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  • Aspire » entrepreneur

    28 Oct


    Every now and then it’s a good idea to take a step back from your day to day focus and take a look at where you are in terms of the success you’re trying to achieve. For business owners, the definition of Success is very personal, but usually it’s going to be measured by how much money and freedom your business generates for you.

    “The road to success runs uphill.”  - Willie Davis

    Mr. Davis makes a great point – you can’t achieve long term success without effort and in a lot of things you do, your success is a directly tied to your effort.

    The more effort you put in, the more success you’ll get. If you’re the equivalent of an hourly employee, the more hours you work, the more money you make…it’s a straight line equation (although arguably as an hourly employee you don’t have much freedom, so success in that particular example may only be measured in money).

    Where are you on the chart right now?

    Take a look at the chart above – where would you put yourself right now?

    A lot of business owners I talk to would put themselves into the top left or top right quadrants. They’re putting in a lot of effort and they’re seeing varying amounts of success.

    That makes for an interesting discussion, but even more interesting is to project where you’re going. If you look out a year or two, based on how you currently operate your business – where are you on the chart? Are you in the same place? Moving to the right (more success), but with the same amount of effort?

    Where are you going to be on the chart in a year or two?


    The 2nd chart shows the typical growth patterns of a business.

    1. If you’re just starting a business, you’re in the bottom left blue quadrant, heading towards the top left red quadrant – you’re putting in effort with minimum success because you’re just starting.
    2. If you’ve been working at your business for a while, you’re in the top left quadrant, hopefully heading towards the top right quadrant. You’re working hard…maybe even getting close to maximum effort…you’re achieving some success, but the work isn’t commensurate with the gain.
    3. At some point you figure out how to make things work and a little extra effort translates into quite a bit more money / success, you’re working a lot of hours, but at least you’re getting paid for it.
    4. Finally, the most successful business owners figure out how to build the business that mostly works without them. They maximize their success and minimize their efforts. They have the right team in place, they’ve built all of the infrastructure (systems, relationships, organization, etc.) that allows them to spend less time working and they focus on building and improving the business while it pays them back in spades.

    Everyone goes through stages 1 and 2, you can’t really skip them. Most businesses get stuck in either stage 2 or 3…and eventually that’s what causes them to shut down or sell what they have if they’re lucky. It’s exhausting to run at full speed for years…especially when your payout is what you’d make if you had a good job (or less).

    There’s an old joke about business owners that applies here:

    “Owning a business is great. You get to have flexible hours – just pick the 80 hours you want to work this week and you’re good to go!”

    If that makes you flinch…even just a little, it’s likely that you’re stuck in stage 2 or 3 and not trending towards stage 4.

    You can have it all – but it’s not normal

    Stage 4 is when you’ve built a business that you could easily sell…for a premium, but you probably won’t want to. You have the ability to take long vacations and your business grows while you’re gone. You have a business that pays you well without putting in huge hours just to keep things running. You may choose to work a lot, but you don’t have to and you could transition the whole thing over to a new President/ CEO / General Manager and designate yourself as the Chairman of the Board.

    If all of this sounds unlikely, that’s because it is. Very few businesses successfully make it to stage 4, the top of the mountain – so it’s clearly not the ‘normal’ outcome. But it is possible – and even if you don’t make it all the way to stage 4, any movement in that direction is going to dramatically improve your life.

    How do you get there? 

    It starts with the clear intention to get there. Most business owners think about how they can make more money. Instead they should be thinking about how they can build a business that will make more money without them. A subtle difference, but it’s that difference that moves you from Stage 2 or 3 to Stage 4.

    Just as a side note that might not be obvious – our job here at Aspire is to help business owners develop their business into a stage 4 business. If you’d like to talk about that – give us a call.

    What do you think? Is this kind of analysis helpful? Unsettling? Are we missing anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Where are you on the charts? Where are you headed? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    22 Apr
    photo by Danielle Zedda via Flickr

    Forest for the Trees photo by Danielle Zedda via Flickr

    With the terrible events of this past week we were all reminded to be more aware of our surroundings.  “Vigilant” is the adjective most often used to describe this level of heightened awareness.    It was a heightened awareness of surroundings that ultimately led to the successful capture of the younger suspected Boston Marathon terrorist.   As citizens, if we go through life with blinders on danger can be right beside us and we may not even see it.  Ironically, this is also true in business.   

    Have you ever sat in the front row at a movie theater?  There is a reason they are typically the last seats to fill.  It can vary by theater, but when you’re that close, you struggle to see everything happening on the screen.   From this vantage point, especially in a high action film, your neck and eyes will get a workout trying to follow all the movement in and out of each scene.   Frankly, the movie you’re watching is not the same movie your counterparts are viewing a dozen rows behind you.  You may marvel at the extreme close-up of the lead actor’s nose, but you likely won’t easily see the big picture.

    You’re simply too close to the screen.

    This is precisely what often happens when business owners spend too much time buried in their business.    The company they so passionately created and built has pulled them in, mounted a set of blinders on their eyes, and literally made it impossible for them to see their business as a whole.   They tend to gravitate towards the areas that are most comfortable for them, and disregard other vital areas affecting the company’s bottom line.   Add the element of stress and they are even more likely to increase the focus on the comfort zones of their business.

    If you can’t see the whole screen…

                    ….you can’t see your surroundings either.

    Recently, during a meeting with a business owner, our conversation uncovered a way to increase the business’s bottom line significantly with a relatively minor change to the current business model.   It turns out the opportunity had been there for at least a year or longer.   The owner knew it was a change that would help the business, but mentally had developed a list of reasons of why it wouldn’t work and had a strong fear of what might happen if the change was implemented.

    It was uncomfortable.

    So instead of doing anything about it, the business owner essentially moved up to the front row of the theater, put on blinders, and focused on a different part of the screen.  On areas they were more comfortable with.

    A better view….

    Once we talked through the potential risks of making the change, it was clear what the next step was.  We put together a list, by priority, of what needed to happen and who needed to be contacted in order to initiate this change.   Achieving resolution with each step; meant moving to the next.   Within a couple weeks the change was in motion and it appears the increase to the bottom line will actually be even more rewarding than we had originally estimated.  Without being able to step back and see the whole picture, this change would have never happened.  (Side note – that’s an important benefit of business coaching…being able to see everything and see it with a different perspective).

    This week as we continue to remember all those who were affected by the events in Boston and West, TX remember to take your blinders off and be vigilant in not only your surroundings as a citizen, but in the way you approach your business every day.   Sometimes the best way to get a better view is to simply take a few steps back.  God Bless America.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    04 Feb
    Are you building your business?

    Bob The Builder by Lee Bailey via Flickr

    There are a lot of traps you can fall into when you own a business, but one that I’ve seen a lot of recently is the focus of the business owner on maximizing money for the short term.  At a quick glance, this makes sense…but this short term profit approach leads to decisions and outcomes that are really unhealthy when it comes to the long term success of the business.

    As an example – I talked to a business owner the other day who refuses to hire someone who can do the primary work of servicing customers in his business.  Their logic boiled down to a few key reasons:

    • No one else could possibly do the quality of work that I do.
    • Even if someone else could do this work, it will take a long time, too long, to train them
    • My customers are buying me – I don’t have a choice but to do this work myself
    • If someone else does the work, I have to pay them, which means I make less money…!

    Typically it’s this last excuse that really seals it for them.  Here’s the thought process using some simple numbers to keep the math easy.  Let’s say a new client deal generates $1000 net of any delivery expenses (Cost of Goods Sold).  If I hire someone to handle that client, I would need to pay them $600 – leaving me as the business owner with only $400 net of all costs.  However, if I just do the work myself (which will be better and faster than anyone else anyway), I get to keep $1000.  (Of course there’s the opportunity cost of the time spent…but that rarely comes into consideration).

    You can’t really argue with the math (although you can certainly argue with the assumptions) but at the end of the day it really boils down to a simple question:

    “Are you in business to make short term money or are you building a long term business?”

    It’s kind of a trick question in the sense that you have to make money if you want to remain in business, but it does get to the mindset of how you look at business growth.  Either answer is okay, but make sure you’re clear on what your end goal really is and that you act accordingly.

    Here’s another way to look at it – it’s basically the difference between being a freelancer and creating your own graphic arts studio.   Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences:

    As a Graphic Arts Freelancer:

    • You minimize your overhead and maximize your billing rate to get the most profit
    • You are trading time for money…which means your upside potential depends on how many hours you can work
    • If and when you decide to stop working, your business is worth next to nothing (you might be able to sell your contact list or some ongoing engagements).
    • Your day to day operations are fairly simple and you don’t need to manage anyone else

    As the Owner of a Graphics Art Studio with several employees:

    • You create repeatable processes and automation (systems) for your staff to maximize profits
    • Your upside is only limited by market demand and the ability to find the right people to hire
    • When you decide to stop working, assuming that you’ve built a solid business and hired the right people, you could sell your business for multiples of your revenue (depending on the industry and several other factors)
    • In order to manage day to day operations, you must create repeatable processes and lead and manage your employees to success – not easy…and a different skill set than doing the work

    Obviously there are more differences, but it all starts with the idea of focusing on creating something for the long term (the Entrepreneurial Mindset) or trying to maximize your short term profits (the Solopreneur Mindset).  And that’s where the trap comes in.  A lot of business owners start out with the idea of building a long term business, but for various reasons, their actions are all about generating short term profits.

    Early in your business you have to generate revenue anyway you can, or you won’t survive.   At the same time, if you want to create long term business value, you have to start planting the seeds…building the foundation of your longer term business model.  If you don’t consciously do this, it won’t happen.

    That means at some point you will have to hire someone to do the bulk of the revenue generating work that you do.  And in the short run, that also means you will make less money and it will be less efficient until that person gets up to speed.  But if you hired well and you’re committed to big picture success, that employee will actually end up being better at the day to day work than you are!  And more importantly you will eventually make a lot more money with less effort than you can on your own.

    Or you can choose to be the best freelancer you can be – it’s easier in the short run and a perfect fit for those who just want to practice their craft.

    The point is that you need to consciously decide what you’re doing with your business and don’t get caught in the middle.

    What are your thoughts?  Do you know anyone who’s trying to build a business but only focusing on short term wins?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    11 Dec

    Business Owner Presents

    In just 3 short weeks Santa will be here.    If you own or manage a business we wanted to share  4 things we hope you all put on your Christmas list, regardless if you have been naughty or nice this past year.    I think some of the most successful businesses we have worked with would agree if you could box these up and put them under the tree, you would be ready to charge into 2013!  So today, we wanted to share some of the secret sauce.

    Present  #1: Clarity of Vision/Mission/Values

    A clear vision of who you are, what you are and what you stand for is at the core of every successful business.    Of the four packages under your tree, this present should be the largest.   It is the foundation on which everything else in your business is built on.   Before you buy any other gifts, I would recommend this one first.   Until you establish a base line to build from, it is hard to move forward with a purpose.

    Present  #2: Focus on what matters most

    Business owners often feel like they are getting pulled in 10 directions at once.   Purposefully prioritize what is really important and what is going to get you where you where you want to go.   Complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your business.  Through strategic planning, develop the action steps necessary to achieve the desired goals.    Set goals that are thoughtful and achievable.  Then, put time lines on them and assign an owner to every goal.

    Present  #3: Momentum to achieve your goals

    Avalanches start from one small section of snow breaking away from a slope.   But first, something (either natural or manmade) has to trigger the snow to break away.   For businesses, getting focused would be the trigger, but the avalanche it creates is where all the momentum (energy) is released.    The momentum ignites excitement in both your employees and customer base.   Positive momentum can also boost you and your team like a high energy drink and that energy will be contagious.

    Present  #4: Accountability for success

    This present is the one that sits in the back of the tree and often gets overlooked, however if you don’t open it and use it with the first 3 presents, the first 3 presents may as well be returned for a refund, because they will not produce the results you desire.    Sometimes we see businesses use the gift of accountability with eager dedication, when it is shiny and new.  But over time, it starts collecting dust on the shelf and eventually ends up misplaced in the storage room.    And unfortunately, without Present #4 (Accountability) continually being incorporated with the other 3 gifts of Clarity, Focus, and Momentum, none of them ever end up reaching their fullest potential and consequently, neither does the business.

    So as you get into the hustle and bustle of the Holiday shopping season, we hope you get the perfect gifts for all those special people in your lives and remember those who are truly less fortunate than you during this season of giving.   And, as a business leader or owner who is thinking about what the future holds for your business in 2013, we hope these four presents are on your list and find their way under your tree.    If you are not sure where to start, where to find these four presents, or how to make them work (instruction manuals can be confusing!), please give us a call.   As always, our goal is to do our very best to help you.   What (business intangibles) would you like to get as a gift this year?  Share your thoughts below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by kennymatic via flickr

    12 Nov

    Tesla  Cool Tesla Manufacturing picture from Jurvetson

    Maybe it’s time for some good news – a more positive take on the world…!

    This past week NBC’s Rock Center did a story on manufacturing in America.    With this week being Global Entrepreneurship week it seemed appropriate to share some statistics that will reinforce the eternal optimism of the true entrepreneurs and strengthen the resolve of any budding entrepreneur that is feeling a bit challenged in our current economic climate.

    The featured company in the story is a family owned business from right here in the heartland celebrating 65 years in business.  Vermeer Corp is based in Pella, IA.   They manufacture a diverse line of construction and agricultural products and have a global distribution network.  It also happens to be the company I spent most of my professional career associated with.

    Vermeer’s CEO, Mary Andringa says we are in a manufacturing “renaissance”.   She sees the current USA manufacturing climate as a time of “great opportunity”.    To support her optimism, one statistic she pointed out was that in 2010 the U.S. had an output of $4.8 trillion in manufactured goods. That is up $700M from $4.1 trillion in 2000, despite living through two recessions during that period.

    Another surprising fact – although there are jobs being lost to other countries, the US is still #1 in manufacturing by a respectable margin.

    21% of all the good manufactured in the world are made in the United States.   China in second with 15% and Japan comes in third with 12%.

    So even though it may seem like everything you buy has a label on it saying it was made outside of the USA,  we are still number one and leaders like Andringa have every intention in seeing we stay in that position.

    This year Andringa is also serving as the Chair for the National Association of Manufacturers.  Which puts her in a great position to share her vision and message to a national audience.  To give you some perspective on her approach, I’d like to highlight three areas of focus that have been key to Vermeer’s entrepreneurial success and continued long term growth.  These are great examples for any business owner.

    1)      Solve Problems: Vermeer was founded by Gary Vermeer.  His most repeated quote was “Find a need and fill that need with a product built to last. And simply build the best”     A farmer by trade, he had an innovative mind that was constantly creating and building new ideas into labor saving machines; machines that were often times transformational, groundbreaking or even disruptive to an industry.   Many of the Vermeer products introduced over the last 65 years were firsts in the industry and they continue to find and fill needs today.

    2)      Core Values:  It is hard to pick up a business book without finding some reference to the power of actively using a list of core values that define your company.   Principles that influence every decision the company makes.   Vermeer’s core values are the “4 P’s”:

    1. People: Hire, train, and invest in the best.
    2. Principles: Guide with Biblical principles.
    3. Products:  R&D, innovate, high quality.
    4. Profit: Be profitable & invest profits back into business.

    3)      Lean Culture:  Regardless if you produce something tangible or not, doing it more efficiently and constantly striving to reduce waste in the process is critical in keeping your product or service competitive in an free market.   Through lean implementation, Vermeer was able to reduce the build time of an industrial brush chipper from 52 days to just 2 ½ days; talk about reducing waste and improving efficiency!

    This week as we celebrate entrepreneurs, I encourage you to spend some time reviewing your business and think about how well you apply these three components to your business.  As you visit with other successful entrepreneurs or businesses, ask if these three drivers are impacting their business?

    Problem Solving:

    • What problem does/will your product or service solve?
    • Is everyone in your business clear on the problems your business solves?

    Core Values:

    • Have you established core values that you live and lead by every day?
    • Do you hire people with those same values?  Are you firing people who don’t share them?

    The Lean Journey:

    • When is the last time you went through every segment of your business and looked for ways to cut waste and do it more efficiently?
    • What about bringing in a neutral party to help assess this?  You may be surprised what a fresh set of eyes might see.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on this and how you think it applies to success of entrepreneurs as we celebrate Global Entrepreneurship this week.   You can be part of the Renaissance too!

    Chris Steinlage      Kansas City Business Coach

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