Posts Taged entrepreneurship

Redesign Your Life Interface | Orange Nomad

Your Life Interface Is Broken. Here’s How To Fix It.

If you’ve ever tried to use a smart phone, or a website, you’re using a user interface. If done well, this interface has been designed to help you do what you want: check your messages, read an article, find information, get stuff done.

Our lives have interfaces too. We just don’t often think about it.

And just like with badly designed websites, a bad interface for your life can be frustrating, grating, full of friction and confusion.

The good news is … you’re the interface designer of your life! You can redesign the interface.

Let’s think about a few examples:

  1. Life’s popup boxes: When you work, are there a dozen things trying to get your attention? Email, phone messages, social media, blogs, news, other favorite websites … while you’re trying to get an important task done? These are like popup boxes asking you to subscribe, that get in the way of your reading. You can redesign it so that you have only the task in front of you, no popups or distractions.
  2. Simplify the steps: If you want to work out regularly, how many steps does it take before you can actually do the first exercise? For many people, they have to get their gym clothes together into a bag, close down a computer, drive to a gym, check into the gym, change, find an available spot in the gym, then do the workout. That’s like if you wanted to send an email message but had to click through seven different pages to get to the send message screen. Instead, think about simplifying it so you can get right to the task — get down on the floor and do some pushups and planks, have a chinup bar near your bathroom so you can do some every time you pass, go outside during a work break and walk quickly for 10 minutes, several times a day. You can look at other things in your life that take too many steps to accomplish a goal, and remove steps.
  3. Annoying ads or sales pitches. How often have you been on a site with annoying ads, or constant sales pitches from the blogger? You just want to read or get stuff done without all the pitches. The same is true of your regular life — you don’t want people walking into your office giving you sales pitches, nor do you want to hear or see ads in your radio or TV or magazines. Consider “ad-blocking” your life, by finding ways to avoid sales meetings, people who are soliciting, meetings where someone is trying to pitch you. Pay for ad-free music streaming and video, stop buying magazines (just read articles using read-later services that strip out ads), unsubscribe from ads disguised as newsletters in your inbox. Unfriend people who are trying to get you into multi-level marketing and the like.
  4. Make your important goals be easy to find. One frustration on websites is when the thing that matters most is buried in a hard-to-find page, not easy to find. With a good user interface, the most important goals are front and center, obvious and easy. But in our lives, we make the least important things easiest to find and do (TV, Facebook, distraction, junk food), while the most important things are hidden behind layers of distraction (your most important project, exercise, eating healthy, spending time with loved ones). What if we put these important things in front of the rest? Bury Facebook and other distractions, and have the important project be the only thing that shows when you open your computer. Get rid of junk food and have your healthy options be out in the open for when you get hungry. Put the TV in the closet, and have dumbbells there instead. To spend time with loved ones, put the activity that you want to do with them just inside the front door when you get home — put the book you want to read with your kids, or the rollerblades you want to use with them, just inside the door. Or put the coffee cups you want to use with your wife as you talk and have coffee together, in the middle of the living room.
  5. Beautiful design. When an app or website looks beautiful, it’s not just for the sake of gloss and glamor. It’s to create a mood, an experience, a feeling of delight or peace. Each action with a good app or website should give you an experience you enjoy, rather than a feeling of clunkiness or frustration. The same can be true of your life — remove distraction and clutter, and find ways to bring peace and delight to your life.

Obviously these are just a few examples, a few abstract ideas. The actual implementation depends on your goals, on the experience you want to create for yourself. But these are good to think about.

In truth, we can never control everything about our experience in life, nor should we try. But spending some time thinking about a smarter, simpler, more lovely interface for your life is about rethinking the unconscious, and living more consciously.

As always, thoughts, comments and sharing are strongly encouraged!

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Buyer beware! How not to get screwed by your IT company

The Profit is a show that airs on CNBC Prime about struggling businesses finding a “savior” in the person of multi-millionaire Marcus Lemonis.

In each episode, Marcus, the CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises will find a business in dire need of help and radically change its’ core while investing a hefty amount of his money to save it.

What I love about the profit show is that since it is very real, sometimes the deals work and sometimes they don’t. That’s life isn’t it?

Being a life-long entrepreneur, I absolutely love the show.  Marcus Lemonis is an incredible business man, and seems to have a heart.  I came across a video interview with Marcus the other day.

How can you as an MSP use this to educate potential clients?

This interview really got me thinking.  “I wouldn’t know if someone is BSing me.”, was his best quote.  If someone like him will not invest in tech companies because he’s outside his element, how does the normal business owner make an educated decision about which IT company to choose to support them?  The short answer…they shouldn’t be. At least not by themselves.  Let’s face it.  The average business owner has no idea whether they are being BS’d either.  They usually start looking for another IT company when something is on fire and they need it fixed right away, or their current guy (assuming they have one) has royally screwed something up.  After jumping on Google and calling down the list of names one by one, they finally get someone on the phone.

That’s where you as an MSP come in.  Most IT companies go in and start talking about the tech.  After a “Free Network Assessment”, they drop a RapidFire report on them (which might as well be written in a foreign language to the business owner), and kindly point out all the things that are wrong with their systems and network, and how they are going to be their savior for the low price of $xxx/month.

The business owner has no basis in which to make a decision.  They have no idea whether that IT company will suck as bad as the last guy.  They have no idea whether they are being BS’d.  The only basis they have to make a decision is whether they like the sales guy, and the price.  A decision based upon either of these two alone will never be a good choice.  You already know this.

If I have just described your sales process, PLEASE change it!  You will always look just like all the other IT companies to the business owner, and they will always make the decision solely on price.  Even if you win the account initially, you will lose in the end.  I’ll bet you already know this too.

Stealing Genius is a concept I learned a few years back from Steve Miller.  Feel free to “steal” this content to use in your MSP practice.

stealing_genius

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I’m Returning to Single-Tasking

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been single-tasking lately.

I’ve returned to multi-tasking and distraction.

I’d like to blame my smart phone (I long for the days of my sweet dumb phone), but in all honesty I constantly switch browser tabs too. I’ve been pulled by the allure of so many interesting things to read on the Internet, email, Slack, always something to check or read or respond to.  Not to mention the ultimate time-suck…..FACEBOOK!

As of today, I’m returning to single-tasking.

Why? Because I think giving in to constant switch and distraction is a way to run away. It feels busy and productive, but it’s an avoidance. Not just an avoidance of important tasks, but of whatever boredom or bad feelings I might be having in the moment.

So here are the rules I’m going to try to follow:

  1. One browser tab open. I want to focus on reading one thing, responding to one email at a time, doing one task in my browser at a time. I realize that I might have to open multiple tabs to work on something, and that’s fine, but if I have tabs open that don’t have anything to do with my current task, I’ll bookmark them for later, add to Trello, or add the task to my to-do list.
  2. Know what I’m focusing on. When I open a tab, I have to consciously pause and think about what I’m trying to accomplish. That might be looking up some info, or writing something, or answering an email … whatever it is, I have to try to pause and make sure I’m being conscious about it.
  3. Read to completion. Unless there’s an urgent interruption, if I open an article to read, I have to decide whether I want to invest the time to read it right now. That means giving it my full attention, and reading to the end (if possible — unexpected interruptions are fine). If I don’t really want to read this article to completion, I’ll save it for later or just close it.
  4. One app on my phone at a time. Just like browser tabs, I often have multiple apps open on my phone, and I switch between them often. I’m going to try to close my phone except when I consciously want to do something on it — send a message, reply to emails, read something. And I’ll only have one app open whenever possible.
  5. Be mindful of interruptions & switching. I think my mind is easily distracted, so I’m going to try to practice noticing when I’m about to switch, and make a conscious decision to either follow or not follow that urge to switch. It’s OK to switch, if I’m ready to leave what I’m doing and focus on this new thing instead. And it’s OK to be interrupted (by a call, my son, my wife, etc.), but I’d like to try to make a conscious note that I’m switching my attention, leave behind what I’m doing, and give my full attention to whoever is calling for it (without resentment that they’re interrupting me). Now, I realize I’m not going to be perfect at this (I was interrupted as I was writing this paragraph, btw), but I’ll try to practice is when I remember.
  6. Consciously close my computer & phone. I don’t need to always be working, always be distracted, always be checking. Sometimes, I can consciously close things for awhile, read a book, go for a walk (without headphones), do something with a loved one. I’ll try to consciously tell myself, “OK, digital-free time for the next 30 minutes” (or hour, or two hours, or whatever).

These aren’t hard and fast rules, but things to shoot for. I will fail at them often, but I’m going to try to follow them for at least a week, and hopefully longer.

I’m not doing this to be more productive, more focused, more disciplined, more perfect. I just want to explore mindfulness and consciousness, and not avoiding by distraction. Wish me luck!

If you have the same issue, or have more to add, feel free to leave me a comment below.  [I know I’m not the only one out there ;-)]

Here’s a funny video on the subject too.  Enjoy!


Credits: Photo from sharazza.com

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What I Do When I Fail

I fail at things much more than you might imagine, given that I’ve started and run numerous businesses since age 8.

I’ve had businesses that were unsuccessful, and it feels just as horrible for me as it does for anyone else as a serial entrepreneur.

I get down on myself, feel guilty, try to avoid thinking about it, and would rather hide it from everyone else.

Failing at things can really suck.

And yet, I get back up and try again.

I fail at eating healthy on a regular basis, but I keep trying again. I’m pretty good these days at sticking to a sleeping plan, but I failed and tried again, regularly, for years and years.  Not getting enough rest as an entrepreneur is highly detrimental.

I’ve made several attempts at writing the book I’m writing now, and scrapped it all each time because it didn’t feel right. And yet, I started again, and I still continue to work on it.

I fail at being content. But I don’t give up on that.

I fail at being a good dad, seemingly multiple times a day. But I continue to try, and sometimes I succeed.

When I try over and over again, once in awhile I succeed.

So what’s the secret? Well, there isn’t one. You just have to keep trying.

That said, here’s what I’ve found to work:

  1. I learned a more flexible mindset. When you are rigidly trying to stick to a plan or achieve a goal, and things don’t go according to plan, then you feel like crap and things can get derailed. But if you have a more flexible mindset, and think, “Done is better than perfect,” then it’s not a disaster when you get off track. There’s no single track that you have to stay on.
  2. I came to realize that every attempt is about learning. When you fail, that’s actually really good information. Before you failed, you thought that something would work (a prediction), but then real-world information came in that told you it didn’t work. That means you now know something you didn’t know before. That’s excellent. Now you can adjust your plan, figure something new out, try a new method. Keep learning.
  3. I ask for help. When I’m struggling with something, I know that I can either give up, or I can figure out a better way. But it’s not always easier to figure out a better way, so I reach out to my wife, friends, trusted family members, and I ask them. They might give me simple, obvious, why-didn’t-I-see-that advice that I need, or brilliant tips, or accountability. Whatever happens, my friends and loved ones never seem to fail me.
  4. I give myself a break. If I’m struggling, sometimes my mind or body just needs a break from the discipline. So I’ll take a day or two off, or a week, or even more. There’s no set time that’s right for every situation, so I’ve been learning to go by feel. For some things, I’ve taken a month or two off from trying to learn something.
  5. I remind myself why it’s important. It’s easy to give up on something, because not doing it is always easier. But giving up means you’re losing something important, like helping someone, and so if my reasons for doing something aren’t just selfish (pleasure, vanity), then I will renew my vigor for the struggle. This alone is often enough to get me going again, especially if I’m doing it to help someone important, like my son.

I realize that I’m far from perfect, and that the guilty secrets I hide inside myself are no different than anyone else’s. You guys are just like me, in the inside, and while we all share the commonality of failing to live up to our better nature, we also share the bond of being able to start again.

So start again.

I would love to know how you have dealt with failure in your life and/or business.  Leave me a comment below.

If you know someone who might be struggling, and just needs an extra jolt, please feel free to share.

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[WARNING] In case you missed it last week: Here’s the story of my wild ride as an MSP

Last week I had a chance to chat with Joe Panettieri, Co-founder, Content Czar at ChannelE2E.  He’s covered the #MSP channel for quite some time.  We’ve recently connected via social media.  He had heard about my wild ride in IT for the past 20 years.  Telling my story to someone outside my family was quite therapeutic.  I hope there is something fellow MSPs, entrepreneurs, or anyone who wants to learn a little bit about the people behind their IT can take away from my story.  I welcome comments, feedback and snide remarks 😉  Enjoy!

Story originally posted at: https://www.channele2e.com/2015/10/30/after-the-exit-one-msps-wild-ride/

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After The Exit: One MSPs Wild Ride

Andrew Moon has faced major adversity at least three times. The long-time entrepreneur and IT service provider navigated the dot-com bubble of 2000, the financial crisis of 2008 and his own health scare about a year ago. So what did he learn along the way? Perhaps most of all: It was time to get to know his son.

Moon’s IT journey began in the late 1990s. A veteran of the car industry, he built an IT service provider that rode the dot-com wave — until his dot-com customers all imploded within three months of each other in 2000 or so. Suddenly, “there were no clients, there was no revenue,” says Moon.

He retreated to the car industry but by 2004 Moon and his wife had a son. The 70- to 80-hour work week in the car industry wasn’t conducive to family life. So he regrouped and did a personal pivot. Again. Back into the IT industry and a reboot for his Network Logix business.

Starting with Manage Services

For about six to eight months in 2004 and 2005, Moon experimented with flat-rate services pricing. It was the early days of managed services. He reached back into the 1990s, and tried to apply some classic software like PC Anywhere to the emerging MSP model of 2005. But it wasn’t really a fit. He also dabbled with RMM (remote monitoring and management) and PSA (professional services automation) tools. Through trial and error and research, Moon discovered Autotask’splatform by mid-2005. “I was done tracking things manually,” said Moon. “It was a key turning point for me.”

The next inflection point or pivot arrived around 2008. The Wall Street financial and housing crisis was just starting to spill over into Main Street, U.S.A. The good news: Moon wasn’t losing any customers. The bad news: He wasn’t gaining any, either.

That’s when Moon discovered Robin Robins and her Technology Marketing Toolkit. The toolkit helped Moon to refine his marketing messages into a specific niche — apartment associations in and around Network Logix’s target region of Ohio. Moon already had a few customers in the multi-family housing industry. He started showing up at related events, learning the industry pain points, and speaking at gatherings. The typical result: Three inbound calls for help, with a 66 percent conversion rate into paying customers.

The Exit and the Pivot

By 2013 or so, Moon couldn’t keep up with his business momentum. Network Logix was a micro business by design — leaning heavily on outsourcing many tasks to contractors. It was time for another inflection point and pivot.

Fortunately, Moon had options. Peer IT service providers within the Robin Robins network had expressed interest in his business. There were also local options. One of them turned into an M&A deal. In June of 2014, System Care Inc. acquired Network Logix, and Moon joined the new ownership.

But then came the next inflection point. It was late 2014, and some health problems cropped up. At the same time, Moon’s son was growing up fast — now around age 10. By December 2014, Moon exited the business and concentrated on his health and family.

Fast forward to the present and Moon is back on his feet. Through his latest company (Orange Nomad), Moon works behind the scenes — helping peer MSPs with sales, marketing and other strategic tasks.

Looking Back and Ahead

The takeaways? There are plenty. For starters, macro-economic forces (a dot-com implosion, a Wall Street financial crisis) can emerge at any hour. And manual tasks will kill you. Even if you manage to automate much of your business, time doesn’t stop at home while you’re away at work. And at some point, your body will reject a tireless work ethic.

Moon learned that and more over the past 20 years. But he’s sounding healthy these days. And the Orange Nomad is once again on the move — helping some key MSPs to avoid the life-work mistakes he’s made along the way.

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lesson 7 run it to sell it

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 7: Run It Like You’re Going To Sell IT

When you are starting a business as an entrepreneur, you don’t really give a whole lot of thought to your exit strategy, let alone selling your business.  You are too excited with the challenge of building a great company.  You’re finally living the dream!

Your new company becomes your child in a sense.  And, let’s face it, you typically spend every waking hour taking care of it.  (If you’re like me, you dream about it too. It’s 24/7.) You forgo sleep whether intended or not.  But, you know that all the sacrifices will be worth it.

When your child is born, you don’t immediately start thinking about the day he/she moves out.  However, when you start a business, you need to plan your exit strategy from the very beginning.  Let’s face reality here.  Most of us won’t have an IPO in our future.  The more likely scenario is a sale or merger.

2004 was a year I had two “kids”.  My son was born in May, and Network Logix was reborn in September that year.  So, for me, the “child” metaphor takes on double meaning as I write this post.

Your child soon learns to walk and then to run.  It falls down and gets banged up.  Welcome to life kid.  Your “child” goes through all of life’s growing pains, and you continue to worry 24/7 like a normal “parent”.  But, you know that all the time, effort and energy will be worth it.

Soon the day comes for your kid to leave home.  In this case, the day came for me to sell my business.  That day came on June 30, 2014.

This was a bittersweet day for me.  Every waking (and sleeping) moment over the last 10 years spent thinking about my IT company had finally come to end.  It was an extremely emotional time.  But, I didn’t have much time to think about it.  I now had more work to do in order to make the transition smooth for our clients.  No rest for the weary!

As I’ve done with the other 6 posts in this series, I’d briefly like to share what I learned.  It is my hope that this information can help at least one person learn from the good and to avoid some of the pitfalls I found along the way.

My Takeaways From Selling My Business

They say that, “Hindsight is always 20/20.”  I agree with that for the most part.  Things that you learn after the fact should have been obvious all along, yet they are not always apparent when you are in the heat of the moment.  Here are the top 3 things I learned from going through the process of selling the business.

  1. Build your valuation early.  This is always the sticky part of getting a deal done.  What is your company really worth?  The short answer; your company is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.  The core “Asset” of an MSP (Managed Service Provider) is the quality of MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) and client relationships.  Fortunately, we started as a pure-play MSP in 2004, and MRR was built in from the beginning.  We did very little break-fix work, and most of our clients were with us for nearly the whole decade.  Having Raving Fans is a huge asset.
  2. Have your books and records in order.  I’m not an accountant, nor do I pretend to be one.  (I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night)  All revenue and expenses should be clearly broken out by service type.  Solid, long-term agreements with clients proves very helpful.  Make sure they are assignable too.  Non-solicitation and non-disclosure agreements with employees are also key.
  3. Hire A Broker.  When it’s time to sell, find a business broker to help you.  (I’m throwing this in as a hindsight lesson.)  Having a professional broker will help eliminate any personal feelings and miscommunications, and reserve it for what it is, a business transaction.  Selling your business is an emotional thing.  Remember, it’s your baby.  Emotion can cloud your judgement, so let a broker do his thing.

If you base success on a single event as an entrepreneur, you will be disappointed.  As I look back, I have found that the most joy I derive from the last 10 years has been the journey.  The journey of building, creating, learning.  It was a wild ride, and I still have a few war wounds, but it was worth it.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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7_Lessons_I_Learned_from_My_IT_Business eFolder

[Webinar] eFolder Partner Chat: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I’m excited and honored to be a guest with one of my favorite partners, eFolder.  Please join me Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 2:00PM EST where I’ll be giving away all the things I learned from building, growing and eventually selling my MSP practice.  Register here: http://www2.efolder.net/7LessonsILearnedFromMyITBusiness

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Focus on your top clients

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 6: Focus All Your Attention on your TOP clients

One would think this lesson should be a given.  There should be no need to write about.  It should be a no-brainer. Take care of my TOP clients.  Duh!  Unfortunately, this was not the reality at times for me, or for most IT providers or entrepreneurs.  Let me explain.

“The customer is always right.”  We’ve all heard this expression.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in business.  Think about it for a minute.  What would that actually mean for you if it were true?  If the customer (i.e. everyone who wants to do business with you) is always right, how can you possibly serve them all well?  You might be able to keep some of them happy, but when you try to cater to everyone, you just end up being stretched too thin.  I speak from experience here.  I exhausted myself trying to keep everyone happy.  I ended up making mistakes and letting people down.   No matter how good my intentions were, no matter how determined to make good on my promises, I was overextended at times.  Overextended entrepreneurs inevitably drop the ball.  This was unacceptable for me and my clients.  Fortunately, I didn’t lose any of my top clients, but it served as a wake-up call for me.

Back in Lesson 3, I mentioned the Pumpkin Plan book by Mike Michalowicz.  (If you haven’t picked it up, I highly recommend it.)  In Chapter 7 of the book, “Play Favorites and Break Rules”, Mike wrote that playing favorites is simply good business, and is mandatory for your success.  “Your mission is to keep your top clients so happy you obliterate the possibility that they would ever leave you for the competition.”  That’s exactly what I wanted, and I think that’s how we all feel.

You probably have a few favorite clients, the people you’re always glad to see and hear from, the businesses you’ll bend over backwards to help because you actually like them, and want to do a good job for them.  (Go figure)  I did too.  I had clients that I would go to the ends of the earth for.  It didn’t matter what time of day, or day of the week, I was on it.  They always went to the front of the line.

As entrepreneurs, we want to be nice people.  Sometimes we are too nice at our own expense.  We feel guilty giving preferential treatment.  My parents taught me to play fair.  Let’s get real.  Life isn’t fair.  That’s part of the reason you’re an entrepreneur.  You get to make the rules.

Playing favorites is nothing to feel guilty about.  (I can say that with straight face because I was my dad’s favorite out of six kids.  Love you pop!)  Playing favorites is a winning strategy because your top clients are your favorite clients, and they need special treatment.  How else are they going to feel special?

At times however, I found that some rotten clients were eating up the needed time and energy to focus on our top clients.  I needed to fix that.

After going through the process of defining our Rules of Engagement (Mike calls them Immutable Laws) and completing the Assessment Chart, I now had a pretty good idea of who our top clients were, and what they had in common.  I went through the process of Firing the Rotten Clients, and only our TOP clients remained.  Phew!

Next the fun started!  I now began to focus on taking care of the clients that made getting up in the morning pure joy.  I now had a different approach for our top clients.  We pushed them to the front of the line whenever they put in a service request.  It was kind of like the wristband you pay extra for at Kings Island or Cedar Point to go to the front of the line.  (Yeah, I loathe those people too when I’m standing in the 95 degree heat because I’m too cheap to pay the extra money.)  I was always looking for new and better ways to serve them.  I accommodated their special requests, and even made trips to the cell phone store so they wouldn’t have to.  Most importantly, I always went out of my way to help them grow their business.  I wanted to discover all the right things I could do for them so that I was significantly better than my competition could dream of being.

In the process of doing these things, I found that our top clients were a lot alike.  And, because they shared many of our Rules of Engagement, they were a lot like us.  It actually became easier to serve them.  I knew that I wanted more clients just like them so I could keep growing our top-client list, and that’s precisely what I did.  I stopped taking clients that didn’t fit our business, and focused all my time, effort and energy on our TOP clients.

“The customer is NOT always right, but…

The right customer IS always right.”  Thanks Mike!

It doesn’t take much more effort to have all your clients see you as their world-class de facto provider, and have raving fans for life.  I’d like to think I did something right over 10 years of running my IT business as most of our clients were with us nearly the whole decade.  That’s nearly unheard of in the IT industry.

You don’t need to create elaborate plans to take care of your top clients.  You simply need to be a little bit better, a little bit more helpful, and little bit more creative at solving their problems.  You need to be willing to do the things that others can’t or won’t do.  Don’t get stuck, just get started.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from Jim Rohn: “One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”  Everyone thinks they need more clients, and they spend an inordinate amount of money to get new ones.  From what I’ve seen, the secret to long-term success is taking good care of the TOP clients you already have, and clone them.

My final lesson in this series #7: Run It Like You\’re Going To Sell It is coming up next week. I’ll be sharing a few tips I learned from the actual sale of my business.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 5: Document and Systematize All Processes

If you were to talk to any CEO/entrepreneur/manager/Executive that has been able to scale his or her business, most of them will tell you the secret of their success in one word: consistency.  Nothing can be fine-tuned until it’s first consistent.  How do you become consistent?  Process.  How do you develop processes?  Document and systematize everything.  Boooring!  I know, this isn’t a sexy topic at all.  But, stay with me.

I was recently interviewed on this subject by my friend Mike Michalowicz for his Profit First Podcast: Click Here or listen below.

In my last post, Ruthless Productivity, I talked about the daily game of Whac-A-Mole that was daily life for me for too long.  If you are worn out and completely exhausted from running your business, please keep reading.  If you are even mildly frustrated, please keep reading.

In the beginning, I was like most other small IT providers.  I was a one-man-band doing everything.  Sales, marketing, support, project management, etc., etc.  I had a ‘way’ of doing things.  I had everything documented… in my head.  Bad idea!   I realized that, as I tried to grow, I had to pass along the knowledge of how to do things to others.  Otherwise, I would be stuck doing everything forever.  If you haven’t figured it out, you can’t do everything and grow.  So, stop trying. It’s pretty difficult to share everything in your head.  (My head is a scary place.  My wife can attest to this.)

In 2009, I attended a workshop at Sparkspace, an offsite retreat center here in Columbus, owned by my friend Mark Henson.  (This place is awesome by the way.  If you are ever in Columbus, you have to check it out!)  I was introduced to EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).  Being an IT company, I worked with Operating Systems on computers all day, so I was naturally intrigued by an Operating System for my business.  I immediately bought the book where this concept originated, Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman.

When I got to Chapter 7, The Process Component, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  (I was hoping it wasn’t the headlight of an oncoming train.)  “This component is the most neglected one, often taken for granted and undervalued by entrepreneurs and leaders. Yet the successful ones see what process can do for them.  By not giving this component your full attention, it’s costing you money, time, efficiency, and control.”  Like most type A personalities, I’m a control freak.  How about you?  If you are reading this, I’ll bet you are.

I was like countless business owners that complain about their lack of control or freedom, and yet, in the same breath, discount the value of process.  I was determined to change this.

A typical organization operates through six to 10 core processes.  How these processes work together is a unique system, your “Way”.  To systematize your organization through your core processes, you must take two major steps.

  1. You have to document the core processes
  2. You have to ensure that they are followed by all

I know what you are thinking right now.  “How the hell am I going to get all this done?  I just don’t have time.”  That’s exactly what I was thinking too.  But, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. (No, I’m not recommending you go kill a real elephant.  I don’t want to be accused of that.)

Don’t try to tackle them all at the same time.  Paralysis by analysis will set in quickly, and you’ll end up doing nothing.

Start with ONE process, then move on to the next.  This will take time and effort, so buckle your chin strap.  Nothing great comes easy.

I started with Sales.  (Big surprise since I like sales.)  I broke down how I wanted the Sales Process to go, and documented it on paper.  I then input this process as a Track in ConnectWise, our PSA tool.  (Geek for Customer Management System)  I now had a documented, repeatable process.  This led to consistent sales.  Remember the opening paragraph.  “Nothing can be fine-tuned until it’s first consistent.  How do you become consistent?  Process.”  (Yes, another light bulb moment for me.)

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I did this perfectly.  That would be a bold faced lie.  It was a struggle to put it mildly.  However, I never stopped working at it.  By strengthening the process component, I was able to gain more control.  By taking control, I learned to get better.  That’s what we all want, right?

Thanks for staying with me on this one.  There is way more on this topic for sure. Lesson 6 will cover Focus All Your Attention on your TOP clients.  I’ll give away how I created Raving Fans and had most of my clients for nearly a decade, which is kind of unheard of in the IT industry.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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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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