Recently I started reading Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hasson and if first impressions are anything to go by, this book is going to be great. Amazon describes it as “a different kind of business book – one that explores a new reality”. One of the first (short, sharp) chapters is called “Planning is guessing” and I couldn’t agree more. It starts off with “Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy”. The last couple of months have taught me the truth behind this statement and the danger of ignoring it.
Making business decisions based on a guess is an extremely dangerous strategy. This is doubly pertinent in a small business where cash is your life blood. Our company has been guilty of this on a number of occasions and by not reviewing these decisions on a consistent basis, we have found ourselves in a compromised position more than once.
We set a sales forecast in February of 2012 based on our best estimation (guess!) of sales grow in all of our markets. At the same time a budget was created based around this sales forecast, including some fairly aggressive spending on sales and marketing. As the story goes; the year started well with the sales forecast exceeded for the first 8 months, but there was no plan in place if things didn’t go according to script and they didn’t. November hit and so did the handbrake on sales. We were well below forecast and cashflow started becoming tight.
January has been an interesting month so far but on the positive side, this situation has forced us to take a hard look at our business and make some changes that will improve our company moving forward. The lesson we have taken from this situation is to continue guessing in the future, but to constantly reassess those guesses and adapt as things change. The main advantage we (small businesses) have over our behemoth competitors is our ability to be agile. Use this advantage to your benefit not only from a product development perspective, but also to improve your company.
Is there anything worse than sitting in a long meeting when there is a beautiful day slipping by outside? Next time you are in that situation, why not suggest a walking meeting to change things up.I first read about the idea of walking meetings in Steve Jobs’ book but it initially slipped by as part of the story. But with summer currently gracing New Zealand with its wonderful presence, I was reminded of the concept not long ago when I saw a group of business people walk past our offices in deep discussion on a beautiful day. I must admit that I was envious of them out enjoying the good weather while still taking care of business. So I decided to give it a go and last week when the need for a one on one meeting arose with a team member, I suggested a walking meeting. What a fantastic idea that turned out to be!
We wandered out the front gate, turned left and just went for it. 20 minutes, plenty of discussion and some fresh air later we arrived back at the office feel great, meeting adjourned. It’s also surprising how much a small amount of exercise during the day helps you refocus once you get back to your desk. I understand that it’s not always a practical option, but for a casual meeting or a chat with your team, a walking meeting makes for a refreshing change.
If you manage a small business, prioritizing your work tasks is absolutely essential. Any manager in a small business has a never-ending and ever evolving ‘to-do’ list. Identifying the most important jobs to get done can sometimes be as challenging as actually executing them. A simple business practice used by the late Steve Jobs can be easily modified to structure a regular review of your ‘to-do’ list.
Jobs would ask his top people to submit a list of 10 things they needed to get done. Once their list was completed he would tell them they could only do 3 of the tasks. By doing so Jobs ensured his employees wouldn’t get lost in an endless list of work to get done, but focus on the 3 tasks that were absolutely necessary to get ticked off.
This simple practice provides a fantastic tool to evaluate your current work requirement situation regularly. It may be a weekly or daily ritual (regularity will vary based on the complexity of the tasks you are working on) but put aside 5 minutes to review your ‘to-do’ list, highlight your 3 key tasks to complete and make these your focus until there is a tick beside each. Repeat! You’ll be surprised how a simple structure around getting things done can increase efficiency dramatically. It’s also incredibly rewarding to find yourself completing work far more promptly.