It’s not our fault. Really, it’s not. We were all trained the same way; all indoctrinated into the same mindset by the same school system. As author Seth Godin is fond of saying, we were all raised to be cogs in the wheel of industry. Put the peg in the hole; eight hours a day; five (or six or seven) days a week; 50 weeks a year (if you’re lucky enough to get two weeks’ worth of vacation) and maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll get to retire.
It’s an old-school way of thinking about the job market, and (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), it’s a reality that’s slowly disappearing.
Most of our grandparents worked in the same job their whole lives, and enjoyed a retirement buffered by their company pension. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. The fact that you’re reading this article is proof that you’re likely an entrepreneur, working on your own small business and hoping to keep if afloat long enough to sniff retirement. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that thinks they’ll probably have to keep grinding until they one day drop dead on the middle of a job. (And if you happen to be my home inspection client that happens to, I apologize but your inspection report may be delivered a little late…)
Overcoming the Hurdles
So how do we overcome this future? Is there anything that we can do to help our businesses to grow into something that allows us to maybe, just maybe, retire before we drop dead on a job?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. By being proactive and taking a few steps (and a few chances) now, we can increase our possibility of business success. Take a look at these six ideas on how to grow your business. Doing some (or all) of these things can help you take some of the necessary steps to increase your odds of success.
1. Change the way you think about your business
Currently, our earnings are limited by the amount of time we have to spend working. As a home inspector, we can only do a certain number of inspections each day. Depending on your market, your thoroughness and how much daylight there is on any given day, you can probably only do 2-3 inspections a day. Multiply that by seven days in a week (if you’re really committed – or need to be committed…) and that’s the limit on your income.
There’s only so much time to do inspections each week, and until you figure out how to manufacture more time (and please let me know if you do figure that one out), you’re topped out on your potential earnings by the number of hours in the day.
We trade our time for money. It’s the way we’re taught that business works; it’s the way it’s always been done. But, the times, they are a-changin’. However, until we transform our mindset and stop thinking in terms of trading money for time, our ability to grow will be limited.
Instead of buying into this mindset, this limiting belief, we should start thinking about different ways we can trade our value for money. What are some of the different ways that you can provide value to your potential customers? What knowledge, skills, relationships, ideas or things do you possess that others would find value in having? Figure out what your intangible strengths are and work to capitalize on those assets.
2. Establish yourself as the authority
So, we’ve figured out what assets we have that other people will find valuable. Now we need to work to establish the fact that we are the go-to authority in this space. Once we demonstrate to our potential clients that we are in fact the expert that they need, we create value around our knowledge. Our clients will recognize the fact that we possess the ability to solve those difficult problems they’re having; the ones they can’t seem to be able to overcome.
Unfortunately, it takes a good amount of time and effort to develop a reputation as an authority. It’s not something that happens overnight. And even if you do rise to the top of your field in something, that skill is useless if your customers don’t know about it.
Becoming an authority can be difficult, and it’s important to use multiple strategies to achieve this goal. There are a few ways you can go about becoming an authority, including producing content on the subject matter, being recognized in the media, associating with other influencers and getting testimonials from previous clients.
It takes time and persistence, but being recognized as an influencer in your industry can lead to more (and better) opportunities.
3. Multiply the value of your time
It’s difficult to ascend into the upper echelon of your chosen industry. If it were easy to snap your fingers and become the best in your business, with the appropriate fee to go along with that title, then wouldn’t you (and every one of your competitors) already be there?
We all want to achieve our goals, but time is not on our side. We’re all limited by the same clock, so we must figure out how to make the most of our allotted time. We need to find the time to work on our abilities, developing the needed skills and manufacturing the content necessary to reach our goals.
That’s where multiplying the value of our time comes in. If we’re currently working with 10 clients a week that are paying us $300 each, then we need to find 5 clients that are willing to pay us $600 each and ditch the rest. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but the point here is that we need to focus our energy on a smaller number of clients that deliver us the highest return for the time we invest.
That way, we’ll be working fewer hours but still making the income we need to sustain our business and family’s needs. And the resultant increase in free time will provide us the opportunity to develop other ways to grow our business.
4. Automate as many processes as you can
Many of the things that we do in our businesses are the same every day. Having to do repetitive tasks is one of the leading causes of burnout in any field. It gets boring when we repeat the same motions over and over in our business. This often leads to people becoming jaded with their jobs and can cause our quality and productivity to suffer. No one wants to do the same thing day in and day out.
One way to deal with repetition is to create systems to help make your workflow go more smoothly. You can make this as complex as you like, but something as simple as creating a document outlining the steps that you take to complete a certain task can lessen the stress you face in your daily job.
The great thing is that we live in an age of unbelievable opportunity. We have an almost unlimited amount of computer power at our fingertips. Take advantage of this power and automate and systemize as much of your process as you can. By utilizing apps and programs to do some of the more menial tasks that you’re repeating every day, you can free yourself up to do other things.
One of the best moves I’ve ever made in my home inspection business was to upgrade my inspection software. While this move represented a significant monetary investment, going from a program that I paid for one time to something that I now pay for on a recurring monthly basis, it has proven to be, hands-down, the best business move I’ve ever made. I went from doing everything myself to having it taken care of for me. Scheduling and coordination, sending and receiving contracts, invoicing, deposits and bookkeeping, report delivery, recordkeeping, follow up marketing and recordkeeping are all taken care of for me. The only question is why the hell didn’t I do this sooner!
The majority of our time should be spent doing those things that can grow our business: developing relationships and creating long-term strategies. If all your time is spent doing small jobs, running errands and putting out fires, you’re wasting time working in your business when you really should be working on your business.
5. Getting yourself some help
While I won’t deny that most small business owners could probably benefit from some professional therapy (myself included), in this context, getting yourself some help refers to hiring people to help grow your business. Implementing systems and taking advantage of automation can certainly help lessen your workload. But the reality is that we can’t possibly do everything ourselves and grow our businesses. Sooner or later, the time will come when we need to hire someone to help us with the overwhelming workload. We can keep doing everything ourselves, but eventually we’ll reach maximum capacity and our businesses will stop growing.
Hiring someone to help in our business is often the most stressful decision a small business owner must face. The thought of finding the right person, getting them properly trained, paying their salary and being responsible for someone other than yourself is enough to make us loose sleep. Literally, most of us would rather cut back on the number of hours we sleep at night and do the work ourselves than submit to the stress of hiring employees. But, unless you’re content with maintaining your business at its current level and never growing, the reality is that you’re going to need some help.
The encouraging thing is there are many ways to make this transition less painful than it could be. Remember those systems that we created in step 4? Now that we have an outline of what we need done and how to do it, we can easily hand off those tasks to our new employees with only a minimal amount of training needed. They can simply follow our list and touch base with us if something goes off the rails.
With the availability of digital assistants, many of your daily chores can be handled by someone over the internet, so you may not even need to hire a full-time, in-person worker. Figure out the things that you dislike most about your job, those menial, repetitive tasks that almost anyone can do, and outsource them to an assistant. Concentrate on the things that only you can do.
Take the advice of legendary business consultant Peter Drucker: “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”
6. Focus your energy on creating viable products
The ultimate goal of many of today’s entrepreneurs is to create an online product; something that you build once, and it provides future income with little input (and limited maintenance) involved. Create an online training program, write an e-book, build a membership site or start a digital mentoring business and you benefit from the magic of digital products. Your products exist in cyberspace, easily accessible for anyone that wants to pay you to access them, even when you’re asleep!
The unfortunate reality is that most people won’t have the opportunity to create a viable digital offering. While doing so is not impossible, there certainly are many hurdles to putting yourself out there in the digital space. It takes time and energy (and an idea) to create a product and there are certain digital skills that must be mastered (or contracted out). Nothing is 100% self-sustaining, so some ongoing maintenance will be needed. And, arguably the most difficult obstacle to conquer is that it takes a lot of discipline to overcome the self-doubt and internal noise in your own head before you can even begin to produce a digital product.
The encouraging thing is that, while a self-sustaining digital product would be a great thing for your future success, you don’t have to produce something digital to create a viable product to sell. Going back to our first point, if you can come up with an idea for a higher-level offering for your clients, you can spend your time refining and promoting this (more profitable) product.
A friend in the inspection industry spend a few years becoming the go-to authority as a thermographer, buying quality equipment, getting the necessary certifications, developing his skills and processes, maximizing his abilities and honing his messaging as the industry leader in this field. He now does very few home inspections, because his schedule is filled with six-figure thermography jobs across the country.
Spend some time researching your clients and their needs. Is there an unmet demand in their lives that relates to your business? Are there any services that are similar to what you’re already doing? With an investment of time and money, can you effectively add some of these items to your current offerings? By expanding what you already do for your clients, you can create additional value in your services and increase the profitability of each job. That’s a win-win for both you and your clients.
Back to Reality
None of us likes drastic change. If we could simply keep doing the same job but steadily increase our take-home income, most of us would be as happy as a clam to stay with the status quo. But the reality of the business world is that everything does change, and nowadays it’s changing faster than ever. Those of us that refuse to change with the times will soon find ourselves and our businesses at the back of the pack, looking up at our competition, wondering what the hell happened to our market share.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to keep up with, or even surpass, those businesses that want to claim our customers. It just takes a little bit of work (and a good dose of initiative.) Be proactive and devote yourself to creating a better version of you. Put in the extra work to better yourself and your business.
Invest in yourself. Hands-down, it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.
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