1. Make a plan or set a goal – know your metrics – Almost every business owner knows that they should plan, but few often do it enough or do it properly. Yet most business owners agree that a ship should never set sail without a navigation system, a plane should never leave the ground without a flight plan, a teacher should never start a school year without a curriculum, or a sports team should never hit the field without a game plan….you get the idea. So why the disparity between what they know to be right and the application of that principle? I’m not sure. Excuses range from being too busy to a lack of understanding on the importance of planning. Either way, experts agree it is one of the major reasons why small businesses fail – it makes the list every time.
I believe what makes this process a little daunting for the average business owner is that there are parts of the planning and goal setting process that are emotional and not quantifiable; things like determining what success is to them and identifying what parts of the business make them truly happy. It’s also very enigmatic to visualize you and your business 1, 5, and 10 years from now.
Yet, other parts of the business plan need to be very transactional, quantifiable, and the methodology for calculation must be sound. These are the metrics, or KPIs, that drive the business and typically the things that most stakeholders want to see.
So for the creative types and the dreamers, part one is a cinch. Part two is a challenge and requires a focus and attention to detail that seems boring and insignificant to most with this personality type. And obviously the analytics thrive on part two – to the point of analysis paralysis. However, they will often neglect part one because they see it a being useless and illusory.
If you are to embark on this journey of being primarily responsible for your own income (that includes you sales folks), you need to be able to capture both parts in your plan. You have to identify what are the metrics that will get you to your ‘happy’ and how many of those metrics it will take daily, weekly, and monthly to push you to point B. Once you have this, you can develop a plan of action that includes calendaring and behaviors that will help you execute and achieve these metrics.
One footnote to this is that there is a universal metric that all entrepreneurs need to know: the value of their time. Once you know your metrics and the income producing activities that drive your business, you can calculate how much you get paid for each sale, close, transaction, etc. From here you can calculate how many of these occur within a given time frame and then deduce your hourly value. This is very important in determining what activities occupy your day (see Admin and Calendaring below).
2. Have a clearly defined E.O.S .– Explanation of services. What do you do for a living? A question heard by almost everyone, everywhere: soccer games, network events, at church, and dinner parties. It’s the quintessential ice-breaker. The answer can often tell you if you are talking to a W2 employee or a business owner/entrepreneur.
The employee will typically give you a short and succinct answer that includes job title and possibly a brief overview of job duties. Example: “I’m an HVAC service tech. I work for ‘XYZ’ company and I service large commercial and industrial HVAC systems here in Nashville.”
The business owner, entrepreneur, or salesman, on the other hand, will try to give you a sales pitch within their description. Example: “I’m a Real Estate agent for ‘ABC Real Estate Group’. I help people find their dream homes. The market is really hot right now and rates are still really low. It’s a great time to buy or sell a home. If you know anyone who happens to be looking I would love to talk to them and show them how we can help them.” That ‘pitch’ is guaranteed to make someone run for a refill quickly. While that is an abbreviated and hyperbolic example, for the self-employed individual, there are facets of a poor ‘elevator pitch’ in almost every description of what they do.
Tom Love spoke at a seminar I attended recently and he described to the audience the importance of the EOS (explanation of services). EOS is a term Tom coined to refer to this cumbersome question about ‘what you do for a living’. Its roots are firmly planted in Simon Sinek’s highly lauded Ted Talk – “Start with why”. If you haven’t heard it – you must.
Simon’s exposition changed Tom’s life and the way Tom described his life’s work to others. Rather than rambling on about what he does and detailing a rapid-fire list of product features, benefits, or related services, Tom begins with what he believes. Here is the process for a would-be entrepreneur to follow when developing the pitch:
1. Always lead with what you believe not what you do.
2. Tell me why you believe it.
3. Tell me what it is you really do – reduce it to the ridiculous.
4. How do you do it differently than everybody else?
5. Who have you done it for?
6. What is stopping us from doing business together? We both believe the same things.
Tom won’t say he’s been selling insurance and financial products for the last thirty five years. Instead he will start the conversation by saying:
“In everything we do, we believe….. “ (speaking about himself and his team)
There is a fundamental difference in presenting someone with your core belief system and the reason behind why you get up in the morning versus telling them about the hottest new widget you have in your inventory. If your audience believes like you do and they can sense your passion, they will buy you. The product is ancillary. Try it out. Develop a solid EOS and see if it changes your business.
3. Hire an Admin – I once walked into a locally owned pizza shop in the Greater Nashville area and developed a rapport with the owner. They had the best gluten-free pizza and the freshest ingredients by far over the competition. The product was superb, I promise. But they are no longer in business. Closed in a little over a year.
Why? I don’t have all the answers to this business failure but I can guess one for sure. When I first met the owner, I asked about what led him to start the business and what he was doing before. We’ll call this proprietor ‘Al’. Al told me that he used to be a regional manager for a pharmaceutical company – I know from our conversations that Al did really well in this position and made well into the six figures. What was he doing now? The work of a $10 an hour cashier and pizza maker.
I’m not suggesting that Al should not be involved in his business. What I am pointing out is that Al traded a six figure salary for a poverty-level position. This is a problem. And the fact is that most business owners are doing this very same thing daily. The self-employed are doing the work of an admin during a majority of their day rather than focusing on the IPAs (income producing activities) that keep the company alive and thriving.
The word corporation has its origin in the Latin word corpus or “body”. You must treat your business as an entirely separate entity. Thus, it is very hard for the corpus or body to support itself and another person –specifically the owner. In the early stages, much like a newborn child, the corpus needs more resources and support to sustain itself. Without the influx of sales, capital, and the other life giving metrics that make the system go, the company will flounder.
Al was spending time working ‘in’ the business rather than ‘on’ the business. He was not planning, marketing, steering or adding revenue; he was an employee doing menial tasks. Every dollar that came in the door had to be split between Al to support his household and the business to support operations.
My point? At every stage of the business, it is critical to make certain you are not doing work that you could pay someone else to do. Remember when you calculated your hourly worth above? You goal is to drive that hourly rate up and you can’t do that when you are filing papers or performing administrative tasks. You drive up that rate by doing what you do best: plumbers plumb, sellers close, coaches coach, and consultants advise.
Take a lesson from Al. Don’t pay yourself to be a ‘cashier’ in your own business. A successful entrepreneur once told me: “If you wait until you can afford to hire an admin, it’s too late.” And if you can’t afford one right now, then make that one of your goals in step one. Calculate how many widgets you need to sell to be able to duplicate yourself and make it happen. In the interim, don’t spend your day doing administrative work – save that for the off-hours (see calendaring below). Instead, make sure you are spending a majority of your day on the IPAs and driving your hourly rate up and you will be able to hire an admin in no time.
4. Hire a business coach and set up a life’s B.OD. – One of the main things missing from the lives of most business owners I speak with is accountability. Being the boss is awesome – awesomely cool at some times and awesomely crappy at others. But as mycoach says, “you can’t see the frame if you are in the picture.” That is why most self-employed individuals lack the benefit of perspective and accountability. They become stagnant in their thinking, complacent in their vision, and sloppy with their discipline. I cannot emphasize enough the value of a business coach and a life’s Board of Directors.
The selection of a business coach is critical. Find someone who has achieved the kind of success you want to achieve – whether that is money success, awards, business growth, etc. Don’t pay for someone to teach you to climb a mountain who has never put on a climbing harness. Also, find someone who resonates with you personally. If you are a family person – look for someone who exemplifies the family/business life balance you are looking for. If you are a person of faith, look for someone who incorporates their faith into their business model. If you lack discipline, find someone who has demonstrated the ability to teach others discipline and who demonstrates discipline in their own life - both business and personal.
I also want to see my coach being coached. You can call it coaching, or training, or guiding. Whatever you call it, it should be a relationship where there is a constant transfer of knowledge you did not have before, coupled with a plan of execution for your success, with regular accountability and follow-up for that plan. Everyone needs a coach: A pilot needs to be coached, a running back needs to be coached, your accountant needs to be coached, and every business owner should be coached.
My business coach is Michael Burt and his program Monster Producer gives me everything I need. He has a program and a system. He challenges me to look at my business from a different perspective. I get the benefit of others in the group giving me ideas. Everything is designed to give me the edge I need and the support and accountability when I need it; especially when I’m having one of those crappy days.
Whatever you do, invest in yourself and hire a coach. I can guarantee your competition is and I promise you that if you don’t find the value in investing in your own success, others won’t either.
Finally, put in place a life's board of directors. I typically suggest having one person you admire who operates in your industry, one from outside your industry, and one non-business person like a pastor, teacher, friend, etc. to round out the Board. You should schedule time with your Board individually for coffee at least once a quarter to talk about your vision, challenges and goals to get their feedback.
"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." John Donne. Make yourself better, invest in yourself, invest in a coach, and assemble a life's board of directors. When you begin to operate 'as if' you were already successful by doing what the successful in business already do, you will begin to see the results you are looking for. But you'll still have those crappy days from time to time.
5. Collect and publish testimonials – There are a lot of articles written about humanization of your brand and reputation management. However, most small to medium-sized businesses aren’t even aware of these concepts let alone putting them on their list of priorities for the year. Yet, testimonials remain one of the most effective ways to build trust and overcome skepticism according to Entrepreneur magazine. “They aren’t salesy” and they stand out as a beacon of credibility on your site and on your marketing collateral.
If you look at how you operate as a consumer, I bet a majority of you will often read reviews before going to a restaurant, buying a car, selecting a computer, or downloading an app. These reviews are nothing more than captured testimonials – both good and bad. Your clients are looking for the same thing from you. A recent article on business2community.com summarizes it skillfully:
“Any time a customer is being sold to, they are on their toes for deception. It’s only natural. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned dollars and cents on a product presented as far more valuable than its reality. As consumers, we’re all more willing to believe in what’s being advertised if we can identify with the source of the information. Testimonials can provide the perfect way to bridge that gap.”
Make it a priority to ask for and capture testimonials after a job or service well done. You have earned that right. It will not only help you identify what you’re doing well but it will also help you identify when you have misstepped. This can go hand-in-hand with asking for a recommendation after the completion of a sale or service. Become adept at collecting, identifying, and posting the right testimonials for your business.
6. Utilize a good calendaring system – How many entrepreneurs do you think plan their week using a block calendaring system that will help them achieve their weekly, monthly, and annual goals laid forth in step one? Do you? I suggest it’s probably a small percentage considering the first year failure rate for small business start-ups.
I still struggle with this if I’m being honest. I have the system set up, but I’m operating at about 65% execution rate when it comes to weekly planning and calendaring – that’s one of the reasons I have Coach Burt. Let’s face it, I like most of you, am an entrepreneur. And an entrepreneur is a unique mix of drive, ambition, creativity, risk taking, with a bit of impatience, procrastination, and distractibility sprinkled in. Thus, my calendar is the first line of my accountability defense.
I explained to a friend recently that there is “Will the boss” and “Will the employee”. “Will the boss” needs to plan on Sunday for the week ahead so that “Will the employee” doesn’t get off task. I also find it very helpful to block activities to allow for fluidity within the calendar while providing the opportunity for momentum on any given task.
For example, you may choose to do marketing on Monday morning from 8AM to 10AM, Sales calls from 10AM – 11:30AM, follow up from the prior week from 1PM – 2PM, and so on. Many productivity experts advocate the block calendar system since it allows for focus on a particular activity for short bursts of time. You should even calendar email checking and other non-income producing activities during non-business or non-green time hours.
Green time hours are the hours you shine. It’s when you customers are available, when your business can generate activity. You don’t want to buying napkins for the break room during these times and a well structured, blocked calendar can make certain you don’t do this by providing a time when you can.
7. Schedule time off – The blessing of being the business owner is you’re the boss. The curse….you’re the boss. If you’ve been self-employed for any length of time, you understand that working for yourself is not as glamorous as the W2 world believes it to be. Yet there is nothing I would rather do than work for myself. Because of this, I know I have to keep the passion for my business and go to bed every night happy about what I do.
To achieve this, I schedule personal time off for myself. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you have to have several weeks off a year – although many would argue and prove out that we are more productive just before and after taking vacations. But you can schedule in mini respites away from your business. For example, maybe you can go home after lunch on Wednesdays, or go in later on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s so that you can go to or have breakfast at home with your wife or family. Whatever your family’s schedule, make time for yourself and for them.
Don’t think this is important? According to the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies) it has been proven that there is a point of diminishing returns for someone who overworks. There are health and family problems that follow.
The point is that you not only have to love what you do, but your family and your spouse do as well. You can kick against the proverbial goads and second guess this, but you will find that your life has to have a balance between the things that make it meaningful – such as family time, personal growth, physical health, money/business pursuits, spiritual time, and whatever else makes up the spokes on your life’s wheel.
Make time for yourself and develop a balance for the things that matter most in your life and you and your business will grow in ways you couldn’t have imagined.