Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

Jackie Nagel, Synnovatia

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growth planning, entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs want to conduct proper growth planning for their businesses and even understand that doing so is essential to their success. Unfortunately, growth planning is continually interrupted and often falls through the cracks. This disruption is not caused by a lack of desire or a cavalier attitude to ‘wing it.’ So what is the problem? And how can it be solved?  

Before discussing the factors to include in your growth plan, we need to understand and eliminate the roadblocks interfering with its development  — otherwise, all the compelling advice will go to waste.

growth planning

The 6 Common Hurdles to Growth Planning 

Some prevalent challenges to planning are predictable, especially as your business enters Stage II of operations. 

Common Hurdle #1: The Time Quandry 

You spend your days like other CEOs –  putting out fires. It’s a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. Given the volume of client projects and demands, it’s challenging to carve out additional time for plotting your future. As a result, the opportunity to think strategically about the outcome of your business is rare. 

Common Hurdle #2: The Inadequate Insight into Trends and Competition 

The inability to keep up with industry intelligence, trends, and competitors also relates to time. Insight into where your clients and competitors are heading is vital for strategic decisions. Unfortunately, finding time to garner these understandings is difficult. 

Common Hurdle #3: The Fatigue Factor 

Decision fatigue is real. The more decisions made in a day, regardless of size or consequence, the more we exhaust our ability to think clearly. 

Often stress and worry about the future of the business occupy our sleep. Sadly, restless sleep also makes it challenging to awake rested and rejuvenated, ready for the day ahead. 

Common Hurdle #4: The Misplaced Perspective 

The adage, “too close to the forest to see the trees,” aptly applies to business. Unfortunately, we’re often too close to our situation to think decidedly or objectively to see the possibilities. An objective business advisor who understands your business and best interests can be instrumental. 

Common Hurdle #5: The Disorganized Data 

Missing data often ties back to a lack of time. Digging into our data can also be challenging. There’s frequently much of it that it is difficult to know what string to pull that unravels the information to make it user-friendly. 

Yet, data removes emotion from decision-making. Subsequently, we make better-informed decisions to keep our business healthy and growing.

Common Hurdle #6:The Second Shift

Commitments don’t stop when you walk out of your office. Personal obligations are other barriers to the energy and clear thinking required for effective planning. In addition, caring for elderly parents or managing a busy household with kids in school and homework are often factors outside business hours that alter our capacity to plan. 

Attempting to carve out time is a brain drain, and the second shift is real. Unfortunately, you’re not alone in your time crunch challenge. 

The Solution? Micro Move Your Way Around the Obstacles.

It’s a bit of a pipe dream to expect any busy entrepreneur to carve out a large enough chunk of time to complete an entire 5-year growth plan in one sitting. You are, after all, not a corporation with hundreds of employees who can ensure the organization’s work continues while you’re off on a 3-day planning retreat. Plus, complete and exhaustive planning is not an activity we recommend for the already busy and overwhelmed entrepreneur. It’s time-consuming, draining, and quickly obsolete, given the pace of change in business today. 

However, we have found a highly effective solution for devising your road map. It is influential not only in creating your plan but also in executing your desired intention. 

Enter the mighty micro-movement!

Coined by a gifted entrepreneur, the micro-movement is a short stroke of activity. It’s one minor step in the right direction, one rung up the ladder. To repeat a well-known phrase, “it’s eating an elephant one bite at a time.” It’s baby steps toward your goal. 

How do you productively apply a micro-movement? First, you use the “cracks of time” currently existing in your day. 

“Cracks of time” are micro periods. For instance, it may be 15 minutes between meetings while you’re waiting on hold or when a project concludes on budget and ahead of schedule. 

One of our favorite “cracks of time” at Synnovatia is when a meeting reschedules at the last minute. So rather than fill our calendar with minor tasks, we use the opportunity to march one more micro movement closer to the finish line. 

You’ll be astonished at how quickly you’ll have sketched out your future by breaking down your growth planning into one question — one micromovement — at a time. 

In addition, the seemingly slower pace of development will help you gain perspective. When you stand back and look over your projections, you can decide, with greater certainty, if your blueprint will bring you the joy, fulfillment, and goals you want to achieve.

The mighty micro-movement. It’s how you get from where you are to where you want to go — and it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs. 

entrepreneurs growth strategy

Ahh, you’ve arrived, but it hardly looks like the destination you thought it would be. Instead of smooth sailing and fewer hours as a reward for years of hard work and dedication, work hours extend beyond what is possible, and it feels like the business is being held together with duct tape and glue. Frankly, it’s a little chaotic and a lot stressful. 

How did you get here? Like most entrepreneurs, it was likely by default, not by plan, even though you had your sights set on a brighter destination from the beginning. One thing you’re sure of — it’s not what you thought it would be. 

Welcome to “The Messy Middle.” 

entrepreneurs growth strategy
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Defining The Messy Middle 

The Messy Middle is the time in your business between start-up and smooth sailing. It generally occurs at around $350K -$500K, then about $750K to $1M, and once again at approximately $3-4M.   

It’s often punctuated by stagnant or slowed growth, dwindling cash flow, a withering talent pool, and missed opportunities. 

The exhaustion experienced by you and your team from what was once temporarily extended work hours is now untenable. 

Not only is there no time to pause to think strategically to make clear, data-based decisions, but the cracks are widening, and critical pieces of the business are vanishing. 

At this point in your business, you realize that what got you here is no longer working. The strategies you use to build your business won’t get you to the next level. 

Surviving The Messy Middle 

Even though you’re drowning in seemingly unsolvable complications and problems, The Messy Middle is survivable. 

Start with a deep breath and realize, first and foremost, that you’re not alone. Even though it may not be reassuring given your current situation, every business enters this unavoidable phase of growth and development. Whether or not an organization passes through to the next level depends on the decisions and actions going forward.  

Muffling The Messy Middle 

You might think you could have avoided this — if you had only known. But unfortunately, the sad truth is that there is little information available about this stage of business growth and development for most entrepreneurs.

Frankly, I don’t understand the lack of knowledge in the business environment, which is why I’m starting the conversation. It’s one we need to have that is long overdue.

Most business journals focus on larger organizations, but only 6% of all business enterprises fit that profile. Even as a member of The Messy Middle, you make up 19%, with the remaining 75% comprised of stage one organizations.  

The Messy Middle is a natural part of the business growth and development continuum. But, sadly, a colossal information gap exists between startup, stage one business growth and development, YOU, and the corporate behemoths. Moreover, it’s vital for solving your enterprise’s problems.

Plus, most entrepreneurs who are members of this elite club known as The Messy Middle are either too busy or utterly exhausted, with little time to learn, study, and share their dilemmas. 

You want proven strategies to stop the stall, turn the momentum around, and get to the next level.

For further insight into The Messy Middle, read: What No One Tells An Entrepreneur About Breaking Through a Business Plateau.

Thriving The Messy Middle

Interrupting and moving through a stall requires new knowledge and skill for entrepreneurs. You can no longer rely upon the know-how and expertise that got you to this point of business growth. This challenge is especially true during difficult economic times. 

Although your chosen strategy is business-dependent, there are several situations to address, such as: 

  • Insufficient access to resources needed to succeed, like money and talent. 
  • Missing growth plan
  • Limited cash. 
  • Inadequate deployment of resources such as staff, time, and money.
  • Burnout and fatigue, yours and your team. 

Regardless of the underlying factor contributing to your plateau, you can elevate your business above the current chaos. It’s a balancing act to test the boundaries of what is possible, understand the limits of your business, and maximize its potential. 

Let’s get started! 

entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is fun and exciting — until it’s not. 

There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s journey when you realize that the skills, abilities, industry knowledge, and personal know-how are no longer the right components to take your business to the next level. 

They served you well for a time. Finally, your entrepreneurial skillset got you to a point where you’ve survived the dreaded start-up phase, proven your business model, and are maintaining revenue. And yet, growth has stalled.

What do you do? 

Many entrepreneurs work harder. They invest more hours into their business. They worry about tomorrow. Stress and overwhelm punctuate their day.  Pushed beyond what is humanly possible, they develop a distaste for what they love. Why? 

They doubled down on the tasks, actions, and plans that got them to where they’re today, yet nothing seems to budge the numbers.  

What’s going on?!

One thing we know for sure — what got you here won’t get you there.

entrepreneur

Moving Beyond the Stall 

Unfortunately, every business passes through a somewhat predictable and unavoidable growth pattern. 

Stalls in growth generally occur around $250 – 350K, then around $750K to $1M, and approximately $3-4M.   

Several components contribute to a plateau. However, in most cases, it’s a combination of factors. For example, mindset, confidence in delegating, finding the right talent, and implementing the right strategy are only a few factors influencing the business’s evolution to the next level. 

Mindset 

A trusted colleague and friend once said, “If you can leave your business for three weeks and not have a drop in income, you have a business. However, if revenue grinds to a halt in your absence after a few days, you’re merely self-employed.” 

The collapsed definition between entrepreneur and solopreneur is a common dilemma, especially among professional service providers who launch their business based on their skill set. But, whether it’s your legal acumen, accounting, bookkeeping, human resources, training, or coaching skillset, there’s a limit to where your business can grow when you’re doing it all yourself. 

It takes a village — and often a crowbar — to dislodge a business owner from the day-to-day delivery of core services. 

Talent 

…and its evil twin, delegation.

Talent acquisition is a tricky area to maneuver for the entrepreneur. Often, one’s confidence in engaging talent, whether it’s through employment or subcontractors, is multi-faceted. 

Considerations include budget, cash flow, sourcing, and learning about an entirely new industry, human resources, with its many rules and ramifications. 

Primarily, however, is the entrepreneur’s ability to strap on a new skill set of locating, identifying, interviewing, onboarding, training, delegating, and most importantly, trusting the talent you’ve hired. 

Strategy 

Often we outgrow the strategy with which we have launched our organizations. Whether it’s the primary driver of profitability, a refinement in services you provide, or the core clients for whom services are delivered, when you begin to bump your head against the growth ceiling, an upgrade in your strategic approach to the future of your business may be necessary. 

Often, a niche within an industry holds a disproportionate percentage of the profit.

Growth plan

Growth plan? What’s that? 

Often our days are so packed full of fires that the notion of planning, even for a week, feels unachievable. And yet, the actions we take today will determine our tomorrow. 

Your growth plan doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated to redirect your efforts in the direction you want to take your business. Instead, a simple framework of what you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years with a detailed drill down for the next 12 – 18 months is most effective. 

Gone are the days when a detailed plan painstakingly developed over an extended period is of use. Instead, with business rapidly changing, you want to keep your plans flexible. 

Execution

You can’t execute on a nonexistent plan. I know it’s common sense, but it’s worth saying. 

The internet is full of tools, tips, and experts willingly sharing their know-how on how to be more productive and efficient. However, until your growth plan is on paper, information on improved efficiency might lead you down the wrong path – only this time more quickly. 

Execution is driven by your priority, revealed in your growth plan, and informed by data. 

Cash

Not much happens without it. The larger your organization grows, the more critical money becomes to finance your growth. Did you know Microsoft keeps a year’s operating expenses in the bank? 

“Growth sucks cash,” and “cash is the oxygen that fuels growth,” says Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t. 

Cash flow, budget sheets, profit and loss statements, balance sheets — I can hear the wheels of your brain grind to a halt. Don’t panic. Your accountant can help you understand your financial numbers and their impact on making strategic decisions. 

The Right Tool to Bridge the Here—There Gap

My Dad was a diesel mechanic in a small farming community in North Dakota. At the time of his retirement at age 65, he had amassed the most extensive equipment possible. He had tools for hay bailers, tractors, trucks, and combines. He also had specialized tools from various brands like John Deers, International Harvestor, and the occasional Case that wandered into his business. 

I doubt he secured all those tools and the accompanying skills to use them initially. But, over time and one by one, he added to his toolbox his understanding, his skill, and his business growth. 

Your situation is not unlike my Dad’s. 

And, like my Dad, you can start with identifying the best tool for the job and secure the intellect to apply it appropriately and strategically. 

Recognize that the work habits, beliefs, and attitudes — the tools that brought you to this precipice in your business are not the same set of equipment that will elevate your business to the next level.  

What got you here won’t get you there. 

business growth

Life is hectic, especially when you run or manage a small business. Business growth is challenging. Of course, profitable, sustainable growth is your goal, but how do you get there with all the distractions thrown at you every day? You’re speeding down the highway at 90 miles per hour, windows down, music blasting, kids screaming. Sounds fun, right? Hardly!

business growth

But what about all that scenery you took the trip to see? It’s gone in a flash, just a blur in your rearview mirror. Likewise, running a business can sometimes feel hazy and vague without the proper strategic intention.

So how do you take the time to stop and smell the symbolic roses, all while continuing your day-to-day tasks? How about having time to do what you know you should do to grow and maintain your business? Simple!

Determine which of these four stages of business growth your company currently resides, then focus your efforts on the suitable business development activity. 

  1. Core Business Development
  2. Expansion
  3. Professionally Managed Enterprise
  4. Organizational Maturity.

 Common characteristics, growing pains, and a primary focus define each stage of developing your enterprise. To know your specific goals, you first need to know and understand your business’s growth and development stage. Awareness of each step’s obstacles allows you to prepare better to overcome them – with the least amount of stress possible.

One of the most important things to remember about growing your small business is that your growth and development stage is not defined by how long you have been in business. Instead, revenue is a better definition of your developmental stage. Not accurately identifying your growth stage is one of the biggest mistakes when strategizing and planning for growth.

You risk focusing on the wrong activities by misdefining your business’s growth and development stage. As a result, you go around in circles rather than streamlining your activities to overcome the obstacles and leverage the opportunities you’re facing in your current stage.

The first two growth stages are when most business owners feel the highest amount of pressure and discouragement. They involve finding your niche, developing your products or services, getting your business up and running, learning to manage your resources, and creating functional operational systems. These steps set the tone for the rest of your business’s lifespan.

 

business growth

Picture this. You’re traveling down the road at breakneck speed. Music is blaring. Kids are hanging out the window. And, the scenery? Frankly, it’s all a blur.

The road has potholes, the engine’s knocking, and Bobbie is missing – all clear indicators that this trip is in trouble. Plus, if you’re honest, this terrain isn’t the least bit familiar.

You’re moving so quickly that there’s little time to ensure you’re moving in the right direction, let alone recalibrate your GPS to determine if the “you are here” is accurate.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it – with one exception. This isn’t a scene ripped out of National Lampoon’s Vacation; it’s your small business journey.

Where Did Things Go Wrong

Toddlers, teens, and tweens share common developmental characteristics that help the often-befuddled parent successfully maneuver the various pitfalls and perils of raising children.

So, too, business growth comes with its distinctive stages of development, complete with growing pains. Ahhhhh!

As a parent, you don’t want to coach or parent your kids beyond their developmental capabilities. The same philosophy applies to your business.

When you thought the diaper stage was over, you’re right back to sleepless nights and sh*tty jobs no one else wants to do. Plus, you want to ensure you’re not jumping over the stages that your business needs to mature to “adulthood.”

It’s enough to make the most stoic of us break down in tears – or at least a cold sweat.

business growth

What’s Your Stage?

It’s common to misidentify the stage your business inhabits. For example, some entrepreneurs categorize the period of growth and development on years in the industry rather than revenue. The miscalculation is a colossal mistake as growth initiatives and precious resources fail proper allocation.

In a nutshell, the most common phases are:

Stage One: Core Business Development

This period ranges from startup to approximately $500,000 in annual revenue for a service-based business. Stage one is the time to prove your business model, find your place in the sun, and build a strong foundation.

During this stage, business coaching focuses on client acquisition with an emphasis on creating predictability in marketing, sales, and planning. (We love predictability.)

Stage Two: Expansion

Whew! You’ve made it through the proving stage. Breathe a bit of sigh of relief, if for only a moment. Then, it’s time to engage the clutch, shift gears, and formalize your operational system.

If your business is in the service industry, this phase generally occurs between $350,000 – $1 million in annual revenue, give or take.

Are you feeling overcome with chaos and overwhelmed? Guess what? You’re not alone! You can thank the clash of resources between client acquisition/sales and operations for this anxiety-inducing moment.

The entrepreneurial spirit that carried your business thus far continues to fuel innovation.

With the addition of staff, you are no longer the “lone wolf.” Therefore, learning to delegate, communicate, lead and coach your team effectively is vitally important to free you up to focus on more of the strategic aspect of the business.

In addition to executing the critical operational structure needed to bring calm and consistency to the chaos of growth, coaching your business includes guiding you through the development of operational, strategic, and leadership skills required for the uphill climb.

Hang on! There is light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not a train coming at you.)

Stage Three: Professionally Managed Enterprise

From approximately $5 – $40 million in annual revenue for a service-based business, business coaching focuses on strategic planning, development, and performance management. This emphasis allows you, as the owner, to keep your eye on profits as you expand your products and services.

Stage Four: Organizational Maturity

When your organization soars about the $40 million annual revenue mark, culture and management are the primary focus of business coaching. Who knows! At this point, you may be looking to succession planning with the near retirement destination.

Shift Into the Right Gear for Business Growth

You haven’t lost your mind (although we all question our sanity on occasion.) In this fast-moving information age, it’s easy to get distracted by other activities outside the primary focus of the stage our business resides. This lack of focus pulls us off course and sends us careening into obstacles. It’s feeling like a human pinball that constructs a crisis of identity and drives us to grab at straws – any straws – to get us back on track.

If you’re looking for the super highway of predictable growth for your business, identify your business’s stage of development, shift gears, and align your daily activity with the correct focus.

Trust me. It’s a trip worth taking!

entrepreneurial

It’s true what they say — time flies when you’re having fun — especially when on an entrepreneurial journey. 

It was Friday afternoon in April 1997 — following three margaritas — when Synnovatia officially peaked its head over the horizon.

Sprawled on the living room floor among laptops, dictionaries, magic markers, and reams of paper sat my web designer, marketing director, and a creative muse. What happened next was legendary!

The coaching industry was in its infancy. There were 5,000 professionally trained coaches internationally. (Today, that number has swelled to more than 53,000 professionally trained coaches worldwide — not counting those “coaching since birth.”)

Since our launch, we survived a significant move (Washington state to Los Angeles), a husband’s short-lived retirement (an event any women-owned business with an in-home office can appreciate), an extensive home remodel, the devastation of 09/11, the stock market crash of 2008, menopause, Guillain-Barre, a pandemic, and we’re still standing.

In 1997, launching a website was worthy of a press release; Microsoft was the world’s most valuable company, and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t yet born.

Lead generation took place the old-fashioned way — face-to-face.

A lot has changed in business — mainly how business is conducted. And, a lot has remained the same.

After growing a business for 25 years, here is the advice I would share with my younger entrepreneurial self (in no particular order):

entrepreneurial self

1. Don’t select a company name that is easy to pronounce to make others feel comfortable. With a name like “Synnovatia,” the naysayers crawled out of the woodwork to share their well-meaning opinions. Point taken! Yet, no other option in all our iterations truly captured our philosophy and approach to business development and growth.

syn•no•va•tia (sin’u-vA’sha) 

a. the process that one uses to create a new or different result

b. mashup of synergy + innovation

c. when two or more people collaborate to create something new and different

2. Stay your course. With the vast amount of information to sift through to find answers to your questions, it’s easy to get caught up in conventional business wisdom. But you’re an entrepreneur. That, in and of itself, says you’re unconventional. Believe in your dream even when conventional business wisdom says you’ve lost your mind.

3. Push yourself away from your desk. Entrepreneurship is exciting. It’s also stressful. Don’t wait for weekends or vacations. Be good to yourself every day.

4. Work with clients you loveNo! You don’t have to take on every ill-fitting client to succeed. However, working with clients who aren’t a good fit with your values, beliefs, desires, and skills will show up in your performance in ways visible and invisible.

5. Don’t work with struggling clients. If your clients are struggling financially, so will you. Enough said!

6. Control your calendar. You have much more control over your schedule than you would like to believe. Take charge. Set up your work schedule to make it work for you or suffer the consequences of being held prisoner of your own business.

7. Don’t compare yourself to others. The entrepreneurial path is different for each of us. We each have a journey to take. Walk your journey with confidence, not questioning your course (unless you’ve wandered.)

8. Take the path less traveled. Most days, you’ll feel like a salmon — swimming upstream and going against the grain. Resist the temptation to conform. Rest, if you must, but carry on.

9. Remain relevant. The saying goes, “you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” You’ll have to make some seemingly risky moves if you’re going to keep one step ahead of being obsolete.

10. Trust your gut. Did you know there are more brain cells in your gut than exist within your skull? Fact! Don’t underestimate the power of your gut to guide your decisions.

11. Never stop learning. The moment you’re sure you know what you know, you cease to be competitive.

12. Treat people as you want to be treated. You’ll likely cross paths which others who play loose with simple business protocol. Don’t let it jade or compromise you. Be courteous. Return phone calls, respond to emails promptly and send handwritten thank-you notes regularly. Doing so speaks volumes about who you are.

13. Develop the art of listening to others. Don’t just listen for your turn to speak. Instead, tune in, be present, and hear what the other person is saying and what they’re not saying.

14. Don’t make it about you. No one likes a know-it-all or braggart. It’s one of the quickest ways to tarnish your reputation. Instead, demonstrate your interest in others by keeping the focus on them.

15. Finish what you start. Sometimes, you’ll want to disconnect from a vital initiative to move on to other, more exciting, shiny objects. That is the entrepreneurial path, right? Unless data shows you’re moving in the wrong direction, learn to complete what you start.

16. Don’t give up. Change is hard. It’s uncomfortable and ugly. So even though a job at Starbucks is tempting, persist during these anxiety-producing times. It’s these times that hone your most tremendous success.

17. Make time to think and plan strategically. Although this seems like common sense, it’s challenging to apply when people, places, and things are vying for your attention. Yet, it’s in these quiet moments that dreams hatch.

18. Execute. Again, seemingly a no-brainer, but a word of caution — don’t fall in love with strategic thinking and planning without learning to embrace the strategic execution of your well-thought-out goals and plans. Executing strategic plans is the difference between success and struggle.

19. Surround yourself with good people. Armed with the precious resources of a small business entrepreneur, align yourself with vendors, contractors, and partners who are in your corner, pulling for your success.

20. Lead with your strengths. It’s tempting to save money and run a DIY business. Resist the seduction. It comes at a considerable cost. However, engaging others to fill the gaps is one of the quickest paths to success.

21. Hold yourself accountable to your commitments. This means doing what you said you’re going to do long after the mood in which you said it has passed. Holding yourself accountable to your commitments enhances your formula for success.

22. Listen to the expert within. The marketplace is exploding with self-appointed experts. Trust that you know what’s best for you and your business. 

23. Upgrade your assets to grow. The skills, talent, beliefs, and mindset that developed your business to its current level will unlikely take you to the next. So advance your resources to expand your business. 

24. You’re more resilient than you think. Although headwinds might be substantial, they pale in comparison to your tenacity. Never underestimate your ability to rise above any challenges you face.

25. Believe in yourself, your dreams, and your capability. Don’t confuse capability with capacity. And, remember, you’re not limited to one dream. 


Knowing that you know now, what advice would you give your younger entrepreneurial self?

Joining a mastermind group has been part of many successful entrepreneurial schedules. From Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford to Bill Gates, gathering with like-minded business owners has been a hallmark of rewarding undertakings.

Initially coined by Napoleon Hill of “Think and Grow Rich” fame in 1925, mastermind groups have stood in the gap as a method for finding solutions—brainstorming if you will—to everyday business challenges.

Tapping into the “wisdom of crowds” lends itself to uncovering previously hidden angles and more suitable solutions than those conjured up by oneself…not to mention opportunities to accelerate life-long learning.

Mastermind group

The Great Expectations

You may anticipate several opportunities when joining a mastermind group. Among the probabilities are

  • Accountability: The regularity of the group meetings, sharing commitments, and reporting progress (generally 1-2X per month) creates a responsive structure.
  • CollaborationGoals are accomplished more easily through cooperation, contribution, and respect.
  • Feedback: The willingness to give and receive advice forms a basis for—and enhances—improvement. After all, growing your small business in a silo is bad for business.
  • Resources: Tools such as workbooks, checklists, and information are readily available to strengthen your business.
  • Support: Progress towards goals is more manageable with encouragement, help, perspective, and advice.
  • Facilitation: A well-run meeting guides productivity and success for its participants.
  • Structure: Each meeting is organized and optimized around a specific agenda that creates flow and reduces the risk of chaos, confusion, and running overtime.

These expectations are foundational to the most successful mastermind groups.

Finding Your Perfect Match

As the appetite for new ways of working together grows, joining a mastermind group that fits your business requires forethought and due diligence.

Logistics like location, time, and cost are essential to consider; however, you’ll find they are less likely to influence fit or your satisfaction.

Here are a few questions to ask to ensure the group meets your unique work style and needs:

  • What are you looking to achieve through the mastermind group?
  • Who is facilitating the group (i.e., experienced facilitator or member of the group)?
  • What is the proposed structure of the group meetings (i.e., free-for-all or coordinated)?
  • What support is available between scheduled meetings?
  • What arrangement is available for connecting with group members outside the sessions?
  • What is the primary focus of the mastermind group (i.e., general or specific emphasis)?
  • Who does the group target (i.e., size of business, time in business, # of employees)?
  • What types of resources, if any, are made available to group members?

Jim Rohn, author, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Doesn’t it make sense to join a mastermind group that enhances you and your business?

strategic thinking as a priority

Merely stating that you have to carve out time for strategic thinking doesn’t make it so. For many small business owners already overwhelmed by all they have to do, an activity has to be valuable if it’s to be added to an already bloated calendar. The results achieved, especially in a highly competitive and fast-changing business environment, make it a must!

strategic thinking for business Even when deemed vital for business success, many small business owners treat strategic thinking as an afterthought — an end-of-day activity when the hustle and bustle of the business day come to a close.

By that time, decision fatigue sets in, and, with no one to hold us accountable, it’s increasingly easy to put off this vital activity until another day.

Another day turns into next week, which turns into the following month. And, so it goes until a calamity stops us dead in our tracks. Sounds only too familiar, doesn’t it.

Hindsight is 20/20

Wouldn’t it be grand if a small business came with a crystal ball? It’s frustrating, stressful, and exhausting to work long hours only to discover at the end of a month, quarter, or year that targets have been grossly missed. Ack!

Sadly, by the time, it’s too late.

It’s easy to blame the economy when business isn’t growing as we would like, but that’s really only part of the problem. The other culprit is the failure to make time to think strategically.

Your Future Awaits

Generally used in game theory, such as chess, strategic thinking involves the application of unique business insights to help your small business grow. Simply stated, it’s the logical process of knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there.

Strategic thinking affords you the opportunity to use data to glean valuable insights. Rather than hope an intended strategy nets results; strategic thinking expands the likelihood of achieving your small business goals.

Strategic Thinking Prioritizes Your Success 

The ideal time to maximize the benefits of thinking strategically is the first thing each morning. Before the rush of the day’s activities pulls you off track, strategic thinking sets the pace and the direction for your day.

Although thinking strategically sounds like a complicated process, it’s simpler than you may realize.

Follow this eight-step-process to make strategic thinking a priority and realize how it fast-forwards your small business:

  1. Set aside the first 20 minutes of your day (before opening an email).
  2. Eliminate distractions.
  3. Focus your attention.
  4. Gather your strategic thinking tools, including your goals, metrics, results, and performance.
  5. Look for trends or patterns of performance.
  6. Dig deep enough to understand the root cause or opportunities available to your small business.
  7. Develop a plan of action for the day that aligns your actions with your business mission, vision, strategies, and goals.
  8. Implement as planned.

Strategic thinking is the most important daily activity for any small business owner. It ensures what happens during your day isn’t just busy work but that it moves your business to the next level.

Stop doing — and start thinking — strategic thinking, that is!

strategic thinking

Running a growing enterprise often provides little time for strategic thinking. In fact, according to The Persimmon Group and Center for Creative Leadership, only 4-7% of business leaders are considered strategic thinkersIf you’re one of the lucky ones, good for you!

Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs are consumed by day-to-day operations. So instead of settling into their favorite spot for deep thinking, most collapse at the end of a demanding day.

Although the struggle to find time for strategic thinking is a reality, it remains a vital business skill.

No Time for Thinking?

There are several underlying reasons for the inability to find time for strategic thinking.

For instance, your business model may not work as well as planned. Or perhaps your business model has become obsolete.

For some business owners, their service is underpriced. Sadly, underpricing can lead to over-commitment to meet your financial obligations.

Equally important is delegating to your team and trusting them to deliver.

Although each of these adds to the challenge of having time to master strategic thinking, all is not lost!

strengthen strategic thinking

Strengthen Your Strategic Muscles in the Cracks of Time

“Cracks of time” are found while waiting for a Zoom meeting to begin. Or when stuck in traffic or waiting in line at Starbucks. So rather than wrapping yourself around the angst of the wait, use this time to sharpen your thinking.

Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Reflect during “Wasted” Time (Daily): Wasted time is the moments not being spent productively. Examples include jumping from one task to another, being irritated by things you can’t control, or scrolling through social media to combat fatigue.

Instead, reflect on what you can do differently to avoid unproductive, costly time at the end of each day.

2. Consider Egocentrism (Daily): Personal bias and egocentrism keep us from seeing beyond self-favor.

While planning your day consider how your bias might be getting in the way of achieving your goals. Then, ask yourself, “what would a rational person with no emotional bias do in your situation?” Hmmm!

3. Solve a Problem (Daily): Make traffic work for you. Use your drive time for reflection and problem-solving. Focus on a problem with a solution rather than waste time (See #1) thinking about things beyond your control. And consider your options for action in the short-term and long-term.

4. Focus on Intellectual Standards (Weekly): The Universal Intellectual Standards defined by the Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Model (Paul and Elder, 2001) include:

  • Clarity
  • Precision
  • Accuracy
  • Relevance
  • Depth
  • Breadth
  • Logical
  • Significance
  • Fairness
  • Sufficiency

Each week, select a focus to improve one of these areas.

For instance, consider glitches, typos, missteps, and do-overs during accuracy week. In addition, ask questions related to your accuracy, such as, “Did I spell check?” or “Am I communicating instructions clearly for the reader?” 

Also, consider reading up on the subject to move you beyond your immediate understanding.

5. Select an Intellectual Trait to Internalize (Monthly): The Universal Intellectual Traits according to the Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework include:

  • Humility
  • Courage
  • Empathy
  • Autonomy
  • Integrity
  • Perseverance
  • Reason
  • Fair-Mindedness

Focus on strengthening one trait each month. For instance, during your courage month, consider how you might push beyond your comfort zone to accomplish a truly remarkable and inspiring feat.

6. Analyze Business Influences (Quarterly) Who—or what—inspires your actions? Look around you. Equally important, what traits do you admire in others? Then, carefully select who—and what—you emulate. After all, Oscar Wilde said, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Become your unique brand of entrepreneur. As is the case of business branding, skills need continual refinement.

It’s a Wrap!

By utilizing the seemingly insignificant “cracks of time” in a different way, you can begin to invigorate your strategic thinking muscle. And you will be better equipped to address problems and recognize opportunities.

If you’re ready to strengthen your strategic thinking muscles, we’re here for you.

Let’s Chat About Your Business Needs 

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Who hasn’t made a wish while blowing out a candle or breaking a wishbone? Mythical thinking, loosely defined as a story or a tale, can’t be proven. Lacking any facts, this type of future thinking explains the world around us. Fundamental to all human beings, the notion of mythical thinking never really leaves us.

What does this mean for the small businesses owner who needs to master strategic thinking? 

small business

Don’t Feed The Unicorn

Small business entrepreneurs are an optimistic bunch. Most have never met an opportunity they couldn’t leverage or a problem that can’t be solved immediately.

On the other end of the spectrum, some business owners are more cautious and risk-averse with their unique mythical thinking brand.

Mythical thinking also exists in the minds of our clients, as in the case of expectations of your services. It’s a potential source of conflict, controversy, and churn when it goes unrecognized.

Sadly, mythical thinking gets us in trouble. Void any facts, it’s subjective, less direct, and based on personal feelings. Plus, mythical thinking creates a gap between expectations and reality that is a natural stress antagonizer.

Hit a dead end and watch the uprising of mythical thinking. It’s the fertilizer of bad ideas. It propagates when we believe that everything will be different, even though we perform the same actions.

Did you get “lucky?” When a breakthrough that “seems” to come out of nowhere is attributed to “luck” outside of oneself, mythical thinking flourishes.

Ah, yes, but what does mythical thinking look like in real life? Some of the more common phrases lurking in the minds of an entrepreneur include the following:

  1. If I build it, they will come. Most entrepreneurs aren’t going to blurt this out – at least not in public. However, actions – or lack thereof – indicate an expectation that a yellow brick road will rain forth crowds to their storefront (or website).
  2. I’m supposed to know all there is to build a business successfully. Egad! No one wants to look like a fool, especially in front of a potential client, and certainly not in front of another entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs are masters of their craft, not entrepreneurs.
  3.  I’ve got to do it all – myself. Well, this sounds plumb crazy as you read it. Yet, most entrepreneurs fear others cannot, or will not, do the job as well as they can/will.
  4.  I need to work 24/7 for my business to succeed. “Yes, and” as we say in comedy improv. Hard work is an essential piece of the success equation – as is working smart. Working more than 60 hours a week is not a badge of honor or anything deserving of applause. That brand of mythical thinking played well during the post-World War II Industrial Age. Today, it is a significant cause of burnout and contributes to a health crisis.
  5.  I “have to” follow established business practices. You would be surprised how many entrepreneurs feel the need to follow in step with what the so-called experts say. Those who have walked before you can be a source of wisdom; however, you bring a distinctive trademark of creativity to your business that you should not dismiss.
  6.  This is the way we’ve always done it. Wow! As fast as the marketplace is changing, we can hardly afford to do things the same way two days in a row without the risk of losing relevance.

Sadly, this kind of mythical thinking prevents entrepreneurs from reaching out for the support they need to succeed.

Keep Calm & Analyze

Entrepreneurship, and its accompanying success, are anything but mythical. Entrepreneurship is a learned skill. It requires logical thinking based on scientific and empirical data. Facts, controlled experiments, and rational evidence (like key performance metrics) contribute to the objectivity needed to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship.

Each day in the life of an entrepreneur is a clean slate, allowing a fresh, new start.

So, arm yourself with your magic sword, and let’s slay some dragons!

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Testimonial

Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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