“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.
You may already be familiar with the term, but even if not, it’s likely you’ve encountered it.
I came across VUCA only recently and immediately it struck a chord. It represents how we understand and cope with the environment around us and in turn, how our behaviour and business activities impact on that environment and our clients.
So what is VUCA?
For an acronym, VUCA has a colourful past. The U.S. military conceptualised it after the Cold War, but it was also used to navigate the chaos of the financial crash in 2008.
VUCA describes situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Now if that doesn’t reflect the space in which we all operate in the present day, then I don’t know what does!!
As you’d expect, a VUCA environment is a less than helpful one to work in because it affects our stability, confidence, planning and decision making. That said, while VUCA is generally used to describe external factors or influences over which we may have limited control, it doesn’t mean that we should just roll over.
Strategies for success in a VUCA environment
1. Remove - Avoid - Reduce
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” (Mindfulness and meditation guru Jon Kabat-Zinn)
Here’s how you can manage the VUCA dynamics and turn the tide on the effects it has on your business…
Next Up: VUCA Part 2 – As well as looking at how our own businesses respond to VUCA, we also need to consider how we can reduce the VUCA ripples we create for our clients.
To ensure you don’t miss the second VUCA instalment sign up to the Boardroom Blog mailing list here!
Although we may like to think our capacity is infinite, it isn’t (unfortunately) which means sooner or later we reach a glass ceiling with our business…and usually at the worst possible time.
For many, this realisation hits when they get ill or experience some other life changing event like a marriage or a new baby, and they find they can no longer do it all themselves.
But even without the stress of a major event, most owner-run businesses will eventually become ‘full’ and struggle to balance the demands of new and existing customers.
So what’s the solution?
Halt your marketing efforts and limit growth? It would be a shame to switch off a successful marketing engine, especially when it’s producing results.
Take in a new resource? Employees, even on a part-time basis are a significant commitment. If you can be sure of an ongoing need for another member of staff then perhaps, but if not, this probably isn’t a good choice.
There is another option though that is far more flexible, I’m talking of course about outsourcing.
Taking the next step
You don’t want to put yourself or the business under extra pressure – or reintroduce it if you followed the steps in Part 1 and Part 2. But nor do you want to turn down new business or perhaps even the chance of a bigger, more lucrative contract. So, it’s important to recognise when it’s time to move things forward and expand your current capacity.
What can be outsourced?
Your aim here is to restructure the day-to-day running of your business, so it’s even more efficient but less dependent on your input. Done well, it should leave you free to work on other aspects or even take time out.
Have a look at your diary or To-Do list; tasks that possess these merits are ideal candidates to hand out to a freelancer, virtual assistant or some other kind of independent:
Ultimately, the decision as to what you keep and what you outsource will depend on your situation and your goals for the future. This may include a plan to scale up the business or even exit from it. Or perhaps you simply want to spend more time with your family and have the freedom to take regular holidays.
Whatever your reasons, don’t forget to consider the things that you love doing and that you are best at – you don’t want to risk resenting the business you’ve worked hard to build by removing the sense of personal satisfaction it gives you!
Have you taken the next step to expand your existing capacity? What tasks did you decide to outsource? Let me know in the comments below.
This is the last post in our 3-part ‘Escape The Pressure Cooker’ series we hope you enjoyed it. See Part 1 - 'Taking Back Control' here, and Part 2 - 'Are You Suffering from Entrepreneurial Overload?' here.
If you’re interested in growing your business, but you are concerned about overwhelming your available resources, look out for our upcoming new eBook: The Solopreneurs Guide To Scaling. It’s full of ideas about how to scale your business by making the most of what you already have. Be sure to receive your copy by signing up to our free Blog Updates emailers here.
Have you ever had to sack a client? Or have you ever wished you could?
Clients and client relationships come in many forms. They can be the most reliable partners and brilliant vocal advocates. Yet, at the other end of the scale, there are those that are unreliable, erratic and difficult to work with; clients that restrict innovation or whom you feel obliged to undercharge. They can easily become a negative downforce, cursing your business into a sleep-like state; preventing it from achieving its full potential.
If you recognise a client has any of the following traits, then it is time to re-evaluate your working arrangement and consider whether the relationship is really worth continuing. After all, it’s your business, and it was founded on vision and independence. You should not end up begrudging or resenting your clients!
Warning signs of a sub-optimal client include:
If these attributes are an agreed part of the client proposal, then that’s one thing. And, if you’re able to offer instant responses or 24/7 support, then that can be a brilliant part of your customer service strategy. However, when this is not part of the deal, and there is no provision or costing for the extra level of resourcing that these exceptional demands require; your daily operational activities can quickly become adversely affected.
Certainly, a regular prune of your client list is one way of ensuring your business runs more smoothly. And, with fewer problems to contend with, you can focus on acquiring and servicing the right prospects.
Don’t do this in anger though, or without a strategy: Just as there are many benefits to managing away a bad client, there are also risks. Your hard earned reputation may become a casualty if your customer feels they have been rejected or let down when you part company. Things can also become unpleasant or awkward if you worked closely with them, or will continue to operate within the same network.
And, avoid gimmicks and easy fixes at all costs! Ignore any friendly advice you receive telling you to get a client to sack you by ‘simply’ doubling your prices, giving them a substandard service, or handing their account to a junior member of staff. Trust me, word will get out one way or another about your poor service or sudden price hikes, which will only serve to spook your existing clients and deter new ones.
So, how can you successfully manage away a client, whilst suffering the least collateral or reputational damage? Take due consideration and then follow these four steps to ensure the split is as professional and painless as possible:
Although ‘bad’ clients are an almost inevitable part of running your own business, you can try to reduce your exposure at the outset. Set clear boundaries from the start and implement a filtering process to check customers’ suitability. Most importantly, then have the confidence to say no if you don’t think they will be a good fit.
Have you let a client go? How did you do it? - Let me know in the comments section below!
“Take 20 minutes a day to manage social media interactions”.
“Spend just 45 minutes a day on client outreach”.
“Check your inbox every half hour for important customer emails ”.
“Invest just 5 minutes a day in a LinkedIn or Facebook update”
“Just 15 minutes each day will help you keep on top of your expenses”.
Yes, these are all good, and important, but... what if... everything's important? How do you chose which important tasks to pursue (and so which to ignore) without losing your entire day to other peoples' priorities?
In reality, you probably struggle to get all your daily tasks done even though they require only small units of your time. And, rather than moving forwards, at the end of the busiest of days it can still feel like your business is treading water.
This is because, time is not the real issue here, it’s priority – and, as a business owner, it generally feels like everything is a priority.
With some frequency, I hear the same problems:
How do you break this cycle? Start with these 4 easy tips:
With so many competing demands for your attention it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees, and finding the precise recipe that works for you will require a degree of trial and error. But don't be dismayed; this experimentation is a vital part of mobilisation and progress, and is all part of your taking back control.
One more thought: You are, of course, not alone in your need to prioritise. Your prospects and customers are struggling with the same conflicts - opening up a whole new question of how you get yourself onto your prospects’ and customers’ priority lists when they themselves are equally busy and distracted. In my next post I will explore exactly that (make sure you're on the Blog Updates Emailer so you don't miss it!).
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Do you find it difficult to prioritise? What techniques do you use? Let me know in the comments.
We all have an inherent aversion to (/fear of) failure.
Some of this is about how we might be perceived by others: The word ‘failure’ can sound alarmingly close to mis-management, poor judgement, even incompetence.
And some of this aversion reflects our own internal conscience: We're all operating with finite resources, and when something we do fails, we have to recognise that we have lost (/wasted) those resources for no results. Too many of these and you won’t be around for very long.
So it makes perfect sense; due to a mixture of pride and conscientiousness, we want to be associated with success.
In fact it further makes sense that, to avoid all these negative attributes, the best thing to do is follow tested and proven techniques, err your decisioning on the side of caution, and avoid risk-taking behaviour.
And you’ll already be guessing where I’m going with this, ‘cos mankind’s most amazing achievements and biggest discoveries came from doing the exact opposite: experimenting, innovating, and stepping into the unknown.
Just check back to my previous series on differentiation (especially the Leadership one); if we avoid the risk of failure we’ll never be the ones to stand out and lead movements and be known for our passion and innovation.
It needs a compromise. Something pragmatic, founded on encouraging experimentation, and managing/anticipating/allowing for fallout.
However, ultimately, you also need to recognise that our environment is just too complex to model and control every single variable and potential outcome. Sometimes you just have to put it out there, releasing new energy into the world, and seeing what happens.
How about it?
The Impact of Indecision
The world around us moves quickly. Customer tastes and expectations change. Markets evolve and move on. New technologies arrive and disrupt the status quo.
Whether the indecision is in our own businesses, or in potential customers or strategic partners, a lack of action can mean missed business and opportunities in the short term, and limited options for the longer term. Neither is good.
And indecision is contagious too. People are naturally drawn toward conviction and energy. Conversely, indecisiveness reeks of uncertainty, lack of confidence, and risk. If left unchecked, this will start to infect the attitudes of your employees, your partners and your customers.
Key Symptoms of Indecision (in Yourself or Others)
Even when backed-up with all the logic and intelligent justification in the world, the obvious symptom of indecision is a simple lack of action.
This may manifest in the form of:
Three Big Steps For Combatting Indecision:
1. Weigh up the facts, and make ‘best-judgement’ decisions...
Gather Your Facts
Remember Your Vision
Set Some Rules
2. Back yourself, and pursue your decisions with gusto...
Trust Your Instincts
Focus On Momentum
3. Look forwards, and make them the right decisions...
Make It Work
Be Prepared To Fail
…and don’t beat yourself up! - It’s all about experimentation.
Those three big steps again:
Go on, I dare you!
I hope you've enjoyed this latest post from The Boardroom Blog. As always, we welcome your comments, and if you have found this post useful then please share it on your preferred social networks, and join The Boardroom mailing list to ensure you never miss out on a future update (plus receive our free e-book with 100 practical strategy and marketing tips!).
Guest Blog by Alexandra Peet
It was a fascinating discussion at Friday’s #TheBreakfastBoard, with expert psychodynamic counsellor Alexandra Peet leading us through the world of Mindfulness, and how we can apply these powerful techniques to our daily personal and business lives.
Alexandra has kindly written a brief intro to the subject…
Mindfulness at The Breakfast Board
What Exactly Is Mindfulness?
Everyone is talking about Mindfulness at the moment. But can it really help us?
In essence Mindfulness means being in the moment. Being aware of where we are and what is going on for us right now.
The Origins Of Mindfulness Go Back A Long Way…
Eastern cultures have been meditating for centuries and all religions encourage quiet times for reflection. Being in the here and now does not negate other stuff that is going on in our lives. We’re not talking about ignoring planning for the future and being unprepared for life events. But we are talking about getting life into perspective. Not being so overwhelmed with the small (or big) stuff that we don’t have time to appreciate what’s going on in the here now.
Mindfulness as we now know it was created by Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. He merged the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a zen Buddhist monk, with current neuroscience to create a format which has been proven scientifically to be effective.
Here in the UK mindfulness was developed into Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) an 8 week course offering meditation, observation of ourself without criticism and being compassionate with ourself.
It does this by offering:
The Benefits Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice includes specific activities to encourage spontaneity so we can become less routined and regular meditation to calm the brain. Brain scans have shown that neural pathways can be changed positively after 5 weeks of regular meditation.
Some benefits are:
Who Is It For?
Mindfulness is for anyone. The MBSR course targets people affected by stress, anxiety, pain and depression but anyone can improve their general sense of wellbeing by practising mindfulness regularly. Anyone who wants to feel more relaxed, less stressed and get life more in perspective can benefit from mindfulness.
So How Can I Find Out More?
BBC Breakfast has a 12 minute report which is a good place to start. Then I suggest trying a few short meditations. Youtube has numerous mindfulness videos, I can recommend the Mindfulness Meditation Taster with Jon Kabat-Zinn or the 3 Minute Breathing Space by Mark Willams.
If you like the feel of these then I suggest trying some formal practice and exercises. My favourite is Mindfulness – A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman or sign up to an online course such as www.bemindfulonline.com
These twelve time tested techniques will help you make sure that every minute you invest in your business, creates value for your business...
1. Aim (Decide your direction and set your goals)
How else will you know what's important (i.e. takes you towards your goals) and whats distraction? Think about operational goals (e.g. your daily To-Do list) and strategic goals - growth, clients, scalability...
For the same reason that you should always buy your groceries off a shopping list, you should always work off a To-Do list:
Book in set dates, periods, times, and time limits, for key tasks so you don’t lose sight of them amidst all the other noise. This might mean you set aside an hour at the start of each day, to deal with emails, or spend every Monday morning scheduling your tweets for the week.
Don't just flit randomly from one thing to the other. Avoid the time leakage that comes with transferring and refocusing between tasks, by grouping similar tasks together. For example, wait until you have a bunch of invoices to send out before you pull out the client files and open up your invoicing system, and clear your desk (and headspace) and make all your calls for the day in one super-efficient blast. (Use some of the easier calls as a warm up, to get you into the zone so you can power through the tough ones!)
5. In-Days and Out-Days
Are you able to manage your appointments and plan out your days in terms of In-Days (e.g. at your desk working through your To-Do list) and Out-Days (e.g. where you’re out at meetings)?
Don't be shy about asking to reschedule (by time or location) your appointments so you can make your In and Out Days work best for you, optimising the time in each day and each working week.
Chunk your Out-Days into timeslots - e.g. if your meetings tend to be 2 hours plus travel, you easily have 4 meeting slots in a single 9-5 day, with a half-hour switchover between each.
Then tighten up - See if you can reduce the amount of switchover time you need - e.g. by being proactive and suggesting the meeting place (to be the same as, or at least more convenient to, your previous meeting).
And consider shrinking your time slots to get more chunks into each day - Could you achieve the same in a 30 minute meeting, as you would with 60 minutes? Sometimes, having a shorter time slot alone is enough to bring pace and focus to an otherwise rambling discussion.
Developing and nurturing your connections is an essential part of any business, and this requires (and warrants) an investment of time. But, what if you start thinking of the mediums you choose (face to face, phone, email...) as a hierarchy?
In the same way that you can save money on your grocery shopping by down-shifting the brands you buy, you can reclaim huge amounts of time by down-shifting the mediums you choose for certain communications. How much time could you save by shifting just some of your more casual face to face meetings to phone calls, or your group meetings to Hangouts and webinars, your information-sharing calls to emails, generalist emails to social media updates...?
This is not about de-personalising your communications, this is about focusing on where you can create the most impact, and along the way introducing efficiency for all involved. When done with transparency and focus, everyone will appreciate the shared benefits.
Then save the face to face for when you can make a real impact with your presence.
Think like McDonalds - Have a system (i.e. a step by step process or methodology) for all regular tasks. This stops you having to mentally reinvent the process each time. This applies to everything you have to do more than once, whether it's how you respond to a random LinkedIn connection request, or the time you spend creating client proposals, vetting prospects, devising marketing campaigns, social media planning, sketching out a new blog post...
As well as introducing consistency and quality of output, systemising will help you:
1. Tune out your brain during repetitive tasks (so you can focus it somewhere more productive),
2. Ultimately package and outsource these tasks to others, so you can concentrate on creating value in your business.
What can you set up to just run?
There are countless amazing (and usually pretty cheap) tools for: Managing your email inbox; Scheduling and auto-feeding social media content; Automating email lists and website signups; Promoting and collecting event bookings; Invoicing and sending and receiving payments...
As a starter, check out: Outlook Rules, Mailchimp, Aweber, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Eventbrite, and Paypal Invoicing.
Some of the most impressive business models I've come across make the owners money with barely a single touch from them.
You don’t need to break the bank to outsource some of the load - especially when a specialist will be far more effective and efficient than you...
If it takes you 4 hours a week to do your bookkeeping, and a trained bookkeeper can achieve the same (/better?) end result in an hour, then you should be outsourcing the work. ...Unless you think that your hourly rate really is ¼ that of the bookkeeper (in which case forget what you're doing and set yourself up as a discount bookkeeper!)
Focus on the tasks that need you, and only you - Those that use your unique talents, and warrant your time.
Settle for 'good enough'. Yes you heard me. Perfection is expensive and inefficient - and you don’t have the time to perfect everything right now.
This isn't about cutting corners. Simply deliver what you agreed, brilliantly, and charge accordingly.
12. Back the right horse
When you find yourself with all the time in the world, you'll be able to pursue every thought or opportunity that comes to you. Until that time, you will need to make some judgement calls as to where to direct your precious resources, to achieve the maximum outcomes. This means dropping or parking some of your To-Do candidates. (The alternative is that you risk diluting everything and delivering nothing.)
This isn't an excuse for short-termism; you still need a balance of quick wins and pragmatic investments. And similarly, this is not about flipping a coin - It must be a no-regrets judgement call, using the best intelligence available to you at the time.
Then back your own decision - Allow yourself to do this, with the confidence that those you do pursue, you will do so with focus and energy.
Final Word: Putting All This Into Practice
As with any regime, ultimate and sustainable success comes from:
My experience of using these techniques myself and with clients, is that you can more than double your productivity. What's yours?
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By Kevin Sheldrake
So, we have much excitement here in Old Blighty as we near tomorrow’s solar eclipse. Watching powers beyond our reach obscure the light of the Sun by up to 98% across Northern Europe, it will be a moment of reflection and awe for many, at the scale and workings of the universe and our humble role within it (calling to mind the 6th rule of The Competitive Forest).
During your own contemplative moment, you might also want to give a little thought to any parallels - Specifically, what factors might be eclipsing you as you move through your own universe?
Whatever it is, don’t accept it. Take control. It's time to go and create a bit of disruption in your own universe!
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