Make Better Business Decisions

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Have you been decisive lately?

It may have been a while since you hung your business shingle and opened up shop. Or, you may still be working on hanging that shingle for the first time. Regardless of where you are today on your entrepreneurial journey, there is one thing that's consistent - you have to make choices.

Every. Single. Day. 

Every minute of every day you are making decisions. I mean, you decided that the link to this post/blog title was worth a look. When you did that you made an instant choice. You made a choice that meant you’d be giving up your time, and the opportunity cost that goes with this time, to get a little more insight on making decisions.

(This is very meta.)

I think it was a good choice and I hope you will by the end of this post too. 

When you decide to allocate something as simple as a few moments it might not feel like a significant trade but trust me, it matters. You are, whether consciously or not, acknowledging that you are willing and able to give up that time in exchange for some kind of value. In economics classes all around the world, this phenomenon is explained as the elasticity of demand. In literal fractions of a second, you measured the possible benefit of the insight of this post against a slew of criteria in which the aggregate of totals who you are as a person. 

What you do with your time you do with every other resource. Crazy, I know and it gets better.  

In the early stages of building a business, it feels like you have to make a lot of hard and fast choices. There are tradeoffs punching you in the face from every direction. Things like how you set your prices and deciding on the business activities that will make up what you do from day to day. You're putting the foundation in place so that people can find you, learn about you, like you and decide that your offer is worth their dollars.

It can feel like a lot all at once and it can be exhausting. So, how do you develop the stamina to make good decisions on the regular? 

Let's start by working through the biggest decision-making hurdles. The first trap I see most often is entrepreneurs holding on the freedom to make choices which really means overcoming the "maybes". 

Hoarding your freedom to make choices is a terrible thing.  Being an opportunity miser is actually keeping you from making any real progress. You are constantly burying yourself in the super extremes of opportunity costs and for good reason, so you think. Resources are scarce even for businesses that seem to be thriving, that’s always a barrier you will bump up against. Making bad decisions and hoarding freedom of choice can actually do more damage to your business than making decently-informed-probably-not-perfect choices. Why, because you're missing out on opportunities! If you don't invest your time, money or emotional energy you'll never take any action and you won't make any progress. 

These next few are smaller but worth acknowledging. These are the fallacies that will eat up lots of time, energy, and produce more stress than your body should probably be handling. 

Fallacy busting.

First is the Information Mud Pit. Feeling like you need as much information as possible from as many different experts, gurus and websites is like having your car stuck in the mud while you just hammer the accelerator. Sure it’s going to make lots of noise, throw lots of dirt around, and maybe even start to give you some forward motion but eventually, you are just going to overheat your engine, breakdown and still be stuck.

Don’t let your brain throttle about in the mud and then break down. All those expert sources are just people and they may not be in exactly your situation. Do those people have the same values, personal/professional experiences, or even biases that you do? Work on gathering enough information to cover any of the possible outcomes you can predict (there will be some you won’t be able to predict) and move from there. Just like getting out of the mud in your car it’s going to take a little patience, finesse, and the right tools. Not all the tools ever made – the same goes for research.

Next is being too busy. Everyone is busy so that excuse can’t cut it anymore. What you are doing is finding new and different (read: easier) things to deal with that can give you some satisfaction from safe handling the things on your to-do list that can be completed with the least amount of energy and work. The other part of the being too busy is trying to multi-task a little too much. When your attention is always diverted in lots of different directions the choices you make tend to be less informed, less qualified, less efficient, and just chock-full-of-mediocre. So no more excuses as they will just keep stressing you out as your list of decisions won’t be getting smaller.

The last fallacy I want to kick in the face is that you can’t get what needs to be done because there are always little fires that need your immediate attention. The problem isn’t that you are constantly in a flurry of micro-emergencies, it’s that you have failed to set your priorities. Decision making effectively takes a little work and a little prep time. It’s in the prep time that you should be stripping out your decisions and reorganizing them in a way that reflects their relative importance. I think there is a lot of importance in building momentum in getting things done but you shouldn’t front load your decisions will all the easy stuff. You won’t be taking advantage of the momentum and flexing your decision-making muscles the best way unless you prioritize.

Now that we busted a few fallacies let’s get to some action steps help make you a lean, mean decision making machine.

1. Are you actually making the decision? Sounds like a silly question to ask but it’s important to think about who really has the final say. If you are a solopreneur it may very well be you. But are you part of a team or have a partner you have to run this by? Decide who is going to be making that decision and then move forward with purpose.

2. Set the stage. Very few decisions we make will only affect us. So it’s important to consider how your decision is going to affect the rest of your business and stakeholders. Make sure that everyone is comfortable with what’s going on and understands at least a few of the major consequences of those choices.

3. Make every decision (even the tiny ones) part of the big picture. Remember when you started your business you put a whole bunch of time and effort into your values and mission. Yeah, those still exist. So make sure that your decisions are in line with what you want your business to continue to be and to be perceived being. Everything from color pallets, paper supplies, and even how you package your product will all impact how your brand is perceived.

4. Do your research. At this point I would like to direct your attention up a few paragraphs to part about hiding behind information.  You want to make sure that when you are making your considerations you are using good information – good in, hopefully good out. Keep your information lean and relevant. What that means for you is that you do not necessarily need to be an expert on how paper products are manufactured and distributed to pick a new coffee cup vendor.

5. Consider solutions, side effects and possibilities. You want to make sure you try to anticipate as many possible outcomes as possible. Not all your decisions are going to be of Earth-shattering magnitude but it’s important to be aware of how your decisions will interact with the rest of what your business and environment have going on. Your goal should be to get the most out of whatever your resources are all the time. That and making sure all the different departments continue to play nice together to make your business be the best it can.

Before we finish this post I wanted to cover one more thing.

It’s a concept that goes hand in hand with making decisions and that is managing integrity. Your businesses integrity is more than just making sure that all your decisions are in line with your business mission. It’s about allowing your customers and stakeholders to trust your business. It’s trust in you and your brand that will keep your customers coming back. You get to be a trusted resource by continuing to make decisions (for your offerings and how you manage your business) that continue to improve the experience for the customer and client. That includes how you manage your finances, how you handle bad customer experiences, and even how you choose to interact with your community.

Integrity Pro Tips:

1. Always do your best to meet your commitments – saying no sometimes is ok.

2. Treat everyone with respect that includes your competitors and even naysayers.

3. Always be honest. If a delivery is late, you’ve made an error, or shipped the wrong product out - your customers will always appreciate you being open and upfront. Their compassion and respect for you because of that honesty might actually surprise you.

Get Practical for Real and Sustainable Business Growth

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When you hear the word entrepreneur what do you think about? Who comes to mind? What scenes play out in your imagination? 

Are you taken back to a Gary Vaynerchuk video you watched earlier that day? 

Do you think about what it would feel like to be rubbing elbows with Mark Cuban and Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank? 

Maybe it’s the Facebook posts of Tai Lopez that you skip over in your news feed? 

Or, it’s none of those. Maybe it’s the process of chasing venture (or angel) capital for an idea and the art of the deal that gets your engine going. 

The point I’m trying to make is that I’m pretty sure there’s a noticeably smaller population of people that hear the word entrepreneur and instantly associate it with the definition of the word practical. 

I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this don’t think of putting in long hours, writing blog posts that go unread for months (or years), showing up to do a Facebook Live every week to an audience of one or two, and writing hundreds of yet to be responded to prospecting emails a month as entrepreneurship. 

The sad thing is that it’s the business builders who understand the reality of their market and who are thinking practically are going to be the ones that win. And, it’s a small proportion indeed. 

Why? 

Because those practical entrepreneurs aren’t distracted and aren’t feeding this romantic disconnect between where they are today and what “could be” for them. The probability of going from where you are today to Taylor Swift levels of success is small. Really, really small. It’s not impossible but it is improbable. This post’s goal isn’t to tell you that you shouldn’t dream big but it is going to help you reframe how you’re building your business so you can attack it practically and build momentum over time. Most importantly I want to help you shake the romantic idea of what it means to be an entrepreneur and instead embrace the work it takes to build a business you care about and that is good enough to contribute to the life you want to build for yourself. 

Whether you’re just starting out or have been at it a while I challenge you to get a little more practical with how you’re investing your time, money, and resources. I challenge you to embrace these three practical tenants. 

1. You’re always going to be racing against obscurity. 

There’s no reason your business shouldn’t be everywhere online. You need to make sure you have a presence in all the places people look for and validate against, information about businesses online. You have to be constantly wearing two hats, the business owner had and the media business hat. From a practical perspective, you are competing against the attention of everyone when it comes to marketing online. You’re competing against someone’s new baby pictures and also against businesses like Tai Lopez who throws six-figures plus per ad on social platforms. That means you are always going to be working on communicating authentically with your audience, striving to build real relationships and interacting in ways that are unscalable to try to rise above that noise. 

It’s going to take work but the tribe that you build, the relationships you develop with your audience will matter more because it’s engagement that will ultimately support the growth of your business. Oh, and it takes time. Lots of time. Fighting obscurity is a momentum game. You have to show up every day because that’s what it’s going to take to get noticed, build trust and create experiences for people that can’t be beaten. 

Practical Pro Tip: Work on creating large pieces of content that you can splinter apart to share on adjacent platforms. For example, if you’re writing blog posts every week maybe you can talk about the topic in a short Facebook Live video or you wax poetic on a microphone about and turn it into a podcast. You get more leverage out of that large piece of content and increase your chances of reaching more people. Try to start a conversation - invite your audience to share their experiences and offer a platform for them to teach something. More engagement means more interest in you which leads to more attention for your business.  

2. Selling is way more work than you think. 

This is one of my favorite things to work on with entrepreneurs. No one really understands how brutal it can be to try to sell a product and sometimes even worse a service. Lots of business builders think that optimizing their site’s SEO, creating a killer About Page and having a clear offer/value proposition means that potential customers will just “get it” and buy. Wrong. It takes time, energy, relationship building skills, and a private-eye level ability to do research to create opportunities to show someone a proposal. Getting practical here means getting comfortable with the fact that you’ll send hundreds of emails that don’t get opened or responded to. You’ll spend hours sending out snail mail marketing materials that end up getting thrown away. And, you’ll get more buyer objections than you thought to prepare for. 

There is hope though. Sales is a game of inertia. When you remove all the personal stuff that goes with selling, like taking people’s rejections personally, from the equation you are left with the beginnings of a system. The more emails you send out the faster you get feedback about what works and what doesn’t. The more opportunities to sell you create the more you’re able to hone your presentation skills. The more research you do about how your product or service could serve your customer the easier it will be to identify potential pain-points and ROI opportunities for your next customers. It takes work though, and going at it for a while with little to no results can be really taxing, even on seasoned business builders. The trick here is to always check in with how you’re framing the work you’re doing and to keep an eye on your macro-view. Just because you get a few “no’s” back to back doesn’t mean you have a bad product or service or that there is no market for you. (I mean if you get multiple dozens of “no’s” you might want to reevaluate what your business is offering or go back to the product-market fit drawing board.) It means you need to revisit what you do, for who, and why they should care. 

Practical Pro Tip: Use tools whenever possible to keep your sales process as neat and as tidy as possible. I personally love Hubspot because I can track emails opens, link click-throughs and add notes on relationships I’m trying to build with people all the time. Also, don’t take local hand-to-hand combat type networking for granted. Showing up at in-person networking events can help you with your presentation skills and help you build relationships that can support the growth of your business. Lastly, DO NOT take this lesson in practicality and just create a canned LinkedIn message and shoot it out to the two thousand people you’re connected to on LinkedIn. Everyone hates them, you look lazy and (at least for me) people will not take you seriously. 

3. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. 

I know this is a tired piece of advice but give me a chance to show you something a little different. Sure, old adages like “perfect is the enemy of good enough” exist and seem simple enough but I’m sure that not enough entrepreneurs really heed this advice. For instance, there is an entire market out there that exists to teach people how to do anything online. I love information products and online courses as much as the next business builder but what I don’t love is the tendency for people to collect course logins like kids (or me sometimes) collecting Funko Pops. (Yes, I collect Batman Pops...I mean he’s one of fiction’s most brilliant strategists.) They do this because they believe that completing “one more” course or getting a little information will finally allow them to perfectly offer, perfect position, and perfectly deliver their value. Unfortunately, that is rarely true and what’s most likely is that they are doing something that feels like work because it’s in the service of building their business but they aren’t actually doing any business building work. 

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let weeks, months or even years go by before you build the courage to show someone what you can offer them. 

Don’t let something that feels like work, but isn’t actually work, distract you from going out into the world and building your business. In the LEAN methodology, there’s a lot of weight put on rapid learning, iterating and seizing opportunities to pivot when you’re attempting to provide value for a customer. I’m not saying go out and collect a login to a LEAN online course but what I am saying is that learning as you go when you’re building a business is really ok. I’d encourage it even. Why? Because the opportunity cost of waiting and the sunk costs associated with time and money in a topic you may discover you don’t actually need are huge. So you stumble a few times and lose a customer or two. Big deal, you learned something and can apply that to your next go around. Same goes for any content you produce, no one expects to see super polished right out of the gate. To the contrary actually - raw and authentic win in today’s market.  

Practical Pro Tip: Embrace just-in-time learning. Don’t worry about hoarding every possible skill you think you need right now. Just go! Enter the social platforms, people’s inboxes and your real life interactions with enough information to get the job done in an authentic and meaningful way. You should also choose which tools you want to go deep on carefully. If you’re editing video media, for instance, don’t worry about learning everything there is to know about Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, and Wirecast. Pick the one that you’ll use the most and work on building a functional skill set that will allow you to put out your video content on a regular and CONSISTENT schedule. For everything else, there are YouTube tutorials. Seriously, avoid the feels like work but actually isn’t work trap at all cost. You need to be very careful about how you allocate your time and should always be checking in with yourself to see if what you’re currently working on is actually going to bring some kind of direct value to your customer. 

This was a heavy post so if you’ve made it this far I just want to say thanks and congrats. That’s kind of a big deal. What’s a bigger deal though is that you are hopefully thinking about your business in more practical terms. That’s where you are going to win. Being an entrepreneur right now is a trendy thing. The more entrepreneurs I meet, the more I’m disappointed I am with how diluted their businesses are. People that are trying to build businesses that serve everyone and do everything are not long for this world. 

Focus on doing things that don’t scale right away. Focus on delivering real value consistently for your clients and customers. Focus on building real relationships and investing in your business. That’s the work it takes to be practical and build a business that you are proud of and that provides for you the life you want. An article from USA Today, May 2017, quoted that 20% of businesses survive past their first year. 20%! That’s not necessarily the story that social media tells us with all the “entrepreneurs” and “hustlers” out there. So what does that tell us? It tells us that there is a world of people out there playing business and it’s the few that get serious about being practical every day that really makes it. 

It’s easy to be a wantrapreneur, choose to be one of the 20% and win instead.

PS - Here's my simple call to action. If you're struggling with your entrepreneurial journey and you think a little support might do you some good, go check out the new group program that's launching. Even if it's not for you we can still bond over one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. 

Communicate Authentically for Better Business Results

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Today I want to talk about the impact of communication in your business and work on why taking it seriously is good for business. Being a good communicator impacts everything from marketing and sales, traditionally thought of when it comes to communication, all the way to management and big picture strategy. If you can’t communicate your values, your mission or who you’re trying to serve then how can you expect people to engage with you? I don’t care how tight your business plan is or how dialed in your product or service is - “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” when you have poor communication and information is poorly managed. 

And yes, you were just literary’d

Communication is the mechanism by which any strategy in your business can be successfully and repeatedly executed. Making sure that everyone understands what’s expected of them, yes even setting your customer’s expectations, is just as important as having a good overall view of your business and a great plan in place. Communicating strategically is not just about leaving clear instructions for the next person on the totem pole. It’s about helping your stakeholders understand the why and the story behind the business. That’s what’s going to get them to care enough about who you are, the problem your solving and the value you’re delivering to engage (and keep engaging) with you. It’s also about empowering your customers to be involved in the process and to take ownership of their experience. 

If you and your business can’t communicate simply, clearly, and effectively how can you expect your customers to engage with you. Better still how can you expect all the rest of your partners, vendors, employees and even interns to jump on board with your strategy, make good decisions, and get information where it’s needed. 

Here are 5 tips to better business communication (even if you are a solopreneur)

1. Go all in on trust. 

The act of communicating - sending an email, answering a text, or chatting in the hallway - means nothing if the people you are communicating with don’t trust you. Getting a plan together and expecting that people get on board with you will only work if they trust that your motivations and incentives are aligned with theirs. Crafting a story is only part of the equation when you are trying to create a movement - it has to come from an honest and real source. Creating any strategy can be a messy ordeal sometimes and it is critical that the people that you rely on and that rely on you can trust that you’ll make good decisions if and when the time comes. 

2. Get simple. (Recurring theme throughout this site) 

Communication through an organization does not have to be multi-level and defined by your org-chart. Great communication happens when ideas can freely flow without the fear of retaliation or judgment. That’s not to say that sometimes you won’t entertain a bad idea but supporting the agency of your employees and partners to share is huge. Simple communication channels also mean shorter turn-around times on getting things done. When problems arise they are easier to spot and easier to deal with. 

3. Have a framework. 

When you are trying to communicate with your stakeholders and customers you should have a few buckets to pull from. This creates consistency and it helps you keep your sanity over the long term. Three of my favorites are trying to inspire, educate, or reinforce. Inspiring every once and awhile is important because it can be a means to celebrate accomplishments and to introduce new ideas or changes. I don’t need to tell you that everyone likes to feel important so use messages of inspiration to keep your people motivated and to keep them connected. Education and reinforcement are important because your stakeholders need direction. Now I’m not saying every communication needs to be extremely detailed and outline very precise direction but they should have some substance and it’s important to encourage learning and improvement. 

4. Clear calls to action. 

The inbox is a very special place for people. So when someone does allocate a little time out of their day to open a message from you make sure there is a clear call to action. If you’re sending an email that’s just rambly, offering no real value and with no clear (easy to take) next steps you will not get a response. You may actually be doing a little damage to the relationship you’ve cultivated with the recipient which will impact the probability of them opening your next email. 

5. Care. 

This is a big one and I wanted it to be last for a reason. If you take away anything from this post it’s to realize that when you’re communicating with someone to remember that they are in fact a real person. In today’s business ecosystem it’s easy to get desensitized to the spammy LinkedIn pitches that clutter inboxes. It’s easy to get instantly turned off because you opened a piece of communication that looks like it was written for a generic, systematized and artificial avatar of a customer. This doesn’t just go for email, it goes with any kind of communication. 

If you really care about the engagement people have with your business you have to treat them like people. You have to think about what motivates them and where the value is for them to be on the other side of your message. Just because we’re in an era where most people look for the quick win, what they can take or how to make themselves look better doesn’t mean it’s right. Care about what your customers have to say, have a little empathy for the decision maker you’re trying to reach with your pitch deck, and try to understand how what you say in your marketing materials impacts your potential audience.  

Running a business is already hard so there’s no need to compound that by being a bad communicator. Focus on communicating in ways that are clear, trustworthy, simple, organized and that show that you care and you’ll save yourself all kinds of headaches. We didn’t touch on it much but one of the biggest bottlenecks in any business process is how information is managed - which includes how you communicate. Every time you reach out to someone or post to an audience you have an opportunity to deliver value and build a relationship. You need to take those opportunities seriously because if the people you’re reaching out to don’t get to know you, like you, and trust you they will definitely NOT be giving you their money. 

PS - Here's my simple call to action. If you're struggling with your entrepreneurial journey and you think a little support might do you some good, go check out the new group program that's launching. Even if it's not for you we can still bond over one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. 
 

How to Beat Procrastination

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Procrastination is an interesting thing to think about and it ties directly to how productive and efficient you are in your business. It can creep up on you, make things on your to-do list seem more complicated than they are and, be the muse to some of your best rationalizations. 

It doesn’t have to be scary though. 

In this Ted Talk, you’re going to see Tim Urban really break down what procrastination is, how it works and best of all - how to manage it. He’s going to give you permission to forgive yourself for procrastinating and some ideas on how to use it to your advantage. 

I think investing a few minutes in understanding how the amazing machines that are our brains work are worth way more than tinkering with any productivity tool you’re working in today. That tool will still be there when you’re done and you’ll have the added bonus of knowing how to outsmart your own procrastination monster. 

Oh and before you hit play on that Ted Talk, I wanted to encourage you not to procrastinate and check out the new Group Coaching program I’m offering. If you’ve been on the fence about starting a business or have been struggling to get any traction then it’s definitely worth a quick peek - after the Tim Urban video that is. 

Tim Urban knows that procrastination doesn't make sense, but he's never been able to shake his habit of waiting until the last minute to get things done. In this hilarious and insightful talk, Urban takes us on a journey through YouTube binges, Wikipedia rabbit holes and bouts of staring out the window -- and encourages us to think harder about what we're really procrastinating on, before we run out of time.

Your Business Model Blueprint

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You can NOT work on growing your business without first taking a look at your business model.

Your business model is the blueprints of your business. It’s the roadmap. If your business was a human body it would be the circulatory, nervous and skeletal systems...probably. Your heart? That’s your passion which, is also important but it’s not your business model. Your business model is the thing that outlines how your business is going to make money. Which would be the blood (and breathing) if we’re going to stick with this vaguely anatomically correct business reference.

There is a lot of hype about growing a business these days. It’s hard not to jump on the hype train when you see an environment of Tai Lopez Facebook ads, new crypto millionaires every week and guys like Gary Vaynerchuk motivating you to hustle harder than you think is even possible. But, even with all the hype and plugs for mentorship programs (shameless plug: be sure to check out my new group coaching program if you’re thinking of finally taking the plunge) and get rich crypto strategies, lots of people still forget to take a look at their “business’s” underlying business model.

At its most basic purpose, a business model answers the “how” question when it comes to you delivering or creating value for your customers. If you plan on being successful, which most people do, you need to make sure your business is organized and your foundation is solid before you can go off and start executing some the business growth strategies and tactics du jour.

If you don’t take the time to really flush out your business model then running your business ends up being kind of like taking a shower with your clothes on. Sure you’re in there and sudsing up with your favorite lufa but are you really getting clean? Probably not and now that sweater vest is never going to really fit right again.

Below is a quick blueprint you can use to see if your business will function how you want it to when you are ready to start executing your business growth strategy. Not only that but sometimes you are so involved in getting your product or service out, dealing with customers, and making sure you are doing enough marketing that you lose track of how your business is actually working.

Wing’ing it is never a good business model.

Think about these concepts and use them to help tighten your business up - most importantly don’t wear your clothes in the shower.

Customer Value Proposition:

- Who are your target customers?

- What important job are you doing for them? What need are you fulfilling?

- How are you packaging that offering so that it is the most effective way to communicate your value to your customer?

Profit Formula:

- Think about your revenue and where is your profit coming from? What kind of volume do you need to have to reach your profit goals? Are you selling at low prices with the hopes of high volume or high price low volume - does that match your market?

- How are costs allocated? Keep track of your spending!!! Remember your time and overhead count too.

- What is the minimum level of margin you need to earn on each sale to reach your profit goals?

- How fast is the turnaround time on the inputs you need to sustain your businesses activities? Think and plan for those cash flow needs.

Key Resources:

- What are the most important factors in bringing your business and strategy to the next level?

- These include people, strategic alliances, technology, how information flows, distribution channels and any specialized equipment.

- When you map these out it makes executing your strategy a lot more efficient!

Key Processes:

- What are the processes that are repeatable (and eventually scaleable) that you use every day to deliver value to customers?

- What are the metrics you use to keep track of your success? What gets measured gets managed!

- What are the norms in your market or industry? Understanding how business is done in your market will help you get in front of your customers faster and in a way that they are familiar with. It will also help to build your social credibility and proof as a business in your market.

These four major concepts help you better outline the model that your business follows. When you break everything out it will help you better focus and avoid doing things in your business that are wasteful or that even are too far away from what you actually wanted to be doing in your business.

Model first then grow!

How To Be More Productive At Work

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If you’re serious about growing your business then I think you should consider playing more strategy video games. You heard (read) this correct. Whether you’re a Clash of Clans “Clasher”, a multiplayer online battle arena type League of Legends or Dota player, or someone who really likes the speed and variety of Hearthstone; I’m going to argue that all work and no play literally makes Jack a dull business building boy (or girl). In this post, I’m going to challenge you to reallocate the time you spend taking social media and online content consumption breaks during the day to playing more casually strategy type video games.

Really.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most people don’t dedicate every “working” moment of their day to adding to their own (or someone else’s) bottom line. There are lots of studies and frameworks that suggest getting the best productivity out of someone they actually shouldn’t be trying to be productive 100% of the time. There is, in fact, a diminishing marginal return type of effect when it comes to productivity. It’s from these studies that you see frameworks like Pareto, Eating Frogs, Personal Kanban, SMART methods, and the productivity hacking list literally goes on forever.

When it comes to time management and productivity there is no shortage of the ways in which you can organize your day. Regardless of how you organize your day though there is a constant and that constant is some kind of downtime or transitional time. This is where the fun begins.

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I want you to get more play time into your day by using your breaks strategically. Before we can do that though I want to cover why breaks are important in the first place.

Why is it important to take breaks?

1. Taking breaks during the workday help stave off boredom and keep us more focused. Keeping boredom at bay and staying focused is important because it directly impacts the return on the time you’re spending and the quality of the outputs regarding your given task.  Alejandro Lleras a psychology professor at the University of Illinois explains, “…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused. From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”

2. Breaks also help to reevaluate goals. I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all had experiences where it feels like you’ve been working really hard and are throwing a ton of time into something only to find out you deviated from your original goal or intention by the end. Taking breaks along the way allow you to come back to tasks with a refreshed perspective on the work that you are doing.

3. Some of the best problem solving happens when you’re more relaxed. I mean I can’t be the only one that has his best ideas in the shower or when I’m on a 40-minute drive to and from a client site right?! When we are relaxed our brains can better free connect ideas and concepts because our imagination takes the wheel in our brains associative bits. Focused work actually creates cognitive barriers that can actually impede our natural problem-solving abilities.

4. Breaks also allow for the reduction of stress and the management of morale. When you take a break it allows you the opportunity to escape from the demands of the work at the moment. It allows you the opportunity to take some time for yourself and to engage in some self-care. It’s not uncommon for advice like go outside, get up and stretch, talk to someone, etc. These activities are encouraged because they are proven to drive morale up. When you’re happier at work, you’re more engaged and you feel better about getting through the rest of your to-do list. Not to mention all the quantitative benefits that can be gleaned from happier and healthy workers when you start to factor in things like the marginal product of revenue.

Ok so now that we’ve set the table on productivity and the importance of breaks let’s jump into why playing strategy video games is important.

Casual strategy video games afford the same kinds of benefits as the other, more traditionally,  recommended break time activities. You get all the benefits listed in the 4 points above so I won’t be repeating myself but here’s where the extra benefit comes in.

Video game play has been shown to reduce stress, increase cognitive function, increase resource allocation or management skills, and even help people reframe how they think about time management.

Let’s break each one of those points out briefly:

1. Reducing Stress. Building and growing a business is stressful. Giving yourself permission to stop when you can and schedule in some time for some levity, escapism, and adventure can be good for self-care. Allowing yourself to temporarily step away from deadlines, duties, and responsibilities can improve mood and help facilitate feelings of control which can combat the anxiety that entrepreneurs can experience doing the work to grow your business.

2. Increase cognitive function, resource management and problem-solving. Strategy games have been shown to increase cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility the ability to hold different ideas simultaneously or to be able to switch between concepts rapidly. When you’re building a business you’re often faced with having to make decisions in real time. The more practice you have with juggling different, possibly dissident, ideas the better you’ll be at charting your decision throughline to make better decisions consistently. These types of games also often have players manage resources and solve problems in real time which translate to better real-world planning skills and innovative thinking to move past challenges.

3. Time management. A study (link to study) from psychologists at the Plymouth University actually found that playing Tetris helped to improve self-control. Self-control is one of the biggest points of failure when it comes to trying to hold yourself accountable for your time management systems. In the last five minutes, I’ve checked my phone three times during a time that was supposed to be dedicated to creating this content. Ouchies.Circling back to the list of all the different productivity models will show that breaks are built into all of them. While the timing and durations vary the fact that you need a break to do your best work is a pretty consistent theme. Allowing yourself this structured play time can give your brain a dopamine hit to look forward to instead of incentivizing you to go out and find one during predetermined work periods.

Conclusion

I hope that by the end of this post I’ve challenged you to be a little more honest about how you spend your workday. It’s easy to dismiss the idea that playing games in the middle of the day are a wise use of your workday. It’s easy because there’s a stigma about what work should look like. How can you tell your boss, your client, spouse or to-do list that you’re being productive when someone walks in on you as your immersed in a fantasy-strategy world? Well, that same question can be asked of anyone caught mindlessly scrolling through their phone at work? The rub here is that predetermined work breaks that are designed to keep you engaged in your workday are always going to be better for you over the hundreds of times you’re checking your phone through the day. Especially, if it takes on average about 15 minutes to get back to your work after each break.

Moral of the story, play more games at work to do better work - because science.

You're welcome.

Make The Most Out Of Your Business Planning This Year

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To quote a song that will hopefully be an earworm for you, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” This song has been my jam as we enter into the second week of 2018. 

Why?

Because it’s, “Time for you [and your business to finally] to go out go out into the world.” 

Ok, sorry. 

I’m done with the lyrics. 

But the song applies to the post I promise. 

In order to talk about accountability and growth in a non-cheesy and meaningful way it means you have to accept that some things will have to change and what better to serve as a natural inflection point than the New Year. I want to help you kick start your accountability, business planning and goal setting from a slightly different perspective. To do that I’ve prepared a few things I want you to consider as you’re finding your stride in 2018. 

Here are five things that I would offer anyone looking to start the year off right. 

1. Inventory everything. 

Now I’m not saying that you need to painstakingly document every pen and paper clip but for the love of Mike, please have an idea of what you need to do/have to bring your product or idea to fruition. If you want to start a gym then have an idea of what the minimum amount of equipment you’ll need to open your doors. Have a business that sells a physical product - make sure you have some in stock before you start advertising them. Have a restaurant then make sure you have the ingredients to provide what you have listed on your menu. Everyone is always busy and even more so this time of year so ensure your customers stay happy by making sure you have what they expect you to have when they are ready to engage with you. 

2. Cash Flow. 

Ever been on a cruise ship? Well they know exactly what they need as cash inflows from each passenger on the cruise to make it a profitable one. They have inventory and supply chain procedures that would give Wal-Mart a run for their money. Understanding your cash outs and ins is something that small businesses don’t pay enough attention too. Most of the time, in my experience, they just pay the bills as they come in and deposit the revenues for the day. That’s all well and good but what kind of analysis are you doing so that you can keep steering your business in the right direction. Just because you’ve managed to keep your doors open (physical or digital) doesn’t mean that you are successful. It just means you’ve been paying your bills on time. Plus how do you know what’s working and what’s not if you aren’t keeping score on how efficiently you are allocating your resources. 

3. Time Management. 

How do you keep track of your hours in the day? I’m not just talking about the billable time or the time that you play shopkeep. I’m talking about all the rest of the work that needs to be done. Are you making time for the administrative tasks appropriately or are you just throwing everything into an office and hoping that as more time passes things will just work themselves out. Time is just like money - it’s a scarce resource. You want to make sure you are doing something to so that you are maximizing the time you choose to be working. Remember just because you throw hours at a project doesn’t mean it’s going to be good - I’d take deliberate and focused time over brute strength over-work any day of the week. Extra point: make sure you make the most out of your sleep time. I’ve just started tracking my sleep habits and I’m already impressed by how little changes can make me feel amazing the following day. 

4. Don’t stop learning. 

There is always better ways to do stuff. There are always new tactics and lessons to be learned. So make sure you allocate some of that scarce resource, that is your time, to developing your skills. Personally I’ve been working on my Photoshop skills and I’m having a blast doing it. I will probably never dawn the title of graphic designer but understanding Photoshop will help me deliver better products more efficiently to my clients. This could apply to leadership, being an entrepreneur, a language, and even managing Quickbooks. (I would definitely recommend Freshbooks though if you are looking for a finance manager.) 

5. Stop saying and just do. (Just in case you need a little more support.)

In the last 2 weeks I’ve seen a plethora of articles and posts all about getting you to achieve your goals. Everything from journaling to sharing your goals on social media to create some accountability. While those tips are great they aren’t going to do what needs to be done to get your goals accomplished - you are!! Why would I tweet something if my audience can’t really hold me accountable? Facebook statuses fly by with the speed and fury of a passing fighter jet and most people are just creeping their friends or friend’s photo’s - is that really a place to tell the world you are ready to take your business to the next level? I’m guilty of this too. I download productivity habit tracking apps, I journal for revenue growth, and I’ve even told my friends and family of new happenings. Sometimes those things don’t happen and it’s because I (and you) are great rationalizing machines especially when something feels or seems like it will be work. To get past that you have to start and keep yourself on an action train. Start doing and then keep doing - it’s the only way you will get things done. The GTD is an example of a method that is really great for helping you strategize but don’t get too preoccupied in the planning. Sometimes “good enough” is what you need to get on to the next task. 

I hope this list helps. I know they all aren’t necessarily connected but each of them is important if you want to get your business or life moving in a positive direction. Especially number five. So to recap: take stock of your stuff and money, keep learning to keep yourself as efficient as possible, do work, and limit how long you spend playing in online scavenger hunts for a few laughs. 

Like I said, I’m a people too, and I get a little lost and depressed sometimes too. Over the last week or so - I’ve been making a conscious effort to shake that and put my own advice into play. I don’t like complacency and I’m leaving it behind. Feel free to join me! 

Get Paid What You're Worth In 2018

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Happy New Year! 

In today's post I want to encourage you to make your way through Casey Brown's Ted Talk where she talks about getting paid what you're worth. I think this is a great way to start the New Year because her stories go beyond just the financial gains of making more money as she communicates how getting paid what you're worth impacts how you see yourself, your self-confidence and your self-worth. 

Whether you're an employee, an entrepreneur, have New Year's Resolutions or are just thinking about what you like to get done this year this Ted Talk is for you. It's a mindset reframe as you get back to work this week. 

And, just in case you aren't convinced that it's really worth your time here are a few of my favorite lines from the talk:

"Find your own voice, a voice that's authentic and true to you and communicate your value." 

"No one will ever pay you what you're worth. They'll pay you what they think you're worth and you control their thinking. "

If that second quote didn't reach out and touch the part of your brain that controls motivation then I don't know what will. I mean, it's a really great few sentences to let your brain chew on as you're thinking about how you want to be perceived this year. 

Ok, enough rambling from me I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did! 

Your boss probably isn't paying you what you're worth -- instead, they're paying you what they think you're worth. Take the time to learn how to shape their thinking. Pricing consultant Casey Brown shares helpful stories and learnings that can help you better communicate your value and get paid for your excellence.

Want to get ahead in 2018? Understand these Five Forces!

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I read an article that took me back to my undergraduate economic/business studies at Bentley University (College when I was there). 

Well took me back to the feelings I had as an undergraduate. 

Allow me to take you back. 

Take you back 10+ years ago to young me sitting in my first Microeconomics class - a class that would yield my lowest grade in my academic career to date might I add. What I remember most about this course were the conversations and the breakdowns between what the book said and how we could apply in real life. I loved this course but I seriously struggled, so much so that the professor actually said I should consider a major change. 

But I stuck with it. I knew, even though I didn’t always get the material at the time, that it was important to know about the incentives that motivated how firms interact with each other and how people interact with firms. Fast forward to now and I’m teaching college courses, mostly economics and finance, including designing original economics courses for business programs. Take that Freshman-Bentley-Econ-Professor-Who-Didn’t-Believe-In-Me! It’s being pragmatic in understanding what motivates people and making everyday economics a skill set that I rely on everyday. Getting to the heart of causality and creating strategies that have real impacts for people and firms. 

Why did I share that with you?!

It’s because of Michael Porter. This article reaffirmed the mission that I have for myself and for Disruptive Strategy. Basically when I grow up (professionally) I want to be in a similar position to him. Porter is a strategist, economist, and professor that has done an amazing amount of work touting the benefits of competitive systems to get and keep economies moving and growing.

Reading this article made me feel like that undergraduate that had a world of possibilities in front of them. It helped me remember that the skills and the tools that I’ve been sharpening over the last decade not only have value but are needed by people and firms because it’s more than what simple Google searches and templates can provide. 

One of my favorite systems of his is the Porter 5 Forces Model and I wanted to share it with you. Since its inception strategic consultants, planners, and advisors have been using this system as a basis to create strategy for firms of all sizes. The kicker is that it’s based in pretty topical economic theory - remember the things that “shift” a supply and demand curve, or how markets find equilibrium, or better still price elasticity of demand?? 

Yup, it all comes from there!

Here’s what you need to know about the 5 Forces Model to be a better strategist: 

There are 5 Forces that drive companies in competitive markets: 

- The threat of available substitutes
- Amount of buyers and their bargaining power
- Amount of sellers and their bargaining power
- Rivalry/competition within a market - number of existing players
- Barriers to enter a market

Substitutes 

When bringing a product or service to market you have to consider the available substitutes. How much do they cost? How close is the experience to your product or service? What might differentiate you or how can you increase your value/perceived value? There are lots of tablets out on the market now but, why do people choose to buy an iPad? Why might someone choose Google’s Nexus 7? How can you position yourself to be perceived as a niche product or service?

Buyers

Can the buyers work together to have an affect on a market? What kind of information are you providing for your buyers? What is the collective experience of your consumer? Do you have a product or service that allows for multiple points of entry at differing price levels? Is the experience so streamlined that consumers can always expect a certain experience? Are you building stakeholders or are just banking on perceived obsolescence? Think your cable company. Odds are if you call complain and leave their prices won’t need to change because there are more than enough subscribers willing and able to pay the prices that they ask for. But, if you everyone in your town/city cut the cord and subscribed to Hulu and Netflix then the cable company might have to listen to the concerns of the consumer. 

Sellers 

Can you benefit from pitting sellers/vendors/distributors against each other for your business? Can you diversify the way you collect your inputs? Are there any suppliers that would help you grow your economies of scale - reducing your average costs over the long term. When you enter a market or are thinking about making your product unique it’s crucial to consider your supply chain. If there are any hiccups or if you choose cheap over value then that might have an effect on the quality or consistency of your own products. 

Rivalries between existing firms 

It’s important to assess where other firms are in your market. What kind of market is it? There will be big differences between how you approach an oligopolistic market vs something where there is a bit more competition. It’s also important to monitor how the market behaves. What I mean by that is keeping track of how things are marketed or how fast products/services change. An example would be Apple’s iPads and iPhones. It used to be that those were launched about annually but because technology is changing so fast it’s moved up to about a 10 month release time for new stuff or at least updates to existing stuff. When doing your branding or positioning seeing what the currents are doing will help you better utilize whatever resources you have available. Nothing worse than marketing in a place where no one is looking. So identify your markets and who consumers as well as firms identify themselves. 

Barriers to entry

What will it take to enter a market or just start a business? What are the costs or investment necessary to be a competitor? Are there any obstacles as far as availability of resources to get you going? What are tax liabilities or government policies that need to be taken into consideration? Nothing worse than being in business for a while then getting slammed with a tax bill that you weren’t even close to being prepared for. Are there distribution channels available for what you are doing or do you have to create your own? You might be in business already and need some help gaining some scope on growing - so it’s important that you understand the questions to ask to get the best information to overcome barriers. 

I know went over these 5 Forces really fast and it’s a lot of questions to ask or even try to answer. There's a benefit though in even starting to think about this stuff. When you start to think about these forces and answers these questions some really neat stuff happens. You start to get really clear on what sets you apart in your market. You start to see what your (real) competitive landscape looks like and you start to see how you can continue to add value to people's lives. 

I just realized how long this post is going, so if you are still with me - you are awesome! Awesome and exactly the kind of person I want being part of this community. I want to do more on creating strategy and using the 5 Forces Model so if you have questions on application or making this more pragmatic please shoot them along by signing up for the Disruptive Strategy Newsletter!
 

Prepare for 2018 Like a Pro

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The last few weeks of the year are always interesting productivity and business growing monsters. It’s a balance between enjoying the holiday season, not giving up on your goals and trying to get a hold of people who may or may not be checked out already. What I love most about these few weeks though is that they are great for putting your head down and sprinting towards making good on your 2017. The close second to that is that they are also great times to reflect a bit in your business. 

It’s a great time to be a little honest and a little raw about the level of effort you put into your business this year. In this post I’m going to share with you an outline you can use to review your efforts this year or as an agenda for year end conversations you may be having with your team. 

Before jumping right into the outline I want to share with you a bit of a framework you should follow first if you really plan on getting anything useful out of this reflection exercise. 

Prepare 

This is a big one most businesses owners I talk to just gloss over. They gloss over it because they think that everything they need to think about in terms of what their business did over the course of the year is just floating around in their brain. Wrong. What’s floating around in your brain are the misremembered experiences and perspectives you’ve help through the year that your brain chose to hold on to. It’s your view of your business through either rose colored or excuse tinted lenses. If you’re going to take this reflection seriously you need to have an objective view of what you were or weren’t able to accomplish. So pull out those financials, bank statements, social media dashboards, etc. 

Set the tone 

Sounds simple but it’s important not to skip. You shouldn’t be going into this exercise looking for only the things you did wrong. You want to celebrate the things you did right too! This reflection process should be about identifying where you can continue to grow in your business and how your current capabilities and capacity map against the goals you want to set for yourself in the coming year. 

Review performance expectations

Whether you actively think about it or not as a business owner you have a job description. These are the task, responsibilities and actions towards outcomes you committed to when you started the business. Reviewing the expectations you set for yourself everyday will help to measure your performance against the reality of growing a business. This is where being honest is important because it’s easy to rationalize why something you committed to didn’t get done when you’re the one holding yourself accountable. The real test is being honest about the dedication or commitment you showed up to work everyday with. Again, don’t get bogged down if you had a spell or two of lacking enthusiasm every time you sat at your desk. The entrepreneurial journey is less of a check mark and more of a rollercoaster - it’s about the patterns of activity over time that really matter. 

Notes on goal setting 

There are a million and a half ways to set goals. Finding the one that works for you is important but regardless of what system you use I want to make sure that you are setting goals in targeted areas, that build on your strengths, that develop you as a professional and finally that are aligned with your values. If you’re setting goals that don’t matter to you or that you can’t commit to then it doesn’t matter what’s at the end of that rainbow because you’re never going to get there. They should stretch and challenge you but not be so far out of your abilities or habits that you just chalk them up as a loss subconsciously before you even start. #newyearnewyou

Make sure you schedule time to follow up

It’s unfair to expect that you can do this work now, file it away and just figure that you’re on the right path without checking in at this time next year. My recommendation is to break your goals and plans out by month so that you can check in along the way. It’s ok if your course changes over time because you’ll be actively assessing what’s important to you and your business and what’s not. Following up will help fight the self sabotage (something that I am super guilty of) and help you build momentum as you start to hit benchmarks and see real growth. Plus, you’re executing on one of my favorite sayings of all time - “What gets measured, gets managed”. 

So now that we’ve set the stage below here is some swipe copy you can use to run your year end review conversations. This works as a self reflection exercise as well as a conversation with your contractors, team members or employees. The headings should apply to most people and I’ve added some question primers to help you think through those headings but feel free to add or subject the reflection questions based on what feels right for the body of your work in 2017. 

Agenda for Annual Review

Planning/Teamwork

What did you accomplish? What worked well? What didn’t? 

Attitude Toward Assignments

Where there types of work that you enjoyed more than others? Types of customers? Where your employees or team on board with what was asked of them? Did the work you do feel authentic to you? 

Knowledge of Duties

Did you feel like an expert in your job? Did you have the technical skills to deliver the value you promised to your customers? 

Your Community

How connected were you to the community you serve? What kind of connections did you create? Where did you add value to the networks that you are a part of? 

Working Relationships and Cooperation with Other Personnel

Did you play nice in your sandbox? Where their situations or relationships that could’ve gone better? Did you (and your team) create an experience or environment that encouraged people to do their best work? Do you feel like you managed your time, team or expectations appropriately? 

Operations 

Did you have a system for moving your business forward every week? How did you measure success or growth? Is that a fair way to measure it going forward? If you breakdown your work process are there places where you might be able to delegate or create efficiencies? How much time did you spend working in your business vs. on your business. 

Response to Assignments or Body of Work

Were their projects or works delivered that you weren’t proud of? Were proud of? What went well? What didn’t? 

Conformance to Work Schedules, Assignments and Instructions

Did you deliver on time every time? Were you honest about the time you put into your business this year? Do you plan on working more? Less? How can you work smarter? Did you manage your customers expectations of your work deliverables and timing? 

By the Numbers

What did this years quantitative data look like compared to last years? Are there any patterns of note? How are you going to use what you learned this year for next year’s: budgets, calendars, sales activities, inventory management, content planning, engagement, and other trackable metrics?

Goals for Next Year

What is important to you? What do you care about? What value are you going to deliver to people? How are you going to measure success? How are you going to get people to pay attention to you? 

That's it! 

Keep the notes before the agenda and the agenda in mind when you're thinking about how you're going to prepare for 2018 and you'll be setting yourself up for success because you're doing it from an honest place. There's no worse feeling then looking at the New Year all bright eyed and bushy tailed only to set goals that will doom you from the start. Don't forget to make this process your own. What I've outlined for you here really is the bones of a process. Some of it may not apply to you or your team and that's ok. Just take some time, mentally prepare to be honest and set good goals to help launch you to your next levels of success in 2018!

Do This To Make 2018 Your Best (Business) Year

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Short post today because I want you to do less reading and more watching! 

This time of year is a great time for reflection, for figuring out what worked and what didn't and for thinking about the changes you want to make for yourself and your business in 2018. 

It's a great time for innovation. It's a great time to challenge your (and the market's) assumptions to try to figure out how you can deliver more value to the people you serve. Being innovative is not a new topic nor is it a concept that only applies to tech companies. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency advocates are innovating right now with the start of Bitcoin Futures. 

In this TED Talk Joi Ito talks about how innovation isn’t just for agile software. It can be applied in any industry and as Joi says it’s “bottom up, democratic, and chaotic”. This TED Talk might be a little dated, 2014, but the heart of the message still very much applies. 

And, I loved it. 

While Joi talks a lot about his projects, the sciences, and big data I believe his message absolutely applies to entrepreneurs and more specifically about strategy and business development. When you are trying to grow your business there are a lot of moving pieces you have to constantly be considering. Being a now-ist embodies what it means to create strategy, react to the sentiment of the market and to make real choices everyday or your customers will just find someone else. Being a now-ist also means not worrying about having every perfect resource or a plan that maps out your business over the next three years. It means that you figure out what’s important to you and you move forward from there. Real information, real decisions, real people and real results. 

If you are facing the start of the week or the end of 2017 a little discouraged I encourage you to give this TED Talk a watch and to challenge you to deploy on Ito's message. 

Avoid Burnout By Prioritizing Systems Over Passion

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Passion and building a business go together like Nutella and....anything.  Sometimes though, you need to take the spoon out of the Nutella jar and think more about how you’re building your business instead of how delicious the experience is. 

Really. 

What this post is going to focus on is how systems will trump passion (most) every time. I 100% believe that grit, as a function of passion, can play a big role in your business’s success but it’s not a sustainable and repeatable activity. Businesses have seasons just like anything else in life. Your passion is important to help you ride out those rough seasons but it’ll be the systems that keep you moving forward. 

This might sound harsh but I’m going to start by calling passion out. 

Passion needs to  fall behind systems for entrepreneurs because it’s inconsistent. It’s easy to be passionate about something when it’s going well. In fact, entrepreneurs experience a passion snowball when their efforts are being rewarded by either revenues coming in or growing exposure. What happens when things aren’t going right for you? What happens when it gets hard? Well, coming up with the passion to keep pushing forward gets to be more draining and there’s a chance that feelings of doubt and regret start to creep in. It’s normal for passion to ebb and flow or even change all together. The challenge is not trying to build a sustainable business on a passion platform alone. 

Enter Systems. 

Passion is great for setting goals, shaping vision and setting your business's values. Passion is the rawest most authentic version of your business. You need those things and that rawness for any strategy to be really effective. Why? Because people connect with passion. When it comes to making the operational choices that matter in your business, passion and goals alone shouldn’t be the deciding factors. You need systems to help you evaluate whether or not a decision is worth making for you business. You need systems to make sure that your customers get the very best experience every time and you need systems to help keep you passion in check. 

So what is a system then. I want you to think about systems as recipes for your business that you cook in repeatable intervals. Think of like baking a cake for your business every day, week, month etc. Only instead of something delicious like red velvet it’s more nutritious for your business like writing blog posts, keeping track of expenses or even just dedicated times for cultivating new prospects and leads. Systems should be simply designed to be repeatable and specific like any good recipe. 

That’s it.


It’s a simple idea that is not always easy in practice. It shouldn’t matter how you feel that day, what the economic environment is looks like around you (short-term market variability), or if you are lucky or not. What matters is that you have a set group of actions designed to produce results that creates efficiencies for you. 

An example might be blogging. Let’s assume that I’ve already proven to you that blogging for your business is a worthwhile endeavor. For me, I’m very passionate about teaching business owners like you to build sustainable businesses but, there are some days that I might not feel like “showing up”. And I haven’t. My goal here is to show up every week but if you go back through the posting dates you’ll be able to see a few posts that stretch a little longer than a week.

How can you and I keep building a relationship if you can’t rely on me to show up and hopefully deliver amazing content to your eye-holes? My system for blogging is built into my morning routines and rituals so that it’s part of what I do every (read: most) week(s). Passion starts and stops in the mind but it’s the system that puts my hands to work. 

Systems also create opportunities for you to collect and objectively evaluate your business’s data. As business owners, using passion as a way to distribute resources or making choices can get a little confusing. Passion is inconsistent and in your business you can’t afford to make choices inconsistent for a whole number of customer experience reasons. It’s important to be able to take stock of what you're doing and measure it against your goals or how you define success. 

Systems trump passion because they help to build momentum. Even the smallest systems, like getting a run in every day at lunch can help you keep your momentum going. Why? Because you have started and finished something. Not only that but it’s in an effort to reaching the goals that your passion helped set. It’s the feeling of doing the work and not just wanting the want. 

Here’s my challenge to you and your business. Find your goals and post them somewhere so that your brain can let them go. Then go out and create the incremental systems that will outline the actions you need to take everyday to find that success you chose for yourself. They can be qualitative or quantitative but the point is to take action. Don’t forget to keep track and analyze along the way. 

Finding efficiencies or opportunities for competitive advantage is a good thing :)  You are trying to plan out any space or time where a wavering passion might get in the way of reaching your goals. Anyone can set a goal and for proof think of all the times you or your friends set a goal, stressed about it a bit, and then stopped caring because their passion evaporated. What will set you apart is deciding what work to do and how to do it - then doing it! 

Take the long the view on what you want and start working your systems today! 
 

Stay Focused And Get More Done This Holiday Season

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This is the best of times and the worst times when it comes to managing your business.

Very Charles Dickens. 

Rapid fire holidays means lots of opportunities to get out from behind your computer or office and have a little fun. But it also means that everyone else is doing it too and, if you are running or growing a business it can be challenging. Challenging to get a hold of clients, get invoices paid, and even deliver your products. This post has 5 tips to keep your business focused this holiday season. You can be sure that I’m doing these since I plan on power-eating my way through the end of this Thanksgiving week. 

1. Get aggressive with your systems.

If you’ve been lax on your follow up now’s the time to tighten up. Especially if you are looking to get paid on your outstanding invoices. I use Freshbooks and it’s a huge help to send gentle pokes out reminding clients that they need to cut those checks before they sneak out of their offices. Stick to your checklists, schedules, and planned times as well. The more deliberate you are with how your time is allocated for meetings, etc the more efficient you will be with that time. 

2. Get festive!

A few decorations can help go a long way with your productivity. Even some minor holiday trinkets can be just enough to satisfy those impulses to go out and enjoy the season. A little color and change can help keep you focused and foster an environment you aren’t racing to leave every day. It can also help to get you and your team re-engaged as the act of decorating can be a community building activity. Holiday’s can be a great opportunity to add a little depth to the relationships you are building professionally as well - so be sensitive to the diversity of your crowd but don’t be shy! 

3. New projects.

While lots of businesses are sprinting towards the year end there is always the chance of burning out the teams that support you (or even yourself). So use the next few weeks to plan, execute, and evaluate a new project. Not to add extra work but to keep you motivated. If there has been something you’ve been putting off nows the time. Between trying to get a hold of people and your own delivery you may have some extra time. Use it to add value. By the end of the year you will have something completed and can use that momentum to ring in 2013...along with all the housekeeping that goes into sweeping up 2012. 

4. Manage expectations.

Benchmarks and goals are great but they have to be achievable to make the most impact. If you are coming on the the year end and you are grossly underperforming in any of the goals you set for your business it’s time to re-evaluate. Actually that’s what your quarterly check-ins should be used for but we all get “busy” sometimes. So plan for the rest of this year from today. What can you and your business do today to finish the year strong. Re-evaluations don’t have to be a bad thing and can recharge your business and your team. Then at the end of the year/beginning of next year use what you’ve actually done to forecast for next year. Please please please don’t just marginally increase your goals by some arbitrary or even industry stated percentage. Create goals that are lofty but not such that you become inactive all together just incase you miss a benchmark or two. Remember reaching goals creates momentum and that’s what keeps you moving forward. 

5. Use motion.

Move around. Stand up while you work. Creating motion and movement during your day can really help keep you focused. It’s the long periods of sitting or solitude that really do us in during this time of year. If you are a solopreneur invite someone to just share some space and that will help foster that movement. Take breaks often but plan them strategically - use them as a reward for instance - and move around. Movement gets different parts of your brain firing,  oxygen rich blood flowing and delivering glycogen to the brain which can be great for critical thinking. Plus you never know where you might find some inspiration! 

I hope this list helps keep you focused as you are trying to finish out the year strong. The worst thing you can do is just throw your hands up and do nothing because that’s what you expect everyone else to be doing. I won’t be doing that and I’m one of the everyone. I plan on using this time to keep growing, keep networking, and build some steam so when the first Monday comes in 2018 I’ll be well on my way to making it my best year yet. 

If you have any tips that help keep you motivated around this time of year I would love to hear them! Please feel free to leave your comments below :)  
 

Make The Most Out Of This Busy Season

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Don’t let the latest NFIB report get you down. Better still don’t let it slow you down. Here’s what’s going on. The National Federation of Independent Businesses puts out a report called the Small Business Optimism Index and in its last report a few key indicators dropped by as much as 3 points from September to October 2017. Overall though there was a slight increase, which is a good thing. Up to this point Earnings Trends, Expected Credit Conditions and Plans to Increase Inventories took the biggest hits which means business owners up to then have been a little apprehensive about growth through the fall season. 

But, that’s all about to change as the holiday spending season starts to ramp up and as consumer confidence starts to build. 

Small businesses are really excited this season reporting more job openings and higher expectations that spending and the overall economy will improve. That’s a really good thing. To summarize a few points it is reporting that about 21% of business owners polled claim that they expect real sales to be higher, 32% expect the economy to improve and 35% claim they have current openings they are unable to fill. It might looks like a mixed back on the surface but it’s looking like there’s going to be a strong finish to the year. Which means, regardless of how you’ve done so far your business you can still hit the goals you set for it. 

Don’t let a few lagging indicators negatively affect your business!

While these reports are helpful for getting a gauge on what’s happening on a macro scale you shouldn’t let reports like this be an excuse for not performing your best. Every business has hurdles but it’s how you deal with them that will dictate your successes. 

My advice is just to power through. Here are a few places to start: 

Take a look at your margins and other operational metrics to see how you can make your business leaner and more efficient. I want you to think about how you can get the absolute most out of the resources you currently have access to. If you can’t instantly bring more money in right away then look to see if you can create some cost savings and streamlining. 

After that start reaching out. Reach out to current clients, past customers, anyone that might be a stakeholder and ask them about their experience with your business. Get some feedback or ask for a testimonial. A drop in an index doesn’t mean that the act of business is coming to a halt it just means that you have to get creative and strategic about making your deliverable unique. 

Focus on the service. Whether you are customer or operations-centric it’s important to never dismiss people the people that are paying you. Especially when it’s so easy to use pricing/discounting as a sales weapon. Don’t get me wrong I love a good sale but if you aren’t careful you could price yourself right out of business. So focus on adding value, focus on the service and the interaction people have when they engage your brand. If someone is paying you for something then they should have your full attention. It’s that attention that will keep them coming back. 

This post wasn’t supposed to be a list of how to not get bogged down by a mixed bag of business owner opinions but it ended up that way.
I’m not mad about it. 

There is always something that can be done to push your business forward even when the news says the opposite. Remember that there are outliers in any statistical representation, there’s always a standard deviation. So shoot for that. Don’t just say you are different be different. Use Twitter and Facebook to engage with your constituent base. Start a kickstarter campaign for a cause with your business leading it - do something to show people you and your business cares. But most of all don’t just go through the motions. You have to mean it! If you aren’t genuine in your efforts you will be as obvious and as snake-oily to spot as the person who shows up to networking events trying to bulldog-pitch-a-sale at every conversation. 

Don’t be that person. 

No one likes that person.


If you're looking for a little more hands-on help then you should totally check out Disruptive Strategy Co.'s new HIRE page. Booking a Disruptive Strategy Power Hour gives us the opportunity to work one on one and to create a tailored plan so that you can stop using the spray and pray approach to growing your business. 


Want A Better 2018? Put Your Customers First!

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It’s getting to be that time again, holidays and end of year planning. This time of year can mean a few different things for the businesses out there trying to do great things. If you’re in retail it’s go time for you, the fun is just getting started. If you’re a CPA you might be heading into year end filings. If you’re in the construction trades you might be winding down. As 2017 comes to a close businesses find themselves in a few different seasons when it comes to their development cycles. One thing always stays the same though regardless of your industry.

The drive to get better in 2018.

This time of year my Audible library is especially full. I spend a little more time exploring and screening all the fun entrepreneurship books and titles that promise to help business owners be better. There are tons of great books out there from classics like “The $100 Start Up”, “Four Hour Work Week”, and “The Lean Startup” to “Reinventing You” and “Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days”. I’m seeing that there’s a bit of a lack of care though in one particular area, a business development hurdle of sorts.

That hurdle is really caring about the customer experience.

Sure, lots of resources ask you to survey your audiences, interview your customers and try to learn as much as you can about their pains and what they are willing to pay to solve them. That’s all well and good because it’s a function of getting your product or service into the hands of the people that really need it. And, I am all for efficiencies, especially when capital is hard to come by. These books really are great resources if you are looking to jump into something and go from zero to launch as quickly as you can. But, books like this do a really great job at giving you the initial energy and know how to get something MVP’ed out then sold and kind of leave you there.

If you’re trying to build real momentum in 2018 they leave you wanting for a little more about curating the customer experience and building for longevity in those customers.

Going straight from idea to sale which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just short term thinking leading to short term money. I’ve been witnessing a push for entrepreneurs to create, validate and build revenue only to sell the business they just created or be absorbed, aqui-hired, etc.

It’s a Hollywood Effect - you see the big players all over media and think to yourself, if they can do it why can’t I? I’m not saying don’t go for it, I am saying that it will be work, and lots of it, so be prepared.

*Stepping on to Soap Box* I tend to think less about MVP’s and more about customer experience and longevity of the firms I work with. It’s the stability that creates jobs that puts dollars into pockets and bolsters economies of all sizes. Granted an Instagram size acquisition will put get some a nice paycheck but the economic impact of that windfall can be limited depending on the intent and value of the nouveau rich. *Stepping off Soap Box*

Things to think about whether you are starting a new business or have been in business for years looking towards delivering the best possible customer experience:

1. What is the customer walking away with?

Are they just another walking wallet or user? What value is your product or service providing and is it doing that well enough to warrant a return customer? If you’re struggling with why they bought from you then you should check out last week’s post about buyer motivation.

2. What kind of impact do you see your business having on your community?

Communities don’t have to be the immediate neighborhoods, cities or towns you operate out of. Even on the web those that support, interact, and engage with you are part of your community. On top of the value from consuming what intangibles do your stakeholders get when they become part of your community. Are you furthering a cause? Do you have a mission? Give back? Maybe just a company that prides itself on its own integrity and that is enough to make customers want to keep coming back?

3. Don’t worry about price points right away or rushing to production.

Take time in making sure the quality of what you produce is where you want it. I’m not saying it has to be perfect but it should be something you can be proud of. Creativity and energy is going to keep pushing you to adjust and improve on the fly. If you rush to MVP and it flops will you have the time, energy, resources, and pride to see it through the creation/production cycle again.

These are only a few points I wanted to bring up. Making better decisions, cultivating real relationships with your customers and growing your business takes time. So if you’re serious about getting better in 2018 you have at least a full month head start on your competition. So start now.

Every creative and development process is a little different as there are lots of business models and platforms to build on. Don’t waste time trying to find the perfect model or methodology for your business. Spend all that time you’d usually allocate to Google searching the best way to get your customers to like you on actually engaging with your customers.

After reading this post I want you thinking about your business in a qualitative way and less of a how-can-I-pitch-this-if-I-were-on-Shark-Tank kind of way.


If you're looking for a little more hands-on help then you should totally check out Disruptive Strategy Co.'s new HIRE page. Booking a Disruptive Strategy Power Hour gives us the opportunity to work one on one and to create a tailored plan so that you can stop using the spray and pray approach to growing your business. 


The Top Three Buyer Motivations

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In today’s post I want to get straight to the point. I’m going to outline the biggest reasons why people buy from you and I want you to see if your marketing, branding or actions map appropriately to your customer’s motivations.

Here are the big three:

1. Impulse.

Have you ever been scrolling through Amazon and hit that “Add to Cart” button out of instinct? You weren’t hunting for anything in particular but it felt good to make that purchase. Amazon is really good at showing you things it thinks you’ll like, need or could want and they know that everyone likes an easy dopamine hit. You also get those good feelings because your brain rewards you for engaging in a behavior that’s rooted in survival - like storing food for the winter, getting a perceived good deal, or avoiding FOMO. Your brain gives you that quick dopamine hit and you enjoy the benefits of your purchase in the short term.

Is your product or service recreationally based? Is your value proposition tied directly to providing an amazing customer experience? If it is then you should think carefully about how you’re rewarding your buyers in the now or immediate future. Nerf does an amazing job of this for it’s customers of all ages - it’s a brand that is the physical embodiment of fun. You might not be selling soft foam toys but you might be able to glean a thing or two from Nerf’s marketing if you’re counting on your customer’s instincts to buy.

2. Reflex or Reaction.

When people are buying out of reflex or reaction they are addressing an immediate need or problem. If your toilet is flooding in the middle night and you call a 24-hour plumber, that plumber is charging you a premium to help you solve that problem. Out of sugar when you’re baking cookies means you’re running to the grocery store. Struggling with marketing, received a cease and desist order, or need help building your business development efforts means your engaging with the appropriate professional services provider. I think you get it.

If your product or service solves a specific problem then you need to figure out what situations best create the opportunity for someone to find and use what you’re offering. Is your marketing mapping to the times when people need you most? Are you leading with the value you provide in those tricky situations? What about how much better someone’s life is after they engage with you? Understanding your customer’s biggest motivators or “why” for needing you will help position your business for success because you won’t just be listing your features or benefits. Remember, people don’t go to the hardware store to buy a power drill you’re selling the hole the drill makes.

3. Aspirationally.

The promise of change can be a big motivator for people. Right now we are living in a world where one of the biggest draws in something like a new phone is its ability to get smarter. I know this first hand because I bought the new Pixel 2 XL because of Google’s promise that their AI would get smarter which means it will help me be more productive. Yes I needed a new phone but aspirationally I’m always looking for better ways to do more and be more and this phone tugged at all the right heart strings for me. The promise of being better is why online courses, fitness programs, and even some professional/life coaches sell so well. It’s because customers engage because they believe that going through a process or consuming a product/service will make their lives better.

Having the power to sell aspirationally is a power that you need to wield carefully. Well it’s actually less Spiderman’s Uncle Ben and more of a King Arthur’s Excalibur (double edged sword.) The reason? Of all the ways to position your business to your customers, aspirationally is by far one of the easiest. It’s easy to come up with words of inspiration and promises of change. What’s hard is delivering the value on that promise. What’s hard is getting people to finish the online course they started with you, to take your advice and actually do something with it and to stick to the diet the fitness program outlines. That’s why it’s a double edged sword. Not only that but the market is overcrowded with hucksters that will gladly take money from a customer and be happy with delivering a mediocre at best experience. So, if you’re business is promising a transformation or a benefit that makes someone’s life better you need to make sure you have the chops to deliver.

Now you’re challenge.

I challenge you to take a hard look at your business. I want you to really think about why people engage with you and the value that you deliver. Then you’ll be able to figure out which bucket catches most of what you do. It might not be perfect but it’s important to focus on one of the three reasons why people buy and realign your marketing so that it matches the motivations of your customers. It will help you save money and talk directly to your customers more authentically. There’s no wrong choice here and I’ll give you three examples to match businesses that are doing each one really well.

Note: None of the following businesses are sponsors in any capacity. I just think they are great examples of the reasons why people buy.

Impulse - Vat19.com - https://www.vat19.com/ This site sells really fun and interesting gifts. They have a ton of fun in their videos and on their site and do a great job of inviting you to join in on that fun.

Reaction - Freshbooks - https://www.freshbooks.com This is an small business accounting and invoicing service that steps in when your business needs to up its professional game. They do a great job nurturing small businesses and letting their customers know that they are going to be there when their customers needs them.

Aspirationally - Marie Forleo - https://www.marieforleo.com/ Marie Forleo is a big deal in entrepreneur and business building circles. The reason is because she delivers hard on her promise of helping business builders change their lives so they can build businesses that reflect the “special gift” only they can deliver.

See, no secret formula. Just great marketing celebrating where people are on their buying journey. Best of all these examples aren’t trying to capture everyone. They’ve identified how they deliver value and why their target customers are most likely to buy.

Now, get to work!


If you're looking for a little more hands-on help then you should totally check out Disruptive Strategy Co.'s new HIRE page. Booking a Disruptive Strategy Power Hour gives us the opportunity to work one on one and to create a tailored plan so that you can stop using the spray and pray approach to growing your business. 


Stop Chasing "Sustainable" Competitive Advantage

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There’s no such thing as sustainable competitive advantage. In this post I'm going to help keep you sane while you're looking for your edge. 

This is super important so I want to make sure that you really see this - if you find something that makes your business special you need to squeeze all that you can from it because it will not last. You're then going to need to find something new and the cycle repeats. And, that's ok. 

Disruption and innovation are happening at faster and faster paces and it's not just reserved for companies at scale. It's happening in your neighborhood. 

(If anyone tries to sell you sustainable competitive advantage as part of their “consulting package”, you can tell them to knock it off.) 

Differentiation tends to lose its edge over time. When people see that your business found something that works you shouldn't be surprised to see your competitors also trying similar things. Competitive advantage by its very definition is a fleeting notion - it’s something you are always going to have to work towards.

The reason?

It’s because people’s tastes, expectations, values change over time. In your business you have to constantly be working towards satisfying the needs of your clients and customers to be successful.

No secret there.

At the same time though you have to be thinking about ways to continue to create that awesome value while keeping your own overhead and expenses as lean as possible. Again, no soul shattering revelations. 

These sound like conflicting ideas don't they? In order to grow you have to constantly be on the look out for the next big thing while also being consistent in the products and services you're already offering? Well, it's less of a "this or that" and more of a "yes, and..". What connects these two ideas is the fact that while the problems you solve may change the customer's experience with you and your business stays great. Just looking for problems to solve, talking about or perpetually planning for solving problems will in no way, shape, or form guarantee your business’s success. 

This post isn’t really about finding new competitive advantages. It’s about teaching you to recognize that your business's success depends on creating consistent value for people not just about chasing gimmicks.

You’re looking for your “Big Mac”. Seriously. Anywhere in the US you can walk into a McDonald’s, order a “Big Mac” and have your expectations on that product/experience be met. Why? Because McDonald’s makes it the exact same way every time. 

Wondering why I didn't say Szechuan Sauce? With all the news around fans of the show "Rick and Morty", McDonald's is doing a great job of being a hype machine without actually delivering any value. It's a gimmick that will pass and because McDonald's doesn't have the agility to really capitalize on this fandom in an efficient way. That means I will probably never get to taste that sweet sweet sauce and McDonald's loses the specific and opportunistic competitive advantage here. 

In order to grow your business and to give yourself the room you need to actually test out ideas, products or services you need to record lots and lots of tries. How can you know which changes helped to grow your business when you changed lots of stuff at the same time? Better still, are you changing something on a weekly basis?

No bueno. 

I love the Lean Startup model but there is a piece of it I don’t really agree with. The potential customer interviews. Asking people what they want and discovering what they really want are two very different things. You won’t know what people do or don’t want until you ask them to put their debit/credit card information on the line. Here’s how you can work on fostering growth in your business.

The best advice I can give, in terms of a sustainable business model (not competitive advantage), is the same advice I give to my clients looking to iterate, pivot or adapt their business. It’s actually a set of questions I want you to give some honest thought to: 

1. Do you have a system that tracks the entire customer cycle?

2. Are you using that system every single time you in front of a customer? 

3. How big is your market and how many times have you used that system? 

4. Are you solving a relevant and specific problem? (Benefits (NOT features) > Costs)

5. Is your value being clearly communicated? 

6. Are you changing one thing at a time? 

7. How are you measuring success at each stage of your system? 

8. Are you following up and asking “why” with your customers after they buy and even when they don’t?

If you don’t have clearly defined and measured answers to any of these questions don’t innovate, disrupt, adapt, or pivot. You need more data! Figure out what a fair amount of tries are and work from there. Changing your website every day because your products didn’t sell that day is probably not a fair amount of time to test your copy. Before you go changing everything start trying to isolate possible weak spots in your system and change one major variable at a time. This is how you test your market to see if what you’ve changed resonates better and creates more engagement. 

Don’t rush to innovate or pivot. It’s time, money, and emotional energy that you can’t get back and that you probably won’t take the time to measure. Instead focus on the boring - the system. With enough tries you’ll start to see patterns in your business. Patterns with variables you can start to manipulate with intention. That’s the secret to getting the best return on your business. 

It also helps to keep you from going crazy. Which, I guess is a good thing too. 

How do you handle the impulse to constantly innovate, adapt, pivot, or disrupt? Is there a method to your madness? I’d love to see your system in the comments below. 


If you're looking for a little more hands-on help then you should totally check out Disruptive Strategy Co.'s new HIRE page. Booking a Disruptive Strategy Power Hour gives us the opportunity to work one on one and to create a tailored plan so that you can stop using the spray and pray approach to growing your business. 


Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 2

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Welcome to the second half of the Getting Your Business Back On Track series. In this post we are going to close the loop on getting your business or idea back into focus and set up so that you can really lean into growing.

If you’ve just found this post I’d encourage you to follow this link: Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1 and find your answer to the “What am I doing?!” question. Then come right back here.

Now that you’ve found clarity let’s talk about competition and competitive advantage.

The first two questions I want to help you answer are: “How do I map my competition?” and “How much attention should I be paying them?”.

I want to start with the second question because it’s where all the context lives.

Paying attention to you competition is important but it shouldn’t be eating up any real significant part of your business building day. It makes sense to take a peek at your competitors in some kind of systematic way because it will help you validate your ideas, products and services. It will also provide insights as to how your market is reacting to certain types of calls to actions, sales and marketing efforts. Spending time to get an objective view of your competitive landscape can be really helpful when it comes to how you choose to interact with your audience or target market.

The tricky part is getting sucked into a social media creeping black hole. I know that I’m not the only one who’s time-travelled a bit because, what started off as research ended with me creeping through every Tweet, status update and Instagram post. Setting up your notes and calendar to help you manage your research time can be really helpful. And, it keeps that irrational part of your business building brain from squirrelling off into daydreams of the entrepreneurial grass being greener on the other side of your competitions monitors.

If you’re really struggling with how this works just try allocating time once a month to check in on your competitors and try to track the engagement they are getting over time. You should also note that not all engagement is created equal. You should be weighing a testimonial you’re reading from someone’s customer on Facebook very differently than the amount of likes someone’s collecting in their posts. Try to focus on the metrics that could add the most value to how you’re shaping your sales and marketing strategy efforts. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for questions that are being asked, the answers that are given and how those engaged react to both. That right there can create enormous opportunities for you!

Now onto the question of mapping your competition.

First off, yes. Yes, you do have competition. It doesn’t matter how niche your market or how specific your offer you will always battle the choice your customer’s have to make about how they spend their discretionary dollars.

Now that we are all on the same page if you plan on growing your business I’m challenging you to think about all the places your customers could spend their money to reasonably address the problem(s) that your business solves. You’re going to do this by filling in the following blanks:

1. Competitor’s Name.

2. What are the products or services they offer?

3. How are they charging for their products or services?

4. What do you think their competitive advantage is?

5. What are they key features or benefits?

6. What don’t they offer or how are they not addressing the problem you solve?

My recommendation would be to set this up in your favorite spreadsheet app so that you can start to collect lots of data and look for patterns. You can feel free to add to this list as well but I just wanted to make sure that you had a starting point. The boundary you want to stay inside of are people solving the problem you are (or that you’ve identified) having gone through the exercise in part one of this series.

After you’ve collected this information and found a few patterns it’s time to use what you’ve found to your advantage.

Your competitive advantage.

See what I did there?

Your competitive advantage is an objective measure of your ability to deliver value better (or more efficiently) than any of your competitors. Borrowing from my economics lecture notes competitive advantage is an environment where you have an edge in creating value for your customers over your competition. It’s not permanent, contrary to what some gurus might say, and can be achieved by being able to deliver greater value at a lower cost, ownership of some proprietary input or process and even the creation of a laser focused brand.

What competitive advantage is not is a generic promise to having the best customer service. It’s also not your skilled staff, outstanding team, knowledgeable sales people, list of customers on your website or being flexible and responsive. None of that makes you special because it’s expected! If you have to tell your audience that you’re great at the thing they expect as the lowest expectation they have for doing business with you then you are in trouble. Of course you should be knowledgeable and of course you should have great customer service.

If you don’t then I can promise you, you won’t be in business for very long. So, don’t boast about being good at the table stakes and focus instead on the things that make you truly unique. Remember, you may have lots of competitors like the holistic business I outlined for you in part one but you’re the only one that can do business and offer value like you.

If you’ve been really playing the home version of this game up to this point you should be really clear on what your business offers, have an idea of who your competing with, a process for checking in with your market and some guidance on figuring out what makes your business more special than your competitors. This is the place from which you should be making all your future business decisions. Using this data to make decisions around marketing, sales or even just the next piece of content you create will make those decisions exponentially more impactful. These posts were designed to stop you from continuing the spray and pray approach to growing your business. By focusing on your core value and your business’s core identity you can channel your time, money and resources into making decisions that aren’t inspired by chasing the newest marketing fads or trying to serve everyone.

Usually at the end of these blog posts I typically have a spot for you to download a content upgrade or am asking you to answer a question. I’m choosing to skip that ask this time because my real call to action is for you to take this Getting Your Business Back On Track series seriously and do this work. Build the spreadsheets, really grade your competitor’s effectiveness and do the work that’s necessary in building a clear brand that customers want to engage with.

Yes I ended that last sentence with a preposition and no I don’t care because I’m a little fired up in the writing of this conclusion.

Go do the work so you can make great things happen for your business!

Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1

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This is part one of a two part business audit series. In this post I am going to help you get your business running lean and mean and in the next one I'll help you work on a process to grow it.

This post is for anyone that’s been building a business for while or has been stuck in the quagmire of thinking about starting a business. If you fall into either of these camps I’m willing to bet that, more than you’d like to admit, from time to time you pick your head up, look around and think quietly to yourself… 

“What am I doing?” 

This question can be born from a lot of things happening to you on your business journey. It could be that you’ve been trying for a while and haven’t been getting the traction that you want. It could be that you’ve been so focused on making the sale that you’ve diluted your offers over time. It could even be that you’ve been talking about this idea for so long that your inner circle is tired of hearing about it. 

It doesn’t have to be this out of control reactionary business spiral anymore. In this post I’m going to walk you through a quick and dirty business audit that you can do to help you get your idea and your business back on track. The best part is that you can do it any time and as often as you need to get back to clarity. 

Back to business model basics. 

With all the technology, platforms and social networks driving attention to transactions you can quickly over complicate how you deliver your value to your customers and collect payments from your customers. To help get your business model running lean and mean you need to answer these questions. 

1. What are you selling? 

Sounds basic but I want to challenge you to answer this question in terms of specific outcomes for your customers. Is it a product or service and what is the end benefit to your customer for interacting with you. 

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like? 

Transaction life cycle? What does that even mean, right?! What I’m challenging you to think about here is the ‘how’ part of your transaction. More specifically is it as easy as it should be? If people buy from you online is the process streamlined and trustworthy? Do people pay you in one lump sum and you deliver a specific product? Are they paying for a service? How often are they paying and if it’s more than once is the recurring payment method easy and clear? 

3. How did you come up with your current prices? 

Your prices send as strong a message to your target customers as your marketing does. Picking arbitrary numbers because they “felt” right is a terrible way to price. Are your prices tied to your costs? Are they tied to the benefit you're delivering? Why should anyone pay what your asking? Are you the cheapest? Are the customers that are willing and able to buy your product the kinds of customers you are trying to attract. Think back to your intro economics courses; specifically price elasticity of demand for all my economics nerds in the audience.

Yeah, I see you! 

4. What are you tracking? 

I’m a big fan of the saying - “what gets measured gets managed”. I also know that the reality of running a business can be messy at times so I want to encourage you to look at what you’re actually tracking in your business. How are you defining success and are your actions in the business mapping to those metrics? 

5. Can you identify potential gaps in your value proposition? 

I don’t have to tell you that you can’t be all things to all people. But, there may be opportunities to provide additional value for customers. Now this is a slippery slope because it can be easy to squirrel off and build a menu of offerings that you believe can add value to people’s lives. I want to challenge you to think about just those options that fall within the scope of work and deliverables you’re already executing on. 

Those are the five questions I would recommend that you start with to help you get your business back on track. To help give you a little more context let’s do a quick hypothetical example of these questions in action. 

Hypothetical Wellness Coaching Business (HWCB)

Hypothetical Tagline: Teaching you the tools you need to live a happier, healthier life. 

Hypothetical Scenario: HWCB has been in business for over a year and hasn’t had enough interest in the business to justify going full time. Business owner still works part time at a traditional job to make up the income need gap. Over the past year this business has offered everything from reiki, to life coaching, to relationship coaching, to holistic dietary coaching, to essential oil sales and even career coaching. Up to this point business owner continues to “invest” in resources and skills they believe will continue to differentiate them against the sea of other “coaches” in local market. HWCB has even dabbled in creating a course or program offering but has failed to get it launched after a handful of creation attempts. 

Here’s an example of how this business owner could use this audit process: 

1. What are you selling?

Hypothetical Response: HWCB primarily sells a coaching or advisory service. While the reiki and essential oils are also possible revenue generating activities they aren’t the primary way HWCB prefers to interact with customers. The hope was to run an online course or coaching program but it hasn’t come been created yet. 

Takeaway: Prioritize the coaching right now. In this example there are a lot of resources being wasted trying to build out, market and sell all these different services. 

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like?

Hypothetical Response: With reiki and essential oils people pay HWCB directly in person and either get the service or product. With the coaching HWCB sends out an invoice for the month, customers pay through a link in the invoice and then meets weekly with customers. The coaching engagements just ends at the end of the prepaid invoice retainer/fee. No real follow up after the coaching engagement ends. HWCB has to keep track of cash and electronic payments as they clear through different accounts and through different mediums. 

Takeaway: Since HWCB is going focus on coaching there will be no need to handle actual cash anymore. This will simplify the accounting process as well as the scheduling process (time management) as HWCB will be focusing on a single coaching offering. At this point HWCB also didn’t have a good follow up process for after the coaching engagement ended so this should be a point for continued development. 

3. How did you come up with your current prices? 

Hypothetical Response: After doing some superficial searching online and looking around at some local peers the price per hour was just decided to be $100/hr. Felt right. 

Takeaway: Don’t use YOUR feelings to price. Dig deeper into the value you offer as well as accounting for any relevant experience, successes or credentials you hold. Those things may help you command a premium. Digging deeper into customer profiles could also give you a better idea of what they might be willing and able to pay for your services. Keeping an eye on competition is important because you want to be relatively competitive but that shouldn’t be the only pillar you use to price. 

4. What are you tracking? 

Hypothetical Response: Not really anything because HWCB isn’t really doing much. Why bother?

Takeaway: This is a toxic business building mindset. Tracking nothing means you can, with some real certainty, expect nothing. With a business in this stage and upon getting to this point where HWCB has resolved to focus on coaching my recommendation would be to focus on:

1. Sales activities: referrals generated, emails sent out, consults scheduled, coaching programs sold per month, etc. 

2. Success metrics: How much have people’s lives improved? 

3. Content Schedule: What is HWCB doing every week to provide value to people that find HWCB in the places it turns up online. 

Even with just these three ideas HWCB can start to build some consistency into how the business is being run and potentially grown. 

5. Can you identify potential gaps in your value proposition? 

Hypothetical Response: Thought I was doing that with my essential oil sales and other services I offered. 

Takeaway: Wrong. What HWCB was doing was confusing the main offering, what they were essentially best at. In this example it might be beneficial to see if there’s a level two version of the coaching offering. Maybe HWCB focuses on coaching a person through a specific problem with a specific outcome goal in mind and can foresee that down the road there will be another, different, set of obstacles. Maybe there’s a resource like a book or a web tool that can be recommended to augment the newly focused coaching process. These are things that could enhance the business not just a spray and pray approach to solving everyone’s problems all the time at any stage in their lives. 

Final Takeaway: At this point hopefully it’s clear that HWCB should get more focused on a coaching offering specifically, make the offer clear, solicit prices that makes sense, keep the transaction simple, sprint towards getting great results for people that can be shared and get laser focused on the sales and marketing tracking aspects. Selling more and different stuff doesn’t make HWCB attractive to more people, it scares them away because they aren’t confident that HWCB can do any of them well. By doing these things HWCB has stripped away all the extra stuff that was just consuming resources and frees up time, money and even mental space to do the work that will matter most for the business. 

If you’re a health and wellness business I hope this was helpful for you and even if you’re not you can still get a ton of insight on your business by going through this process. This will help you get to the heart of the work that matters most in your business but you have to be absolutely honest with the process. 

Otherwise you’re just playing business and nothing will get better. 

I STILL WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Below this post is a one question survey. I’d love to help you with what you're struggling with when it comes to your business development. I’m promising to do my best to get back to everyone that responds. 

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Is #Hustle Hurting Your Business?

If you’re the kind of entrepreneur or business owner that uses #hustle after every social post then this blog post is for you. I want to try to scratch the surface on what #hustle really is and if you’re constantly #hustlehard’ing, what kind of damage could you actually be doing to your business. 

Let’s start by trying to get to the heart of #hustle. Immediately below this text is a 2:00 video from Gary Vaynerchuk (the OG of #hustle) defining what #hustle means to him. Give it a quick watch and then we’ll catch-up. 

Ok, so “squeezing every last bit of juice out of the orange”, “maximizing the energy you’re putting into somebody”, and “putting all your effort into achieving the goal you have at hand”. I think those are probably the best little bits out of that video because they are objective - mostly. They also convey a lesson that almost anyone can apply wherever they are on their entrepreneurial journey. In the rest of the video he goes on about how he doesn’t have Friday nights because he uses that time to hustle, hiring an assistant, etc. Those are things that are Gary Vaynerchuk specific and unfortunately the things that people pay the most attention to. 

I think, for the most part, he does a great job in this video conveying the heart of what #hustle is and at the same time there are a lot of people that get this concept very wrong. They get it wrong because they try to map their goals against someone like Gary Vaynerchuk’s. They map their activity against what he documents and throws out all over the web. They map his actions in growing the multiple businesses he’s responsible for to the business they are growing.

And, that’s a problem. 

It’s a problem because every business owner has different strengths, capabilities and are at different stages. What happens when you map where you are today against what someone like Gary Vaynerchuk has built over decades? You end up with an abundance of entrepreneurs confusing spammy sales techniques and short-cut growth tactics with sustainable and authentic business growth. 

Let’s do a real time experiment. I challenge you to open up Instagram and search the #hustle tag. Even though there’s a gap between the writing of this post and you doing this exercise I guarantee the results will be the same. You’re going to see THOUSANDS of posts with quotables, hacky business guru’s giving generic advice, Ferraris and lots of fitness model types either trying to grow their brand or sell you something like Herbalife. 

This is my problem with #hustle. Anyone can take a few minutes and Google an image then use an app to throw some advice-y text over it and position themselves as an expert. You end up doing something that feels like work and even delivers the great little accomplishment dopamine hit we all chase but, it’s probably not going to be the activity that delivers the most value for your business. 

I know that’s not everyone so let’s divide people up into a few simple categories. 

Category 1: Are some of these accounts capturing moments of “squeezing every last bit of juice out of the orange”, “maximizing the energy you’re putting into somebody”, and “putting all your effort into achieving the goal you have at hand”? 

Sure. 

Category 2: Are some of them trying to emulate the activity they see work for larger accounts, capitalize on a popular # or are idealizing the act of working 100 hour weeks? 

Also, sure. 

Ok so you did this little experiment and are now thinking, so what? 

This applies less to the people that fall in the first category and more into the second. The ones that confuse the amount activity or the amount of hours they're working with #hustle. It’s a problem because they are using a volume metric to measure success for their business. 

It’s my goal to help you avoid burnout and the damage can go along with blindly #hustleharder’ing. Burnout is a very real issue because just working harder may end up costing you money, time and even important relationships you could otherwise leverage your business growth against. #hustle can also be unsustainable and even worse could possibly convince you to quit too soon because your not getting the results that your favorite social guru may be getting. 

I want to see you grow your business at rates that make sense for you. I want to see you reach the goals you set for yourself and deliver the value you’re promising to the people that you serve. So I’ve come up with a few questions you can ask yourself when you’re floating around online and realize that you’re not living the life that social media says you should be. 

Below is a list of things to think about when you’re feeling like you’re not #hustleharder’ing enough: 

1. Are you doing more of the Deep Work - the work that really matters in your business? Or, are you just plowing through a to-do list full of tasks where you’re just playing in the business? 

2. Are you trying to sell to everyone instead of spending the time to really get to know your customers and figuring out how they could best be served? 

3. Are you tracking the handful of metrics that matter most in your business? Like: units sold, number of contacts required to get to a sales meeting, clients managed, etc. Something that is quantifiable and that isn’t some kind of vanity metric. 

4. Is your messaging authentically you? This matters because this is how the world sees your business. You don’t want to be drowning in a sea of Tai Lopez quotes, supercar pictures and photos of stacks of money. 

5. Are you really engaging with people? Are you having real conversations with people either in real life or online and offering value or getting feedback. If you’re just always shouting the same stuff everyone else is you’ll never be able to scream louder than the noise in the room. 

6. Do you have clear goals set for yourself that you check in on regularly? 


7. Are you suffering from “Butt In Seat Syndrome”? It’s an affliction that many entrepreneurs suffer from that results in talking about the things you’re going to do and never doing them, over developing plans and never starting them and general avoidance of the hard work that goes into building a business. 

I’m all for working harder and smarter. It’s a mission of mine to support entrepreneurs as they are trying to grow. I just want to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that makes sense for you and that allows you to do your best work.

Here’s to #hustle’ing responsibly! 

I STILL WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Below this post is a one question survey. I’d love to help you with what you're struggling with when it comes to your business development. I’m promising to do my best to get back to everyone that responds.  

Name *
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