How To Go From Business Casual To Business Growth

Let’s set the stage. 

It’s Monday (or any weekday morning or whenever the equivalent of “Monday” would be in your business). 

Today’s the day you’re taking things seriously. You woke up in your CEO pants and you have more determination now than you’ve had since you made your business growth-centric New Year’s Resolutions. 

You get to your desk, shake your mouse to wake your computer up, open up your inbox and a new tab in your browser and...just stare. In an instant all the thoughts you had about making today the most productive day you’ve ever experienced evaporate, like a dream you can almost remember after waking up. And, just like that your motivation takes a bit of hit and you fall back into your normal start of the work week routine. Or, worse is you have to deal with some fire that instantly bogards your plans for today. 

I can help get your business back on track today and any other day that you happen to wake up wearing your CEO pants. I’m going to introduce you to a few Lean principles that you don’t need a “belt” or certification to put into practice that can help keep you on track when you’re business (or motivation) feels like it’s running off the rails. 

Let’s start with a quick, non-business, definition of the Lean process. It’s basically just a set of ideas, principles and processes designed to help your business deliver the most value possible in a way that keeps your expenses (money, time, emotional capacity) as low as possible. It’s a way of thinking designed to help you more efficiently shape and organize how you’re getting to the goals you have for your business. 

Below I’m going to outline four concepts you can put into action right now. This could be especially useful for those of you that have been distracted by their inboxes and are running a little low on business growth momentum at the moment. 

1. Jump on the Continuous Improvement bandwagon.

Continuous improvement is definitely a concept that gets lots of lip service but ends up being one of those things that gets thought about but never really put into place. The heart of continuous improvement is:

1. Getting you to think about the opportunities you have in a project, 
2. Then working on how you might be able take advantage of those opportunities, 
3. Trying out those changes or actions,
4. And, reviewing how those changes or actions worked out for you. 

Here’s where you can change that. Schedule a chunk of time every week essentially creating a meeting with yourself that you CAN NOT cancel or reschedule to work on your projects. Working on the planning, evaluating and tracking of your highest value projects weekly will allow you to focus on the work that matters most and force you to make decisions about how you’re carving up your work week. The goal is to avoid just showing up and blindly working on whatever needs immediate attention or what you think you “should” be working on. Adding a little more structure and an extra lens or two to the work you’re doing in your business will also help you figure out if the goals and outcomes you’re working towards are authentically the right ones for you and your business. 

2. Decide how you want to compete in your market. 

Clearly defining strategy is the concept that business owners sweep under the rug the most. I know because I see it every week. Business owners trying to grow think that strategy is just an academic exercise. They believe it’s important but don’t have the time to really think about because they are busy running their business. Well if you want to be successful, defining your strategy can’t be an afterthought. An easy, do it right now, way to get to the heart of your business strategy is to think of your business in terms of what. The biggest what you should be deciding on is what are you doing to consistently set yourself apart from your competitors and still delivering on the value your customers expect from you. 

3. Make friends with Pareto. 

You’re probably a little too close to your processes. Your marketing processes, your financial processes and operations processes can be a lot to try to keep organized as you’re in grow-mode. I mean that in the most loving way possible. Being close to your business is usually a great thing because it means you have your finger on the pulse of everything it takes to move your business forward. It also means you can get a little nearsighted about your processes and will sometimes be unable to tell what’s wrong with them. The Pareto Principle can help you figure out what work really matters and which parts of your processes matter most when you apply it to the work you’re doing and the data you’re collecting. Essentially, the principle states that 80% of your outcomes will derive from 20% of the work that you’re doing. At first glance this is a little deflating if you’re asking yourself about the other 80% of the work you’re already doing. Try not to worry about that and instead invest in optimizing that 20% of work that’s producing your results and do more of that kind of work! 

4. Stop (or strive to stop) doing all the work yourself. 

As you’re peeling through your business data and are starting to enjoy the good feelings that come from better efficiency care of the Pareto Principle you’ll start to notice that it’s getting easier to repeat the work you’re doing daily. Taking the time to stabilize and document the processes you use everyday will help you move away from doing everything all by yourself. If you’re serious about growing your business you’re going to have to hand off some of the things you have made yourself responsible for so that you have more time to focus on growing. I know it’s tough right now if you’re a solopreneur or part of a small team but you have to start writing things down. Not only will it be helpful when you’re trying to track whether or not your activity is producing the outcomes you want for the business but it’ll save you lots of time when you decide to grow your workforce. At the very least it will save you time having to relearn some task that you may only do quarterly - like building a cheat sheet for yourself essentially. I’m working on a process right now to help me edit video faster so that I don’t get stuck toying with all the neat features in Adobe Premiere. 

This is a good place to end for this post and a great place for you to start working more efficiently in your business. Taking control of your time has more to do with growing your business than you initially thought. How can you give dedicated attention to customer development and marketing if you’re spending time doing work that only marginally benefits the business? And, for the love of Gary Vaynerchuk spending 100 hours a week working and #hustle’ing doesn’t mean anything if the work you’re doing isn’t directly delivering value or making it easier for you to deliver value to your end consumer. 

Are You Making Good Decisions In Your Business?

When you decided to give the whirlwind of entrepreneurship a try, you were probably making lots of hard and fast decisions in your business.

You had to right?!

In order to figure out if your business was worth pursuing you needed data and in the early stages making lots decisions and collecting any kind data about your audience or customers is critical.

The real question I want to get to the heart of today then is:

Are you now making good decisions in your business?

Or, have you found what feels like a rhythm but has revealed to be a rut? I bet I know why your business feels like it’s just spinning its wheels in place and before we dig in there is a quick disclaimer.

This is not an intellectual exercise in the different models of making decisions – it’s the real-time actionable decision making that I want to talk about.

Let’s really start by calling it like it is, you’re hoarding your freedom aren’t you?

Hoarding your freedom is when you value the ability to make choices so much that it actually prevents you from making any choices. It’s like the friend who never commits to anything because he or she is waiting to see if any better plans are happening. Hoarding the freedom to make choices is a terrible thing. You are constantly burying yourself in the extremes of opportunity costs and for good 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.

In as actionable and fluff free a way as possible let’s make you a more decisive and effective decision maker.

Before we get into the actionable bits let’s bust a few decision making fallacies. Fallacies are the things that will eat up lots of time, energy, and produce more stress than your body should probably be handling. I don’t have to tell you that making decisions isn’t always easy. Something I want you to keep in mind through all of this and to help get you out of the indecisive stupor is realistically thinking about the worst possible outcome. If you aren’t an evil scientist out of a comic book then accidentally blowing up the Earth is probably not an issue for you. So what’s the worst thing that can happen? Probably nothing you couldn’t bounce back from with a little extra work and maybe even a pivot in your business. What I’m getting at is that a bad choice is temporary – even when it feels like it’s not.

Fallacy Busting 101

First is the Information Mud Pit.

Feeling like you need as much information as possible from as many different experts, gurus and web-sites 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 breakdown.  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 multitask 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! 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 you need done properly 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 perceived opportunities for making decisions and reorganizing them in a way that reflects their relative importance. 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 whom 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 you make will only affect you. 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 the part about hiding behind information.  You want to make sure that when you are making your considerations you are using good information. Good information in hopefully leads to good decisions out. Keep your information lean and relevant. What that means 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 probable outcomes as possible. It’s important to be aware of how your decisions will interact with the rest of your business environment. Your goal should be to get the most out of whatever your resources are all the time. That and making sure the different departments continue to play nice together to make your business perform as best it can.

Your business’ 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 being 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 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.

Stop Hiding Behind Your Business

I have been having the same kinds of conversations lately with the businesses I’ve been helping. I believe it’s because the businesses I’m working with have seen some growth and are all doing the exact same thing right after their growth experience. They are retreating into their offices and hiding behind the glorious (positive) data they have collected. I absolutely respect the sanctity of the growth process but, getting out from behind your computer screen and continuing to be out in the world making things happen just can’t stop!

I love data.

I will be the first one to tell you that I get a little bit of a thrill working my data into a model and then working on either creating some kind of inference or using derivatives to look for points of maximum/optimal return. But there comes a time when even the best modeling can’t guarantee business success - especially if that model you just built is a permanently positive linear one.

For all my creative independent businesses out there - I promise, that’s the last of the math talk.

I also love people. I love mission. I love seeing customers and clients getting value out of something I put into the world.

In order to create positive momentum in your business you have to go out and do the things you say your business does. You can’t just tinker.

This post is a cry out to any entrepreneur who has seen a little growth or momentum recently. Any growth. It could be an increase in view, subscribers and of course sales. My plea to you is to avoid the temptation to tinker. Avoid diving into your spreadsheets and falling to the business romanticising trap - the Business Ghost of Christmas Future Fallacy is what I’m calling this.

Having a plan and checking the results your actions have yielded against benchmarks for success is important. But a check-in is really all it should be. Here are a two tips to keep your inner quant at bay while you are out there in the world hustling in your business to succeed.

1. Commit to only changing one thing in your business model/process at a time.

This is how testing works. You go out and try to do something awesome for people that need what you are offering. If you feel like something isn’t working or could be working you make a single change and then get back out there. As you collect more experience and take more actions you’ll start to get a feel for the impact that change had - eventually deciding if it was a winner or not. This works best when you give your ideas some time to grow and your business enough time to get a little traction. I can’t tell you the perfect amount of time because every business is different. I can tell you that a week is probably too short and a two year period is probably a little too long. Check in systematically in that window a few times.

2. Stop running your business in terms of one-offs and winging.

Tinkering thrives in environments that lack structure. I’m not saying that every component of your business’ processes have to be etched in stone. What I am saying is that you need a routine. Tinkering happens because it feels like work and you have the potential to discover something interesting that might push your business forward. It’s not work that is going to directly grow your business through (most of the time). You know what will push your business forward - having processes or systems that take the winging out of your business. To beat the hour-eating-tinker-monster first find out what the important parts of your business are that need to happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Build a process for as many of them as you can that includes putting time into your schedule to plan, execute and review. This will lead to less one-offs and more focus. You’ll also find that your productivity will start to get a little better because you are worrying less on what to do and more on going out and doing.

Like I said earlier, I love data. You can’t get stuck in the data though. You have to create a plan that means something to you and then trust yourself (and the plan) enough to go out and keep bringing something awesome into the world. Whether you feel it or not all businesses have a bit of inertia to them. Great strategy is about building on the positive inertia so that you never stop moving forward.