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lesson 4 ruthless productivity

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 4: Ruthless Productivity

Being an entrepreneur can be a challenge to put it mildly.  The odds of survival are stacked against us before we even start the day.  Yet we press on undaunted.  In most cases we wear many different hats throughout the course of a single day.  The challenge is how to get it all done without losing our minds.  The word productivity seems to be an oxymoron.

Over the course of running my IT business for 10 years, that challenge was amplified by the speed at which our digital world changed.  Back in 2004 the iPhone hadn’t been invented, and we weren’t walking around with the Internet in our pocket.  There has never before been an age in which we could get so much done so quickly.  There also has never before been an age in we are so overwhelmed and exhausted with information and tasks, so bombarded with emails and things to read and watch, so stressed by the intense demands of daily life.

For many people these days, work is a constant stream of emails, of phone calls and instant messages, of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Pinterest/SnapChat/[insert new social media distraction] updates and connection requests.  The day starts with an Inbox full of emails, and ends with an Inbox just as full, and each email is a request for information or actions that we don’t have time to fulfill.

Just because I ran an IT company didn’t mean I was immune to the same crushing stress.  If anything, hyper-connectedness was amplified due to the fact that I also had to manage our client’s incessant need to be hyper-connected as well.  (All’s fun and games until someone loses Internet or Facebook goes down)

There were many days I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole.  Remember that game?  I remember the first time I played it.  I was 10 years old.  (Ahh, to be a kid again)  I was at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.  It was awesome!  Beating the crap of those little moles as they popped up…YES!  However, even at 10 years old, I got tired fairly quick.  But hey, it was fun!

Day in, day out playing Whac-A-Mole got really old really fast in my business life. (Not so fun) I really struggled to get everything done each day.  So, I started working more hours.  12, 16, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I figured eventually I’d be able to get caught up.  “Just work harder”, I told myself.  Unfortunately, this strategy is not sustainable, and after a couple years of this, I nearly found out the hard way.  I was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.  (Top Gun anyone?)  If I didn’t change, I would end up flying cargo planes full of rubber dog crap out of Hong Kong. Or, worse yet, I’d end up being fertilizer.  I wasn’t happy with the thought of either.

I venture to say, that some of you reading this can relate.  In order to get control, I learned to be ruthless with my time and energy.  I’m not perfect at it, but I’m at least aware of how I spend my energy.  So, I’d like to give you a few secrets that I used to get control of things before it was too late.

Here are my Top 3 Ruthless Productivity Tips:

  1. Compile a list of 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs), and do these FIRST.  Each day, start with the 3 most important things that you need to do to bring you closer to your goals, and do these FIRST.  Don’t check email, Facebook or whatever else you are wasting time on in the morning.  (You know what I’m talking about)
  2. Put a stop to interruptions.  Turn off all notifications on every device you own, and leave them OFF.  Notifications are the noises/buzzing and little red bubble icons on your phone.  If you don’t know they are there, you won’t be tempted to check them every five seconds.  Your desktop, your iPhone, your iPad, your laptop.  Everything.  Turn off email, Facebook, Twitter, instant messages, text messages, and whatever else could serve as an interruption to your productivity.  You’ll find that this is quite liberating after you go through initial withdrawal. (Checking these notifications is like a crack addiction whether we admit it or not)
  3. Batch process.   Process all the smaller tasks you need to complete each day.  Phone calls, emails, errands, paperwork, meetings, social media, research etc.  I typically try to do these at 11AM and 4PM.  This schedule might not work for you, so figure out what does work for you.

Being productive is key to growing and managing your company as an entrepreneur.  You only have a limited amount of time and energy.  The #1 pitfall to being productive is interruption.  There are many reasons for these interruptions, and almost none of them have to do with necessity!

I could probably write a book on all the lessons learned on this subject alone.  (Hmm, maybe I will)  At minimum, I think there might be a workshop on this.  Let me know if you might be interested.

If you want to read a good book, I recommend “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta.  It’s an easy read with many actionable things you can do right now to get control.

Lesson 5 will cover Document and Systematize all Processes.  This isn’t a sexy topic. Everyone knows they need to do it, however, this is one that most entrepreneurs have the hardest time with.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  Until next time….

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lesson 3 fire rotten clients

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 3: Fire Rotten Clients

If you’ve read my first 2 lessons (Lesson 1: Find a Niche, Lesson 2: Sell, sell, sell), you are probably asking yourself, “Why would I fire clients that I’ve worked so hard to get?  Isn’t getting rid of  clients counterintuitive to growth?”  At first glance, these questions would seem justifiable.  However, let me explain before you send over the guys with the straight jackets.  (I already have a padded room.  It’s Orange of course.)

In July of 2013, I was in Nashville attending a quarterly mastermind training.  One of the presenters was there to talk about his book, “The Pumpkin Plan.”  (Pumpkin…Orange… I was naturally intrigued.)  His name is Mike Michalowicz (pronounced mi-‘kal-o-wits).  During his presentation, I learned that, in order to grow my business, I had to “Assess The Vine” (my clients), and do some pruning.  Pruning meant I had to fire rotten clients.  I thought the same thing you are right now, “ This guy is nuts!  There’s no way I’m getting rid of clients.  I need every dollar I bring in.”  After I stopped hyperventilating, I began to really think about this concept.

Up to this point, I was operating under the mindset that quantity is what I need in order to grow.  I already had a documented sales process, and knew how to sell.  Getting more clients was the answer, right?  Nope.  I had to shift my mindset away from the quantity game, and stop killing myself for scraps.

We had a few clients that literally made my blood boil every time they would call or send in a support request.  You know the ones.  The ones that don’t really respect what you do, rarely take your advice, and then want to haggle over pennies every time you present a solution to help them grow their business or upgrade their 10 year-old Windows XP computers.  The ones that send text messages on Sunday morning because they can’t get on Facebook.  The ones that you’ve done a ton of extra work for and never billed them.  The list goes on and on.  99.9% of the time, these are the same folks that you made concessions on your initial recommendation just to get their business.  A win is a win, right?  Oh how wrong I was!

Mike’s presentation literally changed everything for me that day.  The second half of his presentation involved evaluating all of our clients by completing an Assessment Chart where we graded our clients on a variety of areas.  By the way, the clients that bring in the most $$ aren’t always your best clients.   I quickly figured out who our best clients were, and who had to go.

I could not grow my business until I pruned the vine.  Every time I said Yes to these rotten clients, I would being saying No to the good ones, or worse yet, saying No to better new clients.  This became my mission for the next few months following Mike’s presentation.  Fortunately I only had a couple to prune. It was a difficult process, but I can honestly say that once the vine was cleared of these rotten clients, my life improved dramatically.  I no longer had to dread calls, texts or emails from people who just didn’t respect me or my profession.  I could now focus all my time, effort and energy on the clients that I loved.  The ones that were an absolute joy to work with.  The ones that I wanted more of.  (Look for more on this topic in Lesson 6)  Phew!

Here are my brief takeaways on this:

  • Bad, rotten clients distract you, drain your resources and cost you money.  (Please re-read that last sentence)
  • You’re much better off having no clients than bad clients.
  • More is not better, better is better.

The Pumpkin Plan is an awesome book.  There is obviously a lot more to this process than what I’ve outlined in this post.  The book gives you much more detail on the process as well as many other strategies for growing your business.  I would definitely recommend picking up a copy.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Mike has since become a friend of mine, and his advice allowed me to sell my IT business last year.  He has two other books, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and Profit First.  You should really check them out.  Just my humble 2 cents. (Full disclosure: I don’t make a dime for recommending these books.)

Lesson 4 will cover what I call, Ruthless Productivity.  I’ll be giving away my secrets and tips for getting the most done with the fewest resources possible.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  Until next time….

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Find a Niche and own it!

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 1: Find a niche and OWN it!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of fellow entrepreneurs about how I started, grew and eventually sold my last business, Network Logix.  Boiling the lessons learned down to a 1-hour presentation was a pretty daunting task when I started preparing.  I did a lot of things right, and I also did a lot of things wrong.  Mistakes are a powerful and sometimes cruel teaching tool. I only consider things to be a “failure” if I don’t learn anything from it.  I learned a lot!

After seven or eight revisions (I lost track actually) and many hours of thought, I boiled it down to 7 key lessons I learned over the last 10 years.  My hope is that I can save a fellow entrepreneur the pain and headache that I endured, and find success faster.

Lesson 1: Find a Niche and OWN it!

Like most startups, finding new customers is pretty difficult.  When I started my IT business, like everyone else, I took on anyone who would write me a check.  Most IT firms will tell you their target market is, “businesses with 5 or more computers and a server in [fill in the geographic area]”.  I wasn’t any different.  Do you see the issue with that?  You can’t market to that many people no matter what area you live in.  You just don’t have the marketing dollars.  All of your marketing is “buck shot” effort.  You shoot something out there and hope it sticks.  Most times it doesn’t, and you quit after a short period of time or run out of money.

Client acquisition was pretty meager for the first 4-5 years.  I mainly relied on referrals, which is OK, but won’t allow you to scale quickly unless you have a regular system in place for building these.  I didn’t.  So, I started to look for commonalities in our client base.  I found that we had quite a few accounts in the Multi-Family Housing market.  (Yeah, I didn’t know what this was either when I started).  The Multi-Family Housing market are apartment owners and/or management companies.  Since we were providing IT support for many of these companies, we came to know the issues they were having in their business.  This knowledge allowed us to provide targeted recommendations when it came to their IT needs.  We became a valuable part of their business instead of just “The IT guy”.

This was definitely a Light Bulb moment.  I now knew exactly who I would be marketing to.  I could finally stop wasting my marketing $$$$.  I created a specific message (i.e. Their Big Hairy Problem) and how we could solve it for them.  I was amazed how quickly word spread, and how easy it was to close more business.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.  I’m not sure where the expression came from, but it’s definitely applicable in business.  Having only one vertical can be dangerous for business if that industry falters. So, I started to look again at our client base to see if we could find a second niche market.  I applied the same principles to a second market…attorneys.  Having a targeted message and SOLUTION made client acquisition much easier.  Imagine that!   

Obviously this is simplified version on Niching your business.  I am working on education topics for the rest of the year.  Would you be interested in learning more specifics on this topic?  Let me know in the comments below.

Stayed tuned for Lesson 2: Sell, sell, sell next time.

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“How To Build, Grow and Sell Your Business Without Losing Your Mind or Your Soul”

Attention Entrepreneurs Who Want To Learn How To Scale Your Business Without Losing Your Mind:

Entrepreneurship is really hard! Each year Americans start one million new businesses, nearly 80 percent of which fail within the first five years. The immense pressure that entrepreneurs face to survive – let alone GROW – is enough to annihilate the faint of heart. The never-ending hamster wheel of “sell it-do it, sell it-do it” leaves them exhausted, frustrated, and struggling to get ahead no matter how many hours they work.Like most entrepreneurs, I know this life well. My entrepreneurial roots go back to age 8 when I started my first business. Coming off the sale of my latest company, Network Logix, I will be sharing my success story on how to achieve triple-digit growth, dominate a niche, and how to build a raving-fan, loyal client base. I will also share tips on how to avoid the tedious game of “Whack-A-Mole” that most entrepreneurs call daily life.During This Session You Will Learn:

  • The #1 business strategy that propelled triple digit sales for 3 successive years
  • Ruthless Productivity tips that allow you to multiply your efforts
  • How to avoid the five most common frustrations of running a business
  • Guaranteed ways to propel explosive growth while keeping your sanity

When: Thursday, March 19 2015
Time: 11:00AM-12:00PM
Where: Dublin Entrepreneurial Center, 565 Metro Place S, Dublin, OH 43017

I would love to have you join me. More information can be found here.  I look forward to seeing you there.

– Andrew

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