” (and?)
  • No one works like an owner.” (which is understandable – they aren’t owners).
  • It’s faster to do it myself than to teach you how to do it.” (Except for the second through nth times, assuming you taught it properly)
  • Others don’t care like I do.” (even though they might – worst case, they care enough or in their own way. Again, they aren’t owners.)
  • So and so’s work isn’t perfect.” (Neither is yours)
  • I can always do it better than anyone else.” (Are you sure? Is 10% better worth not getting to that truly critical work that is of a nature that you really are the only one who can do it?)
  • No one but me has the twenty seven years of experience that’s necessary to do this work well.” (It isn’t usually necessary, we just think it is. If we use that experience to guide our training & delegation, someone else *can* do it as well.)

Control has limits

How many items can you carry at one time? At some point, you’ll either stop adding items, or you’ll start dropping things. Our minds have a similarly finite ability to control things. That “control” includes managing people, projects, relationships, much less doing the work our role demands of us.

Your leadership role requires your full attention. Would you prefer to lead your company well, or lead it poorly because your mental and physical energy is consumed by less important tasks other people can do?

Holding on too tight stifles growth. We had to hold tight when we were working alone, but it’s a serious liability when you have a team. The best NFL quarterbacks throw or hand the ball to someone else most of the time, despite most of then having great running skills. Your children won’t learn to walk if you never let them out of your arms.

An executive who works with famous bands and professional athletes regularly asks his clients how their work changed once they “went pro”. In both groups, the most prevalent answer was “having the time and mental space to focus solely on our music / on-field performance and the wants / needs of our clientele, without the distraction of little things that used to consume their time.

The fear of letting go of the control that we think helped us succeed when it was just us – is exactly the thing that keeps us small.

Hiring my assistant Lorena is one of the best decisions I ever made.
But, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to go about hiring one. (Myself included! I got lucky with Lorena!)
Many entrepreneurs don’t know where to look. They don’t know what to pay.
They don’t know WHO to trust.
But most of all, they don’t know HOW to trust.
They don’t how to let go of tasks they really need to let go of. They don’t know how to let go of control.
I get that. We entrepreneurs have skin (and blood and hair and sweat) in the game. We can’t take our eye off the ball or things slide into chaos in a hiccup.

A comment from Perry Marshall

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs

Dilation, blindness, and the value delivered

You could go blind, you know.

My eye doctor said that. He’d barely stopped exhaling the words “Your eyes look great, they’re as healthy as they could be.” So what’s this blind thing about? Maybe he was reminding me to be grateful, or simply giving me a warning he gives everyone. I thought about it the rest of the day, partly because he dilates my eyes – which I do not enjoy. It’s my annual reminder that being blind might be “awful” until I got used to it. Dilation robs me of clear vision for a few hours and gives me a tiny little peek at a world that functions much differently. It’s OK – I know my doc is doing what’s best, but it still makes me crazy. This time, his passing comment (coupled with the dilation) made me think a little. What if I went blind? Clearly my life would change. My first thought went to “How would I make a living?” DUH, probably in much the same way. More importantly, what about my work would change? What wouldn’t change? Could I still deliver value to clients?

Deep thoughts

While my eyes are apparently super healthy, the Debbie Downer comment got me thinking. My first thought went to “What isn’t documented well enough?”, perhaps because I regularly nag about process documentation & checklists. I wondered if the difficult-to-explain tasks are properly documented for that situation. Not likely.

A lot of my work revolves around the ability to see software or a web page. That’d be OK for a short while, until the familiarity I have from frequent use is eroded over time. Even without that erosion, web pages and apps change over time. That’d make using some of them quite difficult a year from now. Screen readers and adaptive technologies have improved greatly over the last 10 years. Despite that, there would almost certainly be difficult moments at the computer.

A lot of my work is communicating. I’d need to figure out how to read & respond to email. I could dictate to an app & have someone transcribe it, but there’d be that initial jarring loss of privacy & independence. The loss of independence would initially go much further than the increased difficulty of emailing. However, it wouldn’t really change phone calls or webinars much. I’d have to come up with a system for writing, editing, & following agendas that I could no longer see with my eyes. Someone’s mastered that, I’m sure.

Changing the how doesn’t change the what

For whatever reason, I never pondered the possible impact blindness would have on the day to day basics of life that afternoon. Things like eating, cooking, the bathroom, transportation, interaction with people, hiking, getting dressed, or finding that stubborn piece of spinach in my tooth without a mirror. Steve Jobs supposedly wore the same outfit every day as a strategy to reduce his cognitive load. None of that stuff crossed my mind at the time. Maybe my subconscious assumed those things were trivial or could be mastered. Perhaps my subconscious “knows” that continuing to make a living would dominate my thought if this happened.

The interesting part of this (perhaps odd) thought process was a deep introspection of what I do, how I do it, for whom, and the value delivered.

I thought about the clients I have and what would change. Clearly, the work that requires hands on software use would change. While I could use voice to text or other adaptive tools to write, program, strategize, or produce marketing copy – certain aspects would likely become quite difficult. Curious, I googled around a little and found several interesting pieces where blind programmers described how they do what they do. These were not hobbyists, but seasoned professionals.

Ultimately, I realized that the majority of the value I deliver isn’t visual, has little to do with the software I occasionally write, and isn’t defined by this column (even when it’s good). This would surely be different if I were in my twenties and didn’t have the experience I have now, but that’s really not relevant to me. To others, it might be significant.

If I went blind, the mechanical details of my work (ie: “the how”) would change substantially. Thing is, people don’t get value from the how. They get value from the what. What do you think?

Photo by Rahul Bhosale on Unsplash

Categories
Community Employees Entrepreneurs

Why Business is Personal

14 years ago when this blog got the name “Business is Personal”, you’d occasionally hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” I found the idea repulsive, transactional, and most importantly – the opposite of everything I’d been taught. The phrase later became part of pop culture thanks to a TV show. I even had a business partner say this to me back in 2006. Because I never believed it wasn’t personal, it marked a turning point in that business relationship – which soon ended. “Business is Personal” was true when “it’s just business” was said to me in 2006 and it’s still true today, perhaps more than ever.

Sales and marketing is personal

The marketing messages that touch us and do some part to convince us to make a purchase are effective because they touch us. I recently heard of a study of a man who had an operable brain tumor. When the tumor was removed, it required removal (or damaged) a part of the brain that controls emotion. There was speculation that he would be more capable of making decisions than most people, since emotion would no longer cloud his decision making. It turned out quite differently. Without the ability to use emotion, he was unable to make even the simplest of decisions. Unable to decide between salt & pepper, or between red wine & white, he required extensive care, rather than becoming a highly logical decision-making juggernaut.

To excel at sales, we must become experts at listening to prospects. We must “get inside the head” of people to learn what motivates them, how they are thinking, and often, what their deepest wants and needs are. My dad used to tell me to “be a good listener”, a phrase which changed meaning from decade to decade. Today, “listen to understand, rather than to respond” has become the catch phrase of many who are figuring out that listening to respond completely misses the point.

We’ve all been subjected to a salesperson who is focused on their quota, or on their sales process, rather than on our wants and needs. It’s frustrating. Transactional. Many avoid businesses with this type of sales team. Eventually, some businesses figured it out and started using non-commissioned salespeople. Despite that, I still get calls and meet salespeople who start the conversation about their quota and the need to close a deal by some irrelevant date.

The sales our companies make are very personal. They allow us to hire people who support their families, which support schools, charities and entire communities. Those sales fund salaries that are spent at other local businesses, that fund infrastructure and schools, and allow our employees to get their kids into schools, sports, outdoor activities and more. In communities where a business is a substantial employer, the impact of that business ripples across the economy of the entire community.

Employment is personal

For many people, their job or their chosen field of work is a part of their identity. It may be what motivated them to go to college or trade school. It might be what got them to spend Gladwell’s perhaps-discredited 10000 hours to achieve mastery, and/or to seek out the mentor who would teach them the ropes. For some it’s a bit bigger piece. Ever spoken with someone who’s unemployed? Would you even begin to tell them that experience isn’t deeply personal? For some, it digs at them to their core and they might never forget it. It might even drive decisions they make for the rest of their lives, simply because they never want to be in that situation again. “It’s just business” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It’s personal when you get the job you’ve worked years to be qualified for. When you get the job of your dreams, it’s personal. It’s personal to take out massive student loans while becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, etc. When someone tells you that you aren’t good enough at a job and fires you, it’s personal. It’s personal when you come home and explain to your family that you were laid off or fired. When you have one of the greatest business successes of your life, it’s personal. If you have to humble yourself in front of friends, peers, and the people you love because you were fired, it’s personal. When tough times threaten the faith they put in you and tarnish the promises you’ve made to them… it’s personal.

Ownership is personal

That business you built from scratch, the one that almost now one knows how much time, mental strain, money and work you invested in, it’s personal to you. The sacrifices you made, the jobs and financial opportunities you gave up to build your dream, they’re personal too. The dream is personal. It pushes you to work, sacrifice, get your life out of balance, struggle to get it back in balance, only to work harder the following month to keep it that way. Your business is personal to you, no matter how it feels or appears to someone else.

You chose who you wanted to be a hero to. It was a personal choice. There’s probably a reason for it. I think back to how I advise people to take care of their customers, and it surely goes back to watching my grandmother make butter and riding around in my granddaddy’s truck to deliver eggs, milk, butter, and chickens. Even though the world had all those things at the corner grocery store, people paid still paid them to deliver these items to their door. My grandmother’s butter wasn’t simply a round of butter. She milked the cows. She churned the butter. She hand-formed the rounds and then personalized them with a design she hand embossed on the top with a wooden spatula that someone had carved for her.

How is your craft any different from that? How is it “just business”? Please.

For some, it’s who they are

Like it or not, what we do and how we earn a living is quite personal to most of us. Even if you’ve arrived at a point where “it’s what I do, it’s not who I am“, the fact that you had to do some introspection to get to that point is evidence that your business is personal. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you deliver firewood that you carefully chose, cut and had the patience to season before selling it, do you toss it over the fence and leave the pile for the owner? Or do you neatly stack it where they asked and cover it with a tarp so it’s dry and ready to warm their home? If you do the latter, is it really “just business”?

Taking your business personally doesn’t mean you’re emotionally fragile. It doesn’t mean you hate your competitors, or that you’re angry at someone who decides not to buy your product. It means your customers’ success is important to you. It means the work is important to you. How you help them achieve success, how you deliver the work, how you care for them over the years. These things tell people what kind of person you are. The people you rescue and the effort necessary to rescue them is important to you – no matter what form that rescue takes. If it’s “just business”, it shows. If it’s “just business”, you’re just a vendor that can be replaced by the next lower priced option. There will always be a vendor that’s cheaper – and it shows. There will always be someone who takes their work personally. That shows too.

If your business is personal to you, that’s OK. It’s your choice. Don’t let someone else take that away from you.

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Unsplash