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Check Your Calendar

parkinson-e1365382620306In most businesses there are two kinds of activity, “Minding” i.e. looking after the work you have, your business, and your existing clients or customers and “Finding”i.e. looking for new customers, new opportunities and ways to grow your business.

Its easy to get caught up in the the “busyness” of business. “Parkinson’s Law – Work expands to fill the time available” is alive and well in many of the businesses I have seen, including, at times, my own. In a recent review of our business activity we identified that the majority of our time in the last year had been spend in “Minding” and that we had spent insufficient time on “Finding”.

Our solution was to examine a full year calendar and compress the “minding” work into a defined timeframe to allow us the space, both real space and head space, to focus on growing our business. As my team put it, we needed to identify that work which needed to be done in the year, and “smash it”.

By a short but sustained effort we were able to get through the work which had previously occupied much of a year in about 3 months. This was achieved by a combination of concentrated effort, better use of technology and refinement of our business processes. It’s not that we were inefficient or lazy to begin with, just that we asked “what if”. What if we only had 3 months to get through this stuff, what would we need to do to achieve our goal. We found that many of our processes resulted in duplication of effort, had inbuilt unnecessary delays, and contained redundant steps.  One important thing we identified was that at several stages in our process we ceded control of completion of the process to people outside our business, be they clients or suppliers

The keys to our success were:

1. Identify those repeating activities which are taking up much of your business year

2. Review how you go about achieving completion of these activities

3. Ask “What If” I needed to get all of this done in half (or less) of the time it is presently taking.

4. Refine your process, look for ways to better use existing technology, identify redundant steps, ensure you maintain control of process completion wherever possible.

5. Examine your calendar and block out a period in which to “smash it”0c3e4a36-2036-418b-975c-5faa4ef9bc02

Our refined process is now the new norm for us, and will deliver benefits for a long period into the future. We will need to continually review and refine our processes and our calendar to ensure that Parkinson’s Law does not creep in once again.

Of course, the next challenge is to ensure that you properly utilise the time you have freed up. It is tempting to take a deep breath and relax after such a period of intense activity, but that wasn’t why you subjected yourself to the level of pressure was it? A level of discipline is needed to then focus your attention on the “finding”, to concentrate on growth strategies to realise the full benefit of your efforts.

I’m not sure who said “Business would be great without customers”, but that is not what I am talking about here. Of course we need to deliver a level of service to our customers and clients that compels them to refer us to family friends and colleagues, but if we do this efficiently, in a time frame over which we have control, better service can only result. This will then allow us to properly deal with those new customers which we all need for growth, both in terms of finding them, and in delivering service to them once found.

Not all businesses can block out a 3 month period in which to deal with the “Minding” as the nature of their activity does not allow for that. What you can do though is focus on a week or a month, block out time for “doing the doing”, work really hard in those periods to ensure completion, thus freeing up time in the week or the month to find ways to grow your business, and beware the temptation of allowing this work to expand to fill all of your time.

Try it, I’m sure you will like it.

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Don’t look at the Hammer, look at the Nail

hammer-and-nailWhen I was a lad my father taught me something which has saved me no end of blackened thumbs. Whilst building a billy cart or something similar that an eight year old might be doing he told me “don’t look at the hammer son, look at the nail”

This is a really simple piece of advice which can help all of us in lots of aspects of our lives. Too often we get bound up in the “how” of our goals, rather than focusing on the goals themselves. An example which might serve to illustrate my point:

A potential client comes to talk to me about saving for their retirement, and all they want to talk about is the investment products I am going to recommend. No matter how hard I try to persuade them that our philosophy is strategy first (my mate Tom, made a great video on this subject here), with products used as tools to achieve the strategy, they want to focus on investment markets, rates of return, portfolio construction etc. What I would really like to talk to them about is the timing and nature of the retirement they want, so I can formulate a strategy to help them get there. Right now I don’t know whether I need a screwdriver or a hammer, much less how big the hammer should be, but no, the hammer is all they are interested in, and there is no concentration on getting the nail into the wood.

We also need to keep focus on our goals. When driving a nail you should concentrate on the end of the nail, the point you are about to hit, not on the entry point of the nail into the timber. That is to say, when trying to achieve a goal, we need to focus on what we are doing now, and get that right, once we have decided on the course of action that will lead us to our goal. Whether we are closer or further away from a goal at the time is not really important, it is whether our effort is being appropriately focused.golf club

Golfers know all about this, keep your eye on the ball, swing the club, don’t look at where it is going until after you have hit it, but remember that hitting it properly is the best way to achieve your goal of getting as close to the pin as possible.

Next time you hammer a nail into some wood, keep your thumbs out of the way and try watching the end of the hammer, chances are you will miss the nail. Next watch the pointy end of the nail where it enters the wood and swing your hammer, bet you miss again, or at least don’t get as good a result as if you had focused your attention properly.

Pretty smart dude my Dad.

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Why Most Business Plans Are Crap 2 – What To Do About It

In a previous blog, I gave my view that most business plans are crap (link here). In this second article, I explore a simple one page Business Plan, what it should contain and how everything you need could be contained on one page.

Blank PageSo let’s have a look at what ought to be in a good one-page business plan. I have spoken about business plans a number of times, and whilst every business is different, the themes are mostly the same.

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Beware being the problem solver

Problem

I have spent the better part of 40 years solving other people’s problems, it’s in my DNA. In the first part of it, the problems were most likely with the Tax Office or ASIC (probably the Corporate Affairs Commission back then). Later I went on to help people with their businesses, both in terms of compliance and also with problems surrounding the business itself. In fact it is this last bit where the fun was and is for me. In more recent times, I have been assisting people with much more personal problems around their financial dreams and aspirations and how to achieve them.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that we need to be careful about jumping straight into problem solving mode. There are a number of reasons why we, as problem solvers need to beware:
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But its not my fault!

Jake Blues“I ran out of gas! I got a flat Tyre! I didn’t have change for a cab fare! I lost my tux at the cleaners! I locked my keys in the car! An old friend came in from out of town! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN”T MY FAULT I SWEAR!” Jake Blues

We’ve all heard (and perhaps made)excuses like these, when the consequences of action or inaction are about to descend. The temptation is always to blame outside factors rather than any shortcoming on our part.

There are actually two other possibilities, which we at times try to ignore

1. Its OUR fault
2. Its NOBODY’S fault

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Of course its personal, thats what makes (small) business great

businessWe may not have met Don Vito Corleone, but how many times have we heard the expression “It’s not personal, its just business” The context in which we hear this is usually one where the speaker is attempting to make us feel better about the bad news he or she has just delivered. Who amongst us has not heard at least one of the following:

  • “Your fired, it’s not personal, it’s just business”, or
  • “I have to put my price up 20%, it’s not personal it’s just business”,
  • “I can’t afford to provide that level of service to you anymore, it’s not personal, it’s just business”

Expressions like these are just an attempt on the part of the speaker to soften the blow.

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Do you really WANT control?

Airbus_A380_Cockpit

Lots of people say they behave in a certain way because they want to be in control, but do they? And are they?

There are plenty of times when I definitely do not want to be in control. Like when I am taking an airline flight for example. What I do want though is to have a level of control over the outcome, over the destination, over the safe arrival. With those things established I am quite happy to cede control of the journey to someone else.

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Doing Something is nearly always better than doing nothing

action-man-figureI bang on a lot about reluctance to change, change management, taking control, having the courage to act. In the end to be successful at any endeavour, you need to DO something. When I was a kid, a popular toy for boys was Action Man, an English answer to the American G.I. Joe. I never quite got the idea of dressing up a doll to help me dream of a more exciting life, but he had lots of fans, and a whole host of stuff you could dress him up in, because this bloke was a “Man of Action”, and I certainly get that.

Doing SOMETHING is nearly always better than doing NOTHING. Even if the something turns out to be the wrong thing, the experience you gain will likely allow you to find the right thing to do. Doing nothing teaches us nothing. It was Thomas Edison who said ““I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In most things in life and in business, we can’t know whether something will work until we try it, and if we don’t do the trying bit, the result is obvious.

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Erase The Negative

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Have you ever thought about the impact your mood has on those around you?Some people are happy being miserable, but what about how this affects co-workers, colleagues, staff, friends?

I have a golfing buddy who regularly spends 4 hours complaining about how terribly he is playing, only to score 38 points and win the day. He seems to thrive on it. For the empathetic amongst us this sort of behaviour can be very off-putting. Our sympathy nerve fires up and we want to help our friend out of his predicament, not realising that this is just how he or she is, and no amount of sympathy is going to help. We can question whether these types actually want to be helped.

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The Customer is NOT always right

SelfridgeIt may have been Harry Gordon Selfridge, the prominent British retailer who popularised the slogan, “the customer is always right”. In my view though, Mr Selfridge was not entirely right himself. Whilst everyone in business needs to treat the opinions of customers or clients seriously, they are not always right, I know I have met some of them.
A balance between the rightful service expectations of customers, and potential unreasonable demands needs to be struck. There are some customers who will never be satisfied with what we as business owners do for them, so much so that we need to make a decision as to whether we want to keep the customer or move on.

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