Workflow and Development

There are two basic forms of “workflow” or “new practice” development:

  • That which we create (innovation and new category.) This needs to bring value to clients and they become part “creative partner” with us (from a “what if” and testing scenario).
  • That which our clients require (get competent and optimize)
    • They define
    • We build/design to spec
    • We execute
  • The Truth moving into the future
    • We all need in our businesses to develop one or both of these.
    • It needs to be done while being connected to the market; with the user/client

The details, the building, the success of the service or product, is up to the builders and operators

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy

Dichotomy; a contrast between two things

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy is that our energy, ideas, our vision, are deeply needed, yet our businesses are worth much more without dependence on us; without us having to be present to do transactional things; to not have to handle the day-to-day. We are supposed to be building an enterprise rather than doing a specific job.

Being free to devote our attention to the places where we provide the most value to clients, and to our business, is what creates the best opportunity for everyone to benefit; being unencumbered by everything else to the fullest extent possible

This takes constant effort and intention.

I recommend a “not to do list.” The list facilitates what we are supposed to be doing, and provides a reminder to delegate everything else.

Dynamic change should happen in perpetuity in order to keep this process advancing.

What’s on your not to do list? What’s your focus?

It’s a constant battle and effort to make it happen.

Systems

“That accounting system is great. It helps us track productivity and see “real time” revenue stream, project tracking, and utilization. This is going to really improve our operation.”

“That CRM system is awesome. It’s going to allow us to monitor sales and client activity, hit rates, incoming pipeline. We’ve got this really dialed in now.”

“Those spreadsheets for earned value tracking are so good for operations. All our problems are solved operationally, since we can now know exactly where projects stand at all times.”

Time out. Hold up. Reel it in. Yes, these systems are great. They are necessary for proper management at scale. They are part of best practices in professional services. BUT, they won’t change a thing if the mindset behind the people and the systems stays the same. They are just systems. The proper use and execution of systems from the right mindsets and applications are what helps to change things. The systems are tools, just like any other tools of a trade.

Buying a hammer doesn’t make us a Finish Carpenter. Buying a new stove doesn’t make us a good chef. Buying a tool or a system doesn’t guarantee compliance or results.

Good systems still need thought and sensible people behind them. In fact, in professional services, if given a choice, solid, experienced, smart people will trump a system or process every time. When both are applied together, it’s magic. Checking a box or using automation can make good better, but bad even worse.

SWOT Analysis – Threat to Opportunity

Threats that are defined in our SWOT analysis can actually be opportunities in disguise. Recently in a SWOT analysis review with one of our branch offices, the leader was reviewing a legitimate threat that influences our office’s ability in that market to procure work with certain clients.  I immediately noted that the threat was actually a veiled value proposition, an opportunity. If we could sell the clients on what we know about that space in the supply chain, we would actually do the supplier causing the threat a favor, and make more value for our clients as well. It’s just a different pricing paradigm on the front end in order to achieve a better bottom line for them in the future. It’s a win, win, win if discerned and communicated correctly. Now comes the hard work of communicating the value and overcoming entry barriers; getting referrals; designing a pricing structure and a delivery method.

Some threats are hidde opportunities. Like a “no” in sales and “risk” in innovation. We need to go beyond the surface and figure out if these things are worth pursuing.

Have you dug below the surface?

PRICE IS IRRELEVANT

If the first question a client or prospective client asks about is related to price, then we know that their values are centered around cost. Most attempts to sell them otherwise will not typically work. To this purchaser, value is based on low price, and the product or service is viewed as a commodity. If the client-buyer is interested in what we’ve got, and we aren’t the low price, they may ask us to justify ourselves. I got this question last week “Why are you double the other price? Can you explain why your price is so high?” (This is a downward spiral by the way. Don’t answer the question to try to validate.)

I provided a polite and professional response, but didn’t answer the question exactly. I indicated what value was being provided and how the fee compared to other service-company fees in our category. My response asked the opposite question back, “Why is their price half of ours. What are they so cheap? We are both looking at the same project, right?” Then I explained what was being provided and nothing more.

I didn’t hear back from that client yet. And there’s a good chance that I won’t. They will likely purchase the other provider’s services. Because what this client was really SAYING, not asking, was “Hey, you’re too expensive. I can get the same thing for 40% less.”

So why do I say that price is irrelevant? Because we buy based on our values. Price is the consequence, the manifestation. It’s not the issue. Price or cost-based buying says “any of these firms will do, just get me low price.” The problem with this is that the buyer is assuming that they are getting the identical service from any of the choices presented to them.

It’s never really about price. It’s about the buying mindset and values.

Cost-based buyers want low price. Cost leads the conversation.

Value-based buyers want what they perceive to be the best investment and value for the cost of the purchase. Value and investment leads the conversation, price falls out, sometimes negotiated, sometimes as stated.

Identity, connection, or brand-based buyers, want to identify with a particular person, enterprise, brand or genre. Being connected to the associated values leads the conversation. Price is what it is; “If you want to be connected with us, the fees associated with that are as defined.”

Price is important, but price is really irrelevant. People already know about what they are willing to pay based on their mindset.

What kind of buyer are we seeking to attract?

What values are we seeking to communicate?

How is that portrayed in our brand?

Are we delivering?

Whatever we choose, we need to stick to it and dive deep. Pick a lane and stay in it. We can’t be all things to all people.

Post Project Meetings – Defining Experience

Post project review meetings are arguably the most important project and team meetings in an organization (and a required SOP now at my company) since it defines lessons learned; what we did well, what we did not, how we can improve. It helps identify “the experience” of the team and the client. It’s ALL about the client’s “experience.” The team’s experience is equally important  (client experience is only as good as the team experience and service to each other)

There’s many hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, contractors, engineering firms, professional services corps, ALL TOUTING the SAME THING.

Which one’s do you like to frequent and write checks to? Those with whom you have a positive experience or a negative experience ? Positive experience (gratitude, smiles, fair price, great value, delivering on what has been promised) means repeat business and growth.

Post project reviews are necessary for company and professional advancement.

All progress starts by telling the truth. These meetings are great truth revealers and tellers. We learn and grow through doing, celebrating wins, and fixing problems.

Hats

When we started our company in 1994 my partner and I were the employees, technicians, marketers, officers, and owners. We both wore all of the sales, marketing, administration, and operational “hats.” At one time I was a project engineer, engineer of record, marketing VP, building envelope engineering VP, and President. If we liken roles and job description to hats, I wore five different hats depending on the day or hour of the week.  I actually did this for quite some time. It’s necessary for most of us in business start-up, boot-strap, entrepreneurial mode. I can be exciting and fun for a short time, but the problem is that it’s unsustainable for the long-term. It works well only if we want to kill ourselves and go to an early grave, or as a minimum, become disenchanted with owning a business and not make it. The goal for all of us as business owners should be to wear only one hat, the one that fits the best according to our most unique ability, to shed the extra hats, and hire others to wear them.

Educated and trained as an engineer, in the early days, I was a classic micro-manager and control freak. This works well when everything is dependent on  me alone. However, I recognized quickly that we needed to write job descriptions, build and organizational chart, and structure the company so that others could wear the additional hats we had to take on and off daily. I remember writing job descriptions (defining hats) on planes, at my kid’s piano lessons, and during the work day between urgent project work. Slowly, each role and realm began to take shape.

As the business has grown to five offices, two divisions, and many times the initial number of employees, I’ve worked myself slowly out of wearing all but one or two hats, mostly. I wear one primary hat as the leader and President of the organization, and then put on specific operational, developmental or sales hats depending on a project need, a unique ability I can apply in a specific realm or issue, or to support my colleagues. I say emphatically that if you are a business owner and are growing a business, it a disservice to yourself and your colleagues to not work yourself out of multiple roles and to find other hat wearers as quickly as possible. Our role is to be the owner, leader, facilitator, supporter. People are counting on us. You and I have a primary unique ability or two that we do really well. So do others working for us. They wear many hats better than we do. Our businesses will benefit the most by applying our unique ability, while also letting others do what they do best around us. If we do anything less, we are eroding the future stability and sustainability of our organization. We’ve got to build strategically all the time while working on the urgent matters of the day and still moving forward. Otherwise things stay status quo and can remain that way for a long time. This is not of any value in building and growing a business.

Often times what we experience in a business and life is due to our own lack of awareness of these issues. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve grown and gotten inputs, the more the business has improved. While it may be a big challenge as a small business owner to have a 100% sustainable business without our presence 100% of the time other than for financing, leading, and providing strategic direction, that should be the goal. The people who work for us, our staff, our colleagues, all the clients, constituents and collaborators that are attached to and support the business, will all benefit.

Do yourself a favor and build in this manner. Give colleagues, and all those in your charge, the confidence that we are charting a course to allow for long-term growth with as little necessary input as possible from us as an owners. The less an owner has to be involved in day-to-day decisions, the more valuable the business. The more and owner can stay out while having their staff executing the sales and operations of the business, the more valuable the business to the staff, the world, and future acquirers. It may look good on the outside that we are involved all the time and working mega-hours, but in the end it’s counter-productive. Visualize yourself not in the business and reverse-engineer it. Figure out how to put others in the right positions and build something of value. Build the business. Build up the people. Share hats. Give away hats. See how good others look in them. The picture will look much better and the future will be much brighter.

Connectivity and Engagement

A few recommendations related to business, networking, connectivity, engagement:

Be the most connected,

Hardest working,

Fastest responding,

Proactively communicating,

Actively  networking,

Self learning,

Team oriented,

Client focused,

Innovative,

Most engaged,

person in your space.
That’s it today. Do it. see what happens

Communicate back to me

PS: GIVE IT TIME!

Sometimes it Seems Random

It was 7 or 8 years ago. I was cranking out decent miles on a trail run. I heard his footsteps approaching while leaning into a hill. He was stride for stride but not passing. I sensed this might be an unusual experience for him, but I didn’t like to get passed on my runs; stupid I know, but it’s a part of me; a throwback to my competitive running days. He finally pulled up next to me and we started to talk. (It’s a “runner thing.”) He had relocated here from Arizona. His wife’s family lived in town and she wanted to be closer to them while raising their kids. He took up running as an adult. He did triathlon’s as well. We cruised through 7:30 miles for the rest of the run and had some fun getting to know each other. We talked throughout. He was in fund-raising, business development, lead generation. I was in the business of engineering and construction. I sensed some connection between us.

Fast forward to present; just a few days ago in fact. My fatigue and the cold air led me to the local Starbucks this particular morning. And there HE was at the front of the line. The same guy. He reached out and said, “Hey do you have time for a visit?” I said, “Yeah for as long as it takes to get my drink.” (I was in a rush.) He rolled his eyes, pulled me to the front of the line, and said “Tell me what you want to drink.” Obviously he meant business. He wanted to talk.

Let’s rewind; two weeks ago.

He had emailed me via LinkedIn asking if I’d ever thought about employing a business development professional to advocate our business, open doors, and build relationships (yes, of course.) I’d asked him why, and questioned if he was still in his present job. He informed me that he was. He was looking to the future and to more possibilities.

Rewind again, this time to a month or two ago. We “randomly” cross paths (again.) This time it was just outside the trail entrance on the road. He was running and I was finishing a power walk. He’d recently started training again. I jumped in with him for a bit. It was totally spontaneous. He talked about his most recent position as a business developer for a General Contracting firm. I knew where he was working through our LinkedIn connection, and through his messaging from time to time. He mentioned how he’d helped to increase the GC’s bid opportunities from $2.5M to $12M.

I’d lost track of him before this, between the initial run on the trail and now, except for an occasional encounter at the grocery store, on social media, or around town at random. Now our paths seemed to be continuing to cross. I know more about his background because every time he changed jobs, he let me know. Every time he changed he got closer and closer to what I do; the business of engineering, design and construction. He’d been in fund-raising for a non-profit,  development for a college engineering department, and one prior construction company gig; business development, people stuff, talking, finding a fit, opening doors, designing connectivity; this is what he loves. It’s who he is. It’s a lot of who I am as well, but CEO duties in a growing organization make it harder and harder to build 1-1 relationships myself unless they are very specific and have high potential in scaled opportunities.

My quick encounter at Starbucks turned out to be a 20 minute conversation while I finished my mocha and he drank his coffee. He talked about his goals. We discussed my business. We talked about roles, philosophies, his and my approach to client and business development. Back and forth, back and forth.

I find it more than “random” that I bumped into him at Starbucks. I find it more than random that our paths have gently crossed over the years. I find it not random. People encounters are unique. They aren’t always planned and aren’t typically scripted. It’s important to take notice when recurring themes and people continue to present themselves. This got my attention. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t plan it. I was just going about my daily business. There’s a message for me in this perhaps, regardless of what it is or what I do with it.

We never know what relationship or interaction may turn out to be something of significance. Something that changes the way we think; the way we view life; how we interact. I am not sure yet what will happen from this. I’m still reflecting.

Sometimes strategy is planned and initiative. Sometimes is spontaneous and reactive; “opportunistic.” It’s important to watch, to listen, to stop for a moment, to reflect on what might really be happening; to decide what we want to do with it.

LinkedIn, LA, Coffee

He sent me a LinkedIn request the week before I was heading to Los Angeles. I didn’t know him, but he was a “second” on my LinkedIn network, and connected to the glazing industry. I was happy to connect and accept his request. I thanked him for the connection through the message feature. I told him that I was heading to Los Angeles the next week. What a “coincidence.” I suggested that perhaps we could get together. The product he helped develop and represents was somewhat new to me, but I was curious. I wanted to know more about the company and the product. I was also traveling with my son that week as he had some interviews in LA. If he was available I wanted him to attend some meetings with me just to get more experience.

My new contact’s response was immediate; “You need to connect with two of my colleagues. I’m not available but I’d like them to get together with you. You guys can arrange whatever time that works.”

So we connected. We set up a meeting. It would be over coffee at a location  we could both reach within an hour. I hesitated and second-guessed myself thinking that LA traffic would make it a mess, but decided that I’d just “play it by ear.”

The day prior, I had a meeting with another new client prospect. A large meeting was set with the CEO, Marketing VP, Director of Operations, Engineering Manager, and others. We met in the conference room. During that meeting the question came to me, “So do you have any other meetings this week?”

“Yes, I have them daily, including one tomorrow with some folks I met through LinkedIn.  They have a specialty product I’d like to hear more about.”

“Oh we know them. In fact, we’ve used their product, says the CEO. Let us know if you find out anything pertinent that might be helpful to us as well.” (World gets smaller…)

The day came. My son was available. Traffic showed a clear, 1 hr, LA drive. We loaded up Google Maps and headed to the meeting. We arrived right on time. After navigating through the parking lot, then the coffee shop, we found our LinkedIn friends. They were sitting outside. It was warm. The air smelled fresh. A light breeze was blowing. The atmosphere was inviting. My new friends were very welcoming and engaging. The discussion started. It moved quickly to common points of reference and insights. Shortly into the discussion, it became obvious to me that there was a potential opportunity to leverage our friend’s product with people and companies that I knew (dots to connect as I say.) To connect them to people and products that had influence and application. Discussion became deeper. I asked questions. My son asked questions. We were all deeply engaged. We were looking at  product samples. I asked them to tell me more about their story. I asked them about their goals and plans within the space that I was familiar. They stated them within A Five-Year Plan.

” 5-years, I asked? You don’t have 5 years. What about two to three years?”

“What do you have in mind, they asked?”

“I tell you what I have in mind related to speed to Market. There’s no reason for you to wait 5 years. There’s front-end application for this now if the value proposition is clear. Buyers downstream need to understand the economics. This is an investment to facilitate a reduced life cycle cost downstream. There are events and groups where you need to connect. There’s Sales managers, business developers and marketers that you need to meet. You need to get in front of the right people. How about if I provide you with a proposal. I’ll help you evaluate the market channels and client prospects.”

“I think we would be very interested, they said. We’ll talk to the CEO and COO and ask them what they think.”

Much more transpired. We adjourned on time, shared business cards, created follow-up plans, and then headed our separate ways (My way was to the nearest In-and-Out Burger for lunch.)

The next week I got a message from my contact saying that the CEO and COO wanted a proposal. They were interested in what I had to offer. I asked for email addresses. They were provided. I set up a new job number. I started a proposal in draft form. It’ll be in their hands soon. There is an opportunity to help them get deeper into one of their market segments, to potentially increase their market share, their top-line revenue, and profitability. All from one simple LinkedIn connection request. From intention and interest. From a simple 1-hour connection point with people who care about their product and who want to improve their lives. All around a cup of coffee, at a table outside, on a sunny day in Southern California.

Related to LinkedIn as an example of a social media platform for business; we can simply accept connections and be done, or we can respond, be invitational, and start a conversation. When we create conversation, we may drive to a deeper level. If someone doesn’t want to engage back, they simply won’t respond. But if they do want to engage, it can quickly lead to more; and we don’t know what “more” may be. This is just one instance for me where a simple social media connection request turned into an opportunity to create and express value for both parties.

How are you doing in social media and relationship-building? Are you disregarding the potential value and connections with people, and with building relationships? Are you simply requesting and accepting connections without taking it any further?Are you posting things about yourself and your company without ever attempting to create value to others?

Everything has a context. Social media itself doesn’t build a personal relationship. It provides a connection point through a platform. Don’t simply accept a connection and sit idly without any further conversation. There’s a person on the other end, not a digital entity. There’s a person that works for a company who wants to continue improving their life, and the lives of those around them. Look for common interests or common spaces and places to connect. You’ll be surprised at the dots that can be connected over time. And even if nothing transpires from it related to business, the time invested in a relationship is worth it. People have value. People are looking to connect and build community. People have a story to tell. It’s enough to simply meet someone and share coffee together.

Here are a few follow-up thoughts and applications. These things are good to remember.

  1. Never take anything for granted. We don’t know where a connection will lead. I could write many more stories about my experiences.
  2. Initiate a conversation. A real one, not an auto-response. Make it relevant
  3. Remember, there is a real person on the other end
  4. If you are not generating potential leads through LinkedIn conversations, then you’re not getting the full impact. Dare I say, you’re not using it to the fullest?
  5. Share your email address directly in the message. Include your website link, even though it is already on your profile. It’s much easier to carry forward when you can reach each person via Outlook and set a Calendar meeting.
  6. Some of these connections and touches should lead to new relationships, new proposal opportunities, and new business. I’ve done it and experienced it 1st hand. The same is true for Twitter.
  7. Never say never, except to say “Never assume you know anything.” I’ve fallen prey to getting dry, lacking creativity, and being complacent. We know nothing about our connection’s real needs, their companies, and their desires, until we listen and engage
  8. It’s not about the number of connections. It’s about the depth of connections. Size matters, but only to the extent that the connections are relevant to your domain, interest, background, capability, values.

The next time you request or receive a connection, initiate a conversation. Make it relevant. Be interesting. Keep it succinct. As I stated in my blog post, “Inclusive or Exclusive,” you might be surprised at what happens.