Small Business Leaders Struggle with the 3-Legged Stool: How to Overcome

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day or week when there is more time. The trouble is, more time never actually arrives, right?

Today is no different from yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

The 3-Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

Every small business owner struggles with maintaining balance among these areas:

  • Maintaining a smooth operation – invoicing customers, paying expenses, having good procedures in place to prevent business breakdown and wasting resources
  • Delivering value – providing to customers whatever your business does as its core offering, i.e., products, services, and support
  • Promoting value – performing the sales, marketing, and business development functions to ensure 1) prospects know your business exists; 2) customers understand your value and provide you with validation; and 3) employees, partners, and customers stay engaged.

Stop Letting Your Personal Life Suffer

The person sitting atop a well-balanced 3-legged stool has the opportunity for a personal life. Chances are you’re not very good at all three legs of the stool. In a large company you have the benefit of departments to focus on activities related to the different legs of the stool. That probably isn’t the case in your small business where you have to spread your time, talent, and attention across sales, marketing, account payable, human resources, product development, etc. Even if you are good in all areas, you’ll struggle with the limited time available. When the legs of the stool get out of balance or become all-consuming then you and your personal life get sacrificed or worse, topple to the ground. Business performance then also suffers. We’ve all been there.

Five Things to Overcome the Struggle

  1. Recognize the need to slow down: sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. It is true when hiking up a steep trail and it’s also true in business. As a now deceased friend has taught me, “Make time to linger.” R.I.P. Donald Marsh.
  2. Revisit your operation: perhaps you need new operating mechanisms that could prevent snags in the business operation that if left unresolved will end up consuming resources. As a start, begin to identify where your time gets wasted. If you don’t know, begin monitoring your own time over the next week or month. Identifying the workarounds could be a place to fix first. If you have employees, they’ll know these rough spots.
  3. Stay on course: your energy spread in too many directions can fatigue you and crush personal and business performance. Be deliberate on your destination and script the critical moves needed to get there. Read the Destination Postcards article for an exercise that can bring discipline to charting a course and then staying true to that course.
  4. Confront reality: mind the uncomfortable gap you have between your current performance and expected performance. Focus on key areas and find acceptable discomfort for what you’ll not work on in the near term.  You cannot do it all, so find some peace in accepting that. See Business Performance Continuums exercise.
  5. Force multiply through others: recognize that you cannot do it alone. It is difficult to involve somebody else in your projects and business, especially if you already feel overwhelmed. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now, if you engaged them. There is plenty of talent available to help you in whatever your endeavor is. More talent on the team can come in many forms: full-time or part-time, employee or alliance with a service provider. At Delightability, we are a virtual marketing department serving clients’ needs, providing both consulting and creative services. Whether small or large projects, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders, like you. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, that you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

Write that down on your wall or whiteboard and revisit it often, “You don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.” Eventually, you’ll do something different to close your uncomfortable gap across the 3 legs of the stool while at the same time getting your personal life to soar.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a business and marketing consultant, author, and speaker. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Mayor Holds Office Hours to Tune Into Small Business Owners

Being Connected is Not the Same as Being Plugged in

Being connected and plugged in are not the same thing. Think beyond technology and connectivity. Think of the Vulcan mind meld (RIP Leonard Nimoy) where you can effectively channel the thoughts of another. If you could do that with those you serve, you’d be plugged in to their needs. This always in touch state is one of the characteristics of having an effective promise delivery system, the invisible system by which we all make and keep promises. Every individual and organization has a promise delivery system; government is no exception.

Stakeholders are key

Promise delivery systems often break down from the start by failing to recognize one or more stakeholders. An easy example to pick on is most any publicly traded company. Plagued by short term thinking they often place shareholders first, ignoring other stakeholders like customers and employees that ultimately determine the health of the organization.

image of City of Los Angeles with small businesses of all types and sizesIn the case of local government the stakeholders often ignored are those that are under-served or have little voice or representation. It is easy to think of the mentally ill, or veterans experiencing homelessness because those audiences, while highly visible, are not highly vocal. In urban America, my home town of Seattle included, our street corners showcase this human suffering and the broken promises delivered from our government’s failed public policies. Imagine if the fire department never showed up to your burning home. That is what it must feel like for the marginalized stakeholders in our communities.

Imagine if the fire department never showed up to your burning home. That is what it must feel like for the marginalized stakeholders in our communities.

image of coffee shop meeting - ch 14 world of work has changed in book the experience design blueprintThere is another audience that is underrepresented, and is often similarly ignored, taken for granted, and largely invisible to government, namely small business. You hear it often, that small business is the backbone of the economy. Small business creates more jobs more quickly while large organizations may continue to shed jobs, bolstering profits and earnings along the way to their short term utopia. Small business owners are usually so busy working that they too join the ranks of the invisible and marginalized. This is especially true of small businesses that have no storefront, operate virtually, often invisible to the public, and out of mind of city government.

An Inspiring Leader Connects with Small Business Owners

image of official seal of the city of Los AngelesSo, I find it refreshing and impressive that Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, California holds office hours with small business owners. Providing access to small businesses sends a message that small business is a key stakeholder to the health of the Los Angeles community and economy. Holding office hours with small business owners also helps the mayor stay in touch with the changing external environment that might be more readily detected from the perspectives of individual small business owners. These “eyes and ears” around the city serve as sensors in the ground helping to keep informed, the city’s promise delivery system. With this information the city can shape and shift strategy and be more mindful of the promises made to the small businesses that call it home.

Conversations in Your City

How about in your city? Are small businesses included in the conversation? If you are in city leadership, are you holding office hours? Are business of all types and sizes equally welcome? What “sensors in the ground” are you establishing in order to keep informed? And, once you are informed, how do you apply the learning (doing the Vulcan mind meld) across various departments so that the city demonstrates a well coordinated promise delivery system that keeps attuned to the small business community and business landscape in which they operate?

About the Author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this post include: Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System; and Chapter 9: The Neighborhood. Read the full color print edition or on your Kindle Reader App supported device using the free Kindle Reader application.

Is Your Flight Plan Ready for Your Small Business?

What, why do I need a flight plan you say? Because more than half of the pilots involved in mishaps did not file a flight plan before the accident flight. You might not fly a small aircraft but, if you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, you need the equivalent of a flight plan too. Otherwise you may be an accident waiting to happen.

Flight plans for small craft pilots are filed with the FAA so there is a record of where the pilot intends to go. If the pilot doesn’t arrive within a window of time then a search is initiated.  The lack of a flight plan has led pilots and their craft to go missing for days. If you want the benefits of a search and rescue party, you’ll need to file a flight plan.

Free Calendar Daily Flight Plan Productivity Tool from Delightability and The Experience Design BLUEPRINT
click image to open latest Daily Flight Plan Calendar as PDF

So what does this have to do with running a small business? Well, you too, should be prepared and know where you are going each and every day. How long will you fritter about before you get down to business? Will you be distracted by social media, the next phone call, the insurmountable email inbox? If you are an emergency room doctor or a first responder your plan might be to respond and react. But, if you are an entrepreneur or small business owner wanting to grow your business, you’ll need to cut through the noise and be more proactive. You’ll also want to identify the people that can help you – your small business search and rescue; these might be customers, partners, or vendors.

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day when there is more time. But more time never actually does come right?

Today is no different than yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

So, to make the most of what little time you have you must make a daily plan. At Delightability, I use the daily flight plan. It’s a free download; you can use it too.

The 3 Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

There are a few visual indicators at the top of the flight plan that serve as reminders. The first is the 3 legged stool. Any small business owner struggles with balancing between running a smooth operation, delivering on whatever their product or service is, and performing the sales/marketing/business development function. Even if you are good at all three, you’ll struggle with the limited time available in a day. With the 3 legs being all consuming there isn’t much time for personal life – that should be you sitting atop the well balanced 3 legged stool. But, get out of balance and you and your personal life topple to the floor.

The 3 Funnels

Exposure Adoption Loyalty Funnels from Delightability LLC

The 3 funnels visual is a reminder that no matter what business we’re in we have customers to serve. Those customers didn’t start out as customers, they started out as prospects. And hopefully, they’ll move beyond being customers to become loyal advocates. So, the 3 funnels are the exposure funnel where you turn suspects into prospects, the adoption funnel where you turn prospects into customers that are using your product or service, and the retention funnel where you turn customers into loyal advocates. For a bit more read this previous post.

Touchpoints

The other visual reminder are touchpoints reminding us that we can affect the quality of the interactions that our customers have with us. Exceed the customer expectation at a touchpoint and you have the recipe for delight. Check out the previous issue of the What’s Next newsletter to learn more about the Delight-O-Meter model and see a couple of examples.

Week Numbers

Other items on the daily flight plan that can help you get about your business are the weekly calendar that goes 3 months at a time and the Guiding Principles. You don’t want your business to end up like the small craft pilot that landed with his gear up. So, download your flight plan, use it daily, and check it frequently. Use it to note the people you’ll reach out to whether they are customers or consultants.  You might not get any more time in the day but you’ll make the most of the time you have available and make a bigger impact along the way.

My Book out in September is Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Sign up to be notified of its release. With it, you’ll be better equipped to design more remarkable customer experiences and then make those experiences come to life in your organization and the business landscape. Sign Up to be notified of its release and please share with others.

Book Project Update

image of one page overview - The Experience Design Blueprint by Gregory Olson
click image to open one page PDF book summary

The Experience Design BLUEPRINT is now available. The first section of the book is about making the invisible visible. You’ll learn about the experience honeycomb, experience hoop and halo, and how to model experiences, whether those are for customers, employees, voters, members, investors, patients, clients, etc. You will build a rich experience vocabulary that is relevant to your audience and to your organization’s health. You’ll learn from everyday consumer examples and then learn how to apply filters, lenses, and levers to improve experiences of any type.

In the second section of the book, you’ll learn to visualize your promise delivery system, better navigate change, and improve your skills in overcoming the barriers that plague innovations and customer experience improvement initiatives. Click here or the image to download the one page book summary along with author contact information. Please reach out if you’d like some help.