Sunday, August 23, 2009

50 Ways to Improve Your Business

At last week's BizConf, I ran a session based on an idea from Dwayne Phillips, where a bunch of independent businesspeople brainstormed 50 small ways to improve your business. The ideas flew fast and furious, so I assigned two participants, each to capture alternate ideas. Even so, it was hard to keep up with the flow. The lists were quite overwhelming, so I'll present them in two separate blogs. Today, it will be Jason Seifer's list. Jason said, "I wound up just logging everything, because I touch type like in your first rule."

So, here's Jason's list:

1. Learn to touch type.
2. Back-up everything. Every day.
3. Keep as much stuff online as possible.
4. Do nothing. Don't do something if someone can do it better. Don't do it if someone else can do it adequately. Do it anyway if it makes you happy. Don't do it if someone else can do it 85% as well as you.
5. Anything not worth doing is not worth doing right.
6. If in doubt charge for sales trips. If they're not willing to pay for it they don't value it.
7. If it's not on paper don't do it. If there's money involved it has to be written down. Never agree to money over the phone. If on phone, confirm in writing.
8. Listen to what other people are telling you. Instead of communicating to somebody, communicate with somebody.
9. Always have an exit strategy.
10. Make your client feel like they have a final part in the outcome. Make sure they have their fingerprints in it.
11. Listen to what they're not saying. Listen to body language and tone of voice.
12. Always be ready to sell your product if they're interested. And if they're not.
13. If you're bashful about your product, there's something wrong with your product.
14. Any successful services company has some fixed product that they sell. Have a ladder leading to your ultimate product. Don't make one big leap to the final product.
15. Make sure your contracts have some kind of follow-through so you can see how they actually came out. You won't know if you're doing well if they don't come back.
16. If you just build it they probably won't come. Alternately: if you build it be prepared to wait.
17. Manage expectations.
18. Time spent in recon is time well spent. But you have to be watching. "You can observe a whole lot just by watching."
19. Go hard or go home. Fully commit the resources to make something work or mercilessly kill it. You may not always know when it's time to kill it.
20. Ideas by themselves are not as valuable as you think they are. Ideas aren't worth anything so don't guard them too closely. "There's nothing as dangerous as an idea if it's the only idea you have."
21. Never rest on your past successes, there's always something more you could be doing. If you're not learning you're dead.
22. Sharing competitive advantages brings back advantages ten-fold.
23. Be able to say "No" to a potential client.
24. Research your clients as if you were doing the hiring.
25. If you're in the services business every client is unique. "We're different" "You are, just like everybody else."
26. You don't have to remember everything to succeed.
27. It's always ok to let a client go if it's not the right fit any more.You should organize your business so it's ok to let any one client go at any time.
28. The best way to build a business is to stay in business. Build your business so that you hang around. You may not make a lot of money but you build your reputation.
29. Actively solicit feedback from clients.
30. Actively extract the feedback. There's a lot of feedback you may not pick up on.
31. Make sure you're not alone in your role. This way someone can be honest with you.
32. Anything that's annoying and repetitive should be automated or stopped.
33. Track your budget/cost every month.
34. Don't make sampling mistakes about your budget and cost. One of the major mistakes that people fail at is expecting that income will stay the same. You might land a big client this month but might not have one next month so don't overspend.
35. Don't spend your money on office decorations. Very few of us are in a business where clients come to your office. You don't want your customers to think you're spending their money on their office furniture.
36. Make sure you've worked with someone before you hire them (if possible).
37. Learn the big lies you get from clients.
38. Double your reading speed.
39. Cut down on what you read.
40. Stay off facebook and twitter unless you can relate it to your business.
41. Sometimes you can save money by spending money.
42. Sometimes you can save money by not spending money.
43. Everyone who wants to sell you something will tell you it saves money.
44. The examples might not always teach what they're supposed to.
45. Many minds can do a better job than single minds. But not necessarily so.
46. You have to be organized.
47. Know your own limitations.
48. Learn quickly whether or not you want to work with someone.
49. If you see an organization with no enthusiasm for what they're doing they probably don't have enthusiasm for what you're offering.
50. If an organization doesn't care enough to organize, nothing is going to happen.
51. Don't mistake a solution idea for a problem definition.
52. People want a recipe but no recipe works for every organization.

So, that's Jason's (half) list. Each one could probably be a blog entry, at least, so if you want clarification, or to clarify, add a comment. I'll post Wolfram's (half) list when the traffic on this one dies down.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Evolution of an Exercise

(Rhonda asks Jerry for a little consultation.)

RHONDA: I'm a little nervous about my "speech" at a conference in a couple of weeks and wanted to see if you have time for some feedback.

JERRY: First feedback: If you weren't nervous, then you'd give a boring speech, guaranteed. Breathe into your nervousness and it becomes excitement.

RHONDA: It's the first time I'm presenting representing my company, the virginal gig so to speak, and I'm unsure what to prepare to make best use of the limited time while not knowing how many participants are going to join my session.

JERRY: Don't worry about "using time." Design the session so that the most important things come first (or early). That way if you "run out of time," you've covered as much as you could have.

RHONDA: "Whatever happens, happens" has been my mantra for a while already, and most of the "what-if's" won't get my blood pressure up (at least not until the hour before I go up front). To be honest, I've thought about this session for so many weeks now and feel so close to it that I feel stuck, like I have blinders on, and can't see alternative options how else to execute it.

JERRY: Stop thinking about it.

Instead of thinking, start doing. Figure out a way to practice it on some friends. Invite some of those friends over for wine and cheese or beer and pretzels or something, then use them as a surrogate audience and listen to their feedback.

RHONDA: I'm advertised thus: Starting Your Own Business - Building the Life You Want. The purpose of this presentation is to share with the audience the journey the presenter followed from international student via international employee and trailing spouse to expat coach and owner of her own company.

JERRY: Rewrite this, if only for your own use. The purpose is not to "share experiences with them." That's a means of achieving the purpose, which is something like "helping the audience members to succeed in starting their own business." IOW, more about them; less about you.

RHONDA: Rhonda draws on over 10 years of personal expatriate experience that made her want to support others. The audience will hear tips and descriptions of how and where she got the necessary information to dot the i's and cross the t's en route to realizing her dream. She will also make time for and encourage the audience to share their experiences and brainstorm ideas to make sure everybody who wants to start a business will leave her presentation motivated and informed.

Objectives I have for the "speech" (assuming participants come to hear about how to start their own businesses - is that a mistake?

JERRY: It will reduce your audience, which could be good or bad. Who else would benefit from this session?

RHONDA: Should I assume anything at all?):

   a) clarify their vision / focus their goals

   b) raise awareness of hidden obstacles

   c) identify concrete action steps to get started

Writing a business plan answers all three objectives.

(I've compiled a handbook with information about expatriate work permits, business structure comparison, business owner character traits, and useful links and resources to cover more start-up info. The handbook will be available either as print-out or .pdf file in exchange for their email address after the presentation.)

JERRY: Emphasize the handbook. People like takeaways.

Also emphasize what Eisenhower said: "The plan is nothing; the planning is everything." Maybe you could have them step through your planning process with you, each one (or team) doing their own planning steps as you go along.

RHONDA: Here are some of the parameters:

   75 minutes

   Should expect between 20 and 50 participants

   Don't know exact number

   Can't put the whole start-up process in 75 minutes

JERRY: So do selected parts, most important first.

RHONDA: I won't spend 75 minutes lecturing

JERRY: You'd better not.

RHONDA: Session Outline

   (5-10 minutes intro/warm-up)

   Exploration: 10-15 minutes to explain benefits, structure, and reasoning for a business plan
   Introduce business plan segments (e.g. client and product profile, market profile, marketing strategy, organizational structure and finances)
   Set up exercise: If I have 20 participants, I'll use one new venture/market scenario. One group per segment. Each group reads background information I provide (or would it be easier if they make up their own venture and background?) and answer business plan questions. Time: ca. 5 minutes

JERRY: Definitely better if they use their own, and you do it incrementally. You don't need to do the overview up front. You want to get them doing things more quickly than that. As it is, you have more than 1/2 hour before they do anything.

For example, pick the part of planning that's most important and start with that. When you've done that, and everyone has done that and questions are answered, move to the next most important. Do as many as you can cover properly without rushing. Then, when you see that ten minutes are left, conclude with an overview of all the segments they need to do to have a plan, and tell them about the handbook--again.

RHONDA: If I have 50 participants, I'll use two or three new venture/market scenarios, e.g. dog-wash salon in Seattle, pizzeria in Paris, recruitment office in Barcelona?

JERRY: No, too much time explaining the scenarios, which do them no good. Doing their own scenarios saves this time and ensures real interest in the exercises. If someone doesn't have one of their own, have them pair with someone who has one of their own.

RHONDA: Discovery/Application:
   Participants write a business plan for their venture. Time: ca. 20 minutes.
   Debrief/Application: In whole group, write executive summary for each venture, taking most important bits from each segment on flip chart, (take a picture, send it to them afterward with a thank-you note). Time: ca. 30 minutes.

JERRY: You can do this with lessons they learned from each different
startup, which lets them see what different startups have in common, and
what are the exceptions.

RHONDA: Question: Is 30 minutes enough debrief-time for an exercise like this and group size of 50 people?

JERRY: No. At least five days would be required to do it properly. But, you don't have that, so do what you can. If you do this incrementally, you can extract lessons after each segment, then do as many segments as
develop naturally.

RHONDA: Am I trying to cram too much in in general?


RHONDA: Ideas for a possible shorter exercise that would make 50 people feel involved and stimulated?

JERRY: Basically the same exercise, but chopped up and presented incrementally.

JERRY: BTW, if you really have 50, best to have them work in teams of 3-5 people, each formed around one person who has a specific startup in mind. To do this, you have individuals write signs that say, "Dog- walking business," or "Real-estate for the rich and famous," or "Coffin upholsterer," or whatever they're actually thinking of starting. Those that have signs hold them up, and people attach themselves to the ones they're interested in to make teams.

Does this help?