People often live by the saying: if you want to get something done right, you need to do it yourself. While I have heard people toss this phrase around like a badge of honor, there is no philosophy more toxic for an organization, especially small businesses. Businesses of any size are complex and it is unrealistic to think that a small number of individuals will have all of the necessary expertise. So how do you determine where to focus your attention?
To illustrate an example of what not to do, let’s take a look at how I used to run my own business.
When sales were slow, I would put all of my energy into selling. Once the sales pipeline was full, I would then focus 100 percent of my time conducting speeches and advising clients. This meant, of course, that my sales pipeline would eventually dry up and I would need to refocus on selling once again. At some point, I would realize that my products were no longer innovative—and no amount of selling will increase sales. Therefore, I would shift my efforts and deep dive into R&D mode, creating a new book, speech or product. And the cycle would continue over and over again.
This is what happens when you do everything yourself. It is inefficient. And worse, it is exhausting.
If you are a small business owner, you need to focus on the activities that are at the intersection of your passions, skills and value. That is, what do you love to do, what are you good at, and what creates value for others. For everything else, find suitable partners who can help you execute.
Start by making a list of all of the activities that your business needs to do: new product development, sales, marketing, customer service, order taking, fulfillment, IT, HR, etc. Go to whatever level of granularity feels right.
Then, for each activity, rate its passions, skills and value quotient from low to high: high passion activities are those you love to do; high skills activities are those where you have the necessary expertise to execute effectively; and high value activities are those that are strategic to your business.
The result gives you seven different targeting strategies:
Strategy 1: Target high passion/high skills/strategic activities
This is the sweet spot of your business. “Target” these areas and put most of your energies here. If this is your core business, then you have chosen wisely.
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Strategy 2: Outsource low passion/low skills activities
If you neither like nor do an activity well, then outsource it to someone who enjoys it and has the skills to execute it at a higher level. This can be done through bartering, hiring employees, using contractors, summoning friends and family, revenue sharing or other creative collaborative strategies. Employ this strategy regardless of the value dimension.
Strategy 3: Minimize low passion/high skills/strategic activities
If you don’t want your job to become work, you probably want to outsource these capabilities as well. If you are starting out and finances are an issue, you may want to continue doing these activities for now then outsource at a more appropriate time. Given that they are strategic in nature, someone has to do them as they are critical to your businesses success.
Strategy 4: Learn high passion/low skills/strategic activities
If you love doing these activities, then you may wish to acquire the necessary skills. This can be done through a variety of means including training, mentoring or researching. If you anticipate a steep learning curve, consider finding a partner during the learning process who possesses these talents. This will help you move forward while gaining the necessary skills.
Strategy 5: Extend high passion/high skills/tactical activities
If you are passionate and skilled in a particular area and it is not currently strategic (i.e., tactical), consider how you might “extend” that capability. How can you make this a strategic part of your business? How can you create extraordinary value for customers by leveraging this expertise? Perhaps one way is to offer this service to others who are in a similar business. For example, professional speaking is my core business. However, something that I am both skilled at and passionate about is securing business with large corporations. I could offer this as a service to other speakers as a source of additional revenue.
Strategy 6: Rethink low passion/low skills/strategic activities
If you find that the majority of your strategic activities involve work that is not of interest to you, you may want to “rethink” the business you are in—especially if you lack the necessary skills. Although it is difficult to be successful in a business where you are neither skilled nor passionate, this does not mean you are fated for failure. Maybe you hate sales, yet the sales function is critical to the success of your business. In this case you may wish to “partner” with someone who enjoys this work and excels in this area. In this sense, you are moving beyond the traditional outsourcing model where activities are typically tactical in nature (e.g., building your website, doing your taxes or creating marketing materials) to strategic partnerships where they have a vested interest in the success of your business.
Strategy 7: Take up a hobby for high passion/low skills/tactical activities
Finally, there are some things that interest you and are areas where you want to develop your skills, but they are not important to the business. In this case, you are best off taking these activities up as a hobby. Avoid trying to make them part of your business as it will only serve as a distraction.
Don’t fall prey to thinking you have to do it on your own. Instead, be strategic about what you outsource and you will become more effective, productive and successful—and you will be doing work you love so it will never seem like work.