Are You Stuck Because You're Failing To Think Strategically?

business fitness mba May 05, 2019

Summary:

I like to provide a quick summary at the top of each lesson. That way, you can decide whether you want to invest 15 minutes of your time into fully comprehending it. If you don't, I can only hope that the 15 minutes is spent doing something life-changing because this is life-changing advice. 

  • Being strategic in your business starts with effective time management -- putting all your activities through a filter and delegating everything that isn't the 'best use' of your time.
  • Your time is your most valuable asset, but most people treat it as a cheap commodity.
  • Delegating doesn't need to be demeaning -- finding people who love to do what you don't, and paying them for it, could be really beneficial for them.
  • Schedule your activities using the Time Blocking concept so you have more freedom in your work day.
  • Working on your business, not in it isn't just a catchy phrase. It will allow you in time to be in a position where your business works harder for you than you work for it.

 


 

 Are You Stuck Because You're Failing To Think Strategically?

 

A year ago, my current mentor asked me to take a record of all my business activities for a whole week. Every 30 minutes between 6 am and 8 pm, my phone would sound an alarm, and I’d have to write in my notes what I was doing at the time. At the end of the week, I had to separate the activities that were revenue-producing (sales/marketing) and strategic (planning), against activities that were non-productive, distractions, or low-level tasks that I could have delegated.

I was shocked to realise that even though I was busy, 80% of my decisions fell under activities that were non-productive, distractions, or low-level tasks I could have delegated. This was despite, at the time, running a fitness business that was exceeding $650,000 p.a; it would have been easy to assume I was being relatively productive.

Until that point in time, I was spending my most important, finite resources failing to focus on strategizing and working on high-return activities (like sales and marketing).

If you were to take a cross-section of the average fitness professional running a business, you’d likely find the same problem: ‘busyness prevents productiveness.’

These days, I help my mentees shift their focus away from perceived responsibilities, to their actual responsibilities. In reality, most business owners are responsible for growing the business, not, running errands. It’s easy to justify errands however: and you've probably said this at least once: “If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.” This is a fallacy.

Rather, a more accurate representation of the situation sounds like this:

“If you don’t do it, it won’t get done until you delegate it.”

 Shifting your focus away from low-level tasks and responsibilities toward high-level strategy, sales, and marketing is life changing. Here is an example:

 

One of my mentees, “Erica”, owns a fantastic training facility that has three product offerings: the first is group classes for general populations clients, the second is personal training for both athletes and general gym-goers, and the third is group athletic development coaching.

 

Within that, there are multiple price points. Collectively, the product offering is somewhat complex and difficult to wrap your head around – there is simply too much choice. This led to significant challenges with marketing – it was difficult to create a congruent message – what was important to general gym goers, wasn’t important to athletes, and vice-versa.  As a result, lead generation wasn’t where it used to be, and rising overheads and expenses were putting pressure on the bottom line. Because she was trying to appeal to everyone, she was struggling to appeal to anyone at all.

 

On top of her lead generation challenges, Erica was overworked. She was the bottleneck for too many tasks within the business and as a result, had no time to invest in a marketing solution.

 

Until that all changed. How? Erica started delegating her low-level responsibilities that were taking up the majority of her working week, finally creating the time to designing a marketing strategy that wasn’t built on hope marketing. After a few weeks of shuffling responsibilities around, she was finally able to take a chunk of time away from the business and meet me at my office to strategise and lay out her plan.

 

During the course of that day, Erica and I came up with a brilliant plan: instead of relying on referrals and organic content creation while she ran around frantically fulfilling all her responsibilities, we’d design a specific marketing strategy for each stream of clients that leveraged paid traffic, in a way that general gym goers were unlikely to find themselves in front of advertising for athlete development, and vice versa. In this way, the messaging was hyper-targeted, highly relevant, and effective at communicating Erin’s real value – it wasn’t getting lost in language and offers that didn’t relate to them.

 

Now instead of relying on referrals alone, she can now expect a 10x return on her advertising investments – she can put $300 in to acquire a new athlete and get $3000 back in membership fees for the year. This happens like clockwork.  Not only did this shift in strategy help her business, but it will help her ideal customers find her more easily so they get great coaching in a great training environment. It is a win for her business, a win for her staff and a win for her customers.

 

If you’re failing to strategise, you’re not using your time well. Just like Erica was struggling to nail her messaging without a strategy for lead generation, you, too, may be missing the mark and spending your time ineffectively. If you were like me only a few years ago, you may be harnessing your most important resource – your time – ineffectively 80% of the time.  In this lesson, I’ll reveal the same strategies I’ve used to manage my time and talents as best I can. As my mentor taught me, strategy begins with a concept called best-use, a simple theory for time management.

 

Best Use & Time Blocking

 

If you were to view your time expenditure like you would view your income expenditure, you’d never spend time the way you do. But this is a failing of most business owners – even though time is by far your greatest asset, you waste it on unimportant things when you could be investing it in strategy. Every minute you waste, you waste an opportunity to create a business that serves you, not the other way around.

In my experience, business success is much less about what you have, and rather, what you do with what you have. Take it from me – I had no rich Dad to fund my business adventures, no, private-school education to help me network, and no remarkable IQ that helped me defy the odds and rise to the occasion. But fortunately for me, I now use my time like a high-ranking General in the army, rather than a soldier.  Instead of marching and fighting, I spend my time strategizing. Just like the natural evolution of an Army General, it's up to you to transcend your role in the same way.

If you don’t know a highly productive, fast-paced, quick-to-iterate person who is close to you, you’ve probably seen them. They are the visionaries and entrepreneurs that get the (right) shit done. Their strategy is simple – spend their time producing the greatest, long-term, strategic pay off possible. If you want to find out how you can use an average skill set and make it great by optimising your time, your relationships, opportunities, expenses and priorities, the best-use concept of time management is for you.

The concept of ‘best-use’ is ridiculously obvious – use your time to its maximum potential. As you’ve probably realised, however, common sense isn’t necessarily, a common practice.

Despite it being common sense, it’s a common failing in business. For most business owners, the trouble lies in not knowing what the most effective, best-use activities are in the first place. Even though they think that what they’re doing is effective, it isn’t. If you’re questioning how you partition your time and wondering if this applies to you too, then it definitely does. Unless you know you’ve created a business that facilitates the best-use concept, you’re not there yet.

Here is how the best-use concept works. 

  1. List all the roles you're paid in your business to do. When I first did this exercise, my roles were coaching, programming, administration, content creation, marketing, strategic planning, sales, cleaning, intern supervision, bookkeeping, accounting, event planning, installation and equipment maintenance… you get the drift.
  2. Now, break down those critical tasks into subcategories – there are usually a few more.
    For example, marketing involves writing ad angles, taking photos for creatives, researching audiences, running Facebook ads, building landing pages, and ensuring the integrations speak to each other. Sales involve scheduling calls, making the calls, being around to help clear concerns for potential athletes, sign them up, and initiate the onboarding process. Content creation involves storyboarding, post creation, writing blogs and creating resources for my mentees and athletes. You get the picture.
  3. Review your list and score them according to your competency, relevancy and passion.
  4. Discover your inefficiencies: if you’re either incompetent, or, the task is neither highly relevant to the best use of your time, or, you don’t have the passion to do it, you’re being inefficient. For example, I have terrible attention to detail, I’m not handy, and I don’t like cleaning. Yet, I used to waste my time worrying about administrative duties, cleaning the bathrooms and drilling holes into the walls. This would eat up my time and stop me doing what I was best at doing, and as a result, sabotaging my business. These days, I delegate those duties and check their work to make sure it’s to the standard I want.
  5. Delegate, or completely remove your inefficiencies. While it might be annoying or an expense to delegate, the cost is much greater. With your time locked down doing irrelevant tasks that you may lack a passion for or are incompetent at, you’re strangling your business.

 

So now that you’ve completed that task, there is no doubt some duties, responsibilities or tasks that can be immediately removed or delegated. The best way to delegate is to find people who love to do what you hate – either because you’re incompetent, lack the passion for it, or, you know it’s not relevant to moving the needle in your business. Here is a great example:

As you know, I’m not a fan of cleaning. As I already admitted – my attention to detail isn’t the greatest. My head can’t be in the clouds and also cleaning up the floor (at least, that’s how I justify it). Compare my disdain for cleaning with our favourite cleaner, Viviana. Viviana is Columbian, she loves her music, and is here on a student visa. Viviana also loves things to be clean. She gets excited knowing she can leave the gym spotless. 

So, Viviana comes to our gym twice a week, turns on her Portuguese Salsa and sings and dances her way through the gym while she cleans. She is literally a ball of happiness and energy. She also gets paid to do it – an added bonus for her. Viviana also saves me, and my staff, from getting bogged down, cleaning bogs out of the loo. It’s a win-win. For the $200 it costs me to pay her for 6 hours of work, I can write 5000 words of a blog, which might make me $18,000 back when 3 future mentees reach out to me asking for my help after reading it and finding something that resonated.

 

When I suggest this to my mentees, one of the first concerns is that they can’t afford it. Ironically, if that’s the case, they can’t afford not to. Here is why.

If you don’t have the money to delegate low-level tasks and improve your inefficiencies, then not only are you clearly not focused on strategy, but you’re not leveraging other people’s inefficiencies, either. Let’s say you’re a gym owner who loves to coach and do marketing but hates administrative tasks. You could easily find a friend on maternity leave (who can’t work at an office), set her up with a [email protected] email, and make her the head of administration and customer experience. She can answer emails and do administrative tasks from home on her computer while her bub is sleeping, and you can pay her for her work done on the hour. It might cost you a few hundred dollars a week (well under what it would cost to hire someone formally and work at your desk), but the time you saved will allow you to book in extra clients, design a marketing strategy that brings in new customers or book in a sales call to sign up a new customer.  In short, she can become a handy virtual assistant.

Usually, if you think you’ve done everything, you haven’t.

Remember Erica from my example before? She thought she simply couldn’t get rid of her one-on-one’s – a common concern for gym owners feel like leaving there one-on-one commitments would spark the demise of their relationships with their clients (a completely understandable concern). It wasn’t until I asked her to list everything that she’d tried to do to free up her time, that she realised she hadn’t tried that much at all.

Within a few minutes, we had devised a strategy where they graduated from 1-on-1’s to small group training in her newly formed Athlete Membership – they saved money, and Erica saved time. The new found freedom was worth the initial loss in revenue --- a commitment that was holding her back from investing in scaling her business. Even though she lost a few hundred dollars each week with the transition, she freed up close to 15 hours of her time at critical hours of the day.

 

There will be times where you think ‘there is nothing else I could possibly do’. When a thought like that goes through your head – list every option you’ve tried. Then, list every option you could try, independent of your bias and whether you’d actually do it or not. You’ll find that the second list is full of alternatives and opportunities you haven’t explored, and in doing so, you might find a perfect solution.

  

Time Blocking

 

One of the most pertinent reminders of effective time management comes in the form of a simple quote by best-selling author Jocko Willink: “Discipline equals Freedom.”

It’s a paradox of sorts – the more you uphold your own commitments, the more freedom will be created in your life – you’ll have fewer distractions, fewer diversions and less disappointment. Time blocking is the art of scheduling various business activities into blocks of time which you adhere to religiously.

By time blocking, your priorities are accounted for, your day is planned in advance, and your environment is set up in a way where distractions are minimised. You get done, what you plan to get done. You answer emails when you plan to. You train when you plan to, etcetera.

Time blocking is effective because it’s simple. Instead of being manipulated by your day and what transpires, you manipulate your day to suit your needs. First discussed by Cal Newport back in 2013, it has now become the most discussed strategy for time management. 

Time is blocked for emails, creative work, your primary priority, training, meditation, meetings, personal time – whatever floats your boat. Alarms are set to help transition you from one block to another, and your calendar acts as a checklist – each successful block of time adhered to facilitates a big green tick.

It’s a self-serving way to spend your day, every win feeds the next win, and a positive cycle of productivity ensues.

 

A note on emails and social media

 

In an era where we are instantly connected, we are also instantly distracted. Notifications on our phones that take us away from important work are everywhere, and, the chances are you are tied to the instant gratification of responding to messages, receiving them, responding to emails, receiving them, responding to direct messages, receiving them, and, checking your latest post for likes and comments. What is one of the greatest technological breakthroughs is also a monumental waste of time. 

Like everything else, schedule in time to respond to emails, answer DM’s on social media and respond to comments. If you see this as a task that has time blocked out for it, it will no longer become a distraction. I only make one exception to this rule – if it’s a direct lead enquiry – as in, they’ve enquired through your website or via social media, give yourself an opportunity to decide whether your current task is more important than what is potentially, attracting a new customer into your business. I have found that clients are looking to be connected to you as soon as possible and letting them browse around in the space of time between the enquiry being submitted, and you responding, can be costly.

 

10 Ways To Work On Your Business, Not In It.

 

In the early days of running Athletes Authority, I had subscribed to the idea that I had to work in the business. Perhaps you feel the same way. For most businesses in the start-up phase, that’s probably true. After the initial set up, however, continuing to operate in this way – working in the business and not on it – keeps businesses playing small.

 Unless you want to play small (and struggle as a result of being the bottleneck for almost everything), you want to transition from working in the business, to on the business. The reason for this is simple: when you work on the business, it begins to work harder for you than you do for it. Slowly but surely, systems are put in place that makes low-level tasks you used to be responsible for redundant; employees are put in place who absorb responsibilities you used to have, and ultimately, you’re left with only the best-use activities to take up your day. 

It’s amazing what a difference a subtle shift in thinking can make – work on your business, not in it. For as long as you work in it, your day will be eaten up accomplishing the bare minimum you need to stay alive. You’ll just pay the rent, just afford the electricity and just afford your weekend trip away.

Working on the business means being strategic enough that you’re involved in activities that grow your business – so you’re not just surviving week to week. These are the key functions of your business – marketing, sales, and strategic planning. These are your big money-makers, not your big energy drainers.

To cut through the noise and get straight to your best-use activities, here are ten pillars to guide you. Rather than being a process-driven guide that walks you through everything step by step, they are pillars you can continually utilise, optimise and innovate with that will ensure your business works for you.

 

  1. Always strive for an obvious unique selling proposition – you want to appear superior, irresistible, and a no-brainer in the eyes of your clients. I think of SIN:
    Superior
    Irresistible
    No-brainer
  2. Create true value for your clients and employees to encourage loyalty and their continued support.
  3. Get a mentor and work with them to commit to implementing your strategic priorities.
  4. The more you can iterate, optimise and ultimately, innovate, the more effective you will become.
  5. Continually look for opportunities to reverse the risk for both your clients and yourself to minimise downside.
  6. Do not rely on a single revenue source – a few profitable sources will help mitigate risk in the event of a shift in the landscape.
  7. Always look to optimise a system to reduce inefficiencies and negate expenses.
  8. What are the hidden assets in your business you aren’t utilising?
  9. Catch yourself when you’re stuck in a scarcity mindset – you won’t become a strategic thinker if you’re operating out of desperation.
  10. Leverage your time as effectively as possible.

 

Before you proceed, consider what your current to-dos are. How many of these correspond to the above activities? How many don’t? As soon as possible, delegate the low-level tasks to free up time – even if it seems like a hit to the bottom line. Most of the time, these tasks don’t cost a lot to delegate but will create space and time for you to make significant headway on creating a strategy that helps your business work harder for you then you do for it.

 

Change is inevitable – either you dictate it, or it dictates you.

 

There are three types of business owners in the world.

  • The first type feels as if things always happen to them. They are the ones who ask, “why me?”
  • The second type watch as change happens around them. They are the types of say: “hopefully that doesn’t happen to me.”
  • The third type make things happen. They say, “I wanted it that way.”

 

An old mentor once told me – you’re exactly where you want to be. If you wanted to be anywhere else, you’d be there instead. Poignant advice.

Being a strategy-focused entrepreneur requires you to embrace change regularly and take ownership of your current success (and failures). It requires a willingness to iterate, optimise and innovate as a result of watching the emergent effects of your actions. Up until now, you may have spent your time losing yourself in the business weeds, getting busy executing low-priority tasks and sapping your daily motivation on things that don’t move the needle forward.

If that’s you, then only you can change that reality. Only you can decide to value yourself more highly and decide to be a strategic player in your business. Just like a general in the army, your job is to focus on making strategic moves, not executing on tactics like the soldiers they command. If you’re finding yourself being a soldier in your business, then remember, that your risks of being wounded in battle rise exponentially.

 

Action Step

 

Your action step is simple; stop being a glorified administrative assistant, gym floor instructor and general handyman (unless of course, these are highly relevant, are a passion of yours, and you are competent at them). Develop the discipline and foresight to delegate and start by passing on the responsibilities of low-level tasks to someone else. Remember, the clients of your business don’t pay you to read your emails, they pay you to solve their problems, so devote your time to strategizing the best ways to make that happen at scale. By creating this shift in thinking, you’ll solve more problems, generate more revenue for your business, and stop squandering your time on activities that keep your business playing in the kid’s sandpit.

 

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