Snake Bit

We changed website hosts recently which meant we were also changing our email server and seemingly a host of other things. If you’ve ever done this, you would agree that I could end this post right now, without ever saying another thing and you’d get the point. But bare with me . . .

Between me and my closest confidant, Paul, we thought  it would be simple enough to do this. Sign up with a new hosting service and then follow the instructions on their site as well as the instructions on the current host’s site and voila – we’re done. A couple of hours, max. Not so much . . .

It seems that everytime I touched something it bounced something that Paul was doing. And then vice versa. So, again, simple enough to fix this. We engaged an expert to jump in and bail the project out and get it done. A week later the website was still not transferred!

While this was extremely frustrating, I joked with Paul, that this was just one of those snake bit projects that we experience every now and then so we just needed to gut it up, press in, and get it done. His reply was, “snake bit?”

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve had more than one of these types of projects. I call them “snake bit” because it’s like you’re in a pit full of snakes and you’re just trying to get from one side to the other – where the ladder is. Every step you take, you step on a snake and get bit. Doesn’t matter which way you turn, or how careful you step, you’re going to get bit. So what’s the solution?

Solution One: Run in place, stomping around angry, screaming at all the snakes. No, that just makes the snakes madder and more of them are going to bite you.

Solution Two: Stand still and hope they will all move away and clear a path for you. Uhh, has inactivity or delaying ever worked for you to get a project to completion?

Solution Three: Admit you’ve been bit, gonna be bit again, take a deep breath and move to the other side. Still going to be painful, but you will get through it and get the project done. The real answer here is to “suck it up!” Focus your time, effort, money, staff, everything on getting done with this project. Don’t cancel it, don’t delay it, get it done and over with. Tell everyone that’s the plan. Don’t let anyone off the hook – and that means don’t let anyone on the team delay it or “run in place creating more mad snakes.” Get it done and get over it.

My point with all this, is we all have these snake bit projects. The only way to get through them is to re-focus on it with a redoubled determination. There will be some hard things to do. Maybe admit to a customer that you’ve failed him or her in some way – but you’re going to fix it. Maybe it’s going to cost you more money than you budgeted. But it’s going to cost you way more if you keep dragging it out. The emotional cost is going to be heavy, too, if you drag it out.

So, snakes or not, when you’re in the pit, renew your and your team’s focus and resources and get to the other side. There’s safety over there. And the lessons learned will be things all of your team will remember and apply in the future.

Blessings!

Dave

Who’s Your Hero?

Where are you going? What are your goals? To whom are you selling? Why are you in business?

These are some of the first questions you can expect to be asked when you begin a new engagement.

The funny thing is, most of us (and that includes me and my company) lose focus on these important questions (or rather the answers) as we get immersed in our day-to-day activities. I’ve told you the story before of when a customer asked me how to set financial goals that were more than just numbers. Well, here’s a bigger picture of how we might address this.

Let’s change the focus.

Who do you look up to? Whether it be in life, sports or business, who is your hero?

Is there a company out there that really sets the standard for what you do? A great competitor that seems to have it all together? Does everything right? Beats you and everyone else in winning business and customers? Maybe you have a vendor or supplier who seems to do everything perfectly. Maybe you have a mentor or an individual you really look up to.

Who is it? What are they doing that is so right? What can you do to imitate them? Learn from them?

I ask this of all of my customers and it always surprises me when they say there is no one. Does this mean they’ve never noticed? They’ve never looked?

To be successful, you must have something beyond goals – and that something is an ideal. An ideal is not a place or a thing. It can be a person. But most often it is a combination of elements that paint a perfect accomplishment; the pinnacle of achievement – for you. It may ultimately not be achievable because it is so perfect.  But if you really believe in it, you’ll strive to achieve it anyway. People like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady have all been considered the best ever in their respective professions. But none of them have ever said they reached their ideal. They have the reputation for being the best, but they never ceased striving to be better. In reality they reached it, but, in their world, they were always going to be striving for it. They were (and are) living their lives striving toward their “ideal,” not for some tangible goal. Do you remember the advertising slogan that said, “I wanna be like Mike.?” Mike was not a “goal.” He was an “ideal.”   I wonder how many great athletes that we have today started with the simple ideal of being “like Mike?”

So, how about you? Can you identify and describe your ideal? I bet you can describe your goals: but can you look way past those and identify your ideal?

What is it?

Who is it?

The best goals are specific, definable and measurable. The best ideals are indescribable but can be pointed to. They are livable and will drive you to accomplishment on top of accomplishment. Striving toward your ideal will drive you beyond tangible goals. Your ideal will give you purpose. And a purpose will give you a life worth living.

Be Blessed!

Dave

Sharpen Your Tools

Last week I was reminiscing about my youth and my Dad’s woodworking shop. With your forbearance, I’d like to take you down one more nostalgic trail.

In our shop we had a lot of tools and, as you can imagine, most of them had to have sharp edges. None were sharper than our chisels. While all the saw blades and planers, and router bits and drill bits had to be sharp, none required the sharpness of the chisel and the hand plane. The reason was simple: these were hand tools and, generally, the last tool to touch the wood. So they had to be sharp enough to do the job without a lot of force and they couldn’t leave any extraneous marks.

To this day, when I do any woodworking, there is nothing more satisfying, I’d even say spiritual, than using a sharp chisel or plane across a beautiful piece of wood. As the tool cuts there is a clean shaving and a sweet sound as that shaving comes off the wood. This can only happen with an extremely sharp and perfectly honed tool. And we learned how to do that in Dad’s shop. The interesting thing about our shop, though, was we broke a cardinal rule of most woodworkers: we kept all the chisels in a drawer – with no edge protection. Those of you who relate to this personally just went “ouch!”

But before you discount everything else, hear me out.

We learned how to properly sharpen tools through a series of finer and finer grit stones and then through a stropping process that created super sharp edges. This however was not a one time procedure. Every time we pulled a chisel out to use, we examined the blade and stropped it and made sure it was ready for use. We never assumed that it was ready “right out of the drawer.” So, while we were careless in one sense for keeping them all in a drawer, we were always testing the blades before they were used.

What’s the point? Well I’m glad you asked – that is, if you haven’t already come to it on your own.

You can’t do a job worthy of true craftsmanship, if you don’t, first of all, use the right tool. And second of all: make sure it’s sharp enough to use.

So today’s question is: When was the last time you read a business book? When was the last time you studied up on or sought advice on a problem that was troubling you at work? Not to become the expert, but to become knowledgeable enough to identify and analyze a challenge to determine the best way to tackle it. Do your people follow your example of always studying and learning more about their craft?

If you’re not sharpening your chisels to the sharpest edge, you’re not doing a true artisan’s job. You’re not doing the best you can do. Take the time to do that. Set, and be, the example so you’ll have a company full of sharp chisels ready to do their best.

Blessings,

Dave

Put Your Hands On It–All Your Planning is Done

When I was growing up my father had a woodworking shop that my brother and I were proud to work in. Ok, there were times we were proud to work in it:  other times – like Saturdays and holidays –not so much. Nonetheless, there were always lessons to be learned. The obvious ones, of course, were the skills required to do woodworking: planning, layout drawing, cutting diagrams, joints, material selections – and on, and on. In addition to all of those, there were also important life skills that, many times, I didn’t realize I was learning until much later. To this day, I find myself reciting some of those very lessons to my own children and to my employees.

One of the greatest lessons comes from my Dad’s most common way to get us to begin a project:

“Ok, it’s time to put the coffee down and get your hands on it.”

You knew when he said that, he meant it literally and he meant right now.

No more talking about what needed to be done or how we were going to do it – it was time to literally shove a board into the saw. From that moment, there was something magical that occurred. Things began to happen.  Until we put our hands on it, there was nothing but a bunch of idle tools and a stack of raw wood. The project started to take shape and, before long, there was a fully assembled table or cabinet sitting in the shop.

And it all started with, “Put your hands on it.”

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about planning out the new year.

  • What your plan should be.
  • Starting with looking back at what you’ve done in the past year.
  • What you can build on for the new year.

A lot of serious thought has gone into these plans. And then a lot of effort has been applied in getting everyone to provide ideas and input. Just like all the planning and designing that needed to go into our woodworking projects.

But now the planning is done. Now comes the really important phase: it’s time to put your hands on it.

If you want to see results, they’ll only come by your actions, not your plans. We are all judged by our actions and not our plans. It’s time to believe in our plan and now “put our hands on it.” And get after this new year with a passion.

Magical things will happen. When you take action.

Blessings.

Dave

Setting Goals: Visualizing Your Own Future

Talking with a close friend recently about growing one of his businesses and he made an interesting observation:

“My experience when setting goals in some organizations is that they simply become nothing more than setting some arbitrary revenue number that seems to be appropriate for the moment.”

He then asked me an important and revealing question:

“How do we set realistic, meaningful and achievable goals that are based on something other than that arbitrary number?”

Have you ever been there? How do you set your goals for the new year? Are you just setting them based on a percentage growth over last year? Or maybe you are basing the number on a couple of new customers and the growth that they’ve brought you. What’s your answer to my friend’s question?

Let’s pull this apart.

We will start with a relatively famous quote from Napoleon Hill:

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”

Don’t you wish it was that simple? Well, maybe it is. We’ve just never fully understood how to “believe it”.

What?

Believing something takes more effort than simply telling yourself over and over that something is possible, doable, or true. Or to this point: setting a revenue number and telling everyone that’s the goal and we just have to make it happen. Not only do you have to believe it but you also have to get everyone else to believe it. Now we’ve just stepped into the world of make believe. Come on. You’ve been there. Admit it.

Believing something takes effort. It’s not just a feeling. It’s internalizing something. It’s not just eating one portion – it’s got to be a complete diet. And a complete life style. In our case here, we’re talking about something tangible and practical, not something spiritual (which is a separate discussion). How do we take a tangible, practical goal (such as a revenue goal) and make ourselves and our team “believe” it?

Here are the steps:

  1. Make it specific.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Paint a picture of it.
    • What does it look like?
    • Or what does having it or achieving it look like?
  4. Preach it.
    • Tell everyone who can affect it how they can help make it happen.
    • Help them paint their own part in the picture.
  5. Review it.
    • Often. Every day. Several times a day.
    • If you really believe something, you’re always focused on it.
    • Force this.
  6. Track it.
    • Hold yourself accountable to the journey, always making sure you’re on track. If you were driving to an unknown location, you’d be constantly checking your progress and your GPS to make sure you’re on the right route and you’re making the right time. Well, do the same with this process.

I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of this for me is making it specific and painting a picture of it. If you’re going to paint a mental picture, you’ve got to include as many of your senses as possible. Here’s a trick I’ve learned along the way. Put yourself out there. Think of yourself three to five years from now already having achieved your goal. What does that look and feel like? I’m not talking about visualizing yourself lying on the beach with a mai-tai in your hand. How about this? You’re sitting at the front table at the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting being honored for business of the year. Who from your team is there? What did they do to help you get there? How about those customers who helped you get there (and sponsored a table for the event). And your vendors – several of them have sponsored tables. They’re all anxious to slap you on the back, shake your hand and let everyone know that “you know them.” Wow! Can you begin to get that picture? That’s what I’m talking about.

You’ve really got to flesh this picture out:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What are your customers saying?
  • What are your vendors saying?
  • What is your banker saying?
  • The media is there. What are they writing and reporting?
  • What are your employees saying?
  • How are you feeling about all of this attention?

Another perspective:

  • What have you gotten better at over these three years that you’re now receiving compliments on?
  • Who have you trained up to enjoy this with you? Who did you delegate to and trust with some of the most challenging roles?
  • How does it feel to be doing what you love doing – and no longer doing the things that you have to do?
  • What is everyone saying – employees, vendors, customers, partners, etc. about your core values and culture?

Ok, I think you get the point. Goal setting is way more than setting a revenue number. It’s about believing in something that’s achievable and these items are what you have to focus on if you want to believe in them.

One final important point. You can’t do this sitting at your desk during regular hours. You’re going to have to commit some dedicated time away from the office and all the everyday distractions – computer, cell phone, To-do lists, calendar appointments, interruptions, etc. Get out! Go away! Get it done through dedicated, uninterrupted focus.

You can do this!  Call me and let me know the time and location of that business of the year luncheon.

Blessings,

Dave

What’s the Driving Force in Your Business?

If you’re like most of us, your growth plan next year is all about some percentage of an increase in sales. Commensurate with that will be some increase in costs and expenses. Both of these are based on your current financials – what do they look like this year and over the last several years. Those give us the confidence to project into the new year.

During this time of year, I am often reminded of a lesson I learned a long time ago – about the difference between cost and expenses and investment for the purpose of a return.

What if you turned your thinking around?

I had recently sold a successful business to a partner that I had been in business with for over five years and had taken a position managing a struggling computer software-hardware distributor for a large privately held company. Our first year was nothing to brag about but we finished within our budget. The second year, however, was all mine: I set the budget, the sales projections, and other important operational details.

Since this was a foray into the new world of computers, the entire company leadership was focused.  And a big reason I was attracted to the industry and the company. As we got into the year, it became painfully clear that we were not on track to meet our sales projections.  So I began the process of paring back on expenses. Keep in mind that I had spent the previous five years in my own business, so I was watching the financials like they were my own.

In a progress and status report meeting with Ron, the company president, I was asked about the sales numbers. What were my thoughts on why we were not meeting sales projections and what my ideas were to turn them around and begin hitting them? In our discussion I made the comment that while we were not meeting the sales objectives, I was also closely monitoring and cutting our expenses so as to not get them out of alignment. His response was a wake-up call.

“Why would you do that?” he asked.

“Well, it just stands to reason that if we’re not hitting our sales numbers, we had better be cutting back on our spending.” I said, thinking, again, that this is exactly what I had been doing in my own business.

“Dave, you’ve got to change your paradigm, here.” He said. “In this business, we budget our expenses based on what it’s going to take to make the sales numbers. You have been given a budget that would drive the sales number. Why in the world would you cut back on those if you’re not meeting your sales? You’ve got it backwards. We’ve given you that money in order to achieve the sales number – that’s our return on our investment. If you’re not hitting your sales number, you need to evaluate why and how you can find the right investment to make those numbers – not cut back on the investment.”

Now, I’m going to leave that discussion right there and let it settle in. Because if you’ve been running a business for any length of time, you’ll get what Ron was driving at. We get into the habit of projecting sales and costs with the same attitude. We set the sales number and then try and figure what our costs need to be in order to hit that number – based on what we did last year. This is standard thinking. Growth thinking is another paradigm – it’s a slight twist. But that twist can bring you great rewards. Here’s the twist, if you haven’t already figured it out.

After you finish your regular projections. Reverse your thinking about your financials. Instead of thinking about what the top line is and then what your costs are going to be to achieve those. Think, instead about your costs first. The new thought: “If I spent that kind of money on a new investment, what would I want my return to be? The same as last year? Maybe a 10 or 15% increase?” How about, “What if an investor came in today and offered me a check for the amount of these expenses? What would he and I agree on would be the right ROI? What sales level and what bottom line should that check amount drive?

Additionally, throughout the year – you’ll be asking a different question. “Am I getting the return on my investment that I wanted? If not, why? Am I spending my money on the right things and people to achieve that?” This as opposed to, “I’d better cut back somewhere because I’m not hitting my sales numbers.”

I know this sounds like a minor difference, but I can’t tell you how many times I observe this. Thinking of cutting costs as opposed to evaluating ROI those costs should be driving.

Either you’re driving those costs in order to hit your ROI or the costs are driving you.

Change your paradigm and see if you don’t see a significant change in your business.

Blessings my friends.

Dave

Act Now – even when you’re in your busiest season

Every business has its busiest season. You know when yours is. The question is, do you put your planning on hold during that period while you take advantage of your busy season or do you continue the bigger plan while business ramps up?

While working with a successful CPA recently who is getting in touch with his original passion for his business, I was working with them putting together the strategy for growth and some organizational changes. As we got to the calendar to start laying out some specifics, he quickly drew back and said he didn’t know if he wanted to start this until after tax season, obviously his busiest season. Fair enough, wouldn’t you agree?

Well, I don’t.

And after our talk, neither did he.

In his case, he’d be postponing an important, (may I say critical?) decision and time of execution for the same reason he hasn’t made any significant changes to his business for the past 20 years. “Regular business, takes priority.” Hard to argue with that. Revenue is flowing through the door. So, what’s the answer? The short answer is, “If not now, when?” Postponing it one more time, will lead to another time, and another time, etc. So, NOW is the time. Not some future, unknown and unproven “better” time. Pull the trigger and let’s go.

There are at least three reasons to do this: (can you think of others?)

  1. When you’re the busiest, it’s easiest to delegate. You have no choice – other than to do it all yourself. Your people are expecting you to delegate – so for goodness sake, delegate!
  2. There’s no better time to evaluate your team’s performance than when they’re “in the fight”. How are you going to evaluate them when they’re slow? Your best performers will rise to the top during your busy season – not your slow season. You’ll see how they do the work, treat their team, treat the customer, commit to the objective.
  3. You’ll discover the strengths and weaknesses of your systems, processes and procedures. If there’s a hole in your bucket, it’ll get revealed when you’re going full speed. When you’re slow, it’s easy to just make do – no pressure or urgency to fix anything – “let it ride, we’ll get to it later.” Kind of attitude. You know it. You’ve experienced it.

So there you have it. Are you brave enough to move forward even in your busiest season?

If not now, when?

Dave