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How To Disconnect From Business—To Better Your Business

How To Disconnect From Business—To Better Your Business

You own a business. Yes, you’re the keystone of operations. Yes, it’s critical to the success of your business that you take due responsibility. But if big bank CEOs can still go on vacation and switch their phones to “off,” why can’t you? Sure, they have enormous teams to take care of everything while they’re gone, however there’s a simpler reason why they’re able to disconnect: they have the processes in place to keep the engine running without them.

Let’s say you’re still many, many written processes away from feeling that kind of independence. That can be remedied (especially with the new online, self-paced course I’m offering that dives into all-things-process). And…the idea of disconnecting is something crucial you need to understand here and now.

Stop trying to maximize every second of the day with productive to-dos, savagely crossing tasks off your list. If you don’t prioritize downtime to disconnect, you’ll be sitting on the edge of overwhelm and burnout. I am speaking from experience here.

There are at least a few hours every day that must be “sacred,” those hours where no one should bother you and where you have NO obligation to view an email or take a phone call. And I’ll go further—it’s essential to your health and to the growth of your business that you make it your highest priority to find even longer windows to disconnect.

Let Me Tell You Where I’m Coming From…

I’ll be frank; this has been on my mind a lot lately thanks to a recent trip I took. It’s not that long ago that I came back from one and a half weeks overseas. I had a lot of things on my mind while I traveled—places to see, agendas to keep—and above all else, I had one primary focus: to be present.

I had this idea that “being present” would leave me open to whatever experiences happened upon my path. And in order to be more present, I had to disconnect.

It started on a bus where I simply disconnected from the WiFi. As I traveled between cities, I looked out the window or talked to the other travelers instead. I took time and (equally important) made a deliberate effort to immerse myself in the people, culture, history and stories that were quickly building what became a life-changing experience.

By giving myself space, disconnecting from the notifications and the rest, I found perspective.

Please answer honestly—when did you last break away? Do you actively cultivate a space for yourself?

No?

Here’s how.

Step 1: Accept Your “Productive Downfall”

productivity downfall am i too productiveI’m included in this and so feel empowered to say it: business owners face many challenges, and one that continually rises to the top of the list is the need to always be productive. It can feel at times like business success rests squarely on your shoulders, and so there’s always more you could do—projects to finish, deals to close and services to launch out of the park.

Even downtime is filled with “to-dos.” Everything from doing the laundry to cleaning the house or taking care of the errands you haven’t had time to do. It’s a compulsion for most of us. We get that same rush after our “free time” that we do in the office, thinking with satisfaction of the list of things we just accomplished.

What you have to remember is that any amount of time devoted to relaxation—real relaxation, not running errands—is a profitable investment. It will make you a better businessperson and it will render you more equipped to do your job. Giving yourself room to introspect will directly impact your business in the most positive ways. Down time opens up space for creativity and to see things in a different way.

If you really want to be “at your best” for your business to grow, a healthy frame of mind is where that starts. Your best ideas come when you’re relaxed and recharged, not stressed. And what do businesses thrive on today, if not great ideas?

It’s critical that you accept the idea of disconnecting, relaxing, living in the moment…and that you build this time in without ever thinking twice about it. Whatever you want to call it, however you want to see it, you need to appreciate its value. Not coming naturally to you? Keep reading about the importance of time off to learn more.

Step 2: Draw A Line In The Sand

If you’re serious about disconnecting, you need to commit to it just like you do everything else on your agenda. And then, you need to draw a line in the sand to start classifying activities that promote relaxation and living in the moment versus those that don’t.

I’ll be the first to add something to column “B” for you—it does not count to be “in the moment” or disconnected from the noise of work and life if you’re on your phone, not even blowing time on social media. That’s why I shut the WiFi off on the bus that day. Our brains need a break from constant engagement, and the risk of notifications coming in and taking you a step away from dedicated time for introspection will be counterproductive to everything you’re trying to gain by it.

What You Need To Know About Your Phone

Even better than disconnecting from WiFi is shutting your phone or tablet off altogether. The buzzing or dinging, those endless vies for your attention, will steer you away from personal growth. Apple proudly announced in 2013 that more than 7.4 trillion push notifications had been sent through its servers. They haven’t spoken to that number since, but how much do you want to bet that number has doubled? Tripled?

By turning your phone off altogether, you’ll quickly discover that you don’t miss the stream of push notifications filling your lock screen. You’ll no longer allow just any app to interrupt your time for reflection.

Apple wants you to look at your iPhone, Gmail wants you to open your inbox, Facebook wants you to open Messenger and dozens of other apps and advertisers are competing every second for your attention. This will not change without your intervention, so make the call now to turn your notifications, WiFi or phone off. Leave it behind.

Step 3: Use Reflection Time

Know how to reflectWhat do you do with this down time? The short answer is: nothing productive. What I mean by that is to strike the idea of “maximizing” your time with things that “have to get done.” You can use your reflection time to walk somewhere, go to lunch, read a book or talk to your neighbor. The point is that it should leave you open to the moment and all the experiences, ideas and feelings that come organically with it.

Not sure which activities or experiences fall on the right side of that line in the sand? Look at this article by American Express to see which of these ideas resonate with you. Personally, I connect with quiet and creativity by getting out into nature, by doing yoga and by cooking.

It’s amazing what’s possible when you step out of the daily grind. Heck, it’s amazing what’s possible when you simply look up from your phone.

Block off time to disconnect starting today. Then increase that time little by little. And then, plan bigger windows of time (like a vacation) to support your “in the moment” experiences. What you find might surprise you in the best way.

Think slowing down is a luxury you don’t have? Think again.

“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” – Oprah Winfrey

To Automate or Not to Automate? That is the Question!

To Automate or Not to Automate? That is the Question!

The idea of automating just about any task is an attractive one. You can save time, sometimes hours a day, for you and multiple members of your team.

But then, in the face of changing a routine, finding an automation tool and setting up a new system, you have to ask: is it worth it?

Knowing whether a task is worth automating first requires taking a look at the total time, energy and trouble going into completing it the way it’s done today. From there, you can explore what tools are available to address concerns.

I’m going to break down these three major factors so you can apply them to whatever tasks you’re thinking about automating. Any one of these alone can make it clear that it’s time to automate a process. If you aren’t compelled by one factor, look at the sum of all three. And if you still aren’t sure, apply the questions I’ve listed at the bottom of this article to fully assess your path forward.

Factor One: Total Time

This factor is easy to assess since is quantifiable. For any task you do on a regular basis, there’s usually an opportunity to automate all or part of it, especially since these tasks are almost always repetitive.

For anyone who owns a business, the more tasks you have that require daily or weekly attention, the harder it is to take that vacation you deserve or step back from the daily grind.

My two cents is that any task you’re doing daily can probably be automated to cut the time it takes in half, or eliminate the need for a daily recurrence all together. I’d say the same for many weekly tasks, too.

Here’s a table you can use when assessing how much time you’re really spending on a regular task. Look at the time you could save after migrating that task to an automated solution. Not every task will have an obvious automation solution, and many will depend on other factors like what software is easily available. At the very least this can start to put daily and weekly tasks into perspective of the total time invested.

Table to see how much time you really spend on a repetitive or regular task

Start by jotting down how much time you spend doing regular and repetitive tasks. Especially those that are stressful when you’re out of the office. Better yet, keep a time log for all of your regular tasks to identify room for automation. You might not even realize how many times you’ve performed a single task until you look back over the course of the month.

Expert tip: This concept is so important that it’s discussed in greater depth in the first module of our new online course, DuplicateU: Lay The Foundation. To get additional guidance on this step and what it can mean to you and your business, learn more about DuplicateU here.

Factor Two: Energy

This is where we get into the more open-ended assessments. The energy you spend doing a regular or repetitive task should be a major consideration when looking at automations—after all, you have a lot of responsibilities requiring energy throughout the day. And energy is a finite resource that must be managed with intentionality. If any recurring task is taking energy away from important business functions like strategy and planning, marketing and sales, or financial oversight, it might be worth looking at another solution.

A task can take little time and still be exhaustive mentally/emotionally. Take financial management tasks, for example. One question I answered recently is whether it’s time to upgrade from a bookkeeper to a CFO. If it’s not time to take that step yet, and you’re trying to do away with a few regular data entry tasks, a simple spreadsheet automation might save you energy spent entering sensitive information and validating data fields.

If you’re not sure how much energy a task really requires, ask yourself how you feel after the task is done. Are you able to jump right into something else, or do you need time to “recover” before tackling the next thing? If your answer is the former, it’s likely that task gives you energy. If your answer is the latter, it’s likely that task depletes your energy, and reducing the amount of mental/emotional energy it takes should be a priority.

Factor Three: Trouble (Frustration)

Frustrating tasks and how business owners can automate themThe frustration factor comes down to a little self-awareness. Do you complete certain tasks grudgingly? Are there recurring responsibilities that you put off and put off and put off until absolutely the last minute? Do you have to push yourself to get them done with several pep talks? If a regular task is causing you grief or if it feels like you’re “going to the trouble” to get it done every time, that’s a big flag to consider properly delegating or looking to an automation.

If you feel resentful toward a task, or even hateful of sitting down to do it, it’s probably time to get that task off your plate.

Expert tip: Remember that toxic tasks can weigh down your employees, too. While delegating can serve as a short-term solution, an automation is often the better way to go for repetitive tasks with a high frustration curve.

A final pointer regarding these three factors:

While any one of these factors can illustrate what tasks can be automated, sometimes it’s the sum of all three that point you in the right direction. Imagine an equation: Total Time plus Energy plus Trouble. Label each factor as “high,” “medium” or “low,” and you will feel that much more empowered to invest a little time upfront to move to an automation that will save you time and boost morale in the end.

Questions to Ask if You’re Still not Sure

Automating tasks sounds great. But doing so often require time you feel you don’t have just to get a new system up and running!

If you’re thinking about a specific task and still aren’t sure, or need a few more reasons to justify the time or budget invested in making the switch, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If you delegated this task instead of automating it, would it be a headache for the person taking it on?
  2. Is the task prone to human error? (Great examples would be bookkeeping and setting appointments.)
  3. Could automating the task improve the quality of work?
  4. Do you know others who have implemented this kind of solution before?

(Expert tip: Making time for a single conversation with a peer or consultant can save you hours of googling, deciphering software features and price-comparing.)

If you answer “yes” to any of the above, that’s a strong indicator that automation could save you time, money and strife.

Looking Toward the Future

Instead of living with frustration or feeling the burnout bubble up, make a move now to automate recurring tasks in a way that is intentional and well planned. These moves will pay off not only in time and energy savings, but also in opening up opportunities to scale your operations. The sooner you have automations in place, the more seamless your ramp to growing your business will be.

Automations often require new software and subscriptions, so weigh these expenses with the benefits these solutions bring and move decisively. If there’s one epiphany that business owners come to time and time again, it’s that we can’t do it all.

Start a time log today to look for tasks begging for automation, or drop a comment here if you already have one on your mind. I’ll reply directly with tips and will be available to point you in the direction of solutions that can help you survive today and scale tomorrow, like the new self-paced online course DuplicateU that will start by working through this exercise. Learn about new automations today to set your business up for a self-sustaining future with lower stress and bigger returns.

You Know An Employee Is Ready To Take Responsibilities Off Your Plate When…

You Know An Employee Is Ready To Take Responsibilities Off Your Plate When…

As a business owner, one of the most important things you do is delegate. After hiring the right people and setting standards for each role, you’ll be faced with new opportunities on a daily basis to delegate tasks and projects, and help employees move to new heights in performance and skill.

It’s satisfying to see an employee grow. So how do you know when someone is ready to take on more responsibility?

One of the first signs that an employee is fully invested in your company (and ready to take more responsibility) is when his or her vocabulary shifts from “mine” and “yours” to “ours.” It’s not just about the employee’s success, and it’s not just about the success of the company. It’s about “our” success together.

This sounds great, especially with that goal in the back of your mind to get to a place where you can let go of the day-to-day and watch your business run itself. You want your hard work to pay off in a self-sustaining way. The specifics of “when” and “how” come down to human resources and recognizing when an employee’s growing skillset can mean bigger opportunity for your business.

Here, I’m going to break down how to identify when an employee is ready to take on more responsibility and carry your business forward.

When an Employee is Ready and Knows it

An employee who is ready for more responsibility and shows it

There are employees who are hungry for more responsibility and make it known to you and your team.

Naturally, any employee you’re considering handing new responsibilities off to will have excelled in meeting his or her current accountabilities. Take a look at any energetic or ambitious employee against the key performance indicators (KPIs) you have in place to ensure that existing tasks are being completed consistently and correctly.

Then look at the telltale signs below that signal an employee is ready to take on even more:

  • Ingenuity: If an employee actively looks for solutions to problems, this demonstrates a drive to exceed expectations, play to the success of the business and ultimately take on more responsibility.
  • Prioritization: Taking on new tasks requires excellent time management practices. In the face of new responsibilities, an employee has to know how to stay on top of current duties and work new ones in while keeping priorities clearly outlined.
  • Managing deadlines: Hand-in-hand with prioritization is the employee’s ability to watch deadlines and take charge of follow-up. Meeting deadlines, and proactivity communicating when a deadline may not be met, are key practices that become more essential when the employee’s plate is even fuller.

When an Employee is Ready and Doesn’t Know it—Yet

An employee who is ready for more responsibility but doesn't know it yet

Maybe you have an employee who’s showing signs that he or she is ready for more responsibility, but lacks the spark to ask for additional tasks proactively. In this case, get curious and speak with the employee about what’s going on. It’s possible he or she has a concern about biting off more and being successful, or simply isn’t aware that there are additional ways he or she could bring value to the organization.

It’s your job to see the possibilities for this employee’s skillsets and strengths and match them with organizational needs.

These are some of the signs that an employee is ready for more responsibility, whether or not he or she knows it:

  • Excelling in existing responsibilities: This is the basic metric when thinking about handing off more assignments or tasks. If your employee is excelling in tasks on his or her plate now, it may be time to start building that employee up to bigger things.
  • Strong performance reviews: If your recent reviews of the employee outline strong adherence to KPIs, that’s one sign that he or she is ready for more. And if your reviews include any type of self-assessment where the employee has shown confidence in work done, that’s an even bigger push to start giving that employee more to do.
  • Acting as the go-to: If other teammates are reaching out to this employee for help with technical or theoretical questions, and he or she has the answers, this may signal that the employee is ready to take on more.

    Expert tip: If other employees are going to one person with questions, this also signals an opportunity in your training program. Make sure team members are cross-trained and have access to the information they need to do their job well.

Align Appropriate Rewards

When an employee takes on more responsibility, consider what type of recognition is most appropriate. If the employee is up for a promotion or raise, celebrate the hard work that went into it. And if you hadn’t thought about a promotion or a raise yet, ask yourself what that employee would need to demonstrate in order for a promotion or raise to be appropriate, and share the criteria with him or her to build up that employee’s momentum.

That said, a raise isn’t the only way to show an employee your appreciation. You can also recognize your employee (and encourage the same behaviors from the rest of your team) using one of several reward approaches. Handing more responsibility to an ambitious and resourceful employee will be good for you, good for the employee and good for your team if done right.

Once you do identify an employee who is ready for more responsibility, the art of delegating is another practice you’ll want to master. And coupled with the recognition and rewards that will keep employees motivated in their new tasks, you and your team will be on the path to bigger things.

Do you have a specific case to ask about? Or an employee who’s shown some of these signs, but not others? Leave me a comment below with your question, or reach out here.

How to Know When it’s Time to Upgrade from a Bookkeeper to a CFO

How to Know When it’s Time to Upgrade from a Bookkeeper to a CFO

As your business grows, financial management turns into an increasingly delicate task. To stay on top of the books (and stay ahead of problems later), you need a rising degree of financial intelligence.

But you’re also running all other aspects of your business. To focus on more critical duties, and—ideally—take a big step back from the business so that it can start to run itself, getting those time-consuming financial activities off your plate is crucial.

You probably already have a bookkeeper, whether remote or in-office, part-time or full. So, when do you know it’s time to delegate all your financial responsibilities to a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)?

Here, we’ll explore the key differences between a bookkeeper and a CFO to understand which will have the biggest impact on your business according to your needs, right now.

WHAT DOES THE AVERAGE BOOKKEEPER DO?

You probably already have a bookkeeper or use a bookkeeping service, and here we’re going to review what their responsibilities generally include.

A bookkeeper is generally employed by a small-to-medium-sized business to record and track transactions and reconcile accounts, including but not limited to payroll, invoices and expenditures.

That said, a bookkeeper’s role isn’t limited to entering numbers into spreadsheets. Especially if you contract a bookkeeping service, their expertise and knowledge also include leveraging key accounting software to take care of things like:

  • Training you or other staff on accounting software
  • Cleaning up mistakes and validating accounting data
  • And streamlining all bookkeeping tasks

These responsibilities take an enormous weight off a business owner’s shoulders. However, you’ll see that these tasks still require someone to manage the bookkeeper and step in when it comes to more complex to-dos.

Spoiler alert: if it is time to upgrade to a CFO, you’ll have more accounting needs than those listed above.

WHAT DOES THE AVERAGE CFO DO?

As your business grows, managing your finances becomes too complex for a bookkeeper to handle. And without the right pieces in place to keep finances managed well, this can become a strain for future growth, particularly when it comes to investments and strategic planning.

This is your first sign that it might be time to hire a CFO.

But back to basics: a CFO is brought into a business as the bearer of all financial activities. The CFO not only has the knowledge and skills to handle accounting independently, but takes ownership in the success of your business.

Ideally, a CFO ends up becoming a right-hand man or woman for your company, with responsibilities such as:

  • Strategic planning to assess the operational and financial impacts of strategic business initiatives
  • Annual budgeting and quarterly forecasting, including recommending adjustments, as needed, to properly manage the business
  • Operational and financial reviews with actuals vs. budget forecasts and operational efficiency metrics to make better day-to-day and strategic decisions

A CFO will be responsible for everything from general accounting to protecting the financial future of your company, keeping a pulse on how stable your company is at a given time.

Though, as you can imagine, hiring a CFO is a big decision for any business owner and has to be done at the right time.

LET’S TAKE A MOMENT TO TALK OUTSOURCING

We can outsource just about everything these days. With a tap of the smartphone, we can open apps to communicate with freelancers and contractors around the globe who are playing an increasing role in capacity building and scaling for small and medium businesses.

Outsourcing is common, too, with bookkeepers. Whether it’s an independent bookkeeper or a service you contract, working from the cloud gives businesses the financial controls they need without having to hire in-office.

Looking for a bookkeeper online today is easier than ever, too, with multiple certifications you can check for and validate. For example:

  • Certified Bookkeepers (National Bookkeepers Association)
  • Certified Management Accountants
  • Certified Accounts Payable Professionals
  • Certified Accounts Payable Associates
  • Certified Payroll Professionals
  • Tax Certification

But did you know you can outsource your CFO, too? This is most appealing for businesses without a physical office, and for those who are aching to get the help a CFO can offer but still aren’t sure about finding and hiring someone local full-time.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S TIME TO HIRE A CFO?

We’ve talked about the increasing complexity of business finances. So what are some of the triggers that might indicate it’s time to start thinking about hiring a CFO?

If any of the following are true, that will be a big flag that you’ve grown enough to start thinking about hiring this important team member:

  • If you have investors interested in supporting your business, they’ll want to see detailed financial statements and financial plans. This is something that almost always requires contracting a CFO, unless you want to be stuck doing all this work yourself.
  • If your company revenue has increased significantly or rapidly, it’s wise to look for a CFO to help manage your cash flow. Planning appropriate cash usage is another strategic “must” that a CFO can manage for you.
  • And, as your business grows, banks will start insisting on thorough audits of your financial statements when you come looking for loans. These types of audits can include digging into even the most minute details, and can be intimidating—not to mention a major time suck. A CFO would take care of this for you, also ensuring that financial statements are up-to-date without discrepancies before that audit even comes.
  • For any company that’s grown significantly beyond “what it once was,” understanding and managing risk becomes more difficult. Hiring a CFO gets you the insights you need for proper risk management, strategizing and protecting you against all the “what ifs” that are likely to occur.

Now that the wheels are turning on the “when” and “why,” the rest is up to your gut. You’ve made business decisions a million times before, and now you have some key considerations on a silver platter. So, what do you need? And what do you want? Do you have the time to handle finances on your own?

If it is time to hire a CFO, this will mean handing all that responsibility off to someone uniquely trained and positioned to not only handle accounting, but the necessary financial strategy to keep your business running successfully.

BONUS: HOW DO YOU HIRE THE RIGHT CFO?

Hiring anyone for your company is a delicate matter. Even the entry-level representatives answering the phones act as the face of your business, so there is no “small” job in your business.

That said, a CFO will act as an especially important player. Looking for talent isn’t as hard as you think, and so if it is time to hire a CFO, start looking now.

And then, pat yourself on the back, because your business has grown so much that you’ve arrived to a major turning point. This will be another day you remember.

Have a financial situation you’re not sure about? Want to learn more about what a bookkeeper or CFO can do? Connect with us today!

Death to the “Should”

Death to the “Should”

I recently returned from a business planning retreat, where my mastermind group escaped to the mountains for two full days of visioning, strategy, idea sharing and prioritizing activities for the year ahead. During the course of the retreat, I met one-on-one with each member of the group for a coaching session, and in every single session, the word “should” came up. “I should be doing more on social media.” “People tell me I should raise my prices.” “I should develop an online program.” And on and on and on.

Every day, you receive messages of what you “should” be doing. Whether from an article you read, a guru you follow, the wisdom (solicited or not) from business contacts, family members, and goons. The messages are seemingly never ending.

“Should” overwhelms us.

“Should” keeps us stuck.

“Should” brings us guilt.

No good comes from these messages. Inspired by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do. Or do not. There is no should.” I suggest erasing this word from your vocabulary immediately. Here’s how:

Be Selective

It’s great to get advice and perspective from others who have been there, done that; or from people who are there, doing that. But that advise needs to be put through a filtering mechanism to decide if you will take the advice now, take the advice later, or not take the advice at all. There is no benefit from internalizing this advice as a “should.” Process it and assign it one of these three categories.

Park It

Don’t for a second let advice take up space in your head.

If the advice you get is advice you decide to take now, capture it in your project management system, your calendar, or whatever system you have to manage your priorities and your time. Then don’t think about it for another second until it’s time to focus all of your attention on it. When it is, focus on it, and do it well.

If the advice you get is advice you decide to take later, capture it on a master project list where it can live safely and securely until it’s appropriate to decide to pursue it or cross it off the list. Creating a parking lot for “future ideas” keeps them from taking up brain space (and energy).

Gauge Success

Don’t continue taking the advice (or doing anything in business for that matter) without carefully evaluating success to determine if it’s worth the time, energy, money, etc. to continue doing it over and over again. Sometimes advice becomes so engrained and habitual (send a monthly e-newsletter, cold call 10 prospects/day, etc.), you may fall into the routine of doing it, without pausing to evaluate if it’s bringing you the results you expect and need. Pause, evaluate, and then decide to continue or not.

And for goodness sake, stop “should-ing” yourself. DEATH TO THE “SHOULD.”