Before I even get to that, what was 2017 the year of for you?
Me, I blog about the things I see and the conversations I have with entrepreneurs and business owners, and when I look back at some of the themes I covered in 2017… well… there’s an undeniable vibe - with Resilience, Deception, Rejection, Limbo, Self-doubt, Fatigue, our very popular 2-parter on VUCA … oh my gosh the list goes on and on!
Certainly I think much of this general malaise, this shared feeling of ‘meh’, has originated from outside factors. Between all the political squabbling, EU wrangling, and economic underperformance, we’ve had no shortage of reasons to be nervous and to defer our decision-making. But there is an internal/mindset issue too. After all, what are we meant to do? Just hang in limbo indefinitely waiting for factors outside our control to resolve themselves? Will they ever?
For many decision makers, conditions have been imperfect for so long, it’s coming full circle, creating an air of impatience and pent up momentum. A recognition that it may never be the perfect time (it might only rarely even be an okay time). There will always be external or personal factors that create instability or uncertainty. Abnormal is the new normal. As the other Agent K (Men In Black 1997), puts it, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet.”
So, perhaps, there is a time when despite the lousy external conditions, negative headlines and ‘weak business confidence’ surveys spouted by the popular media, you instead draw on your internal strength and resolve, and say “It is time”. You accept the fluid nature of things and learn to ride the waves. You back yourself, make a judgement call and make your decisions the right decisions and make now the right time.
How do you do this?
What we do – what all of us entrepreneurs do – is ultimately about action. Without action, we’re no different from anyone anywhere who’s had an idea to escape the rat race but done nothing about it.
So perversely, while it may be that it’s never a perfect time, I wonder if perhaps it’s also always a good time?
If 2017 was the year of ‘meh’, can you make 2018 the year of decision, the year of mobilisation, the year of progress and the year of results?
What do you think? What will 2018 be ‘the year of’ for you? Let me know in the comments below.
“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.
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.
By Kevin Sheldrake
It’s an inherent contradiction. We’re confident in our work and want our clients to be happy, yet the idea of offering unlimited revisions makes us feel nervous. One round is fine, perhaps even two or three is feasible, but beyond that, it’s like writing a blank cheque isn’t it?
Well no, not quite.
There is no denying that some clients can be picky, but it’s not in their interest to spend unnecessary time asking for endless minute changes. The reason for this is simple; no one wins when a job is delayed. However challenging they can be, clients do understand that you both have the same goal: the best job possible, with the most efficient use of resources – time, money and physical assets.
But nevertheless, there are still things to consider before you provide this as a standard part of your service.
Balancing risk against reward
When you offer revisions, you are essentially guaranteeing the quality of your work or service. The more this includes, the stronger that guarantee appears.
Unlimited revisions are therefore a powerful and bold proposition. The client wants certainty, and from their point of view, it shows that you are skilled, that you stand behind what you do and that you pride yourself on doing a good job. Ultimately this increases their confidence, strengthening your relationship.
This has obvious benefits, as customer retention is far easier once you’ve earned their trust and demonstrated your value.
But there are of course risks too, you will, therefore, need to manage client engagement from the start and right the way through to the project’s timely completion – but surely you do this already?
The crux, however, is the balance you strike between being flexible – so you can actually make changes – and being efficient – so resources are not squandered and work with other clients isn’t jeopardised.
Project planning and management
Some of this risk can be offset by investing a little more time upfront negotiating a job’s spec and planning its delivery. Here are some considerations to bear in mind:
Unlimited revisions are a big step, but the risk that a client would make endless requests for changes is unlikely as they’d be wasting their time as much as yours!
Plus, when you also consider that a returns policy is a relatively standard part of any sales process, is it really that different? Surely, it’s just good customer service.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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"Help, I've sold all my time!!"
At some point, every business owner hits a glass ceiling. At first, the success of your marketing engine probably felt like a gift, but as demand for business increases and your internal capacity begins to dwindle, it may now feel more like a curse.
Even with extra hours you are probably still struggling to service your ever-growing client base and becoming ‘full’ seems inevitable.
With the glass ceiling looming, it can feel like your only option is to close the doors to new business and place your marketing efforts on hold.
But, what if there were another way? A solution that allowed your business to grow, without overwhelming its capacity to service clients? - This, is scaling.
Our 'Solo-preneur's Guide to Scaling' will take you through the key ingredients, steps, and the critical Do's and Don't's of scaling your business.
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!
By Kevin Sheldrake (originally posted as a guest blog in April 2016 in the excellent Re: Accountancy blog).
Do you have a Benefactor Client? Someone who: Probably has a strong presence in your industry; they are easy to manage; you have a good relationship with them; and the custom they give you is longstanding, reliable and lucrative.
Maybe the ongoing work is a bit of a given. Maybe you don’t have to work too hard to keep them happy, or to keep the income flowing. Maybe you’ve already come to see them as a bit of a ‘Golden Goose’ to your business?
Don’t get me wrong, there are many advantages to having a Benefactor Client:
Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, these highly desirable benefits and opportunities come at a price, and a flipside that can pose a significant risk to your business:
With some regularity, I come across a business in the grip of turmoil, where they have lost their comfortable Benefactor Client and suddenly found themselves needing to make up a substantial shortfall in income and brush up on all the skills and activities they have neglected.
While there is no need to kill the goose (drop an existing Benefactor) or avoid acquiring one, some smart planning is required to make the most of the opportunities, without over-exposing yourself to the risks. These four tips are a good start:
Benefactor Clients are an excellent way to give your business a boost or give it some stability in a rocky period. But, you should always keep your business moving forwards. Don’t let yourself become reliant on your Golden Goose, you just never know when it might be poached by a wily fox or meet some other misfortune.
Look for new opportunities and continue to forge new relationships and connections. Grow your presence and visibility in your industry on your own terms to work towards your business goals.
What are your views on ‘Benefactor Clients’? How do you balance your resources and time between Benefactor Clients and smaller clients? Let me know in the comments.
Who are you looking to meet? It’s a very simple question, but rarely gets a straightforward answer.
More often than not we come up with something vague and generic, probably along the lines of “anyone who wants my services” or basically ‘whoever’s willing to pay me’, and this kind of response misses the point, and also an opportunity.
For example, me, I’m looking to meet:
There. Its transparent, and specific, and gets people thinking ‘who do I know who fits this profile?’
And that of course is what you want. An unashamed to-the-point answer generates a very clear call to action, where previously there might have been little more than a vague planting of information.
So, really, who are you looking to meet?
.. well, you know how it goes. Like it or not, we start hearing, and thinking, about Christmas earlier every year.
For some of us, it’s time for one final push before the shutters go down, to end the year on a high and invest in new momentum for the new year coming. Equally though, it can be a time of frustration as your hottest contacts become distracted, elusive, and internally focused.
So alongside my usual ‘Winding Down For Christmas?’ reminder (download it as a PDF here), I’d like to humbly plant a couple of seeds of… well, let’s call it seasonal empathy… as we move into the final month of 2015.
As we enter the festive lead-up...
…what kind of different issues or opportunities will your clients have?
…what are they going to be doing differently?
…how will their mindset be different?
Think about what your customers and key contacts are focusing on, and looking for, towards the end of the year.
Now, with this insight, what can you do that’s timely, and to-the-point, and supportive, and different?
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