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  • Aspire » Leadership

    19 Feb


    Picture by Stars Alive via Flickr

    Picture by Stars Alive via Flickr

    As a business owner your job is to see more than everybody else.  It’s a tough job, it requires some special skills and attributes and it will take you some time to get good at it…but if you’re not seeing things, then you (and all of your employees) are flying blind and almost guaranteed to hit the side of mountain sooner rather than later.

    You’re role as the leader requires you to see farther ahead and to see the big picture.

    You’re role as the builder of the business requires you to see how all the pieces of the business fit together.

    You’re role as the manager requires you to see who are the right people for the right seats in the business.

    Do you know what you’re looking for?  Are you taking the time to look?  If you’re like most business owners, you are heads down working on the loudest problem of the day…the one that’s right in front of you and you’re not seeing anything.  That’s not a risk you can afford to take.

    What should you be looking for as a Business Owner?

    The Big Picture:  As the leader of your business, the most important job you have (and the one that no one else has) is seeing the Big Picture.  Today you might be dealing with customer issues…or an employee who didn’t show up or maybe even a surprise phone call on a new lead…all important stuff but none of it really matters unless it fits into the Big Picture.  The Big Picture is your strategic vision.  What are you building?  How will you know when you’ve achieved success?  What does your business look like in 5…10…or even 15 years from now?

    On any given day, the Big Picture isn’t important, but without a living, breathing constantly re-imagined Big Picture…a dream if you will…then you and your employees are drifting without purpose.

    “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”  – Lewis Carroll

     This year’s goals:  A subset of the big picture is the ability to be able to take what you see there and back into what’s most important to achieve in the next year.  The most effective way to get everyone focused and to get things done is to narrow the possibilities down and pick a handful of things as THE goals for the year.  I suggest 5 as the starting point, but a few more or less is okay as well.  The key is to think about it in terms of “If we can achieve these 5 things, we will have a great year and be much closer to our Big Picture!”.

    Almost everyone will tell you they have goals, but very few have created clear, measurable, time bound goals that are written and have been shared with the staff.  As the owner, you’re the only one who can see them – it’s your job to share them.

    Business Systems:  Your business is a machine.  In fact, it’s a machine made up of lots of other machines – there are inputs and outputs and you have people operating the different parts of the machines, hopefully all in harmony.

    As the builder of your business, you likely started by doing all of the jobs and work by yourself…you understand the components better than anyone.  As you grow, it’s your job to architect how all of those pieces come together as you bring new people and new capabilities on line.  You have to see how they all fit together – your job is to build and fix the machines so they can run without you.

    Key Metrics:  One of the best ways to see (and to help others see) is to find simple ways to measure progress on important things and get those numbers reported on a regular basis.  Keep it simple.  Every important part of your business has a key metric or two – some measurement that tells you if things are going well or not.

    At the highest level, you must measure financial progress…money coming in vs. money going out as compared to financial projections.  We call this a Profit Plan…and even if you’re afraid of numbers this is critical for you as the business owner to see and to make sure you’re healthy from a cash perspective.

    Organizational Accountability:  Finally – as the lead manager for  your business, you need to design your overall organizational structure.  Identify what needs to be done within the business (front office and back office) and identify who is responsible and accountable for each of those areas.  You can have one person in more than one box (and if you’re a small business, you definitely will) but you can’t have more than one person in any given box – there has to be clear ownership of each area.  Once you can see who needs to be where…and where you have holes, then you can start fixing your organization and get the right people in the right seats.

    As the business owner, are you seeing all the things you need to see?  Did I miss anything?  Share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    07 Jan

    Photo by emdot via Flickr

    It is the New Year.   The time of year we hear more about Bucket Lists, Goals, Resolutions, and Self-Improvement than any other time of the year.   And rightly so, studies have shown for sustained long term success, the execution of goals is one of the single most important steps one must master.  What better time to start than at the beginning of a New Year?

    Goals…. “A year from now, you may wish you had started today.”  Karen Lamb

    However success isn’t just about setting some goals…it’s about setting the right goals for you and then taking focused consistent action.  And the right goals for you mean they need to be in alignment.

    Most successful leaders implement goal setting at some level.  At a recent engagement, I asked the group how many had business goals?  The room was comprised of several owners of successful companies and professional educators connected to their industries.   Not surprising, I think all of them had business goals.

    The next question was to ask how many had personal goals.   Again, most of them raised a hand of acknowledgement.

    The final question was how many of you have your business goals aligned with your personal goals?    Alignment?….What?

    Why have Congruency and Alignment in Goal Setting?

    Have you ever driven a car in bad need of a front end alignment?    The steering wheel pulls you to the left or right; you don’t dare take your hands off the wheel because you’ll quickly drift into another lane of traffic or completely off the road.  It’s dangerous.   Furthermore, you miss out on a lot of what you’re driving past on both sides of the highway, because you have to focus so hard on keeping the car on the road as it pulls you left or right.   It becomes a constant battle to stay in your lane and not swerve too far in either direction.

    Now imagine you’re driving a car and your personal goals are on one side of the road and your business goals are on the other.   The destination of the highway holds what you hope to achieve both personally and professionally in your lifetime.    If you aren’t setting business goals that are congruent with your personal goals you will constantly be fighting the steering wheel as it tries to pull you one way or the other.  Because you are out of alignment, you risk spending too much time focusing on keeping yourself in the center of the highway.

    The lack of alignment becomes dangerous when you are pulled out of balance – to one side or the other.  In addition, you’re not going to enjoy the drive…it’s stressful and you can’t observe what’s around you.  You’ll miss opportunities both professionally (markets, products, employees, etc.) and personally (family, vacations, health, etc.)   If you keep it up long term your business suffers and it can wreck a personal life.

    Now imagine, you’re on that same highway and driving a newly aligned car.   Your personal goals and business goals are still on opposite sides of the road, but they are aligned so well you can almost take your hand off the steering wheel (don’t!).   The goals you have set professionally are congruent with your personal aspirations and likewise, your personal goals align with your business goals.  So even when you are focusing solely on a personal goal (i.e. vacation) your car stays on the road!

    Sound like a better car to be driving?   The next time you’re driving, imagine your personal and business goals on opposite sides of the road in front of you, how well would your car be steering?  If you’re feeling a pull to one side more than the other, it may be time for an alignment.     Make it a great 2013!

    Please share your thoughts about (goal) alignment in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage   Kansas City Business Coach

    18 Dec


    I’ve had great discussions with a few different clients lately…they are seeing a huge shift with the results in their business.  Both in terms of how much they’re making (more) and how much they’re working (less than they used to).

    There are some specific reasons why they’re seeing improvements – some of it’s related to strategic planning paying off, some of it’s as simple as having the confidence to raise their pricing to reflect the value they generate.  But the biggest difference is that they have successfully shifted from a technician’s mindset to an Entrepreneurial Mindset.

    Mike Michalowicz – author of the The Pumpkin Plan really nailed the definition of what an entrepreneur is:

    “Entrepreneurs don’t do most of the work.  Entrepreneurs identify the problems, discover the opportunities and then build processes to allow other people and other things to do the work.”

    Technicians…on the other hand are masters at their craft.  They are really good at what they do and their mindset is that they are going to be more effective at doing that work than anyone else can be.  That may be a true statement…but it’s a dead end trap for a business owner! The technician’s mindset leads to longer hours, capped income and eventually a state of burnout.

    Contrast that with the Entrepreneurial mindset…focusing on finding the bottlenecks in your business model and resolving those issues in ways that don’t require your personal time.  It takes more time and effort up front, but as you clear things out, you will start making more money and spending less of your own time on working IN the business.

    Ask yourself this question as you think about your planning for next year:

    In order to make more money than you did this year, do you personally need to put in more hours doing the work / delivering your service or product?

    If the answer is yes, then you’re stuck acting like a technician.  A better question would be:

    How can I generate more profitable revenue AND free up my time?

    It’s not easy, but when you make the shift to an entrepreneurial mindset and start spending your time resolving the business model, all sorts of things become possible.

    Where are you in terms of balance between Entrepreneur and Technician?  Are you building your business through brute force and time…or are you building your business to operate without you?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – contact us or share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    01 Oct

    spiritofkcEntrepreneurs and business owners come in all shapes and sizes…they have different backgrounds, different aspirations and they work in all sorts of industries and spaces.

    Despite all of those differences, they really start to look similar when it comes to how they act and think.  Simplistically business owners come in 1 of 3 different types…and it’s that type, a set of traits, that determines what kind of success they’ll have in the long run.  If you don’t know your type, it’s likely you’re unconsciously sabotaging your chances at long term success.

    The good news is these traits can be identified and changed (with effort) over time so they match up with where you want to be long term.  The first step is to identify where you are now.  To get you started, here are the three archetypes that I commonly see in business owners.

    Are you a Hero, Headliner or Builder?

    The Hero

    Most business owners start out as heroes…the hero’s mindset and approach is natural for starting up and gives you the best chance of early success.  However continuing to play the hero after the first year or so in your business is a sure path to failure (see: 5 Reasons why being a Hero is killing your business).

    A hero…in business owner terms…is always on the front lines and is involved with every single important activity in your business.  A hero may have employees, but those employees aren’t actually allowed to do any of the heavy lifting – all decisions go through the owner.  And when there’s an issue, a fire to fight, the hero will drop everything and take charge of the problem.

    How to tell if you’re a Hero:

    The Hero is typically a slave to the business, works long hours, rarely takes time off and is constantly waiting for the big break.  Real success is always ‘just around the corner’…one big client away from happening.  A quick test for you – If you don’t have an up to date organizational accountability chart (actually on paper…not just in your head) that clearly shows others owning key activities…then you’re playing The Hero. 

    Prognosis for The Hero:

    A hero’s success and longevity is tied to how much personal energy and drive they have…and the number of hours in a day.  The hero isn’t necessarily directly trading time for money, but there’s not a lot of leverage there either.  Typically they’ll grow the business to the point where they are working 110% of their time and then they’re stuck.  There are no more hours in the day and at some point they’ll be unable to keep up a 60, 70, 80 hours a week pace and they’ll shut things down.

    In case it’s not clear…playing The Hero is a dead end for a business owner.

    The Headliner

    The Headliner is a variation of the Hero…but one that has a chance of a specific kind of long term success.  Like the Hero, the Headliner is the central point of their business…all key activities and decisions pass through the Headliner.  However the Headliner is also the reason for the success of the business.  The Headliner has a reputation as an expert or a top line performer and can do things that most others can’t do.

    Most writers, artists and professional speakers are Headliners – they are their business.  They may have some kind of employee help, assistants, accountants, etc., but for all practical purposes it’s just them.  However Headliners can also be lawyers, plumbers, coaches, consultants…pretty much anyone who stands out as an ‘expert’ in their field.

    Prognosis for The Headliner:

    For those Headliners who have found a profitable niche where people will pay a lot for their skills, being a Headliner can be a great business…albeit more of a lifestyle choice.  The Headliner is primarily trading time for money – although that hourly rate can often be pretty phenomenal.  If your goal is to make up to 6 figures, control your own destiny and not mess around with building an organization or managing people, then being a Headliner is a good choice.

    The downside is that there is rarely anything to sell if you decide to wrap up your business and you’re always ‘on’.  If you ever hit an extended downturn (sick for 6 months, break a leg, etc.) then you won’t be making any money and it may be difficult to ramp things back up to where they were.

    The Builder

    The last (and most difficult) business owner type is the Builder.  As you might expect from the name, Builders are all about building their business…ultimately with the goal that it runs without them.  A successful Builder could take 3 or 4 months off and their business would continue functioning…and actually would grow in their absence.

    Builders spend their time and efforts creating a business model that’s scalable.  They invest in creating a leadership team empowered to make big decisions and handle issues (without input from the business owner).  The owner’s primary role (beyond creating and leading the leadership team) is strategically improving the business…finding ways to drive more revenue and profits and identify areas of weakness.

    Prognosis for The Builder:

    When you’re just starting a business, as the owner you will have to do most of things on your own (much like the Hero).  However unlike the Hero who just throws themselves at issues, the Builder is constantly looking for opportunities to streamline, automate and delegate…and as soon as the revenue allows it, they hire and start delegating authority.

    Because the outcome of a successful Builder is a business that runs without day to day input from ownership, that business becomes a very valuable commodity that can be sold.  Alternatively, the owner can hang out indefinitely doing the parts of the business they enjoy because the business has been successfully designed to support them without requiring constant sacrifices.

    It’s tough to be a builder, but the rewards are huge.  Having said that, most business owners I talk to operate more like the Hero rather than the Builder.  Where do you fall on the spectrum?  Have you thought about it?  What would it take for you to start being a Builder?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    Picture is “The Spirit of Kansas City” by Norman Rockwell

    11 Sep


    Recently I was reviewing the spending habits of a business as the business was attempting to borrow more money. If you have borrowed (or tried to borrow money) in the last few years, you already know how challenging this has become.

    To get to the point, this company’s spending seems to be out of control and the challenge is to figure out how to help them (or if they can be helped).  I know several of our readers are familiar with issues like this so I’m going “open book” and asking for your opinions, suggestions, and recommendations.

    A little background on the business…

    It isn’t a startup company, so there is little probability the company will achieve exponential growth in the foreseeable future.

    They started with a very focused product offering, but today they are very diversified in their product offerings and may be in too many markets.

    What started out as a very lean operation (Taiichi Ono and Henry Ford would have been proud) has grown into a business with several layers of management and labor.  Many would describe it as bureaucratic.

    Their HR department is stretched to its limits.

    Clear inability to control spending. The business claims they are getting control of their spending, but their track record says otherwise as they have increased their debt by over 60% in the last 5 years.

    Their “projections” for revenue increases over the next 5 years are about 10% / year, but they still plan to spend more than they make each of those years.

    Time is running out – their bank is pushing back on more borrowing as they are already carrying a substantial debt.

    By the Numbers: The business, this year…


    Projected business income


    Total business operating budget


    Additional debt  projected for this year
    $1,605,100 Current outstanding debt the business has.
    $11,000 Est. Avg. amt. they are projecting to reduce additional debt/year (next 10 yrs.) NOTE – Not reducing the outstanding debt, just reducing the amount they are adding to it each year.


    The struggle is getting the business to act on their spending problem. The entire management team is aware of the issue, but they just keep on spending! Currently they are tactically focusing on reducing the additional amount they are borrowing. Reducing the outstanding debt is rarely even talked about it.

    Can this business be saved? As business owners, do any of you know a bank that would be willing to loan them additional money? Is it making you feel better about the financial condition of your business?

    Now, the real world…

    What if this company was bigger? What if we added “7” zeros to each of the numbers above. What do you get? The actual numbers of from the United States Federal Government (as reported on Wikipedia – note, these may or may not be completely correct, but it’s pretty close).

    $2,469,000,000,000 2012 US Tax Revenue
    $3,796,000,000,000 2012 Federal Budget
    $1,327,000,000,000 2012 Federal Deficit
    $16,051,000,000,000 2012 National Debt (See National Debt Clock for up to date information)
    $110,000,000,000 Est. Avg. amt. currently projected to Deficit/year (over next 10 yrs.)NOTE – Not reducing the outstanding debt, just reducing the amount of the deficit.

    Final Thoughts…

    The point of this isn’t to be on one side of the political fence or the other. It is about looking at the facts. It is what every business owner has to do. We have to look at the facts; this is where the business is at today, it doesn’t matter how we got there, but continuing to do what we are doing is not going to solve the problem. No business can survive when it continuously spends more than it makes.

    The values can get easily blurred in any business, but sometimes I think it is easier as we jump between millions, billions, and trillions. By reducing the Federal Government numbers to an income amount many business owners are familiar with, it is easy to see the severity of the situation we have allowed our country to slip into. So regardless of who you plan to vote for this fall, fiscal responsibility is a key requirement going forward – regardless if the company has revenue of $246,900 or $2,469,000,000,000. You need to have a plan to spend within your means and hold yourself accountable.

    We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach.