Be Personal in Networking But Don’t Take Things Personally

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

How much value do you add? That’s the key question I ask each day when I am out in the world of business. It may not be a perfect question, but the free market is open. People are free to make decisions on their own on what they value.

You are valuable when you can connect, articulate and deliver value to another person.

You can’t insist.

You can’t force people to do what you want.

You can’t whine and hope others will pacify you.

We have choices and we tend to choose in our self-interest.

The great thing is that every day your customers spend money and look for value.

That’s why in your networking, you have to keep tilting the odds in your favor by being helpful and clear in what you are offering. It’s about being personal but not taking responses personally if they don’t go your way.

Consider Mark Ford’s tips on networking:

Gain interest first, earn trust later.

Always be specific and sincere in your praise.

Don’t expect to receive an answer to every note you write.

Ask questions.

Be grateful for answers.

Suggest business only when your target person is ready.

Business is people. And the business of people relies on you being valuable out there and networking in a way that is consistent, clear and respectful.

Every day I am looking for those that would truly add value to my life. Hopefully, we connect in a way that makes life better because we met.

I Like the Boring Business

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When it comes to business building, I like boring. I like creating outputs from inputs. I like throughput. Drama, inconsistencies, high stress and heroics are fantastic for movie plots. But they don’t contribute positively to profit and loss in a business. Boring helps cash flow. Cash flow makes customers, vendors, employees, and owners happy.

I am not sure why a certain level of craziness persists for so many operations. Here are my guesses:

A business owner thinks a bit of chaos is normal.

Employees have completely different incentives. Chaos and disorder might reward them with a sense of relevance (and dependency).

Growing so fast with headcount and lacking a solid culture has newcomers confused.

The business owner only cares about money and doesn’t realize the importance of strategy to get money long-term.

There’s not enough drama going on in people’s personal lives.

When I see a boring business that has cash flow working like a machine, someone prioritized making the business work and keeping first things first. They simplified as they grew. New systems, processes and people create complexity. And they were intentional to inject strategies, culture and execution to overcome the complexity. It was more than a money grab.

With the ridiculous amount of competition out there, the last thing you need is chaos and drama when it comes to operations and selling. Making customers happy requires alignment internally on all fronts. Perhaps certain niches can hide for a bit. But, someone is going to eat your lunch that comes along and builds that boring business that reliably executes day in and day out.

Are you operating on systems or charisma?

Do you have consistency or failure points that keep showing up?

Are customers leaving you regularly?

Are employees leaving you disgruntled?

Do you think chaos is normal?

The marketplace is moving so fast and commoditizing every sector. Focus on building the boring business so you can be agile enough to react. It’s hard enough out there.

Overcoming The Valley of Death in Growing Businesses

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From the book, Scaling Up, and their commentary on the challenges of business growth.

The idea of growing a business is romantic. That spirit of entrepreneurship, leadership and scaling have a wonderful image of adventure and nobility. In the trenches, when a firm decides they want to grow, it is messy. It is hard work day in and day out to get the strategy clear and the people and systems moving in the same direction.

That is why the graph above on the valley of death growing firms experience is so vivid and real.

4% of firms reach $1M in annual revenue. Then it only gets harder to scale from there.

Essentially, the hardship comes from complexity. Growing revenue often requires growing teams. Teams of people need to collaborate. This growth may be linear as far as headcount goes, however, the complexity grows disproportionately in an exponential fashion.

One strategy to keep complexity lower is to use technology and systems rather than headcount. Information systems are ridiculously powerful and cheap today. And for growing businesses, they create extreme leverage. You can create information flow and access to make decisions and get things done in an unprecedented way.

Another strategy to grow is to implement strong leadership and use management approaches to foster alignment around clearly defined goals that are important to your company. This takes time. People take a lot of nurturing, repetition and trust, thus the HR systems have to be built, reinforced and robust to create the culture for growing a business past the valley of death.

The pain comes when trying to grow a business to support or create demand and the systems or leadership do not keep pace. Complexity inevitably grows and there needs to be a corresponding counterbalance of simplifying the business. Otherwise, the valley of death at each stage can crush the business. The weight of success becomes too heavy.

When you think about your business, you are never safe. Every comfortable niche is threatened today by technology and competition, which relentlessly pushes you towards commoditization. If you are a commodity, you lose relevance and profitability. Someone is, effectively, eating your lunch.

If you move from your comfortable, or deteriorating, position towards growth, you face the valley of death as you grow headcount. The task of simplifying as you take on exponential complexity becomes critical to manage as you climb.

It’s a tough world out there. But the game of business growth, while fraught with challenges, can be attained when you know where the pain is coming from. Your leadership and systems become your tools for increasing your rewards.

Are you in a valley of death?

The Goal of Your System

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If you are sitting comfortably, there’s not much incentive to improve your systems. However, disruptors such as technology, competition and atrophy (i.e., Groupon), may force your hand to get your systems more efficient.

I’ve been sharing out various books around the area of business growth and efficiency lately. A classic I would recommend if you are serious about getting your business systems working optimally is The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. You get an insightful and packed story that illuminates the complexities, sensitivities and systemic relationships of complex systems.

You also learn about what the goal of a system is: throughput. Your challenge is to drive throughput in the midst of dealing with natural forces including statistical fluctuations, dependencies, inventory, operational expense and bottlenecks.

It’s tricky business, and if you are not careful, you can damage your systems in the pursuit of efficiencies and make throughput worse, not better.

If you get myopic around local maximums, for example, you can cause your system’s throughput to suffer overall.

Systems with their dependencies and obedience to natural laws have to be respected, analyzed and refined carefully to avoid unintended consequences.

I have seen so many businesses with good intentions that violate the principles of The Goal and see negative impacts on their cash flow. It’s not pretty, and sometimes it’s hard to understand.

There are undoubtedly higher efficiencies that would make life easier, make customers happier and put more money in your pocket.

What if you could increase your throughput and your cash by 50%? Does it appeal to you to move the needle? All that lost opportunity and money could be a fantastic motivator to keep growing so you are not vulnerable when change comes to force your hand.

Get ahead of that inevitable decrease and drive the throughput. That is the goal of your system.

Build In the Cost

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Part of living in reality is accepting all its shortcomings and inefficiencies. All the inputs you may work hard to put into a system – materials, technology, talent, management, etc. – will not work at maximum efficiency or ever be balanced.

When your systems become more complex, there is going to be more leakage and failure points. And a good system designer will account for the cost that comes from trying to make a workflow or system work.

That cost plus comes from the dependencies and statistical fluctuations which are a natural part of life.

People get sick. A vendor doesn’t deliver goods you need on time. A strategy missed the mark. You get a software virus.

Every working day has these types of statistical fluctuations and it has an impact on how your business and workflow will operate.

It’s why accounting for the costs that are natural from everyday work as well as Old Man Murphy is so important to consider. You have to have margin that’s based on the inevitable inefficiencies which will impact your results.

I think it makes operational efficiency somewhat of an art as well. You don’t know what will impact your well-intended and well-laid plans. You can only know that there are places in your workflow that will take a hit, sometimes sporadically, and other times regularly.

When it comes to getting business results, the cost side of your systems are real and if your expectations can have a buffer to what is ideal, you can rely on a lot of flex in your outputs. This is especially true with people-dependent processes and systems.

I like to think about contingency planning along with continuous improvement in known areas that will require support at untimely intervals. This not only keeps you from being blindsided, but you manage the risk from an imperfect world we all have to tolerate.

Consider where your costs will arise and how it impacts your overall results, whether that is in selling, demand generation or operational workflow. Mitigating that cost can go a long way towards allowing for continuity and sanity.

The Problem with Infrequency

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How do you know the price of something?

Ultimately, it’s an agreement between the seller and buyer. You don’t have to pay the price. You could go elsewhere and get what you want cheaper. Or you could forego what you want if it’s not a need.

Buyers are at a disadvantage on infrequent items. If you only buy a home every seven years, are you calibrated to the pricing and all the fees along the way? Something you do once every seven years compared to sellers along the way that do dozens or hundreds of deals a month makes them an expert and you an amateur.

The same goes for the infrequency of buying a car, college tuition, health care, and a number of items that we run across in life’s journey and demands.

On frequent items like gas, cell phone service and eggs, it’s easy to dial into the price. You see it, touch it and interact with the pricing so much that there is less of a debate between the buyer and the seller.

It’s interesting to watch people get more excited about a 20 cent raise in gas prices and miss the upswing of university rates. We pay attention to things we frequent more easily.

Perhaps being scarce in attention can help you lever up as a seller. Your service could morph or integrate with other offerings. Or you could work in an innovative, infrequent purchase area to have more pull on pricing.

You could also be a price-focused hustler lowering your operational and delivery costs so that the language of price becomes collaborative with your buyers while you move the cost needle down.

Infrequency has its rewards for sellers and finding a game where you can assign pricing based on that value and advantage might be worth exploring in this vast, hyper-competitive marketplace.

The Terrible Idea of Trying Harder

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It is true that when we find ourselves in a hole, the first thing we should do is stop digging. Sometimes that pull to keep digging or keep trying harder can overwhelm our sensibilities. Instead of being smarter, we simply add horsepower and determination. It’s a terrible idea.

When something’s not working despite your honest, forthright efforts, the last thing to do is try harder. Better to think. Think of a new way that can yield different results.

We’re not automatons. We can use our brains to bend reality to our desires. So, a bit of strategy to help you in problem solving and getting new kinds of outcomes.

  1. Find space. Sometimes, when you are too close to your problems, it’s hard to see. Get away.
  2. Get a pad and paper. Computers and smartphones can suck you into convergent thinking. When you need creativity, a simple piece of paper and pen can open you up. Doodle for a second. Then do a brain dump. Get your mind to unlock.
  3. Push ideas out. You need to entertain new pathways. Let whatever you think of come out and keep pushing yourself to come up with ideas, no matter how far fetched, that can be considered.
  4. Try something new. Take a look at what came out of your creativity. Push a small action out into the world. Get someone to react. Send an email to a company or person to get a response and move the ball. Action creates momentum.

Sometimes we can get in a rut or we overvalue effort. In the age of automation and ridiculous efficiency, consider the tactical approach more of a commodity. Having clear ideas that stick in reality with creative thinking is what will tend to get results. Changing directions and continuously evaluating are your better assets to nurture.

Can you stop trying harder?

I Want to Grow Opportunities with Apps

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I saw this recent statistic to date for number of apps for my Apple devices at 2.2 million and 2.8 million for Google Play! It blows my mind how much technology is available for every average person out there with a thought and a click. We got here fast.

When you look at these numbers, do you think creating one more app will be much value? How would you get through all the noise to even be noticed? You might find a micro niche that has been undiscovered. Or you could try and unseat a current app leader in a category. Tough game either way to bet on, especially when the proposition of free or $0.99 apps are expected. We’re app snobs these days and want extreme power with no cost.

But you could take a look at the bigger picture. Much like electricity is a commodity that we don’t give much thought towards, apps have come to be a sort of utility. We use them for travel, productivity, banking, entertainment and many other uses.

How do you grow opportunities with all these apps, however? What if you want to produce rather than consume? The use case for this supercomputer in your pocket can surely go far beyond checking out or checking in.

If you want to grow opportunities with apps, here are some ideas and strategies that gets you thinking about the game of increase:

  1. Networking. If you extend your inbox to include participating in forums or Quora, you can play a game every day. Give a great idea or connection every day. See if you can be a matchmaker and make new friends by giving substantive value. Push your mind and creativity. See if that translates to deal making.
  2. Build teams. Start a project that has a money-making goal. Keep it small. Use an app to add people to the conversation and actions. Move the ball forward with leadership and project management. See if you can set the next steps forward using distributed talent around the globe. You’ll have picked up the skill of managing virtual teams. You might consider Basecamp, Slack or Upwork to drive this initiative and make an ROI the goal.
  3. Curate. If you keep tabs on trends, products, food, technology or other natural interests, find a way to make a daily post on a platform. See if you can turn that into a transaction. Work with those vendors you respect. Become a trusted, curated resource. Build relationships with your audience and your product vendors to find where the deal making lies.
  4. Encourage. Life is tough and most people are carrying around a lot of worries, concerns and problems. Use an app that would facilitate the process of encouragement. Find inspirations, apt quotes, solutions and answers that would help people. Make it easy for yourself to connect the encouragement with the person that needs it.

You are not going to have a million apps on your device. But you can think about what you are doing with your time and attention and think a bit bigger than mere consumption. What if you could turn that powerful middleware someone created and get resourceful to turn the tech into opportunity building? It starts with a purpose.

A Little Strategy Please

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Any fool can muster up motivation and go for it. You may finally want to act on an idea or make your business work more efficiently in a moment of inspiration.

However, acting simply on emotion and motivation without thinking through options, strategies and ideas can get costly and wasteful. It’s a loser’s mindset.

Doing a bit of upfront thinking about the problems you want to solve – make more money, building stronger relationships, growing a team, being more efficient – can save you heartaches and headaches. Thinking, not hard work, has a lot of cost avoidance.

We have this immense advantage of living in a world where all the pieces are either already invented or able to be put together to solve our problems. We have too much, not too little.

And what you want out of life and business is all there for the taking. Nobody is going to hand you a solution, however. You have to think a little and get clear on:

  1. What you want
  2. Wanting it
  3. Designing the solution
  4. Working the design

A little strategy and thinking can keep you from working on the wrong solution or limiting yourself to an inferior option. There are so many options available.

So, are you hating your job like the 70% of other Americans out there? Yet there are millions of jobs and you merely have one. What about doing a bit of thinking and getting clear on what you want, overcome what is holding you back and find the options that fit you? Then act.

What about being stuck in your current business? Little to no growth year over year can be frustrating. What will happen this year? Same input and same output? How about thinking about what drives your sales engine and either magnify what works or pivot to something more creative. There’s always something more creative.

You need a plan that is well thought through to change the mundane and predictable way of business and life you have today.

Assume everything’s possible and all the resources are there to get what you want. It starts with a little strategy and clarity on your thinking to make anything meaningful happen.

Test Your Strategies to Discover the Truth

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The amount of information that flows into our lives is bewildering. The continual ticker tape of news feeds and stock prices in the old days pales in comparison to every person getting their own say. It’s so easy to push out a post or have an opinion and make it known.

I often wonder, especially with the prevalent fear of public speaking people have, whether they would clutter our attention if they had to stand up and say what they think. Likely not.

Instead we get a lot of noise. There’s not much cost to hearing every angle, opinion and rant.

But what really works? What is really true?

You may see someone’s success in their career, life or business. And there’s often not public disclosure of how they did it – what strategy did they implement?

There are many possibilities to the success we see:

  • A simple strategy with intense, hard work over a long period of time
  • Connection to a special person of position that opened a door
  • Being first in a new market or platform
  • Finding some kind of loophole in the rules
  • Exploiting a narrow opening

Have you ever noticed, in whatever game you are playing, there are a few that sit atop the success ladder? The mass of others may have good intention and effort, but they tend to lag.

Can the masses simply copy what others did? Do they lack discipline and consistency which would otherwise propel them?

Or is there a strategy that they are missing that the leaders have found?

The best use of your energy if you want results is to test the strategies you see and hear that the winners have applied and see if it is replicable.

If a few have achieved results, then why not anyone else that simply follows the process and steps?

If the data, research and findings lead you to emulate the practices of those that have gone before you accurately, then you should see similar outcomes.

However, if you do not find replication based on similar actions, then there may be something else at work you can’t quite detect. You may not be able to replicate a special relationship or the timing of a pursuit.

The testing of your strategies can reveal what the truth of the matter is.

We see models out there that tend to be replicable:

How to build a law firm.

How to grow great children.

How to get a paycheck.

These are replicable by simply watching and mimicking and they work in scale.

But if you don’t see a lot of replication, then dig a little deeper to see if it is even possible in the game you have chosen. Find that truth that is powering the success you see, but the reasons may be elusive.

If you find something is not replicable, then you have the choice to replicate the luck you see or move on to another game.