The Natural Evolution Of A Business

I talked to a fellow contractor recently and when I asked him how long he’s been in business, his reply was “20 years, but I think I repeated the same year over and over for the first 15.”  😳 😂 If you’re nodding your head and thinking “been there, done that,” I’ve got some good news for you….  almost every business goes through a Natural Evolution.  The trick to successfully navigating it however, lies in your ability to:

1. Identify what phase you’re in

2. Make the needed adjustments to move into the next phase

Here are the phases:

                         Common Sense –> Brute Force –> Best Practices

The Common Sense phase is just what it sounds like. You’re good at something, or interested in a specific trade and decide to make a go of it, so you do what “makes sense.” In the world of painting (which I know best as far as the trades go), this might mean buying tools and equipment, learning the basics, spreading the word that you’re now providing painting services and taking on one job at a time for a price that allows you to pay your bills with a little left over. With no major overhead expenses yet, you can work IN your business during the day, work ON your business after hours or on the weekends, and you can maintain this for a while as you continue to build your brand and establish a reputation…

But … as I like to say … if you’re good at what you do, your business will grow naturally, and to meet the new demands and increase your profitability, you will need to add more people to your team. Finding a few guys and gals to join you will allow you to produce more work and generate more revenue, but it will also mean additional business expenses to accommodate your new structure. This inevitably leads to the Brute Force phase, which is very easy to move into (often times without even realizing it), but more difficult to move out of.

In the Brute Force phase, you’re still operating on the principles of Common Sense, but by now your business has most likely outgrown the ability to “just do what makes sense” anymore. Multiple projects and multiple crews often lead to inconsistency from job to job without a more formalized approach to HOW you do WHAT you do (i.e. – written systems and processes). You might deliver 5 star service on one job only to turn around and have a major callback on the next. And you may struggle to identify WHY, in your mad dash to keep up with the new demands on your time both IN and ON the business. If you’re working 60+ hours a week and still don’t feel like you’ll ever get caught up, then you’re most likely in the Brute Force phase and “just pushing through.” No one wants to stay here, but many business owners struggle with determining HOW to move out of Brute Force and into the Best Practices phase….

Getting to Best Practices requires you as the owner to spend more time ON your business than IN your business, and to do so effectively you will need additional overhead to support this shift. This could include people, technology, and infrastructure, and should be looked at as an investment and planned for in your overall budget. I like to call them “step changes,” and while you should plan out a few at a time, you may not be able to execute them all at the same time without causing too much of a dip in your overall profitability.

The first “step” is often hiring someone to help out in the office, which will be a new overhead cost for your business. If done well, after a slight dip in your productivity (during training and on-boarding) having a dedicated person to handle your administrative tasks should result in more efficiency overall and more time for you to focus on selling and continuing to build your brand. Hiring this person will also require you to get the “common sense” systems you’ve been operating on out of your head and onto paper. To successfully onboard and delegate, you’ll need clear procedures to train this new hire. This is also a great time to add procedures for the field as well to ensure a consistent experience on each and every project.

The Best Practices phase is where you truly formalize your business. The goal is having the day to day operations of your business run smoothly without you needing to oversee every little thing yourself. While this may seem like a daunting task, consider the alternative – staying in the struggle that is Brute Force for yet another year. Mapping out the path to move you into Best Practices phase is the starting point for it all. While business growth is often organic and unplanned in the early phases, successful and sustainable growth is intentional.

Need or want more help? Sign up for my free Business Assessment Webinar or schedule a free discovery call and let’s chat about mapping out the best plan for you to reach your business goals and life dreams. 🤩 🤩

Do You Need More “SC” In Your Business?

If you’re familiar with the DISC profile, here are some interesting statistics…. Only 10% of the overall population are “high D’s”, but when it comes to entrepreneurs and business owners, that number jumps to 65%. This makes sense given that it takes guts and action to launch and grow a business, and high D’s are big “doers.” What I’ve seen and found, however, over 15+ years in the contracting world, is that most business owners need more “S” and “C” in their businesses (and lives) to help balance things out as they continue to scale and grow.

When I joined the family painting business back in 2005 and starting attending conferences with my father, I noticed something pretty early on. The other business owners in attendance who were running successful and streamlined businesses (most of them being high D’s or high I’s) had hired a office managers who were high “S” or “C” to balance things out. And what I’ve continued to see over the years, is that smart business owners build teams that compliment their strengths and fill the gaps where they are weak.

While high D’s want to go, go, go, and aren’t always focused on or worried about the details, having a high S or C in the mix helps to ensure that all options are reviewed and a clear plan of action is outlined. Together, this combination of the “idea” generator paired with someone who’s great at implementation can lead to amazing results within a business. And collaboration often leads to a final result that is better than what could have been conceived or achieved individually.

One of my favorite quotes is “the fastest way to get something done is to slow down.” As a creative person and a high “SC”, finding the balance between idea and successful implementation comes naturally to me. I love taking the time to truly look at a system, process or procedure and say “Is this the best way to do this? Is there a way to make this more efficient, simpler, and easily repeatable?” Then I like to take it one step further and use my Try, Track, & Tweak method to evaluate and create the best possible process.

If you’re in need of more “SC” in your business, lets chat. You can schedule a free discovery call here, and if there isn’t a date that works well for you, just send me an email and we’ll find some time to connect.

You Only Have To Do It Once*

Every time I talk to a busy business owner who says they really need to get their systems and processes in order, but just don’t have the time, my answer is always the same… “I have good news and I have bad news for you… you only have to do it once.”

The good news is, that once in place, most Singular Operating Systems (SOS – also known as Sink or Swim) will stand for years to come and only require tweaking and adjusting as your business evolves and grows. The bad news is, you will have to sit down once and do what I refer to as “the brain dump.”

The truth is, most business owners do have systems and processes, they just happen to keep them all in their heads. Taking the time to sit down, document the way you run the daily operations of your business, and then evaluate if it’s the best way to run your business is not only necessary, but once one the other side very freeing as well.

Here’s my personal story to prove that even those of us who live for and love a good system can dread having to document the process. In our family painting business, we usually hire a college student to help out in the summer months when we’re in our busy season. After a few years in the business and a few summer helpers had come and gone, I finally decided to document ALL of the office procedures and create a manual to use for all future training needs. I’ll be honest, it was not a whole lot of fun, and meant taking extra time document each task as I was completing it. BUT, that following summer when we hired another new office assistant, I used the manual to train her, then asked her to try to follow the procedures on her own, and finally tweaked it so anyone with a brain could come in, sit down at the main desk and figure out enough to answer the phone and carry out our basic office functions without any help.

Fast forward ten years and that extra time spent creating that manual has saved me (and our company) hours upon hours of time in training new admins every time we’ve hired one. In hindsight, it was one of the best things I ever did with regards to increasing the productivity in the office and adding consistency and repeatability to all of our office procedures.

What would implementing consistent and repeatable systems mean for your business?

– Would it allow you to delegate with less fear?

– Would it allow you to hire or outsource tasks that are not the best use of your time, but still need to be taken care of?

– Would it allow you to take off one of the many hats you’ve been wearing and breathe a little easier?

If you answered YES to any or all of the above, I highly encourage you to set aside some time to get your systems out of your head and onto paper. And if you’d like some help and don’t want to start from scratch, I’ve done the heavy lifting already to get you 85% of the way there. You can learn more about The Full Circle Customer course here and here’s to doing it once, and once and for all.

*Doing it once the right way will lead to optimal results and not having to repeat the process. 👍🏼

Systems vs. Software – Where, What & How

I’m going to go ahead and date myself right now by telling you that when I first joined the family painting business, there was very little software for the industry, and nothing at all for those of us who have always been Mac users. I know a fellow contractor that purchased ACT and tweaked it to the best of his ability, and there were plenty of us who made due with Microsoft Word and Excel for years until a few dynamic Excel platforms were launched specifically for painters. Fast forward to the present, and the problem seems to have almost been over-corrected. So much so that APC magazine is now hosting Virtual Tech Fests to help us all evaluate and choose what’s best for our businesses within the world of contracting.

Which brings me to the point of this post…. the difference between systems and software. For clarity, please note that while I am a systems specialist, I am not a software specialist. What I can tell you about software, however, is that it’s the WHERE in your business. Tie it back to the name – software – and it’s easy to remember. Whatever software you’re currently using or considering, it’s WHERE you store all of your information.

Systems, on the other hand are the WHAT and HOW of your business, and are critical in setting up a streamlined and successful path for growth (with minimized growing pains). Systems answer the questions of HOW you do WHAT you do, and HOW you gather information and WHAT you do with it. Of course, you need somewhere to store and easily access all of this information, but without clarity in your processes for the WHAT and HOW, the WHERE doesn’t stand as well on it’s own.

Here are some quick examples:

  • HOW do you reply to a new lead?
  • WHAT do you do with that information once you have it?
  • HOW do you prepare for a meeting with a potential client?
  • WHAT do you do with the information once you’ve discussed the scope of work?
  • HOW do you plan internally for each project?
  • HOW do you communicate with the customer throughout?

I think you get the idea, and the list goes on from that very first marketing piece that caught their attention to the successful completion of the job. Which leads me back to what started it all… the Customer Experience Circle. I’m thrilled to announce that my comprehensive course is now available, in which I’ll “walk” you around the circle and assist you in setting up systems for each “stop” along the way. You can learn more here and sign up for my launch party for a sneak peek at everything that’s included.

Think Like A Customer – Act Like A Business Owner

While I hate to have to say this out loud, Customer Service seems to be a dying art. With the continued advances in technology and automation, it seems many businesses and industries are attempting to “make things easier” by automating as much as possible. But who is it really easier for? More often than not, it’s easier for the business, but not the customer (and don’t get me started on “convenience fees”…I did all of the work 😝). 

This trend is all the more reason Customer Service should be your primary focus for the coming year. There’s no easier way to elevate your brand and stand out from your competition than to deliver exceptional customer service. And for many of us, isn’t that what we set out to do in the first place?

The trouble, however, often lies with implementation. And the hard truth that we’re usually thinking like a busy business owner and not thinking like a customer. Once we are able to shift our focus, the next question that comes up is How? How do I set up my business so it’s customer focused, but still keep control of the internal processes so it’s manageable for my team?

The short answer – Implement A Singular Operating System.

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve most likely seen “The Customer Circle”, some of you may have seen the detailed version, a few of you may have heard me talk about it in Denver, and now I’m excited to share the launch of my On-Demand course where I’ll take you through it all in full detail.

As busy business owners, we’re all guilty of spending too much time IN our businesses and not enough time ON our businesses. My goal is creating and launching The Full Circle Customer course is to help you carve out 1 hour a week to work ON your business, teach you how to build out systems for consistency and success (you’ll be able to download my notes, tools, and templates as well) and turn the 8-10 hours you spend working through the course into 10x that in time back once you’ve implemented the processes into your business.

If you’re ready to learn more and get a preview of what’s included, join me for my Free Full Circle Business Assessment Webinar this month. Click here to learn more and save your space.

Big Changes & Little Adjustments

My daughter got her license a few months ago, and with a dad that’s a bonafide car guy (he buys them, rebuilds them and races them), together their working on “building” her very first dream car. It’s a (used) Jeep Wrangler – 4 door, hard top, all black – just as she requested. 🖤

Once she got the hang of driving it and passed her test (in a Mini Cooper 😂), the first big change was the tires. And when I say big, I mean big. She picked them out, dad swapped them out, and back out onto the road she went.

As she was driving around, turning left and right to navigate the roads and back out of parking spots, she noticed a rubbing sound she hadn’t heard before. So back to dad’s shop she went only to discover the new and much bigger tires were rubbing up against the fenders. So what’s the solution? Lift the car a bit. This was on her wish list as well, and was added sooner rather than later to eliminate the sound and the extra wear on the new tires.

What’s the point of my story you might ask?  If you’ve read more than one of my blogs so far, you’ll notice that I like to tell stories and then “connect the dots.”

When it comes to growing our businesses, it’s often easy to spot the big changes that need to be made to continue to grow and reach our goals. But in the midst of figuring it out, executing and getting everyone on board with the big change, we often forget that big changes almost always require small adjustments.

There are very few things in life that work perfectly out of the box, and we’ve all learned to tweak and adjust things as needed in our day to day life. Somehow though, we seem to forget that similar tweaks are often needed within our businesses. Like the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

So the next time you’re considering a big change in your business, be sure to give it time, pay attention to any hiccups you encounter, ask your team for input, and adjust as necessary to reach the best final version – which is very rarely achieved on the first attempt.

What Tools Might You Be Overlooking?

“Smart business owners use tools.”

I was on a podcast with a handful of other coaches earlier this week and one of them said this in the midst of our conversation. He then went on to give a few obvious examples. Here are a few of my own….

If you’re going to plant a garden, you’re not going to dig the holes by hand… you’d use a shovel.

If you’re going to change a tire, you’re not going lift the car with your hands… you’d use a jack.

If you’re going to paint a house, you’re not going to do it with your hands … you’d use a paint brush.

In “real world” scenarios, we have no issues with picking up a shovel, a jack, a paint brush, etc., but when it comes to “business tools” we are often reluctant to add something new to the mix.

Here’s the kicker though, tools are actually designed to make tasks easier… once you’ve learned how to use them properly, of course. By passing up on taking the time to learn how to use a new tool that could potentially save you an exponential amount of time and effort over the next few months or years, you’re basically saying “I’m going to keep digging my holes by hand because I don’t want to stop and learn how to use a shovel.”

So here’s the million dollar question …. well, two actually

In what area(s) of your business are you struggling with efficiency, consistency, or both?

What tools might be available to help you address the issue and make the process smoother, easier and more consistent?

They’re out there, you just have to be willing to take the time to identify the areas of your business that would benefit from the addition of a tool and then find the right one for the task at hand.

Rule Your Day – A To Do List For Maximum Productivity

Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy, Daniel Pink – these are all names we know, and for many of us, who we aspire to be more like when it comes to productivity… but how do you get there when organization and time management don’t come naturally to you?

Short answer – find a tool to help you simplify the process and work it into your daily routine. My tool of choice – a simple Daily To Do List.

What I do naturally (thanks to a 98% ranking for time management and productivity)  is combine the strategies of these three experts into my personal to do list to maximize my workday. And now you can too. 😎

Here’s a quick overview of how the Rule Your Day method works:

If you’re familiar with Brian Tracy and “Eat the Frog” you know that starting with your biggest and most important to do (or sometimes the most dreaded) is the best way to ensure you have a productive day.

#1 – It gets your highest priority item checked off of your to do list early (and before you get hit with endless interruptions and distractions).

#2 – It makes the rest of the items on your to do list feel that much easier to complete now that the weight of the BIG TO DO is done.

BUT…. how do you avoid going down the rabbit hole of putting out fires and slapping on band aids once your big ticket item is taken care of?

That’s where Stephen Covey comes into the picture. Most of us are aware of the “4 Quadrants.” Unfortunately, business owners wearing multiple hats tend to spend the bulk of the day in quadrants 3 and 4. By focusing on Quadrants 1 and 3 (in that order) AFTER “Eating the Frog”, you can increase your overall productivity for the entire day before you take a break for lunch.

 

“Lunch break? What’s that?” 😂 If this is you (and it was me for YEARS), and you haven’t already read about or listened to Daniel Pink’s theory on “Timing”, taking a break is a critical factor in accomplishing your daily goals. Essentially, we are all subject to the “3 Stages of Timing” and it affects our overall daily productivity.

How so?…

If you’re a morning person, your “peak” comes early and you most likely do your best work at the start of the day. If you’re a night owl, mornings can be tough – you most likely get off to a slow start and “peak” a few hours into your day. And at some point, everyone “hits the wall.” – Pink calls this the “trough” – and this is the perfect time to stop for lunch and reset. We all enter a “recovery” period as well, but our productivity will not hit a “peak” again for the duration of the workday.

Knowing this cycle allows us to map out our to do lists and get to the end of each day without feeling completely burned out. And taking a break to eat lunch (and take a walk) gives our brains a chance to regroup and reset for the second half of the workday.

So, if you’re ready to start working “Smarter, not Harder”, you can grab my free basic to do list here and start mapping out your day using my method, OR you can purchase a Rule Your Day Notepad, (including detailed instructions) to make it that much easier to re-train your brain for maximum productivity. Either way, here’s to finding the best way to Rule Your Day. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

 

The Truth About Checklists

I’m not sure when or why or how, but I feel like somewhere along the line checklists got a bad rap and are being used less and less these days. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or coincides with all of the technology and apps at our finger tips, but whatever the reason, I’m all about bringing them back…. and here’s WHY.

As busy business owners or managers or doers, delegation is critical to our continued growth and success, but many of us shy away from delegation out of fear.

What’s the most common fear when delegating a task?

That it will not be completed correctly and/or meet our expectations (or those of our other employees and customers).

And what’s the biggest fear of the person you’re delegating this task to?

That it will not be completed correctly and/or meet our expectations (or those of our other employees and customers).

So what’s the solution? … A simple checklist.

Do you know what happens when you give someone a clear and concise checklist for a task or assignment that needs to be completed? You eliminate their stress and your stress from the delegation process. Following a conversation that includes the what, why and how, they now have a tool to reference to make sure they don’t miss anything and complete the task as expected.

 

And what happens when they have to do the task again? While repetition does build “muscle memory”, having the checklist on hand also ensures that they can double check the process without having to come back to you and ask you to be sure each and every time they have to repeat it.

 

And what happens when you hire a new employee that will also need to learn how to complete this task? Either you can start with the checklist and train them yourself or you can have the person you originally delegated the task to teach others how to correctly complete it as well. I’d call that a win-win-win for a business owner looking to work ON their business more and IN their business less.

 

So what tasks in a contracting business might benefit from a simple and concise checklist? Here’s a short list to get you started….including the WHY (which is critical for understanding and buy in).

  • Job Sequencing Checklist – so everyone involved knows their part and the process is completed in an order that makes sense
  • Job Start Checklist – so your Crew Leader can ensure that things get off to a smooth start with each and every project
  • End of Day Checklist – so your Crews can be sure to wrap up each day consistently (clean and neat) and deliver an exceptional customer experience
  • Job Completion Checklist – to ensure nothing was missed or left behind, and the customer is fully satisfied with the finished result
  • Hiring Checklist – to ensure that you’re gathering all of the information you need through the interview and on-boarding process (download my free checklist here)
  • Skills Checklist – to measure the growth and progress of your employees as they “climb the ladder”
  • New Project Intake Form – this isn’t a traditional checklist, but you should have a script for answering the phone and gathering all of the information you need for new leads

What would you add to the list to make your daily operations run more smoothly? I’d love to hear from you and maybe even create a custom checklist together to eliminate some of your daily operational stressors. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

Vacation Mode – Conquering Your Inbox – Bonus Post

My daughter was off from school a few weeks ago for Spring Break and we decided to take a much needed break and head out of town for a long weekend. Thankfully, since we live on the East Coast, there are lots of beaches within a few hours of home so we chose one of our favorites, loaded up the car and the 8 month old puppy, and hit the road.

While gathering up everything I needed for the trip, she saw me grab my laptop and notebook from my desk and said “You’re not going to work while we’re away, are you?” …..

So, here is some bonus advice for handling email while on vacation and making sure you truly relax and enjoy your time with family, friends, or even yourself if you opt for a solo getaway.

 

  1. DON’T schedule any meetings the day before you leave. No matter how good your intentions are, the last day in the office always tends to get crazy. Make sure you have the time to deal with last minute issues and wrap things up so you can actually exhale when you walk out the door knowing that all critical tasks have been handled.
  2. TURN ON your out of office reply. I’m guilty of skipping this step myself sometimes, and while you may have time and end up answering emails while away, let that be the exception, not the norm. If you’re away for business and will be checking your email, say so … “I’m away for business and will be checking my email periodically. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [ fill in the blank  ] …” And if you’re going away with your family like I did, tell the truth … “I’m on vacation with my family and will not be checking my email very often. Please contact [ fill in the blank  ] for immediate assistance or I will be in touch when I return on ….”
  3.  CLEAR THE CLUTTER on your phone using the delete/forward/quick reply (if your kid’s not watching and/or still asleep 🤫) / save for later method.
  4. DON’T schedule any meetings on your first day back. While I often say taking a long weekend just means “cramming five days of work into three”, you’ll want a clear calendar that first morning back so you can A – clean out your inbox and B – check in with your teammates to get caught up on anything important that happened while you were gone. Plus, the whole point of taking time off is to rest and relax, and if you fill your first day back up to the brim, you’ll most likely end up feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the end of the day, which defeats the purpose of you taking time off in the first place. 😳

Now that I’ve got you thinking about a getaway of your own, I’ll share one final tip. Whether you end up hitting the road or just sitting at home, check your calendar and schedule an “OFF” day in the coming weeks. When life gets crazy (which seems to be the norm these days) just knowing you have a day off coming up can help you find the strength to push through. Plus I’m sure you’ve earned, and could use a day off by now.