Archive for May, 2011
Over a number of years I’ve watch hundreds of business men and woman chain themselves to some sort of penal system called… self-employment.
They’ve developed a twisted mentality that if it doesn’t hurt, they probably aren’t working hard enough. Sure, as every small business owner will tell you, if you want the results you’ve got to be prepared to work hard. Some of the hardest working and most dedicated people I’ve ever met have been self-employed.
However… I want to share with you an idea, a mentality, that I and many of my clients have found a powerful way to change your approach to working long hours as a self-employed individual. Above all, I’ve found it a powerful way to significantly increase productivity and reduce stress and risk of burnout.
Of course, there is a range of different styles and approaches to work. Some people are extremely disciplined and use structure to ensure they chunk through the work to get the results in time. Others are more scatter-gun and reactive; when it comes in the task gets dealt with according to (perceived) priority. This is never really a good idea, as it means your business and perhaps your customers or suppliers (or even your staff) are actually more in control than you are.
Finally, there are the smart ones out there who simply focus on each task but rely upon a second person to assist in the management and priority – having a PA or secretary who manages your time can work incredibly well. This method seems to be ideal for more creative types who find little satisfaction in structure and focus more on the process and even more on the final product.
You might well have guessed by now that much of what I’m sharing here with you now is very close to my heart. As a person who started in self-employment at the age of 19 I didn’t really know what to expect, or have any experience of being employed (self- or otherwise). I worked harder and harder but still struggled. I needed to learn more and increase my skill sets before I could deliver good results quickly.
After eight successful years of self-employment I returned to the UK and switched to become an employee and eventually entered corporate life. I’m pleased to say that my return to self-employment (about 10 years ago) has been the ideal move and I know I’ll never return to the ‘dark side’. I’m simply not employee material.
As an employee I worked for and with a mixture of different managers, all with different styles. For the most part managers seem to quickly develop a mentality that suggests that employees should never be trusted and if you’re not squeezing every last moment of time out of them you’re not ‘managing them’. Again, I fully accept that there are some employees who are simply lazy and they will find every opportunity to skive. But I’ve seen this mentality destroy real enthusiasm and form bitter, untrusting and even divisive relationships.
I’ve worked for bosses who demand punctuality to the minute and would rather measure your dedication by how many lunch-breaks you are prepared to give up, rather than by the results you actually output. I’ve also work for self-employed people who believe their own insane desire of working 14-16 hours a day should extend to people with far less investment in the business.
One boss would start his working day at 5:30am or even 4:30am (in the office) and take perverse pleasure from reminding all his staff that he had already put in half a day’s work before others had turned up! His life was consumed by work, he had no social life as he went to bed at 9pm every night, no friends and eventually watched a business worth millions collapse in front of his eyes.
So here’s my radical thought; if business productivity is all about results, sales, profits and growth, why do we always tend to measure work rate by in-put and not by out-put?
The number of hours you work is nothing more than a measure of time it’s taken you to complete the given task(s). I’ve met some people who are clearly workaholics and their biggest frustration is that 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough. If you’re running your own business and working more than 10 hours a day I would seriously question your business model. ‘Work should be boring and predictable’ and most of all it should be able to run without you; that’s called having a business, not owning a job.
As the majority of what we do day-to-day is broken down into tasks and the fact that being task-focused is a good way to stay on track, it’s tempting to approach these tasks by the measure of time required. The reality is though, it’s the actual out-put of the task that creates the result, the sale, the profits, etc. The amount of time expended is almost irrelevant. Arguably the longer it takes the more it costs and your profit margin shrinks as a result of inefficiency. Always remember, even if you own the business, your time is (or should be) a cost to the business too. Do you include this in your calculations?!
Instead of looking at each day as a set of tasks to be completed in a set amount of time, why not focus on how best to achieve the output you want for each? This will help you to think about production and problem solving in a far more creative way. I promise you; you’ll also find you complete tasks far quicker and with lower stress – and you’ll probably enjoy yourself a lot more too!
Now I approach my working day very differently. Sure, the days and weeks still fly past for me and I’d still like to create more. However, rather than looking at the next busy week ahead and thinking about all the hours it’s going to take to achieve the desired result, I now look at the end outcome and decide how can I quickly, efficiently and effectively create the result wanted. It’s also a great way to recognise that teamwork and collaboration are the key to business growth and stability.
The time you put into your working life is nothing more than a measure of how much of your life you are giving it. So surely it would be better to maintain a focus on what you want to actually achieve, for you and others around you?
Are you really getting your message across?
A client coaching session on Skype last night threw up some very interesting and fundamental questions. The client, who runs a career coaching service, has a real depth and breadth of knowledge. Harnessed with the passion she has (and I mean serious passion) she produces some amazing results with her clients.
She’d admit to still being a novice when it comes to marketing and promotion, hence the reason for our coaching sessions. Last night’s session was very different though. The end result was a culmination of some vital concepts that she’s now ready to adopt and apply in her marketing.
I’ve spent many an hour talking and writing about the need for every business to create a ‘compelling proposition’. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned in marketing over the past fifteen years. I’ve met so many business people who have immense knowledge of their subject, have a real ability to deliver the goods but the most crucial element in their marketing strategy is still missing – a killer product offering.
It’s been said many times that selling a service is significantly harder than selling a product. This should be obvious. Allow me to digress for a moment to give you a powerful example…
I’ve just helped a client open a new retail space, a Coffee Shop. He’s an award-winning Barista Maestro and what this guy doesn’t know about serving great coffee really doesn’t count. In the past six years of his career he’s helped a major national chain make hundreds of thousands of pounds in profit. He’s highly successful and now has a very bright future ahead in his own business.
This is because he has a fundamental grasp on the three main aspects of his business; 1) knowing his subject, 2) knowing his business and 3) knowing what customers really want. Let me expand on this for a moment:
Knowing your subject – if you want to position yourself in the top end of your market, and if you want to sell a premium product offering (and why wouldn’t you?) you really need to know what you’re talking about. The best way to approach this, as I’ve found, is accept that you will always be studying and learning about your subject.
If you think it’s time to stop reading, listening and learning then you’re going to watch your competitors pass you and pull ahead. You’ll simply perish.
Knowing your business – again, I’ve said it many times before, too many ‘business people’ just don’t understand that you need a cast iron grip on the day-to-day management of your business and that all starts with the core figures. Our Coffee Shop owner is fanatical about margins and labour costs. Even if you only ever focused on these two elements you will immediately surpass about 95% of the business community out there. (And remember labour costs include YOUR time too!)
Knowing what customers want – I know this is probably stating the obvious but when was the last time that you really, openly asked a customer how you could improve the offering you give? Or, what process do you have for measuring the satisfaction of your customers on a daily basis? For the Coffee Shop owner it’s really simple; fresh food, a top quality coffee and made well (he’s even had his own roast blended to his exact recipe!), an immaculate and clean store and, most important of all… a smile for every customer!
Returning to my original point, about the Career Coach – we agreed last night that her knowledge was significant and her delivery produces tangible results. The one ingredient missing to-date is a clear and concise proposition.
You see, if you want to take your prospective customer to the point where they are ready to buy you need to ask them a very direct question – every good sales person knows that ‘asking for the business’ is crucial. And yet you can only do this effectively is the consumer knows what they are being asked to buy and why they should go ahead.
Take five minutes and step back from your business. Ask yourself this very direct question; ‘if I were a prospect, would I recognise a clear sales proposition? Would I be totally clear about what this company or individual is asking me to buy?’ – ‘could I confidently give a Yes or No answer?’
Then you might want to go a step further and ask yourself these questions – known as the Key Buying Criteria (here are just four of the seven):
1. What actually is it? [the service or product]
2. Why do I need it? [again, the service or product]
3. What will it do for me – how will I benefit?
4. Why should I buy it from this company and not somewhere else?
Trust me, this is concept is responsible for creating quantum shifts in results from marketing and promotions – I know, I’ve proved this with hundreds of clients for over a decade. If you want to get a better result you might just need to take a different approach and being clear about your offering and proposition, or Essential Sales Argument, as it’s sometimes called, this is the best place to start.