Is your business ‘self-harming’

Let’s be clear from the start – business ‘self-harming’ is about the stuff going on in and around your business and NOT your staff doing things to themselves. Fail to address the areas I am going to talk about and it could have a harmful effect on you, your staff and your customers because your business will under-perform and could even fail.

I have seen many instances of business ‘self-harming’ and heard of even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. Twice!

My first business ‘self-harming’ experience

The first time was with my first consultancy business. I was fresh out of the corporate world and with a former colleague we set up a fledgling project management consultancy. We knew our stuff and had great experience so thought clients would come knocking on our door.

They didn’t.

Do you feel like your hitting yourself with a mallet trying to move your business forward?So we threw ourselves into networking and got a few assignments. But that only brought in an intermittent flow of work. We never learned how to market ourselves and our company properly. It was as if we kept hitting ourselves over the head. Eventually, my business partner threw in the towel and returned to corporate life.

That lack of understanding how to market the business was a classic example of business ‘self-harming’. It’s one that many business owners fall into. After all, you probably started your business because you are good at what you do and you’re really passionate about it. But being good and passionate won’t get the business in front of your target market. So when I started my next business, the first commitment I made was to learn all I could about marketing.

That’s me safe and avoiding future business ‘self-harming’ right? Wrong!

My second business ‘self-harming’ experience

So I learned how to market my business and I had a steady stream of consulting roles with the occasional trading client thrown in for good measure. One of my key marketing pillars was LinkedIn, supported by my website, blog and Twitter. So around the middle of 2015 I decided to add LinkedIn coaching and training to my business offerings. I still spent the majority of my time on client site as a programme management consultant so I decided to outsource some of the marketing for the LinkedIn business. This seemed to be working fine but in reality I was unwittingly committing business ‘self-harming’.

As a business owner, you have to take full responsibility for everything that happens in your business. Outsourcing doesn’t take away that responsibility. When I decided to focus more on the LinkedIn and social media side of my business I brought the outsourced marketing back in-house. That’s when I discovered the business ‘self-harming’ I had inflicted on my business.

That’s right – I had inflicted it. The outsourcing firm had done nothing wrong. I hadn’t specified my requirements clearly enough. In fact, I had been busy, so I hadn’t thought carefully enough about what my requirements were before I dumped on the outsourcer. As a result, when it came back in-house I suddenly found a load of broken links because the place lead magnets were previously stored wass no longer accessible to my systems. I found that promo codes and pricing were a bit of a mess – because I hadn’t specified how codes were to be expired and when prices should change. I’m still sorting out the self-made mess so if you spot a broken link to a download or page please do let me know.

Your business – your responsibility

OARBoth of my business ‘self-harming’ experiences are really examples of me, the owner, not taking full responsibility for my business. For not getting myself educated enough in how to run and market a business. Being great at what you do and/or having a great product is nowhere near enough to create a successful business. That’s why so many businesses fail. That’s why more business owners should get a coach or mentor. Someone who can step back and see the wood for the trees or take that helicopter ride over your business and help you see it from a different perspective.

Outsourcing safely

Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you have to do everything. In fact, trying to do everything as you start to grow your business is another form of business ‘self-harming’. It keeps you from doing more of the most valuable stuff in your business. Few, if any, business owners are good at every aspect of running their business. And even if you are good at doing some things, they are probably not a good use of your time.

When I outsourced my LinkedIn marketing I did it badly. Because I had learned a good bit about marketing and could talk the same language as the outsource company I allowed complacency to creep in and didn’t clearly defined the requirements, objectives and checks. I should have known better. You can learn from my mistake.

Bookkeeping is the classic example of something to outsource. Knowing your numbers is vitally important – and we’ll talk more on that later – but preparing them is probably not the best use of your time. With the right accountant and bookkeeper you can devise a sound process with all the right checks and balances so that you can outsource your bookkeeping without any fears. You need to be absolutely clear on responsibilities, service levels and what the outsourcer needs from you to be able to complete their side of the bargain.

Properly defined and managed, outsourcing is a great way to grow your business without the need to take on more staff

Complacency

Don't let compacency leed you to business 'self-harming'I’ve already alluded that complacency was a key factor in my outsourcing problems. Complacency can be very dangerous. It usually sets in well things are going well and your business becomes comfortable. A steady stream of leads, new customers and revenues just where you want them. Then BAM! Something changes out of the blue and the business is knocked sideways.

How is this business ‘self-harming’? You can’t second guess every eventuality or potential even that could affect your business. In fact, I always encourage people to deal with what is in front of them and not try and second guess the market, the government or the weather!

But if you allow your business to become too dependent on one marketing pillar, on one customer, on one member of staff, that is business ‘self-harming’ waiting to bite. I have heard of one business that was doing very, very well thank you very much. But it was totally dependent on certain features of Facebook, and when Facebook changed the rules, their business died overnight. Literally – revenues instantly went to zero.

All of the social media and internet platforms are constantly changing. Google AdWords were, for a number of years, highly profitable for many businesses. However, increased competition and changes to algorithms have meant that for lower value products or services, AdWords are a now lot less profitable.

So don’t be complacent in your business. Have multiple viable marketing pillars. Create solid, repeatable processes to remove key-person risk in your operations and keep fully abreast of what is happening in your market.

Your team

If you have people working for you in your business there is the potential for further business ‘self-harming’. This isn’t in anyway saying your staff are out to damage your business. It provides their livelihood so they are unlikely to do anything to deliberately damage the business. But it can still happen.

We’ve already touched on key-person risk. This is where key parts of what happens in your business become reliant on the ability or skill of a particular member of the team to perform them. What if they decide to leave? They are probably moving to better themselves rather than damage your business, but it has the same effect. What if they fall ill or can’t work for other reasons. You need to have in pace robust processes, fully documented so that the key person can be replaced, either temporarily or permanently. Things might not run quite as smoothly or efficiently at first, but they will still run.

Good processes are important right across the business. And you have to test that the process is working as expected with the intended results. I have seen many instances where a business owner or manager has communicated what they want to happen but not followed up on the implementation. As a result the actual impact can be very different to the desired impact. That can lead to dissatisfied customers, unhappy staff and potentially lost revenue.

Processes need to be regularly tested and updated. Otherwise bad habits can creep in and good habits get forgotten. Do you have an upsell process that staff should follow when dealing with clients? Are they following it – all the time? So much business can be missed – and therefore lost – because people forget to follow the basic processes laid down. Sometimes they just become a little lazy and need reminding. Is your business missing out?

The tell-tale signs

Numbers that dont add upHow can you tell if there is business ‘self-harming’ going on in your business? Knowing your numbers is key. If you have well defined processes they should produce metrics to tell you how the business is performing. Whether it is the number of leads being generated, where those leads are coming from, the number of conversions, the number of customers, the average value of a transactions, monitoring the trends of these numbers can tell you how things are changing in your business. Coupled with the knowledge of what marketing activity you are undertaking and what is happening in the market in general, you can assess how your business is performing and spot the areas where revenue and profit are leaking away.

Add in regular process reviews and improvements and you have an effective health check system for your business

You don’t know what you don’t know

The toughest form of business ‘self-harming’ to spot is that caused by not doing something you should be doing. There’s an old saying that looks a little odd at first:

You know what you know

You know what you don’t know

But you don’t know what you don’t know

At first the second and third lines seem to contradict each other. “You know what you know” is pretty obvious. But then there are some things you know of but don’t know the answer to. You know what marketing pillars you are using but you don’t know how the market will react to each of them. Over time that becomes more of a known.

But then there is the stuff you don’t know anything about – even perhaps its existence or, more often, it’s potential value to your business.

LinkedIn often falls into the “you don’t know what you don’t know” category for many businesses. They know it exists but have preconceived ideas about it and don’t think it can work for their business. After all, it’s just a CV library for recruiters right? Or a contact book for old colleagues perhaps? Those are the very reason it is hidden goldmine for business to business customers.

It’s that closed mind “I know, but it won’t work for me….” attitude that is the business ‘self-harming’ here.

Stop your business ‘self-harming’

If you’d like to address the business ‘self-harming’ taking place in and around your business, especially with regards to LinkedIn, book a free, no obligation review call with me by clicking on the link below. Speak to you soon.

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Goal setting – don’t aim for mediocrity

goals - resetIt’s midway through the year so it’s time for reviewing goals and objectives for your team and your business. It’s a frustrating time for a number of reasons. A survey of small businesses found that on average owners only spend 2 days a year working on their businesses rather than in them. I spend a full day every quarter on reviewing my business objectives for the year, getting in to detailed specifics for the next quarter. That’s without the other time I spend planning and building my business and it’s systems to support my clients.

So, do you have goals and objectives for your business and your staff? Many don’t and that’s my first frustration. How can you adjust your strategy if you don’t have one in the first place? Goal setting can be hard but it’s a habit well worth developing.

The second frustration is with those that do have goals or objectives. It’s because they are typically set up to target mediocrity. When goal setting for your team or business, be challenging.

Objective setting
Most people are taught that objectives must be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

I don’t have a problem with S, M and T, but achievable and realistic? That’s where mediocrity sets in. It sets people and businesses up to underachieve. As a counter I often hear people say that they have set stretch targets – still achievable and realistic, but designed to encourage people work a little harder. I don’t want people to work a little harder, I want them to work smarter – much smarter. I want them to think differently and challenge what they do and how they do it. You see, if you always do what you’ve always done, even if you do it a little harder you’ll still always get what you’ve always got.

I want my business and my teams to achieve a lot more. To do that we need to approach things differently. We need to try things, challenge the norm and innovate. To encourage people to do that I like to set big, hairy arsed goals that can’t possibly be achieved by just working harder.

By all means stick with SMART goals, but make the A Aspirational and the R Relevant. Then make the objective BHA – Big and Hairy Arsed! Aim for the stars not the end of the street. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve.

What are you going to do today to lead your business?

Learn leadershipYou don’t have to be a born leader to lead. In fact, I would argue there is no such thing as a natural born leader. Real leadership comes from knowledge and experience and a determination to apply that knowledge and experience to make a difference. So called natural born leaders have that determination in their genes and so appear to be ‘natural born’. Others learn or acquire that determination and become leaders through that learning.

Business owners and CEOs aren’t always natural leaders. In fact, many business owners are driven by a passion for what their business does and management and leadership are an accidental necessity. They suddenly find themselves in a completely alien environment where they have staff to hire and manage and lots of things that are suddenly all their responsibility where in corporate life other departments did those things. As the owner or CEO, everyone looks to you.

Learning to be a leader

So how do you learn to be a leader? First and foremost, by wanting to be a leader. Leadership isn’t something you can pretend at. It will become very obvious if you try. So pretending to be a leader is not something to do. If you find yourself in a leadership position and want to give it a try, then there are things you can do. If not, stop and get another job. Go back to what you are good at. You’ll be happier and so will the project team.

There are essentially 5 ways to develop leadership skills:

Reading

There are many good books on leadership in the market place. Just search on Amazon and you’ll get a list of over 100,000 titles. Choosing from such a vast array of titles can be daunting so look to you friends, colleagues and fellow project managers for recommendation. My own personal recommendation would be to read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. It embodies much of my own philosophy towards running my business. Don’t just read management education books, but read books by or about successful leaders such as Churchill or Branson. Broaden you knowledge and your outlook and keep an open mind. All good leaders have open minds.

Training

Pay for some leadership training. You’ve invested in your business and you are a vital part of that business, so you need to invest in yourself as well. This could take many forms from team building day with your staff, right the way up to INSEAD leadership courses. Many small business groups like the FSB and Entrepreneurs Circle run leadership and other personal development courses.

Observation

There will be people around you that you recognise as good leaders. Observe them to try and identify what it is they do that makes them leaders. Ask yourself why you perceive them as good leaders. What makes you have that opinion of them. Then talk to them. Ask them what they consciously do to become better leaders. See below for a few of the things I do.

Mentoring

Learning in isolation, whether from books, observation or even training courses can be difficult. Are you interpreting things correctly. Are you reading the right material or studying the right people. Well firstly, there is no right or wrong that applies to everyone. OK, there are some obvious absolute no-no’s, but by and large it’s what works for you because we are all different and have different styles. But if you find yourself the right mentor, then you will have a sounding board who knows and understands you. Share your objectives, goals and even your fears around leadership with them and they can help you develop your skills in a balanced and tested way, avoiding excesses but also learning from mistakes and successes. Joing a Mastermind group is another way of getting mentoring but in a group format where everyone supports each other

Practice

All of the above are great, but will be worthless unless you put what you learn into practice. Only by doing will the theory come to life in the reality of your own leadership style. Always seek feedback from you mentor and your team. And the best way to practice is to try things. Some will be spontaneous and driven by circumstance. Others you can plan by consciously deciding what you are going to do today to lead your team.

I have two or three things I either plan to do each day or that I’m looking for opportunities to do. Things like taking timeout to talk to one of the team about the work they are doing at the moment. Not a formal review or scheduled meeting but an ad-hoc, how’s it going sort of conversation. One I always keep up my sleeve is catching someone doing something right and then praising them for it or finding a way of rewarding it. Another is to always reward team members that go the extra mile. I had a young lady that worked really long hours including weekends to solve a problem. When the work was done I told her how much I appreciated not only her hard work but also the sacrifice her husband had made in letting her do the work. I told her to take him to their favourite restaurant an put the bill on my desk. I knew should wouldn’t take liberties. And I also knew that everyone would know that her work had been appreciated and rewarded. Not because I announced it, because I didn’t, but because should would tell her colleagues.

In summary, be there for your team. Stand by them, and do right by them and you well on the way to being the leader you want to be. You an learn to lead your business.