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.

Building the Boring Business

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I enjoy drama, action and suspense when I watch a movie to relax and let my mind and emotions wander. However, I don’t find heroics and craziness entertaining or useful in business. In fact, my goal with entrepreneurs and business owners is to build a boring business based on systems, processes and execution that produces consistent cash flow.

That sounds reasonable, but often it goes against the programming and nature of the owner operators that believe charisma and heroics has won the day. I get it. We like superheroes and long to be one.

Emergencies pop up and uncertainty continually deals a hand here and there. When I see volatility or repeatable drama, then my conclusion is that something foundational is not working.

If you ever have gone on factory tours of large manufacturers of cars, electronics or packaged goods, you don’t see chaos and frenetic energy. You see systems that drive output. The systems are there to drive towards a singular result. It’s a boring business and it works to get goods into the hands of customers. The goal is making the customer happy and drive revenue.

But well-run businesses do not simply appear overnight. There’s thought around how materials, information and talent flow. Systems work well with focused results by removing the crises, variables and gotcha’s that snare lesser performing operations.

The boring business happens because of strong leadership and a commitment to not repeat insanity from continual failure. This not only includes project management or operations but in how the business cares about and manages client relationships, grows revenue via a continuous pipeline and continually innovates. These are all parts of a business that can be creatively systematized. The energy and creativity for a boring business can be put in the design and execution of processes that stay ahead of chaos.

Sure, you can spend time getting lost in details and putting out daily fires. But when you step back and take a look at anything that repeatedly pops up and slows down the main event – making your customer happy – have you really solved the root problem of poor systems? Is a lack of commitment to process simply leaving the door open for problems later?

Perhaps team members need regular training and testing of their knowledge and skills. Or you may need a knowledge base and repository to keep information so you don’t have to keep reminding people how business should be done.

In many cases, you might simply need to notice the repeatability and frequency of problems. Do you like heroics simply because it appeals to the ego or makes you feel like you are working on something?

I like drama to stay at the box office or in my recreational fun going up or down mountains. When it’s completely possible to keep a business focused on delivering value and driving revenue, no thanks. Give me the boring business instead and leave the adventures for other parts of life where it belongs. #nodrama

Unburden Yourself

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I cannot overstate the value and pleasure of an unburdened life and clear mind. It’s too easy to overcomplicate our lives with so many things that simply do not matter. I have observed the reality that Robert Ringer puts forth about human nature:

Human beings, by nature, tend to seek ways to complicate their lives. Given a choice between a simple and a complicated method to accomplish an objective, most people will opt for the more complicated course of action. This is one of those great mysteries of life from which there is no logical explanation.

Some examples I have observed that create unneeded complexity where it’s a giant burden to people:

  • Maintaining high overhead instead of simplifying with technology.
  • Hiring friends and family for their comfort and familiarity over competency for a job.
  • Having complex legal structures, locations and operational redundancies in a business.
  • Traveling to the ends of the earth to work on deals that may or may not materialize when there are simpler deals locally.
  • Developing many different products and services that don’t pay off compared to a few that do.
  • Working in high hassle industries where most of your time is spent on non-productive work that doesn’t help your customers. i.e., high regulation industries.
  • Selling with manpower vs. systems
  • Constantly in drama
  • Always overworked and not having time
  • Managing too many open accounts
  • Continually adding every new technology or gadget
  • Maintaining social appearances
  • Arguing
  • Social media
  • Narcism

When you have much more noise than is required to get your goals, everything gets harder, unnecessarily. Why? It’s such a waste. It’s a blind spot, for sure, if you can’t fathom or see the possibility of boring, efficient results.

I don’t want to run around in chaos. I like working in calm and ease.

I don’t want drama. I like enjoying my wife and three kids laughing and snowboarding 50 mph down mountains.

I don’t want busy work. I would rather work little on things that matter with big payoffs.

I don’t want a ton of uncaring associates. I would rather have a few good friends.

I don’t want to talk about meaningless chatter. I want depth and honesty.

All the things we let leak into our lives have costs. And managing a ton of little details, costs and superfluous junk becomes a burden. It’s like dragging weights through life when we are trying to go fast.

What if you started shedding? Might be hard. After all, Buddha observed,

All unhappiness is caused by attachment.

You can certainly be happier, feel lighter and get results. Ever notice your burdens?

Forget Setting More Goals

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Losers have goals. Winners have systems. ~ Tim Ferriss

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle

The last thing you need is more goals. A lot of talk about going after the next thing for yourself will assuredly come out in this season of goal setting and resolutions. And it’s not necessarily helpful.

Consider scrapping the idea of setting yet another goal and thinking more about the small things you do daily. If you repeatedly do certain things well that align with an outcome you desire, you increase the probabilities that you will have a different reality, one that you desire.

For example, say you want to build a larger tribe. Well, the ingredients for this is to have more thoughts to share, a platform that works for publishing and collaboration and writing with daily rigor. So your daily habits may include a simple list:

  • Read for 20 minutes
  • Capture one big idea
  • Write about that idea on a selected social platform
  • Connect with 5 new people and elaborate on the daily idea
  • Help one person apply the idea

Now, doing this kind of work may take about an hour a day. Doing this daily may mean about 30 hours a month, 365 hours in a year.

Over time, the momentum will build. The key thing is less about the goal of how big of an audience you may attract. The important thing is showing up and not missing a day. You would have a system that you can commit to.

There are no guarantees in life. But you can tilt the odds in your favor. And much of that happens from being consistent and developing a system that continually works for you that you can commit to.

If you stay with your system and habits then you will find efficiencies and what makes sense. How can you not?

Over time, the compounding effects take place from greater ease of not only doing the work but moving the needle on the results. It’s a natural outcome of consistency done well.

So, what simple daily habit can you put in play that will set a direction for you? 

Strategic with Your Down Time

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The business cycle with holidays, end of year and bookkeeping is an opportunity for you if you can relax and take advantage of the natural down time. Trying to force fit activities that are likely a better fit in the up times will only lead to frustration, and perhaps disfavor, with clients. Why not be more strategic about the business cycle?

The down time is extremely valuable to your business if you use the time well.

But the first thing you have to do is let go of expectations. Let go of trying to force conversations, deals, projects or opportunities that are not on people’s minds or attention.

There will be a better time when everyone is chomping at the bit to make things happen. Ride the down time with better strategic activities for yourself:

  • Express gratitude. As we get into a reflective time, give thanks to the people that have made a difference. Be specific and share why you appreciate them as a person and their business. It’s a great time to be reflective and build stronger ties. Many times, people are merely wanting to know they made an impact. When you express this, it closes the loop in their minds and helps them see the work of their hands.
  • Celebrate. Just write on a pad for 30 minutes everything that has happened the last several months. Think about where you were and where you are today. Write as much as you can. Then look at what you jotted down. We are often working so hard we don’t tie our results back to the effort. It’s good to appreciate progress.
  • Relationships. Clean up your address book. Group your Contacts and work through removing duplicates and making it a ready tool you can access. In the process, you will see many names along the way that you might simply ping to see how they are doing. Then identify 5-10 new relationships you want to develop and build in the coming months. Be intentional and find ways to get into conversations, offer value and meet up.
  • Review Systems. Look at your various tools and systems and see what is not relevant any longer. Get rid of subscriptions that you don’t need. Consolidate and take a look at your workflows. See where you can improve and minimize where you store data, how you access it and where you can improve on getting things done.

Much of this down time work is housekeeping. It’s a luxury you don’t necessarily get to work through when you are in the grind. But this part of the business cycle can be enjoyable and make your up times much more fruitful.

Sometimes, we are so busy we can’t see the opportunities whether it’s how we work or connecting with the people that matter.

Enjoy the down time.

Is Automation Sinking You?

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Are you underwater already because of automation?

There’s an article on LinkedIn Pulse, Recruitment industry will die in 2018 which has been quite the conversation piece and stirred the passions.

It’s foreboding news for recruiters that have a vested interest in perpetuating their jobs. The author compares what is happening in talent recruitment to the role of travel agents before the internet. Automation has changed the requirement for human beings to do a job that machines can do with much higher efficiency and better results.

On the one hand, we can feel a bit of anguish at the thought of people losing jobs. Of course, those jobs existed to meet a market need, albeit an inefficient one when compared to what is possible with automation today.

Many innovations are ready to go but are delayed by public sentiment. We see the rollout of fast food kiosks in the face of minimum wage hikes. The technology has been there for quite some time and the timing is becoming more digestible in the face of economic pressures.

We went through this revolution already in the factory setting with robots and high speed manufacturing. Perhaps we were less alarmed because those jobs made sense to automate.

When it comes to information management, repetitive workflows and clerical functions, human beings, with their inconsistencies and contrasting slowness, bottleneck the production process.

So, if automation is knocking at the door in your industry and about to sink you, how about looking at where the higher level requirements exist? Think about what is not repetitive and takes creative thought.

Machines are excellent at working with rules and repetition. And we use technology today to create efficiencies and compete as we should.

But sitting around hoping that automation will not overtake you is desperation. The economy is moving at blazing pace the the drumbeat of progress. The time to reinvent yourself and ensure you are positioned to leverage automation, rather than simply be overtaken by it, is now. There’s a much higher probability that what you are doing today will completely change in a short time.

How can you get ahead of automation and increase your value now?

Marketing Goals

Strategy Mapping

If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time. There can always be improvement and better results in your business, especially with the frequency and speed of change impacting every industry today. The way buyers are making choices, engaging content and making purchases has a lot of moving parts to it.

Setting your marketing goals to drive demand and win customers can be looked at systematically to set strategies that make sense for your business. In my work with clients who are seeking higher levels of success, we collaborate and set marketing goals based on their industries which they are tuned into. Here are some things which we typically work through that may be helpful for you as you are setting your goals.

  • Mindmapping reality. In real-time, we walk through an interactive mindmapping session. This builds a visual picture of what is happening in their business and market. The goal is to get the picture of what has happened and what works. From there, we have a complete vantage point to start setting strategy.
  • Marketing strategy. Breaking down who are customers and how they buy helps to build a process. We work through this process to understand the emotion, logic and experience of how a buyer makes decisions. Ideas for how to court the buyer and what creates a connection arise from the strategy engagement.
  • Systems and process. To enable the strategies, the systems for driving sequence of steps need to be identified. Automation, analytics, design tools and databases may constitute the selection of tools to consider. Keeping the experience integrated and seamless are important, thus we examine feasibility as well.
  • Team alignment. There are activities and projects which need to be defined to make the marketing strategies reality. The work that needs to get done for launching marketing campaigns and systems is identified. Ongoing work which needs to occur to grow a brand or generate leads is also outlined with milestones and calendaring.

The great thing about working in the information age is that we have quick and ready feedback from our markets. Using that information to build new and better marketing goals is both necessary and expected. You will spend time, money and energy promoting and positioning your value offering next year. How much you spend in each area can either be random or refined to build a strategy in growing your business.

If you want to get specific about your marketing goals, feel free to schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking here. We can walk through a preliminary mindmapping session to define what has worked and what the possibilities are for the next year.

Happy New Year! I wish you much success.

 

The Productive Week

Weekly plansOver the years, I have learned to focus on the short-term to build long-term success. Some of the productivity systems out there that tout goal setting far off in the future can end up in discouragement. Life is moving too fast and there are too many variables which we cannot control. You may not have planned for the obstacles and failures that inevitably will occur, but your ability to deal with them has a lot to do with your success.

As we get set to focus on the new year, how about avoiding massive goals and resolutions. I think trying to develop one habit which helps you to execute better each week will produce much more change and progress in your work.

Good weeks produce great months and eventually a great year. Here are the things I like to do weekly to help me move the ball forward in my business:

  • Define the week. On Sunday evenings or Monday morning, scope out the week and what needs to get done. I have various business systems to manage, but the main thing is to create a task list relevant to each system:
    • Sales. The relationships and deals that need touch points, proposals and contact have tasks assigned. This list is my working list for the week.
    • Projects. I have an overview of all existing client projects with milestones and To-Do’s. I also review any lingering communication gaps and team deliverables.
    • Marketing. The content I need to deliver for my audience needs to be defined in an editorial calendar and task list. These get done early.
  • Load the funnel. The tasks for marketing and sales get done early, preferably by Tuesday. This prompts reaction by my clients, prospects and partners.
  • React and deliver. The latter part of the week is spent reacting to the things I pushed out on Monday and Tuesday – emails, content, phone calls and project communications.
  • Mid-week review. Wednesday is good for reviewing what is left and if anything urgent has crept up. I revisit my lists and ensure I can get everything done that needs to get resolved by Friday. I focus on closing business and projects.
  • Clean up. I like to spend Fridays catching up with any loose ends and ensuring the things that needed to get finished are done. The slate should be clean for the next week’s plans.
  • Weekend bonus. I like spending weekends reading and writing. It is unstructured time and helps me to continue growing and delivering value in the areas I am passionate about.

It is a cadence I have become accustomed to for years and have found to be quite effective after working through many different types of systems. Your goals are defined and you execute against those in a reasonable and urgent timeframe. After many cycles, you can look back and see the progress of your work from executing consistently.

What are some ways you can become more productive?