Bang crash! Watch out! Duck! Hang on! Oh no! Here we go again!
My life as a business owner feels like a roller coaster ride, I’m hanging on for dear life half the time… How can I slow it all down a bit and take control of my business and my life?
Running your own business can feel like a constant juggling act and most of the time, all you do is hold on for the ride and try to make sure you duck at the right time.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Running your own business is never something you should because you want to have an easy life, because it’s never going to be easy. But you can make sure the business works for you rather than the other way round.
The Big Question of Small Business
It all starts with this question, The Big Question of Small Business:
Why does your business exist and why would anybody care?
Most business owners can’t answer that question clearly, in a single power sentence. And if you can’t answer that question, there is one really important thing you can never do, with confidence and clarity, and that is to say NO.
Saying NO is probably the one, most important thing that you have to learn to be able to do well in your business in order to to get off the roller coaster and to take control.
I’ll give you an example from my own experience that happened to me only last week.
That question, the Big Question I talk about above: Why does your business exist? My answer to it is this:
I help small business owners feel great about themselves and about their business, by helping them discover and build their own unique Beautiful Business and Life
That’s what I get up to do, each and every morning.
So last week I received an email from the health and wellbeing officer of one of the Big Four Banks here in Sydney. This person is running a personal wellness program for the entire staff of the bank in Sydney and she was looking for a coach to be involved with the program. The opportunity was enormous. This bank employs thousands, if not tens of thousands of people in Sydney alone and being offered a sponsored opportunity to get in front of all those employees is incredible… For the right person.
I wasn’t the right person for the job
And there’s the rub. I’m not the right person for the an opportunity. I work with small business owners, not with employees in the corporate world. Now I’m sure I could have done something for this wellbeing officer and made it work and I would have done a good job, I have no doubt about that, but I actually know someone who is much better equiped to take on this project. She specialises in working with employees in the corporate world to help them feel better about themselves and advance in their careers. So I thanked the Wellbeing officer and I introduced her to my friend and two days later, my friend had signed up the gig. There’s a good chance that this is the best gig my friend has landed in years and I am absolutely sure she’ll lay them in the isles… She’s brilliant at this kind of thing.
I didn’t get the gig, I won’t make any money from the gig, but I also didn’t get the stress from doing something that wasn’t absolutely in my area of expertise. I’ve learnt over the years, that I’m really good at some things and not others, and I need to stick with those. My friend is really excited and will have a lot of fun with the project, probably make a lot of money and do really well. What’s more, she’s super motivated to return the favour and I have no doubt something will come my way at some stage that’s right up my alley.
Learning what to say No to, and do it in such a way that means everybody is happy is absolutely a core skill if want to get off the roller coaster and take control of your business.
So: Why does your business exist, and Why would anybody care about that?
The secrets to getting Un-Stuck, take control and to make Business Fun again
Many small business owners feel frustrated, stuck and overwhelmed in business on a daily basis. They operate in crisis management mode, running around from this urgent problem to that emergency all day long, extinguishing brush fires along the way.
In the first years of business, you accept that all this running around and stress is par for the course, but a few years on, nothing much has changed, you’re still running around fixing everybody else’s problems and the stuff you really want to work on, for the long term development of your business, just keeps getting pushed back and back forever.
Fun in business Overwhelm and Stuck in business
Do you feel stuck as well?
Most business owners have experienced that sense of frustration and the secret to building a Beautiful Business and Life, is to find your way around this state of overwhelm and take control of your business. The first step to getting unstuck in business is to start thinking differently about your business than you have until now.
Did you know that all that matters in business is Fun?
Fun is the opposite of Overwhelm and being Stuck. When you’re having Fun, you’re not Overwhelmed and when you’re in Overwhelm, you’re not in control and you’re having Fun. The two are mutually exclusive.
And when your business is Fun, it means everything is working:
It means you’re making money
It means your staff are engaged and doing great work
It means your customers love you
It means you’re proud of the product or service you deliver
It means you’ve created a level of balance in your life that works towards your wellbeing.
So Fun in Business ought to be a key focus to help you move from crisis management and overwhelm to taking control and building your own Beautiful Business and Life.
I’ve also written a book about Fun in Business, The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun. You can download it for free as Ebook or Audiobook here.
Fun is serious business
It may seem strange to make Fun the key focus in the development of your business. We’re generally told that the function of business, the purpose of business, is to make money. Hence we should make “maximising shareholder value”, making profit and generating cash in other words, our key focus. But in many years in and around business, I’ve come to believe that to really build Great Businesses that Stand the Test of Time, we need to think differently about business than we’ve been taught for the past 200 years.
I like to quote John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Wholefoods markets in the USA. The company was recently bought by Amazon for US$14 Billion. Wholefoods made profit and paid dividends to its shareholders every year for its entire existence. In other words, John Mackey has established credentials where it concerns making money in business. Yet John Mackey wrote a book called “Conscious Capitalism” (more about the book here, as well as here), and in it he says this:
“Thinking that the Purpose of business is to make money, is as silly as thinking that the purpose of human beings is to eat food. We need to eat food, eating food makes us feel good, but we eat food so that we can do what we need to do on this earth. It is the same with business and profit. Business needs to make profit, and plenty of it, but it needs to do so, in order to fulfil its purpose, the reason it exists”
So, yes, business must make money. The business must generate profit and cash flow, and it must work hard to maximise its return to shareholders. Undoubtedly… As I say in elsewhere in this website: “A business that doesn’t make profit, is a hobby.”
If your focus is making money, there will never be enough. This year you might focus on making $100,000 profit, but as soon as you’ve made $100,000, you’ll want to make $200,000, and then $500,000 and so on, there’s always more money to be chased.
If your focus is making money, why pick $100K or $500K, why not $531,629,23? or $496,187.42. Any number you pick will be arbitrary, and hence meaningless.
If your focus is making money, your brain won’t cooperate. To your subconscious brain, there is no difference between $100K or $150K. Your subconscious can not think in concrete concepts, such as numbers, it can only get engaged by emotional concepts.
If your focus is making money, you’ll wonder what it’s all been about when you’re on your death bed. Nobody has ever lain on their death bed and thought: “I wish I’d made more money”. I guarantee you that much.
How do you get beyond money? Take these four steps;
So, if you want to get unstuck, stop being a crisis manager and move out of overwhelm in your business, you must start thinking beyond making money.
These are the big 4 steps to take to move out of overwhelm and into having Fun in Business:
Ask yourself the Big Question of Small Business: Why does your business exist, and why would anybody care about that? (The Purpose question, more about the Purpose of Business here)
Learn to ask yourself every week: How much Fun in Business did we have last week, and how can we make next week a little bit more Fun? (I’ve written about measuring Fun in Business in my book and also here)
Develop a discipline around your time. Know that your time is the most valuable asset of your business. As a responsible business owner, it is your job to ensure that you look after your most important asset and get the best return you can from your assets. This means you must discipline yourself not to waste your time on things that are actually not all that important. (Read more about business owners and time management here)
People: Get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, facing the right direction, and the wrong people off the bus. There is no greater cause of stress, overwhelm and frustration than people. (More about managing people here and here)
Further reading about overwhelm, taking control and Fun in business:
Work-life-balance is elusive for most business owners, but here’s how to find it
Work-life-balance is a term that’s been bandied about by many business and life coaches, in the books and videos by the life style gurus and in the personal development industry. It’s what we’re all supposed to be creating for a long and happy life. It’s the dream. Sadly, it’s a distant dream for many business owners.
One of the reasons for the unattainability of the dream, is that the generally accepted idea of Work-life-balance is a myth. Many great philosophers and thinkers, such as the gently spoken Alain de Botton, consider that the way we think about Work-life-balance is fantasy (Watch Alain de Botton’s TED Talk here). We need an entirely different picture to model our lives on, if we want to feel satisfied about our life and work.
And you know this is true too, because in your business, if anything is to get done at all, it’s down to you; if you don’t do it, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. You’re often the first one in the door in the morning, and the last one out the door at night. You have breakfast and lunch on the run, and after the kids have been put to bed at night you have to catch up on your admin and quoting. And by the way: Isn’t it funny how with every new staff member you employ to lighten your workload, you seem to get busier?
Work-life-balance: It’s personal
To create a better Work-life-balance in our lives as small business owners and entrepreneurs, I believe there are a few principles we need to understand first:
Balance is a personal thing, what works for you won’t necessarily work for anyone else.
What feels right, is right. There are no hard and fast rules for balance.
Balance is a never ending negotiation. There is no set formula for balance. Priorities change constantly in life and business.
Sometimes we’ve just got to do what’s got to be done.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, there’s nothing wrong with averting a crisis, but too much is too much.
Sometimes, not doing something, at all, (whatever the thing might be at this moment), or not doing it perfectly is fine. Your business and your life will most likely survive and the world will not come to an end.
Nobody has ever come to the end of their life and said: “I wish I’d worked harder”.
There is no rule book for Work-live-balance. There have been times in my life when I’ve worked insane hours while feeling totally balanced, in “flow” and happy, and other times when I’ve worked much less hard, yet felt overwhelmed and stressed. And just because I might work fewer hours per day, than you might do, doesn’t mean I have achieved better balance than you do. If you feel that your life is balanced, it is, and if you feel your life is out of balance, it is also.
All-nighters can be fun sometimes, can’t they?
As business owners, sometimes we’ll be confronted with situations that simply mean we have to pull an all-nighter or work on Sunday. It’s part of the package of being a business owner. It can even be highly rewarding to pull an all-nighter on a project, with a deadline looming and at the end of it, know you’re the one that’s made it happen, pulled a rabbit out of the hat. It can be one of the most fun experiences you have in business.
I will always remember the last weeks leading up to the opening of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. I and my team worked every hour that God gave us for two weeks straight to complete the fit-out of the Holland Heineken House in Darling Harbour. It was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. That’s now 18 years ago and I have nothing but fun memories of that period (and about the 14 day long party with 100,000 of my closest friends in the Holland Heineken House afterwards).
The simple fact is that if you feel good about your life and the mix of things you spend time with, you’re in balance, and if you walk around feeling bad about the fact that your kids or your spouse or your choir or your health and fitness or your peace of mind are missing out, then your life is not in balance. And what’s more, it’s really important to understand that what is right for you today, may not necessarily be right for you tomorrow. It was perfectly alright for me to spend those weeks building the Holland Heineken House and barely seeing my family, for those weeks, at that time.
Things change… Don’t they?
But it would not have been alright for that to be my life all year round. It may be fine for you right now to catch up on your email after the kids have gone to bed, but it may also be that at some point in the coming year it will start to bother you, and then it’s not alright anymore.
But one thing is absolutely sure. You’re going to want to take the issue of balance in work and life seriously and check in with yourself regularly what is and what isn’t right, and you will want to move towards finding the balance that is right for you, because nobody has ever laid on their death bed wishing they’d worked longer and harder. (The top five regrets of the dying)
The 4 quadrants of time management. And also watch my video about managing the most valuable asset of your business here
Learning to delegate (one of the 4 D’s, see below)
Work-life-balance follows automatically once: you’ve learned what really matters in your life, you learn to say No to the stuff that doesn’t matter, you learn to trust that you’ll probably make the right decision (after all you’ve got this far, why not assume you’ll continue to do ok), and finally you learn to set time aside for the important stuff you must do and delegate the rest (or apply the 4 D’s)
Once you’ve learnt all of that, you’ll have started to create a Beautiful Business and Life and that although it mightn’t look like Balance to an outsider, it works for you, and that’s all that matters.
I’d love to help you take those 5 steps above. I have created a Five Steps to Discovery Process to help you get moving and find greater balance in your life and Build a Beautiful Business and Life. The steps are small and mostly free, find out more here.
The 4 D’s
The 4 D’s I mentioned a couple of sentences ago are a nice management concept. The idea behind the 4 D’s is somewhat parallel to the 5 things I talked about above. For any task that comes across your desk consider one of the 4 D’s:
Do It –If it takes less than two minutes, and it needs to be done, just do it now. You could schedule it for later, or delegate it, but it might take you a couple of minutes just to do that. Save yourself the hassle and do it now.
Diarise It –if it’s going to take more than two minutes, if it’s got to be done, and you’re the right person for the job, block out some time in your diary in the next week or two to Do It.
Delegate It –The secret of getting more done and scaling your business is to delegate, delegate, delegate… So get good at delegating and look for every opportunity to do so.
Dump It –When you really stop and think about it, and you have a look at the 4 Quadrants of time management, some stuff isn’t actually all that important… A lot of demands on your time are firmly in quadrant 3 (urgent bu not important) or maybe even quadrant 4 (neither urgent, nor important) … The world won’t come to an end… What’s the worst that could happen… DELETE.
Have a look at my Big Pain of Small Business survey to see how you compare against other business owners on balancing work and life. You might also like to complete the very short Richard Branson Questionnaire, to see how you compare against the most famous of all the noble knights of business, who also seems to have his work and life sorted better than most of us poor peasants.
Each of the 7 Big Questions has a dedicated page on this website, with links to many relevant resources both within my website as well as throughout the internet. Scroll down or click on the links above for a summary of each of the 7 Big Question with a link to that question’s full page.
Summary: To build aBeautiful Business and Life, we need growth. Seth Godin made a great statement some years ago on his blog. He said: To build a great business you only have to do two things: first you have to do great work or deliver a great product and second you have to make sure lots of people know about it. And that’s exactly how simple it is to build a Great Business that Stands the Test of time. But, as with so many things in life, it’s easier said than done.
Business growth is about research and product and systems and quality assurance and innovation and inventory management and people management and everything in between and then when you get that right, it’s about customers, and marketing and sales and social media and communications and PR and SEO and content marketing and advertising and design and branding and of course leadership and you might well argue that before all of that comes Visioning, Mission, Purpose, Goal setting and Strategic planning. In short Business growth touches all aspects of business. Read More Here…
Summary: To build a Beautiful Business and Life, we need to make profit. A business that doesn’t make profit and that doesn’t generate cash flow isn’t a business, it’s a hobby. Profit is not the Purpose of business, and nor is generating Cash the reason the business exists, but without profit and cash it is not possible for the business to deliver on it’s Purpose.
Business growth will have an impact on the flow of profit and money in the business, both positively and negatively, but many other aspects of business have an impact as well. There’s pricing, discounting, inventory management, costing, trade terms , collection policies and procedures, expense management, cost control and many other aspects of business will determine the profitability and sustainability of your business.
And on the other hand there is financial management. The management , reporting and analysing of the flow of profit and money through the business. Having your fingers on the pulse of all of the key indicators of the health of your business every day, week, month and year. Management of the numbers in other words. Read More Here…
How can I become less overwhelmed and feel happier every day?
Summary: To build a Beautiful Business and Life, we need to get unstuck. In my experience, business owners operate in a state of overwhelm many days of the week. They’re often first in the door in the morning, last out the door at night and have to catch up on their admin and email after dinner. They run around from crisis to crisis most days, extinguishing brush fires along the way.
Staff don’t seem able to tie their own shoe laces without input and supervision from the boss. Customers expect the business owner personally to solve all their problems, immediately, rather than the perfectly qualified and expensive staff that are employed by the business for that purpose.
As a result, the critical business development projects are constantly pushed back and the business gets stuck in the mud. The way out of this overwhelm is to learn to focus on three letters FUN. Fun in Business is the opposite of overwhelm. Developing a discipline on making Business Fun again works, because when business is fun it means everything is working. Read More Here…
How can I find the right support, advice and guidance?
Summary: To build a Beautiful Business and Life, we need support. One of the most consistent complaints I hear from business owners is that it’s all down to them. They feel alone and unsure of themselves. They need to have a sounding board. The people around them don’t get it. The staff are affected by the decisions the business owner needs to make, and so are their spouses and family.
Human beings work well with external accountability and advice. Independent external support is invaluable to any business owner who wants to build a Great Business that Stands the Test of Time. External support can take many forms: A mentor, a business or life coach, management consultant, a virtual board, an executive coaching group, a regular get together with a group of fellow business owner buddies or all of the above.
One thing is for sure: Don’t think you can do it on your own. But how do you go about finding the right support for you? Read More Here…
How can I find work-life-balance in my business and my life?
Summary: To build a Beautiful Business and Life, we need to create a balance between the demands of the business and those of the rest of our lives.
In the many years I’ve worked with business owners, I’ve come to believe that business owners are the most ‘guilt driven’ people on the planet, “worse than Catholics” I sometimes joke. Business owners generally go through life believing they are not up to the job in some way. They tell themselves (and me), that to compensate for their perceived failures, they’ve got to work harder than anyone else in their business or else how could they ever ask their people to put in the hard yards when required? (see also what I wrote above about overwhelm). But in the mean time they’re missing out on the important stuff in life. Their health and well-being suffers, as are their families.
For business owners to create a greater balance between work and life, the first step is to acknowledge that owning a business is never a 9-to-5 job, you probably won’t ever be able to close the door behind you on the way home entirely. The business is your baby, you’ve put your heart and soul into it and it’s part of who you are as a person.
Once you acknowledge that fact, the immediate next step is to recognise that your own time, your health and your general well-being are the most valuable and important assets of your business and as the business owner it is your prime responsibility to look after your assets. In other words, not looking after yourself and ensuring you are in a great physical and mental state means you are not taking your responsibilities as the owner of the business seriously. Once you’ve learnt to accept the realities of those two principles (contradictory as they might seem from time to time), you’re on the path to create the business and life you dream off. Read More Here…
How can I become a better business owner and leader?
Summary: To build a Beautiful Business and Life, we have to become better business owners. As I’ve said above in the “work – life – balance” summary, most business owners feel they’re not quite cutting it as entrepreneurs. Oftentimes, business owners start their business on the back of their profession, trade or skill they have learnt (plumber, architect, accountant, chef) and they feel confident in that particular skill. But when they start a business based on that profession, they suddenly realise that it takes a lot more than being a great plumber to build a great plumbing business.
Few business owners have studied to be a business owner, and even those who have attained an MBA or similar qualification, find that they’re not prepared for the realities of life as a small business owner. Suddenly everything is down to you, the big decisions about whether or not to bid for that contract, or hire that expensive employee, or sign the lease for the new office, as well as making sure the toilets are stocked with toilet paper and that there’s ink for the printer.
To top it off, your people look to you for having vision, having the answers and being the leader. It’s a frightening place to stand in the middle off, but there are three pieces of good news: (1) You got this far and you’re still breathing so you must be doing something right. (2) Your people actually want you to be the leader and they’re ready to forgive you just about any balls up you’re going to make along the way. (3) Leadership is something you can learn, practice and get better at. Read More Here…
Family business: How can we negotiate our roles as business and life partners better?
Summary: To build a Beautiful Family Business and Life, we need to get good, both at working with our spouses as well as living with them. As I’ve said above in the “better business owner” summary, many businesses are founded on the profession of the business owner. The plumber starts a plumbing business and the lawyer starts a law practice. A little way into the life of the business, the founder of the business, along with the spouse of the founder starts to appreciate that it takes more than being a great lawyer to build a great lawyer business and the business flounders.
Often, it is at this point that the spouse decides to enter the business as well, to sort out the chaos, in no small measure, to protect the interests of the family, and the family business is born. 70% of all businesses in Australia are family businesses and a large percentage of those can be classed as husband and wife family businesses.
In my experience there is wonderful opportunity in being in business with your spouse. It holds the possibility of providing for your family very well and there is a great opportunity to grow as a couple. But waking up beside your business partner in bed every morning also comes with a bunch of unique challenges. Read More Here…
Most small business owners are overwhelmed on a day to day basis. They’re drowning in the daily demands of their business and they don’t get to the important stuff. Their families, health and social lives suffer, and even though they’re running around all day looking after the needs of their business, the business seems stuck, spinning it’s wheels.
This is not news.
“Tell us something we didn’t know”, I hear all of you say. You’ve probably experienced this state of overwhelm for many of the days you’ve run your business and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve spoken about it either.
But what’s the way out?
Potholes and Motorbikes
I remember when learning to ride a motorbike, the instructor taught us how to avoid an obstacle on the road, a pothole for example. He said:
“Where you direct your gaze on a motorcycle is where the bike will automatically want to follow. When spotting a pothole, focus on where you want to go instead if you want to avoid breaking your fork.”
It’s a good analogy. I find that by focusing on how we want to reduce our Overwhelm, we often end up magnifying the pothole.
The trick is to focus on the opposite of Overwhelm
I refer to the opposite of Overwhelm as “Fun”, “Fun in Business” to be precise, because Fun and Overwhelm cannot exist side by side. When you’re having Fun you’re not Overwhelmed and when you’re Overwhelmed you’re not having Fun.
Of course you’re very welcome to use a different word than overwhelm, some people think about the concept of Flow, others talk about being fully engaged or you can call it buzzing if you prefer. What matters is that we put a clear picture in our minds of what we want life to be like, rather than focusing on what we don’t want anymore.
So let’s do a little exercise. I’d like you to get out a piece of paper and pen and draw a horizontal line across the page and mark the line 0 at the left end and 10 at the right end.
I’m calling this line your “Fun in Business” scale, but if you’d rather call it the “I’m buzzing scale” that’s fine too.
Write today’s date beside the scale.
This is how we define the scale, 10 on the scale means that the week just past in your business has been as much fun as you can imagine. It’s been a buzz, you’ve been paid well, you’ve done great work, you’ve delivered on your deadlines, your staff are engaged and do great work and are efficient and making money for you, you’re customers love you and they’ve told you so, you’ve been able to get home at normal times and have had energy to give attention to your spouse and kids (if you have them), orders are looking good for the immediate future, you’ve met some important challenges, you feel creative, resourceful and in control of life.
That’s a 10 on the scale.
0 is the opposite of all of that.
Now, I want you to think about the following questions:
What number on would you give the past week in your business, on your Fun in Business Scale? Go ahead and mark that number on the scale.
Now that you’ve picked a number, ask yourself, and ideally write down, why you picked that number and NOT a lower number, in other words, what have you achieved already, to get yourself to that number on the scale. Important note: with all your might, resist the temptation to focus on why you are not at a higher number.
Now ask yourself: If I were to ask myself the same question next week at the same time, what number would I want to be on the scale then? Say you were a 4.7 this past week… Maybe you can get to a 5? Or a 4.8? Mark the number on the scale.
Last question: Having decided that you want next week to be a 5.3 for example, on the Fun in Business scale, what specific things must you do this week? What specific tasks, actions can you commit to, to get your week from 4.7 to 5.3? (I generally suggest to pick a maximum of three things and each of these things should take a maximum of 1 hr each to do)
A little less overwhelm, a little more Fun next week
And now comes the fun part. If you’ve gone through the little exercise above with me, you will have selected 1, 2 or 3 things to make happen in the week ahead and if you do these things, your week will have been a little more Fun than the immediate past week has been.
Of course that’s all well and good, but you’ve still got to find time for those three things and actually do them.
So, grab your diary, right now and block out time for those three things this coming week. I’ll run through a little example to illustrate the process:
Let’s say one of those actions of yours might be around planning your days better. So maybe an action might be to get up ten minutes earlier every day and before you pick up your phone or go to your email you think about the day ahead… The Big Rocks… What are the big things you need to get done today, and when can you realistically expect to be able to do them?
Such a ten-minute planning moment, before the craziness of the day gets under way, will in most cases improve your feeling of being in control throughout the day and hence increase your sense of Fun in Business. (Make sure you leave plenty of space to allow for the inevitable unforeseens and crises… Just plonk the big rocks in the diary… The rest will slot in around those)
Of course, your actions this coming week might be around entirely different aspects of business and life. Using the scaling approach is a really simple and effective method to help you focus on the preferred future rather than on the past you don’t want anymore. It will help you get into the habit of looking ahead and concentrating on what’s in your control, and to take small specific actions moving forward.
Don’t make the mistake of wanting to do everything at once. Taking one specific small action every week is much more sustainable than trying to take an enormous great big step. Big steps lead to big falls. People that take consistent small steps end up changing their lives … I promise you.