Discovering & Fixing Your Bucket
At Boston University I am the co-faculty director for a program called the BU Urban Business Accelerator. This program, started by a recent alum, Nathan Bernard, focuses on helping business owners in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods develop the skills and systems they need to manage their businesses “by the numbers.” Undergraduate and graduate students work with business owners in inner cities in Boston to implement QuickBooks and often a Point of Sale (POS) system for these businesses.
Many of these business owners have very unsophisticated, and oftentimes nonexistent systems. The students were floored one day when the owner of one retail shop pulled out an actual bucket of hand written receipts for all of the items sold that week. The business owner understood the value of tracking his data in a more formal manner, but he simply didn’t have enough time nor knowledge to create a system. He was basically doing everything by hand because he didn’t know where to begin, which led to pricing, profit and inventory challenges.
With thousands of SKU’s sold in this store, you can imagine the value of creating a computerized system to track how much each item costs, what it was sold it for and when to reorder (or not). It’s easy to look at this business from the outside and think of dozens of ways to improve it. But when we are working IN our business versus ON it, these growth challenges can surface quickly and have long and very hazardous impacts.
We all have a ‘bucket’ that represents a part of our business that we know isn’t working efficiently. Oftentimes we know precisely how to fix it so…it’s just a matter of finding the time to do so. You probably don’t have a team of students ready and willing to identify and then fix your bucket, so it’s up to YOU to find the time to correct the problem on your own. Let’s face reality; unless you MAKE the time to correct the situation, you’re not going to easily find a few hours or days readily available to you.
Now is the time to fix this year’s bucket. We’re almost halfway through 2013, so begin by making an appointment with yourself to identify your biggest bucket then create a plan (nothing fancy) with dates of how you’re going to correct it. Here’s a simple 5-step process to follow:
I’m off to address my own bucket. Curious? I’ve started teaching a few new classes at BU and at Brandeis this summer, but my schedule isn’t designed to prepare for classes, write my next book and manage my consulting projects. I’ve been working in a very non-linear, circular manner trying to get things done on time and it’s driving me crazy. I’m revising my own schedule so there’s time set aside literally written into my calendar (Yes, I’ve made appointments with myself) to prepare for classes and ensure that the first draft of book #3 (The Next Chapter: Turning Your Passion Into a Thriving Business) is completed by the end of the summer. Wish me luck!
It’s critical to learn to say NO in business. I discuss the importance of doing this with JJ Ramberg on MSNBC’s Your Business.
I’d love to hear your experience saying NO to an opportunity that simply didn’t align with you company’s goals.
Ever have one of those days (or weeks) when you just felt like sticking your head in the sand? I love a good challenge and embrace the opportunity to learn from every scenario presented to me. But I have no patience for people who don’t practice a high standard of business ethics and morals.
In this month’s blog, let’s talk about why shared business values are so critical in selecting your partners, clients, customers and anybody with whom your business interacts.
I admit it, I’m a bit of a domain hoarder. In fact, I own over three dozen domains. I’m a marketer still plagued by the fact that I didn’t buy marketingedge.com in time. So now whenever an idea for a product or service pops in my head, I check to see if the domain is available…and buy it. They automatically renew, so oftentimes I forget I own them – which can create issues….
Recently, an organization that I did business with a few years ago decided that they should be the legal owners of a domain that I bought in 2008. This is a group to whom I had donated hours and hours of my time to help them create their product.
Instead of picking up the phone to call and ask me to transfer the domain to them, the head of this non-profit organization hired a lawyer (who I presume works pro bono) and sent me a certified letter DEMANDING that I turn over the domain to them.
As a small business owner getting a letter from a law firm via certified mail does not constitute ‘a great day.’ I turned to two different legal experts for advice and spent hours piling through contracts since I needed to know my rights. Frankly, I was shocked. If you’ve done any work with me, you know that I am a huge supporter of small businesses (for profit and non-profit). It’s simply not part of the ethical business standard that I follow to try to cause harm or disrupt the operation of any other organization. I won’t get into the legal issues here, but both lawyers assured me that I had not done anything wrong and could not be held liable. Nonetheless, I spent days dealing with this before I spoke to the organization’s president.
What was most surprising and what I wanted to know was why she decided to hire a lawyer rather than simply calling me. Her response? It was easier to hire the lawyer. REALLY? When did hiding behind lawyers become the easiest way to handle conflict... especially when one party doesn’t even know that conflict exists.
A simple call would have been more than sufficient to resolve the issue. I would have given her the domain had she just asked. Instead, this non-profit organization forced me to hire my own legal experts to confirm my rights.
In the end, I have agreed to give them the domain because I still believe in the stated mission of the organization and it is the right thing to do. But I’m disappointed (no, horrified) by this organization’s actions against me and by the fact that their stated mission to support small business owners somehow did not extend to me.
Contrast this recent domain-name trouble with an earlier one. About a year ago, I received a call from an organization that was running a national event called The Small Business Tour. They were using the domain name: thesmallbusinesstour.com and contacted me because I owned SmallBusinessTour.com (which, at the time, automatically directed to my website m-edge.com). It was causing confusion amongst individuals who wanted to register for their tour. They were interested in purchasing the domain from me.
The woman who called me was terrific and we had a great exchange about our business models and goals and quickly recognized that our missions intertwined. She asked me if I would be interested in being a speaker and sponsor for the “Tour.” To make a long story short, I pointed my site to their site (it’s still pointed there) and also got involved with the event. It was a win-win and they are great people whom I totally respect.
Both of these incidents raise the question: Should goodwill be a core value of a business or organization?
Where do YOU draw the line for what constitutes right and wrong in terms of ethical and honorable business practices?
Please email me your thoughts on this compelling issue and, as always, I look forward to being inspired by what you have done to propel your business forward
I want to share a story about a recent challenge I faced saying ‘no’ to an opportunity that my gut immediately rejected but my heart fought for (and lost). Back in November I was asked to serve as the president of an impressive product marketing organization based here in Massachusetts. I was honored to be asked, especially since the founder is an individual whom I greatly respect. The organization is successful and they are looking to take themselves to the next level. So, I had two key questions to answer: ’Was I the right person to help them grow?” and “Was this the right organization to help my business grow?” The latter was harder to answer than I anticipated.
Over the past few years I have worked diligently to establish myself as an expert in business growth (building upon my marketing/sales background). While I love ‘all things marketing,’ as a small business trainer I have learned that teaching marketing on its own simply isn’t enough to help business owners achieve the success they desire.Being able to set actionable goals, understand cash flow and manage and motivate your team is just as important as understanding why customers buy from you and why they might also buy from your competitors. I now integrate all aspects of business strategy, tactics and growth in my workshops to ensure a more significant impact on the small business communities I work with. Returning to a role focused solely on marketing strategy doesn’t align with my business model. So, this should have been an easy ‘No,’ right? Wrong!
Here’s where my dilemma began. I was personally excited about working with this group because the people in the organization were truly passionate, dynamic and interesting individuals with whom I wanted to collaborate.But, the organization didn’t fit into my wheelhouse, so how could I say ‘yes?’ Good question! I searched for this answer for weeks. I interviewed almost two dozen individuals associated with the organization, looking for a reason to say ‘yes’ but I kept coming back with ‘no.’ Nonetheless, Irefused to listen to my ‘logical’ side screaming that this was not the right role for me.
So, how did I resolve this dilemma? I removed the emotion from the decision. I created a spreadsheet (nothing fancy, trust me) and on the vertical axis (also know as the Y axis for you engineering-types) I plotted all my 2012 projects, training initiatives and other key activities like my book tour, speaking gigs, articles, newsletter and blog. Then on the horizontal (X) axis I plotted my business goals: consulting, training, being a thought leader, helping inner city and small businesses, etc… You get the point. I also included a business goal category called college fund. Why? Because I could do what I love all day long but if I’m not getting paid, my kids will have to rely on the dogs getting great modeling jobs to support their college education (cute as the dogs are, that wasn’t happening any time soon).
Next, I decided that every project listed on the vertical axis had to fit into at least two of these goal categories (three if there was no revenue involved). For example, the training program I run in Salem, MA fit into several categories including: small business, training, coaching and college fund. Other initiatives such as blogging or writing my newsletter didn’t make the college fund but fit into small business, thought leadership and coaching categories. Simple, right?
You’d be surprised how cathartic this was. When the chart was completed, I could see in black and white, no emotions involved, everything that I had accomplished in the past year. I could also see how some of the initiatives I had taken on were clearly not smart choices. Honestly, I already knew which initiatives I shouldn’t continue but now I had no reason to argue with myself over continuing them. Here it was, plain and simple, staring back at me from my computer screen – my smart choices and my ‘not so smart’ decisions. The visual impact was quite empowering.
Ultimately, this chart gave me the power and internal strength to say ‘no’ to the position as president of this organization. The organization just didn’t fit into my current goals. I simply couldn’t justify saying ‘yes,’ hoping that the pleasure of working with the folks in the group would somehow payoff in the long term. It just didn’t make sense but now it was no longer based on a gut feeling or emotion. It was pure logic.
When I called the founder and politely turned down the opportunity, I knew I had made the right decision. Interestingly enough, several new opportunities opened up in the weeks that followed. Ones that I wouldn’t have been able to go after if I had agreed to serve as president of this group and ones that very clearly fit into my wheelhouse. Now I have this amazing chart to refer to each time I have to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
If you are grappling with a logical system to streamline your goals, actions and empower your ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ spend an hour doing this exercise. I guarantee it’ll be the best hour you’ll spend on yourself and your business. When you’re done, email me and let me know what you are doing differently this year as you focus your efforts on growth and please share your stories of how you learned to say ‘Yes’ to ‘No.’