Join our club

Not many people are brave enough to start their own business.

People like us, we took a risk.

We made a stand.

(by the way, if you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, click these links – Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify)

We decided that we weren’t going to put up with working for an idiot or being told what to do.

We were sick of working incredibly hard, only for the rewards to go to some high-up who has no idea what we actually do each day.

We’ve chosen flexibility.

We’ve chosen responsibility.

We’ve chosen working from home, so we can look after the kids.

We’ve chosen doing things the right way.

We’ve chosen being fair with the money we earn.

But it’s difficult.

Most businesses fail within the first year.

If you’ve made it that far, congratulations. You’re doing an amazing job.

Even worse, almost all small businesses die within four years.

So if you’ve hit that milestone and made it to five years or beyond, you’re in an elite club.

The reason for this is simple.

The things that you have to do when you start a business are different (year one) to the things you have to do to keep that business running (up to year four), which in turn are different from the things you have to do make the business work without your constant attention (year five and beyond).

There are five areas where you need to make those changes – profits, operations, sales, marketing and time. Taken together, it’s a big set of changes, a lot of learning to do all at once. But break it down, attack one piece at a time, and it becomes manageable and a natural part of building a business that gives you the life you want.

If you’d like to know what could make a difference for you, check out my quick and simple quiz.

It’s designed to pinpoint the area of your business that you can make the most improvement on, for the least effort.

So you can actually get a bit of that flexibility, that extra cash, that free time and that freedom that we were all wanting when we started our businesses.

It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and could make a real difference to your business.

Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

My client did one simple thing and it made him a ton of money

One of my clients, let’s call him Chris, had two parts to his business.

There was his online retail stuff. Where he sold items to the general public. It was good, high quality kit and he had a nice unique selling point to get the general public’s attention. It worked, and he competed against firms that were much bigger than him, who had much larger advertising budgets. He had a good niche for himself.

Then he also had a commercial arm. Where he sold his kit to specific businesses. This worked very differently. Online, a sale could be completed in minutes, at worst, in hours. But the commercial sales were different. The clients would ask for samples, they would need to know safety information and technical details to ensure that the kit met with their exacting requirements. A short sale could take days to complete. All too often, they took months.

Chris knew he needed some help as he wanted to grow the commercial arm. He expected that the help he needed would be expensive and complicated. He asked me.

The fix he was looking for was so simple, he could have kicked himself.

Every time he received a request for samples, he noted it down in his software system. Three days later, the software reminded him to call them back. He called them back. They either said “yes”, “no” or “maybe”. If they said “yes” everyone was happy. If they said “no”, Chris knew not to waste his time. And if they said “maybe” he answered their questions and then stuck another reminder in to call them again in a few days or weeks.

Such a simple system.

But it made a huge difference. 5 figures in extra sales in a couple of weeks. 6 figures of extra sales in a couple of months. Chris’s commercial side of the business was growing faster than he could have imagined.

All from one tiny little follow-up call.

If your business is struggling, there are five areas where you can make similar, incredibly simple changes. These are:

  • Finance – the business needs a degree of profit to survive. You need to make sure the bills are paid, the team get their wages and you get something as a reward for all your hard work.
  • Operations – the business needs to run like clockwork. You need to make sure you consistently deliver a great service to your clients, or they won’t come back.
  • Sales – no business can survive without clients, so you have to make sure you’ve got new ones coming in at the right times.
  • Leads – if you want new clients, you have to get the word out there, make sure you’re attracting people and letting them know what you do.
  • Time – at the end of the day, you need to be able to switch off, safe in the knowledge that the business can look after itself. You’ve taken a huge risk in getting this far, you deserve some time to ourselves to enjoy your life.

Once you identify the area of greatest impact for YOUR business, there are simple changes that can make a massive difference.

So instead of trying to tackle them all at once, you can focus on the area that will free up the most time and money, giving you the most freedom to live your life the way you should be.

If you’d like to know which area you should concentrate on – and get a few ideas about improvements that can be made in that area – take my quick quiz. It only takes a few minutes and can point you in the right direction for making a positive change to your business.

 

 

When you’re looking for clients, sometimes the answer is right under your nose

One of my clients, let’s call him Kevin, had been doing OK.

But he was in a bit of a rut. There was growing competition in his industry and he knew that if he didn’t move forwards, he’d get left behind.

But he didn’t know where to begin.

The advantage of having ten years of business experience behind you is you have a whole raft of previous clients. In Kevin’s case, lots of previous clients that he’d done one bit of work for and never spoken to again.

But Kevin’s industry was one of those where the regulations meant you needed to get certification every two years. That was a lot of repeat business he was missing out on.

So we took all his previous customer data – which was scattered all over the place.

Some was in various folders on his (creaking) server in the office.

Some was stored as emails in his mailbox.

Some was in paper reprints of his certificates that were in a filing cabinet.

We got all that data together, compiled it into one big spreadsheet. And imported that into the system.

Now he knew, at a glance, which of his previous customers he still had contact details for. He knew, at a glance, in which month their recertification was due (remember, it was every two years, so it was likely in the same month each time).

And then we added in an automated “to-call” list.

The system just looked at previous customers who had a recertification due in three months and flagged them up. If we didn’t have contact details, someone would look them up and fill it in on the database. And once we did have contact details, we would ring them, asking if they needed recertification.

This was easy.

The system picked out the prime candidates automatically.

The call was easy – your certification is probably up for renewal anyway and we’ve worked for you before.

And the call had one of three outcomes.

  • “No” or “Not Found”. In which case, we flagged them up as “do not contact”.
  • “Maybe”. Perhaps it was the right month but the wrong year. In which case, we scheduled a follow up call at a time that suited.
  • And “Yes”. In which case, Kevin had won some repeat business from someone he hadn’t spoken to in years.

Kevin was pleased. It was working. The “Yes”es were piling up.

It was an incredibly simple system.

If your business is struggling, there are five areas where you can make similar, incredibly simple changes. These are:

  • Finance – the business needs a degree of profit to survive. You need to make sure the bills are paid, the team get their wages and you get something as a reward for all your hard work.
  • Operations – the business needs to run like clockwork. You need to make sure you consistently deliver a great service to your clients, or they won’t come back.
  • Sales – no business can survive without clients, so you have to make sure you’ve got new ones coming in at the right times.
  • Leads – if you want new clients, you have to get the word out there, make sure you’re attracting people and letting them know what you do.
  • Time – at the end of the day, you need to be able to switch off, safe in the knowledge that the business can look after itself. You’ve taken a huge risk in getting this far, you deserve some time to ourselves to enjoy your life.

Once you identify the area of greatest impact for YOUR business, there are simple changes that can make a massive difference.

So instead of trying to tackle them all at once, you can focus on the area that will free up the most time and money, giving you the most freedom to live your life the way you should be.

If you’d like to know which area you should concentrate on – and get a few ideas about improvements that can be made in that area – take my quick quiz. It only takes a few minutes and can point you in the right direction for making a positive change to your business.

Feel like you’re only just keeping your head above the water?

You’re in the car park. It’s 1:55 in the afternoon. Your phone buzzes again. You sigh, picking it up, the dread weighing on your shoulders.

What a surprise! Yet another problem.

That seems to be the story every day at the moment. Every hour. You’re constantly firefighting, always dealing with issues, never switching off.

And now it’s 1:56.

Your kid’s school play starts in four minutes.

If you can just make this phone call, tell Claire in the office to call the client and say you’ll get back to them later this afternoon … then you can get out of the car, run into school and you might only miss the first couple of minutes. You just need to make this call…

It’s overwhelming isn’t it?

And, because it’s your business, you have to carry it on your shoulders.

It weighs you down. Almost like you’re drowning.

The thing is, you’re not alone. I know. I’ve been in that car. For me, the Christmas Concert is the one that springs to mind.

Many of us, who started our own businesses, have been through exactly the same thing. We started out confident in our abilities. We knew we were great at what we did. We knew we could undercut the competition on price. And things went really well at first. In fact, we had so much work, we even took a few people on to help us out.

But that’s when the problems started.

Because, even with the extra bodies, the business still took up loads of our time.

Think about it… when things are going well, you’re out there looking for new clients. But when things go wrong, it’s on you to sort it out.

Sometimes it even feels like you’re spending as much time baby-sitting the staff as you are doing the job. Every decision comes through you. Every complaint comes through you. Everything needed to be double-checked and triple-checked.

It’s exhausting.

So now you’re spending so much of your time dealing with all this stuff and you’ve totally forgotten about why you started the business in the first place.

What happened to loving the work?

The flexible hours?

The extra cash?

The freedom?

An answer in under 3 minutes

The really tricky bit is that, once you get to a certain stage in your business, you need to switch things around. The tactics that got you this far won’t get you any further. In fact, they’re positively slowing your business down.

And driving you up the wall.

It’s time to make changes.

But you can’t do it wholesale though, that’s too much to take in one go. Instead, you just need to take it one step at a time.

Pick off the area that you can have the most impact in, concentrate on getting that working right, then take a moment to relax. As now you’ve got a bit of breathing space.

But where do you begin? How do you know which area will actually give you that space?

An answer in under 3 minutes

Every growing business has at least one of these five main areas that could be improved:

  • Finance – the business needs a degree of profit to survive. We need to make sure the bills are paid, the team get their wages and you get something as a reward for all your hard work.
  • Operations – the business needs to run like clockwork. We need to make sure we consistently deliver a great service to our clients, or they won’t come back.
  • Sales – no business can survive without clients, so we have to make sure we’ve got new ones coming in at the right times.
  • Leads – if we want new clients, we have to get the word out there, make sure we’re attracting people and letting them know what we do.
  • Time – at the end of the day, we need to be able to switch off, safe in the knowledge that the business can look after itself. We’ve taken a huge risk in getting this far, we deserve some time to ourselves to enjoy our lives.

Once you identify the area of greatest impact for YOUR business, there are simple changes that can make a massive difference.

So instead of trying to tackle them all at once, you can focus on the area that will free up the most time and money, giving you the most freedom to live your life the way you should be.

If you’d like to know which area you should concentrate on – and get a few ideas about improvements that can be made in that area – take my quick quiz. You can do it on your phone, sat on the sofa.  It only takes a few minutes and can point you in the right direction for making a positive change to your business.

An answer in under 3 minutes

Never trust someone who has time to do it all

So, you’ve figured out your “X”.

You’ve figured out your five year roadmap to get there.

You’ve figured out your twelve week plan to get you started.

You’ve got one thing to do this week.

Will you do it?

Life gets in the way.

It’s inevitable.

Because “X” is important. That other stuff is urgent. The urgent stuff nearly always takes priority. Normally because someone is shouting at you, you feel stressed and you want that feeling to go away.

So, at the start of each week, choose a time. Maybe it’s one morning or afternoon this week. Maybe it’s one hour per day for five days. It depends on the task you’ve set yourself, on the nature of your week.

But set aside that time. Switch off your notifications and divert your calls.

Set a timer for half an hour and say to yourself “I’m just going to work on this for till the timer rings”. Then get started.

The half hour timer works, because you know you’re not going to spend to long on it. But once you get started, you’ll probably find it easy to continue through your allotted time – the first step is always the hardest.

And, you’ll probably notice that the sky didn’t fall in while your phone was off. Plus you’ve got the satisfaction of knowing you are one twelfth of the way towards your target.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Never trust a long term plan

You’ve figured out your “X”. That’s amazing. Very few people actually manage to do that.

You’ve figured out a general roadmap for getting there. Here’s where you want to be in five years. So to reach there, here’s where you need to be in three. Here’s where you need to be in one. Here’s where you need to be in three months.

Three months is important.

It’s far enough away that you can make some significant progress. It’s close enough that you feel the urgency; if you want to get there, you can’t afford to slack off.

So look at your three month target.

  • What are 12 things you can actually physically do to make sure that you achieve your April target?
  • Schedule one of those 12 things each week between now and April.
  • Say to yourself out loud “I commit to doing Y this week as it will help me reach my goal of X”.
  • And then make sure you do those 12 things over the next 12 weeks.

When you get to April, repeat the process.

Look at your January 2020 goal and figure out what the ONE THING you need to achieve by August 2019 is. Then write out 12 tasks from April to August and do one each week.

And then do the same again each quarter – look at your next big milestone, figure out ONE THING you can do in the next quarter to move in that direction then break it into 12 weekly tasks.

This gives you the time to deal with all the day-to-day stuff that gets in the way, whilst still remaining focussed on your life’s purpose. It gives you a chance to reevaluate and change your plans as life throws stuff at you, but makes sure you keep heading in the same direction.

Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash

Never trust a GPS

You need to figure out your “X”. What is it that, when you look back on your life, will make you think “I’m so glad I did that”. It might be family stuff, it might be travel, it might be work. It’s up to you. And it can be hard to find. But you’ll know it when you find it.

Then you need to ask yourself – if you genuinely really want X, how long would it take you to achieve it?

Can you do it in 10 years? Can you do it in 5 years? What would it look like to achieve X? Would you need to change your lifestyle? Move to another country? Can you do it as a side-hustle? Or on weekends? What will your family think as you make this your focus?

Because now, you’ve got a destination and a time-frame. Next step is to figure out a roadmap.

Let’s say you think you can do it in 5 years. 5 years is a long time.

Remember it. Write it down and stick it on your wall, so you can see it every day.

(I’m writing this in January 2019 – other months and years are available)

  • “In 2024, I will have achieved X”.
  • Now what is the ONE THING you would need to have achieved by January 2022 to have made real progress towards X?
  • And then, what is the ONE THING you would need to have achieved by January 2020 to have made real progress towards your 3 year target?
  • And what is the ONE THING you can achieve by April 2019 to have made real progress towards January’s target?

Write all of these down on that same bit of paper.

You now have a roadmap for the next 5 years.

But that’s useless without action.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Never trust a hippy

If you don’t like “life coaching” stuff, today’s post isn’t really for you. It’s a bit much for me too. But it’s proven itself to be (for me at least) a really valuable way of thinking about things.

Before you can make any kind of plan, you need to figure out what you really want to do. Because running a business on your own is really tough at times. So you have to make sure it aligns with who you are as a person.

My way of doing this, taught to me by someone who is incredibly successful, is as follows.

Imagine you’re 110 years old. You know your best days are behind you. But you’re sat on your chair, in the sunshine, just outside your house. Your eyes are closed and you’re smiling as you think back on your life. “I’m so glad that I dedicated so much of my life to X”

What is X?

It’s a really tough question. But, as all the documentaries on death say, no-one ever says “I’m so glad that I spent years in the office”. If you’re going to spend years in the office, there has to be a reason behind it – something that drives you. It might not even be business related – it could be “I’m so proud that I stood on the moon”, or “I’m so glad that my kids are healthy”. But you need to know what it is and then you can figure out how to get there.

Once you know where you want to go, you can think about how to get there…

Image from “Never Trust a Hippy” by Adrian Sherwood

I have no idea what I’m doing

If you’ve never had a formal business education (like an MBA or whatever) but you still run your own business … join the club.

Most of us end up here through circumstance – made redundant, tired of working for an idiot, pursuing a dream, falling into a nightmare.

And somehow, we all muddle through.

But sometimes, it feels like there’s extremely important things that we’re ignoring. Like financial reports. Or … something we don’t even know exists yet. We read various business forums and we see people asking about things we’ve never even heard of. And it makes us feel like the amateurs we are.

Rather than getting lost and confused, it’s time to get educated.

Here’s a list of things that I found incredibly useful over the years.

  • “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. It’s a classic and for a reason – explaining how you can design a business that works for you, without driving yourself up the wall.
  • “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. How to make sure that you pay yourself and earn a profit (even if it’s just a small one) no matter how your business is doing.
  • “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The hardest thing for me is staying focussed on the task at hand. The One Thing explains how.
  • “Growth Club” by ActionCoach. Every quarter, take a day out of your business to review where you’ve come from and decide where you want to go. The draw up a detailed plan to get there.
  • BNI. A lot of people hate it. But it teaches you a lot – from standing up and presenting in front of a room full of strangers (and amend your pitch so it has the most impact), how to get sales (as the techniques you use to get referrals and invite visitors are the same ones you can use yourself in your sales process) and how to structure your business so you can measure how well it’s doing (BNI is a franchise with an easy to follow system).
  • Sleep. Get a good mattress and make sure you sleep enough. Not just so you can get enough done tomorrow, but also to keep you fit and well into old age.
  • Get an advisor. A mentor. Or a coach. Because there will be times when you can’t be arsed and you need someone to hold you accountable.

Hope that helps

How minimum should a minimum viable product be?

The idea of a “Minimum Viable Product” is a fantastic one.

Instead of wasting a load of time and effort on something that might not work, you build the bare minimum to prove that your product is viable in the marketplace, and then, and only then, do you invest significant time and resources in growing the business.

It’s something that’s only really possible because of the way we can constantly ship updates to customers using digital technologies – so even if someone gets in right at the start, what they’ve purchased grows as the product grows.

But how minimum does your MVP have to be?

Is it enough to have a demo? Does it need to be ready for heavy duty use? Should you launch to a small section of the market, just to get feedback? Or aim for a general release?

Personally, I think the answer to this is simple.

It needs to be enough to solve an expensive problem. And no more.

It doesn’t have to look great. It doesn’t have to be slick.

As long as it solves the problem then people will pay for it, they will give you feedback and you will learn what works and doesn’t work. Even if it’s dead ugly.

Cheers,

Baz

PS: A quick favour – if you know any freelancers or small business owners, I’ve got a free planner. It helps you decide on the important figures for next few weeks, figure out how much you’ve got to spend and put a plan in place for the coming month. And it’s totally free. So ask your friend to download it here.