9 things that are awesome even though we usually think they suck

Warning: You’re not going to agree with me on some or all of these. That’s okay. That’s actually the first one! :)

1. DISAGREEMENT

It seems like most people try to agree. They try to find common ground, achieve alignment, come together, whatever. And sometimes that’s helpful because when you work together with someone, you tend to achieve more when everyone is moving in the same direction. Agreement is ingrained in us because every story (whether book, movie, TV show, etc.) is basically about people who disagree and then discover a resolution (sort-of an agreement, even if it involves explosions). We tend to agree with our heroes.

BUT… a dissenter is good. History is built on dissenters. Businesses are founded on dissenters. Even countries are founded on dissenters. We don’t always have to agree. Disagreements (when healthy) breed discussion and growth.

2. RISK

Risk is fascinating. I love studying risk! Most people’s ideas of risk are broken. The average stock market investor tries to reduce risk. We’re wired to avoid it.

But who are the most successful investors? They’re the ones who accept some level of risk. (Warren Buffett understands that there is risk in the market and he accepts it. Even though he’s thought to be a safe and risk-free investor, he’s actually not and it’s to his benefit). And here’s a great example of how people are insanely risk averse: So many people dream of quitting their job and starting their own business but they can’t take the risk of giving up that paycheck. (By the way: I have a solution for that. If you want to start a business without the risk of quitting your job, do this).

Risk is good. Period. Yes, it needs to be managed and monitored closely and it should always be in balance with reward but risk is a good thing. (I talk a lot more about this at the blog post Ideas about risk that we have totally wrong.)

3. MISTAKES

We want to avoid mistakes because we don’t want to look foolish. But mistakes are what help us innovate. I love making mistakes. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not trying. (Here are 5 business failures I’ve had and what I learned from them).

My advice? Do more stuff. Make more mistakes. Love those mistakes and learn from them.

4. BULLIES

This will be perhaps my most controversial addition to the list. Even before hitting “Publish” on this post I was tempted to remove it. But here it is anyway.

I was bullied in school. It sucked. I wished it never happened and I have emotional scarring as a result. (Gosh, am I actually admitting this on my blog???) And I support how bully-intolerant we’ve become as a culture.

BUT… because of bullies, I am where I am today. They solidified who my friends were (and weren’t), they were a key factor in me moving to a different city in my late teens (which launched some very positive changes in my life), they showed me that the world isn’t always fair but I need to be a good person anyway, and they motivated me to do well in life as a sort-of revenge for how they made me feel in grade school and high school. (Where are they now? I have no clue, and I’m not about to devote any bandwidth to finding out. But success is sill the sweetest revenge).

5. BAD CLIENTS

Bad clients make you work hard and then pay as little as possible while complaining about it, or they disappear with out paying. Or they leave a bad review. Or they take advantage of your guarantee. It happens and it sucks and sometimes it causes some short-term financial pain.

But but clients strengthen your “jerk-o-meter” and help you know for next time. And I’ve learned that bad clients are also an indicator of your success: When you’re just starting out and you’re willing to accept any clients, you put up with the bad ones. But as you get to be more successful, your ability to say “no” to a client — to turn them away if you don’t think it’s a good fit — is an AMAZING feeling.

6. LACK OF MONEY

I’m mostly speaking about having a lack of money in business, although I suppose this also applies to personal life as well.

Being short of cash sucks. It feels like you’re handcuffed and can’t do everything you want to do in your business. You wonder how you’ll afford a key investment or how you’ll pay your staff this money or how you’ll pay yourself this month.

But, when your business is short of funds, it is a fantastic motivator to get your ass out of your seat and start selling. It refocuses you on the important stuff. Being short of funds alerts you to the fact that your expenses seem to outpace your income, so you need to take a closer look at those expenses and trim them, and you need to boost that income. A lack of money also forces you to get creative.

Several years ago my business ran out of cash when I got a MASSIVE tax bill that I was simply not prepared for. I had to buckle down and work HARD, putting in long days every day for months in order to cover the tax bill. It was a very dark period in my business. But the result was incredible: I learned a lot, I raise the bar on what I could achieve when motivated, and it even opened up a couple of new opportunities for me.

Business tends to run in cycles: During the fat times, you spend a lot and you don’t hustle as hard. During the lean times, you spend less and you hustle hard. And so it goes like that, back and forth and back and forth (this happens in the economy, too) and hopefully you learn enough in the lean times that you make the fat times less silly, and you put away enough in the fat times that you make the lean times a little less lean. But lean times are still good.

7. DEADLINES

My entire life is built around deadlines. Every week I jam out content like a maniac because of deadlines. I hate them.

But… there have been a few clients who have said, “oh, just get me the project whenever you can” and guess what happens. The project gets deprioritized over and over and over again. And my own projects (like my first book, and now like my second and third books) get pushed farther and farther back. Deadlines give us a goal and keep us focused.

8. DEATH

The death of loved ones is very painful. When family or friends pass away, we’re left with a hole in our hearts and our lives, and sometimes even a bit of regret that we didn’t get to spend more time with them.

But death is a kind of deadline. The ultimate deadline. I don’t say that to be morbid, I’m just tying it back to my previous point. Like any other deadline, death reminds us to live now. When someone I know has died, I find myself revisiting my own life and considering whether I’m living the life I should be living.

When my grandfather passed away just the day before my 35th birthday, I was (of course) very sad at the loss (although it was not unexpected as he’d been in ill-health for a while) but it made me reflect on the way he lived his life to the fullest and inspired me to do the same. And when my friend and business colleague Rod lost his life unexpectedly, I renewed the commitment I had made in several areas of my life that he had impacted. These are just two stories but I’ve experienced more myself and know of many other stories that are similar. In fact, I’m writing a book for a business that started when a couple made a commitment to a friend of their who died of cancer — it’s a fascinating story and one I hope you get to hear someday.

9. PAIN AND DISCOMFORT

No one likes pain. We’re wired to avoid it. Just look at anyone who thinks they’re about to be in pain and we see them throw all personal pride out the window — whether it’s a flinch from a near miss, or hearing a bee buzzing around your head, or hitting your thumb with a hammer… whatever. When there’s pain or we think there’s going to be pain, we react in a primal way.

Pain hurts, discomfort is uncomfortable. (Duh). We do what we can do avoid them because our DNA is embedded with a desire to reduce pain and discomfort and increase pleasure. Nothing wrong with that. And hopefully our businesses grow to give us more time and money to enjoy the pleasures of life.

But there is good that can come from pain and discomfort. Some of the examples I’ve listed above (bullies, death, lack of money) all cause some amount of pain or discomfort and I’ve shown how they can make us better. The most successful people are not those who avoid pain and discomfort but who find a way to get through in spite of it. The best business example I can think of is selling. Selling can be hard. when I first graduated from college I went into sales and struggled at first. And then, for some bizarre reason I ended up in financial sales where I was making cold calls and even selling door-to-door. At one point during that time, there was so much discomfort that I threw up all over myself in anxiety before going out to sell. (Why am I making all these crazy admissions in this post???). But I pushed through. I prevailed. And now? I feel like I can sell anything. I can navigate my way through a sale confidently and comfortably because I pushed through the discomfort.

Or here’s another example: When you’re just starting out in your business and not sure how to do something. At first it takes you a bit of time and it seems difficult and slow. After a while, though, if you can push through the discomfort without giving, it becomes easy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I’ve listed many things that suck. But they’re also awesome, not because of what they are or what they put us through… but because of what we become as a result. We become better people — stronger, more resilient, with renewed focus, and a sharper desire to succeed.

So accept and embrace those challenges and push through because the other side is better.

Emotion: Does it have a place in business?

It’s funny when you notice something that becomes a pattern… Kind of like when you learn a new word and then you start hearing that word all the time. Once you see it in one place, you see it everywhere.

The same thing has happened to me with the following concept…

  • I’m doing some consulting with a company that is going through a period of rapid growth. They are expanding in several different and exciting ways, and all this change is mostly good but it also creates some challenges. While talking to the owners yesterday, they said to me that they are trying to take emotion out of the situation so they only deal with things logically.
  • I’m also writing a book for a client and he talks about the value of making decisions based purely on a logical decision-making criteria versus basing your decisions on in-the-moment emotion.
  • And in my personal life, I have a family member who is considering the positives and negatives of a fairly big change in their life. And in a conversation they had yesterday, they said to me: “I know the logical reasons for the change but it’s the emotional reasons that are holding me back right now.”
  • I was watching a TV show that took place during the suffrage movement, and the argument made in the show (and presumably in real life, at the time) was that men were logical and should be the ones to vote while women were emotional and therefore not equipped to make good voting decisions.

In each case, I encountered someone who sought to remove emotion from the picture so they could only look at things logically.

At first glance, this idea of logic trumping emotion sounds good: Logic is clinical, analytical, focused (Hey, didn’t SuperTramp sing about this?)… and in our modern, scientific society, this approach is highly respected. We’re advanced enough to know that we aren’t guided by fate or luck but that our own decisions shape our future. We also think that applying 100% logic and 0% emotion to every decision will give us the very best outcome in every situation; that the application of a scientific approach will, by its very nature, take us to the best choice.

But is that true?

Until recently I probably would have said it was. I’ve always been kind of a studious academic kind of person who appreciates a logical, analytical approach to things. (Well, most of the time. My high school science teacher might disagree). But I’ve been rethinking it a bit and yesterday’s encounters have forced me to articulate my thoughts.

Here’s what I’m thinking about…

IS LOGIC THE OPPOSITE OF EMOTION?

I think this is a big part of the puzzle. We tend to think that logic is the opposite of emotion. On the one hand, you have a logical, analytical approach. On the other hand, you have an emotive, impassioned approach. One is step by step, the other is a frenzy of feeling.

I don’t think that’s true, though. Logical approaches can’t always arrive at a conclusion through a step by step process. Logic is true for a moment but as the world changes, the logic that decisions are built on will change as well. Take the example of my family member contemplating a large move. For many years, their current location was right. It was the logical approach for their situation. But now the situation has changed so the logic needs to change. Therefore, logic isn’t as clean and as precise as we want it to be.

We tend to think of logic being driven by our brain while emotions are driven by our heart, which, scientifically, is of course not true. Both logic and emotion come from the same place.

We tend to think that logic and emotion compete with each other. But do they? Sometimes it seems that way (as is the case in all four encounters I had recently) but it’s not always the case. Your marriage, your decision to have children, your decision for a career, and the purchase of your home (to randomly choose four HUGE decisions we make in life) are often born out of a congruence between logic and emotion. For example, logic says: “This person will make a good life partner” and emotion says: “I love this person” — so there’s congruence between the two. So there are times when logic and emotion work together.

(Admittedly, there are often times when emotion and logic are not congruent — when there’s a logical approach to something and an emotional approach to something. In those situations, we often think we need to defer to the logical approach.)

I think if logic and emotion were truly opposites of each other, they would more often work at cross purposes — logic would tell us to do one thing and emotion would tell us to do another… way more frequently than they do. And although that does happen (sometimes too frequently), it doesn’t happen consistently.

So I don’t think we can say logic is the opposite of emotion. They’re two approaches we take or two viewpoints we have or two “lenses” through which we see the world. They come from the same place (our minds) and they sometimes take divergent paths (but sometimes they don’t).

Which leads to my next point…

IS IT POSSIBLE TO REMOVE EMOTION FROM DECISIONS?

Name a decision in your life in which logic made 100% influence on the choice and emotion had 0% influence.

I think you’ll have a hard time finding one. Logic and emotion are intertwined in every decision. Sure, one usually wins out over the other and there are times when you deny one in favor of the other. But each was still present; each one still influenced the decision in some way.

Even a sale that is made logically is really made emotionally first. Ask any salesperson or copywriter. You always sell to emotions first and foremost and then you back it up with logic. Even when you’re selling to a large corporation, you’re still selling to the emotions of the decision-makers first. That’s a sales 101 concept that has stood the test of time.

We all have logic and emotion — both are present in, and shape, every decision we make from the largest to the smallest. The choices we make throughout the day are guided by whether they are fully congruent or whether we choose to listen to one and ignore the other.

EMOTIONS ALREADY GUIDE SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES

On a piece of paper, create two columns — one that says “Logic” and one that says “Emotion”. Now start listing decisions you made in your life in which one trumped the other. Again, I think it’s impossible to say that any decision was made solely on the basis of one of these influencers over the other. But I think you’ll often end up with ideas like “Career, house purchase” in the Logic side and “Spouse, children” in the Emotion side. We believe our logic guides us on the practical issues while emotion guides us on relational issues.

But I think you’ll agree that logic and emotion present in all of our decisions. And we’re okay with emotion being the dominant influencer in very important decisions (that are often relational in nature). So it’s not like we don’t trust emotions to guide us properly. In fact, I’d argue that we trust our emotions to guide us during our most important decisions (my emotion-dominant choice of a spouse is considerably more important than my logic-dominant choice of a car).

Furthermore, we’re emotional creatures who often measure the quality of a day by how happy or sad or angry (or whatever) we were that day.

We can’t suck emotion out of our lives.

So if that’s the case, what place do emotions have in business?

SHOULD EMOTION HAVE AN EQUIVALENT PLACE TO LOGIC IN BUSINESS?

I think they should.

Emotion is the weather vane of our satisfaction. When things are going well, we’re happy. When they’re not going well, we’re upset. Our goal in business should often be (within reason) to pursue our own satisfaction by increasing the things that make us happy and decreasing the things that make us upset. Negative emotions point to problems we need to address right away. The more acute the emotion, the bigger the problem that needs to be addressed.

Emotions are connected to our intuition. Anticipation and anxiety are both emotions that grow out of our intuition of what something is going to be like.

Logical and emotional alignment feels right. When that happens, we feel confident in our decisions and actions.

SO, SHOULD WE DO BUSINESS IN A FRENZY OF EMOTION?

Logic and emotion both come out of the same place yet sometimes they take divergent paths.

But I think we often try to deny emotion in favor of logic… and we shouldn’t: We can’t ignore or eliminate emotion entirely from any decision, plus emotion gives us an excellent guide to how things are going.

  • So, when our logic and emotion align, I believe we can move forward with confidence.
  • And, when our logic and emotion do not align, we should take that as an indicator to zoom in more closely and inspect the situation. Rather than deny emotion and go with the logical choice, we need to accept that something is not right and we should try to discover what piece of the puzzle is missing that is causing the misalignment.

Intentional magic: How to conjure more moments of pure awesomeness

I recently started working with a new client — one of the biggest clients I’ve ever worked with; a real “marquee” client that has the potential to change the game in my business.

So, when they sent me my first copywriting assignment, I definitely didn’t want to screw it up! Hitting my marks on this first assignment would mean a steady flow of great work from them for years to come.

That first assignment came in. I sat down to write it, sweating through every detail. It came together really fast and really solid and when I got the first version back to them on time, I was really happy with it. (In fact, after sending it to them, I thought, “wow, this is good.” and I read it a couple more times).

But I was nervous (yes, even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades)… would they like it? What if I totally missed something?

Then the initial feedback came in: “Love it. VERY strong work.

(Whew).

We made a couple of tweaks — not very many — and they sent the copy off to their web team and followed up with additional feedback to me: “Fantastic. Love it.

Awesome. I don’t get tired of hearing that. And given the amount of effort (and the bit of nervousness I felt), the feedback was even sweeter.

And, I couldn’t stop thinking about the work. I was really happy with it. I knew it was good. I count it among my best pieces of copywriting yet. I achieved magic. A moment when a bunch of things came together to create something special… to create a result that was a level above what I normally produce. I’m NOT telling you this to boast about it (which is why I’m not going to show you the copy or tell you who the client is; that doesn’t matter). I’m telling you this because it got me thinking…

I achieved magic that day. It felt good and the result was amazing. I’ve had a few of these moments throughout my career and I suspect you have too. They happen from time to time. In retrospect, they’re the times when I send something off and think “wow, it felt great to write that” and then I go back and re-read it, barely believing that it my was fingers that typed it.

If I could do it once in a while, why can’t I do it all the time? Why do I hit a certain level occasionally and how can I conjure magic more often?

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way or who wants to reach higher. I have friends in many industries that I’m sure also touch magic from time to time and want more. Maybe you do too.

So I set about to quantify that magic and to see if it can be repeated.

I’ll be drawing from my own copywriting experience but I hope that the concepts and lessons here will easily translate to your (non-copywriting) situation…

QUANTIFYING THE MAGIC

The first thing I needed to do was quantify the magic. What made it so magical?

It’s pretty clear that the copy itself wasn’t the magic. It was the result of magic. I think the magic was the entire process from start to finish.

There were several aspects of this project that were similar to every other project (it was a topic I was familiar with, they needed direct response copy and there was a deadline. These things are pretty standard across all of my projects for nearly all of my clients so I’m not including them in the quantification because they are common).

So I started looking at what was different about this project compared to other projects and the list below is my best estimation about what made this project so special:

  • I received very detailed instructions: This doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. Often I get a small list of vague goals or concepts and I’m tasked with creating copy from that. I don’t mind doing that — in fact, I think it’s a value I add for real estate investors who don’t necessarily know what good copy can do. They’re not copywriters, I am; so I know what info is needed. But the guy who gave me instructions has plenty of copywriting experience and a lot of business experience so he knew what information I needed before I could start, and he delivered it.
  • I did a thorough analysis: Since this was the first copy I’d ever done for this client, there were plenty of things I didn’t know about them so I invested a bit of time up-front to learn about them. I try to do this for every client but I don’t always go as deep, and after I get to know a client, it kind of stops. But the effort here was helpful and important, and it reminded me that I don’t need to stop once I’m familiar with a client’s business… there are always things to learn.
  • The stakes were higher: This project was different in that this was a first project for a potentially game-changing client, so the stakes were higher. It seemed to matter more. This was a make-or-break assignment because if it sucked, they’d pass on future work. (Of course I love all of my clients and try to deliver great work to them, and I try never to “phone my work in” but we all have days where we give a bit more or a bit less of ourselves).
  • I pushed myself harder: Probably because the stakes were so high, I worked very hard on this project and examined every word under a microscope. I kept pushing myself, focusing in on perfection and working relentlessly until I knew I had “it”.
  • I focused: When I sit down to write, I try to stay focused on the project. But sometimes my mind wanders or I’ll think of something else on a different project and I’ll quickly jump to that other project to deal with that distraction before returning. But on this project, I was 100% into the project; nothing could have pulled me off of it.

As best as I can tell, these are the points of difference that separate this assignment from most of my other assignments.

And as I look at this list of five elements, I can immediately identify two that are primary drivers from which the others flow: A stronger foundation (more information from the client and from my own analysis) and higher stakes (which led to focusing and pushing myself harder).

CONJURING THE MAGIC

I want to repeat that result again. I don’t want magic to “just happen”… I want it to appear regularly.

(Side note: Maybe it’s no longer magic when it happens regularly but by quantifying it and systematizing it, I think I can push to a higher level… and maybe when I’m experiencing that higher level, I’ll encounter a new type of rare magic that seems inconceivable right now).

On future projects, assuming that all else is equal (the topic, the type of writing, the deadlines), then I should be trying to re-establish the five magical elements I quantified above. And I should be able to do it with a stronger foundation and higher stakes — when I do, all five elements will be present.

To get these a stronger foundation, I need to do more up-front work before I start writing. I need to do more research earlier and let the ideas “percolate” in my head for a while. (This is a real change for me, since a lot of my writing starts very early in the process). To make this happen, I’m putting together a checklist of information I should collect after I get an assignment but before I start on it. I don’t think this up-front effort will slow me down substantially — because I wrote very fast when I did finally sit down to write.

To increase the stakes, I need to make sure that the project truly matters. I would say that my clients’ work is always important to me and I love working on it but I have to admit: After I’ve been working with a client for a while, I get comfortable with them; the stakes seem lower than they did with my big new game-changing client. So how can I increase the stakes? I’m not sure yet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Perhaps a more robust guarantee, such as a 200% refund if the work does not deliver?
  • Perhaps a personal goal of trying to stretch myself and do something new in each project?
  • Perhaps an “internal” reward that raises the stakes on the project for me (even if it doesn’t raise the stakes for my client?
  • Perhaps just a mindset shift that recognizes how critical every single project is to every single client?

I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve hit on the right formula just yet. The 200% guarantee sounds like it’s the closest so far but I would like something that raises the stakes in a positive way rather than a negative way.

CREATING INTENTIONAL MAGIC

So far I’ve used my own copywriting experience as the model. But I suspect that similar things are true in other industries.

Think about your work. When the “common things” are true (whatever those things happen to be for you) then perhaps a stronger foundation and higher stakes will create magic. What does a stronger foundation look like for you? What do higher stakes look like for you? Can you “force” those things to happen?

This blog represents some really early-stage thinking on the topic. I’d love to hear from you — in the comments or through email or Twitter — to let me know what you are thinking. Am I off base? Am I missing anything? How would you raise the stakes?

What is (business/financial) security and how do you achieve it?

One of my clients is a large corporation that contracts a lot of consultants. I had a recent conversation with an employee there who was wondering about life of a consultant. We were “comparing notes” about the difference between being a consultant and an employee. They said that even though there were drawbacks to employment (such as being at the mercy of a manager, as well as having little control over increases in pay), they mentioned that the comfort and security of employment far outweighed the uncertainty of being a consultant.

They wondered how I can sleep at night, knowing that once the project ended, I would need to find more clients. They pointed to other consultants who were contracted by the company who struggled through “boom/bust” careers and sweated the days leading up to the end of a contract.

I mentioned that I didn’t lose a wink of sleep at night. With or without this large corporate client, I’m fully booked through 2016 and have a waiting list of people who would hire me once I have some availability.

I’m not relating this conversation to you to boast. Rather, to make a point about security: Employees think they have security because they are part of a union (at least in the case of this particular company) and because there are many other people involved in the longevity of the business… and perhaps there’s some value to their tenure at the company. And entrepreneurs (and consultants and writers, etc.) seem to have less security because they are not only responsible for delivery but they’re also responsible for client acquisition. And it seems like they live from project to project.

Security is a funny thing: As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights in the very beginning of my business; those sleepless nights came from the gnawing question of “will I find enough clients to pay the bills this month?”. Today, I sleep well because my business is in a different place now.

But even more than the list of clients I’m fortunate enough to have, I recently realized that there’s something else that makes me feel secure.

SECURITY IS EVEN MORE THAN HAVING A JOB OR CLIENTS RIGHT NOW

What inspired this realization came from an old podcast I stumbled over in a forgotten folder on an external hard drive I was cleaning up. There were several podcasts — some of them too old and irrelevant to be valuable — but one of them was quite interesting, compelling, and inspiring. It was an interview with Jay Abraham. In the podcast, Abraham was describing his own journey in his career and how he got his start. He admitted that he started as a clerk and didn’t really contribute anything to the company he worked for. Deciding to change that, he immersed himself in becoming an expert in business and sales.

And then he said this about business/financial security: “I realized that security is nothing more than the faith, the confidence, and the trust you’ve got in yourself and your ability to perform.

I’ve been thinking about that statement pretty regularly ever since I heard it. I think most people believe that security comes from having a specific dollar figure in the bank and a job and a decent insurance policy.

And that might be true for some but it’s not true for me. Or for other entrepreneurs I’ve met. For me, a sense of security doesn’t come from those things. I’ve had them and I know that they can disappear.

Rather, Abraham’s statement revealed to me a reason why I feel very comfortable living the life of the self-employed: Because I know without a shadow of doubt that if everything came crashing down around me today, I could be up and running right away, serving new clients and building a profitable business from the ground up… even if I had to start with new clients and zero dollars and no website. My sense of security comes with my knowledge that I can deliver something of value to people who need it.

HOW TO GET SECURITY FOR YOURSELF

Jobs come and go. Money comes and goes. Clients come and go. Technologies come and go. Strategies come and go.

So how do you get security? Regardless of whether you want to work for someone else or for yourself, you need to build up in yourself the disciplines and knowledge and skills and mindsets that will allow you to deliver.

You need to know your strengths and understand who needs whatever you bring to the table. And you need to always sharpen yourself — to become better and better so that your employer or your clients or your target market consider you indispensable.

Indispensability comes from just what I’ve described above: A combination of disciplines (focus and willpower), specialized knowledge (in whatever category you work in), related skills (sales, negotiation, and others), and mindsets (positivity and opportunity-seeking, and probably others).

Whenever you want to build an even bigger foundation of security, you need to increase those elements of indispensability — either by deepening your existing ones or broadening them to acquire others.

Fast, simple ways to improve your business on the fly

Starting and growing a business can be tough. It can feel like you are juggling and trying to keep a whole bunch of balls in the air at once. If you lose your focus for just a moment, the whole thing seems like it can come crashing down. Then, in the midst of all that juggling, add in the need to improve your business and suddenly you may find yourself struggling to keep up.

So what can you do?

Fortunately, improving your business doesn’t have to disrupt your rhythm and you can make positive changes to your business without losing focus on everything else.

Here are some quick ways to help you:

  • Make better decisions. It might surprise you to learn that one of the biggest drawbacks to an entrepreneur’s ability to grow their business is an inability to make decisions. They’re not sure what to focus on first. Avoid this problem by making a list of the things you want to change.
  • Know what you want to change. Before you make any changes, make a note of the following things: What the current result is, what you’d like the result to be, and what compelled the change. These force you to think through your changes first, perhaps even forcing you to apply a simple metric so you know what’s going on. By asking these questions first, you might discover that something isn’t broken (or that something else is broken instead of the thing you thought). Keep these notes as a journal of your progress.
  • Keep it simple! Don’t try to make sweeping changes to all of your business right now. You may be frustrated by what feels like an inefficient system but it will remain inefficient (or even get worse) if you try to change it all at once. Instead, take one small thing and make it better. Pick one small thing – as little as how you answer the phone or how quickly you respond to customer complaints – and change it. It doesn’t have to be big. But if you make one small change every day, you still make more changes than most businesses make.
  • Measure, measure, measure. Measure everything and test it. When you make a change, don’t consider it a permanent change until you’ve seen improvements. Test the changes as you go and be willing to reverse the changes if you were wrong.
  • Move in the other direction. When working on something that impacts your sales funnel, work backwards. Instead of starting at the top end of your sales funnel (your marketing) start at the bottom end of your sales funnel (the sale). Make adjustments to those efforts first. Then work backwards through the funnel. You’ll see better returns on your changes.
  • Test drive your changes. Before introducing a sweeping change to your business, ask a customer to help you “test drive” the change (perhaps for a discount on their purchase). Get honest feedback from them and use that information to move forward.
  • Learn to sell. Take courses and study diligently. The ability to sell will help you in nearly every facet of your business – from management to dealing with vendors to human resources to customer service and (of course) to marketing and selling your products or services.

Successful businesses are always improving. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop juggling to make those improvements. Try some of these quick tips to help.