Tribe it Up

The other day I had lunch with my friend and fellow entrepreneur. We spoke candidly about some of the challenges in our respective businesses, and as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant she said to me, “I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one who goes through this stuff.”

That statement struck a cord with me because so often as entrepreneurs and small business owners we do feel like we have to figure everything out on our own, and that can be a very lonely position to take. The truth of the matter is, we have more in common than we realize. Even though we may be running businesses in different industries with our own very specific challenges, on a slightly higher level we are all the same.

We face issues and questions around cash flow, sales, employee recruitment and retention. We have to pay attention to marketing, advertising, culture and reputation. As our companies grow we most likely have a team in place to assist with many of these items, but ultimately, as a small business owner, the buck does stop with us.

But that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.

Taking the time to intentionally seek out and build a support network for yourself is, I believe, key for the success of a business. At a minimum you may want to consider hiring a business coach or a mentor, but beyond that setting up a “mastermind” group of trusted peers will help you to keep challenges – and successes – in perspective.

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.

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.

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?

You Ain’t No Superman

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Don’t be Superman… delegate.

We work with a lot of small and medium size businesses that are run by founders and management that cares deeply about what’s going to happen with their company. These are frequently type-A perfectionists, but by structuring the company so that they have to sign off on every detail they are not doing their employees, shareholders or themselves any kind of service in the long term.

It’s true that the intentions are good and they want to do what’s best for the company, but without learning how to delegate – and trust – other staff and team members, the company can only ever grow so far. Projects inevitably become stalled, and the prospect of the founder or CEO ever exiting is impossible and the company ends up enduring the ramifications of your classic dysfunctional relationship.

The truth is, if you are running a business where the whole structure will collapse without leadership being hands-on with every detail it is time to build a new system. You know you have a well-oiled machine and a healthy business when no one notices when upper management is out of the picture for a day, a week or a month. And when you have strong systems in place that’s when your business begins to have more market value and when you’re likely to identify tasks that can be automated and outsourced, thereby driving up profits.

The need for systemization applies to start ups as well as to established, multi-million dollar companies. The more quickly you’re able to get those systems in place the better you’ll be in the long run.

Walk Away For Profit, Happiness and Success

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“And what happens if you just leave?” I remember my business coach asking one afternoon when I felt particularly overwhelmed. “Won’t you be able to do your job better if you take some time to care for yourself?”

I looked around me at the piles of work on my desk – the emails to be answered, proposals to be written, work to be reviewed and delivered to clients, and I felt tears of frustration threatening to spill over. “I don’t think you understand,” I told her. “I have work to do.”

She paused and let me really hear my words – the same words that I had been saying in one form or another for weeks on end. Although I was working long hard days, was it really making a difference? Slowly but surely my life was being taken over by my work. I was trapped on the proverbial hamster wheel – pre-programmed to run harder, faster, better, but never realizing that there was another option. Just get off.

Wow. Even saying it felt wrong, almost like sacrilege. As Americans in particular, we are taught to value and respect hard work. Having the stamina to work 60 or 80-hour weeks is a badge of honor. Skipping vacations means that you’re a dedicated and valuable employee. Missed calling your mom on her birthday because you were in conferences all day? You must be at the pinnacle of your career, right? Perhaps, but in reality I’ve come to see that my coach was right. While we all have responsibilities, finishing every single thing on our list was never the point. Going through life in a constant state of overwhelm is more of a story that we tell ourselves than a productive and healthy way of being.

On that day in my office I realized that it was time for me to make some changes.

The reality of my situation was, like most of ours, that the work would never actually all be done. It’s like all the things you have to do are constantly being poured into a magical bucket, and there is no way you can empty this bucket faster than it’s filling. And I started realizing that maybe, just maybe, ending up with an empty bucket was never really the point.

My coach told me that to her, the constant influx of work and tasks isn’t like a bucket at all, but like a Tibetan prayer wheel. Each turn of the wheel represents a new prayer mantra, and in her analogy your to-do list is kind of like those mantras. There is no beginning and no end, just new tasks coming and going with every spin.

It’s beautiful and meditative, and when you take this perspective, it’s not so much about “getting it done”, which is impossible on a wheel anyway. Instead, it becomes about finding a rhythm, creating priorities, and allowing yourself to add fun tasks onto your list (go for a walk, play with the kids, take my wife to the movies…), because not only are work-related tasks not the only important ones, they are never the most important ones.

So, how can you heed this advice and still be a productive employee or business owner? My coach and I came up with a simple three-step process that I still use today, and the more I do this the more I’m seeing profits rise and stress fall away. It really doesn’t have to be hard:

  1. Your important list has to fit on the back of a business card – Yes, your actual to-do list may have tens or hundreds of items on it, but your “must do” list should follow the guidelines that Napoleon Hill created more than 100 years ago: you have to be able to write it on an index card (or ideally, the back of a business card). This ensures that the tasks that are really critically important are noted in a clear and concise way- boiled right down to their essence. These are the things that you truly do have to get done, or at least make significant progress on, in order to achieve your goals, and this is where you need to focus your attention.
  2. Eat your frog – Mark Twain said that if you have to eat a frog you may as well get it over with and if you have to eat two frogs you should go ahead and eat the bigger one first. If there is something you’d rather not deal with – a situation you’re avoiding or a phone call you don’t want to make – get it out of the way first thing so that you can focus on things that truly matter.
  3. Set a time limit and stick to it – As soon as you truly accept that you physically cannot finish everything on your list, you have to make a deal with yourself that you get to leave the office at a pre-determined time. Ideally you will go and do something that rewards you – a yoga class, meeting a friend for a drink, or in my case, going to ride my horse. It’s too easy to think that our “personal to-do’s” are somehow less important than “work things” but I’ve come to see that this simply isn’t so. We need to nourish that other part of ourselves in order to do our best work, so consider it an investment in tomorrow’s productivity.

In fact, as I’ve followed these simple steps I’ve found that I’m more productive, more innovative while at work, and much less likely to feel overwhelmed and out of balance. Walking away took some courage, especially the first time, but now I don’t just do it at the end of the day. Sometimes I go out and do a lunchtime Pilates class. Other times I take my daughter lunch at her school, “just because.”

As I get better and better at walking away my business has been thriving more and more and people aren’t shunning me. Instead they want to “know my secret.”

The irony of that is that it couldn’t be simpler – just step off the wheel and into the life you’re consciously designing for yourself.