What’s the most important question to ask yourself every day?
This is the fifth post in the series of The Ten Priorities: Laying the Foundations for a Great Business and Life. The fifth Priority is about Planning. The introduction to this series on The Ten Priorities is here.
Nothing of value was ever achieved by humans without a plan.
This is a fact
A business without a plan achieves everything in it
Yet planning is guessing, right? Nobody can know what tomorrow is actually going to look like, all we can do is guess.
That’s planning: We’re at point A, and we want to get to point B by date X. There are many routes to point B, so knowing what we know about today and given what we expect the world to look like tomorrow, what do we guess is the best route to get to point B by X?
Tomorrow the world changes
But tomorrow the world is a different place. Tomorrow it might snow along the route we’d planned to take to point B, and we must change the route.
That’s the secret about planning: Planning is something we must do again every day. When realities change, we must change our plans right along with them. (more about Planning here).
The most effective leaders have already thought about the possibility of snow along the chosen route, long before the snow actually appears, and they’ve already worked out how to change the route to point B in that eventuality.
Business owners who build great businesses, constantly ask themselves:
They ask themselves: “We’ve got a plan, based on certain assumptions… But… What if… any one of those assumptions turns out to be wrong, what do we do instead?”
When you learn to ask, “What if?”, all the time, you’ll respond quickly and appropriately to the changing realities and keep your business moving forward… I promise you
This is a guest post by Bruce Allison of Commscloud, more details at the end of this post.
A story about innovation turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones
In my experience, in business, you will always come across stumbling blocks and it is the ability to turn these into stepping stones that has the greatest effect. Successful entrepreneurs I have known have always focused on the solution not the problem. 22 years ago I needed a sea change after spending many years building a successful insurance business. I bought a struggling laundry business in Maroubra called Lucy’s.
I had no experience in retail services and soon came across a real hurdle, a lack of revenue and a small market. The laundry was located in an area where using a laundry was a luxury and the former owner had reduced the price of services to an unsustainable level to try to get people through the door.
The laundry had a 2 shop frontage and a huge operating area and was operating way under capacity. That revenue hurdle was compounded by the cost associated with the underutilised area.
The first thing I did was turn it into a laundry café to add value to the customer experience as they had to spend 2 hours to do their own laundry. It offered a point of difference to competitors in the area and encouraged them to spend their money at Lucy’s. I partnered with a local dry cleaner to expand my offering. Initially I knocked on every gym and hairdresser door building a steady business and still the business was just breaking even as long as there were a few days of rain each month. I needed a new approach.
Getting the city to come to Maroubra
I needed to focus on a solution, on the positive things about the business. It still had a lot of available capacity, the rent was very good and it occurred to me we were only 20 minutes from the Sydney CBD. I remembered that in my research when looking for a laundry I had looked at businesses in the CBD. They were too expensive. The rent was too high but the turnover looked great. The big question was how I could get the great turnover of a city laundry in Maroubra. The stumbling block appeared to be being located in Maroubra but in fact that became my stepping stone. All I had to do was create a way to collect laundry in the CBD and get it out to Lucy’s to process and return it.
That’s when Lucy’s Laundry Bins was created.
While putting some clothed in a recycle bin, I had an epiphany.
Why couldn’t I install a bin into every apartment block in the city to collect laundry to wash or dry clean? I set up a trial service into the Connaught Building in Sydney’s CBD cutting a deal with the building management to split a percentage with them for the use of the common area, Installed the bin into their garage area where customers could deposit the clothes in bags with their apartment number included by 8:30am to be returned by 6:00pm that night. I installed lockers which I rented to the apartment owners for the cleaned clothes to be returned to.
Offering something valuable
The service was a real value add to the apartment block, promoted by the building management and direct to the occupants. It was more successful than I could have hoped for and proved there was market demand for the service that added value and encouraged me to expand to other apartment blocks in the city.
The stumbling block I had of being in the wrong location for local laundry services was the reason the rent was good. This became the stepping stone as the low rent provided me with the cash to be able to invest in laundry vans for laundry runs into the city.
I am a restless soul so after 5 years I sold Lucy’s to concentrate on a new passion – Technology.
17 years later my communications business Commscloud provides real value to clients requiring an independent broker that understands the applications for business messaging solutions using SMS, voice broadcast, email and fax. We provide VoIP and internet connectivity solutions from a number of providers.
From Pirates in the Bahamas to Danish women in Italian Piazzas
One of my favourite Facebook memes is:
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”
We grow up and find that the world looks quite different when we’re 30, 40, 50 and beyond, than we thought it was going to look when we were young.
I thought I was going to be a modern day pirate like Long John Silver (a fantasy recently revived with the swashbuckling Netflix series “Blacksails”), but it turned out I got violently seasick on the oceans of the world. And besides my wife and I had our first child and children don’t go that well on pirate ships.
Then I thought I was going to be a journalist of world renown, but I didn’t have the patience to make it through the ranks.
I set my sights on a boatbuilding business on Sydney Harbour, but what I knew about running a business in those days could be written on the back of a beer coaster, and the business failed.
Next I started a building business in Sydney. I developed it and ran it for about 20 years. At times it did very well, at other times not so much, but in the end I had enough of the never ending struggle between contractors, homeowners and architects. I was very happy when a former employee of mine offered to buy the business.
More or less at the same time my personal life took a 180 degree turn and where I’d always thought I would grow old as one half of a happily married couple, I suddenly found myself single (by my own choice I hasten to add).
The rest of my life
I was 45, single, without home or business or any immediate responsibilities other than to work out what to do with the rest of my life.
And I had no idea. None.
I figured I needed to create a bit of space in which to work out what direction to head and I took myself off to Italy. The idea being, that if I were to sit myself down on a piazza in Italy for long enough, the universe might speak to me.
And it did.
I actually remember the precise moment that it did: I was having dinner with a bunch of friends in a little restaurant in Perugia in Umbria. I got talking to a Danish woman who was in Italy for a month long sabbatical and she told me about her life coach. My ears pricked up. I’d never heard of the term life coach and I was equally intrigued and sceptical. Long story short. I did some research and decided to do a foundation coach training course when I got back to Sydney. I loved it and in the next few years I enrolled in as many studies and trainings in coaching and related fields as I could.
Various coaching practices
I set about building Life coaching, Executive coaching, personal counselling practices and combinations of all of them. In the end I created the thing I do now, which is all about helping small business owners feel great about themselves and their business and about making business Fun (with a capital “F”).
I love what I do these days and by all accounts I am actually really good at it. Until quite recently, I saw myself growing old in the inner-city of Sydney together with my new spouse, doing what I do now, connected with the community and my kids, grandkids and extended family and friends. But another change is coming down the pike, heading straight for us. Life is going to take another 90 degree turn. I can’t tell you exactly which direction this 90 degree turn is going to take, but it seems quite clear that we’ll be leaving Sydney in the next year or so.
We’re upset and anxious about this prospect. It’s going to mean significant adjustment and changed circumstances, but really, the change is no greater than any of the changes I mentioned above, and those were just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s a good chance that the changes will turn out to be really positive in the long run and that we’ll look back and smile at the memories of our anxieties and dine out on the stories, just like I do now when thinking about the changes I mentioned before.
Life is indeed what happens when we’re making other plans. Planning is guessing. I’ve said it before when writing about goalsetting in business here, but it’s no different in life.
The one thing we can be sure of is change But us humans, it seems, are hardwired to resist change as much as we can. There’s a primal instinctive fear we feel in change, I believe.
But change is coming and In any case, I’m going to remind myself how positive the experience of change can be, especially in hindsight, even if it doesn’t quite feel that way now.
What does it take to make a success of your small business… how can you avoid adding to those frightening statistics about failure rates of small business.
In this series of articles and associated webinars and workshops, by Roland Hanekroot you will learn the basic concepts and get the knowledge need to become a successful ‘Business-Owner’, as opposed to a struggling ‘Business-Doer’.
The format of each episode in the “First Steps” series is to explain the basics of the topic and then in line with the principles of New Perspectives business development programs, to suggest some “First Steps” you can take straight away to put the knowledge into action.
In the fifth of these articles we’ll look at the numbers and ask:
How do we do business by the numbers and why?
Doing business without numbers is like playing football without a scoreboard. You simply cannot run any kind of business for any length of time without keeping your eye on the numbers.
This is a fact.
You may not like numbers and you may believe you are no good with numbers and you may want to just “get on” with running your business.
Well I have good news and bad news for you:
Bad news: You’ll simply have to get over your dislike and your hurdles.
Good news: Numbers are a lot simpler than you think, you don’t need all that many of them and you won’t have to find them yourself.
Numbers are important because they are the result of measurement and measurement is what allows you to manage and develop a business and stop it from going backwards.
For example you have to know (measure) what is in your bank account if you want to stay alive… No argument there I imagine? Well your bank balance is a number.
You may also want to measure the effectiveness of the money you spend on marketing and again the answers will come in the form of numbers.
You may want to know if you have enough stock on hand to supply your customers in the coming week… The answer is a number.
You may want to measure why your bank balance has been going backwards in the last three months… The answer will be in the numbers.
I trust I’ve convinced you that numbers are key and you just have to get your head around them. But which numbers?
Lets have a look at one of my Business Bedtime Stories.
A Business Bedtime Story
(The ‘Business Bedtime Stories’ are real world case histories that illustrate this months topic in some way)
Once upon a time… a long long time ago in a country not unlike Australia… Michael had a carpet cleaning business …
Michael owned a carpet cleaning business in Sydney and Michael had ten vans on the road with 16 staff. Michael’s life was full of crises, most of the crises involved his staff not delivering the customer service or quality that Michael’s clients expected.
Michael kept thinking:
“If only I had a simple way to measure “Good Work” and “Good Service” that I can apply across the board and use to manage the performance of the guys ?”
Working with me as his business coach Michael learnt that you can create relative measures for intangible things. For example If you were asked to give a score out of ten for how happy you felt at this moment, where “10” was that you felt delirious and “0” meant that you were at risk of self harming, you might say “6”. If I were to ask the same question again tomorrow you might answer “7”. This would lead us to reach a valid conclusion on your state of happiness tomorrow relative to today.
This same principle can be used to measure all sorts of intangible things in life and lends itself really well to measure quality, service and satisfaction levels.
Michael and I went to work to create a self scoring system, where a staff-member filled in a small form at the end of each job in which he gave himself and the just completed job a series of scores out of 100 on a number of different measures (for example: “Give yourself a score out of 100 for being punctual”)
The forms would be collated in a spreadsheet and the numbers averaged for each staff member and for the business as a whole. Every week on Monday morning Michael received a report from his admin assistant with the average performance numbers across the company for service and quality in the last week. At the same time Michael had his assistant call 10% of all clients every week and ask them to rate the completed jobs in a similar manner and these ratings were listed side by side with the staff member’s own ratings. The staff members would be given access to the customer ratings as well and as required Michael would sit down with individual staff members, compare notes and generally help the staff improve on their ratings and become more accurate in their self-scores.
This scoring system completely changed the way Michael thought about managing his business and he realised that the way to build a great company and great business value was to step back and create management systems, scoreboards and dashboards.
Five years later Michael sold his business for a price much higher than he could ever have hoped to gain when we first met.
And Michael as well as the new owners of Michael’s business will live happily ever after… The End
Lessons from Michael:
So let’s have a look at what we can learn from Michael:
First: There are many other numbers that we can focus on besides money in the bank
Second: Measuring intangibles like punctuality is actually quite simple.
Third: Measuring an aspect of business allows you to improve it.
Here is what I’d like you to do: Imagine that you are banished to a deserted Island. And for a period of time, say 6 months, the only information you get about your business comes from the weekly mail boat. The mailboat can deliver you only a single piece of paper with maybe 15 numbers on it and the mailboat will wait for 15 minutes to take your instructions back to your business for that week.
What are the 10 to 15 numbers that will tell you how healthy the business is and allow you to make quick management decisions and instructions that you can send back?.
Most businesses will have a couple of common numbers, such as bankbalance and profitability on their mailboat report, but beyond those common numbers every business owner has his or her own priorities that tells him/her what’s going on. For example, in my business I constantly need to know how many inquiries I have had in the past 6 months, because it gives me a really good indication of the number of new clients I’ll get in the next 6 months. In another business a critical indicator might be the average number of days it takes to get paid, because if this number goes up, the business will to run out of cash.
Don’t do it yourself
I mentioned in the ‘Good News’ that you don’t need to be the one who finds the numbers.
This is actually a critical point. You as the business owner are primarily responsible for keeping your fingers on the pulse, but I want to encourage you to delegate the production of the numbers to others as much as possible.
There are a whole lot of reasons why you should delegate getting the numbers to others. This article is not the forum to go into the detail of those reasons, but let me assure you that business owners who truly manage their business by the numbers, get one piece of paper every week, with the critical numbers from their bookkeeper, one from their sales department and one from their production department. It is simply not the job of the business owner to dive into the bookkeeping system themselves to find the numbers; that is not ‘best use of your time’
So start thinking about that deserted island, what do you need to see on that single page mailboat report to enable you to manage the health of your business?
Your First Steps:
As mentioned at the start of this article, here are some resources and actions you can take right away, that will get you started on implementing the principles I discussed:
A sample dashboard with critical numbers of a past client of mine in the catering industry.
Article about business dashboards by Valerie Khoo in the SMH
About the author and the Masterminds sessions
Roland Hanekroot is a business coach who works with Small business owners to help them have more Fun in their businesses and build businesses that sustain them for years to come. Roland is also the author of “The Ten Truths books for Business owners” (more about the books here: http://thetentruths.com.au)
Every month Roland Hanekroot runs a business development workshop as well as a webinar called “The Small Business Masterminds” more information here and to register for the next webinar or workshop, follow this link: http://smallbusinessmasterminds.com.au/ The first time is free.
A business without a plan achieves everything in it.
What does it take to make a success of your small business… how can you avoid adding to those frightening statistics about failure rates of small business?
In this series of articles and associated webinars and workshops, you will learn the basic concepts and get the knowledge you need to become a successful ‘Business-Owner’, as opposed to a struggling ‘Business-Doer’, and build a business that sustains you for years to come.
The First Steps Format
The format of each episode in the “First Steps” series is to explain the basics of the topic and then to suggest some “First Steps” you can take straight away to put the knowledge into action. The previous articles On Purpose, Financial Management, Marketing and Sales can be found in the archive on the blog.
In the fifth of these articles we’ll look at Planning and ask: Why do so few business owners have a business plan, or if they do have one, why don’t they look at it more often, and how can we create a plan that does make a difference?
I bet you actually have a business plan. You probably created it with the help of your accountant or by following a template you downloaded from a government website somewhere. You filled in the blanks and fiddled with it a bit. It made the bank happy. It looks great and when you finished it, you felt proud to hold it in your hand. But when was the last time you even looked at the thing?
We all know the mantra: If you want to build a successful business, you must have a Business Plan.
I completely agree with that mantra, but does that mean that a business with a “Plan” will by default be successful?
No, obviously not. Most business plans don’t actually have much of an impact on the success of a business, because their format and content is irrelevant for business owners and their staff.
So how do you write a business plan that is relevant for you and your business? A business plan that is your most powerful tool to guide the direction and development of your business?
Business Bedtime Story, Laura
Here is one of my Business Bedtime Stories that illustrates how to think about planning. The Story is about one of my clients, Laura.
Once upon a time… a long long time ago in a country not unlike Australia… Laura had a fashion label…
Laura had a little shop in Sydney and a fashion label and a small dedicated band of followers for her unique brand of office fashion for successful corporate women. Laura’s business was 4 years old and although it was gratifying to see the same customers come back season after season for her latest lines and to know how happy her customers usually were when they left her shop, Laura felt strongly that there was a great opportunity for her to grow the business and bring her unique designs to a larger audience, but she just didn’t know where to start.
“Should I get involved in social media, or maybe I need to take the plunge and open a shop in the CBD or should I look for a partner in Melbourne or knock on the door of Myer, and how will I finance an expansion, and can I continue to manufacture in Australia, and what if I am not good enough to manage more staff and various localities, and is the market in Perth the same as the market in Sydney, and what if Cue designs simply decides to knock off my designs, and if I grow will I lose the loyalty of my customers” ? etc etc
Laura was stuck in a classic decision paralysis loop.
Working with me, Laura came to realise that the only way to cut through her dilemma’s was to face her lack of confidence in business planning head on write a thorough Business Plan, but in a form that worked for her.
So she did. Laura started by creating a big mind-map in which she wrote down all the dilemmas and questions and then she systematically ordered them, prioritised them and answered them.
The mind-map evolved to a series of small one page documents for different aspects of the business and a time line with projections for different stages of the business development.
A place for all the questions
From there Laura simply started to work progressively through the plan, and every time another question or dilemma came up she went to the plan, and found a place to house the question. This simple process of planning allowed her to be able to focus on the immediate step ahead without being afraid that she would forget something crucial.
Making this step to getting involved in an appropriate level of consistent planning is the one thing that started to shift Laura’s business into a new realm.
1.5 Years later, Laura had opened a second shop in Sydney. The planning process helped her understand that her opportunities in the short to medium term were not in the CBD, nor in large scale production off-shore, but in a series of small unique shops in specific inner city suburbs like Balmain and Mosman, followed by similar expansion in Melbourne and other major cities in Australia.
Laura was looking forward to the next 5 years of consistent controlled growth and building a loyal national following of her label.
And Laura lived happily ever after… The End
Let’s examine Laura’s lessons. We’ll start at the beginning. Why do we need a “Business Plan”?
The purpose of creating and having a business plan is threefold: 1) To spell out exactly where the business is headed and how it will get there. 2) To have a fixed set of criteria to “test” every decision in the business against. 3) To know your options and to be able to make swift and accurate decisions when your business circumstances change from the ones you planned for.
If your Business Plan is designed with those three principles in mind, you can be sure it won’t be kept in the bottom of a drawer. It will sit on top of your desk; it will be dog-eared, and smudged; it will have coffee stains, scribbles and doodles all over it. You will look at it every day and so will everyone else who has anything to do with it.
Business Plans that live
There are 6 key criteria that a Business Plan must meet for it to truly add to the success of the business: 1) It must be a “live” document and be kept “live” by the people directly affected by it, monthly, quarterly, annually. 2) It must be designed with the people who are directly affected by it in mind. 3) It must be easy to use and easily accessible for the people directly affected by it. 4) It must be designed to address the short, medium and long-term goals of the business. 5) It must reflect the Purpose and Mission of the Business (see last month’s topic article on my blog) 6) It must be short… on page… ideally.
On the special resources page for this topic (follow this link) are a couple of simple templates that you can download and work your way through to create a business plan that meets these 6 criteria. All of the templates are designed to fit on one page.
None of the templates on the resources page are for business plans designed to go to the bank with. Those plans are external plans. The plans I talk about in this article and the plan that Laura created are internal plans, their function is to help you and your people drive the business to where you want it to go.
Your First Steps:
As usual in this series of articles I want to encourage you to take action. To get started with creating a business plan that is going to help you build a business that sustains you for years to come, the first step is to follow the link to the special resources for this article and download the two templates. There are also a couple of articles about planning from two internationally renowned business gurus you may want to read.
Step 2 is to get started. Put aside an hour to get familiar with either of the templates. Alternatively you might prefer Laura’s approach or you may decide on a different format altogether. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get started.
I’d love to hear how you go, email me your first draft or feel free to contact me with any questions.
The Masterminds sessions.
Every month I run a business development workshop as well as a webinar called “The Small Business Masterminds”. In December our topic for the Masterminds sessions is business planning and how to write a plan that works. For more information and to register for the next webinar or workshop, follow this link. First time free, normally $99
(By the way. Feel free to email me if you do want a good external business plan template to apply for an overdraft with.)
I’ve got a big goal:
“In January 2024, I am delivering a talk to a global audience at a TED conference in either the USA or the UK, about Small Business, Overwhelm, Fun in Business and the Business Growth myth.”
I committed to this Goal a few months ago and let me tell you, as Goals go, it’s a big one. To achieve it I have to not only step outside my comfort zone, I have to shut the door behind me and stay there.
Until now I haven’t set many Goals for myself, and that may sound odd for someone who calls himself a business coach. Business coaches are supposed to be all about Goal setting and accountability.
And that is true, but most Goal setting operates from a flawed premise.
You see, the typical approach to goal setting goes something like this: Visualise what you really want to achieve and make it as real and concrete and measurable as possible and then create a plan to achieving that thing… And Bob’s your uncle.
There are three things wrong with that approach:
1. The world changes all the time. 2. You change all the time 3. And most of the Goals we set through that process are actually not very inspiring.
Let me explain:
Common examples of Goals are: “We’ve doubled our revenue” or “We’ve made $250,000 net profit” or “I can afford to buy myself that Mercedes I’ve always wanted” or “I’m taking the family on a holiday to (insert tropical island resort)”.
Lovely Goals, wouldn’t you agree?
Sadly though, none of those goals are likely to have much impact on your business or your life.
Here is the problem:
Traditional Goal setting in business is crystal ball gazing. A Goal along the lines of: “100% profit growth in 2014” makes all sorts of assumptions about what 2014 might look like and about what your life might look like in 2014. It may be that the world economy dives back into a GFC type of crisis next year and a great achievement might simply be to survive. Alternatively the economy may experience a boom of some sort and doubling profit growth will hardly be much of an achievement.
And you yourself of course are even more likely to undergo change over the course of a year. The circumstances of your life can change radically, your health can change, you might fall in love or have babies. Any number of things can come up during a year and change what’s possible, desirable or important.
I worked with a client some years ago who owned a design agency, let’s call him Aaron. We worked together for a period of 9 months covering the last three quarters of the financial year. When we started work, Aaron decided that he wanted the business to grow 20% in the year, make $150,000 net profit, grow from employing 5 to 7 designers, move to a new office, pay himself 25% more salary, and sign a contract with a big financial institution.
A few months in I started noticing that Aaron was losing his usual enthusiasm and I checked in with him about that. It turned out that Aaron was getting worried that his goal wasn’t going to be achieved, because parts of his Goal turned out to be much more challenging that he had imagined. Specifically, the company was currently on track to only make $100,000 net profit.
Also, the more time Aaron spent looking into opportunities with the big institutions, the less excited he was feeling about working with them. While on the other hand, Aaron’s business had recently landed a job with a mid-size engineering firm and the early signs were that this was exactly the kind of client, Aaron and his team enjoyed working with.
Yet Aaron was down on himself for not being able to stick to his Goal.
I explained to Aaron that the thing to understand about committing to a Goal is that it is designed on the basis of information we have available at the time we create the Goal. If it turns out later that the information was flawed in some way, it makes sense to adjust the Goal in line with the new information.
For Aaron to continue to chase contracts with big banks when he’d come to the conclusion that there were better opportunities available elsewhere would be stupid.
Churchill is reported to have replied when he was accused of changing his mind: “Yes, I do that when I find I’m wrong… What do you do?”
Maybe Aaron needed to explore the engineering industry further instead of the big finance world, and maybe, feeling frustrated about making $100,000 profit instead of $150,000 was not all that useful either.
No more firm Goals?
Does that mean that we shouldn’t have firm Goals anymore? On the contrary. Well framed firmly defined Goals can be an enormous help to staying out of Overwhelm and into having more Fun in business and building a business that sustains you for years to come. However a Goal to make $150,000 profit, will not motivate you. It might sound exciting, but it is an arbitrary number and whether you make $100K or $150K is not interesting to your brain, especially not your sub-conscious brain.
Out of your comfort zone
The only truly motivating Goal, a Goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone and keeps you there, just like my Goal to talk at a TED- conference, is a Goal that is about your own growth as a business owner, as a manager, as a leader, and as a person.
What that meant for Aaron was that he changed his Goal to this:
“On 30 June the business is humming, everybody is having a ball, our cash reserves are growing, our strategies are in place for next year and I am walking the talk of being a true business owner.”
As soon as we framed this Goal, Aaron found his enthusiasm again.
Aaron achieved all his Goals that year and threw a big party on the 30th of June.
The day after the party Aaron and I designed a new Goal for the next year that was just as inspiring as the last one and Aaron and his business have continued to thrive ever since.
Back to me and my Goal. It has taken me a while to set and commit to such a big Goal. The reason it took me a while is simply that I wasn’t ready. Now I am and I’ve found the same level of enthusiasm about my Goal that Aaron had a few years ago about his Goal.
So… how far do you want to grow as a business owner in 2014, and what Goal are you prepared to commit to?
I’d love to hear… drop me a line, and… I look forward to seeing you in the audience in 2024.
Cheers, Roland Hanekroot
Call me if you’d like to explore how I can help you have more FUN running your business and build a business that sustains you for years to come. A great first step is to come along to one of my monthly Small Business Masterminds workshops or webinars… follow this link
The Oxford dictionary defines Overwhelm as: “Bury or drown beneath a huge mass of something”.
This is my definition: When we are in a state of overwhelm, we have a sense of being ill-equipped to deal with the demands that are placed on us, in other words, we feel like there is too much to deal with right now.
Being in a state of overwhelm is no picnic. Overwhelm is a major cause of stress, anxiety and depression in our society, and small business owners experience overwhelm more than most.
Being a Builder
A long time ago when I still had my building company, there was one feeling I experienced more than anything on a day to day basis, and that feeling was overwhelm.
There were so many different business development priorities jostling for attention in my brain that I simply didn’t know which one to focus on. On a daily basis, there would be financial management, marketing, customers, systemisation, planning, quality assurance, sales, staff, contractor issues, etc etc.
Some days this sense of overwhelm became so great that I would become quite paralysed and waste the whole of the day surfing the internet (remember this was over 10 years ago, before Facebook came along to make life even more distracting) Other times, especially when I was still actively “on the tools”, I would spend days doing stuff I could have delegated to the labourers on my team, instead of wielding the shovel and hammer myself.
Overwhelm stymied the development of my business and I know that if I’d managed to find a way to manage myself better, the business would have developed further and sooner.
The paradox of choice
It is a well-established fact that too much choice leads to overwhelm and decision paralysis. Here is a quote from a 2009 TED talk called “The paradox of choice” by professor Barry Schwartz:
“A colleague of mine got access to investment records from a gigantic mutual fund company of about a million employees and about 2,000 different workplaces. And what she found is that for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, the rate of participation went down two percent. You offer 50 funds — 10 percent fewer employees participate than if you only offer five. Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose that you’ll just put it off until tomorrow.”
100 colours white
And I’m sure we’ve all experienced how much harder it is to decide on the new paint colour for our living room when the average paint store has a choice of 100 or more different shades of white alone.
As small business owners we are not unique in experiencing overwhelm, stress and anxiety, but there are some aspects to running a small business that are unique:
We simply do not have the resources in time and money to be able to address all the business development priorities that are vying for our attention; they will always have to be culled ruthlessly.
But generally we don’t feel well enough equipped to be able to decide what to cull.
And besides that, even if we did, most of the pressing issues relate to aspects of business that are well outside our specific skill=set (The skill-set that is the foundation on which we started the business: carpentry, architecture, cooking, widget-making, etc.)
This is the reality of being a small business owner: more stuff to do than you can poke a stick at, all of it really important, but most of it out of your comfort zone.
No wonder we procrastinate.
My clients will often tell me that they are the world’s worst procrastinators and that they are lazier than anyone they’ve ever met.
But laziness has nothing to do with it, more often than not procrastination and “time wasting” comes from a lack of clarity about what the most important thing to do next is and feeling insecure that we’d know how to do it if we did know.
Besides procrastination, the other default response we have to this sense of overwhelm is to pick up our trusted hammer (scale rule, cook’s knife or widget machine) and do some more hammering instead.
Do you recognise any of that?
Do you spend more time than you should “hammering” and not enough time addressing the business development issues? And when you do put down the hammer, do you find yourself procrastinating and not getting as much done as you think you should?
Trust me, most of us do, all the time.
The way out
So what is the way out? Given that I don’t believe in easy answers and one-size-fits-all solutions, let me give you a 5-ingredient recipe to put on the stove and experiment with that will start to take the sting out of this challenge for you:
Step 1: Stop beating yourself up, you are not the world’s laziest business owner. (I am… obviously). Seriously, start by accepting that the challenge you have in this area is really common, we all face it every day, it’s normal.
Step 2: Write down what the major business development priorities are for you at a high level (marketing, cashflow, etc)
Step 3: Ask yourself this question: If there was one priority I could do something with today that would move my business forward one single step, what priority would that be? Lock in the first answer that comes to mind, trust your gut feeling on this.
Step 4: Ask yourself a second question: What specific action(s) can I take today in relation to that business development priority that will make a real difference in my business?
Step 5: Block out a specific time in your diary today to carry out that specific action(s)
What makes this recipe such a nice one to experiment with is this:
That there are a few skills you have achieved mastery in, “beating yourself up” is one of those, you don’t need to practice it anymore, it wastes precious creative energy and time, and makes you feel like crap.
Actually forcing yourself to make a choice between all the different priorities is challenging, but your gut feeling (the unconscious) will actually know the answer, and you can trust it.
Breaking the major priority area down into a small, specific action that you can block out a specific time in your diary for, can make it a lot easier to cut through the overwhelm and help you focus.
If you get yourself into a habit (and remember habits take 28 days of consecutive practice to cement) to go through this process every day, I promise you that your business and your life will never be the same again.
Cheers, Roland Hanekroot
Call me if you’d like to explore how I can help you have less Overwhelm and more FUN in your business and build a business that sustains you for years to come. A great first step is to come along to one of my monthly Small Business Masterminds workshops… follow this link
I read a wonderful book by Chip and Dan Heath a little while ago called “Switch”, “How to change things when Change is hard”
The book is full of wonderful anecdotes and really clear explanations of powerful concepts about change.
The authors explain how most people believe that if something needs to be changed, that we need to go through a process of ANALYSE-THINK-CHANGE, build a business case in other words with figures and stats and graphs. Sadly that turns out to be one of the least effective approaches to building a momentum for change… A vastly more effective approach is SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. In other words let people see and feel the problem and the effect of the problem and help them see and feel the change and the effect of the change to get them on board.
So if you’d like people to “get” why something in your business needs to change… demonstrate… speak to their feelings… tell stories
In part 1 of this series of articles I wrote about how 3 letters, FUN, are the most important thing to focus on in your business.
In part 2 of this series I wrote about the 4 steps to take to create REAL FUN in your businessIn part 3 of this series I wrote how we can go about measuring how much Fun we are having on a day to day, week to week and month to month basis and how to apply that knowledge to the way we run our business and where we focus next.
So in part 4, I will summarise the whole idea for you and sketch out some real word examples of the concept and how to apply it.
Overwhelmed and stressed…
As I’ve said, most small business owners are overwhelmed and stressed; there are so many different priorities vying for their attention every day that they simply don’t know where to focus next. It is simply too much… everything is important and then there are the crises.
So what we tend to focus on instead are two things:
The crises… the everyday brush fires. The crises have to be dealt with or else… so we don’t have to think about that.
What we are best at, our actual skill…the thing we started the business for…carpentry, architecture, graphic design, IT development or whatever… we revert back to “swinging the hammer” in other words, because at least we know how to do that properly.
The stuff that falls by the wayside is the Stuff that Steven Covey in his book “The seven habits of highly effective people” refers to as “Quadrant 2” work… the work that is important but not actually really urgent… it can always be postponed for another day or another week.
The work of the business owner…
The problem is that exactly this work is what I call “The work of the business owner” as opposed to the work of the business, and hence the business stagnates and you as the owner of the business start to feel stressed, frustrated and overwhelmed even more.
So how about if there was one measurement that could tell you what the most important thing to do was in the coming week to move out of that stagnation and overwhelm.
And that is the concept of “Fun in Business”
Because when a business is Fun, it means that everything is working.
If your business is FUN, it means you are making money and staff are engaged and customers are Raving Fans, and all of that good stuff.
And most importantly, it is actually possible to measure Fun in business as a relative measurement and when you do so consistently and systematically; it can help you decide where to focus your time and energy next. Then what happens is that you will start to move out of overwhelm and stagnation and start to build your business that works for you again, instead of the other way around.
So if you ask yourself and your staff: “How much fun did we have last week on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is that we just couldn’t wipe the grin of our faces and 0 means the opposite?” you can find an answer. Let’s say that the answer is 6.5, for last week; you can then ask yourself (or your team): “What do we need to do to make next week a 6.6 on that same scale?” This last question can often lead to surprising and very narrowly focused answers…
Answers I have seen to this question have been as prosaic as: “Let’s make sure we collect some more of the outstanding invoices this coming week” or: “If we could all come in an hour earlier this week, then we can get this project out the door and that is just going to be such a relief for all of us”.
I wrote about my client Richard and his design business in part 3 of this series, and how he implemented the Fun scale in his team management.
John and his casual staff…
Another client of mine, John, has a small chain of cafés in the inner city of Sydney. John also incorporated the Fun in Business scale in the way he manages his businesses.
A problem John has is the transient and casual nature of a lot of his staff. Managing the business is therefore a headache, as he never knows how long his staff will stay and how committed they will be.
But John has taken the fun concept even further in an effort to engage his staff. It is difficult for John to get all his staff together on the same day at a staff meeting, people might only work on aMonday and never meet half his other staff. So John has introduced a digital system that integrates with his time sheets.
Each staff member has to sign into his staff management computer system when they arrive for their shift and at the end of their shift they have to sign out in the same system but at the last shift of the week the staff member also has to answer a couple of questions in the form of a survey.
It’s all about the questions…
The questions are:
Question 1: “On a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 is that you have had the most fun you could imagine having at work this week, and 0 is the opposite, what score would you give this week?
Question 2: “What rating on that scale would you like next week to be?”
Question 3: “What can we, your manager, and the business as a whole, do to help you achieve that number?”
Question 4: “What can you do yourself next week to help you achieve that number?”
These questions were confronting at first for a lot of staff members, but slowly but surely people were starting to see the point, especially when shown that their manager (John in most cases) took their suggestions and requests seriously.
After a few months of consistent application of this Fun in Business system, John’s business truly became unrecognisable and his business started growing again.
And that is why deciding to take a determined focus on having more FUN in business may well be the most significant decision you make in your business.
You have a go now…
Thank you for reading this series of articles… Now it is your turn… I’d love you to start thinking about how to start measuring how much Fun you are having in your business… why don’t you call a staff meeting and discuss it… brainstorm it… see what people think?
You might be surprised how even a few conversations on these topics might start to introduce a little bit more fun for everyone in your business.
The system works! Rebecca gets systemised… Truth 8
Read on to find out how Rebecca learnt that systemisation = less effort + more profit.
Once upon a time… a long, long time ago in a country not unlike Australia… Rebecca ran a consulting business.
She had a team of six consultants and two administrative assistants.
While all her stafff contributed in their own ways, Rebecca was finding there was no consistency across their output. Some jobs would be completed with great results while others were done haphazardly with outcomes all over the place.
Rebecca was spending hours fixing the other consultants’ work and making sure the admin assistants were on track. She was becoming increasingly worried about the quality of the business’s output and concerned her clients might get fed up and leave her.
Rebecca felt she could never relax because she needed to check up on everyone and everything all the time.
She wondered, “How can I make sure everyone in the team is producing consistently good work?”
Rebecca was going nuts.
Working in The Bootcamp with me, Rebecca came to understand that she needed an overarching system so that everyone knew what they needed to do.
The biggest lesson Rebecca learnt was that once you put a system in place you don’t have to think about it again (well, not immediately at least!). Good systems free you up to get on with the real work of your business.
In the Bootcamp Rebecca and I talked about the principle of, “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” She started tracking different jobs and looking at what was and what wasn’t working, and found that:
Result 1: Successful jobs always had more time in the briefing stages than jobs that were rushed in.
Result 2: Successful jobs always had a simple document register attached to the filing system for the project.
Result 3: Successful jobs had one person who was responsible for keeping the documents register up-to-date and the filing system organised.
From these findings, Rebecca was able to put in place the following actions:
Action 1: She created a series of minimum benchmarks for the briefing stage of any project, no matter how rushed the client was.
Action 2: She assigned one person as the responsible officer for the filing system and document register for each job.
Action 3: She implemented a monthly ‘systems meeting’ where she would go through each job with the responsible people and check on the briefing stages, the filing systems and the document registers.
The difference in just a few months was remarkable. Peace and calm reigned in Rebecca’s office because everyone knew what they should be doing, how they should be doing it and when they needed to have it done by. Happily Rebecca can now take a day off here and there to focus on her favourite hobby… photography.
Systemisation really does mean less effort and more profit.
Ask yourself… Where will you find the courage to build a remarkable business?