Your Path to a Better Future
Many small business owners are not all that comfortable as leader. They prefer doing over leading. However, they are smart enough to realize, if they are more effective leaders their business will produce better results and be less dependent upon them.
The challenge is where do you turn for advice on how to become a more effective leader?
There is an overwhelming amount of information on leadership. Even if you pay attention to just a small fraction of it, you end up with a very long list of things you need to do to be a “good” leader. It can be very confusing.
Of course there are lessons to be learned from the famous CEO leaders (i.e. Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, etc.) who tend to be studied in MBA programs and the dominate examples cited in much of the leadership development information. Your leadership challenges are different than theirs. You are interested in practical and relevant skills for your situation.
Leadership is Situational
There is no one list of leadership skills for small business owners. Understand leadership is situational – different situations require different skills. As a small business owner your situation is unique. You need the skills to lead a relatively small number of people who will help you grow your business your way. One that is less dependent on you, affording you more freedom and financial success.
As the owner you have multiple roles in your business. When you are filling the role of leader, what is your job? You may not consciously make a distinction between your leadership role and what you do every day. Defining the work you do when wearing the leader hat will help you determine the skills you will require. I like Marcus Buckingham’s definition of leadership:
“A leader’s job is to rally people to a better future”.
I think this is a perfect way to think about leading a small business. It is simple, practical and easy to remember.
Five Essential Leadership Skills for Business Owners
If your role as leader is to rally people to a better future, what skills do you need to do that? Here are five skills that will serve as your building blocks to becoming a more effective leader:
This is your ability to paint a clear picture of what your business will look like at some future date. If you expect people to follow you, you better be going somewhere. Think of what you want to accomplish as your destination. If you know where you want to end up, it will be easier to figure out how to get there.
Create or refine you vision for what success looks like. Clarity is the key to an effective vision. In addition to your destination, clarifying what is important to you and your business like core values, core purpose, culture and what role you want to fill in your business are all key elements of this work. If you are going to rally people to a better future it starts with your vision of the future.
2. Strategic Thinking
If vision is your destination, then evaluating and choosing the best path to reach your vision is strategic thinking. It includes your ability to focus on outcomes and keep your eye on the “big picture”. The challenge is it is so easy to get caught up in what needs to get done today, you can easily forget about your destination.
It’s important to make some time to step outside of the day-to-day and stay on top of trends in your industry. Anticipating future business opportunities and potential competitive threats are all part of the strategic work an effective leader does.
It is not enough to have a vision and a strategy in your head. You also need to be able to share it with the people who are going to help you achieve it. The challenge for many small business owners is how do you share what is in your head with other people in a way they get it.
Just telling them once is never enough. You need to repeat your message often and consistently. Your ability to help people confidently see what comes next, how the work they do every day aligns with where you are going, and what’s in it for them is how you will engage your people and rally them to a better future.
To help business owners become better communicators we have developed tools plus a specific meeting rhythm to allow them to easily and more consistently share the vision, strategy, mission, core values, goals and priorities. This ongoing sharing and conversation about the business creates a common point-of-view and language for your business which is foundational in building your culture.
4. Relationship Building
Being able to understand others’ perspectives and deal with them effectively is a key leadership skill. Business is all about relationships. The higher the quality of your relationships – in your personal life and business life – will often lead to a more enjoyable and successful business.
Relationship power is a more effective way to get things done than position power. Better relationships will lead to more frequent and meaningful conversations. This will allow you to have deeper connections, and give you more opportunities to share the vision and strategy. The more you share and connect with people the more they will trust you. It is much easier to influence someone when then they trust you; as opposed to when they are afraid of you.
You have all heard “lead by example”. The small business owner may take this concept a little too far. Believing if they put their head down and work really hard, go the extra mile for the client and keep an eye on every penny, people will follow and do the same. Visibly working hard is their version of leadership.
Instead, I want you to think about action in terms of what actions you can take as leader to get more and better results from your people. It is like moving from being the main player on your team to being a player-coach (and depending on your vision to being just the head coach). Involve more of your people more often.
This means adapting more leadership behaviors like coaching, mentoring, supporting and team building. These are the leadership actions that will enable you to grow your business in a way that is less dependent upon you and ultimately more enjoyable.
Decoding Small Business Leadership
Don’t over complicate your role as leader; don’t ignore it either.
Simply spend a little more time envisioning and thinking about the future. Clearly and regularly share your vantage point and the direction the business is going. Involve your people where ever you can. Connect and engage them in making the future better.
Focus on these fundamental skills. They are skills that you will always use and will serve as the building blocks for you to become a more effective leader. You will need additional leadership skills throughout the life of your business. Your unique situation will determine which skills are required. Leadership is a learned skill. Once learned it is part of what you do – a set of beneficial behaviors.Read more
Simple Ways to Get Better Results from Your Marketing Activities
Who doesn’t want to attract new clients and grow? Unfortunately, many professional service firms don’t like and are frustrated by marketing and their ability to consistently add new clients. Here are 5 surprisingly simple things that will multiply your marketing efforts and generate more new business.
1. Relentless Focus on Your Target Market
The easiest way to improve your marketing results is to make sure you are connecting with the “right” people and not wasting time on the wrong people. Sounds simple. But how do you do that? You need to segment your marketplace and then choose (target) the specific segments of preferred client types you would like to serve.
Surprisingly few firms segment their market place. And fewer ever choose a specific segment they are going to pursue. Instead, the typical firm will take on an eclectic mix of client types. When you have multiple types of clients it is difficult to grow your reputation and be seen as an “expert” who can help a particular group of people. This makes it difficult to stand out in the crowd. It also makes it difficult to craft your Brand Promise in a way that resonates with anyone; because you are trying appeal to too many different types of people.
Many firm leaders are unclear about exactly who their core clients are. Even when they choose a target group, mysteriously they fail to focus their marketing activities on this core client. Anything you do will work better when you have a clearly defined target market and all of your efforts are focused on finding and serving just this type of client.
Everything a professional service firm does flows from quality and excellent service. Serving one type of client extraordinarily well will enable you to deliver high quality work. This feeds directly into shaping your reputation, which leads to more referrals. Everyone knows referrals are the best way to add more clients.
If you could truly provide excellent service to only one type of client, who would that be? Have you truly clarified your target markets and created ideal client profiles? Do you know their most pressing problems? Does everything you do start with a clear picture of WHO you serve?
2. Nail Your Brand Promise
Once you know who you are going to serve the next thing you need to do is to be able to clearly communicate why they should work with you. Your ability to tell your target market about the value they will receive working with you will determine the results of your marketing.
You’re not selling something tangible that a person can see, feel and touch like a product seller. You are selling a service. When a client buys your service, what are they buying?
You’re selling a promise that you will do something for them.
This promise is Your Brand Promise. It needs to be relevant, magnetic and memorable. You must use clear language that appeals to both their emotions and logic – hearts and minds. Most of all it must resonate with your target market.
What are you promising to do for your clients? Can you quickly and clearly communicate it? When your target market hears it do they know immediately that you understand what they are looking for?
Let’s face it a professional service firm succeeds when you can convince enough targeted people their lives will be somehow better off working with you. Take your time and nail your brand promise and you will see immediate improvement in all of your lead generation activities.
3. Marketing Process and Systems
Do you have documented marketing processes? Most firms don’t. They treat marketing as more of an art than a discipline. Instead of thinking of marketing as a system that can be continuously improved through quantification and process improvement, they use “random acts of marketing”, hoping something will work.
Marketing, like other key business functions is a system. Without clearly defined processes you can’t systematize and automate marketing activities. This means you are less effective and less efficient than you could be. Simply documenting how you do lead generation and lead conversion will allow you to improve these areas of your business.
Systems will also allow you to delegate or outsource some of this marketing work. This leaves you with more free time to focus on the more critical strategic marketing issues. Making sure you have processes and systems for your core lead generation and lead conversion activities will multiply your results.
4. Keep Your List Healthy
Maintaining a healthy list of ideal prospects and influencers is often an overlooked marketing activity. Probably because we get consumed (and distract) by the creative side of marketing – writing the headlines, selecting images, testing media channels, etc. Your ability to consistently connect with the right people with relevant messages will improve your marketing results a lot more than your ability to choose the best image or best headline.
A few things to keep in mind when building and keeping your list healthy:
- Bigger is not necessarily better than a smaller list of ideal prospects (think quality over quantity)
- An organically grown list is better than a purchased list
- Everyone you meet should not be on your list – invitation only
- Segment your list
A healthy list is one that is fed with only those who fit your ideal profiles, maintained and exercised regularly. When you are in-touch regularly with your ideal client type you will see improved marketing results.
5. Utilize Marketing Technology – Technology is changing the way we do everything and marketing is no expectation. From how you do your marketing research to how you on-board and serve clients there are technology applications. According to the November 2014 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, 7 Marketing Technologies Every Company Must Use – there are “over 1000 companies trying to sell some type of marketing technology in over 40 categories”.
Marketing for a professional service firm is educational / content marketing. Creating high quality content and then sharing it consistently across your selected channels is marketing for you. Utilize marketing technologies that will make this easier to accomplish.
The right marketing technology tools can allow you to automate your marketing processes, easily expand your reach and touch more of your target market on a regular basis, in less time and at lower costs.
Summing Up Your Marketing Multipliers
These 5 concepts work great together. The more you can focus on offering a tailored solution to a tightly defined client segment the easier it will be to create and keep your brand promise. It will also allow you to choose the right marketing activities to attract clients to you. Once you know your activities you can then create your marketing systems. With systems in place you can find the right marketing technologies to not only automate processes, but to also leverage your activities and expand your reach.
I know I didn’t share any magic bullets here; these are just simple fundamental marketing concepts you have already heard before. The magic happens when firms actually practice these concepts. They are no longer frustrated by marketing and they consistently add new clients.
Imagine it is the year 2020. The Wall Street Journal is doing a story on your business.
What is the headline?
The answer to that simple question could be the difference between you building your dream business or just being average.
What Your Article Would Say About You
How would that article answer some of these questions?
– What problems do you solve for your customers or clients?
– How big is your business?
– Who are the people that work there?
– What is your role?
In business, thinking about how to answer these types of questions is strategic work. Strategic work is considerably different than the tactical work you do day in and day out; like answering emails, serving customers, training staff, putting out fires, creating an advertisement, updating your social media, doing the books, networking, following up with people, and, on and on and on.
Dreaming about what you want your business to become is some of the most valuable work you could be doing. Unfortunately, dreaming about the future feels like you are not being productive, so you just don’t allow yourself to do it when there is “real” work to do.
A Dream Come True?
Of course just having a dream about your future is not enough to make it happen. You also need a plan. Envisioning where you want to take your business and creating a plan to make it happen is the essence of strategic planning.
You know you need a plan to run your business better. All of the business books tell you that the “most successful businesses” all have a plan. Of course, you would prefer to run your business from a plan. Many business owners embark on creating an annual strategic plan. For some it has become a habit that enables them to continue to grow year after year. For most, it becomes an annual exercise in futility. You spend your time and staff time creating your plan that frankly doesn’t get looked at again until…well, the next year this time.
Your reality is that maybe you have a rough plan of what you are suppose to do each week. The truth is very few business owners work from a plan; or spend any time articulating how they intend to run, manage and grow their business.
Business Growth by Design
Strategic planning is not as complicated as you may think and the best managed businesses treat strategic planning as a business process and not an annual event. The typical strategic planning process has these four basic steps:
- Update the plan annually
- Execute the plan weekly
- Track and monitor the results quarterly
- Making adjustments and updates as need dictates
Because your business is unique there is no one-size fits all strategic plan you can make your plan. With our business coaching clients we use a strategic planning framework that is flexible and adaptable to each client’s needs. We call our version of strategic planning the Business Design PlanTM because it will help you design, build and grow your dream business. It is both a framework to create and execute your strategic plan. It is centered on just three questions. You can get your plan started by answering these three questions:
1. Where are you now?
As you think about where your firm is now, look to see if you have the foundational elements of your strategic plan in place: your core values and core purpose. These two elements rarely change and they probably will not require a lot of time to revisit or potentially revise. Here is where you want to step back and “see how you are doing?” You can do this by:
Analyzing Key Metrics – As Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great “you need to confront the brutal facts”. Pull all of your key numbers together and understand your business’s current performance.
Conducting a SWOT Analysis – This is a traditional strategic planning tool. It helps you to understand and evaluate your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Together your Key Metrics plus your SWOT analysis paint a picture of where you are now.
2. Where are you going?
This is the “dreaming” part. You want to envision the most ideal future for you and your business. For many owners this is the hardest part of strategic planning, trying to envision what your organization will look like in the future. As the economy has demonstrated over the past few years, almost everything seems unstable and unpredictable. So how exactly are you supposed to predict the future of your business?
You probably can’t. But you can create your future.
It starts with envisioning what your business will look like at some future date. You may have some revenue targets and other goals you would like to achieve. Go further. Describe how your company must look, feel and act in order to become your dream business. Use the questions at the beginning of this article (the Wall Street Journal questions) to paint a picture of your dream business. The value to answering these questions is they will enable you to be more intentional about designing and building your business.
3. How will we get there?
Now that you know where you want to go, you’ll need to determine how you will get there. What are the specific strategies you will use to reach your destination? Usually there are multiple routes you may take. The path one business might choose may not be exactly right for you. Brainstorm and choose the best strategies for you. This “strategizing” will drive your strategic planning process.
Important strategic areas you will want to work on include:
- Your life design strategy
- Marketing strategy
- Client service strategy
- People strategy
- Organizational strategy
- Management strategy
- Succession and exit strategy
Actions Speak Louder than Plans
In order to reach your long term vision of your dream business you next need to covert your vision and strategies into action plans that focus on what to do in the short-term. For each strategic priority you need an action plan. Each plan will include the deliverable, action steps, responsibilities, costs and due dates.
Now is the best time to decide what your 2020 Wall Street Journal article will say about you. You still have the opportunity to intentionally design your future. It is easy to get caught up in the urgency of getting through each day. Don’t fall into that trap. Dedicate some of your time to your long term dream and strategic plan. There are multiple reasons why having a strategic plan is an imperative:
- Adding new business
- Increased revenues
- Higher profits
- Increased valuation
- Getting your team on the same page
The overlooked and more valuable role strategic planning plays in your business is that it helps you clarify your dream. Which enables you to take consistent actions toward that dream. This in turn results in a much more enjoyable business ownership experience. This work will help you design the life and business you want.
We offer Annual Strategic Plan coaching and facilitation. Contact us to get more information.Read more
Get More Done and Work Fewer Hours
Wouldn’t you like to work fewer hours? Of course you would, but the reality is you’re always running out of time before you run out of things to do. It is hard to find a business owner who hasn’t complained about “never enough time to get everything done”.
- Ready for a vacation
When it comes to time and work, business owners are in a unique position. You do not get paid to be at work from 9 to 5. You get paid for results and ultimately for what you build (the value of your business).
Unfortunately many owners treat their business like a job; not in the sense they only work 9 to 5 – we know you work a lot more – in the sense that you are too focused on hours and not on results. Too many business owners get caught up putting out fires, wasting time on things that aren’t moving you forward and using your time haphazardly and ineffectively.
Time Management is a Choice
It is true you cannot “manage time”. What most time management advice is trying to tell you is that you need to do a better job of managing yourself in relationship to time. In other words, use the time you do have better. That starts with making better decisions regarding how you choose to spend your time.
How do you decide where to spend your time when you have so much to do?
Your choices should flow out of what you are trying to accomplish in your business and your life. This clarity will enable you to make better decisions and choose to do the things that are most important to you and your business. When you start to think of yourself as the steward of your time, you will want to be more intentional, and look for ways to be more productive and for ways to add more balance in your life.
Here are five good habits the most productive business owners use to get more done and work less:
1. Stop Doing List
The most productive business owners are selective about how they spend their time. They are constantly looking for ways to reduce their workload and get things off their desk. A great way to do this is to “stop” doing things you shouldn’t be doing. Make a list of all of the work you should stop doing, including the work you don’t enjoy doing.
The list is the starting point. Next you need to develop your strategy and plan for how you will stop doing each task on your list. This may include how you might delegate the task, outsource it, or how you might literally stop doing that work all together. Maintaining a Stop Doing List should become an ongoing habit in your business.
2. Routine Calendar
The most effective and productive people have a routine they live by. Their routine is reflected in how they schedule their calendar. They are predictable, consistent, and intentional. They have a weekly plan for how they will spend their time. Think of it as being similar to a financial budget, only you are planning how you will spend your time as opposed to how you will spend your money. Just like the financial budget you spend it on paper before you spend it for real, to ensure you are using it wisely.
These productive business owners have set times when they do all of their required work. They will do their leadership work, management work, client work, marketing work, etc. at the same time every week…week in and week out. It has become habit for them. They even get to work and leave work at basically the same time every day. It is their routine. Each weekly plan is almost identical to the previous week’s plan. You can set your watch by them.
Routines may sound boring and even restrictive to many entrepreneurs. However, routine will actually set you free. They are very liberating because, in a sense, you don’t have to think about what to do next. You have a plan for what you are working on and you are in the habit of doing your most important work regularly. You are less stressed because you are not reacting to every little thing. Your mind is free to be more creative and strategic.
3. Time Blocking
When developing your routine calendar, you have to schedule everything that matters, not just appointments. The way to do that is to schedule your work in blocks of time. Each time block will be dedicated to a single task. This will strengthen your focus and minimize distractions.
Time blocking will help you be more intentional and less reactive each day. Since a percentage of your work is repeated week in and week out – this routine work – can easily be blocked out on your calendar. This includes the majority of your appointments. Who your appointments are with may be different each week, but the time you block off for these types of meetings will be the same each week. The rest of your work is project work and problem solving. This work can also be broken up into blocks of time and scheduled on your calendar. If it is not scheduled on your calendar something will “pop-up” and this work will not get done
When things don’t go according to plan and you are forced to make adjustments in your schedule time blocking is very effective. Instead of “blowing up” your entire schedule, time blocking allows you to “swap blocks of time”. This gives you a good way to get all of your planned work done, just in a different order. There is a physiological component to working this way as well. You don’t feel guilty for skipping some work, because you know you have a block of time you can use to get back on track.
4. Prioritize and Make Progress Each Day
Productive people have a purpose and a plan for each day. They know what work is most important each day. Use a daily prioritizer to ensure you are working on your most important things each day. If you don’t prioritize your work someone else will – especially staff or clients – with emergencies and special requests. You then become reactive instead of intentional. The demands on your time are greater than ever. You need a daily strategy and plan to minimize distraction and improve focus that aligns with your routine calendar.
You can use the daily prioritizer tool to strategize and plan each day. I recommend it only contain your top 3 to 6 priorities for that day…not your entire to-do list. By prioritizing you can decide what needs to be done in what order. Even when you don’t finish all of the work planned for that day, at least what is done is the most important. You will feel like you are making progress.
5. Leave 30 Minutes Early
What is the difference between your typical day and a day when you know you need to leave early? You do not procrastinate; you have a sense of urgency and you get more done. You set deadlines for the work on your desk, so you can leave when you need to. You are more productive.
One of the reasons things don’t get done in a “timely” manner is because you fail to set hard deadlines for the work you do. Deadlines are essential to productivity improvement. Try this: set a deadline to leave work 30 minutes early tomorrow. Don’t allow yourself to take work home. For each task you need to accomplish set a deadline. Then repeat this once per week for the next several weeks. You will be more productive when you leave early.
Start Being More Productive Now
We are all bound by the restrictions of time and it is hard to get everything done. Don’t let that be an excuse to let your life get totally out of balance. Take responsibility for making better decision about how you spend your time. Use one or all five of these habits to be more intentional and productive.
If you would like a copy of our Stop Doing List, Daily Prioritizer or Routine Calendar / Time Blocking templates contact me directly and I will send them to you via email.