Monthly Archive: February 2015

Focus on your talents. Hire or partner to cover your weaknesses

I am great at one or two things. Good at a couple more. Okay at a lot of things and pretty bad at others. I don’t always know what my strengths are, and it’s often interesting to have them pointed out by someone else, but I have a generally good idea of what I can and cannot do well. Maybe you’re the same.

Yet, often, even at my age, I find myself wrestling with things that I really should learn to just pass on to someone who could handle them with ease. I don’t know if it’s arrogance or fear. I do know it’s a waste of time.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as an entrepreneur, is to learn how to delegate. There are many things that drive my business, and only some of them are things that I can do well. Helpfully, three of them are things that I excel at, but the others, are simply things that if I choose to do them personally, will hinder growth, probably forever. Sales is one. Marketing is another. I know people who are outstanding at these things and it doesn’t make any sense for me to try to do what they do better than I can. My concentration is better focused elsewhere.

Delegation is key to growth. It’s also the most liberating feeling in the world when you finally learn to embrace it. That part is at least not new to me.

But here’s what I keep rediscovering: delegating the stuff you can’t be great at is only helpful if you get serious about the stuff you can be. In my case it’s research, content creation and delivery, and delegating the sales and marketing of that frees up more time for me to do it. If I don’t use that time fully though, the team doing sales and marketing will quickly find itself recycling old material, which defeats the object.

The point in delegating sales, as an example, is that there will be far more deals closed by someone who loves to focus on business generation. If I don’t give them updated or even brand new things to sell however, their results will be no better than if I did it myself.

Delegating therefore isn’t about getting work off your back so that you can do less. It’s about getting the wrong work off your back so you can do more of the right stuff. It’s not less work; it may be more. I think, however, it’s what Americans may call ‘finding your bliss’ or something like that.

I’ve never been afraid of hard work. I don’t think you can be and still be serious. I am however, terrified of futile work. Time invested to no good end. If you’re to use the best of your talents, assuming you know what those things are, you simply have to let go of the rest and find someone else to do them.

There’s an irony though. The one thing you can’t delegate is the act delegation itself. And that’s the one thing almost nobody is very good at.

Sell. You’re not above begging.

I’m always baffled when people say they can’t sell because there doesn’t seem to be any point in that statement if you want to grow your business. The backbone of such arguments normally references someone who is really great at sales as proof that they can do something you can’t do. It’s such an innate way of being, you may argue, that there is no way you could possibly be good at it because you ‘lack the gene’ or something.

Maybe. But you know what irks me? The only time people are polite about salespeople is when they’re using them as a smokescreen to get out of the line of fire. The rest of the time, you probably aren’t nearly as positive, which tells me something important: it’s not that you can’t sell; it’s that you won’t because you think it’s beneath you. You’re the creator, the mastermind, the visionary; why the hell would you subject yourself to a situation in which you might conceivably have to beg?

The answer is a simple one. Because starving to death is worse.

Anyone who can clearly identify a role they refuse to take on during the building stages of a business, simply isn’t fully committed. I’m not what you might call a salesperson either. I also believe there are people who can do it better than I can. I believe some of those people have genuine intuition. I’ve seen it, and it’s impressive.

But nobody wants this more than I do. Nobody cares about the success of my business more than I do. The business depends on paying customers, which means I have to play a leading role in finding those customers and having that sales talk. It’s not a choice. It’s a responsibility.

Sometimes what I do feels a little bit like begging. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Much of life is like that. If you’ve got any juice in you at all however, you’ve probably embraced discomfort many times, in order to get something you want. I doubt there is anyone who can honestly claim they have not.

So you can do this.

The ultimate advantage of getting out and selling is that if you do enough of it, and you’ve got something worth buying, you’ll begin to make money.

If you think that is beneath you, you’re in the wrong game.

Work is not an end. It’s a means to an end.

Around about 3am, I had a reality check. As I looked up, bleary-eyed from my laptop where I had been putting the final touches to a pair of proposals, I looked straight into the equally bleary-eyed face of my wife, Linda, also working away late into the night. The children were asleep. Even the dogs had long since gone to bed. It suddenly felt like perhaps, this demands some attention.

I don’t think it’s uncommon for entrepreneurs to keep odd hours. I don’t really see how it’s avoidable, especially when there is a family that needs attention and life-matters that take up inconvenient amounts of time. We stopped work in the late afternoon when the child minder knocked off, bathed the children, had dinner together, read stories, put them to bed, and caught up with what was going on in each others’ lives, and then we simply flipped back into work mode. Another eight hour day on top of the previous eight hour day, and that’s kind of how it goes for us.

The conversation took an ugly turn at 3am however. What the hell are we doing? And why are we doing it? What is the overriding idea, here? It’s a crisis of common sense that we both love what we do so much that we like to press on long after all the healthy-minded people have gone to bed. There is always more to do, and bigger and better ideas that capture our attention, and so we constantly find ourselves putting in just one more hour to keep things moving along. That much is probably a blessing.

But how long is this going to be fun? How long until something snaps? And is it all worth it?

The pursuit of a business dream requires as much focus on the journey itself as on the end goal. If you want to create riches through your own endeavours, you’re going to have to have the mental and physical capacity to ignore normal limits and really push yourself. Linda and I are experts at that part of it. It’s why things keep building around us and we can both clearly see growth in all the desired business areas.

But it dawned on us that we’ve largely lost sight of the goal. And neither of us realised that had happened. For me, the dream has never been a garage full of Italian cars or any of the other trappings of wealth. I want my children to have the very best opportunities around and if they do well enough to be accepted at the best university in the world, I want to be able to pay for it. I’m much more driven by responsibility than greed.

There doesn’t seem to be much point in sending them to Harvard however, if I don’t live to see them graduate, or have mired myself so thickly in business responsibilities that I can’t get over to the United States at any point during their studies to visit them, buy them a meal or take a holiday with them.

It’s easy to get carried away by what is happening right now. But the conversation we had early this morning is one I recommend every entrepreneur engages in. I don’t buy the theory that you must always build a business with an exit strategy, because it’s not my intention to stop what I am doing and cash it all in. I do think it’s critical however to get it solidly in mind that what we’re doing right now, must have a purpose beyond the mere doing of it.

These late nights, and all this extra effort must themselves be part of a fixed-term goal to release responsibilities and take a more relaxed role. Work itself cannot be the end. I bet there are more than a few entrepreneurs who forget that.

Pick your mentor wisely to find someone with provable experience

I’m a big believer in mentors. Coaches. People with experience, who can help me do stuff better, in life and in business. I find it really useful to talk things through and since I’m determined to grow, I’m open to having my opinions swayed. The challenge for me has always been that of finding people who have the magical combination of real experience and the time to talk about it.

I don’t necessarily buy into the trite and slightly insulting saying that ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ but I am certainly wary of the hundreds of success and business coaches out there who seem to exert as much energy blurring their back story as they do promoting claims of their own capabilities, all the while offering to turn your life around for a hefty fee.

Since there’s too much at stake for you to risk dealing in snake oil, you’re better off finding an executive – a CEO if you can – who is actively involved in the business they have built, and offering them a fee for a monthly hour of their time. It’s my inflexible view, that if they’re to have any real value, mentoring should not be their primary role.

There are two reasons for this: the first is that they have real experience, not theoretical knowledge. You can learn from business books, but knowledge is always out-trumped by experience simply because the pain and elation of associated emotion gives you a much richer experience. You can read about something from the sidelines, but it’s nothing compared to 80 minutes on the field.

The second is that because they are still active, their experience is still being built. There’s nothing master/servant about a relationship built between two people who are battling through similar things. At times, the mentor can become the mentored, adding loads of extra depth.

The snag is that because they’re actually doing the things they claim to know about, they’re mostly not available to share their time, and can be unreliable at that. Sudden crises happen and the Tuesday morning session you’ve planned has to be postponed. Added to that, their weekends are not for sale because their weeks are so densely packed.

You’ll have to find a way to fit flexibly into their schedule therefore. A month is 168 hours long. for a CEO, it’s probably closer to 220. Maybe a few more. Your hour can probably fit snugly in the middle there somewhere, but be prepared for it to move around.

Be prepared also, to be specific. It’s your money you’re spending, and their time you’re taking up, and you should treat both of those with respect. Even if you’re willing to drop thousands for little return, you won’t earn their interest for very long unless you’re bringing them something interesting to help work through. Let your mentoring sessions be problem-solving ones. There’s no other real value in a mentor than that. You can chit chat with your friends.

I’m a big believer in mentors. But the wrong one is as value-less as the right one is valuable. Make your decision carefully.