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June 29, 2023
Updated: September 04, 2023

Build a business that works: From stress and grind to freedom & creativity

Most business owners start their companies to create a better life. The problem is that most of us find ourselves with the exact opposite. Here is an outline for creating a business that works.

Most business owners start their companies to create a better life; to have more time, money, and freedom. For the creativity and the adventure. To create more meaning in this world. The problem is that most of us find ourselves with the exact opposite. I have been there, and I know that there is a way out. Here is an outline for creating a business that works.

The four steps

I've broken down the process of building a business that works into four steps:

  1. Vision: Paint a clear picture of a business that works
  2. Change yourself: Become the person you need to be for your business
  3. Sytems: Design how your business should work
  4. Team: Develop the team your business needs

Let's get to it!

Vision: Paint a clear picture of a business that works

In 2019, ConvertCalculator was doing very well. We sold a really cool product that had lots of happy customers. It also did well financially; it brought in enough money to sustain me and my part-time employee. But that was not the full picture. I was stressed out, partly by carrying all the weight of the business on my shoulders as well as having the idea that the business just wasn't working.

I've always been a fan of life-hacking and productivity, and I got a great deal of value from books like "The Four 4 Hour Workweek", "The Lean Startup", "Rework" and "Zero to One". But none of these books give the answer to how to make your small business work.

Your primary aim

So I had to do it on my own. The first step for me was to make concrete what I was aiming for in life. I wanted to answer these questions:

  • What do I value most in life?
  • What type of life do I want?
  • Who do I want to become?

I value freedom, adventure, creativity, and meaning (creating value for others). I’m looking for a family life, with a lot of peace and quiet, being self-sufficient, taking care of myself both mentally and physically. I want to surf a lot and develop myself spiritually. I want to be close to nature.


Your business' aim

Once I knew what I was aiming for, I wanted to do the same thing for my business. There is some overlap here, but there might not be any in your case. I answered the following questions:

  • Who is your business helping?
  • Why are you helping them?
  • How is your business helping them?

It’s my job to bring freedom, adventure, creativity and meaning to small business owners. To make their businesses work. To help businesses improve their business processes. To systemize their business. To improve customer touchpoints. To streamline business processes for small business owners (or simply: do things better and simpler).


This in itself created a lot of focus for ConvertCalculator. Not only do we now know who are we working for (small businesses), we also know why (to bring freedom, adventure, creativity and meaning) and how we are helping them (make their systems better and simpler).

Set your goals

Now that you know what you're aiming for you need to set your goals. You start with your personal goals and they should reflect and support your primary aim. My personal goal was:

  • Work no more than 24 hours a week
  • Make enough money to support myself and my family

You should aim at one or two strategic goals, and can have more operational goals. Ours where:

Strategic:

  • Get to $10k MRR by the end of 2020

Operational:

  • Create a consistent customer experience
  • Onboard customers as frictionless as possible
  • Have rigid documentation

Change yourself: Become the person you need to be for your business

Willem de Kooning, the famous Rotterdam painter, said: "I have to change to stay the same", because the world around him was constantly changing. Everything is like water: in constant motion. So is your business. So if you want to keep up, you have to step up! The single most important thing you need to do is the following:

"Stop working in your business"

Work on the business, not in it

The general idea is to work ON your business, not just IN it". Let me give you some examples of either one:

Working on the business

  • Creating a new sales funnel
  • Improving copy on your website
  • Hiring a new financial manager
  • Redesign your customer journey
  • Write documentation for your product
  • Create systems to measure performance

Working in the business

  • Create and send over the proposal to a potential customer
  • Do the bookkeeping
  • Deliver goods to a customer
  • Respond to customer questions
  • Manipulating spreadsheets to analyze data

And the most important one is actually producing the product you sell. So if you own a bakery, don't bake your own bread. If that's the reason started the business in the first place, start doing it again whenever your business "works". Then it won't be a task on your todo-list, but a delight.

Do the hard things

It's so easy to stay in your comfort zone all the time. If you're a programmer, you hide behind code. If you are a designer, you hide behind photoshop. If you are a financial, you hide behind Excel. If you are an expert in sales, you pick up the phone.

Almost every craftsman has this problem. And it boils down to things being out of balance. How can you restore this balance? Do the hard things. So a programmer should pick up the phone. A designer should learn how to code. A sales rep should dive into the numbers. You catch my drift.

So answer the following question honestly:

  • What is the hard work you are avoiding?

For me the hard work was SEO, cold outreach, creating lead funnels, and customer success. I worked on those first.

Systems: Design how your business should work

A business can be dissected in systems. And a business is as good as how it's systems are performing. You need to make sure these interconnected systems should be optimized to make your business work:

  • Finance
  • Sales
  • Customer Success
  • Marketing

It's not that you need to create business systems; they are already there. It's your job to :

  1. Identify processes in your systems,
  2. Eliminate unnecessary work
  3. Automate and improve the essential work

    It's important to maintain this order, because:

  4. You need to know what you're doing (identify)
  5. You don't want to do unnecessary things (eliminate)
  6. You want to do things cleverly (automate/improve)

Identify

So the absolute first step is to identify what you and your employees are spending time on. Write down the activity and the time you spend on it. Do it for a long enough period so you have a good overview of everything that's going on in the business. Then create a broad overview of what you do in an average day or week:

Examples:

  • Daily 2 hours on email based customer support
  • Daily 3 hours on creating price quotes
  • Daily 1.5 hours on the phone with customers
  • Weekly 1 hour bookkeeping

Eliminate

Once you've identified your processes, eliminate as much of the work as possible. Following the Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule) here is good practice. So stop doing 80% of the things you do, to only focus on the 20% that matters. It will free up 80% (or more!) of your time to focus on the things that matter (and you probably don't have too much time for right now).

Automate / Improve

Ok, you've cut down on the daily tasks and are focusing solely on the stuff that matters to your bottom line. Now let's automate and improve some of the stuff. Automating business processes will have the following benefits for your business:

  1. It saves a tremendous amount of time
  2. The right automation maximizes profits or minimizes costs
  3. It enchants your customers

There is a lot of software you can use to streamline business processes. Some examples:

These are just some examples. We will dive deeper into process automation in another blogpost.

Team

Now all you have to do is to attract and develop great people who are dedicated to your vision, values, and goals, produce extraordinary outcomes, and help you to improve your systems.

This is a joke. This is probably the hardest part. For us, this is a work in progress, and once we have a winning formula, we will share it with you on the blog.

Final Thoughts

So there you go, some thoughts about how to create a business that works. It's a lot of work. It's hard. But it's also so much fun and rewarding!

I'm interested in your ideas about how you've improved your business. Please email me your thoughts about this article.

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