An Independence Play

We’re fast approaching Independence Day here in the States and it’s got me thinking about business and why we start companies in the first place. In the beginning everyone imagines that their business is going to give them freedom – financial freedom, but also the ability to choose how to spend your time, both at and away from the office.

The reality, however, is often far from this utopia. Many of us business owners get through the start-up phase doing anything and everything that needs to be done, from answering the phones to taking out the trash. And, truthfully, some of us never stop being that person – that “start up hero”.

But at some point we have to consciously make a shift away from the place where we are the core of all that happens in our business. This can be difficult for some people to do (after all, the business is our baby). But, if we don’t grow these businesses in a smart way, putting systems for our business in place, AND empowering our employees to make decisions, we’ll never achieve that freedom that we so badly want.

In fact, we’ll end up with the opposite effect – our business will start to feel like a prison. Even worse, when a business relies so strongly on a single person to function properly, this means that systems are not properly in place. And, in many cases, it also means that the business has little cash value if the owner should ever wish to step away.

Creating a business without systems, and without a way for your team to make key decisions, means that you’re designing a hamster wheel that you can never step off of. Company founders and CEO’s feel important when they’re required to sign off on everyday tasks, and oversee operations. But, isn’t it a better testament to a company’s health and value when nobody even notices when the CEO is out of the office for a week? When things run smoothly and established policies and systems do what they’re supposed to do?

When that happens you know that you’ve built something good. Something of value that will not only provide freedom to those on the top, but which will be a sustainable and scalable company that’s in it for the long haul. And that, my friends, is when you get to experience true independence.

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: How to Turn Your Daydream Into a Phenomenal Success, will be released in the Fall of 2017.

Turning the Impossible Upside Down

I have a confession to make. My husband and I are not athletes. Not even close, actually. We enjoy light activity – yard work, walking, sailing – but you probably won’t catch us running marathons or entering Ironman competitions anytime soon. Yet, in recent months we have been paying more attention to our health. We changed our diet, taking out sugar and carbs, and started walking. As we began to feel better we wanted to do a little something more to improve our health, and when I came across a Facebook post for a 30-day plank challenge, we thought, “Yes! This is it!”

If any of you have done the plank challenge before you know that you start out planking for just 20 seconds, and in the course of the 30 days you work up to more than four minutes. Well, on day one planking for 20 seconds was hard (but not that hard), but thinking about doing 60 seconds (or – gasp – four minutes!) seemed impossible.

We’ve now been doing the challenge for several weeks and are approaching the four minute mark. We got here by practicing consistently (almost every day, with some resting days planned in the schedule) and by pushing ourselves just a little harder and longer each day. There is no way we could have done a four-minute plank during our first week, but now we’re no longer scared of this goal and we know that we’ll be achieving it within the coming days.

The other day I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast and the topic was building a business by pushing yourself just a little farther out of your comfort zone, day after day. On the show they talked about building up and learning to flex your entrepreneurial muscles and it got me thinking how similar that concept is to what we have experienced this past month.

  1. Dig deep and find your grit: there are no shortcuts. Whether you’re building your muscles or building a business you have to show up and do the work day after day. No one can do this for you and there is no faking it.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up: some days are just better than others. Some days we would go to do our planks and we’d feel like we were on top of the world. Sometimes we’d improve our time by 20, 30 or 40 seconds from the day before. Then other days we just couldn’t hold it very long at all.
  3. Don’t psyche yourself out: it’s mind over matter. You really have to go into every challenge with a belief that you will prevail. If you tell yourself that you can’t possibly hold the plank for more than a minute, guess what? You’ve lost before you’ve even begun.
  4. Seemingly impossible obstacles become easy. When we started planking it was just like when we started the business in that it was easy to get lost in the overwhelm of the enormity of the situation. If you focus on the obstacles you will never progress as quickly as if you break your challenge down into manageable steps. When we’re planking it comes down to focusing on our breathing; one breath at a time. With the business we consider our goals and build a strategy around them. Then we figure out specific tactics – small steps – that we can take to help us achieve our goals.
  5. Teamwork makes everything a little easier. We could do our planks at the same time, I suppose, but so far we’ve been taking turns so that the one not planking acts as timekeeper and cheerleader for the other. It’s a small thing, but taking on the challenge together has made us more likely to show up to do our part, and I’m sure that we’re both trying a little harder than if we were just doing this on our own. Plus it’s more fun to work on something like this together. I think the same is true in a business. If you don’t have a business partner, then getting your employees on board as part of the team that is working together towards a common goal is key for long-term success.

Time Troubles? Here’s How to Break Free

 

Do you ever find yourself wishing for a clone? Or for an additional 24 hours per day so that you could get done half the things that are on your list? Well, what I’m about to tell you may not immediately fill you with glee, but stay with me because if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur I’m going to tell you how to make a really big shift in your business.

Different people have different time management skills, with someone like Warren Buffet being a grand master. I’m going to assume that this article is not going to find its way into Buffet’s inbox, and I’m going to also go with the idea that most readers are “average” time managers. That means people who ultimately finish much of what has to get done, but not without stress or the underlying feeling that if they had had more time they could have done a better job.

The other assumption – the one that is true in 99% of all cases – is that most of us are not spending the majority of our precious time on the tasks with the highest rewards. This is a common problem but it’s also not a hard one to fix if you’re willing to make some changes in the way you’re doing things (and remember that not to be willing to change, yet to expect a different result, is akin to insanity….)

Because so many small business owners get caught up in the “weeds” of running their businesses – they end up spending most of their time doing operational tasks, putting out fires and working IN the business. When they’re able to shift how their time is spent so that for even just an hour or two per day they can focus  ON the ways that the business can exponentially grow and scale, that’s what makes all the difference.

But how do you find that extra hour or two a day? Here is where the growth opportunity lies (and yes, growth can be slightly uncomfortable, but that’s how meaningful change happens).

First, you need to start tracking how you’re spending your time. Log it all during the next two weeks (yes, I know it’s a pain, but it’s the only way you’re doing to see your patterns). After the two weeks has passed you’ll probably already naturally be better at time management simply because of your raised awareness around the topic, but then here is the rub: you’re going to need to look at all the things you’re doing on a daily basis and decide which of those things could be delegated. That’s one way you’re going to free up more of your time for meaningful work around strategy and growth.

When you make that shift you start to see BIG results.

But it’s one that requires a leap of faith. Hiring help is often a difficult decision for solopreneurs and small business owners, but it’s also the only way to grow and scale. You’ve simply got to free yourself, as the business owner or leader, from some of those tasks that are bogging you down.

And there are many ways to do this – Virtual Assistants can take a lot of administrative tasks off your plate, and usually very cost effectively. There are other freelance and full and part time options, too. Sometimes you can come to an agreement with a local college that is looking for places where their students (and graduates) can get work experience. Many cities also have programs that subsidize wages for hiring unemployed veterans or other subgroups.

Once you decide to get some help and start doing a little research you’ll find plenty of ways to fill your staffing support needs. The first, and possibly, hardest, step is making the decision to shift your focus to getting the meetings, partnerships and contracts that will grow your business to 10X or more. Because, ultimately, doesn’t that make a lot more sense than continuing on the path of being a slave to time and letting your business run you?

The Real Art of the Deal: 5 Quick Tips

AdobeStock_59542815.jpeg

What does the word negotiation mean to you? Does even thinking about it fill you with a little bit of anxiety? Do you equate “negotiation” to “conflict” and try to avoid it at all costs?

There is a perception by many in business that in negotiation one side wins and the other loses. If you subscribe to this belief then it logically follows that the one who wins is better, stronger, smarter or otherwise holds an advantage over the other party. And, by extension, it stands to reason that the side that loses is weaker in some way and leaves the negotiation embattled and discouraged.

However, just as personal relationships are more complex than childhood fairy tales would make them out to be, business negotiations are rarely black and white. Instead, shades of gray and nuance usually blur the line between who wins and who loses in these transactions. But what I’d like to propose is a world in which both sides walk away feeling good about the deal… where negotiations are a very good thing.

In this new paradigm we stop going into a negotiation thinking, “How can I walk away with as much as possible?” and instead turn it into a game of,  “How can we both leave here feeling good about what has transpired? What can I offer to give my opponent that he or she really wants?”

In this more evolved type of negotiation you begin to view the other person as your “negotiating partner” instead of your enemy, and you work to uncover the essence of that person – the things that he or she really cares about. And remember, you are ALWAYS negotiating with a person, so be personable. Be real. Be compassionate.

And considering trying the game of “how can we both win here.”

Of course, not everyone who you try to strike a deal with is going to want to travel with you to mutually beneficial middle ground, but it’s worth giving that person the benefit of the doubt and trying to get there if you can.

Before you go into a negotiation make sure you do the following:

  1. Do some research on the person you’re meeting and try to uncover common ground or clues as to what their motivators are. Opening the session with a personal comment or compliment sets a positive tone for the entire negotiation.
  2. Know what the variables are that you may be able to negotiate on. Examples might be price, payment terms or delivery terms. Do adequate preparation before you go into the room and know what all the possible variables are.
  3. Be very clear with yourself on what your bottom line is for each of those items. Before you even walk into the room make sure you know your numbers: what number would make this an incredible deal, what number would you be comfortable with and what number is the absolute lowest you can go?
  4. You’ll usually want to start negotiations with a higher number, but remember those other variables too. Your goal is to walk away happy, but you want the other person to also feel like they’re getting a good deal. 
  5. If you reach a deadlock and the person you’re trying to work with can’t even get to your bottom line, then don’t continue the conversation. Announce your intention to walk away and withdraw from the deal. That will either set the tone for a new round of talks, or if not at least you won’t waste any more of your time.

Do I Know You?

How well do you know your customers, really? Do they tell you one thing while they’re thinking something else entirely? Are they reacting to the offerings that you’re bringing to the table and neglecting to tell you what they really want? Do they even know what they want?

These are questions that many of us forget or neglect to ask when it comes to our customers. Taking the time to not just get to know those customers but to understand their problems and issues with “out of the box” thinking is what sets you apart from every other salesperson who comes calling.

Read between the lines, ask the tough questions and consider how you could tweak your approach or your offerings to make their life just a little bit easier. When you do this not only are you deepening that relationship with the client but you’re also going to be providing a service that is ultimately more valuable, leaving you in a position as a trusted and strategic partner, moving forward.

So instead of listening to only what is said the next time you meet with your client, tune into your intuition and listen to what it’s saying about what is really going on. And ask the tough questions…

WHY does that matter to you?

HOW do you want to be perceived by your customers? WHY?

WHAT is it that really “lights you up” about your business? WHICH parts are you most passionate about and most drawn to?

Once you start connecting with your customers and clients on this new authentic level that is when everything starts to change. At the end of the day you can never go wrong by committing to become more real.

The Only Thing You Need to Know

The single most important ingredient for growing any business is the creation of customers who are so happy that they tell your friends about you. That’s it, plain and simple. But how many companies lose sight of this critical element and focus instead on any number of other things: cutting corners, increasing profits, beating the competition…

But what it really comes down to is this one thing. If you can find a way to make sure your customer feels special, feels heard and feels well-served then tell me, how easy is it going to be for your competitor to steal that customer away? Probably not very easy at all, because people will pay a little more and will even go out of their way for a company and a brand that they feel “gets” them and treats them well.

This type of thinking has led people to be able to successfully create restaurants and other businesses that are miles from the nearest town, yet people will go out of their way to go there because of the way it makes them feel once they arrive. It’s also one of the key reasons that some companies succeed while those right next door to them do not.

While building customer loyalty is a long game, more marathon than sprint, it’s also well worth the investment. Customers who are valued and who feel connected are much less likely to chase the next shiny object that comes by, and that’s true even in a world of ever-shortening attention spans.

So, what can you do today to say thank you to your customers, to let them know you care? Give it a try and see what happens. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

Stronger Together

Indisputable Truth: The solution to a problem is often right in front of you but cannot be teased out without some creativity and thought.

I recently participated in a workshop where we were presented with a problem involving rare pheasant eggs. This supplier has a certain price that he needs to get for his eggs, as there is a limited supply and his boss is pressuring him to come back with at least a certain dollar amount. Three buyers come forward with offers on the eggs but none are offering enough to satisfy the boss’ requirements.

One buyer wants only some of the eggs because a limited amount of the shells for a pharmaceutical product his company produces. Another buyer wants to sell the eggs in very high end restaurants where they are made into a special meringue-like delicacy and the other buyer wants to buy all the eggs for a nutritional supplement that his company makes, but he is not authorized to spend as much as the seller needs to receive.

Negotiations ensue but are guaranteed lukewarm success unless one thing happens. Have you guessed it yet? It’s a creative solution and requires a level of cooperation, but because all the buyers actually need a different part of the eggs, it is feasible that everyone could work together to get what they want and the seller can over-deliver to his boss on the money front, thereby guaranteeing himself a nice fat bonus.

Now, before some smarty pants comments on this blog about any technical reason that the above scenario couldn’t work, I ask you to please not bother. That really isn’t the point. I’m not an expert on eggs, nor do I wish to be, but what I do know about is strategic partnerships and cooperation. And after I started to change my business strategy to that of a lone wolf to an expert collaborator and partner, everything really start to shift for me in a very positive direction.

Any small to medium sized business person will tell you: life can be very lonely when you’re trying to run your business. You most likely have limited resources and are wearing a few too many hats. And trying to carve out your slice of the pie in a crowded marketplace can prove to be very challenging, to say the least.

This is where strategic partners can come in and become an important part of your high-level plan for sales and growth. If you can identify other businesses with complimentary products or services to your own, and come up with a plan that both sides benefit by, it becomes an attractive prospect to consider. Sure, it may take come creativity as in the egg example, and you may even find yourself working together with one-time rivals, but if you’re open to experiencing the magic of partnerships and collaboration you may quickly see how your influence can quickly extend to a whole new sphere of people that you may not have had access to before.

Now, of course I probably don’t need to explain to you what the word “strategic” means. Partnerships of any kind are never something that I would enter into lightly. There are a million reasons why they may not work, and whenever you do anything like this, I would strongly suggest a lawyer looks over any agreements that you decide to abide by.

But for all of the potential headache or risk, I would still contend that strategic partnerships are well worth exploring. If you can find other companies whose services dovetail or compliment your own, and either become an affiliate seller of those services, or if the two of you agree to team up and work together you will most likely find that your company is quickly getting in front of customers that you would not have been able to serve on your own. And in that exposure lies enormous potential and opportunity for growth – for both you and your partners. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.