Ardour. Function. Revenue by Fiona Killackey
You can’t build a business you love (and that is successful) without first understanding where your business is right now. In this exclusive extract from her book Passion. Purpose. Profit, small business expert Fiona Killackey shows you how to work out exactly what is, and isn’t, working in your business.
I’m showing my age here, but I finished prep (i.e. the first year of primary/elementary school) in 1985. My parents had arrived in Australia from England eighteen months earlier and, not knowing what age kids started school here, I was put into school at four years of age. For the next thirteen years I was always the youngest kid in my year level (often younger than those in the year below me, too).
My son has had a completely different introduction to prep. He was six years old the month he began primary school. He has been the recipient of far more ‘play learning’ than I was, and – living surrounded by natural bushland – he’s been able to enjoy a lot of learning about the environment, climate change and nature’s ecosystem. The differences in the way kids are educated now vs. the mid-eighties is massive. And, for the most part, I believe it’s far better.
Case in point: I collect my son from school every afternoon around 3.30 pm (#freedom – it’s one of the reasons I started my own business).
We always talk about which three things he learned that day. Recently he told me he had spent the entire day focused on one new word. I admit I was initially baffled; six and a half hours on one word? Really?
Me: What’s the word then?
My son: Yet.
Me: Yet?? (Seriously? An entire day on a three-letter word?!)
My son: Yep, we learned that we can’t always know if we are good or bad at something. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t play basketball’ or ‘I’m not good at maths’ we add the word ‘yet’ to the end.
He then told me about resilience and trying again, and ‘not telling yourself you’re not good at something, as you just don’t know if in the future you might be’.
One of the most common statements I hear from small business owners I work with is:
‘I’m just crap at [insert any area of marketing or business management].’
My reply is always the same: ‘How do you know you’re crap at XYZ?’
Starting and growing a small business is akin to undertaking a series of intense therapy sessions … with yourself as both the psychologist and the client.
The longer you’re running your small business, the more likely you are to be forced to look at who you really are, what makes you happy, what leaves you feeling depleted and what impact you most want to have on the world around you.
You will also be forced to look at how skilled – or not – you are at various elements of your business.
If you have staff, you’ll find out what sort of manager or leader you are. If you design and sell products, you will discover at what point you’re happy to compromise on quality for return on investment. If you sell services, you’ll see how far you’re willing to go to keep clients happy and, on the flip side, you’ll work out how to ‘break up’ with clients who don’t light you up. If you do any sort of marketing, you’ll discover how comfortable – or not – you are sharing your story and discussing what it is that your business offers. To run a successful business today, you will need to understand (at some level) things like email marketing, website analytics and SEO.
Running a business guarantees that you will come face-to-face with your fears, as well as any limiting beliefs you may have around money, marketing and mindset. In all cases, you will be discovering things about yourself that you may never have had to think about before. And that, my friend, can be scary.
But it doesn’t mean you are necessarily bad at any of those things. Often, it just means you are not an expert … ‘yet’.
Most of us started our biz with skills in a particular area we felt we could share and make an income from. Those skills may have been in design or making products, in delivering a service or in technology. What we quickly learn is that running a small biz involves a lot more elements than just those we’re ‘good’ at.
But instead of telling ourselves we are crap at XYZ, perhaps we need to take a leaf out of my son’s (school) book and add the word ‘yet’ to our statements.
I’m not good at social media yet.
I’m not good at numbers yet.
I’m not organised with my systems yet.
I’m not good at managing staff yet.
Take a minute to ask yourself: what would adding ‘yet’ do for your mindset?
When we say I’m not good at X, it’s a finite statement. By simply adding ‘yet’ to the end of it, we open the door to possibilities about how we can improve.
It may just prompt you to figure out the steps you’ll need to take to get from where you are right now to where you’d like to be in three, six, nine or twelve months.
Uncovering your strengths and weaknesses is a journey. You can’t expect to get ten out of ten for a skill you’ve never had to use.
In this chapter, we’re going to look at where you are right now when it comes to the areas of your business that you’ll need to be across in order to succeed. Sure, there will be areas you’re not amazing at – yet! – but you won’t know how to improve unless you know (and are brave enough to acknowledge) where you’re starting from.
Most of the following exercises are aimed at people already in business. If you’re yet to start your business, answer these in relation to your current role or another role you’ve had that’s closest to the one you will be taking on in your business.
Let’s start with the positive.
Consider the last month in your business. You might want to spend a minute reviewing your calendar, diary or inbox to jog your memory.
Next, think about the areas of your business that seemed to work effortlessly. Then answer the questions below.
Which systems or processes made things easier (for you and/or for your audience)?
Which parts of the business were you excited by?
What were the projects or tasks that you felt good completing?
Were there people inside or outside the business who helped you in some way?
Were there books you read or podcasts you listened to that energised you?
On the days you felt excited about the business, what was happening?
What’s not working?
Get the tissues. This section may trigger an #UglyCry.
Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the good stuff, take a minute to reflect on what wasn’t so great about the last month. Then answer the questions below.
Which systems or processes (or lack of!) made things harder (for you, and/or for your audience)?
Which parts of the business were you annoyed at or frustrated by?
What were the projects or tasks that you felt dread about completing?
Were there people inside or outside the business who made things more stressful?
On the days you felt depleted about business, what was happening?
Learning what to Start, Stop and Keep
Now that we have a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not, it’s time to create a framework for change.
If you have ever worked at a tech start-up or used AGILE, you may have heard of the Stop, Keep, Start framework (also known as Start, Stop, Continue). This is a simple framework that works a little like a traffic light.
Now, I prefer to change the order and call this framework a Start, Stop, Keep, as I believe you know deep down what you need to start doing and what you need to stop doing. The exercise you just completed on what’s working vs. what’s not working should have helped you understand what to stop and start. For most small business owners, getting these things down on paper isn’t hard. It’s the keep section where things can get a bit blurry.
Start refers to the things in your business you need to start doing. For example, you may have realised that you need to start having a weekly one-on-one with your virtual assistant to iron out any issues during that week, rather than letting things go until your monthly catch-up. Or, you may have realised that your business needs to start doing more video marketing as it results in sales, or that you need to start documenting processes to avoid confusion and inefficiency.
Stop refers to, well, the things you should stop (#HoorayYouWereRight). These are things that are wasting your time, don’t bring value to your audience, deplete your energy, aren’t making money for the business and/or no longer work with the direction your business is taking. You may choose to stop using a particular marketing channel that your audience has moved away from, to stop sponsoring an event that provides little to no ROI, to stop working with a particular influencer or to stop hiring people who don’t have experience in XYZ.
Keep refers to the things that are working well for the business and that you already have a good system and/or process for. These may be things like keeping email sequences that help you stay connected with new subscribers, keeping your awesome hiring process and/or keeping a quick ten-minute stand-up meeting with your staff each morning to highlight the day’s top priorities.
How do you know what to keep?
Almost a decade ago I worked at Amazon in the UK, heading up the marketing for the entire Kitchen & Home category (literally millions of products). I often joke that you couldn’t say ‘Hello’ at Amazon without having analytics to back up why you were saying it.
While that wasn’t entirely true, analytics did play a huge role in making decisions for the business. From which emails to send and at what time, through to which words to test in the navigation (e.g. rugs vs. carpets), we referred to the numbers as often as possible.
When you’re deciding what to keep doing in your own business, there are two important things to consider:
- What does the data tell you?
- How does the activity/task make you feel?
Arthur C Nielsen Snr, founder of the market research company ACNielsen, famously said, ‘The price of light is less than the cost of darkness’. I completely agree.
If you have areas of your business you’re on the fence about keeping, check your data. For example, if you have been spending time building up a collection of videos, look at the data. Are they even being watched? Are people watching all the way through? Are they increasing the time spent on your website (or the platform you’re hosting them on)? Are you getting more enquiries when you use them? Are you getting more sales (e.g. if the video is used on a product detail page in an ecommerce store, is there a higher conversion vs. pages without video)? Are they helping build your brand as the go‑to for XYZ?
Checking the data helps you look at the facts around things, rather than making a decision based purely on emotion.
That said, the second question to ask yourself is: How does the activity/task make you feel?
In the previous chapter, we looked at your ‘why’: your values, beliefs and the reasons for starting your business. When it comes to your Start, Stop, Keep, there may be things in the business you want to keep even if they are not – yet! – proving fruitful in terms of sales or ROI.
These may be things you just love doing. For example, you may offer one free spot in your workshop or course for someone from a charity or not‑for‑profit. While this may not help your business financially, it may help you feel more fulfilled and increase brand love.
Deciding what to keep can be difficult. Checking your data, along with your feelings, should make this easier.
Setting your benchmarks
Hands up if you have ever gone for a run. Keep them up if you have ever completed a charity run.
I have completed four 10-kilometre charity runs in the past decade. Each time I’ve had to train. And each time I started to train, I had to set a benchmark. In the years when I was regularly exercising, I would start off being able to run 6–7 kilometres. In the years when I wasn’t as active, that number was far lower. By setting the benchmark, I knew how far I had to go to hit my goal.
When it comes to knowing where you are right now in business, it’s helpful to set some benchmarks. That is, to know where you are starting from.
You have just spent time reflecting on what your business needs to Start, Stop and Keep doing in order to succeed. Now we’re going to look at the actual skills you need to run a small business today, and we’ll set your starting benchmark for each one.
If you’re currently running a business, complete the following exercise with your skills and those of any staff you have working for you. If you’re yet to start your business, complete the exercise based off your own skill set.
Business can generally be divided into the following five areas:
- Strategy and business development
- Human resources (people)
- Finance (money)
On a scale of 1–10, where 1 = I don’t know anything about it and 10 = I’m an expert, how would you rate yourself in the following areas? Decide on a rating, then make notes about what you could do to improve this mark.
Strategy and business development
Your business’s mission
Business development (i.e. commercial partnerships, new markets)
Strengths of your business
Weaknesses of your business
Opportunities for your business
The competitor landscape (i.e. the current market)
Production (including manufacturing if you’re in a product‑based biz)
Public relations and media
This is an edited extract from Passion.Purpose.Profit by Fiona Killackey, published by Hardie Grant Books $24.99 and available where all good books are sold.