3to5 Club – Is there a Business Maturity clock ticking in your business?

I know what my business looks like when it’s mature and I know to the day and hour when I plan to get there. And it won’t take as long as you think. What’s your Business Maturity Date?

What we talked about 2 weeks ago is too important to not repeat as a setup for this week’s conversation: We think our purpose in business is to make money when our purpose in business is to BUILD A BUSINESS that makes money when we’re not there. These two things are worlds apart, and almost every business owner I work with is absolutely buried in making money, which will keep them from ever making a lot of it.

Why? Because we can’t find the proper balance between the Tyranny of the Urgent – things we have to do to personally make money today; and the Priority of the Important – building a business that will make money for us w/out even being there.

We never have a problem with the Tyranny of the Urgent. Got to pay the bills – It comes rushing at us every morning like a locomotive with a stuck, screeching whistle, while the Priority of the Important (building a business that makes money when we’re not around) sits quietly in the corner of our minds, waiting to be picked up and dealt with, never screaming; just a subconscious whisper in our ears, “Deal with me now and you’ll have fewer Urgent things down the road.”

It’s immediately drowned out by the screeching whistle, so we get sucked on board and spend another day riding in circles with cranky passengers, smoke in our eyes, shoveling coal and sweating it out, and wondering how to get off this cursed treadmill-like train that just comes back to the same place every day.

Here’s how:

Pick a Business Maturity Date. It’s that simple. What? Yes. Just pick a maturity date. It will change you forever. From a hostage to someone heading straight for freedom.

Two years ago this week, March 6, 2007, I started my business with a Business Leader’s Insight lunch workshop with 24 people in attendance, with the same fear and trepidation every one of you felt the day you opened your doors and for months afterwards – it’s not any different for anyone – don’tkid yourself.

But something is different. I have a Business Maturity Date that will take me past the startup fear and right through the “languishing” that most businesses resign themselves to.

In 3 years, 11 months, 2 weeks, and 22 ½ hrs. from when I started, I expect to be done building a business that makes money when I’m not around. I’ve got a lot of work to do and the clock is ticking relentlessly, the train is screeching, belching, and going in circles, and at the same time I’ve got little time left already to build this business to maturity.

My Business Maturity Date? Friday, February 18, 2011, at 10am – 1 year 11 months and two weeks from now.

On that day I will have a mixed Stage 6-7 business (more another time on the Seven Stages of a Business) with others running the day to day and me continuing on in content development and focused delivery. I know how much money it is making on that day and how much I will take home. It is very clear to me what Maturity means to my business on that day.

At 8:30am on that morning I will have a staff meeting and turn over the business to them to run, have an early glass of champagne with them, leaving the office in good hands, and be out of the office by 10am to pack my bags. At 6:10pm that evening my wife and I will be on a plane to Auckland, New Zealand, her dream vacation, for three weeks of celebration. We land in Auckland at 7:25am Sunday morning. The trip will cost $12,380.

Does it change you a little bit even reading this? Imagine what it’s done to me, and what it will do to you when you make the same commitment. It will change you forever.

There are three steps that, when we take them, we change:

  1. Decide something.
  2. Pick a date for when we will be done.
  3. Go public.

To help us all with this three-step process in building a Mature Business, I’m starting a new “club” that is a big idea and will need to be owned by everyone involved. It will certainly end up with committed, focused business owners in cities across the world. It’s called 3to5Club. The three requirements to become a member?

  1. Make a decision that a) you will stop trying to make money and will become committed to building a business that makes money, and b) you will define and describe for yourself what a mature business means to you (it has to make money when you’re not there as a starter.)
  2. Pick a date for when it will be mature (note: this doesn’t mean you sell it that day; you could sell it, keep it and start another one, use it to fund your lifetime goals, turn it over to your kids, or keep working in it doing just the very few things that make magic for you.) And pick a time of day, not just a day – it will make a Priority of the Important Clock start ticking in your head loudly to help counter the screeching whistle of the Tyranny of the Urgent.
  3. Go public. You won’t really change permanently until you take this step.

Why the name? I’ve come to the conviction that it is normal that any business could be grown from inception to maturity in 3to5 years (investors always want their money back in 3to5), 2 to 7 in the best and worst of circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to pick something in that range. But if you go out 9, 12, 15 years, I believe the bar isn’t high enough to create the urgency you need to be intentional every day about growing your business. It will be too easy to lapse back into making money, a deadly trap. Be ambitiously lazy, get done quicker.

I believe by using the one motivator and two bosses we talked about last week, that it is quite possible my business will be at Maturity before Friday, February 18, 2011, 10am. But what if I miss that date? How do I deal with the fear I might fail? The head starts spinning. We’ll talk about this next week, and the week after we’ll deal with the hostage comment I made at the beginning of this blog.

Are you in? Will you join me in becoming charter members of the 3to5 Club? We’ll do a website and all that crap later. Let’s get started. I’ve set up a meetup.com group for Denver (http://www.meetup.com/3to5Club/), and we’re going to have a charter meeting on Thursday, March 27 at 11:30pm at PanAsia Bistro in Lone Tree, CO. I would be happy to help you set up 3to5Club in your city as well – just leave me a comment.

I’d love to be the first graduate of the 3to5Club in 1 year, 11 months and two weeks from now, but I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will beat me to it. I hope so.

What’s your Business Maturity Date? What does your business look like that day, at that hour? Go public right here in the comments section and let’s take it from there. Speed of execution. I’m looking forward to “executing” that locomotive as quickly as possible.

Every Business Owner Needs Two Bosses. Do You Have Them?

Ever feel like you’ve got 11 ping pong balls to hold under the water and only 10 fingers? There is a solution.

Last week we talked about the overarching swing and a miss we make in our business strategy: We think that our purpose in business is to make money when our purpose in business is to BUILD A BUSINESS that makes money. These two things are worlds apart, and almost every business I work with is absolutely buried in making money, which will keep them from ever making a lot of it.

This week we we’ll talk about how to create the proper balance between the Tyranny of the Urgent – things we have to do today to make money; and the Priority of the Important – things we have to do to build a business that will make money for us.

It’s not as hard as we make it.

The wrong focus – A focus on making money makes us reactive, trying to keep 11 ping pong balls under the water in a washtub with only 10 fingers – we’re never done. Every time we get one under control another pops to the surface.

The simple problem –We’re so busy trying to capture 11 ping pong balls with our own 10 fingers that we can’t spend time figuring out how to hold down thousands. Capturing every dollar today keeps us from figuring out how to capture a lot more down the road.

The simple key – Be willing to let a few Urgent ping pong balls get away to build a business that later can hold thousands of ping pong balls under the water without using any of your own fingers.

The simple solution – One motivator and two bosses that keep us moving toward building a business that makes money.

The motivator – Lifetime Goals. We think making money is the goal of business. Wrong. Making money is not an empowering vision, and it won’t get you out of bed when money is hard to make. But having a powerful over-arching reason to build a business will carry you through the tough times. What are your Lifetime Goals that you can use your business to achieve? Get a bigger reason to be in business than make money, or you’re likely never going to make much of it.

The two bosses:

Boss #1 – A strategic plan. Not a business plan – those are for bank loans, then they sit on a shelf. I mean a 12-month rolling strategic plan by which you manage every strategic and tactical move in your business. Four simple components – 1) A business vision (the big why/values) , 2) mission (the big what – your marching orders – the RESULT you get your customers), 3) 1-3 year strategies (how you make money), 4) 12 month measurable objectives (how you measure success at making money).

Once you have the vision, mission, strategies and 12-month objectives, you can easily figure out what to do in the next 3 months to reach those 12-month objectives. This makes it simple to figure out what you need to do this month. At the end of 3 months, plan the next three and push your 9-month Objectives back out to 12-months. Rinse and repeat faithfully every quarter.

A Strategic Plan that runs your business automatically keeps us balanced between taking care of the Tyranny of the Urgent (making money today), and the Priority of the Important (building a business that makes money.) VISIT YOUR STRATEGIC PLAN WEEKLY TO KEEP FOCUS!

Boss # 2 – Outside eyes on you and your business. A strategic plan that runs your business is great, but you also need others from outside your business to help you keep clarity and direction. My business is my baby; I’m subjective about it. Others will have a much more objective view and be able to see things I would never see. Get a peer advisor or better yet a full peer advisory group and meet once a month. GET OTHERS SUPPORTING YOU AND YOUR PLAN!

In the daily Tyranny of the Urgent, you are unlikely to use your Strategic Plan to run your business unless you have peers and/or advisor(s) helping you do so. Don’t fool yourself – get others involved from outside your business or don’t expect to build a real business.

Use your Lifetime Goals, Strategic Plan and monthly peer advisory group to force you to spend time on the Important, on building a business that makes money. If you engage these two bosses to motivate you to build a business that makes money, you’re much more likely to build a business that makes a lot of it, and more likely to get to your lifetime goals.

Next week we’ll challenge each other to get a Business Maturity Date and why that is so important in my business and in yours.

Don’t focus on making money. No business can survive that.

The biggest problem in trying to grow a business is that we’re too busy making money. It’s not a play on words – it’s a serious problem. You’re too busy making money.

The overarching swing and a miss here: We think that our purpose in business is to make money when our purpose in business is to BUILD A BUSINESS that makes money. These two things are worlds apart, and almost every business I work with is absolutely buried in making money, which will keep them from ever making a lot of it. Why?

Because businesses are in a constant fight to balance two things:

The Tyranny of the Urgent

and

The Priority of the Important

The Urgent things in our business come flying at us all day every day, causing us to be REACTIVE and defensive in just holding the business together as best we can. One of the biggest things that comes flying at us daily is the need to make money to cover today’s bills.

We get so used to this pressure that even when it’s no longer there, and we’re making enough money to buy a hot tub on a whim and go on vacation a couple weeks a year to somewhere exotic, we never leave this mode of business. We actually think the goal is to make money. It’s a dead end and a big reason why most businesses, if they every grow up, don’t do so for decades.

In contrast, the Important things sit in the corner and whisper to us “I’m really Important, but you’re right, taking care of me today won’t make you more money today.”

Taking care of the Important things requires that we be PROACTIVE, because the Important things almost never seem Urgent. Taking care of the Urgent might even bring you Riches (money), but taking care of the Important will bring you Wealth (freedom and the ability to choose what to do with my time.)

Do you want Riches that you don’t have time to use, or Wealth that allows your business to make money while you’re on vacation?

One Example of the Important: If you stop making money long enough to write down the processes that you think you’re using in production, you don’t make more money today by doing that. But you now have something that will save you big bucks in re-training, inconsistent quality of products or services to your clients, employee stress, crisis management, and on and on. But since we can’t see a way that it will make us money today, we always find a way to put it off until “later” (psst… later never comes).

The key is to strike a proper balance between making money today (reacting to the Urgent), and BUILDING A BUSINESS that makes money down the road without me even being there (proactively taking care of the Important now, not “later”!). If you’re focused on the Urgent, you’re business will never grow up.

Next week we’ll talk about how to create the proper balance between these two so you can pay your bills today and ensure you are creating a business that makes money without you down the road. It’s not as hard as we make it (and it doesn’t take as long, either).

How Online Networking Might Change the World – Seriously.

The Jerry Lewis annual telethon was first broadcast in 1955. 54 years later it is broadcast on 180 stations in the United States. Pretty impressive. But wait until you hear this.

In just the last 3 weeks, 180 cities throughout the world have come together to hold simultaneous events on February 12 in every city, to raise funds for a single charity dedicated to providing clean water in third world countries, Charity: Water. The event was called “Twestival”, short for Twitter Festival, and happened worldwide on Feb. 12, 2009.

This event was organized organically by thousands of people who have never met, but are chatting on the internet via a online networking site called www.Twitter.com, thus the name Twestival.

A local fundraiser in one city normally takes a year of planning to pull off. This international event went from idea to event in less then four weeks. The amount of money raised in this initial event won’t come close to what the Jerry Lewis telethon raises, but the potential for next year and beyond is staggering.

Online networking (most call it social networking, which is an oxymoron to me) has made possible a first in history event that gives a window into its potential. Just as when the telephone was introduced, many have questioned the role this new communications medium could play in building businesses or creating revenue. And as with the telephone, many hours can be wasted using it.

But organizing a single event in less than a month in 180 cities worldwide without an existing network or prior relationships might change some minds on the power and usefulness of digital and online networks.

My own bias – online networking can be just as big a waste of time as endlessly attending local networking events and collecting hundreds of business cards we won’t do anything with. Stop networking, and start building a network. Stop collecting contacts and start making true connections. It’s great to have thousands of people following you on Twitter because you are more likely to be able to start a movement like Twestival. But then find the few people you connect with there and build relationships.

See Charity Water to check out the fantastic charity that received hundreds of thousands from this international event.

Find a way to use online networking to make an impact like this.

It just might change the world. Seriously.

 

Is a Referral Program a Bad Idea?

Hey, Chuck – “Is a referral program a bad idea?”

My response to a client asking this question recently:

Jim,
Here’s my three cents. I believe people refer to me most when 1) they like me, 2) like what I’ve done for them, and most importantly, 3) when I’ve asked them to refer to me (and taught them how).

Why do they refer to me?

  1. Because I’ve served them, and they want their friends to experience the same service. Their reward? Their friends like them better because they got turned on to somebody who would help them.
  2. Because I asked them to. People want to help other people, they just get busy or don’t know how to help us. When we ask, most people are glad to do it. “How has this worked for you?” “Great”. “I thought so…do you know one other person who might benefit from the experience you’ve had with us?” Don’t ask for three, you’ll get none. Ask for one and you might get three. And talk about their experience, not your need for a referral, etc. We’ve worked out the wording of the last sentence pretty carefully over time.
  3. Least motivating – because they get something extra from me. If you can’t develop a relationship with someone directly, then having a standard referral program to incentivize them is a great idea (37signals) has a nice one). But in general, the best referrals don’t come because I paid somebody, they come because I served them, asked and taught them how to refer. In some cases, paying for the referral can actually cheapen the relationship because now you have a monetary relationship instead of a friendship.

My best referrals are from people I’ve served, who like me, and who have benefited from our relationship in a non-monetary way.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t reward people for referring. But with close in connections it’s sometimes better to do it as a “gift”, something they weren’t aware of beforehand even though you may already have planned to do it for anyone who refers to you. A gift says thank you (and still incentivizes them to do it again). A referral fee is a pure business/revenue transaction.

Bottom line – If I don’t have a personal relationship of some sort and don’t see building one, giving a referral fee is a good idea. Buy friends you don’t have time to make. But I would start with the following:

  1. Make a list of your top 10 existing or potential referral partners.
  2. Get a cup of coffee with them and discuss how you can help each other in business by raining on each other and ask them for a referral “one other person you know that might benefit from the experience you’ve had”, or if they are not customers “…an experience with us”, etc. If they refer someone, you might tell them you are developing a referral program that they might see in an email, but don’t tell them the details unless they ask. Most won’t care.
  3. Once you’ve got that list covered, publish your referral program. And in the future, continue to get with those big potential referral partners and develop the relationship (sending them referrals is the best way to reward them!).

I send clients to people mostly because I know they are going to be well served, and it makes me glad to serve people I know. Being someone that others want to refer to is the best referral program possible.

Best!

C

People Buy Consistency, Not Quality

Okay, you make a great product or provide a very unique service. You’re in love with it and so are your customers. It’s a wonderful product/service. I get it. Now get over it. Because your customers aren’t buying it. They’re buying things you aren’t even selling.

I met with one of the top digital communications companies in the U.S. on Friday to discuss how to improve performance in their many call centers. They were measuring the standard things – call length, one-call resolution %, wait time, abandonment, after-call time, # of transfers, etc. The objective was to get the stats to go down.

The problem was that every call center director had been given the directive to figure it out locally, under the assumption that giving them ownership of the problem would create a better solution (which is like telling 12 different manufacturing facilities to produce their computers any way they want – disastrous idea). I told Corporate that my belief, without even looking at them, was that the call center with the highest quality of customer service was creating as many problems as the call center with the lowest quality of customer service. How could that be?

Because their customers aren’t buying the HIGHEST QUALITY product or service, they are buying the most CONSISTENT EXPERIENCE. We’re all out there trying to sell the best made chair, the greatest insurance, the grandest piano, and the slickest software. But our customers aren’t buying what we’re selling.

Don’t believe me?

What percentage of Americans would you say think McDonalds sells the BEST hamburger? Probably none. Yet they make billions, because we know that every McDonalds window you drive up to will produce the same hamburger coast to coast. It may not be the best, but it’s the same every time – reliable, consistent, and average. We can count on it and McDonalds can take it to the bank. Ray Crock had a motto on the wall in his office “In Pursuit of the Most Efficient Hamburger in the World.” Notice it did not say the BEST hamburger. We don’t buy quality from McDonalds, we buy consistency.

We don’t buy quality from Nordstrom’s either. Surprised? While Nordstrom’s sells higher quality goods, we’re buying the “Nordstrom’s experience”. There are dozens of other retailers selling the same stuff, but every time we go to Nordstrom’s we get that same legendary experience. We’re buying consistency there, too, not quality.

Every wonder how really awful, cheap products, as well as outrageously over-priced products keep being successful? Because we’re buying consistency, not quality. We have a minimum quality level expectation of both Nordstrom’s and McDonalds (at much different levels), but the thing that has created long term success for both is the consistency of the experience.

This is one of the reasons Microsoft is losing market share to Apple. People are buying the consistency of experience they can’t get from Microsoft.

A realtor once gave a weekend away to a friend for having referred a high-end house to them. They told another friend who referred a house, and they were given a large gift certificate to a high-end department store. They were disappointed. Even though both gifts cost the realtor the same amount of money, they second person was expecting the same experience as the first – a weekend away. Consistency is so important.

Do you have a written Customer Satisfaction Process in place that creates a consistent experience for everyone every time? If not, stop working on making your product so great, and start pouring your energies into creating that consistent customer experience. The guy who makes the best chair does not have the loyalist following. It’s the guy who “manufactures” the best, most consistent customer experience.

So you think you’re in charge? Let’s see.

Your Guiding Principles are more important to your business than anything you sell.

As my great Irish friend John Heenan says: “If you don’t have a vision for your own life, you become part of someone else’s vision for theirs.” Without clarity of purpose, we don’t own our business, it owns us – we’re employees of ourselves.

Everything we do comes from a belief system, whether intentionally or subconsciously. Do you guide your biz or does it rule you? Who’s really in charge?

Some see this as the soft side of business, the part you can ignore because you can’t track how much money you make directly back to it. “Stop playing office and start making the donuts,” would be a typical response. But that response would only come from someone who is willing to become part of someone else’s vision for their life, and doesn’t want to make more money in less time.

Making money is not an empowering vision. Want to make more money? Get a reason to do it, then have some principles on which you run your business. We talked about they “Why?” (vision) in business a couple weeks ago. This is more about the values that lead us to “How” we run our business.

Like rails that guide a train, your business principles are the core strategy to having a business that knows where it is going and how it is going to get there. If you think you can just make donuts and not know why or what your business stands for in the process, you’re going to miss out on building a business that you own vs. a business that owns you.

Here’s our guiding principles:

The 7 Guiding Principles of TeamNimbusWest:

  1. Make more money in less time
    (don’t work harder, not really even smarter, just more effectively)
  2. Focus on our lifetime goals, not just on growing our business
    (a BHAG will keep us going, but “grow the business” is a lifeless idea. So is retirement.)
  3. Work ON your business, not just IN it.
    (The key to growth – perfecting as we go by strategic planning, not just production.)
  4. Get off the treadmill, own the business instead of the business owning us.
    (The purpose of our business is to create a lifestyle for ourselves and our family.)
  5. Highest and best use of your time.
    (Yield per Hour – stop doing things others could do; do what only I can do.)
  6. Make decisions on where you want to be, not where you are.
    (Clarity of Purpose leads to Hope which leads to Risk. Take good risks to grow.)
  7. Bad plans carried out violently many times yield good results. Do something.
    (Stop planning. Implement now and perfect as you go. Speed of Execution rules.)

What are the guiding principles of your business?

You’ve got values and beliefs that are the foundation of everything you do and those values and beliefs are running the show. You might as well write them down and see if you agree with who/what is actually in charge. If not, change them and take control of your vision…

…so you can make more money in less time, get off the treadmill, and get back to the passion that brought you into business in the first place, in order to build a mature business in support of your lifetime goals. (Just had to get my guiding principles in there one more time). ?

Bad Plans Carried Out Violently Many Times Yield Good Results. Do something.

This was my Marine Corps soccer team’s motto 30 years ago. It has since become a key business practice for me. It’s also the title of a book I’m writing and the basis for Carrie’s great story below.

We plan, research, and think things to death when all the evidence says that the #1 indicator of success in business is not how smart you are, how much research you do, or even how good your product is. The #1 indicator of success is speed of execution. Period. Want to be successful? As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Get ‘er done.”

One of my clients, Carrie Roberts, took this to heart – here’s her story to me in an email yesterday. This one will make the book. FYI – the following blur of activity took place in only two weeks that included Christmas and New Years:

“Holy Sh%#!!! (like I said, excuse my french:)

I hit my goal somehow – actually – even exceeded my goal – and your voice keeps resonating in my head – Bad Plans my friend!!!

I finished writing my product Blueprint last week – cut out some things that I didn’t have finished, changed the price to $47 so that I could get it up through click bank, set up a hosting account, set up a separate email account, set up an auto-responder account, hired a web guy – web guy finished the site yesterday, got final approval from click bank yesterday at 6pm, got everything set up through them and listed on their site, and everything went live by 9pm last night.

Set up a google adwords account and placed an ad, signed up with Tweet Later and set up auto-responder messages for Twitter, chose 20 new people to follow and was in bed by 11.

I made my first sale this morning at 9am

I cried

I don’t know where this is going – it’s a bad plan – but it is a great way to start 2009!

couldn’t wait to share – Happy New Year!!!”

What else is there to say?

Just one thing – the fine-tuning on my “Bad Plans carried out violently” principle is:

“Implement Now, Perfect as You Go.”

I know Carrie well enough that, having worked her rear off to get something up that wasn’t perfect, she will begin immediately to make it better. And having it already up and running will allow her to perfect it much quicker than if she was continuing to perfect a theoretical business plan.

She will definitely perfect her Bad Plan as she goes. This ought to be good. Way to go, Carrie!

What Bad Plan do you need to carry out violently (with total commitment) that you’ve been dinking around with for months? The best way to make it better is to go live and let the world inform you how to perfect it.

Carpe Diem, Just Do It, and all that stuff.

Got a great “Bad Plan carried out violently” story? I’d love to hear it. It could make the book. Tell me AFTER you implement!