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Lessons Learned For Smarter Business

Business InsightsI’ve always operated under the belief that we can’t provide the type of strategy and guidance that has a real impact without first taking a deeper dive into what makes a business tick – their strengths, goals and position in the market.

Fortunately, we’ve had a chance to do exactly that for the past 20 years for some of the best and brightest business leaders of the Triangle. Those partnerships have created a deep understanding of our customers and along the way they’ve taught me lessons that have helped guide my business.

Lesson #1: Outsource Payroll (And Then HR)

This may seem like a no brainer to many but in our early years I was the person grinding out payroll in QuickBooks. I was the one trying to keep up with the myriad of requests from tax entities and letters from state and federal agencies threatening dire consequences if we didn’t comply with regulations that I could barely comprehend. One of my very first mentors and original customers (and also my first landlord after moving out of my bonus room) heard me complain about that this work was taking so much of my time and energy, smacked me in the back of the head and gave me the business card of a payroll provider, and I’ve never looked back.

When you are small and just starting out, the thought of spending an additional $250 – $500 each month on something you are already doing is certain to cause you pause. But that’s the wrong mindset.  You should be asking yourself, “If I spend this money, what else could I be doing with my time?” It’s about letting the experts be the experts. This goes for payroll, accounting and your IT services!

Lesson #2: You Don’t Need To Order Pizza

Being a ‘doer’ is often a soft trap set for yourself – you feel like you must tend to every detail, handle every customer issue, process all orders, do the scheduling, and more.  You know how to get the job done, and if you are honest with yourself, you feel as though no one can do the job as good as you.

Another local business owner taught me this lesson – it is all about process and procedure.  If you want to scale, you can’t rely on finding the perfect employee and keeping them for life – you need to carefully document everything, how your business works and how you service your customers then ensure everyone is adhering to those processes.  When something goes wrong, and it will, first evaluate the process. What needs to change about the process to improve the outcome?  So, just write down the number to the pizza joint and your favorite pie, and let someone else handle the pizza ordering for a bit!

Lesson 3: A Planning Rhythm Is What Drives You Forward

I was always a good planner – doing our annual business plan was fun and I enjoyed it.  But soon that plan got designated into a drawer, only catching my eye one year later as I lamented on the lack of progress.

What changed? A regular quarterly planning rhythm that gets your head up off the page and thinking about your business in a different way. If you don’t have a plan (where you are going and how to get there) there is no way you get what you want from your business.

Block out time the last week of the year (and the last week of each quarter next year) to spend time planning – look at your key metrics, staffing, customer mix, business offerings, etc.  Identify the top two or three action items to accomplish this quarter and get on it. You will be astonished how fast a quarter will roll buy; don’t let them slip by without making progress towards your vision.

The one common theme running through these lessons is the age old advise to work on your business versus in it. I used to hate hearing that because when you first start out there is very little time to do anything other than work in the business, but rest assured, making this shift is critical to your long-term success.

  1. Take a close look at your responsibilities, can they be outsourced? Be careful of the sneaky time drains like handing ‘some’ of the tasks that should be outsourced to save a few dollars – this typically doesn’t work in your favor, ex:  handing 80% of your IT issues and just relying on your IT provider for the remaining 20% ‘tough ones.’
  2. List your tasks, can they be documented and delegated? Are there areas of your business that create noise that you need to refresh or update procedures? You don’t need to re-write everything at once, just make a little progress each month.
  3. Set aside time to reflect and plan. We didn’t start to gain traction in our business until this became a habit. A great resource for this is a book called, ironically, Traction by Gino Wickman.  If you want a copy, drop me an email and I’ll put one in the mail for you.
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