Here’s a growth strategy: simplify your business systems.
Maybe your workflows are tried and tested. Everyone knows them and does them. This is how you’ve achieved growth after all. But now, you’ve hit a slump. And we know what will happen if you keep doing the same thing:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
As a side note, this quote has been misattributed to Albert Einstein. But somebody traced it back to a 1983 book by Rita Mae Brown, a mystery novelist.
With that out of the way, let me ask you to change your core business systems. Inefficient systems can cost you more. You run the risk of losing 20% to 30% of your revenue if you don’t deal with them. No, this doesn’t mean you need to add more to gain more. But you will have to trim, discard, merge, and automate.
Let’s do this.
The following steps can be applied either on overarching systems or standalone systems:
1. Visualize Your Workflows
Create a system flowchart or process map to ensure everyone is looking at the same big picture. You can use tools like Lucidchart for faster implementation.
If you’re reviewing an entire business system, it would be more efficient to have the core teams meet separately first. Let them brainstorm and map out their recommendations. If the main concern is a specific system, then meet with the team involved and other key individuals. Let the team head prepare a visual to have everyone on the same page.
2. Evaluate Each Operation’s Importance
Overhauling an entire system entails a thorough analysis of its components. When looking at the subsystems, ask what they’re supposed to do. Be clear about their purpose. Some aspects have a more obvious impact than others. If you’re in e-commerce, logistics management workflow is a good example. But how about marketing? Where does this team’s work start and end?
So, have a stated purpose for each system. Once you’ve nailed that, ask: are they performing according to expectations?
To answer that, focus on their output and output value. For instance, the marketing team is in charge of raising brand and product awareness. It’s also tasked to oversee customer experience in many cases nowadays. Ensuring marketing operations are streamlined actually helps the entire business. This translates to a high output value for this system.
Do the same thing to all of your core systems. Then rank them using the highest to lowest output value metric. Aside from the output value, you can combine outputs measured in dollars (market share increase) and outcomes measured by their long-term effects (improved public image)
3. Zoom In On the Steps
After ranking the systems, see if you can afford to take a shortcut or declutter a clunky system. Looking at each process workflow, identify steps that you need to eliminate, merge, do simultaneously, and/or automate.
- Merge or parallel – Are there redundant steps in your system? Would your system benefit from merging two or more steps? Are there steps that need to be done simultaneously instead of one waiting for the other to finish?
- Automate – Is there a series of steps you can automate? Are there parts of the process that can be performed with reduced human input? What solutions exist on the market? Can you leverage those without compromising output quality?
- Outsource – What steps in your process do you lack expertise in? Can you afford to hire and train new talent to perform them? If not, are you willing to outsource them to another company or an individual? Will you be able to afford to outsource?
- Eliminate – Are there unnecessary steps in your system? Are your people performing tasks that are of low value? Are there specific bottlenecks that have kept your process from running smooth? Will you benefit from replacing or removing them altogether?
4. Refine The System
By now, your flowchart or map may look very different from the one you started with. But the revamp does not end with a new visual. Once again, you need to gather key individuals and fine-tune your output. Your business will benefit the most if you include two sets of people in the brainstorming session.
- Experienced Members
Bring in your experienced team members. Their insight and perspective run deep, especially if they’ve been in the business for a long time. They’re also probably attuned to the changes that required the overhaul. And they have a track record for helping the company cross over in the past. One downside, however, is that they may be attached to the processes more than the new ones.
You may invite an experienced individual (consultant) from a different industry. He or she will be your fresh pair of eyes. This person will let you see blind spots that you and your managers may have missed. Having someone with a strong technological background can help you identify which processes to automate or streamline using technology.
Additionally, you can include some new team members who can address blind spots and have strong technological skills.
5. Apply Growth Hacking
Growth hacking was coined by Sean Ellis after the method he’d been using led to the sustainable growth of companies like Dropbox and Eventbrite. Growth hacking comprises testing and learning approaches within short timelines and small budgets. It’s famous among startups but can be applied to any business.
So, how do you apply this in your business systems? Now that you have a new and simplified business system, you will have to focus your thinking on delivering value.
“Value drives customer retention, which is a prerequisite for generating sustainable growth.” -Sean Ellis
Identify the common success metric for your company. Growth hackers call this the North Star Metric (NSM), which should reflect the aggregate value delivered to your customers. Test ways to improve the performance of this metric. This also requires your core growth team to meet, evaluate, and iterate each week.
Given all the steps above, you might be thinking about setting aside time to simplify your business systems. What’s a 90-minute brainstorming session compared to the revenue you’d lose if you stayed with the inefficient, clunky one you currently have?
In doing this, you’ll also be documenting your processes and stating purposes. It will be easier for your managers to pass the message down to their team members. The big picture will become clear for everyone. And your growth machine will be set in motion once again.
Be an Entrepreneur: Be Your Own Boss
Being your own boss fascinates a lot of people, but a few really see the toils and struggles behind the glamour of the idea. When people realize what being your own boss actually means, you see them falter. My job isn’t that bad, they say. What they fail to understand is that to get a taste of success, you first need to sweat over building your business.
On 11th April 1910, a 27-year-old club singer Gabrielle opened a tiny shop at 21, Rue Cambon, Paris. She wanted to sell hats.
Orphaned at the age of 12, Gabrielle had been raised by nuns who taught her how to sew, a skill that led to her life’s work. Three years later, she opened two new stores at Deauville and Biarritz, where she first tasted success when she designed a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. A few years later, Gabrielle, nicknamed ‘Coco’ from her days as a singer, launched the immensely popular perfume, Chanel No.5 and thus the fashion label Chanel was born.
First used in 1723, today the term entrepreneur implies qualities of initiative, leadership, and innovation in business. An entrepreneur is an opportunity seeker, a generator of new ideas and business processes. Economist Robert Reich has called team-building, leadership, and management ability essential qualities for an entrepreneur.
But why become an entrepreneur at all? Why leave the comforts and the structure of an established firm, to work 12 hours a day out of a basement?
Mike Templeman, CEO of Foxtail Marketing, says “As an entrepreneur, I always have a story to tell. Whenever I tell someone I run my own business, they always want to know what I do, how I do it and how it’s going. I always am able to provide a tale or two, and the best part is that I get to determine the story’s chapters.”
Have you ever been fired? As an entrepreneur, you run the show. Plain and simple. This is your company, your brand, your pride, and joy. You are financially independent. Initially, you’ll work for longer hours, but if you keep at it and do it right, the freedom that being an entrepreneur provides is unmatched.
A start-up also provides a brilliant learning experience. Ashim Seth, founder of Chicago based Seth Business Co. says, “The lack of structure in a start-up is precisely what leads to better learning as compared to big corporations, especially for youngsters.”
Entrepreneurs develop new ideas all the time, but how do you know when to pursue one further? Therefore it is extremely necessary to ask yourself some essential questions before you leap. Do others think my idea is good? Will people pay for it? Why am I the person to make it happen? Henry Ford, with Ford Motor Company, became successful simply by building the first car for the middle-class American, thus converting the automobile from a luxury item to a practical conveyance.
So list your options and do plenty of research. Think like the customer. Analyze the competition. Build your own idea.
However, while many new businesses boom, many fail as well. An entrepreneur is required to put his career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea, spending time as well as capital on an uncertain venture. “Though there is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing you are responsible for your employees’ success, at the beginning you also have to work hard every day to keep them convinced that joining you was the right decision,” says Gaurav Kumar, Associate Director, KPMG.
An idea may be too novel, or the market may simply not be ready for a new entry. What is important to understand is that a failure is an option. Successful entrepreneurs excel at adapting to new obstacles.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want something.”
– Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.
Have you ever wanted to do more? To do good? As an entrepreneur, you also decide where the profits of your company go. You can fund an NGO, or a charity, or even hire the homeless. HarVa, founded by BITS Pilani graduate Ajay Chaturvedi in 2008, is the first BPO set up in rural India which has hired and trained 500 women in Haryana as part of its first project.
So decide what you want to do. Make a plan. And work on it every day. Change the world in your own little way.
7 Secrets to A Healthy Work-Life Balance
Do you feel like something is wrong with how your days are turning out?
It seems you’re on the edge of burnout, or you’re hearing loved ones complain about your “workaholism.”
You should probably consider if you’re having a healthy work-life balance, or work-life integration. If that is truly the issue, then you can do something about it. And you might want to learn the secrets to transformation.
These secrets are principles or data you can use to approach work/non-work. They are not specific steps because everyone differs in their circumstance. And so, everyone also differs in their approach.
1. Know If You’re a Segmentor or an Integrator
Sociologist Christena Nippert-Eng suggests there are two types of people when it comes to boundaries set between life and work. These are the segmentors and integrators. Other studies support these categories, although it’s a common theme across the existing corpus to not think about them as fixed or opposing poles.
- Segmentors – People who draw a clear line between personal life and work. Forgetting about their job once they have left the office comes more naturally to them. Some show this tendency by having a separate calendar for professional commitments, or deliberately not choosing to prop family photos on their work desks.
- Integrators – People who mesh work and life with ease. One of their strongest points is the ability to engage deeply with work. They can transition seamlessly from responding to work emails to having dinner with their spouse at dinner. These are also the workers who are likely to benefit from a company having onsite childcare.
Most people are not 100% segmentors or 100% integrators. But knowing which side of the spectrum you’re leaning toward can help you customize a balancing strategy. Why? There is always room to become better. For instance, segmentors can be okay with bringing their family to company parties. And integrators can prioritize their spouse over a work email during dinner.
2. Change From Within
I’m sure you’ve heard about people embracing digital detox (avoiding devices tied to work). Or you’ve encountered someone being mindful about the time they spend in the office. These individuals have seen some negative consequences of their past actions and are trying to change the present. It doesn’t matter much if they’re doing this or that. The point is they’re working toward more favorable results.
One of the things that can stop you in your tracks is copying another person’s idea of change. It could be their lifestyle, eating habits, and even opinions about work-life balance. It’s because you’re also likely to expect the same results they’re having.
Change must come from within. That means looking inward, being honest, and aiming for a realistic assessment. Only then should you seek the advice of people who have gone through a similar experience. Because now you have probed the cause of your problem.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Whether you’re a segmentor or an integrator, practice mindfulness. This ancient practice traces its roots to eastern religions. However, these days, it can also simply mean intentionally bringing your attention to the present. That is, deliberately causing your mind to return to a task if you’ve been distracted.
If you’re with your spouse, then give your full attention to him or her. Be fully aware of his or her presence. Whether you’re in a restaurant having a date or in the bedroom conversing. That sounds more applicable to integrators since segmentors are good at compartmentalizing. But mindfulness also enables everyone to become productive.
4. Make a To-Do List Before You Sleep
Well, didn’t I say no sharing of specific steps? You might be thinking “make a to-do list” is not a principle or data. It is a step. But before you grill me further, let me give you the rationale behind this fourth secret. This habit is about taking control, which is in our nature to desire.
Having an overview of tomorrow’s tasks offers you that sense of control. You’re more eager to let go. You won’t be going to bed anxious. Your brain is convinced by the list you made and won’t cause you to lose sleep over a problem at work. That can wait till morning.
5. Determine Your “One Simple Thing”
People at Google have a goal-setting practice that prioritizes personal well-being. They call it the “One Simple Thing.” Some examples are “I will take a one-hour break 3 times a week to work out” and “I will not read emails on the weekends.”
Employees share what’s in their “One Simple Thing” worksheet with their boss. And their boss will hold them accountable to their goals. It’s a simple tool that encourages you to be proactive about your work-life integration. And the involvement of your boss adds a more personal and connected component to it.
6. Get Help From Technology
Productivity tools abound on the web. But not all of them are effective. Otherwise, we should all be masters of productivity by now. On top of productivity, however, you should also be seeking tools that force you to stop when you don’t know how to stop.
Boomerang for Gmail is one. It prevents you from reading emails after work hours. You can also set the Do Not Disturb mode on Slack to pause notifications. Further, if you’re a manager, you can set default DND hours on the app for your entire team. Let technology help you regain control over your life, not the other way around.
7. Remember that Balancing is Like Riding a Bike
Life is chaotic. It’s impossible to achieve perfection on all fronts. It’s impossible to even be okay on all fronts most of the time. So I want you to think of balance as a continuous effort. It doesn’t actually end. It’s like riding a bike. If you keep pedaling, you keep moving forward. But riding a bike is not just a means of transport, it’s also a balancing act.
That said, pursuing a healthy work-life balance is necessary for you to keep moving forward. So don’t worry if you’re not that good at it yet. One day, it’ll be as natural for you as breathing. And balancing will have become a way to live.
Ways to Inspire You to Build A Business
Ever felt the entrepreneurial call tugging at your consciousness?
Maybe you have. You’re just waiting for the right timing, you say.
But let me tell you from the outset that there’s no better time than now. You either start or not. Seth Godin often says that if you start now, you’ll have a business or at least a wealth of information to work on when you look back 5 years later. But if you don’t, you have nothing. Zero, nada, zilch.
And even if the economy is facing a downturn, the pros of building a business still outweigh the cons. If your business is the only one supplying the demand, you’ll also be raking in all of the profits.
I’m not saying that you should found a startup willy-nilly. But don’t let overthinking or fear stop you from planning and dreaming. Perhaps these business ideas will inspire you to dare:
Listen to Your Needs
Sometimes, you have to take a cue from your personal needs. Take this story about two young men from Irvine, California, who were frustrated about the lack of lunch options in the area. There weren’t many fast food restaurants near their workplace. And surrounding food courts invited long lines while the adjacent parking lots were too small.
This sparked a question on their minds: what if there was a way to deliver good food to them instead? Having an idea is one thing. But the money is in the execution. So they started a restaurant delivery business. Since then, they have served over 15 million people. It turns out their problem is universal among workers whose break gets cut in half because of those lunch runs.
Monetize Your Skills
People in the arts might cringe at that statement. There are artists who don’t create for the “mainstream” audience. Or literary writers who don’t want to sell out to big businesses. But this is not about being a capitalist pawn. It also goes beyond knowing how to use a camera, edit videos, and upload them on YouTube.
I’m referring to a wide range of technical and artistic skills. Are you good at landscaping? Photography? Interior design? Home cleaning? All of these require a specific skill set. And if you’re good at any of these, you can build a sustainable business out of those mad skills.
Find Your Cash Cow
If you’ve thought of selling goods to augment your income, why don’t you go for it? Burt’s Bees began with the two founders making candles from beeswax for extra cash. Then, they thought of creating other products like soaps, perfumes, and lip balms. The lip balm was a hit.
Once it was clear to them which products were selling big, they created more of those. Your business doesn’t have to be as huge as Burt’s Bees to apply this method. But if you have a bestseller or two, focus on them and never compromise their quality.
Get Into E-commerce as a Side Job
Do you have a penchant for collecting stuff? Maybe you have a sizeable collection of toy cars or vinyl records. What if you build an e-commerce site out of your hobby? Not only will you be able to practice it; you will also be making money.
Some people start selling the objects they buy from abroad. I know someone who loves golf but orders clubs overseas. Before, he would ask who among his buddies would want to tag along and then buy the items in bulk. Soon, he created a website, marketed his service to other golf enthusiasts, and built a stable sideline from there.
Start a Home Business
The digital landscape provides many opportunities for people of all ages. This means you can test out a business before diving into it full-time. You can rent out a room on Airbnb or Homestay, manage social media accounts of brands and individuals, or become a virtual assistant to a startup entrepreneur.
These are all legitimate jobs which you can do on weekends or evenings. You don’t even have to quit your day job just yet. But while you’re exploring your options, you can draft a business plan and brush up on your skills. Once you’ve gathered enough experience, decide whether it’s time to become your own boss and do what you’re passionate about.
Build A Conscious Company
Going green is not just a trend but a necessity. So if you can create products around environmental efforts, you’re also serving the greater good. Organic products tend to command a higher price, though, so it’s a plus if you can make yours affordable.
Further, you have to brainstorm your unique selling proposition with business partners (could be your family or friends). This diaper delivery service is a great example. The cloth diapers it sells minimize your baby’s environmental footprint. At the same time, it also solves the soiled nappy problem for most parents by providing a weekly dirty diaper cleaning service. That’s hitting two birds with one stone.
Don’t Be Afraid
At the end of the day, you’ll have something to work on if you get to building a business. Whether it’s mistakes or sales you accumulate, you can use what you have to continue aiming for your goals. The examples I mentioned exist because their founders dared to try. So don’t be afraid to respond to the entrepreneurial call and dare to try.
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