Leading up to the first part of 2019, I was living the entrepreneurial dream… or so I thought. My business was running itself (ha), and I spent the a great deal of time having fun while traveling the world. I probably visited 20 different countries in just as many months. Even when I was in town, I sometimes wouldn’t come into the office because I seemed to just “get in the way.”
My wife/business partner was able to spend time out of the office too, exploring her side interests in interior design. All of this while revenues were increasing, and our business was winning awards for fast growth.
We thought we had finally solved the puzzle of work in your business, not on your business, but boy were we wrong.
We soon started to notice that revenues were slowly declining compared to the previous year, and we couldn’t figure out why. Was it a Google algorithm change? Was it new competition?
Then we noticed customers complaining. We were getting 1-star reviews, and complaints to the Better Business Bureau. We had to figure out something fast, but couldn’t quite pinpoint the problem.
Whenever we were around, our team seemed happy and dependable. It turns out, the problem was us – the leaders.
A good leader doesn’t pass the blame.
A good leader looks at himself/herself and asks “what could I have done better as a leader?”
So Q1 2019 was a grueling time and I learned some painful lessons.
I’ve tried to narrow it down to these 3 lessons that I’ll share them with you now.
1. Low turnover isn’t always a good thing.
We had team members who had been with us for 6, 8, 10+ years, and we thought that was a good thing. It turns out that sometimes, people get comfortable and complacent. They don’t evolve with the company’s growth and where the company is headed. Unfortunately, sometimes the only thing you can do is part ways. Sometimes the garden needs pruning and nurturing from the gardener.
2. There’s a dangerous side to “work on your business not in your business”
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard before that you should be working “in your business, not on your business”. I took this too far. I wanted to own the business passively, but every business isn’t built to sustain absentee ownership.
I also heard the question at a business workshop: “Are you a perk of working at your company?” Then I realized that I am. Many of my team members worked there so long because they enjoyed the energy I bring as the charismatic leader. But I didn’t even realize it at the time. The same may be true in your business. When I stopped being around as much, it was like taking a perk away from them.
Also, I learn things whenever I work in the weeds. For example, we had pricing that was outdated, and we were losing money on several products. We corrected and raised prices across the board. We also personally reached out to clients and addressed the issues head on. No more 1-star reviews since then.
If I were solely looking at the business from the 30,000-foot view, I would never have realized some of these leaky holes in the boat.
3. A dozen A-players is better than a two dozen B-players.
We cut about half of our staff, either by letting people go, or not replacing B-players who left. After the wheat was separated from the chaff, we were left with a much smaller, but more effective, team of just A-players. Now we are producing more revenue that this time last year, with half the people, and half the stress. That is the power of proficient pruning.
Now I’m in the office most days, when I’m in town, and I feel more engaged with the team and with clients than ever. The pain from February and March was so great, that I won’t lose sight of these lessons learned any time soon.