The reality is that most small business owners operate in a constant state of overwhelm and stress. We feel that, at some level, our skills don’t cut the mustard, and we often have no idea where to focus our (very) limited time when faced with seemingly endless priorities.
Sound familiar? This is why “Fun in Business” matters. If your business is fun, you won’t be overwhelmed. If your business is fun, everything is working: you’ve got time to do the things you enjoy, your staff are happy, you’re making money. Need I say more to entice?
Let me show you why Fun is an incredibly powerful business management tool that helps you build a business that lasts, sustainably.
Fun Is the Way Out of Overwhelm
Fun may seem like a very strange and whimsical concept to focus on when we’re talking about growing a business. After all, isn’t fun reserved for time spent socialising at the pub or lazing about on tropical islands? Events that happen outside of business hours. Experiences that are paid for by your business, but otherwise entirely unrelated.
Perhaps not. In fact, I believe that Fun in Business is actually a hard-nosed business management principle. It is that deep sense of reward and satisfaction you get to feel as a result of building a business that hums along like a well-oiled machine.
Anyone else tired of focusing on all the serious stuff? The things that get drummed into us by patronising business management books and gurus? IT systems, contracts, staff management, sales and cashflow are all very important things, of course, but – in my humble opinion – they’re not where we must start.
We must start with fun. Why? Because if your business is fun, it means you
are making money
have enough time to do what you need to do
are proud of the stuff your business makes or delivers
know exactly where you’re going and why
have happy customers
have engaged staff
have balance in your life.
In the beginning, when we are first getting started in our business, there is usually a high level of that kind of fun around. Everything is new, exciting, adventurous and challenging. However, after a while, the real world comes rudely a-knocking and we suddenly find that
we aren’t making as much money as we thought we were going to
we haven’t been able to take our daughter to soccer training
our clients haven’t all become our greatest fans
our staff aren’t the perfectly aligned human beings that we expect them to be.
When this realisation sets in, we start to feel like we have become a slave to the business. We get worried that the light at the end of the tunnel may not be sunshine.
We try telling ourselves that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and we “have to take the rough with the smooth” because, like Churchill said, “Never, ever give up!”. We push harder and longer, holding onto the hope that good times will surely follow.
This is Business Hell, and it’s where most of us spend our time: Chasing our tails. Managing crises. Operating as a “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Living in a constant state of overwhelm.
After 30+ years in business (and working with lots and lots of business owners), I have come to believe that the only way out of this overwhelm is to ensure that business itself is fun. Deep and meaningful fun.
One of the greatest challenges for businesses, especially small ones, is that there are so many priorities competing for your attention on a daily basis. It feels almost impossible to decide where to focus next.
Many business owners also lack confidence in their aptitude for certain business development tasks. After all, you started this endeavour on the back of your skills as a carpenter, accountant or architect; not your background in sales, marketing, staff management, etc. Nobody taught you how to write an operations manual or create a cashflow forecasting spreadsheet, did they?
The result? Most of us revert back to “picking up the hammer” (because that is the one skill we know like the back of our hand), managing crises and being reactive to whatever is thrown at us. Like I said, Business Hell.
A New Tool for Your Toolkit
The concept of Fun in Business is an incredibly powerful tool, designed to keep you out of reactive crisis management mode so that you can focus on what is most important for today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and beyond.
Here’s how to use it in practice.
Think of a scale from 0 to 10. Let’s call it the Fun in Business scale.
10 on the scale? This past week in business has been so much fun that you can’t wait to get up and go to work. You’ve gone home every day with a big smile on your face. You’ve achieved great things. You had a wonderful time with your co-workers. Everything at work (or in business) has been just brilliant.
0 on the scale? Entirely the opposite. Your week at work has been simply awful on every single level. Pass the vino now.
Now ask yourself the following questions:
What number on the Fun in Business scale would you give your last week at work (or in business)? Let’s say 4.6.
Thinking ahead, what number on the scale would you like next week to be? Perhaps a 5.
What one, two or three actions can you (or we, as a team) take to progress from 6 to 5 on the Fun in Business scale, next week?
These questions, asked consistently, will cut through all of the crises and competing priorities, leaving you relentlessly focused on the next most important thing that must be done in your business.
These questions, answered individually or within a team (anonymously and with the results averaged), will set you up for having hugely productive conversations about how to make tomorrow just a little more fun than yesterday.
I promise, when you commit to building a Fun Business by regularly asking yourself these pivotal questions, you will have taken the first step to building a business that sustains you for years to come.
Remember, a business that isn’t fun won’t be around for long!
Your Homework (The Fun Kind)
Now, I’ve got a hunch that you’re a hands-on kinda person, so here are some actions for you to take that will help make your business more fun. Answer the following questions and start thinking about how you can make intentional changes. The results will be more illuminating than you might think!
Make a list of the 20 most fun experiences or most exciting times you’ve had in your business.
Write down the 3 things you like most about your business.
Write down the 3 things you like least about your business.
Growing your building business is not as hard as you might think.
Some of you will know that I used to have a building company. It’s been a while now, I founded the company in 1983 and I sold the company to my junior partner in 2003, but I have many fond memories of my building days (and some not so fond).
Because of my background I am often asked how to grow a building business, while keeping margins up. In my experience, business growth in the building industry comes down to implementing Five Golden Rules:
Under-promise and over-deliver
Probably not the Rules you were expecting, so let me explain:
Muddy boots and cream carpets
The building industry in Australia is a strange beast. On the one hand, because of it’s widespread system of contractors and sub contractors, I believe it’s probably one of the most efficient building industries in the world, but on the other hand I also believe it is one of the unruliest building industries in the world. Most of us know one or more horror stories of builders going bankrupt, subbies walking off site, costs spiralling out of control, tradies walking muddy boots through cream carpets, leaking bathrooms, disputes before tribunals and indecipherable quotes on the back of enveloppes.
I’ve certainly have my fair share of war stories from my 20 years in the building industry in Sydney. And to be honest, I’ll even admit that I and my company might even have been at the root-cause of a couple of those stories.
It’s not easy running a building or building-trades company in Australia. But there’s two sides to that coin. There’s great opportunity in the building industry to grow your business and make good money, because there are so many drongos out there and customers are desperate to find professional reliable businesses to deal with.
Laying out the red carpet
It was that way in my days as a builder. The good, professional, reliable, tilers, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, concreters, renderers and roofers were always busy. I would have to book them in 6 weeks in advance, I’d have to pay them well and lay out the red carpet for them, or they’d go somewhere else. And I learnt that I’d better do all of that, and then some, because getting the cheaper, available tradies always led to disasters of one kind or another and most importantly, unhappy customers.
The Golden Rules:
Hence my Five Golden Rules for Growing your Building Company above, because this is what I learned about developing a growing Beautiful Building Business (and Life):
Be empathic: Building contracts are big things, in dollar terms as well as scope. Customers enter into building contracts with great trepidation, because it’s usually the biggest contract of any type they’ve ever signed and they can’t even see what they’re buying yet. You need to be sensitive to that anxiety, that all customers experience at some stage in the journey. You deal with big contracts and big turnover every day. For your customers it’s a great source of stress. Stress makes people behave irrationally… Make allowances for that.
Be predictable: People are happy to pay your price if they feel confident they’ll get what they are expecting. If they don’t have that confidence, they’ll shop on price because that’s the only thing they can control.
Under-promise and over-deliver: If you say you’ll be ready with something by Friday, surprise them and finish by lunchtime on Friday and then take some time to really clean up, dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Don’t ever tell the customer you’ll be all finished by Friday and then when they come home from work on Friday it’s still unfinished and a mess… That’s just asking for trouble.
Say No: Don’t take on work you don’t feel confident you can deliver, fully, properly, on time, profitably and with a smile. Say yes, only when you are 100% confident you can do it how it’s meant to be done.
Communicate: The three C’s: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. If you come to the conclusion on Wednesday that you can’t complete the job on Friday as you promised… Tell them… on Wednesday… By email, by letter, by carrier pidgeon, by SMS, or by Whatsapp or Twitter… But for Pete’s sake, tell them. They won’t know, they expect to have a Barbeque on the new deck on Friday evening and they’ve invited their friends to celebrate. Similarly… If you strike something unexpected, you hit rock where you didn’t expect it, asbestos in the roof, an aboriginal artifact in the footings, a conflict on the drawings, you find out you’ve made a mistake in your calculations, ordered the kitchen benchtop 100 mm too short, or forgotten to order it at all… TELL THEM. Seriously. They’ll understand. They’ve made mistakes in their life as well.
And if you do all of that… If you live and breathe those rules, every day, and you hammer those rules into the heads of your employees and subbies, your business will grow and grow and grow, because your customers will be your Raving Fans and they’ll do your marketing for you. They’ll tell their friends all about how you finished the deck early on Friday, cleaned and tidied up and left a bottle of wine to have with the barbie on the deck when you came home from work. They’ll talk about you to their work-mates and convince their neighbours to have their own decks built by you as well, even though they’ve had cheaper quotes.
The alternative means you’ll have to endlessly compete on price and competing on price is a dog’s game… trust me on that.
Making money in your business isn’t rocket science, it’s all about the basics
Making more money in your business isn’t rocket science. If you spend less than you earn, you’ll end up with more money in your bank account. Even Donald Trump knows that (although…).
I know I know I know… Business finance doesn’t operate like a simple household budget, you may need to borrow investment funds, finance your cashflow, obtain working capital, factor your invoices… Banks and investors exist for a reason, but even so, in the end, to make more money in your small business, you need to generate more profit (margin) and spend less cash than you pull in.
So here are the Ten Key Strategies to Make More Money in your small business. Look at each of the strategies in turn, and set aside time in your diary over the next months to implement the actions I suggest for each one and I absolutely guarantee you’ll make a lot more money this year than you did last year.
I’ve also written in great detail about making money in your business here
Someone showed me this strategy early in my years as a business coach, and I still wish now that I’d come across it in the early days of my life as a business owner. Have a look at the PDF you can download with this link here. It shows that if you make an overal improvement of only 5% across your business, your actual profits will double. It seems like a magic trick, but it isn’t. It works, always. If you make a 5% improvement in revenue, a 5% reduction in Cost Of Sales and a 5% reduction in your overheads, your profits will double. Try it out, stick your own numbers in the little table and see what happens… Try 2% or 1% and see what enormous impact even such small improvements have.
Go ahead and do this today:
Pull out your P&L for the past 6 months or a year and work your way through it from top to bottom… How can you make a really small improvement across the board in your business in the coming year?
2) Someone has to be the most expensive, it might as well be you
Recently I worked with an artist, a sculptor. She was getting ready for a group exhibition at a prestigious gallery where she was showing 4 pieces of her work. At a group exhibition like that, there’s a lot of art vying for attention and it can be hard to be noticed. We talked about how to stand out from the other 8 exhibitors and I suggested to her to double her prices, or rather, to aim to have the most expensive pieces of work in the room. If your pieces are the most expensive in the room, you can be sure that people are going to take note. Anybody who has ever opened an exhibition catalogue, has quickly run their eye past the prices, at the cheapest and especially at the most expensive pieces, and they’ve gone and had a look at the expensive ones, guaranteed. And a journalist who comes to covers the exhibition opening for the newspaper does so too. Being the most expensive sends all kinds of marketing signals about quality and specialness.
My client swallowed, took a deep breath, and doubled her prices. She did turn out to be the most expensive “in show”… And she did sell one of her pieces… For twice as much money as she’s ever made before… Nice one.
Go ahead and do this today:
Have a look at your prices… Why couldn’t you be the most expensive? Is there actually a good reason to be cheaper than the competition? Is your stuff worth less? No, I didn’t think so… So let’s get your prices up… Starting next week.
3) Collect Collect Collect
It doesn’t matter how much profit you make, if the cash doesn’t end up in your bank account. Money that’s not accessible to you is worthless. Many business owners make the mistakes of invoicing late, not setting payment terms, or setting lax ones and not enforcing whatever payment terms they do have. A very large percentage of businesses that struggle or go broke, do so, not because they’re unprofitable, but because they don’t collect their cash in time and run out of money. Cash flow stress is especially problematic in growing service based businesses. I’ve written in much more detail about cash flow and collecting here. I often tell my clients that if they allow their customers to pay late, they’ve suddenly become a bank and as bankers, they suck. As with so many things in business, the first thing to do is to design a system, a collections system, and then, enforce it, religiously.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a report in your bookkeeping system called the Aged Debtors report and have a look at who owes you outside of your trading terms. Starting with the low hanging fruit, pick up the phone and simply ask this question: “Hi there mr customer, I just noticed that you owe us $12,536.24 and that this amount is overdue. Could you let me know by what day we can expect payment? Next week Wednesday? Thank you, that would be great, have nice week.”
Whatever date the customer promises to pay his bill, make a note on the following date in your diary. On this date, check if the payment has been made and if not, remind yourself that the customer has now proven himself to be a lier and hence, immediately fire off a stern email. Refer the customer to your conversation and remind him of his promise, and give this client 48 hours to pay up… or else. In 48 hrs, commence final warnings and be prepared to forward the debt to a collections agent. Run this simple procedure next week, with each and every one of your overdue debtors and I guarantee you, you’ll halve your outstanding debts in a matter of weeks at most.
4) Discounting is for dogs
Nothing good ever came of trying to make more money by discounting. IT . DOES . NOT . WORK . EVER
I know I know I know… It seems to work for Woolies and Coles, right?… Well that’s arguable, but more importantly, you aren’t Coles. You don’t sell 15,000 different convenience products in 2500 stores all round the country (and you’re not competing against Aldi)… You’re probably not even in retail. So if this article was written for the CEO of Woolworths, I might have to tone down my language. But it’s not, it’s written for you, and if you think you can make more money in your business by offering discounts, you’re sadly mistaken. You’ll increase your problems, decrease your margins and heighten your stress and truly no-one ends up happier. Just don’t… Trust me on that.
Go ahead and do this today:
Get an A3 Piece of paper and a thick black texta and write in capital letters across the whole page: I SHALL NOT DISCOUNT and hang it up above your desk.
5) Delegate Delegate Delegate
Your time, your braincells and your health are the most valuable resources in your business. Everything else you can buy, borrow or steal more of (more here). If you want to make more money in your business, you need to learn to maximise your own time. You should always be asking yourself: Is this thing I’m about to spend my time doing, the most valuable use of my time, right now, or is there something else more valuable I could be doing. If there is, then look for the best way to give this thing you are about to do, to someone else. Delegating the lower value tasks to others is one of the sure fire ways to start making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
In the process of deciding how to use your time, there is a simple tool called the 4 Quadrants of Time Management. Originally designed by general Eisenhower and made famous by Steven Covey in his book “The seven habits of highly effective people”. You can read more about getting the right things done here. Read the article and have a look at your week ahead. What can you delegate next week?
6) It’s Gross
There is one key number you have to focus on every week and every month if you want to start to make more money in your business and that is Gross Margin or Gross Profit (more here). I often refer to Gross Profit (GP) as the King of Numbers. If you only focus on one number in your business, make it Gross Profit. Revenue is meaningless, Net profit is confusing and you have little direct control over it and many of the other numbers in your business will give you a partial insight as best. Gross Profit or Gross Margin (expressed in dollars and as a percentage) can actually tell you just about everything you must know on a weekly and monthly basis about the health of your business. It’s got to be your target: “Every week we must make $xx in gross profit at xx% of revenue.
Go ahead and do this today:
Run a P&L report for the last 6 months or the past year. How much Gross Margin did you make? At what percentage of sales? Was it enough to cover your overheads and expenses and did you end up with a percentage of net profit left over? If not, how much Gross Profit should you make every month to pay for the overheads and have something left over? Now, once you have decided on that number… Stick it on the wall, (next to the note about discounting) and ask yourself: How can I make sure we hit that number every month this year?
7) Specialise Specialise Specialise
If you sell what everyone else sells, all you can do is compete on price and you know what I think about that, right? (have a look at the wall in front of you, with the A3 note about discounting). A key strategy for making more money in your business is to niche your business, to become the expert in a small section of the market. Make your expertise an inch wide and a mile deep. I read a famous book a while ago “Blue Ocean Strategy, how to make the competition irrelevant” (I wrote about it here), and it’s become increasingly clear to me that the most effective effective strategy for making more money in your business is to become a recognised expert in a small niche. It gives you a perfect opportunity to become “The most expensive in the room” (see above) (More about finding your niche here)
Go ahead and do this today:
So, get yourself a note book and brainstorm, what are you really really good at? What specific problem do you solve better for clients than anyone else? What are you passionate about, really passionate about? What do you get out of bed for in the morning? Remember, customers do not buy what you do, they buy the solution of a problem they have.
8) Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer at the end of the 19th century. I don’t believe mr Pareto was especially good at making money but he made some very clever observations on matters of commerce. Pareto is known especially for the 80/20 principle. The 80/20 principle is about the observation that inside economic systems most things are unevenly distributed. (for example, Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, in his time). This is how that’s relevant in your business. I am willing to bet that in your business, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients and worse, 80% of your losses also come from 20% of your clients. If you want to make more money in your business… That last sentence is where the low hanging fruit is to be found.
Go ahead and do this today:
Ideally of course you’d have a business management system or business intelligence system that could run a report for you with the answer. It’s certainly something to be aiming for in the long term to install such a system. But I’m guessing you don’t have such a system yet or it’s not fully operating yet. So it’s going to have to be a manual exercise, probably a spreadsheet or a simple notebook. Set some time aside and do the number crunching. Where do you lose your money? It might be to do with certain categories of customers, or with specific customers, or instead it might be certain products or services you sell that always cost too much. Whatever it is, find it. And then… once you found it… Stop doing it… STOP IT… AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
9) Systemise Systemise Systemise
Systemise, automate, productise. It’s what made McDonald’s heaps of money. Far be it from me to suggest your business should be another McDonald’s (read about my problems with McDonald’s here), but it’s certainly the case that systemising parts of your business is a great strategy for making more money. Anything you do in your business that can be standardised should be considered for systemising. When you systemise something it means you can start to get more efficient and employ lower cost staff to carry out that part of your operation.
Go ahead and do this today:
Set aside an hour to look at all the operations in your business and select three to develop a system for. I’m not necessarily talking about very complicated systems. small things such as how we answer the telephone, or how we go about ensuring we have supplies of printer ink, or how we respond to quote requests. Write out the system for each of the three things and roll them out throughout your business.
10) Do you want fries with that?
As we were talking about McDonald’s already, this is another strategy they’re famous for. It’s actually a system in itself of course. The up-sell. Effectively, the up-sell is the only discount you’ll ever make money on. The principle behind the “Do you want fries with that” question is that for a small amount of extra money, the client gets a bunch more value. Normally fries cost $2 but in an up-sell situation the customer gets to buy a portion of fries for only an extra dollar. This may seem like a discount and therefore to be avoided at all cost. But it isn’t. The fries in question cost McDonald’s virtually nothing, probably as little as 10 cents, when added to the larger transaction, so they make an extra 90 cents profit from each customer that accepts the up-sell.
A client of mine, an electrician, has trained his employees to ask customers they do repair works for, whether they’d like their smoke alarms tested while they’re at it. In nearly all cases the batteries need replacing and the electrician charges a small fee for replacing the batteries. The customers are very happy (and safe) and my client makes an extra $25 profit per job on average. Everybody wins. Judiciously practicing up-selling is a great strategy for making more money in your business.
Go ahead and do this today:
What can you offer your customers as an up-sell? Think about it… The trick is to find something useful/valuable for the customer that costs you very little to add to whatever you’re doing or delivering for the customer already. I have come across hundreds of different examples in my years, feel free to email contact me to brainstorm if you like.
Bonus: Profit first
I’m sure you agree with me that profit is important. You might have heard me say before that if your business doesn’t make profit and generate cash, it’s a hobby. So let’s just leave it at that, we want to make profit in our business. But if we all agree it’s so important, why do we leave the whole profit thing to last? After everything else is paid for we cast a hopeful look in the bottom of the bucket to see if there’s any profit left over. Let’s turn that around. Let’s take the profit out of the bucket first and set it aside in another bucket. The profit first principle is a really useful way to help you focus on the importance of making profit. More about profit first here
Go ahead and do this today:
So this is what I suggest you do, next week. Go and open a special bank account. A bank account that it’s easy to transfer money into but a bit more challenging to take money out of again. Then, decide how much you think you can take out for profit out of every invoice you send off. (5%? 10%?). And then from every payment that hits your bank account, automatically transfer that percentage into your profit account. If you do this religiously, better yet, if you delegate this job to your bookkeeper or accounts person, you’ll start to build amazing value and wealth in your business… trust me on that.
Focusing on making more money in your business is a great discipline. It will lead to stability and sustainability in your business and your life. There are many other strategies to make more money in your business of course. but if you focus your energies on these ten in the coming year, I guarantee that your business and your life will start to look entirely different.
I’d love to hear how you go, so drop me a line some time.
Why some business grow, hum along and make money and others don’t
The most successful growth strategy for your small business is found between your ears.
Owning your own business can be a lot of fun and it can be rewarding at many levels. But for many small business owners, the experience is one of frustration and confusion. You’re the first one in the door in the morning and the last one out the door at night, often you’re back at it after the kids have gone to bed and most weekends there is some admin or quoting that needs to be caught up on. The kids are growing up and not getting the attention you want to give them and money remains as tight as ever.
I know the feeling. I’ve been a small business owner for over 30 years now and since 2004 I’ve been a business coach supporting business owners to build Great Small Businesses, what I refer to as a Fun Business (with a capital “F”), you can read more about what a Fun Business is in my books and also in a number of articles on my blog such as this one here.
But some business owners break through that stage and actually build Fun Businesses. Their growth strategy works, they make money, their staff are engaged and motivated, their customers love them and they find the kind of balance in their lives that is important to them.
What’s their secret?
Over the years, I’ve met those who have broken through and those who don’t, and I’ve learnt to spot what sets them apart.
The Big 7
The business owners I’ve met who do break through and do build Fun Small Businesses, all have these 7 things in common:
1. They’ve come to understand that their own time is the most precious resource of their business. They constantly ask themselves: Is what I am about to spend time doing, the most important thing for me to be doing right now, or should I be looking for someone else to be doing it instead of me?
2. They’ve learnt that being a great plumber/ architect/ florist/ software developer/ shopkeeper is only a very small part of what it takes to build a great business based on those professions. It can help and smooth the path in the early days, but to build a Great Small Business, the owner must learn to focus on the work of the business owner, rather than the work of the business. (Business development work in other words)
3. They have found the answer to the question: Why does your business exist, what is it on this earth for and why would anybody care? And then they are 100% committed to the answer; it drives their decisions and actions every day.
4. They’ve learnt to understand and even love their numbers. If you don’t understand and love your numbers as a business owner, you’re managing your business by keeping your fingers crossed, and that is not one of the recognised management techniques. (When I talk about The Numbers, I refer to many other numbers besides the financial numbers alone. There are sales numbers and productivity numbers and quality numbers and customer satisfaction numbers, etc. The trick is to find the key numbers of the health of your business and learn to manage your business by those numbers).
5. They hire the best people they can possibly afford and they learn how to give those people every opportunity to love coming to work and to get ever better at doing their work. There is not much as silly as penny-pinching on staff. The only thing sillier is not making it your absolute focus to ensure that your people love coming to work and do great work every day.
6. They constantly ask themselves where the opportunities are for systemisation. Whatever can be systemised, is… That doesn’t mean every restaurant must aim to be a McDonalds, but if something can be systemised… Do so.
7. They know they can’t do it on their own. They find great advisers and they ask them for help. Just because you are a business owner doesn’t mean you will be an expert at all aspects of business. You can find great consultants, advisers, coaches and mentors to help you in tax and financial management, leadership, marketing, HR, IT, staff management, sales and every other aspect of business you are not 100% confident with. Great sports people all have great coaches on board.
Those are “The 7 Secrets”, that all business owners who build a Great Small Business have come to understand and strive to apply in their lives every day.
Salvation wears running shoes
Now, just so we understand each other. Accepting these statements as true, doesn’t mean you will somehow automatically build a Great Small Business yourself.
To quote a religious friend of mine: “Salvation wears running shoes.”
In other words, it’s all about what we do with our insights.
But if you do print out those 7 Secrets as your growth strategy, laminate them, hang them above your desk and make it your mission to apply them to your life as a business owner, every day, you will start to build a Great Small Business, that sustains you for years to come…