Up Your Game As a Business Leader By Looking Outside Yourself
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With a downturn in the economy, entrepreneurs are wondering how to do more with fewer full-time employees. It doesn’t mean shouldering extra work themselves. While we temporarily delay hiring, there is a way to get just enough of their experience to help improve our business. As an entrepreneur, business owner or founder, we deserve the title of superhuman, since we are responsible for the many parts of a business. But we all have our personal kryptonite.
Most entrepreneurs intuitively understand the needs of their customers and love meeting those needs with delightful products and services. We see a future where our customers’ lives are easier and better. Whether that’s a new franchise selling on-the-go smoothies with organic fruits, saving a busy mom 20 minutes of cutting and blending fruit in the morning, or a marketplace app where homeowners can find a plumber to fix an urgent pipe leak without making dozens of calls to people who were unavailable anyway, we chose this “the buck stops here” journey, because we have a vision for a different way, and we realize we have the unique power to impact someone’s life for the better.
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The flip side of that bargain for solopreneurs and founders is that you will literally be the reason why your company survives, thrives or doesn’t make it. Late at night, I wonder whether the areas of business I don’t naturally have skills and a talent for running will end up slowing down growth or worse, take the business down.
As a first-time entrepreneur, I’ve realized that there are structures and processes I took for granted when I worked in a larger company, like accounts receivables. As a B2B software-as-a-service company, we can book an incredible quarter of revenue, but to be profitable, I need to ensure that my invoices are paid by customers in a timely fashion. Once I had help setting up and running an automated reminder system, our finances looked much better. Another founder of a growing ecommerce business was frustrated that the average number of items purchased didn’t grow even after marketing efforts. Turns out, there was a less obvious type of customer that had multiple annual occasions for buying the product, so they retrained their focus there.
The ecommerce founder and I shared one thing in common: When we were stuck with a problem that no one in the company could fix, we looked outside of ourselves and our inner circle to find an advisor or an expert who had traveled a few miles in our shoes for help. Being humble enough to know when you need help and being unafraid to ask for it is half the battle. Having been a management consultant in a previous life, I’ve seen the power of hiring someone to expedite a project or process improvement firsthand.
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Three business challenges easily fixed with outside help
There are areas of a business that are inefficient, because “That’s just how things have always been done.” Imagine gaining back a few minutes, hours, or finding a whole new set of customers with fresh perspective from an advisor on:
Operating more efficiently: Most likely, there are parts of your process and systems that were efficient when you set it up, but with 100 or 1000 times the number of orders, it no longer serves you. For example, too many different people handling a drop ship process leads to a higher likelihood of human error, and at that volume, there are more effective ways of reducing time and touches in the fulfillment process.
On-boarding customers: If you sell a digital product or service, how much information do you need the user to put in your system? If it’s more than 5-6 questions, you’ll likely have people drop out of the user flow. Which pieces of information are most critical, and how can you get the answers to nice-to-have questions in other ways?
Finding new customers: Often, your sales manager or assistant is the closest to the clients and can tell you what the characteristics of clients who buy quickly, at high volume or come back regularly. Someone outside your business who has sold to a similar customer (e.g., a natural cosmetics brand) could share valuable information about the sales cycle or nuances of the customer. For example, that natural beauty customer usually buys gifts around key holidays like Mother’s Day or that mailers with special discount codes are more likely to drive purchases.
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Turn an advisor into a contractor who can do work for you
To get to the root of the problem and find solutions customized for your business, it will take more than a one-hour casual conversation. Consider asking someone you consider a mentor or an advisor to spend a concentrated 5-10 hours with your business over the course of a few weeks. The first meeting can be spent describing your challenges and brainstorming ideas to overcome them.
Then, take a few weeks or months to implement some of the ideas with your team. Then, meet again to assess how the suggested improvements landed and the impact of the experiments (increased revenue or customers, reduced time to serve, less churn). Agree on a fair price for their time, and decide on what metric to judge success in your work together (e.g. decreased churn). Multi-page employment contracts and rounds of interviews are relics of a slower, more rigid economy. Today, just agree on the advice to be given, how much you will compensate them, and sign a non-disclosure agreement.
It doesn’t have to be that lonely at the top when you realize there are people out there who are happy to roll up their sleeves and help — you just have to ask and know what to ask for.