Unity and Focus
A unified vision, unified messaging, and a united, cohesive workforce are vital. Many entrepreneurs are visionaries but are also easily distracted. It’s called shiny object syndrome and is the single most common downfall of most failed start-ups. Many entrepreneurs twist and writhe under the rule of focus. However, remaining focused on a single vision for the company and its consumers is the only way to make real progress.
Maintaining the organization’s focus on a single point in the future also means maintaining adherence to a set of goals that the company’s workforce can get on board with. Sure, goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics will always shift in response to market forces, such as competition, developments in technology, and changes in the supply chain. However, changing your approach or direction should only be done with the utmost care and sound strategic reasoning.
Finally, branding matters. It creates a sense of safety among followers and consumers. It also instills loyalty and trust. Small businesses will grow, which means their overall branding and messaging needs to grow with them. One of the best tips you can follow is to let your brand evolve without recreating it more than once a year. Consumers and your workforce need to be able to rely on a unified look and message to rally behind.
All this talk about unity and focus so that your consumers and workforce can rally behind your vision, is foundational. Strategic flexibility is an advanced method of small business management many have trouble with. Knowing when to stay the course and when a good idea to shift direction is the best possible option takes patience, business acuity, and asking the hard questions.
Changing direction, redesigning a website, updating logos, and shifting your company’s focus away from a performing product line or pricing strategy – these can all seem like a great idea in the moment.
What true professionals do is measure each change against three core questions.
- Am I doing this because it’s trendy? If you don’t know, then it is probably a trend.
- Do the benefits and drawbacks of change drastically outweigh the pros and cons of staying on course? Is this change something you want to implement because it seems like a good idea or because it’s measurably better than all other options?
- Who am I doing this for? Are you bringing this change to the table because your current target market will significantly benefit?
Tip Three: Learn Like You’re Hungry
Everyone has room to improve. A common saying in the academic world is, “if you aren’t learning and growing, you’re dying.” Even experts and gurus have more to learn. In fact, if you listen to the experts and gurus who have been around the longest, they all have advice for themselves when they were young experts.
Tim Ferris, the author of the four-hour workweek, often cites how arrogant he was when he wrote his best seller and what advice he gives people now that is better than the expertise he was offering back then.
Learning looks different to everyone. Some prefer online courses from experts they admire. Others enjoy the academic route, opting for their MBA or certificate programs. Some respond well to hiring coaches while others enjoy the networking opportunities of conferences and association memberships. Some say they read voraciously and use books, journals, and trade magazines to keep up with the latest.
We recommend a blend of these types of learning models because repetition from different angles and on various fronts is one of the best ways to ensure information absorption from a teaching science perspective. Whatever you choose, make learning a daily routine.
Be A Professional And Make A Plan
You will find all kinds of advice out there about what professionalism really looks like and how important planning really is. Millennial-run tech giants take pride in wearing board shorts and beanies to work, while most Fortune 500 companies still sport suits and ties. We’re not talking about whether dress codes make people better or worse at business. We’re talking about making a plan.
Business planning is often treated like a high school term paper assignment – something you put off for as long as possible before you give in and write something to turn in just before the deadline. The problem is, in business, there is no hard deadline for a business plan until the small business fails, and there are no make-ups. You see, the bulk of small businesses that fail didn’t have a business plan. Remember the old adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail?” It’s time to do some planning.
Business plans don’t have to be long. They don’t have to be complex. And they don’t have to detail every single move you’re going to make each day from this day forward. Business plans are a guide; they are a living document that evolves with the company and changing markets but provides crucial guidance on the broader goals of the company along with how you are going to go about reaching those goals.
Your company should have a business plan but even if they don’t, create a plan for your department. It’s the sign of a true professional. And a business plan is a way to show that you aren’t just flying by the seat of your pants, even if it sometimes feels like it.
Find A Mentor
Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be a significant dollar investment. In fact, it shouldn’t be a financial investment at all if you find the right mentor. Lots of people make a great living selling coaching and mentorship. If this is the best route for you, do it.
That said, keep in mind that there are plenty of experienced business managers who will give away their best advice for the price of a cup of coffee once a week or month.
- SCORE is a free mentorship program through the small business administration that makes experienced professionals available to you wherever you are.
- Your local Rotary and Chamber of Commerce will have mentorship opportunities if you just ask.
- Many associations will offer mentorship to specific groups. For example, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, the Minority Business Development Agency, various minority-based chambers of commerce, Veteran’s Business Outreach Center, and more.
- Most coworking spaces either have on-site business networking events or are connected with mentorship programs and opportunities you can get involved in.
There are plenty of ways to get connected with a trusted advisor to help see you through the tough managerial decisions ahead. Take the time to find someone who is the right fit and use them as a gifted resource.
Know When To Fold
Delegation is a craft. It’s an exercise in letting go. But for many, it can seem like they are suddenly caving and implementing an exit strategy. Delegation is, in fact, a well-known way to get more done, grow the business, and give the illusion that you are a super-human.
When you find that you are having a hard time keeping track of tasks and people are missing out on personal life and work-life alignment, and are having to take on a variety of tasks you aren’t qualified for, it’s time to delegate.
Someone on your team can help you. In fact, someone on your team is probably looking for a way to stand out and get noticed, but they don’t know-how. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of great leadership. Ask your team, who can take on extra tasks. Make a list of what needs to be done that you can let go of. Then rewrite the list because you are probably leaving stuff off that someone else can do that you don’t want to let go of. Then bring the list to your people.
Outsourcing is truly the way of the future. It’s a way to keep overhead costs low because you don’t need to pay for on-site offices or lengthy onboarding. Outsourcing will keep you focused on the tasks that actually require you and nobody else, delegate the rest to your new virtual assistant. And outsourcing allows you to extend your reach around the globe in search of the best talent.
You can outsource just about anything. Most of your tech-related work, marketing, sales, accounting and bookkeeping, payroll, running time-consuming reports, team communications, day-to-day low-level tasks, database management, scheduling, and so much more.
Not sure where to start? The best way to test outsourcing is to hire a virtual assistant. This person will help you streamline your work, take time-consuming tasks off your plate, and will help you get your house in order.
Next, look at your team and carefully examine whether someone with real talent is being weighed down by tasks that don’t suit them. Help them out by outsourcing that work so they can apply their skills and talent where it is really needed.
Then, if you’re feeling brave, see if you can combine two of your lesser productive employees into an outsourced position. You’ll save on overhead, payroll, and headaches.
Outsourcing is an incredible way to save money and time while scaling your department or business. You just have to be willing to manage a dispersed team, which has some challenges, all of which can be easily overcome.
Hiring, Firing, And Everything In Between
Some of the most tedious tasks for managers are also the most important for the entire company. Hiring the right people, helping the wrong people move on, and all the in-between people-management tasks like coaching, mentoring, training, and recognition are invaluable.
If you don’t have a handle on managing people, meaning, if everything you learned about managing people you learned from a reality show or is based on what you ‘think’ managers are supposed to do, it’s time to get some real experience and training. We’re not talking about the soft skills training your company offers as an incentive to earn brownie points. We’re talking about real, hands-on learning.
- Go to small business management conferences and participate in the skill-building breakout sessions. Don’t just rely on books, case studies, online classes, and social media pro-tip memes. Show up in person where you can role-play, ask questions, and actively get experience.
- Be relentless about the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. Recognize the 20% who are doing the bulk of the work and put the remaining 80% on track to evolve, grow, and improve, or be left behind.
- Ask for feedback and input from your superiors, and always make a point to get your yearly review. Use this time to really dive in, problem-solve, and set up new expectations. The only way to truly improve within your position and advance is to be open to feedback.
Schedule Meetings With Yourself
Whether you are a business owner managing your entire team, or a manager in a small business with some oversight, you are busy. There’s no hiding whether or not you are productive in a small business. You have people, tasks, budgets, and more to oversee. It’s likely that one of your more frustrating routines are all the meetings you have to attend.
One of the best ways to be productive and be a better manager is to schedule time for yourself. That means occasionally closing your door, even if you have an open-door policy, saying no to a few meetings, and protecting time for yourself.
Being able to set aside time to focus, get work completed, and really do some deep thinking about any looming challenges is vital. This type of time management will help ensure you and your team don’t get caught up in the day-to-day, business as usual, or deadly status quo. Use this time to problem solve, get creative, and push for success – in whatever way your company defines success.
Productivity Is A Skill
There’s so much information to stay on top of, volumes of day-to-day tasks, and big projects you’re pushing forward – productivity isn’t something that great managers leave to chance. Productivity is a skill that must be well-honed and developed. A few productivity tips, according to science, are right here.
- Set aside time to actually get work done, not just put out fires (see tip nine). One of the biggest frustrations of managers and leaders, particularly middle managers, is the ease with which they can end up spending more time in meetings than actually getting work completed.
- Use the Pomodoro technique. Getting up, moving around, and taking breaks isn’t just a way to clear your head. It’s good for your overall health and wellbeing. Work with a rhythm and set timers, so make sure you stay focused when you’re working and that you can disengage when needed.
- Ban multitasking for yourself and your team. Multitasking is an outdated skill from the 80s. Remember, the ’80s was also a time of big hair, perms, blue eye-shadow, and shoulder pads. If you’re going to hold onto anything from the ’80s, make it 80’s music, not bad work advice.
- Leave 20% of your workday open and unplanned. Something will always come up. There will be fires to put out, lengthy meetings you get called into, people who need you, and more. Leaving 20% of your day open means, you’re thinking ahead and planning for the unexpected.
- Biohack your day. Believe it or not, there are chronotypes that determine your genetic tendency to get work done during certain times of the day. Science takes this concept well beyond simple morning people and night people. Learning about and harnessing your chronotype will help you understand when to choose when to work on different types of tasks according to when your brain and body will be most productive.
Every business has ups and downs, challenges, and strengths. Your job as a small business manager is to overcome obstacles and always push for the best possible solutions while moving the company toward its vision. Follow these tips as signposts to help you discover that path of least resistance everyone is always looking for.