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?
What is the only measurement that matters in business?
This is the third post in the series of The Ten Priorities: Laying the Foundations for a Great Business and Life. The third Priority is about Having Fun. The introduction to this series on The Ten Priorities is here.
If you could only measure one thing to know how successful your business was at any one moment in time, what would you want to measure?
Most business owners will mention profit. And profit matters a lot of course, if you’re not making profit you’re operating a hobby, not a business, simple as that. But there is something even more important than profit in your business, and that’s Fun.
It means you’re proud of the products or services your business provides
It means you have created the kind of balance in work and live that is important for you
And it means you’re engaged in something meaningful, bigger than you.
By focusing solely on money as the indicator of success in business, you are doing yourself and everyone else who is touched by the business a disservice.
Obviously, measuring Fun in Business is not as simple as looking at your bank balance and you have to get creative about how you go about measuring it, but it’s quite doable and it will change the way you think about building a Great Business and Life… I promise you.
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:
Does that mean I’m a fan of McDonalds? No not much, I am an admirer of the model and I make use of McDonalds from time to time, but I’m really really glad there are many other types of restaurants out there, besides McDonalds, even if they don’t make as much money or are as efficient. It would be a poor world if all restaurants were running a business model based on that of McDonalds. But if your aim in life is to make as much money as you possibly can from selling food, you can do a lot worse than read everything you can about the history and business philosphy of Ray Kroc and The Golden Arches.
And the same goes for any other type of business you can think of, from funeral parlors to medical practices and everything in between. Ray Kroc, was a genius, there is no doubt about that and Michael Gerber and many other business gurus since have analysed the McDonalds model and explained how to apply it to every other Small Business out there.
Making money from death
If you own a funeral parlour and you want to absolutelymake more moneythan anyone has ever made from burying people, read “The E-Myth” and apply every word Michael Gerber wrote about the lessons from McDonalds to your business with single minded focus and you’ll never look back … guaranteed.
But if you believe there are other things in life that are important to you besides making money from selling mince meat patties… Read on my friend.
But just like I would be sad (and we would all be very unhealthy) to live in a world where the only restaurants we can eat at are McDonalds, likewise I’d hate to live in a world where all the funeral parlours were run by 18 yr olds who were trained to ask me: “Do you want roses with that?”
The disconnect lies in the misunderstanding most business owners have about the Purpose of Business. Most business owners, business analysts, gurus and advisers will repeat the manta that the purpose of business is to “Maximise Shareholder Value”, to make lots of money in other words.
But if, like me, you believe that making money is a sad and short sighted reason to be in business, all kinds of things become possible instead of McDonalds.
Breaking the law
Don’t get me wrong, a business must make money. There are many things abusiness must do in order to survivehowever. It must operate within the law for example, but we would never maintain that the Mission of our business is to not break the law.
Similarly the notion of making money, the business must make money so that it’s able to do what it is meant to do. In other words, a business that delivers on it’s promise has a reason for existing far beyond “Maximising Shareholder Value”.
In the restaurant industry it may be that the reason for the existence of your business is that you are passionate about unexpected cuisine combinations, French with an Australian twist, for example, or maybe you’re passionate about the sustainability of food, or maybe your passion is about educating disadvantaged youth in the hospitality industry.
There can be many reasons you have started your restaurant. As long as the business makes enough money to be sustainable in the long run, it doesn’t mean you have to turn it into a McDonalds for it to be a great business. Your business is a great business, when it delivers you what you want from it, month in month out, year in year out.
Anchovies and chocolate
So please do yourself (and my stomach) a favour: don’t listen to others’ judgements about your business, and ignore the little voice on your shoulder that tells you to build a McDonalds, because I’d much rather come and eat your pig trotter rolls with anchovy and chocolate sauce than be forced to eat another Big Mac.
Here is the Big question (with a capital “B”) I’d like you to think about:Why does your business exist, what’s it on this earth for, and why would anybody care about that?
Answer that question, decisively, in one bold sentence, and your business and your life will never be the same… I promise you.
How do you ‘leave work at work’ when you sleep with your business partner?
Creating work-life-balance is the holy grail for all of us small business owners, but for husband and wife family business partners, being 100% ‘not-at-work’ can feel like an unattainable dream.
Husband and wife business partnerships can be really satisfying, they can be great vehicles for making money while allowing a couple to grow and develop together. But family businesses come with a unique set of challenges. (More about husband and wife family businesses here on Medium.com)
Clients of mine, let’s call them Bill and Lauren, have built a construction company together that turns over about $10M per year. Bill completed a carpentry apprenticeship straight out of high school and went back to school in his late twenties to get a building diploma, before starting his building company and Lauren is a qualified accountant. Bill and Lauren got married 10 years ago and Lauren joined the business to take control of the finances, the admin and HR systems. Now, they’re both getting to their forties, they have two young children, a dog and a rabbit.
Bill and Lauren have an office away from home, but neither of them have been very successful at closing the office door behind them at the end of the day. Lauren generally goes home around 3.30 and organises things at home and Bill makes it home around 5.30 most days. The conversations around the dinner table are all about the various crises and challenges of the day at work and planning and worrying about the ones they see in the immediate future.
After dinner laptops
After dinner, both of them tend to sit on their laptops, to complete the stuff they’ve fallen behind on during the day. Bill to finish quotes and Lauren to manage the rosters and budgets.
In the morning, Bill has to be at the office or on site at 7.00 am every day (the building industry starts early), so he generally leaves home around 6 am and Lauren organises the kids before heading for the office around 8.00 am.
On the weekends, there are the usual commitments around the children’s activities and shopping, but most minutes that aren’t taken up by ferrying the kids from soccer to birthday parties or standing in line at the Woolworth’s checkout are occupied with work. Bill and Lauren’s conversations, their time and their brainspace is rarely completely free of some preoccupation with work.
Bill and Lauren never used to mind working hard and doing long hours, they’ve both always felt they’re building something valuable and important for their family, but over the past couple of years they’ve started to become worried that the best parts of family life are passing them by, that by the time they’ve finished building that valuable and important thing for their family, they will have missed out on what actually matters.
I often work with family business owners and this experience of not being able to ‘leave work at work’ is a never ending refrain.
Two sides to the coin
To be fair, there are two sides to this coin. Knowing that your husband or wife really gets what goes on for you in your role as a business owner can be a great feeling and help you deal with your challenges and stresses more effectively. Some of my other clients can only dream of really being able to share their work challenges with their partners regularly. The most often repeated complaint I hear from single business owners is that they feel alone and overwhelmed.
But that doesn’t make Bill and Lauren’s challenges any less important.
In the past Bill and Lauren have tried to set rules around bringing work home. But usually one or the other will have a crisis within a week of setting the rule, and before you know it it’s back to the old patterns again.
A new approach
We took a different tack 6 months ago. I’ve told them that it is unrealistic to imagine they’ll ever be able to close the door to the office behind them completely. What’s more, that’s not even desirable. It’s actually not so bad spending a bit of time after the kids have gone to bed catching up on some work, or preparing for the next day and it can be quite pleasant discussing the strategy for the week ahead with each other, on the couch on Sunday evening with a glass of wine in hand. This is the other side of the coin I mentioned above, it’s one of the things that can make family businesses special and effective, as much as they can be stress inducing. It’s all in the balance.
This is what we did 6 months ago and with few exceptions Bill and Lauren have been able to stick to the system.
All Sunday until after dinner is a work free zone. Family breakfasts, outings, picnics, watching movies, playing games, walking the dog, catching up with family and friends. Sunday during the day is sacrosanct.
On Sunday evening, the two of them plan their week from a work, family and personal perspective together. The only rule is that one of the evenings of the week is to be work free and just about the two of them. They can go out or stay in, but one evening per week is just for them, no kids no work no nothing else.
Weekday dinners are family time, the 4 of them eat together at the dinner table, no TV and no work talk, until dinner is over and cleaned up
Permission to fail
The keys to the success of this system are its flexibility, the Sunday evening planning time, and the allowance in the system for failure. By acknowledging that in their life, every week is going to be different, by taking 15 minutes to plan each week, and finally by allowing that sometimes plans go awry and that when they do it’s not the end of the world, it just means you need to make a new plan again; Bill and Lauren’s life has transformed.
Being in business together is Fun again.
As I mentioned above I work with Husband a Wife business owners a lot, because I lived the husband and wife business partner experience myself. I have written about my own experience here. I only ever work with people I enjoy working with, but helping turn a family business around give me the greatest buzz of all. Have a look at my web page about Family business here and download the 10 point check list about marrying your business partner. If you are in a family business you might also want to have a look at Family Business Australia here. The website has some great resources for couples who are in business together. I have also created my own family business resources page here.
Please also feel free to check out some of my testimonials from husband and wife family business owners here. You may also find my article about laying the foundations of a great business interesting here
I’d love to hear about your Rules in the comments below
I hate Rules, as a Rule (!!), but if we must have Rules, I’d rather we had Rules about happiness than about eating chocolate or wearing helmets.
I recently watched a great video by Robert Waldinger about a 75 year Harvard study on Happiness (watch the video here). It’s a fascinating talk and a fascinating research project. It got me to thinking about the good life and happiness and I arrived at these 10 Rules. As a business coach who’s focus is helping his clients feel great about themselves and build great businesses, my perspective is tilted in that direction of course. Robert Waldinger talks about the value of relationships and at some point in the video he says: “On the whole, the people who do best in their lives as they get older are those who have leant into building relationships during their younger years”. I am completely convinced that he is right, and so I offer these 10 Rules as additional to the findings of the Harvard study.
BTW, they’re not really Rules of course, think of them as food for thought and conversation starters instead.
Also, you need to know, that for me, there is little difference between Life and Business, so I suggest you consider these 10 Rules in whatever context suits you best.
And I’d love to hear about your own Rules for happiness… Please share your thoughts in the comments below… I dare you!!!
So here goes:
Rule 1 : If you know where you’re going and you’re in control of the ship, it’s easy to get up in the morning.
I believe there are two reasons we get to feel overwhelmed and stuck in life. The first is when we don’t know where we’re going and the second is when we feel that life is living us instead of the other way round. The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland told Alice: “If you don’t know where you’re going, My Dear, any road will do“. I’ve always loved that quote (as long as you keep Rule #2 below in mind as well), but what is just as important is that we have a sense of agency in our lives, of having our hand on the tiller. Nothing is more stress inducing in my experience, than feeling we are being pushed and pulled in directions that we have no input over. It is one of the reasons I believe we, as business owners, suffer from depression less than the average population, because even though business might be terribly stressful and frustrating at times, at least we have this sense of being in control of the levers.
Rule 2 : Goals are merely directions on a compass, not destinations to get to.
The self-development craze of the past 30 years has sent us up the garden path with it’s focus on goal setting. We’ve been told that you must set clear measurable goals in life and strive to achieve them (Remember SMART Goals?). But goals can never be anything else than a Hail-Mary: “Given everything I know right now and assuming my best efforts in the future, I am going to achieve XYZ”. You don’t actually know anything about the future. Tomorrow the world will be a different place than it is today; Tomorrow you’ll be a different person than you are today. You may well decide to change your mind about your Goal tomorrow. So Goal setting is indeed a very useful thing to do, as long as you treat the Goal as a direction, a course to travel in, not a destination. And when circumstances on the journey change, you should of course always be prepared to change your direction, if that is what’s required to keep your journey going.
Rule 3 : The smallest difference that makes a difference will change your life.
Forget Change with a capital “C”. Sustainable change in life or business happens by taking one small step at a time, one day at a time. Every day a tiny step forward is a much more effective recipe for effecting change than attempting to jump forward in big leaps. Small step change is much less risky, it allows for everyone to adjust to changed realities and if one of the steps doesn’t work out, it’s no big drama to take one small little step back again.
Rule 4 : Forget growth, concentrate on delivery.
The myth is that business must grow or else it dies. I’m not sure where the myth comes from, but it is a myth, and a dangerous one at that. Focusing on growth as the measure of success in anything is a recipe for disaster and many businesses have grown themselves right into oblivion. The trick is not to grow your business or your organisation, it is to do so while continuing to deliver the quality and consistency and reliability that you aspire to. Growth will follow automatically if you do what you say you’ll do by the time you say you’ll do it at the price you say you’ll do it for, every time, with a smile.
Rule 5 : If you want something you’ve never had before…. You’ve got to BE someone you’ve never been before.
Your business (your career, your relationships, your health) is what it is today, because of WHO you are today. It follows that if you want your business to be something else, you have to Be someone else first. Change in other words, personal Change with a capital “C” (don’t forget to take Rule #3 above to heart as well). You simply can not create the business you dream of and do so without putting your face right up close to the mirror, looking yourself in the eye until it gets uncomfortable, and stay there.
Rule 6 : Today’s plans are tomorrows toilet paper.
Someone once said that planning is guessing, and a famous general is quoted as saying: “No battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, and in my days as a builder I used to say that all project plans I’ve ever created were out of date before they’d come off the printer. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that planning is therefore a waste of time. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. The conclusion to draw is that we must always be planning. Because planning is a verb, it is what we must do all the time. We must constantly ask ourselves “what-if” questions, imagining the possible scenarios we might encounter and how we’ll respond to those should they come to pass. The value of the plan is never in the piece of paper but in the work done to create it.
Rule 7 : Change is uncomfortable, and that’s OK.
Human beings don’t like Change, we’re scared of it. And that’s because change happens as a result of going on a journey. And going on journeys is scary. Think of the anxiety you feel before going on a big trip, especially a trip where not a lot has been pre-booked. And a journey of change is like a journey where nothing is pre-booked, it’s a journey out on the open ocean, out of sight of land. Journeys of change never take place in the safety of the harbour. It takes courage to leave the harbour behind. After every visit to the harbour, we have to take a deep breath to push off again, set a course for the horizon and resist the temptation to turn back as soon as the first big swells hit. But then once the sails are set and the ship settles on its keel, we start to revel in the possibilities of the open ocean again (even if we might feel sea sick from time to time).
Rule 8 : Feeling fear and anxiety means you’re not a psychopath, and that is a good thing.
Fear, anxiety, nerves, worries… They’re normal human emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling fear. Being nervous about the outcome of things is a good thing. Worrying about things means you’ll double check that your parachute is shackled on securely before you jump from the plane. Feeling anxiety before making a new investment, employing a new staff member or signing a contract is healthy. Love your anxieties I say; Seriously, they’ve gotten you this far, don’t knock them.
Rule 9 : Presence is a great thing to aspire to, but un-achievable for normal humans.
Yep I know, it is a great thing to be Mindful, to be “here and nowhere else” and to always remember that Now is all there is. I know it, I feel it, I hear you… and… I also know that I will not attain that state of mind until about 1.5 minutes before I die, and I suspect, nor will you. So by all means, remind yourself to be in the Now from time to time, but don’t give yourself a hard time when you’re not… Noone else is either.
Rule Last : You’ll never be as cool or as rich as Richard Branson, and that’s cool.
Education is the first step if you’re competing against the Do-It-Yourselver
In August last year everything suddenly came together for me. In a period of 6 weeks I signed up 7 new clients. I was very excited. Finally, after all the years of pushing and pulling, trying every approach under the sun to market myself to my target clients, it suddenly all fell into place. I even found myself starting to get concerned how I might handle things if the deluge continued.
But I needn’t have worried. Since then it’s gone back to drought. I’ve had virtually no serious inquiries in the 7 months or so since then.
And the thing is, I do do great work (my clients tell me so frequently and I have lots of glowing testimonials here for example) and increasingly, lots of people do know about me. And yet, after 12 years I continue to have these lengthy drought periods.
Honestly, It’s doing my head in every now and then.
I’m reminded, that sometimes, things aren’t quite as simple as those two time honoured rules imply. If you have a blocked toilet, or you want to go to a restaurant, or buy a fridge, a car or a home, those two rules apply without exception. All that the marketing and sales strategies of the plumbing company have to achieve, is that the client is convinced that this plumbing company will fix the blocked toilet quicker, better, cleaner, friendlier or cheaper than any of the other plumbing companies out there.
But there’s a third secret
But things get a little trickier if you are an architect who designs and manages renovations for home owners, or an HR consultant who helps small business owners manage staffing and recruitment, or a PR agent who helps small business owners gain publicity, or an SEO consultant who helps small business get found on Google, or a wedding planner who helps people have a great wedding. If you are a professional like that you have a third thing you must do.
Not only do lots of people have to know about you, you also have to convince your prospects that hiring a professional is much better than, doing it themselves, DIY. Your services cost money over and above the actual thing they want doing. Recruitment services for example can easily cost an additional 10% on top of the wage of the new employee. The PR agent might cost you $3000 per month or more. The architect might charge upwards of $25,000 on top of the build-cost of the project.
Your client is your competitor
You’re not competing with other professionals, rather the first competitor you have to face is the actual client. The client needs to be convinced that they really shouldn’t go DIY. They shouldn’t try and manage their own renovations, run their Facebook advertising campaigns, organise their own wedding, or find and hire a new employee.
I strike a similar issue with some of my potential clients. Most small business owners think they ought to be able to do it themselves. To go looking for help from someone like me, can be a significant investment and can feel like admitting that they’re not upto the job of being a business owner.
Nothing is further from the truth of course, my most successful clients have always been the ones who have no hesitation in asking for help, but it’s often a hurdle I have to overcome with small business owners.
The recent drought has reminded me, that the first marketing step for people like the architect, the PR agent, the wedding planner and myself, is to educate the clients.
The PR agent has to educate his clients that having a PR agent (not necessarily him personally) take charge of gaining publicity for the client is vastly more effective than DIY. The architect has to educate her clients that engaging an architect leads to much better renovations than DIY. The wedding planner has to educate her clients that the wedding is going to be so much more fun when a wedding planner is running the show than DIY. And I have to educate my clients about how a business coach can help transform your business, rather than DIY.
I’ve actually known about this issue for a long time, but forgot over the past few years. It’s time to focus on education again. In the next months I am going to create a bunch of case studies and stories in article and video form to help small business owners understand that engaging someone like me (not me specifically) can transform their business and their lives.
I suggest that you think about the question as well: Who is your greatest competitor? If it’s actually the clients themselves, you should change your marketing strategies to focus on education first… I promise you.
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.
The Work-of-the-business v the Work-of-the-business-owner
Small business owners often ask me if I can help them become more productive. Or rather the complaint is that there are always a thousand other things getting in the way of the stuff you would much rather spend your time on, instead of the never-ending emails, phone calls, crises, admin, quoting, employees calling in sick or needing help tying their shoe laces. No one ever seems to be able to get anything done without you.
It’s one of the great frustrations of small business. Everything is down to you, the owner. When a client is irate, when a supplier is unhappy, the bank has an issue or when the toilet paper runs out, it’s down to you.
And of course, you being you, you do fix it all, you are the ultimate juggler and the balls rarely ever crash when you’re on the job, but it means the work you actually want to do, gets put off and off and off.
No simple answers
All small business owners have to face this challenge and, sadly, I have no simple answers.
Other people’s priorities don’t always have to be your priorities.
The important work you want to get onto, the business development work is the only work in your business that cannot be delegated to others.
The important work you want to get onto can always be put off another day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
If you don’t make the business development work your priority and set dedicated time aside for it every week, it will not get done and your business will struggle.
Covey and the 4 Quadrants
One of the classic works of personal development of the eighties is Stephen Covey’s book: “The 7 Habits of highly effective people”. In The 7 Habits, Covey talks about the 4 quadrants of time management (see the image).
Covey explains that all tasks can be put into one of 4 quadrants. Tasks can be:
Important and Urgent
Important and not Urgent
Not Important but Urgent
Neither Important nor Urgent
If you experience the problems I outlined in the first three paragraphs above, I know you have little trouble getting the tasks done that are in quadrant 1. The Quadrant 1 stuff is the stuff that must get done now, or else, and I bet you’re generally fine with that It’s the reason your business has survived as long as it has.
Mostly, small business owners don’t struggle too much with the Quadrant 4 stuff either, there’s not enough time in a day as it is, let alone spend time on stuff that is meaningless.
The problems are always in Quadrants 2 and 3. The Quadrant 3 stuff is all the tasks that are generated by other people. It’s the client ringing up and saying I need to have that quote first thing tomorrow morning, it’s the supplier saying I want to deliver this widget after lunch, can you be on site to receive it. Because the client and the supplier sound like it’s really really important to them, you set aside the thing you would have preferred to do and you make it happen. Other people’s priorities. They say “Jump”, your immediate response is “How High”? And when you jump you put aside the Quadrant 2 stuff. The Quadrant 2 stuff is the stuff that is important to you, but it can always be put off another day. The world doesn’t end if you start writing that business plan tomorrow instead of today and the world doesn’t end if you put off writing the new safety procedure for another day.
The world won’t end when you postpone
And the world really won’t end when you do that. After all you’ve managed alright without the business plan and the safety procedure to date… What’s another day? The problem is of course that tomorrow there will be another phone call and another crisis and the day after another one etc.
Obviously, sometimes when a client asks if you can do this thing for them by this afternoon, it really does need to be done, but many times it doesn’t. Often it’s perfectly ok to say: “Sorry I am busy this afternoon and tomorrow. I can get onto it on Thursday and have it to you by lunch time, would that be ok?” I can guarantee you that in most cases the client is going to be fine with that, as long as you are clear and decisive and as long as you actually deliver by Thursday lunchtime.
Other peoples urgencies
We are trained to respond to other people’s urgencies as if they are our own. They aren’t and it’s worth keeping that in mind.
I have worked with and met hundreds if not thousands of small business owners in the past 13 years. From my experience, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the one key difference between the business owners who have built and are building Great Small Businesses and those who struggle, is how much time they manage to dedicate every week to building their business. I call it “The work of the business owner” as opposed to “The work of the business”.
If you start by dedicating as little as an hour per week to business building and business development, every week, regular as clockwork, no interruptions, phone off, email off, go to a café if you have to, block it out in your diary, nothing short of death is more important… You will start to build a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come… I promise you
Learn more about the New Perspectives Fun in Business Intensive— a transformative 6 – 12 month Business coaching, development, business advice and mentoring program designed for small business owners who want to have more Fun in their businesses, increase productivity and build businesses that sustain them for years to come.
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