Your Minimalist Business

A minimalist business is uncluttered, deeply niched, automated, with a simple, profitable business model based on your strengths. See previous posts for what that looks like.

Other than being part of a fad, why would you do this?

You will be more profitable. You will have more capacity within your business to work on interesting projects. Your business will be more valuable, if you choose to sell it. You will love your business again because it will be fun and easy.

You will have more time

When your space is uncluttered, it is easier to find things. Automation will free your time. Delivering only what is most valuable takes less time.

You will have more energy

Automation frees you from worrying about the details. Working from your strengths means better results from less effort. Loose ends, clutter, bloat and non-clarity all suck your energy.

You will have more money

Focusing on a single deep niche means you can charge more. A business model that gets at the heart of what your customers want and your strengths is very profitable. Automation usually saves money, when done appropriately and well, take the time to do it right.

I’m sold, now what?

Start where you feel the most pain – time, money or energy. Look for the low hanging fruit. I find working on these projects in that first hour of the day is essential to accomplishing anything. You’ll still feel like you have run out of time at the end of the day, but you will be making progress to a better business.

Your business can be this simple. Stay tuned for a deeper discussions.


Join a community of other small business owners just like you at the Business Owners Success Club.

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What is a Minimalist Business Part VI – Automated

There are so many opportunities to automate that if you are like everyone else, and of course you are, then you are overwhelmed. “There’s an app for that.” is part of our lexicon now. Which is great when you need your phone to be a flashlight or alerts about the weather while you are traveling. When you  feel like you spend every minute of the day doing what you do, trying to find the time to figure out better ways of doing that feels impossible.

Here’s the thing, every time you do it, you free up more time to work on what is most important. That gives you more results with less effort.

When you automate tasks that are done over and over, you create capacity to offer custom experiences in the areas of your business where it matters most. Most people don’t need or want a customized approach to buying your offering. They want a standard, automated process. They do want their questions answered about how your solution applies to their particular situation.

Free your mind of worrying or keeping track of things that recur. Automate bill paying; schedule notices to be sent; pop up reminders, searchable filing systems, one-click processes. All of these are ways to clear out the clutter in your brain to focus on what is most important.

Make it easier for your customers to engage with you. Let them schedule their own appointments, make the buying or engagement process easy, make it painless to share your story. Use automation tools to monitor your social media so you can be a part of the conversation.

How?

Take it one step at a time. Look at all the things you do.for the things that take your focus away from where you give the most value. Look for things that suck your energy. Look for things that create bottlenecks.

Ask others what they automate and what they recommend.

Gather a couple of you to create a mastermind group to explore one piece at a time – together. You can pool resources and share best practices. You can take turns being the guinea pig.

Your business can be this simple. Stay tuned for a deeper discussion in Part VII.

What is a Minimalist Business Part V – Profitable Business Model

Make sure your business model is profitable. You would think this would go without saying, but it doesn’t.  A profitable business model is laser focused on providing predictable clear value to a defined group of eager people.

The reality we are working in is that times are tough. People are struggling and they don’t part with their money easily. As business owners, our response is to pile on the value. We believe in what we do and we believe that if only people try it, they will get the benefit. In doing this we forget that not everyone wants the same value, so we give everyone the works and we lose sight of the cost to us. That’s how a business model gets bloated.

Stay focused on providing the benefits that your select group of business owners value.

Your business can be this simple. Stay tuned for a deeper discussion in Part VI.

What is a Minimalist Business Part IV – Strengths based

Working from your strengths is using leverage. You will get better results with less effort. You will give better results making your customers even happier.

You will enjoy your work, encouraging you to focus more, get better and enjoy your work even more. We revel in gaining mastery and in doing our best. We experience flow (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29) when we are working from our strengths. Flow is that wonderful place where we are so wrapped up in what we are doing, it feels like time stands still.

Your business sweet spot is that convergence of your strengths, your passions and what people need. It’s amazing how often your passion and your strengths converge. In fact it’s hard to know which comes first, your passion or your strength. When you are passionate you work harder, and the better you become, the more passionate you become.

A Minimalist Business built upon your strengths (and passions) will be easier to keep focused, will be more profitable and easier for you to manage.

Your business can be this simple. Stay tuned for a deeper discussion in Part V.

Customer/Problem Fit

The first step with lean is to solve the customer/problem fit. What is the problem your customer is solving with your product or service?

Why do your customers come to you?

and not to your competitor?

Great service isn’t the answer. Nor is better products. Nor delicious food. All of those are gimmes. They are baseline standards.

No, your customers are coming to you for a solution to their problem.

For instance: every restaurant has delicious food and good service. What experience do your customers want from your restaurant? Why are they choosing you over every other food option out there.

Is it comfort? Speed? Conversation? Relaxation? Fueling?

What story are they telling themselves?

Are they thinking about getting food in as quickly as possible at as low a price as possible? Is this merely a functional experience?

Are they treating themselves? Are they looking to be pampered and fed delicious food and drink?

Are they sharing the experience with someone else? Are they making an impression? Are they giving this gift to a loved one? Are they showing their kids how to be in the world?

Are they concerned with the food? Do they have allergies or intolerances? Is this part of their health care?

How important is the food? The ambiance? The service? The speed? The nutrition? The taste? The experience?

What trade offs are they making? Speed for taste? Price for service? Health for convenience?

You can’t be all things to all people. When you try, you become nothing for no one. You recede into mediocrity like all the others.

The first step in Lean is to investigate the customer problem fit.

Ask!

How can you ask your customers in a way that you get the answer?

Especially considering most people may not even really know, or they may not want to give you the true answer for many reasons.

 

What do you think?

Lean Canvas isn’t just for Startups

The lean canvas  is a tool used by Startups to model a business idea. There are several versions, but they all have you think through essentially the same things: your customers, how you interact with them, and their problem that you are solving. Further they ask you to outline revenue and costs.

When used properly, it is designed for you to make several lean canvases with different assumptions on each one.

For instance, you may want to make an app for shared rides to and from other-than-school classes (band practice, teams, dance or music lessons). You identify several distinct user groups: after school kids, other than school kids, adults. Each group has different needs, wants and desires. In several cases the user is not the payer – parents pay, but kids get the lift.

A lean canvas is made for each user group and the riskiest bit in each scenario is identified. Those risks are tested to see which of those scenarios is the most likely to succeed. As you do that testing, you will be looking for all feedback that will help you refine your offering. For instance (yes, I played with this one) I thought the riskiest bit would be that parents were afraid to let their kids travel with ‘strangers’ (really just other parents that they could all get to know), but the feedback from parents was that even though they found the driving around irritating, they felt it was a way to show their parental love. That’s a tough one to overcome. If one were to pursue this app, we would have to show how this app would help parents in showing parental love, by maybe pointing out that not driving meant a home cooked meal.

You can see how this is a valuable tool for a startup that is trying to figure their way forward.

Can you use it in your traditional, mature business?

You bet you can!

In fact, you have a huge advantage, because you have access to your customers, right?

Start by making a canvas for each of your product/service offerings and each of your customer groups. for instance, if you had a women’s clothing store, you might have a canvas for business attire, for dressy and for casual. Your customer groups may be business women and retired women. Once you start playing with mixing and matching those, you get a better understanding of which group buys each of your offerings and what they are most interested in with them?

Then ask them. Start by asking them why they come to you. When I asked my bookkeeping customers why they came to me, they didn’t talk about competence, timeliness or adherence to regulations, no, they talked about comfort, relief and assurance. That changed the way I set up my service, how I offered it and the story I told to attract the right customers for me.

Think about your favourite customers. What do they buy? When? How?

How can you do that, only more?

What service is important to them? Back to the women’s clothing store: can you spin that service off as a value-add or as a paid option? Personal buyer, private viewings, trunk shows?

As you can see this is a great tool for strategic thinking for every business. What do you think?

If you would like to learn more, join me for our Lean Canvas is not just for Startups Workshop.

All I need are more customers

So, is that a marketing issue or a business issue?

Let me start by saying that marketing is a big business practice and is best left to the pros. We know that a small business isn’t a little big business, it is a whole other animal. Marketing, and for that matter, finance, HR and operations are functional areas for big business. Businesses big enough to have groups of people with those specific responsibilities.

Your job, as a small business owner is to make your customer ecstatically happy. That’s it.

How you do that is:

Work from your Sweet Spot

When you can give the best of yourself (and your team), you can’t help but put out the best service. When you work from your strengths and your passion, you live and breath what you do. You gain mastery.

Be who you are. If you are trendy and cutting edge – own it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to ‘tone it down’ or your customers can’t keep up. You will attract the customers that appreciate you being out there on the edge and sharing it all with them. If you are comforting and helpful – own it! Make tea a part of your service, make your space cozy, explain what to expect so your customers are comfortable. If you are utilitarian and to the point – own it! Make transactions seamless. Stay out of the way and let your customers do it.

Help your customers get what they really want

Your customer doesn’t want to just buy a sweater. She wants to know it is the latest trend, show her pictures of that sweater on the catwalk or worn by trendsetters. It is important for her to feel on top of what is new, help her do that. Or she wants help buying it, choose several that will look great on her and help her see why they are great for her. It is important for her to feel less stress about the choosing and buying process. Or she knows exactly what she wants and you need to make the transaction as seamless and quick as possible. It is important for her to be done with this task.

This applies to restaurants, accounting and car repair, too.

Tell that story in everything you do

AKA Marketing. From the moment someone comes across your business, you want them clear on what they can expect from you. Your advertising tells that story, your place exudes that story and the experience is exactly what your customer would expect.

Your environment, from your premises, to the phone experience to your packaging all tell that same story.

Your team is clear on that story, they buy into it and they share it, too.

The experience is set on autopilot. Of course each person is treated as an individual, but the routine is set up to be, well, routine and automated.

The value exchanged on both sides is sufficient that your customer is happy and you are able to build capacity to continue to add to that experience.

Your customers become your raving fans

Who needs marketing when you have a team of raving fans telling everyone how awesome you are?

 

Is Your Business Full?

There are 2 kinds of businesses:

  • those looking for more customers
  • those that have plenty.

Why…

One company focuses on getting their message out and meeting new clients.

The other focuses on making their existing clients so thrilled they can’t help raving about the service they get.

Which are you?

When I focus on making my clients really, really happy, my business flourishes. As soon as I take my eye off that ball, things slow down.

Making your customers ecstatically happy can be very easy to do.

How to…

Ask

Then listen. Your customers will tell you exactly what is important to them. I have a friend who tells me that every project where he runs out of time to write up a detailed report, his clients seem to be much happier. They would rather have a short doc that they will read, than a long one that sits on the shelf. He still writes long reports when he has the time.

What….

Your highest and best value lies with your talents/strengths . Many times this is portrayed as a Venn diagram with the added circles of what your clients need/want and what people are willing to pay for. When you are working from your best place you attract the people who need what you offer and the money will follow.

By that, I mean Zig Ziglar’s famous quote “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want”

Everything else flows from that.

What’s your Super Power? What can you give that is special? What is that unique combination of talent, experience, passion and even compulsion that drives you? What do people come to you for? What can’t you help doing? By you I mean you personally or you, your organization.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to please everyone or being pulled off your path. Only do what only you can do.

Who…

Who can benefit most by what you offer? Who needs it most? Whose life can you make better? Who comes to you, now? Who makes you happy when you see their number on your phone?

What do you do for them? Keep doing that and making the people you like very happy. Next thing you know, you will be so busy doing the kinds of things you love to do with the people you most enjoy.

Not only that, you will be paid well for it!

Productivity is for People Who Don’t Love What They Do

There is a whole industry around productivity tools, tips, tricks etc. The funny thing I found is that people who love what they do and are really, really good at their art, don’t need any of those things. They do their art. The thinking and planning time is done to support them in doing their art, it’s not a category of task in itself.

We’re using the Seth Godin definition of art.

“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

An artists is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

If you love what you do, you jump out of bed and dig in wholeheartedly

You don’t have to trick yourself into working. You don’t need tools, lists, motivational talks or pumping up routines. When you love what you do you get other things out of the way so you can work on your art.

You know what the most important things are to do to move your project ahead and you get to it

Whether it is a painting, a renovation, displaying your wares or building a business, you know where you are going with it, you have a process to get there and you execute. As you build mastery with your art, you spend less time with planning and more with doing.

You don’t get mired in the day to day. Those tasks feel like distractions, like necessary bits to get out of the way so you can get to the real work of building or doing what you love.

You have a better dialogue with your lizard brain.

Your lizard brain is stronger when you aren’t committed to what you are doing. When you are committed and excited, whispers of disaster are more likely to make you smile than to make you fearful.

Your lizard brain has a role to play, but if you listen too much, it will stop you from doing anything new. You tame your Lizard brain by listening, thanking and patting it on the head and doing what you want to do anyway.

When you do your art, you tap into something bigger than you

In her TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert described how genies or genius comes from outside of us. When you are deep into making your art, you feel the touch of that genius as ideas and abilities come from seemingly nowhere to manifest in what you are doing.

What a relief! It means that if you do great things, you can only take credit for channeling the genius and if you flop, well, your genius was being a bit lame that day.

Tapping into the genius, is a magical feeling. It feels like running with the wind. What you do is better than the effort you put into it.

Until you get to that point, it can feel more like a slog. You have to practice your art with deliberation and mindfulness until you reach mastery for your genius to be there reliably. Is that what beginner’s luck is? We are open to the genius when we try something? But then we get deeper into our head and focus on the mechanics until we have them mastered. Then the we let the genius in again. Hmm, interesting thoughts.

When you love what you do, you go with the Flow

You know that feeling when time stand still and you lose yourself in what you are doing? I’ve experienced it playing volleyball and managed to make moves that shouldn’t have been possible.

I definitely experience it when doing bookkeeping (don’t judge me). The numbers begin to dance with a movement that is both logical and beautiful. It’s why bookkeeping and any other task that means interruption, such as reception don’t mix. Just sayin’.

I like writing, I like it a lot.

The writing itself for me is a means to an end. I’m highly motivated to write when I have something I feel I have to say, or I’m writing to work through some thinking. My book, Your Effortless Business began as a writing exercise to puzzle through why business seems to be so hard when it’s really just about buying and selling what other people need or want. Business isn’t hard in the same ways all over the world, which led me to think it isn’t inherently hard. Writing it out helped me clarify that thinking.

I didn’t need help rolling out of bed every morning at 6ish to put in an hour or so at the keyboard. I’m able to keep it up anytime I have something I want to say or to figure out. If I don’t have something to say, I need the push of the productivity machine to ‘make’ me write. That’s no fun!

It’s why an artist doesn’t need motivation to do their art, but does when it comes time to make a living from it, unless sharing their art is part of doing their art. If you want to make a living with your art, you have to get to a place of loving the sharing of your art. The place of seeing that as a necessary and loving piece of the doing of your art.

The best productivity tip I can give you is: Love What You Do.

What are they talking about?

Mesh – This is based on the book, The Mesh by Lisa Gansky. One way of looking at it is that we want the hole, not the drill. It’s about shared resources, renting not owning and access trumps ownership.

When we share, it means we can use better, for instance, a group of neigbours could collectively own a snowblower. By sharing the expense and maintenance, they can buy an even better model, with more bells and whistles than they might alone.

Abundance – There is plenty for everyone, so share freely, no need to hide. Abundance thinking leads you to treat ‘competitors’ as collaborators, peers and resources. This opens the possibility of mesh thinking – like starting an industry group and bringing in speakers or other resources.

Yes, there’s a book for that, Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Reading this book I could believe in a time/society without money transactions. Now, before you scoff, think about this. We have the ability to supply everything we need for everyone, but we don’t have the ability to give everyone a job to pay for it. Riddle me another way to solve that one.

Long Tail – Chris Anderson (not TED Chris Anderson, but editor of Wired magazine Chris Anderson – yes there are 2 of them) wrote this book and we’ll be looking at another of his books later in this list.

The idea here is you don’t need millions of customers. A small group of dedicated, happy customers can give you a great living. It makes more sense to niche very tightly especially when you realize shelf space is not a limiting factor.

Selling to the masses is a difficult job best left to big business.. Your opportunity is in selling to special interest groups. For instance, we’re not business consultants, we’re not business consultants in the new ways of doing business, we are business consultants working with boomers who have owned businesses for a long time and are interested in learning the new ways of doing business.

Free – Yet another book by Wired Chris Anderson. I first listened to a free copy of this book. Chris argues that as the marginal cost of things approaches free, it will be difficult to charge for it. How many times have you come across something and were irked to pay for it, knowing the cost was next to nothing. That thing for me is Kindle books – when they cost more than the paper versions.

Of course for books, as in other forms of media, the cost is in the creation of the content, not the form. Increasingly, the revenue model is in the live performance associated.  The book becomes a calling card. The Grateful Dead knew that decades ago. Give it all away – people will pay for connection.

Gift economy – This is closely related to Free and it means giving gifts without expectation of direct reciprocity; paying it forward; giving gifts instead of money.

With Free, I give you my Manifesto and you give me your email address; I give you my book and you hire me to speak at your event. With Gift Economy, I set my Manifesto and book free to the world and when I travel to your community, you want to help me. Ask Amanda Palmer.

Connection – People want to feel connected to others, we are a tribal people. If you really want to be a hero, help people connect to each other. Help your customers talk to each other. Intuit has done it by creating a forum for users to ask questions and get answers from each other.  That sense of connection ties people into a community and makes them feel closer to your product.

It is also the business model of many to many. Ebay connects many sellers to many buyers and makes a little piece each time.  So does Amazon and ITunes and Etsy. Any time you can connect people, you add value.

Curation – Make it your job to make sense of the world, to distill all the information out there into the most important and bring it together in a way that makes it easy for your people to access.

This presupposes you have a group that you consider your people. When you think in terms of a group who are your people and how you can bring them what they need, you will have created a very valuable business.

Art – Doing your art doesn’t have to be about painting, sculpting or music. It means putting your heart and soul into what you do. It’s about being passionate and human in all you do.  Seth Godin talks a lot about this. He also uses the term ‘emotional labour’ that was first used as a way to describe the toll that Stewardesses pay to keep smiling through a long flight.

Resistance – aka the Lizard Brain, aka the Amygdala, aka that Critical Little Voice in your Head. You know the one, it says, “If that were such a great idea, someone would have done it already” or “Who are you to…” or “If you do that, people will say that you are…”.

Steven Pressfield has some great work on this, as does Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, they are all writers, because writers deal with writer’s block.

Triple bottom linepeople planet profit, means that it’s not only about the profit at all costs. The backlash against profit-at-all-costs has forced business to take responsibility for its human and environmental costs, too. Practices like cutting down the rainforest (the planet’s lungs) and exploiting people in developing nations are coming under attack by consumers and by attack we mean they stop buying. It’s another manifestation of the the desire for connection. If we are all connected, then what we do (buy from corporations) affects all of us.

Radical Transparency – comes from abundance thinking, that being transparent means that people will trust you more and understand why you make the decisions you do.

Do you have the guts to step out from behind secrecy? It opens you to people misunderstanding you, misinterpreting your motives because of their own view of the world. You need patience to explain, yet again and you need a thick skin.

It’s worth it, because it binds your people to you even more closely.

Social enterprise – This is an enterprise that has a positive social impact, it’s sole reason for being is not around profit. This must be baked into the culture, mission and operations, not just a veneer for the PR it offers.

It’s tied to the 3BL and it does not mean you can’t have great pay for creating high value. It means that the value you create is not just for the shareholders.