6 Lessons from Lean Times
I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that many of my clients make their way into my business life when their financial situation doesn’t feel as good as they want it to. I would say that the majority of the clients I work closely with begin when they’re in a position that makes them feel pretty darn uncomfortable.
And as I empathise with their situation, which can vary from feelings of chaos or overwhelm to anxiety and utter shock, I always feel a little excited at the opportunity this presents for the business owner to flip the situation on its head and make changes for the better.
I’m sure you can think of a time when you’ve gone from being sure your world was going to implode, to making it through and not only surviving, but coming out the other side as an upgraded version of yourself.
When we’re all happy, comfortable and cool with the state of affairs in our business, why would we ever become more efficient, effective or innovative at what we are doing?
So today, I am sharing with you the Lessons I’ve observed and learned from Lean Times.
LESSON 1: THE IMPORTANCE OF CLARITY AND FOCUS
‘How did we end up here and what needs to change for my business to look and feel the way I want it to?’
‘What have I been doing that isn’t in line with where I want my business to go or how I want it to feel?”
Just a couple questions to get you thinking…
Having less time, money or energy than you once had has an ability to make you get clear like nothing else can. With this new found clarity, the next step is to keep your eye on the prize!
As an example, imagine a professional swimmer who isn’t clear of their goal – first they’re aiming to win gold at the Olympic games in 2 years’ time, and then decide they actually want to switch to triathlons. Both sports involve swimming, but require very different ‘roadmaps’ or plans to get there.
And then this swimmer has decided on winning at the Olympics in 2 years, but their actions don’t line up to this goal. Instead of training, they’re out with friends. Or they take up art classes and join a running group. Doing these tasks is not a bad thing, but they are not focused on the goal. Essentially, they’re a distraction if they are in place of doing actual training.
LESSON 2: CRYSTAL CLEAR PRIORITIES AND BOUNDARIES
Drawing on your last reserves can be the trigger you need to work out what you can and can not live without in your business. Whether it is time or money that is limited, there are particular parts of your business that you need to be able to function at any level.
There are parts of your business that are absolutely necessary versus ‘nice to have’, and it can be difficult to assess when you work for yourself.
So, I’ve listed some great questions below:
What elements of your business can you remove and the business will still continue? What parts of your business are vital for selling your product or attracting clients? When was the last time you reviewed all your expenses as a whole?
This is a really good one: If a consultant came to assist you in looking for time, energy or money ‘leaks’ in your business, what would they find you have kept, but probably should have given up?
And if you’re feeling resistant to doing this task, what part of it makes you feel most uncomfortable?
The second lesson here is around boundaries.
When life and business are going well, we can unsuspectingly become much more generous or lenient with our time, energy, income and intellectual property.
Things such as late payments, higher discounts and being loose with our time can sneak in.
Compound this by the number of products, clients or customers you serve and it can scale pretty quickly to become an issue.
Maintaining solid financial boundaries is imperative in business. Reflect upon the boundaries you have in place in your business and see if they truly function as a mechanism to protect your most important assets.
LESSON 3: FORCED INNOVATION
Oh, this one is huge! It’s not until you have any other choice but to make a drastic change that most people do. Forced innovation has been the saviour of many a business. This can come in many forms, such as greatly reducing the product offerings to the main two or three. It could be completely removing one step or one piece of producing a product. It also can be a matter of changes in technology, consumer trends or the complete overhaul of an industry.
Below are some questions that may help you dig a bit deeper in your work:
If you had to do this again, with half as much resources, what would you do?
Do you need to change your business model? Offer a digital instead of physical product?
Are there products or offers that are not pulling their weight?
What systems feel clunky, too time consuming or too expensive to complete?
One last consideration here is a principle that has been quoted in many a modern-day business blog. It’s called Pareto’s principle. It states that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the cause. Imagine applying this to your business: could 80% of your income be from 20% of your actions?
Does this give a new perspective on your business and how you could intentionally innovate and be a game-changer in your industry?
LESSON 4: QUICK WINS AND SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
With the help of your biz besties, your leadership team, support team or professionals and freelancers you work with, you can always find the ‘quick wins’ to start moving in the right direction.
Why are ‘quick wins’ important? They start momentum. They are the ‘pattern breakers’ that interrupt the trajectory you’re on and are the first glimmer of light in the dark.
Next comes Sustainable Change.
What needs to happen in the medium to long term to keep this momentum? To keep taking small steps in the right direction, what accountability do you need in your biz life? Don’t underestimate the effect of accountability in your business life. Have you ever seen a business owner pull together a box of receipts faster than at tax time?
Accountability works – incorporate it where you can in your business life.
LESSON 5: WHO’S WITH YOU?
This is about who really gives a hoot that you’re suffering or struggling with a situation. Who is there helping you, or just standing by your side when the times are tough? Have you surrounded yourself with the people you need to? You can guarantee these are the people you want around you when you come out the other side.
Another way to look at this is: who’s keeping you stuck where you are?
Take a look around you, a really good look. This includes family, friends, contractors and paid staff.
LESSON 6: TIME FOR REFLECTION
There is a good chance as your business grew, you had less and less time put aside to sit and reflect on working ‘on’ your business, instead of working ‘in’ your business.
The tasks that may seem important but not urgent. The tasks that don’t appear to be directly linked to the next sale or to keeping customers happy.
These important tasks may include reviewing unpaid invoices, monthly financial reviews, expense tracking, quarterly catch-ups with your accountant or putting aside money for tax.
But as soon as the situation gets ‘urgent’ enough, suddenly these tasks are now at the top of your to-do list. What if you didn’t wait for them to become ‘urgent’, you did them no matter what? Could the situation have been prevented? Or lessened?
Looking to the future, how can you keep these ‘important but not urgent’ tasks at the forefront of your work week?
One trick is to link important tasks to an urgent or non-negotiable task. Let me explain…
When we link tasks that are of less urgency to an urgent task, we start to create a habit. It eventually requires less willpower to continue doing those less urgent but very important tasks as the habit forms.
++ An example of this may be that a one-page summary of the business’ financials (an important task) is completed after each pay run (non-negotiable task).
++ Another example may be updating the income forecast for the business (important task) is completed after each new client is on-boarded (urgent task).
++ Or reviewing unpaid invoices (important task) may occur before starting client meetings (urgent or non-negotiable task) for the week.
Do you see how this works? So now have a think about your business. I’m sure you can come up with 3 examples in your business where this could work.
Well that’s it! That’s my 6 Lessons for Lean Times. If you have any other lessons from lean times, I would love to hear about them below. Please leave a comment!
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