Are you working hard…on the right things?

photo by balakov

Hard work is always going to be part of the equation for success for a business owner (or anyone else for that matter).  The picture above is a clever reproduction of a famous photograph “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” from 1932.  I’m sure you’ve seen it before (see link) with a bunch of blue collar construction workers taking a break 69 stories above Manhattan.

It’s a great example about hard work during difficult times.

The problem as a business owner is that hard work by itself isn’t going to get you where you want to go.

Hard work without continually applying strategy and building systems into your business will lead you to burnout and eventually closing your business.

Alternatively you can channel that hard work into things that:

  • You’re really good at  or
  • No one else can do or
  • Generate a maximum amount of profit or
  • You really enjoy doing

But how do you get started?  How do you get out of the vicious cycle of constantly doing the work just to make ends meet?

Work smarter, not harder is cliche but true

The first hurdle is carving out SOME time to get the process started.  You’ve got to invest time and effort up front and find new ways to do things.  Remember:

The system you’re currently using is perfectly designed for the results that you’re currently getting.

That means if you want to get different results (i.e. you working on less hand’s on work), then you’re going to have to change your system.

***Recommendation***  Set aside 1 – 2 uninterrupted hours per week, no phone, no email, alone in your office just to work on upgrading your business.

If you have trouble making that happen, consider looking into a business coach or a peer group advisory board (end shameless plug…) 😉

You’ve got to free up time and make a conscious effort to identify the changes if you’re ever going to actually change anything.

Everything is a system

You may not realize it, but everything activity you or anyone in your company does is based on a system.  Answering the phone, providing your service or product, paying a bill – you are using possibly dozens of systems and sub-systems to run your business.

Now those systems may be as simple as…step 1. Identify issue / request.  step 2.  wing it and try to solve the problem.  That’s not a terribly efficient system – but it may be an accurate view of how part of your business runs.

The goal for this next step is to identify and document at least a few of the most used systems – what are the top 20% of activities that drive 80% of your business?  Or if you want to approach it another way, pick out 5 major activities that you spend a lot of time on in your business.

You’re not trying to solve everything at once, the goal is to start taking new action and building on your success week after week.  It’s slow, but done right it will be a steady manageable change that can make a huge difference in a fairly short period of time.

*** Action Item *** Identify 5 processes / systems that you spend a lot of time on every week.

Document and improve

Now that you’ve got a starting point, the next step is to map your process step by step.

How is the process initiated – as an example, if it’s processing an order, the order comes into your system potentially via email, phone, in-person, you may multiple entry points into the process.  Once you’ve received the order, what is the next step?  Who performs it?

Document all of the key points in the process through to a logical end.  If there’s not a repeatable step (i.e. research issue to determine outcome) then note that point – that may become an opportunity for improvement.

Once you’ve got it documented, start reviewing the process objectively with a filter on how much value is added in each step.  If there’s not much value added, can you remove the step?  Look at the steps that you personally are doing – how can you simplify those or get them off your plate to someone else.

As you’re brainstorming improvements, start designing what you’d like that particular process to look like.  This isn’t normally a quick or easy thing to do, but if you make incremental improvement every week or every month, you will see huge gains fairly soon.

Obviously this is a high level approach to a what can be a difficult solution, but successfully implementing these kinds of systems is the difference between having a job or owning a business.

What system could you start putting into place this week?  The key is action – I’d love to hear what you could start on, share your thoughts here.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

4 thoughts on “Are you working hard…on the right things?”

  1. Eric Reid says:

    Shawn — I think you make a really solid point about the importance of taking stock of your systems and processes in order to make things better. Even if you weren’t focused on making things more efficient and freeing up resources for new business opportunities (which you should be doing) — think about how important documenting your processes can be to the eventual problem you’ll face: turnover. In that situation, not having decent documentation of your processes will cost you money every time you lose key people due to training and ramp-up with new hires.

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