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Puzzle Me This

As puzzles are back in vogue these days, I thought this might be of interest. Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to complete one over the past few weeks, but several themes rang true as I worked on it. Puzzling (is that what we call it?) makes you go through several stages, much like the business circle of life.

At first, puzzles are exciting. You find all the outside pieces, you put the four corners in a special place.

Startups are exciting!
You have a new mission, it’s constantly evolving, you get to make things up as you go along. The world of possibilities is endless.

You compile the outer ring and you start to feel like you can really do this.

You’ve got your first clients.
You are starting to hit your stride on marketing and hiring. You start to fill in some infrastructure. You hire your first BD person, your first C-Suite.

Then, the grind hits. You must keep at the puzzle. What seemed easy 100 pieces ago is suddenly very monotonous (for me, it’s always the sky portion!). The buzz wears off.

Months bleed into years.
Your offerings may change or expand, as does your client base. But the excitement starts to leave and the magnitude of what you want to accomplish and how hard you have to work hits you.

You find yourself trying the same pieces in the same spots, over and over. And they don’t fit. Yet you keep trying, expecting different answers. You find that you can’t see the forest for the trees (or the entire picture for the one area you are working on).

You lose focus on what’s important.
You can get caught up in the tactical, day to day without your eye on the exit plan. You may retain team members that you had from the beginning but no longer fit or they aren’t in the right positions. You know you have to pivot but you aren’t quite sure how. You feel like you are stuck in one place.

Through it all, you keep trudging along and the puzzle slowly comes together. Big chunks get done and you start to feel accomplished. You feel like you are working on the big picture and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll get stuck a few times, but you know that you will make it through. Pieces that you didn’t think would fit actually do. All it took was a different perspective.

Did you read that? All it took was a different perspective.

Right team in the right places.
Corporate culture that aligns. Everyone is focused on the mission and works together.

Finally, you complete the puzzle. A sense of reward, a sense of accomplishment. In my case, I turn it over to someone else to put it away, not wanting to personally break up what I worked so hard on.

This is different for everyone.
It may be the big sale, it could be a purchase of another company, it could be an ESOP or Management Buy Out. You could decide to step down as the CEO and let someone else run it.

And then you consider your next puzzle.

Or your next opportunity.
Entrepreneurs at heart always have another company they’d like to start or will serve on boards or as advisors for those that want to start their own thing. We are a community that pays it forward.

What stage of the puzzle are you in with your current company? If you’re in the “grind” or “focus” section and you’re looking to get to the next phase we’re poised to help you prep. Change IS coming and preparing for it now is your best course of action. We have virtual support while you need it and on-the-ground professionals when the new-normal resumes. Contact us, and let’s discuss.

Leading Through Uncertainty

We know what you’re thinking. “Not another #COVID19 article.” Not to worry, we’re providing you some insight on how you can lead your team through the next few weeks (or months?).

Let us start off by saying “Who gives a s#*t?”  To put it bluntly, if this is the first time you are talking to your clients, you are screwed.  No one cares how you are handling it – they care about how they are handling it.  People are scared. This black swan event is one that no one prepared for. Right now we are all trying to figure out how to keep the doors open.

What can you do as a leader?

First, chill out.  Meditate, go for walks, stress bake, or figure out what your go-to is for reducing your stress. This will help you act insightfully and rationally, not out of fear. Get real clear real quick as your level head is needed now more than ever.

Second, take a step back. What is the short-term impact to your company?  What is the state of your cash flow situation?  How long can you keep running and at what pace? (I won’t go into how you should have already known this through good business acumen. We’ll save that for another day). Figure out the next week. Then the next pay cycle. Then the next month.  Day by day, week by week, piece by piece.

Third, look for areas to pivot quickly and where you can exploit opportunities. (By exploit we don’t mean nefariously, only above-board ideas please.) What can you leverage quickly to keep your business afloat?  Where can you pursue leads with limited effort to increase sales or revenue?  Where can you cut costs?

Costs are always the easiest – it’s finding new revenue sources that requires creativity, forward-thinking and leadership.  Before you start cutting everything, what can grow with minimal investment?

Finally, lead like your business depends on it.  Because it does.  Now is not a time to delegate to your surrogates.  Now is not a time to not answer hard questions.  Now is the time to show your business what you are made of.  Even if you’re closing your doors or laying people off, the way and manner that you choose to do it will be remembered.  If you are an entrepreneur at heart, you will take another shot at it in the future.

 

Who knows? You may even pivot to a new business model and revenue stream that only enhances your business AND keeps your employees employed. People will remember how you handled your business during these times. Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do.

 

Stay sane.
Exploit opportunities.
Lead from the front.
Act with kindness and grace.

 

Accidental CEO

What’s an accidental CEO?  Are you one?

You may or may not know the type.  They’ve spun out of government or a large integrator and had a good consulting gig as a 1099.  They are well connected with their customer (they used to be colleagues) and they deliver.  Since they can deliver, they are asked for additional resources.   They, in turn, hire their trusted network.  Within a few years, they’ve built a 10-20 person show churning $2-10M.

Everything is sunshine for a bit.  The SME/CEO is still billable, doing what they love.

Inevitably, the business side of the business rears up.  The SME finds themselves running a company of highly technical folks, spending most of their time on administrative tasks – cash flow projections, recruiting, contracts, minutia.  They spend less time on customer delivery and more on the day-to-day running of the company.  Their customer becomes frustrated as the SME can’t deliver the same level of service.  The employees become frustrated as their trusted colleague is always busy with other tasks and is often unavailable.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the SME-turned-CEO wakes up wondering how things got to this state.  They hate their day-to-day life.  They hate not delivering to the customer and find themselves questioning why they are running a company.

If this sounds like you, let me be the first to tell you the following:

  1. You are not alone, by a long shot
  2. It’s not uncommon at all
  3. You need to decide on your path forward before you completely lose it

There are several options that can move you out of this state, but before you can move forward, you have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you want out of your career and what success looks like to you.  For some, it’s a dollar figure in their checking account.  For others, it’s flexibility in working on high-value work.  Still for others, it’s in cultivating a culture that they want.  Regardless of the answer, knowing your definition of success can help guide your path.

Admittedly this is a difficult step to take (aren’t all first steps that way?). Luckily you don’t have to go it alone. BOOST has the resources, personnel, and experience to help guide you through this process. Whether it be executive coaching in the form of mentoring or strategic planning from a whole-business perspective, BOOST can help. Let’s sit down over coffee and discuss your next steps. [email protected]