Keeping Your Business Simple - A Key to Long Term Success
So you've set off pedalling on the bicycle ride of business. If you are down the road a bit, you are probably starting to realise that this will not be an easy ride. The hills are steeper and more numerous than you had expected. The road is bumpy, with potholes everywhere. You always seem to be cycling with the wind in your face. And to top it off, everyone else keeps trying to pass you. You may be starting to wonder if you have the stamina to see this through.
We live in an era in which running a business seems to be more complicated and challenging than ever. Just keeping up with the competition means doing everything faster, better and cheaper. Meanwhile, the winds of information overload, complicated technologies and incessant government regulations work continuously to hold you back.
And the result? Hardly the idyllic lifestyle you were seeking when you set out on your own. You were looking for 'balance'. You wanted flexibility. You wanted to have time to explore your own ideas. Yet you've found the reality to be quite different. Perhaps you're one of the 46% of business owners who, according to the ABS, work more than 49 hours per week, or the 57% who would prefer to work less hours than they do?
Yet amongst all of this there are those who thrive. Business owners who seem to be able to take it all in their stride. These are the people who seem to ride along without effort, while the rest of us struggle to keep the pedals turning. They face the same hills and potholes and traffic and other obstacles. But they seem to anticipate them and cope with them better. What's their secret?
The answer lies, to a large extent, in their ability to maintain a level of simplicity. To stick to the basics – no matter what. Let's look at five key areas which are strengths of the 'simple' business and, often, weaknesses of the chaotic and complicated business.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong is one of the greatest sportsmen of our time. In July 2004 he achieved the previously impossible: a sixth straight win in cycling's greatest race – the Tour de France. That he has been able to get this far is largely due to his absolute clarity that the Tour is his race. Do you have that sort of clarity about your business?
We usually learn about clarity in terms of writing a business plan and setting goals. While these things are really important, they often don't go far enough in two key areas: your dream for your business, and what I call clarity in motion.
Your dream for your business is something deeper than what goes into the typical business plan. A business plan is a document, not a dream. It is usually put together in a hurry and, as a result, the vision and mission, which are meant to capture your dream, end up being compromised.
Your dream is both fuzzy and solid at the same time. It may seem, at times, unattainable. But it can be the force which will keep you on track through the tough times which everyone has.
Give your dream time to take shape. Take time out regularly to sit back and simply think – and dream - about where you are heading. Grab a good coffee, turn off the mobile and take fifteen minutes to let the dust settle. Focus less on what you are doing, more on where you are going.
Clarity in Motion is at the other end of the scale. This is the clarity you need to have every day, as you move along. A cyclist maintains this clarity by listening to her bicycle, by watching the road just ahead and by keeping an eye on the traffic. I see many business owners who, as their business grows, lose this sort of clarity.
Clarity in Motion comes from staying on top of your financials, having a clear method for tracking your work, staying in touch with your customers needs, and so on. Each of these will need some sort of process or system to keep you on top of it. Start with those which keep you awake at night.
In his biographies, Lance Armstrong describes some of the extraordinary lengths he has gone to in order to get an edge on his competitors in 'le Tour'. He and his team know that just being a fantastic cyclist won't be enough. They also need to be the best at race planning, bicycle maintenance, nutrition and all the other activities which support the actual race.
The same applies to you. No matter how good you are at what your business 'does', you need to be just as good at all those 'running the business' things. You need to have the capability to market and sell, to communicate with customers and staff, to manage your time, to manage information, and so on.
You also need, as you grow, to know your strengths – those things you are most capable of – and to aim to get help with the rest. You can't be good at everything; knowing this is a strength of all successful businesspeople.
Show me a sportsperson who has remained at the top of his game for a long time and I will show you a model of consistency. Lance Armstrong is one, Tiger Woods, in a quite different sport, another. Show me a business which struggles to keep its customers coming back and I will show you a model of inconsistency.
Don't confuse consistency with capability. You might think that Armstrong has won five Tours because of his ability. That Tiger is the champion he is because of his unbelievable talent. Wrong. These guys deliver consistently because they have a consistent approach to using their awesome capability.
What this means in your business is that if you want to deliver consistent results, you need to build consistency into every aspect of the way you operate. Start with the small things: the way you answer the phone, the way you take orders, the routine you have for keeping in touch with customers. Then build systems to 'bullet-proof' the bigger things: the way your products are produced or services delivered. Imagine you are putting on a new staff member and want them to be able to deliver your service just the way you do. What would they need to know?
A bonus of consistency is that if you get it right, you will create a 'rhythm' in your business. You will make fewer mistakes and feel more in control – and better meet the challenges of the road ahead.
The story of Lance Armstrong's success, like that of many successful people in sport, business and other activities, is one of absolute commitment to his dream. Sometimes it seems that is this deep dedication to a dream which separates the super-successful from the rest.
But dig deeper and you will find that a true champion's commitment goes much further down. Their commitment extends to the discipline of always getting the basics absolutely right. No short cuts. So things like clarity, capability and consistency – which often seem to fall by the wayside as businesses get busier – are pursued relentlessly by the champion. When the going gets tough, the champion in sport or business falls back on the basics, rather than letting them slip.
Business owners seem to fall into one of two camps when it comes to creativity. They are either too busy to be innovative, seldom making any change unless it is forced on them. Or they come up with so many new ideas that few, if any, are given a proper chance of working before they are replaced by the next.
You need to find the 'innovation middle-ground'. This is where you come up with plenty of ideas, try those which make sense and, most importantly, keep those which work.
The first thing to understand is that your innovation efforts are most likely to work when they are built on a solid, unwavering commitment to clarity, capability and consistency. Clarity gives you the confidence to know which ideas are worth pursuing and which are unlikely to move you towards your dream. Capability and consistency give you control so that you can quickly work out whether changes you make are working or not.
Anyone who plays golf knows exactly what I mean. The golfers who play the most creative shots to get themselves out of trouble are the good golfers: the capable and consistent ones. The rest of us are likely to find our creative efforts land us in more trouble than we started with!
Don't think of innovation just in terms of your product and service range. You can be creative internally by finding better, more efficient ways of doing your work. You can also be creative in the way you deliver your service – in the way that your customers interact with you. Find ways to make your business easier to deal with. The way airlines have used the internet and e-tickets in the last few years is a good example.
Finally, creativity also requires commitment. Commitment to finding the time to be creative, and commitment to seeing the good ideas through to completion.
Running a business is a complex task. But it is precisely because of this that you need to do everything you can to make your business as simple as you can for both yourself and your customers. Take a few minutes out, often, to refocus on the basics, no matter how strong the wind or how steep the hills, and you will give yourself a much better chance of staying ahead on the journey.
Speaker, writer, advisor and coach, David Brewster, helps managers re-focus on the basics, with lasting benefits to themselves, their customers and their staff. Contact David on (Australia) 03 9388 1650 or 0417 605 826; (Internationally) +61 3 9388 1650 or +61 417 605 826. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.businesssimplification.com.au
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