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  • Aspire » Small Business Strategy

    05 Mar


    It’s no secret – a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners are motivated by excitement.  It’s a ‘thrill of the hunt’ type of thing.  Obviously there’s risk in making that first big jump to start up a business, but clearly many business owners continue to crave excitement beyond the start-up phase. 

    We all know business owners who find ‘interesting’ ways to make business success a bigger challenge.  Whether they’re doing it on purpose or not, the end result is a roller coaster ride and they’re flirting with dangerous outcomes.

    If you’re looking for some ways to make your business more exciting, here’s a list of ideas you could try that will help you ramp up that challenge.  On the other hand, if you’re already doing some of these…and you’re not looking for more excitement then maybe this a good list of things  to avoid going forward…but really, who really wants a stable, consistent, easy to run successful business that’s profitable?  How boring would that be?

    Bring on the excitement!

    There are a lot of ways to increase the challenge and uncertainty of your business.

    Start the Rollercoaster – Stop Marketing consistently

    A surefire way to get your anxiety to build is to stop your marketing efforts once you land a few jobs and get a little bit busy.  By not keeping up any marketing momentum, you are almost guaranteed to have at least a few weeks of dead time in the future…with no money coming in as you scramble to find your next opportunity! 

    It’s not very efficient, but think of all the fun and excitement you’ll get from wondering if you can pay your bills next month because you stopped marketing!

    Hire the next person through the door

    There are a lot of exciting things you can do with your HR practices.  One favorite is to operate under the ‘Quick to hire, slow to fire’ approach.  It’s a simple change that’s guaranteed to make your life more interesting.  All you have to do is hire the first person you meet after posting an opening – it’s even better if you do minimal interviewing so you don’t really know what you’re getting! 

    Are they a fit for your company’s culture?  Who knows…that’s part of the excitement? 

    Are they going to cause problems with the other employees and not really be qualified to do what needs to be done?  Almost certainly!  It’s way easier to make a bad hire than a good hire. 

    And by adopting this new approach you will build up a lot of office drama and give everyone something to complain talk about as less and less productive work gets done.  Want to make your business more challenging?  This is one of the best ways to do that!

    Play with a blind fold on – don’t forecast or track financial results!

    Imagine how exciting it would be to drive your car at full speed wearing a blindfold!  Of course you wouldn’t actually do that because it’s illegal, but there’s nothing illegal about doing the same thing with your business.  In fact a huge number of business owners fly blind all the time when it comes to money.  About all they know is whether there’s cash in the bank…and since that doesn’t tell you anything about money you owe or money that might be coming in, it’s generally not helpful.

    Imagine the rush if you can’t cover your payroll or make rent!  Now you’ve got some excitement going!

    Hire your family and friends…especially if they’re unqualified

    Another great HR idea to help make things a lot more challenging is to go out of your way to bring on family members or friends into key positions of your business. Of course you’ll never want to confront them if they’re doing a bad job and you’re certainly not likely to fire them, so the excitement of finding ways of working around them can continue almost indefinitely (or until you’re out of business…which ever comes first).

    Concentrate on 1 or 2 really big customers

    Putting all your eggs in one basket can dramatically increase the excitement level of your business.  Once you’ve successfully tied yourself to 1 or 2 clients, then you don’t have a choice but to jump through hoops to keep them happy.  As an added bonus, it’s likely that you’ll get to dramatically cut your margins and make less and less money once they figure out they have you over a barrel and that you need them more than they need you.

    This is a great way to increase your challenge and work harder for the same money.

    Don’t pay your taxes…or key vendors

    If you want to make things interesting quickly, then consider not paying all of the taxes you owe…whether that’s income tax, employment tax, sales tax or something else along those lines.  You’ll quickly get the chance to meet auditors and face significant fines – which can make for a real adrenaline rush.

    If you’re not ready for that big of a step to start with, maybe considering not paying some of your key vendors or your rent!  You never know when they’ll decide to cut you off and that uncertainty can really add a lot of spice to your day to day humdrum activity.

    Centralize all your data and don’t back it up

    Finally – If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush that could happen at any time, make sure you don’t back up any of your computers or key data.  Don’t use tools like Dropbox that easily make sure everyone has access to your data so it can’t be lost.  Instead, keep everything on a single computer or server and just wait for the fun to happen.  It’s like an ongoing game of Russian roulette – you never know when you’ll have that technical issue that will bring down your computer and completely leave you stranded!

    Imagine the fun you’ll have trying to recreate all of your data, forms and processes and keeping things humming along at the same time!

    What exciting ideas do you have (or that you’ve seen) that businesses owners are adopting to increase their thrill?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by Or Hiltch

    23 Jan

    Lil' Chef From France

    Bon Appétit!

    This week kicks off Restaurant Week in several cities across the country, including Kansas City. It is a great opportunity for restaurants to showcase their cuisine and entice food lovers to get out of the house and try a new establishment or revisit an old favorite.

    In the KC metro, this also serves as a fund raiser for Harvesters as participating restaurants donate a portion of their profits at weeks end. The growth in popularity of this event over the last couple years has been impressive. So I encourage you to participate at least once.

    Now for your “food” for thought…Some friends of ours recently returned from a trip to the Northwest. One of their stops was a hotel on the Oregon coast. They said it was possibly the nicest place they ever stayed. As we learned about the actual hotel, it became clear that it wasn’t the product (hotel), but the experience that catapulted this place to the top of their list. They showed us pictures of the rooms, the view of the Pacific, flowers, and more; all were impressive, but certainly not unique in that area. So what was it?

    “The best things in life aren’t things.”

    – Art Buchwald

    Products and services are things. Creating “the experience”, was more about the details than the actual hotel or its location. One of the examples they shared was that one of them has very specific food allergies. During the reservation process the hotel captured that information. Upon their arrival, the chef had created not one, but several options to choose from for every meal during their stay. The combination of unexpected, appreciated and generous makes it the kind of thing that people will talk about!

    “The Experience” creates an emotional connection, the actual hotel is just a thing; it simply can’t compete with human emotions. Combine a quality product or service with an emotional connection and you’ve struck gold.

    Restaurants spend countless hours coming up with the perfect adjectives to describe the dishes they offer. As you read them, sometimes you can actually taste the food they are describing! But what happens if when you get there, your table isn’t ready, the restaurant staff is rude, it is too loud, too cold, or something else that effects your emotions? I think you already know the answer.

    As you make your way to your favorite eateries this week, I encourage you to think about two things.

    #1) What is it that attracted me to this restaurant?

    #2) What is it that will bring me back? (Repeat Customer)

    No matter how long or short your answer; #1 will be more about “the product” and #2 will be more about “the experience”. And, what is really amazing about this, is that no amount of bricks and mortar or investment can impact “the experience” more than the people in the business. I am not saying there isn’t a cost, because it takes training and commitment to consistently deliver a high level experience, but for the most part it is free, it won’t require a large bank loan to attain. All businesses, including yours, have an equal opportunity to deliver a great experience – but it has to be a clear focus and priority if you want to pull it off.

    So get out and enjoy some great food this week! You are helping the economy and you are helping Harvesters. And while you are doing so, ask those two questions. Then take the answers and the inspiration back to your business and put them to work.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this – feel free to share any great dining experiences you had this week and why they resonated with you.  Leave us a comment below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by Scott Smith

    19 Sep


    It takes real effort to stay sharp – in fact most performance (whether it’s you or your team or both) naturally degrades over time if you don’t do anything to address it.

    It’s not rocket science, but this outrageous insight came to me this morning while I was shaving.

    It turns out that I have this issue about changing out my razor blades…I just don’t do it very often.  Not for any specific reason, it just doesn’t cross my mind.

    However when I do finally change the blade – like I did this morning…Wow!  Huge difference!  The razor doesn’t pull anymore.  No burns, no cuts!  The whole process is smooth.  It’s faster…and the end result is much better!  It’s a completely different experience (and outcome).

    Realistically I should have changed the blade weeks ago…but I didn’t consciously notice that the performance was degrading.  The old blade technically still worked…just not as well.  Because I wasn’t paying attention my morning shaving process had become a lot less effective.

    What are you not paying attention to?

    The world moves fast and most of us are spending our time and effort just to keep up the pace.  We fight fires.  We deal with the squeaky wheels and basically ignore everything else due to lack of time or energy.

    But while you’re ignoring aspects of your business, the performance is degrading.

    How about that website that you built 3 or 4 years ago?  Is it still performing for you the way it did when you launched it?  (Did it ever perform for you?).

    How about your back office systems?  Is there a better…maybe a more automated way to create invoices, take payments, communicate or deliver your services?  Are you spending a lot of time and effort on certain tasks just because that’s the way you’ve always done things?

    Chances are, if you’re still doing things the same way you did a couple of years ago and you haven’t really thought about it, you’ve lost the edge and you’re not performing as well as you could in that area.  It’s not a significant enough issue to shut you down, but over time when many parts of your business aren’t performing well…you’ll have a major issue (kind of like death by a thousand cuts).

    The good news is that when you finally do upgrade you are going to be amazed at how much better things work.  Technology, new ideas or processes, different employees – all of those things can lead you to a new breakthrough way of running your business.  It’s a never ending battle, but by consciously looking at the neglected parts of your business on a regular basis, you can get ahead of the game.  It’s not quite as easy as just putting in a new blade, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

    As an example, I upgraded to a new version of Quickbooks not long ago and I was able to cut a few hours out of my monthly accounting work…not bad for a small investment.

    How about you?  What’s some aspect of your business that needs a refresh?  What process needs to be sharpened or replaced?  What’s something that is holding you back (maybe more than you realize) that you could fix up?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Sep


    I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed physics in college and in fact it still influences how I think.  Here’s an example…Newton’s First Law of Motion states that:

     A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion – unless acted on by an external force.

    The application to business? If your business is stagnant, if you’re feeling stuck…if you’re not seeing growth or momentum, then you have to make a meaningful change (create a new force) to get a new outcome.  Momentum starts with making something happen!

    Have you fallen into a rut with your business?  If things are going fairly well, it’s easy to let up and just kind of coast…and if things are challenging, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just do what you have to to get by.  Either way, now is the time for you to apply an external force and make a change.  Invest quality time and think about how you’re going to get ahead…what can you do today to create momentum?

    Hopefully the list below can help you brainstorm an idea that will work for you:

    6 Ways to create momentum

    Every business is different and unfortunately there’s not a one size fits all solution when it comes to growing your business, but it’s a safe bet that at least one of the ideas fits your situation and could direct you towards next steps.  Pick the one that resonates the most and take action!

    Addition By Subtraction

    It’s the biggest mistake a business owner can make – many businesses have at least one and maybe several employees that just don’t pull their weight.  In some cases they’re really nice people but they don’t perform.  Or (and this is even worse) they’re very good at the work but they’re poisonous to be around and no one wants to work with them.  Whatever it is, if you have an employee who’s a bad fit, if you don’t have the right people on the bus, you can build up serious momentum just by getting rid of them.

    It’s always difficult to let somebody go but there’s no better time than the present to take some action and get that drag off of your business.

    Question – Do you have an employee that’s holding you back?  What would it take to act on it?

    Straight to the Bottom Line

    Most business owners are under-charging for their services.  Even if you think you’re priced right, it’s worthwhile to at least consider raising your prices.  It’s unlikely you’ll lose business (especially if you haven’t raised prices in the last year or two) and it could have a profound affect.  Raising prices is the only thing you can do that will immediately go straight to the bottom line.  Yes there’s a risk of losing customers, but even if you lost some volume, you’re still likely better off from a profit perspective – check out this table to see the impacts (second page).

    Question – How would your business be impacted if you raised your prices by 10%?  20%? 

    Revisit Your Marketing

    If you’re like most business owners, historically you’ve done some marketing and then you get busy and lose focus.  But you’ve got to have consistency if you want to win at Marketing!  What if you made marketing your strategic priority for the next 90 days and really invested time, effort (and money) into developing the right message and tactics?  Created a calendar to help keep everything on track?  Is it time to finally redo your website and establish some repeatable tactics that will consistently drive opportunities?

    Question – Are you effectively communicating the benefits and the outcomes you deliver?  What would it take to amp up your marketing in the next 90 days?

    Find a Referral Partner or two…

    Everyone wants to get great referrals and one of the best ways to do that is to find a great referral partner.  Find a complementary business that sells to the same clients that you want to work with, someone who sees the world in a similar way to you.  Add in a little creativity around packaging new discounts or find a way to co-marketing and you’ve got a fantastic new sales channel that will help drive new business to you and your new partner.

    Question – Who’s out there as a potential partner?  What product / service complements what you do? What would it take to set up a meeting?  Can you get the ball rolling this week?

    Finally Get that Big Project Done!

    Almost every business owner I know has at least one and usually several big projects that they’ve been ‘working on’ for an unknown period of time. It’s generally a wide range of stuff: 

    • Marketing stuff like redoing a website, developing great content marketing or creating a great newsletter.
    • Getting structured…hiring administrative help to free up time, delegating more, finding a difference maker sales person or employee.
    • New Stuff like rolling out a new set of products / services or revamping the ones you have.

    Whatever it is, what would happen if you really narrowed your focus and committed to getting that one big thing done in the next 90 days? You know it’s a great idea, you’ve been thinking about it forever…now is the time to commit to doing it.

    Question – What project has consistently been on your to do list for a long time?  What’s been holding you back?  How would you get really get started on it?

    Get some Help

    Building momentum is all about taking consistent focused action on great ideas -  you’re capable of doing that on your own, but it’s a lot more likely to happen if you get some help.  Find someone who can help you frame things up, get clear on what your constraints are and help push you to make things happen.  Of course you could always look into a Licensed Professional Business Coach or maybe a  Peer Group Advisory Board, but there are lots of ways to find help – the key is to get someone who will push you and support you.

    Question – Do you have resources or people you know who might be able to help you make something happen?  What’s the next step to getting them on board and helping you?

    This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of stuff you could do and you likely have different opportunities, but the one thing that’s true in every case is you have to take action if you want something to happen. 

    You want to grow your business – what are  you going to do to get the ball rolling?

    What ideas do you have for sparking growth?  I’d love to hear them or any feedback you have on my ideas above.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Jul


    Everyone starts their business with the intent to win…unfortunately many a well intentioned business owner gets derailed along the way and it all comes crashing down.  Sometimes the best way to succeed in the long run is to identify the issues…what’s driving you towards a potential train wreck and then focus on fixing those issues first. 

    To that end, I spent some quality time with my clients and Peer Group Advisory Board members and asked them what qualities or traits were required for long term success as a business owner…and inversely what qualities would guarantee a business train wreck in the long run. 

    That led to the following list.  It’s a pretty powerful collection and odds are you’re dealing with at least a couple of these issues to some degree…but as they say, the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one!

    Read More…