Do you feel like screaming – STOP – leave me alone! I need more time!?

Do you feel like screaming – STOP – leave me alone! I need more time!?

Owner managers of small and medium sized businesses have an interesting balancing act to work in order to keep ahead of their schedule, they often have to be the king or queen of multi-tasking and in the end of the day all responsibility and accountability stops at their door, hence the person under most time pressure tends to the boss.

In my experience from dealing with entrepreneurs, the following scenario is quite common and really crept up on these people over time, unplanned and by accident, read-on to see if you recognise anybody.
It is Monday morning 7am and the owner has arrived early, before all the other staff comes in and before the phone starts ringing off the hooks, clients, suppliers and employees start taking over your schedule, so you could just get some work done. It is your favourite time of day without interruptions. As soon as 9am passes, all hell breaks loose and welcome back interruptions galore. You have some great people working for you , but yet somehow the receptionist doesn’t manage to fend off those telemarketing interruptions and finance is now also passing you account queries, not to mention the fact that all difficult clients always end up being referred to you. At times you feel as if all you ever do is answer phones, deal with people conflict, staff not performing or taking liberties, in all honesty you sometimes even question whether they are committed to the same company goals as you or whether they ever considered that their job description actually entails the duties they were supposed to perform. Anyhow as soon as 5.30pm arrives, you can relax again and work in peace for at least another hour or two to finish off that one urgent request and look into your jam-packed e-mail inbox. The next time you look at your clock, it reads 9pm, no wonder you feel drained, tired and hungry and you finally decide to call it a day and vow to make up for it at the weekend. On your way home you question, why being in business is great? And sometimes you even dare to contemplate that your nastiest alter ego, came up with terms and conditions for the owner manager work arrangements.
Does this story sound all too familiar?

The reality is time management is vital for every owner/manager and whilst days like the one above will probably happen to even the best time-keeper under the sun occasionally, they should never be a regular working pattern. In my work on the RTE show ‘How long will you live’ I am invited when business owners are not managing their time and due to the stress that they put their bodies under, they are likely to shorten their lifespan and attract all sorts of stress related illnesses, anything from high blood pressure to heart conditions etc. Obviously the participants tend to have one thing in common, definitely never making time for themselves or even to look after their own health. As busy owner managers, they often forget to look after the one resource that drives everything; you wouldn’t expect your car to continue working if the fuel ran out or the engine gave up, so why expect it from our body?

The start to resolving lack of time management is always to become aware of how you currently spend your time. With my clients I would ask them to track every 15 minutes of their day from start to finish for 2 weeks, including breaks and interruptions and I ask them to note who interrupted them for what reason, to establish trends. When you are aware of where your time is going, you can actually take charge and change it. The tracking exercise will show some very interesting trends regarding quick coffees, quick questions, communication deficits with staff, training issues and delegation problems. So in order to start resolving the problem with time, analyse how you spend it at the moment.

The next step then is to list all your tasks, roles and regular occurring responsibilities, start with annual items, then narrow it down to quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily tasks. On a year planner you can map out expected peak times, where you need to allow for more staff, more delegation and plan to have time for yourself. With the various lists identified, I then ask clients to translate the list of duties into an ideal week plan, where if they had full control over how they spent their time this is how they would use it. I ask them to map this out on an A4 sheet, broken down in hourly blocks, whilst taking into account when they are most alert and work best on difficult or complex jobs, in the least alert body clock time of day I ask them to schedule meetings, because you always pay attention with a person in front of you.

Once you have your ideal week designed, then the goal is to work 1 perfect day as planned per week, not 5 just 1. If you hit 1, then aim for a second perfectly planned day. If you don’t hit 100% any given day, don’t worry, most of us will find that if you work at an 80% as per planned time, your satisfaction and productivity rate is well above average and you start sensing feelings of accomplishment and getting things done. Also be aware that there are odd days where only 40% goes according to plan, these are the ones to accept as exceptions and learn from for future reference.

The rest is a case of choosing between the typical time management actions: Do, Dump, Delay or Delegate!

If you are curious on how you could improve or fine-tune your skills, fill out the wheel of success in time management. For each spoke on the wheel give yourself marks out of 10 of how well you perform on this element (1 meaning very bad and 10 meaning there is no room for improvement, you have mastered the art already). At the end connect the points and hopefully your wheel can actually drive your business forward, if the shape looks no-where near a wheel and has lots of edgy points, then you are in for a bumpy journey. The good thing is though that you have identified your areas for improvement.

Enjoy the road-trip to time management success!

Thought leadership

Thought Leadership

Thinking doesn’t cost us any money, just time and space to allow ourselves to explore those passing thoughts and feelings. In business we are often so caught up in the running of our work and staying busy, that time to think is considered more of a luxury rather than a necessity.

At a recent business seminar one of the speakers relayed a story of deciding when is it your time to think. So when is it. For me time in nature and walks or runs are a great time to think and let random thoughts settle in for a while or just even pass through.

When you are looking to become the leader in your market space, your ideas and thoughs generate an interest and a following. If people are talking to you about your blog and ideas, you have a following, so be careful what you write about especially on this worldwibe web of information.

I am often surprised at the comments I receive about my blogs and sometimes in my view the most unlikely people read them, yet it is a great conversation piece. It’s as if I am letting people into a piece of my mind and they can choose to comment or stay silent and agree or disagree.

When does a random thought become a leaders comment, though? Is there a minimum mass required or does it just happen naturally?

On this blog I will aim to publish my musing about business and leadership in general, whereas my other blog will remain more personal and I will share some of the ideas I pick up on from the books I read. If you follow me on facebook or now me well personally, you know I am an avid reader and on average read between 2 and 10 books a month.

I think a meeting early in my introduction to all things self-development left a lasting impression: Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones said ‘leaders are readers’. Libraries have always been a favourite place of worship for me, so I just continued my visits and added to my personal library on a regular basis.

Let me just end with an interesting quote, which resonates with me: 

“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance.
Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.
Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary
to make it a reality.”
–  Ralph Marston.

How do you know you have made progress?

How do you know you have made progress?

How do you know when you have moved on and made true progress towards your goals and away from those things that you so desperately want to avoid?
That’s a question I often ask myself and also for my coaching clients I often need to point out.
Events in the past few weeks for me pointed out my own progress, hence i wanted to share some of these, just to illustrate how you can find feedback on your progress or lack of it.

About three years ago, I was at frustration point with my business and was looking for other ways to get to the next level. I had recovered from a seriously unwise investment decision which had lost me a lot of money and I was now riding the highs of my new business coaching business, yet had very little time for myself and I was still working all the hours I had. I was looking for an easier way, another way, something that could help me, because I sure hadn’t hit or found happiness in the process, even though I knew i was working in a field that I really enjoy.

Somebody, who I still don’t know, sent me tickets by e-mail and by post for a seminar called ‘breakthrough to success’ in London, by a person called Chris Howard, whom I had never heard off. I reluctantly went to the seminar thinking I have nothing to lose, I will check it out and can always visit my London based friends or go shopping in case I don’t like it. The seminar did delve into some core personal issues as opposed to my business frustrations to start off with, which took me by surprise but the seminar also showed me how to run a business of my kind at another level. So at the end of the first day I knew I had to get to know the person behind the seminar Chris and find a way of learning from him directly, they then announced form stage the only way to do so was to join the Billionaire Adventure Club, which is exactly what I went after. If I had a financial controller or advisor they would have boycotted that idea, so call it a massive stretch.

At the same seminar I met two ladies who I managed to become friendly with and had lunches and breaks with, they had ambitious business ideas and we had a great time sharing experiences. How does this all lead to where I am today?

Well last week I met the two ladies again for the first time since the original seminar, their business has taken off and their comment to me was ‘wow, you have moved forward and look so calm, happy, focussed, healthier and generally different in all possible positive ways.’ I do have a coach and I sometimes ask him the question too, what change do you see and invariably he tells me I am calmer and more focussed. Personally I do think I have solved a whole lot of inner turmoil and I do feel calmer, recent diet changes definitely make me feel healthier and yes, I do know exactly what I want to achieve and I am moving towards that. Getting the mental part of me to catch up with the ambitious driven side of me was the hardest part and if anything trips me up, it is the mental side going nasty on me (in technical terms: beating the crap out of myself). I have a coach for that reason and often learn from other people along the way that make significant comments.

This week then I was at a seminar to instill confidence in people in Ireland regardless of the economy and I met some people that would be called the movers and shakers of Irish business, Bobby Kerr from the Irish dragons den and Insomnia coffee. In previous years I would have listened to the seminar and never managed to have a conversation with them, this time I was comfortable chatting about sailing to the man. I also got to spend time with Mark Pollock, who I wanted to meet after reading his book ‘Make it happen’ last Christmas. I you think you have a challenge, find out this guy’s story, he had everything going for him olympic sporting career, top class degree, great job lined up and then turned blind. He has since gone on and completed several adventures from trekking marathon distances for days on end in the Gobi desert to a south pole expedition. He is incredible and I am really grateful to have firstly completed another goal, to meet him, but equally to find out the guy has great heart and allowed me to spend a little bit of time with him just chatting. When someone makes a great impact in your life, let them know and be thankful for it. Thank you, Mark!

Then yesterday I visited the seminar again that started off some of this journey, and one of the exercises asks you to look at the things you are frustrated with and hand on heart apart from wanting things to move quicker, which is my impatient nature coming out, I actually finally found a place where I am generally confident, happy and know that I am heading towards the right level whilst doing things I totally enjoy doing. By joining the billionaire adventure club at the time, I did get to know Chris and some other great mentors such as Dave Lakhani and Keith Cunningham, which I still contact for advice and some great fellow travellers, which have become good friends. We also did some incredible things for a small community in Peru and children in Cambodia with Friends International. Friends International is one of my favourite charities and I am promoting their Childsafe campaign through our Rotary district in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which I chatted about to Chris during one of the breaks.

So how do you know you have made progress? In my view it’s the people you meet, new peer groups (sometimes you may need to upgrade them as you move forward) will give you an insight in your levels of confidence and the change in you. Equally trusted friends and ideally your coach will have seen you progress. My clients know they have the biggest cheerleader in their corner when they hit the results they work towards. Revisiting the seminar to me pointed out how much I had moved, not just small things, but actually massive stretch leaps forward, which took a good bit of faith, sometimes tears, desperation and serious frustration to work through, but I coulnd’t help but feel a little proud of myself for trusting the process and seeking out mentors & coaches along the way.

Thank you guys, you know who you are. If there is one thing I would recommend you to do to move forward, find mentors that are ahead of you in business and a coach that you can trust and then follow their advice and go with their tools. My clients that have the best results trust my tools, which are not always straight forward business systems, yet I only use what is right for the client and when I have tried it before and it has worked. Don’t forget to have fun on your journey, I have had tears, but equally some incredibly fun experiences so far and I am sure there are plenty more to come, fun experiences that is!

Pre-boom economy: are you ready for the journey?

Pre-boom economy: are you ready for the journey?

In a networking group someone floated the idea of living in a pre-boom economy, namely that we are now preparing for the next boom time. I think this a great way of looking at the situation from a creative point of view.

Imagine you are setting out on a trip around the world through all continents and you have a bit of time to prepare.

You will start doing some research on the places you would like to visit and the places to avoid that are maybe to volatile. You might look things up on the Internet or go to seminars and meet with people that have gone to these areas before you. In business terms research your market, where is the potential and where are the dangers. Speak to others in your market place and observe what they are doing or even businesses in similar market segments with similar customer. Now is a good time to analyze and learn what works and what doesn’t.

To prepare for your trip around the world you may have to work at your own fitness, the kind of equipment and clothes and even medication you may need, some places may even require injections against diseases. To make sure you enjoy your trip, you will take all the necessary action in the build up towards the journey. In your business it is equally important to look at what you have inside from people to processes to equipment, do they need to be brought up to speed in order to make it to the next boom. Does your business need an injection of customers, cash, skills, etc? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to look at an action plan to make it happen and work the plan. In Nike’s words ‘just do it’.

In your preparations for your world travels, undoubtedly the thought will cross your mind whether you are actually mentally fit enough for the journey. For some people this is the actual show-stopper and they will quit for fear of not making it all the way or running out of money or not having people to support them or home sickness. When I work with entrepreneurs mental readiness and ability to carry on even in tough situations will differentiate the successful ones from those that don’t make it. It is vital to build a support network that you can turn to and trust when you need advice or even just a small word of encouragement, who holds you accountable if you are the owner and are they supportive.

Then when you start your travels, there will be unforeseen circumstances that may send you on a detour such as a local train strike or natural disasters. whilst you are travelling you take them in your stride and deal with them as you go. In business it is exactly the same, customers may decide to go elsewhere or even close their business, staff suddenly leaves or strategies that used to work are now outdated and no longer deliver. The key is to analyze what the cause is and then to adjust your actions and take a different direction. It may sometimes mean parting company with people, clients or suppliers and whilst these decisions are difficult to make reaching the destination may require the tough decision.

On your world tour you will also meet interesting characters, visit beautiful places and experience wonderful things, so in your business equally make time for the good stuff and have fun along the way.

Are you the upstart that will kick-start this economy?

Are you the upstart that will kick-start this economy?

In times of economic recession the small indigenous businesses will be the ones driving economic growth and change. Why? Because big companies will take a while to adjust and small lean organisations can adapt and change to go with the flow of new demands a lot easier.

For large organisations the focus will be on cutting back and increasing efficiency from within, most of them will face redundancies as we can already see in our news reports. Change is typically slow and will receive a lot of resistance despite obvious market conditions. It is also that time when new ideas will hit the market and some of the people looking at redundancy packages finally going after the dream or concept that could be the next big thing.

In my view small adaptable businesses will be the ones to bring our economies back to life and as well as the new start-ups that are yet to find their way to the market. Will it be IT driven, environmental or green theme, cost saving or older generation focussed? That is crystal ball material. However we do know from historic fact that each recession has seen new businesses emerge to become the future employers and giants in local communities.

So if you are the person with that great idea, what should be your focus right now? The first thing to find out is whether there is a market for your product or service. The most frequent failure is that your great idea doesn’t actually relate to anybody else in the market place and when you are doing market research do go well beyond asking your family and friends, who may well just be trying to be nice to you and support you in your madness. If you have watched the TV-programme ‘Dragon’s Den’, the first thing investors look for is market potential and not just finger in the air material, but hard concrete numbers, contracts and sales facts. In an ideal start-up you sell your product or service before you actually go about producing brochures, leaflets, websites, or product for that matter.

The next step is to find out what people are willing to pay for your product and service. In this climate with tightening purse strings you may need to test a few price ranges in order to find the one that will make you profit. Profit is one of those areas to focus on from the start, you need to factor in all your costs and price your product and service in such a way that you at a minimum cover all the costs and have some spare margin for profit. I meet entrepreneurs all the time that forget to do this and after 12 months of hard work they are still not making any money and wonder why, when you look at their costs and pricing structure the 2 often live in a world apart. If you can appeal to different parts of the market for example with a low -end non-branded product and a then a high-end top of the range branded product with all bells and whistles you have an opportunity for bigger profit from one-side and bread-and-butter business on the other. In my view both need to cover all costs of production including wages (even if for now as the entrepreneur you are not taking any money out).

Once you have priced and sold your first items, you are basically in business and in service delivery or production. From here a focus on consistent sales, good customer service and delivery will be critical to your success. To ensure that this happens, you need a plan to work with. Not a business plan that will gather dust in a drawer, but a very basic action plan of daily, weekly, monthly and annual targets is good enough. Basically target figures that will tell you whether you are making money or not. Always know your break even point: where costs and and money made meet and any excess becomes profit.

In this climate most of our conversion rates have come down or slowed down, in other words the number of potential buyers we need to meet in order to generate sales will be slightly higher and slower to make a decision than in a boom market. So be prepared to jump over a few hurdles to make the sale. In our line of work we have started offering a counter proposal to potential buyers, where we will make an offer and if they are not happy they can come back with a counter offer. I then evaluate if we can deliver within these boundaries and based on some of our internal business guidelines, more often than not we proceed with the business. In my view having the business at a rate that both parties can afford is essential to survival of both businesses.

When sales are coming in on a regular basis, keep a close eye at all times on costs and what the competition is doing out there or even alternative services or products that have sprung up, which could potentially take some of your client base.

Remember though if at first you don’t succeed, you may need to tweak or change your practices in order for it to work. In some instances it may mean going back to the drawing board and start from 0. In the USA the average successful business person that receives venture capital investment has failed 3 times. I am not promoting that you fail, but I am promoting that if it doesn’t work the first time and you stumble, to dust yourself off, learn the learnings from your first experience and go again with an adapted plan.

In this climate seek out fellow entrepreneurs and share some of the positives, support each other, and work together to turn this economy around. In a boom economy anybody can make money, in a downturn only those with a solid product & service, some vision and a plan will succeed as long as they have the courage to start and stick with it. So here is the question, are you the upstart that will kick-start the economy or are you the muppet in the balcony that knew it wouldn’t work?