How To Transform Your Small Business

The 5 Areas to Focus Your Attention and the Pitfalls to Avoid.

Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners aren’t like other people. We’ve talked about that before and if you are an entrepreneur then you already know what I’m talking about.

An entrepreneur is never really done. If they’re healthy, they may break for a while each day and for a day or two each week. But the entrepreneurial mind never really stops. That is why we walk our clients through the process of transformation. To help them implement their visions and their opportunities. 

The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.
— Peter Drucker

Over the years in consulting, I’ve found that there are 5 basic areas where an entrepreneur can focus their attention. He has to choose the area intentionally, and trying to focus out of order will either waste time, waste money or worse waste opportunity. I’d like to share these 5 areas and the critical sequence with you here.

Before You Begin

Transformation is the process of changing the structure, composition, and output of your business. Said another way, transformation is the process of accomplishing your goals. These 5 areas are where your individual goals should be derived. The direction you choose to take, your guiding compass, needs to live in your vision for the future. If you haven’t yet, take some time to journal and document your vision for your company and for the people you serve. How are their lives transformed because your business is performing at its best?

Focus on Sales

Once you know where you are going, the first order of business transformation is to increase sales to a level at which you can afford to implement the rest of your vision. If you want to create a new product or pivot your business, then increasing customers is a perfect way to fund your changes. 

Sometimes focusing on sales means spending more time speaking with your market. A popular, and often misunderstood, American saying is “The Customer is always right.” Too often misapplied to service situations, this saying is really about understanding how your market makes decisions. The market decides which products and services get purchased, therefore they are always right.

Your focus on sales lets you learn what the market is demanding. If you have an existing product, then your push toward sales gets the information for which you may have been searching.

Avoid the Temptation Toward Marketing

A note of caution. So many times I find that business owners want to skip over this step and focus on marketing. There is a temptation to create a new website, run Facebook ads, hire a PR person to get more attention, or any other activity that you think will let you grow faster. It won’t. Focusing on sales isn’t about mass market success. It is about learning from your market and creating deep relationships. Everything you need to know for mass market success is contained in understanding these early relationships. Their needs, problems, fears, hopes, and desires are the secrets to help the thousands (or more) people who are just like them.

Focus on Operations

Once there are a consistent, sufficient number of clients walking in the metaphorical doors it is time to focus on the systems or team that will get them the consistent results. As a small business owner, you might be used to doing it all yourself. I need you to understand something very important: Transforming your business to match your vision will require everything you’ve got. No more. No less.

To give your vision your all will require that you pull yourself out of the day to day responsibilities and distractions of your business. This might not require other employees, but it always requires systemization. Look at the outcome you create for your clients and map out the necessary steps that your business has to perform for them. These are the essential systems that you need to optimize, track, and either delegate or automate so that you have room to focus. 

Avoid the Temptation to Perfect

When the goal is to achieve freedom from all of the day to day operations, you need not perfect the systems that you are instituting. Remember, perfect is the enemy of done. I’ve found that systems always have to be improved. The right way to improve them is consistent, over time, and with data. Perfecting them before you reach your goal of transformation will only result in spinning your wheels and pushing the true transformation further into the horizon.

The way to create the systems that you need is to implement what I can Minimum Viable Structure or MVS. You might be familiar with the term minimum viable product from The Lean Startup. The meaning here is similar. Put in place the minimum amount of procedures, job descriptions, metric tracking, etc. that your business needs right now. If you find that results are slipping add a little more structure. If you find that you are unsure of how a function is performing, add another metric.

Focus on Client Satisfaction

In the last step, we talked about implementing the Minimum Viable Structure necessary for you to achieve your operational results. The ultimate way to know if your achieving your results is to ask your clients. Just like in the sales step, listening to your clients yields invaluable feedback. There are two challenges to overcome when soliciting client feedback: getting honest feedback, and knowing how to interpret it.

Honest feedback is tough because it often requires a 3rd party to conduct. The other option is to create a space where you have open-ended conversations where you truly create a safe atmosphere for them to share their feelings. 3rd party surveys are easy to create and send, but they usually have very low response rates. Engaged business owners want to speak to their clients to understand them at a deeper level. 

Understanding how to interpret the results requires a different kind of skill. Academics and statisticians take subjective results and create objective datasets by coding the results. You can do this too. Look for similarities in the responses. Look for the areas where they were thrilled, surprised, and delighted. Look for the where they felt let down.

Avoid The Temptation to Overcorrect

So many business owners hear negative feedback and instinctively want to change everything about their service to satisfy that complaint. That is a laudable, but misguided reaction. Feedback can’t hurt you. Feedback needs to inform your company’s planning process to create trackable improvements. Overcorrecting, often times, creates chaos where nothing can be clearly tracked or intentionally improved. 

Focus on Marketing

The 4th area of focus in our transformation path is the focus of marketing. Before focusing your attention, it is critical to understand the difference between marketing, advertising, and sales. Advertising is a paid method of communicating your sales message to your market. Sales is the process of closing clients and exchanging money. Marketing is the process of analyzing what your market needs and at what quantity, creating your product or service, and packaging it for your market.

Your focus here needs to be one of analysis. How many potential customers do you have in your geographical market? Where are the pockets of need that you can expand into? What similar markets are there that could be sold by tweaking or repackaging your product or service? These are a few questions that can guide you in your analysis of your market. Once you’ve researched to identify opportunity, you can begin executing a plan of selling in your identified pockets of growth. Track these results, and use your client satisfaction skills to measure how likely new clients are to achieve success with your product.

Avoid the Temptation to Overanalyze

Marketing is about taking action. There is an inherent need to look deeper at your market and your opportunities - but look for your "minimum viable analysis" here. Get enough data and understanding to take action on a specific growth objective. In this area of focus, as long as you keep moving and keep measuring, you’ll be building forward momentum.

Focusing on Scale

Once you’ve arrived at this area, you are already scaling your business to a great degree. Depending on how successful your attention to marketing was, you may have pressing operational needs related to scale. Your previous efforts on operations and systems will be your foundation to further scale your business. Look for the areas where client satisfaction has been lacking, build in more structure to further guarantee the results. Look for the areas where employees feel stressed or underprepared. Build in tools, systems, and more automation to help them accommodate the additional workload.

Avoid the Temptation to Bloat

During the scaling process there will be opportunities to continue building out your capacity, team, and equipment in the same model that you’ve been successfully using. The catch here is that there are almost always better techniques, tools, and methods of operation at higher levels of manufacturing. Just because a little bit of growth was good before, doesn’t mean that your system will work with a lot of growth. The best experts teach to think about what 10x-ing your business will look like. This is because growing operations linearly is not usually prudent at that sort of growth scale. Spend time with your process. Rethink how you want to deliver your product and service to your customers. Engage an expert to map out options. Create the best kind of structure and team to execute your company at the size you have now become.

These 5 areas represent a simple, prudent pathway to catapult your business into the next level of growth and profit. Almost every business can choose to take this pathway if their owners so desire. So I end with a question for your the business owner: what does growth mean to you? How will transformational growth change your life, the lives of your customers, and the lives of your team? It will take everything you’ve got - but only if you care about that end point. Start your vision there and answer these questions and you’ll be well on your way.