This blog is also known as my 6th Annual “Don’t Hate me, I’m working from the Beach in February” blog. I am completely unapologetic about it. I’ve engineered this life. There was no magic bullet. There was no short cut. I set out, somewhat unintentionally, to build an organization that runs without me. Truth — when I started my company my children were 10 and 7 and I wanted to be present for my children, first; earn a decent living and control my own destiny (both second).
As the years have gone by, that simple concept grew. I realized that in order to accomplish my initial goals, which turned out to be work-life integration, I needed to build my organization. That work has fallen into three main areas:
Strategic Planning means a written plan. Before I opened my company, I took a course and spent the better part of six months writing my strategic business plan. It was and still is, the cornerstone of our success. It helped us to raise $100,000 uncollateralized (no small feat 25 years ago) and kept us focused on where our success would come from and how to measure that success. It is your road map to success.
Your strategic plan needs to include finances, marketing and operations, i.e., funding, funnel and execution. That’s insanely oversimplified, or maybe not.
Your financial plan should include your standard P&L and balance sheet, as well as pricing strategies (both now and when you will hire people and need to cover their cost), how you will pay yourself from day ONE (for me, this was never optional), cash flow projections, and measuring return on marketing investments.
When you first start your business, it’s possible your marketing plan will be largely a behavior plan – what will you do to drive revenue. That’s fine, just make sure your marketing plan also includes clear target market (preferably niche marketing), compelling messaging based on a solid understanding of your competition and your target market, as well as the handful of marketing initiatives you will test and measure success. Need some help getting those marketing initiatives going? We can help.
Your operational plan will include what it takes to run the whole business and who will perform those tasks. Think organizational chart, even if for right now the boxes are filled with ME, ME, ME. You need to think about when you will bring on help to start to scale and how you will fund that (back to finances, which you will never not need a solid understanding of – I learned to “think in excel” early on).
Focus and Accountability
If you’ve started with a written strategic plan, you are well on your way to staying focused and avoiding the “shiny object” … and there are so many shiny objects. Focus is about figuring out your 20% — the Pareto Principle tells us that 20% of what we do will drive 80% of our results. Over the years my 20% has changed, but my need to focus on that which drives the business forward has not. As the business owner, that will always be your #1 … and what it looks like will shift.
Accountability has come in the form of mastermind groups, executive coaches and surrounding myself with people who tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. These people are insanely valuable and can be difficult to find. That is one of the reasons I am a proponent of paid accountability in the form of consultants and coaches. When I am investing hard earned dollars, I am automatically more accountable. It’s skin in the game. I’ve seen many “free” groups fail and I believe this is why.
If you want to grow a business that runs without you, you’ll need to learn to lead, to empower others and to start by delegating (back to the ME ME ME organizational chart of your written strategic plan). Often clients come to us because they know they can no longer do it all themselves and we can provide relief. If they are unclear what they need to get off their plate, we start with time tracking. Time tracking is part of your financial literacy. Time is your most finite resource (even though it sometimes feels like money is more finite). Track your time, gather data and make data-driven decisions. Most of my consulting clients are shocked at how much time they spend on certain tasks – perhaps it’s accounting (which should definitely be outsourced, and we can help), or maybe they’ve come to realize they are spending 10 hours a week networking but not making new connections (back to marketing strategy and measuring ROI). Time tracking is powerful information as you begin to scale your organization and bring on help.
Bottom line in order to build an organization that will run without you, you need to think like an organization – starting right now. If you don’t have a written strategic plan, start now. If you lack focus or accountability, get help (preferably hire help). If you are trying to do it all yourself, it won’t work, outsource.
It took me more than a few years to build my organization and we’ve experienced bumps in the road, and always will (we call those opportunities for growth), but as I write to you from a beach in the Dominican Republic in February, I can say with complete confidence … I have achieved work-life integration and it was worth all the foundational work and investment in outside help.
Donna Miller is a business and community leader, a speaker, an educator and an entrepreneur who is passionate about seeing small businesses thrive. Her team has helped thousands of companies to start and grow by providing office space, virtual assistance, bookkeeping, educational programs and advisory services. She believes in the power of collaboration (C3=Connect, Collaborate, Community) and that companies should be a force for good. She is the recipient of numerous awards, a sought-after speaker, and is grateful to be a servant leader in several volunteer roles. She is a regular blogger and can often be found on a beach writing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her webinars and workshops at www.c3workplace.com/events