“The test is a mirror” - I stumbled across this enigmatic expression the other day, and it got me thinking. Sometimes the way we answer a question is more telling than the answer itself.
After all, we can all come up with answers and rationales for our actions (or lack of actions). Sometimes it’s better to look at how we answer, or how the question makes us feel.
Our brains are incredible, but they can also be deceptive. They can trick us into thinking we are on top of all sorts of situations even when we’re not. Our instincts on the other hand, never lie. We have a visceral reaction to particular thoughts and situations that no amount of puff and bluster can mask.
Take these five questions for example. You probably have easy access stock answers to all of these. But try reading them slowly, let them sink in, and observe how they really make you feel…
Question 1: How much effort am I really prepared to put into the business to make it work?
This was meant to be about improving your quality of life and being your own boss, wasn’t it? But the reality is a far cry from the idealistic dream of being beholden to no one.
Yes, you may be master of your schedule now, but don’t be fooled. Your business has an insatiable appetite for time and energy. Unchecked, it will become your boss and mercilessly devour not just your weekdays, but evenings, weekends, and every waking thought.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many rewards. But are you ready to sacrifice your personal time and put in all your effort for as long as it takes, to build momentum and reach your performance goals?
Question 2: Do I have the support I need?
This is a big deal. Moving to entrepreneur-land is not like trying a different hairstyle. You are unilaterally unplugging from The Matrix, with all its safety and comfort. You are making a fundamental change in your life, and it will change you and those you love, and it will create ripples that touch everyone around you.
So what about your partner, your children, your wider family and your friends? How will the path you have chosen to take, affect them? Do they really ‘get’ and stand behind what you are doing and the implications of your choices?
How about wider support? Do you know where to find help from people who do understand what you’re doing? A strong network is vital for you to succeed, you need to make connections with other business owners, entrepreneurs and anyone else who gets (and ideally, has experienced) the journey you have ahead.
Question 3: How much compromise: What am I prepared to let go and what is non-negotiable?
Entrepreneurship requires commitment and sacrifice. Very quickly your time and money will be in shorter supply, and so it’s important to consider what you can and can’t live without. Would you be okay for instance, missing your children’s school plays, sports days or parents’ evenings? Or how about forgoing your special treat weekend breaks or evenings out? What would you be happy to cut back to save money?
Whatever you decide, you should hold yourself to it. So, if you find your once-a-day gym visit slips to once-a-month or family mealtimes go awry because you’re stuck at your laptop, this should be an alarm. Either your expectations were unrealistic (in which case be honest with yourself and those affected), or you’ve fallen off course, and you need to adjust.
Question 4: Am I willing to take on the level of financial risk required to achieve my goal?
For some people, the mere mention of debt is enough to send a shudder down their spine. But for many entrepreneurs, financial exposure comes with the territory, especially in the early days.
So, how much cash are you prepared to burn? How much debt are you prepared to accumulate while you wait for your enterprise to take off? Pretty much every up-and-running business I have worked with, only ever came about as a result of an initial investment of personal funds and unpaid time.
How much are you prepared to put behind your belief in the success of the venture? How do you plan to bridge any shortfall? Can you/would you borrow money or exchange shares in the business for outside investment?
How much runway does all this buy you and is it enough?
Question 5: How much of my life will I devote to this?
Getting a business off the ground can be all-consuming. It typically takes far longer than you think before you can switch to cruise control and enjoy the spoils of your hard work. How long are you prepared to put your life on hold for while you do this? What ‘significant life moments’ do you have on the horizon that may throw a spanner in the works and create extra pressure when you’re already feeling overloaded with the business?
Even regular time off can be difficult for the first few years as the business will be heavily reliant on your input. And all of this will come at a time when your self-care and mental wellbeing is critical. How then, will you balance this tension (without it creating more tension in and of itself)?
How did you do?
So, what do these questions tell you about your business and how you feel about it? Are you cautiously working your way through, eyes open and prepared, or are there areas where you may be sticking your head in the sand?
And what about the way you answered? Did you just make a superficial or dismissive pass? Or did the exercise draw you in, maybe pull on a few threads and make you want to explore further?
Perhaps, it illuminated some self-doubt that until now had been hidden? In contrast, have your answers given you a boost and helped cement some firm foundations for your venture?
We may be in the midst of the carefree party season, but as we start the countdown to the end of 2017, there is no better time to consider big questions like these that can touch the very core of your entrepreneurial capability and resilience.
This may not sound like a very cheery exercise, but as you lay your plans for the new year ahead, this self-awareness will help you finally crack the issues you’ve been missing or avoiding, so you can take control and own them. And that’s an incredibly positive way to end your year!
And if your regular sources of business guidance are shying away from asking these sorts of tough questions, then maybe 2018 is the year to seek out new challenge and inspiration.
You know where to find us.
The test is a mirror.
In part one, we covered empowerment by technology and what can be achieved using off-the-shelf tools and applications to Do It Yourself. Indeed, with the right device or software, we can now do almost anything and produce some pretty decent results too.
But with this technology and a new approach to entrepreneurship, comes fresh challenges.
If you’re the owner of a service-based business, this is particularly true because the DIY mindset is fast becoming a significant competitor.
So if you find yourself up against it, how then do you compete?
Just because someone can, doesn’t mean they should…
Technology may give people the means to do a task themselves, but it consumes rather than preserves one of the most valuable resources they have: time. This is your silver bullet.
Yes, they may save a little money with a good DIY option, but you can free up their schedule so they can focus on the things that really matter like the tasks that require their expertise and increase their earning potential – the primary objective of any business!
But that’s not all you have to offer
An amateur with the latest iPhone can use filters and editing tools to create something beautiful. But does that make them a photographer?
Likewise, any novice with a computer can set up shop on a freelance platform like Fiverr or People Per Hour as ‘professional for-hire’. But, it’s highly unlikely that they could genuinely produce something as substantial and useful as you can. If they could, you’d be in trouble, but I don’t believe this is the case.
You see, for every true expert, artist, specialist… I know, their expertise and contribution extends far beyond the dumbed-down production of the asset itself.
For instance, good accountants can use cloud software to do the menial number crunching. But rather than hide behind statutory reporting, they leverage the accessibility of this technology and use it as a platform for more meaningful discussions about business performance and forecasting.
Similarly, the smart photographers I’ve come across want to understand the story behind the pictures; the purpose and meaning the imagery should convey. So whether it’s stock photos, headshots or styled brochure images, the client can be sure about expressing the right message, telling a story or communicating brand values.
And the same goes for the best web designers. They start every client engagement by getting to know and understand their client’s business and the role that their online presence plays in both the overall business model and their growth strategy. This is a far contrast from merely opening a laptop and asking which template the client likes the look of.
So if you’re feeling threatened by the prevalence of this new DIY mindset, don’t be.
Think of it like paint by numbers. The method may allow someone to produce their very own Mondrian replica, but it would never have the same brush strokes, layering, and texture as the original. It would never feel completely ‘right’. At most, it can only ever be a simple imitation of the real thing. And without someone like you - a trained, practised, expert - at the helm that’s all a client can expect from technology and tools alone.
Rather than competition then, the DIY mindset is a hidden opportunity. Use it as a reminder not to allow the mechanics of what you do become what you do. Instead, use the tool as a platform to highlight your expertise and express your creativity.
And that’s what separates the professionals from the DIY have-a-goers.
Do you feel like you’re competing against the DIY mindset? How have you overcome it in your own business? Let me know in the comments below.
Everyone thinks they’re a … photographer, graphic designer, recruiter, marketer … and to a certain extent, this is true.
Gone are the days when we worked only within our given area of expertise, skill or talent. Now the lines are blurred; we’re all keen to dabble, to experiment and try our hand at different things in our business. And thanks to digital advances, we have the means.
Those of you that know me will already be aware; I’m a huge fan of tools – devices, programmes, applications – all the things that help to get the job done quicker, better, easier or cheaper.
In fact, whenever it is feasible I’ll opt for a tech-based method, rather than undertake a task manually, with a makeshift solution or by bringing in an outside resource.
I think this, 'empowerment by technology' is one of the key enablers for the entrepreneur revolution we’re experiencing in our time.
Off-the-shelf tools with easy-to-use interfaces offer even novice users, professional-grade capabilities to automate social media activity, create amazing documents and presentations, design and enhance graphics, take artistic-looking photos, build websites and much more.
And all this is great, isn’t it?
Well… up to a point.
Yes, these tools are neat and efficient, and they’re more than effective when it comes to planning and running a lean business model.
But it can become a problem when you syphon off so much of your time to work as your company’s untrained, unofficial graphic designer, web developer, bookkeeper, photographer … that you neglect the things that move your business forward and allow it to grow.
So what is the tipping point?
In the beginning, these tech-orientated, DIY options provide a cost-effective way to fulfil many vital auxiliary tasks, personally. But as the business evolves and your role shifts within it from facilitator to manager, you reach a critical point at which it becomes less beneficial (and often more detrimental) to carry on like this.
Rather than continue and risk overstretching yourself, you could delegate and train up a member of your team to use these tools. Or, you could upgrade and outsource the job entirely so you can direct your energy and expertise to where it is needed most.
When then, should you make this strategic transition? There is no hard and fast rule, but these questions can help you to decide:
Do I have the skills? In the early days, spreadsheets, simple systems and apps may be enough to track invoices, record receipts and manage cash flow. But as the business grows and becomes more complex, do you still feel confident handling the books yourself? This is one example of many where it pays to assess both your skills and knowledge of the tools you are using and the area itself, and weigh it against the risk of making a mistake – and the consequences of doing so.
Can I maintain a sustainable level of quality? Few things are more off-putting than a slip in brand standards, be that sloppy copy on your website, shoddy design elements or a slump in social media posting. Your clients want to see a consistent level of quality; it speaks volumes about your reliability and the pride you take in your business. So if any area falls below par, it could be time to set aside the tools you are using and enlist the assistance of a professional. It need not cost the earth; a freelancer is an affordable option you can up or downgrade as necessary.
Does the task impact mission-critical areas? To gauge the effect these activities have on your business, take a look at the metrics you monitor. If off-topic tasks are impeding KPIs and the pursuit of your overarching goals, then you should make some changes.
Ultimately though, the key test is this: consider how much you stand to save doing the tasks yourself compared to the money you could earn in that time if you outsourced these tasks and switched your focus to the activities that generate big bucks. Is saving money still the right thing for your business?
Otherwise, we’d all be better off giving up what we’re doing to become discount graphic designers or web developers instead.
Do you DIY or have you made the switch to outsource some of your business related activities? Let me know in the comments.
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