Holiday Homestretch

Holiday-HomestretchWith 37 days left in 2014, families and organizations are undoubtedly feeling the pressure of holiday crunch time. I’m pretty guilty of waiting last minute to buy all of my Christmas presents, but when it comes to prepping for the next year I try hard not to lose my focus and keep it going.

This time of year it really does feel like everything is working against you, though. The dreary weather sometimes makes it impossible for you to even get into the office, unexpected family visiting, hysteria at every store you visit regardless of what you want to buy…. It seems endless. During this chaos though is when you need to carve time to review how the year has been, since you’ll be busy the next couple of weeks preparing for 2015.

Revisit Your Earlier Goals – Hopefully you made a list of goals at the beginning of the year to guide your business. With so little time left in the year, you shouldn’t be looking at your list and attempt a mad dash to the finish. Rather, it’s a time to look at your list and see what has worked well for you. Hopefully you’ll find that you not only surpassed some goals, but that you also surpassed goals you added on a little later in the year. You’re bound to find something that was meant to be your focus that you may have let slip through the cracks…

Tie Up Lose Ends – If you do see a few loose ends that you were supposed to focus on for the year, you should do one of two things: (a) see why you weren’t able to meet this goal and attempt it next year or (b) decide if you should make it a priority for the coming year or if it’s actually a critical goal. Losing sight of a particular goal isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps you subconsciously realized that this goal wasn’t essential to growing your business – especially if you’ve experienced tremendous growth in the year without it. On the flip side, if your business didn’t grow as quickly as you expected, then you should probably make it a priority in 2015.

Plan Your Time Off Accordingly – You’re not seriously planning on neglecting your family over the holidays, are you? No matter what holiday you observe, this time of year is important to spend with your family. I’ve talked about balance before, but I can’t stress how important it is to actually put your phone and computer down for a bit and spend time with loved ones. I can completely sympathize if a 100% disconnect is impossible, but don’t completely neglect your family either!

I’m very interested to know what your game plan is for the final weeks of the year. Please share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Mastering Efficiency For Better Business

2594377_origThis past week I had the pleasure of taking part of an internal strategy summit with all of the Presidents of the different Wish Group companies, as well as attending our quarterly meeting with all of the companies. Admittedly, one of the challenges that we face with having so many different companies under one umbrella is a unified focus. While I’m perfectly happy with the success of each company all they have achieved, I adamantly believe that if all of the companies combine our synergies, we can become a much more efficient unit.

In fact, the heavy focus of this quarterly meeting was on efficiency. As with all of our meetings, we pick one theme and message to drive home to the team and our leaders felt that efficiency was certainly something that any company can always improve on. As such, from both our strategy summit and our quarterly meeting, here is what we are doing to increase our efficiency that can be applied to any company.

Re-examine How Things Currently Work – The first step towards making anything more efficient is taking an honest look at how things are currently working. I say honest because if you keep telling yourself that everything is perfect, nothing will ever improve. Examine some of your shortcomings and try to assess what mechanics you can put in place to streamline processes that will make you work smarter.

Assembly Line Principle – One of the analogies that we used to drive home efficiency is one of the most successful business efficiency success stories of all time – the assembly line. Henry Ford was famous for taking a long, complex process and turning it into something that made it significantly easier to produce more cars in less time. The main idea behind this was to have staff focus on using their strengths, instead of spreading them thin by trying to do everything. This is incredibly difficult at a start up company as everyone is always wearing multiple hats, but try and discover what tasks your team members excel at and whenever possible give them those tasks.

Trust Your Team – Tying into the previous point, once you’ve discovered what areas your team members are adept at, trust them to complete their task. If you’re constantly worrying about the kind of work your team is doing, it’ll leave less time for you to focus on running your business. Have faith that your team will always produce the best work possible.

I’m certain that efficiency is always top of mind for your company, so I’m curious to know what tasks you think you could be doing more efficiently, and what you want to improve on in your company.

A Successful Business Isn’t A Dash To The Finish

SCOTIABANK - Starting line shotThis past weekend in Toronto was the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon that had over 25,000 participants, with a few here in the Wish Group participating as well. Even though I run every now and then and do play hockey, I have to commend runners because it’s really an entirely different beast than most sports. Where hockey is tough, fast and furious, I find that long distance running is slower but a lot more mentally involved. It’s for this reason that I think long distance running can teach entrepreneurs many practical lessons about running their business.

Keep A Steady Pace – This is probably the hardest lesson to learn, both for runners and business owners. While a marathon is technically a race, it’s different in terms that you can’t sprint for 42 kilometers straight right from the get go. You need to find a pace that you can maintain for the duration of the run, one that won’t burn you out but at the same time lets you set a good time. Clearly this is the same with business growth. Your business won’t grow exponentially overnight. It takes a lot of time, and you need to make the right decisions to ensure success. Once you do though, you’ll be able to watch your company grow at a steady pace.

Move Past The Walls – All of the runners I’ve spoken to have always mentioned “the wall”. It’s the mental phenomenon where you feel like you can’t continue anymore, that you don’t know why you wanted to do this in the first place, and that you can’t make it to the finish and you want to give up more than anything. How many times have you thought something similar when things aren’t going so well with your business? What’s important to realize is that the runners DO surpass that wall by believing in what they do and staying determined in reaching the finish line. There is never really a “finish line” for entrepreneurs, but that’s why I’m a firm believer in setting goals. You can consider these goals that you set as mini finish lines and just keep moving from one to the next.

Keep Improving – The best thing about running is that you set new best times for yourself and then you have a new goal to train towards, which may seem impossible the first time to set a personal best. However, with hard work you’ll be able to overcome that. See where I’m going with this? It really speaks for itself, but once you have an incredibly success quarter or year it only makes sense that you want to beat that number the next year – no matter how difficult it may seem.

The Challenges of Executing and Delivering

Wish_Group_Summer_ReunionWhether you only have one employee or 50 employees, execution will always be difficult. By execution I mean of course the way that you are completing tasks that will grow your business, and deliver positive results either to your leadership in the company or to yourself.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the Wish Group went away for our bi-annual team building trip a couple of weeks ago. During these trips we like to have an overall theme for the event that will put a focus on the learning we’ll accomplish, with this year’s theme being execution.

The main goal for these trips is of course team building, but taking the time to discuss challenges and triumphs with your team is also an excellent way of doing that. When it comes to executing, we focused on four different areas that were loosely based on the four disciplines of execution, with a spotlight on sales of course:

Make Important Goals – The only way to achieve great success is to make goals that you can focus on. It may sound simple, but without a goal to focus on you simply won’t have the same drive that other sales people or companies have. One of the tasks we asked everyone at our Summer Reunion to complete is to write down their Wildly Important Goals for the year. This first step is really what sets the tone for how you’ll achieve success, since it’s important to actually define what success means to you!

Define Your Lead Measures – Even if you have a goal, what’s the point if you don’t have a practical way of reaching it? I put an emphasis on practical because it’s common to rush towards a goal instead of tackling it strategically. The best way I can explain this is with a common weight loss analogy. Your important goal may be to lose 50 pounds, but you can’t just make this goal and hope for the best. You’ll be keeping track of how much exercise you’re doing daily and even how many calories you’re taking in. The same thing applies to your sales team. Sure, they want to close a certain amount of deals, but victory lies in preparation. They’ll need to keep track of who they’re contacting, what prospects make the most sense to reach out to and what hasn’t been working for them in the past, just as a few examples.

Track Your Progress – It’s hard to admit, but there are only winners and losers when it comes to sales and business. People don’t pay to see two sports teams kick a ball around and not keep track of who wins. We pay to see one team win, which means another team has to lose. Keeping a scorecard of all of your successes will keep you focused on your goals in two ways. On one hand, having a visual record of the times when you didn’t quite reach your goals will motivate you to keep trying harder to turn those failures into triumphs. On the other hand, with the notes you keep from your lead measures combined with your scorecard, it’ll be extremely rewarding to have a solid trail of your success and how hard you’ve worked to get there.

Accountability to Yourself and Your Team – Your plans, your efforts and triumphs don’t mean anything if you don’t hold yourself accountable by actually following through with your action plan. It’s important to understand that this means keeping track of your failures too, because you’ll never be able to improve if you don’t look at both sides of your endeavors.

As you can clearly see, executing is by no means an easy task, and overnight results shouldn’t be expected. Like with most things in life, if you want to achieve greatness, you’ll need to take it one step at a time. And like most things as well, the first step is always the most difficult – but after that I guarantee that you’ll be able to do it!

Personal Brand Building with Social Media

personal-branding-social-mediaOne of the biggest challenges I’ve recently faced is jumping deeply into social media. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand the value of social media, I honestly just couldn’t dedicate an adequate amount of time to try and build a proper following. Fast forward to the present and I’m happy to say that I’ve not only been able to post consistently on my blog here, but also on my personal Twitter account.

But why even bother with a social media presence? Most entrepreneurs have been told time and time again that social media is important, but it’s rarely explained why it’s so important. Every user will define the importance in their own way, but for me, social media is a powerful tool to build your own personal brand. As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably started a business in the field of your choice, which means that you’ll be able to provide incredible value to your audience by sharing your unique insight, be it with short and succinct tweets or in-depth blog posts. Sharing these kinds of insights on your social media channels will eventually make you a thought leader in your field, but of course, this will take time.

When it comes to social media, another point that will take time and effort is growing your number of followers. For what seemed like the longest time, my Twitter account had only a handful of followers and refused to grow. After discussing strategies with a digital marketer, the two most valuable lessons I was able to learn was that (a) follow growth takes time and (b) I simply wasn’t being social enough.

These two items are very important to know for any of your social media efforts, be it for personal use or for your brand. The first point about follower growth is especially critical, as business owners become very disappointed with their lack of growth in a set period of time and abandon all of their social media channels. Using my own Twitter account as an example, after two months of consistent use, I now have 190 followers. This is following three months where I couldn’t break 40 followers. So what happened that made my follower number jump? It leads directly to the second point of being social.

It’s called social media for a reason: if you don’t join in on the conversation, then you can’t expect to see any kind of growth or engagement. Admittedly, one of the things I want to improve on is the engagement of my audience. While I do interact with my followers, I want to specifically try and reach out to more of them and get a regular dialogue going. You need to interact with your followers regularly, otherwise no matter what kind of information you share on your accounts, it’ll quickly become irrelevant.

What has your experience with social media been like? I’d love to discuss this topic more in depth in the comments below.

What can Olympic Athletes teach Entrepreneurs?

OLY HKW Canada United States 20140220 TOPIXIf you’re like most Canadians I know, you were up on Sunday morning watching the Olympic men’s hockey team beat Sweden and earn their gold medal. Likewise, you were probably huddled around the computer in your office on Thursday afternoon watching the women’s hockey team defeat USA and earn their back-to-back gold medal as well.

It goes without saying that both of these teams got to the podium with determination, focus and training. Of course, they’ll take their well-earned rest, but after a few days they’ll be back to honing their skills because they know that they’ll have to prove they’re still the best during their next Olympic appearance. Entrepreneurs can learn many things from Olympic athletes and apply these lessons to their business operations. Here are three key lessons I’ve picked up from Olympic athletes this year:

Olympic Athletes Never Stop Training: Just because the teams have won the gold, do you think they’re going to lose their resolve? Olympians have to make sure they never lose the edge that got them their gold in the first place, which means they’re constantly looking for ways to maintain or improve their techniques for their next Olympic appearance.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: There should never be a time on your entrepreneurial path where you stop maintaining or improving skills that will help your business achieve growth. Sharpening old techniques and keeping up with new trends will ensure that your business continues to prosper.

Olympic Athletes Know They Didn’t get to the Podium on Their Own: When an Olympian receives their medal and talks to the media, they never say that they made it to where they are by themselves. The support they receive from their family, friends, and coaches is instrumental to getting them onto the podium.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: There isn’t a single entrepreneur that’s reached their level of success on their own. Support from family, friends, and mentors have helped entrepreneurs everywhere reach levels that they never thought were possible.

Olympic Athletes Know Their Goal, and Stop at Nothing to get it: For an Olympian, the goal is obvious – go for the gold. For these athletes, there is nothing more they want than to be on the podium accepting the gold medal for their country.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: As an entrepreneur, you should always have the gold in your sights. You need to have goals for your business, be it fiscal or personal. Having goals will give your business something to strive for, allowing your focus and resolve to influence your team.

You may feel like your business has reached the pinnacle of success, but there is no such thing when you’re an entrepreneur. The reality is, you can constantly grow your business, constantly learn new skills, and constantly try to take your business to the next level.

The Difference between Being a “Boss” and Being a Leader

difference-between-a-boss-and-a-leaderWhen you’re an entrepreneur who runs their own business, you might find yourself questioning your leadership techniques from time to time. Being a leader is no easy task, and business owners should take the time to reassess how they’re influencing their co-workers and staff. Over the past 12 years of my entrepreneurship, I’ve had my share of triumphs and failures concerning leadership. I’m constantly trying to re-evaluate and change my methods to ensure that I’m not “bossing” my team around, but that I’m providing an avenue for personal and professional growth instead.

The terms “boss” and “leader” are often used interchangeably, but there is actually quite a big difference between the two. A boss watches and supervises workers to ensure that tasks and projects are getting delivered on time without any difficulties. A leader will give the same list of tasks, but also brings with them a level of inspiration and guidance. Leaders are there for their employees, and instead of telling their team to complete a task, they provide guidance and offer different methods to complete them.

Another quality that a boss possesses is that they only focus on their projects one at a time, and once those projects are complete they move on to the next item on their list without considering the big picture.  Leaders understand that every project your team completes should grow your company in some shape or form, be it financially or professionally. This isn’t limited to simply successes either – even a failed project or a lost client can help your team grow by realizing what mistakes you need to avoid in the future.

Lastly, a boss will examine their employee’s work and criticize their mistakes, while a leader will view these mistakes as coaching opportunities. It’s vital that instead of simply telling your staff why something is wrong, you coach them through their mistakes, tell them what they can do to avoid these mistakes in the future and how they can improve their work. There is nothing worse than having someone on your team who is too afraid to approach you with their best work because they’re concerned with how much you’ll dislike their efforts, instead of providing them with advice on how they can improve.

Of course, the transition from being a “boss” to becoming a leader takes time. I find myself struggling with these challenges almost every day, and even after 12 years I constantly remind myself to look for all of the coaching opportunities available for my team. It will take time and dedication, but the outcomes are well worth the effort.

Check Your Ego at the Door

“If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” –  David Ogilvy

I have had the pleasure of working with many businesses over the years, helping entrepreneurs to build up their businesses and watching them flourish as leaders in the process. Many of them went on to become successful business leaders, others… not so much. Though many people talk about the passion and “never say die” attitude required to succeed in business, a quality that I have observed in successful leaders, and one that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves, is ego.

Successful business leaders are not afraid to admit their weaknesses, they know that there is always something more they can learn and an area that can always be improved. They understand that the growth and success of their business is not entirely a product of their own making, but is a collaborative effort of talented and dedicated individuals all working together towards a common goal – no matter how great a sports coach is, he isn’t going to win a championship with lousy players. Successful business leaders surround themselves with the best and brightest, freeing themselves to do what they as leaders do best – planning and developing the future growth of their business. They know exactly where they want to go, and put together the best team possible to help them get there – in a sense, they work on their business, not in their business.

On the other side of the coin is the mediocre business leader. They think they know everything and everyone else knows nothing. They are always right no matter what  because they view themselves as the single reason why their business is growing. Because of this attitude, they cannot foresee hiring anyone who is better at something than they are, and end up surrounding themselves with mediocrity which only tends to reinforce their ego. A harsh lesson that many of these mediocre business leaders learnt from the economic collapse of 2008 was that it was a hell of a lot easier to succeed in a booming economy. They had let their “success” blind them to the true realities of their situation. It was evident in the wake of the recession that the businesses that continued to survive — and even thrive — did so because of the planning of their leaders and the investment they had made in their people.

Are you prepared to become a successful business leader? You’ll need to ask yourself some tough questions and answer honestly about yourself and your own abilities. Maybe you won’t like what you hear. The real question is this: What will you learn from this exercise? And will your ego be able to handle it? Consider checking yours at the door, and maybe you’ll start down the path of building a company of giants.

Pruning the Tree

With the calendar now midway through November, winter is definitely in the air. One of my routines for this time of year is to prepare the gardens around my property for the coming winter by pruning the shrubs and trees. As you might know, pruning trees is helpful for a variety of reasons:

  • to remove dead or diseased branches
  • to thin the crown to permit new growth and better air circulation
  • to remove obstructing lower branches
  • to shape a tree for design purposes

Okay, so I confess that I’m not actually the one out in the backyard with snips trimming branches but I do know the critical importance to the health, safety and aesthetics of my trees and shrubs that the annual pruning exercise means.

So what is your point Frank, I’ll bet your wondering. Quite simply, I find that there is an astonishing parallel between maintaining a garden and ensuring you have a healthy and growing company. Let me break it down a bit.

Trimming the dead branches

First, I’ll describe the practice of trimming away dead branches. There are three main benefits of cutting off dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs:  it makes way for new growth to sprout and flourish, it mitigates the spread of disease and it improves the beauty of the tree.

Every company has the same issue of “dead branches” – unproductive and poor performing employees – and reaps the same benefits by doing some “pruning” – that is, letting those employees go. No matter how successful an organization is, it is inevitable that some employees will always fall into this category and business leaders need to be vigilant with their trimming. By removing these underperforming employees, the company’s up-and-comers have a better chance to stand out and be recognized for their achievements, and grow and prosper as the rest of the company grows.

Furthermore, like a diseased branch the employees that fall into this deadwood category often have a poor attitude that can infect the rest of the company. Pruning will help prevent the spread of morale and culturing-impacting negativism and pessimism.

Pruning also serves to enhance the attraction of the company to potential high-performing candidates, what I call the rock stars… hopefully they will see that this is an organization that doesn’t countenance low or poor performance, enhancing their attraction to the company.

Culling living branches

While it is of critical importance to cut off dead branches, pruning live branches is equally important. Sometimes this mean removing branches that are lower down on the trunk, or thinning out the crown of the shrub or tree. The art and act of trimming living branches is a bit more complex and strategic than removing dead branches. The desired outcome is to selectively remove those branches that are impeding (or will impede) others from growing properly, or are growing in a different direction than you want the tree to grow.

Again, the analogy to a company is striking. Oftentimes you may have a strong and productive employee, but that person’s behaviours or mindset are such that – while maybe acceptable at one point in time – she is now impeding others in the organization from performing to the maximum of their ability. As hard as it may seem, that person needs to go. Similarly, an employee that has a set of skills and capabilities that were extremely valuable to the organization at one point in time – say, during the start-up phase – but now that the company has grown and matured the value of that employee’s capabilities has greatly diminished. He, too, must go for the greater good of the organization.

I know that some of you are thinking, “But what if I make a mistake?  What if I cut the wrong person, or too many for that matter?”.  Read on and I’ll explain my view on that.

A Living Organism

The last point I will make on this topic is perhaps stating the obvious – much like a tree or a shrub, a company is a living organism. A tree or shrub that is not properly maintained and pruned will over time grow in ways that leave it less strong, vibrant and attractive compared to ones that have been consistently and properly pruned. While a case can be made that it’s never too late to prune a tree, if you let it go too long the amount of effort to get it back into the shape you want it will be high and it in fact may take years to get it going in the direction you want it to.

And so too it goes with a company: let it go untended too long, deferring those tough decisions on cutting out those seemingly healthy and productive “branches” or making excuses for keeping the deadwood around, means some really tough work ahead.

And to address your concern about cutting the wrong employee, or maybe removing too many (perhaps because you’ve left it too long), do not fear. Companies like trees are resilient and naturally rejuvenate – if you snip off the wrong branch while unfortunate another one will grow to take its place; similarly, if you lop off a few too many undeniably it will have a short term impact, but the reality is that it won’t take too long before ample new ones sprout in their place.

My message here is quite simple:  at least once a year – and fall is one of the best times – get your organizational “trimmers” out and do your company and employees a favour by cutting back selectively and with determination. I can assure you that if you do so, your company will be stronger, healthier and more prosperous as a result. Why?  I practice what I preach and I hold up the success of my companies past and present as the proof in the pudding. Oh, and you should see the trees in my backyard.