Launching a Business? Don’t Leap Before You Leverage

August 14, 2013

jumpI’ve had a recurring conversation with quite a few friends and colleagues lately. They’re unhappy in their current jobs and want to do something different. For many, this means becoming an entrepreneur and launching their own business. Conventional wisdom suggests they will follow one of two distinct paths:

  1. They’ll leave their current jobs and make the leap, the philosophy being that if you stay where you are, you will never make a change.
  2. They’ll stay where they are until they have enough “security.” The reality is, that no one ever feels secure enough to make the change.

However, there is a third option that isn’t often discussed.

The question isn’t when to leap, but rather how to leap. Ask yourself a simple question: How can I leverage the assets of my current employer in a way that will help me with my future endeavor?

Use the Access You Have

If you want to become an entrepreneur, having a great product or service isn’t enough. Small businesses fail not because of a lack of talent or ideas; they fail because the can’t—or don’t—sell. You need contacts and relationships. These are often hard to establish when you are on your own. But if you are working for a major corporation, you can leverage your employer’s brand to help better position your future business for success.

Large companies have access to a lot of people, including some very influential people. Just saying that you work for a major company can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Even if your new business venture is in an unrelated field, you can still leverage your current situation.

When considering opportunities for leverage, consider the following:

  • What are you doing within your current role?
  • What do you wish to do in the future?
  • How can you leverage the contacts, connections, resources and people within your current company to help you build your future business?

Build Your Future Brand

In addition to leveraging employer opportunites, there’s no time like right now for creating buzz for your future business. Start by building your personal brand. Take, for example, what these three people are doing.

One person I know who wants to launch his own business is looking for opportunities to get his content published on his employer’s website. This is a benefit to him since his employer’s site has significantly more visitors than his current blog.

Another person I know is interested in becoming a consultant. She is leveraging her current employer’s credibility to obtain speaking opportunities at major conferences. This will increase her exposure, and personal brand, exponentially.

Someone else is forming business connections now that would be extremely difficult to establish after leaving his position in a large corporation.

Respect Current Employers

To be clear, all these individuals are interested in adding as much value as possible to their current employers. In fact, the people who look to step out on their own often produce higher levels of results, in part because the result is often mutually beneficial.

I know firsthand what this is like. Back in 1995, I was ready to leave my position at Accenture. I wanted a change. But as it turns out, the change did not have to take place outside the company. With the help of others, we launched a 20,000-person process-and-innovation practice. I not only added more value to the organization, but I was reenergized and significantly more satisfied in my new role.

On the back of that work, I was able to leverage the firm’s connections to get a publishing deal with McGraw-Hill. It was at this point, in 2001, that I left Accenture.

Knowing when to leap is a difficult decision to make, and if you leap too quickly, you may be missing great opportunities for leveraging your current position. Instead of leaping across the chasm, find ways of building a bridge from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. When you do this, the transition is a lot easier and more likely to be successful.

This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum

Work One Hour a Day

July 30, 2013

Do you feel overworked? Do you feel as though you never have time to relax?

What if you needed to work only one hour a day?

I was recently interviewed by Dorie Clark for Forbes.com and discussed how I do this with my business.

To be clear, I do not work one hour a day. I work one hour a day on my “current” business. I invest my free time in “future” business endeavors such as developing new products or creating new intellectual property. Because my time is disproportionately spent on the future activities, it gives me freedom to take time off more often.

This should not be interpreted as being lazy or doing a half assed job with the current work. I still demand the highest level of quality and service in the work that gets done. It just means that I am smarter about how I invest my time by delegating, deferring, and deleting unnecessary activities.

Read the article on Forbes.com here

It takes only 5 minutes, so you will have 55 minutes free for your other work activities.

Creative Leverage for Professional Speakers

March 20, 2013

NSA LogoToday’s Wednesday Work Wisdom is an interview between me and Theo Androus where he asked me about the business model of my speaking business. We discussed the concepts of gamification and leverage and how they are important for creating a successful business (of any kind).

This recording was part of the “Voices of Experience” CD that is included with Speaker magazine – a magazine given to all members of the National Speakers Association (NSA). If you are a professional speaker (or want to be one), I strongly encourage you to check out NSA.

You have two ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)

Read the transcription here…

What is Leverage…Really?

March 13, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

I recently attended a training class where the instructor was telling professional speakers how they could leverage their content as a way of making money in their sleep. The reality is, the focus was really on how to make products, not how to make money. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, the goal of a business is to make money, not to make products.

What I found interesting is the use of the word “leverage.” This individual was actually using the word leverage to mean reuse. For example, if I have a blog entry, I can convert it into a book, which can be adapted into articles, which in turn could be made into audio recordings and more.

From my perspective this is not leverage; this is just repurposing.

All too often, I will hear consultants use the word leverage in this manner. They might ask, “How might we leverage our assets?” Again, this is typically about reuse.

Leverage comes from the word lever. A lever is something that allows you to get the greatest results with the least amount of force.

In the word of business and innovation, leverage is about figuring out what are the things you can do that will unleash the greatest value.

The teacher of the class suggested that people should take their content and create a lot of different products (e.g., ebooks, mp3s, webinars) as a way of creating leverage in order to make passive income.  She suggested that these various items would allow someone to make money in their sleep, and therefore they should not give them away for free.

This is a mistake!

Many speakers in the group were relatively new to the business.  Their mailing lists are very small.  Even if they made a bunch of these low cost items, the odds are they would never make more than a few hundred or maybe a few thousand dollars. This would hardly justify the effort involved in creating the products in the first place.

When thinking in terms of leverage, they should ask, “How do I use my content to most efficiently create the greatest ultimate return?”

I think a better use of their time would be to figure out the best way of creating a huge following so that when they decide to create a product, they have a market.

I could charge for a webinar that I market to my list. Maybe I would get a handful of buyers to pay me a couple hundred dollars each to attend. Maybe I would make a few thousand dollars doing this. But there is no leverage in this.

Instead, I choose to give away my webinars. I do free webinars for various organizations that have access to the people I want to attract. For example, I am doing a webinar for Soundview Business Book Summaries. Anyone interested in business book summaries is probably in my target market. I am doing a webinar for a major website where many people in the innovation space gather.

These webinars always generate leads for speaking. In addition, these free webinars add more people to my list; people that may not otherwise know about me. Each becomes a prospective buyer in the long run. The lifetime value of one free webinar to the right audience can be many times that of a webinar done only to my list for a fee. This is leverage.

When assessing your business strategy, be sure to look at what will increase your access to your buyers.

There is a big difference between making products and making money. Leverage is not about repurposing in order to create something new that might provide incremental value. Leverage is about creating exponential returns.

Beyond the 4-Hour Workweek

October 11, 2012

The 4-Hour Workweek (by Tim Ferris) is the ultimate book title.  Who doesn’t want to work only 4 hours a week?*

I was hooked by the title, but disappointed by the premise.

In a nutshell, the book suggests that if you work 50 hours a week, you should outsource 46 hours, leaving only 4 hours of work for you.  He suggests that you should find people in India or the Philippines who can do your dirty work for very little money.  (I am admittedly oversimplifying, but this is not far off)

To me this is the wrong strategy.

This approach assumes that the 50 hours you are working are all worth doing.  This is rarely the case.  Why would you get someone to do the tasks that you should not be doing in the first place?

Don’t just do what you are doing today better, faster and cheaper.  Instead, question everything.

Find the 4-hours of work that will unleash massive value.  The key is leverage.  Where can you invest your time that will have the greatest impact?

When working on anything in your business, ask yourself how much value is being created.  It will typically fall into 3 categories (I know I discussed this in a previous blog entry, but some things are worth repeating):

  1. Adding no value (or even detracting from what you need to do).
  2. Adds a linear amount of value – one hour of work generates one hour of value
  3. Adds exponential value – one hour of work generates 100 hours of value

Whenever I am doing something, I ask myself, “Is this creating exponential value?”

Interestingly, in most cases, there is little that I can do on my own that will create exponential value.  Leverage (or scale) typically happens through partnerships and relationships.

I have created several partnerships with organizations who have massive distribution, and large development/deliver capabilities.  I invest a significant amount of time and money researching potential partners and exploring those relationships.  By tapping into their reach and resources, I can generate exponential impact on my business.

Here are some simple questions/actions that will help you focus your energies:

  • Who has access to the markets I want to tap into?  Partner with them.
  • Where are the people in my target market gathering? Go to them.
  • What is it that these individuals and organizations want/need most? Deliver this instead of what I have to offer.
  • Who needs something similar  to what I offer?  See if I can modify my product/service to meet this untapped need.

Generate your own questions.  Anything to shift your thinking.

The more leverage I get from a particular activity, the more time (and emotional energy) I want to invest. Because I know that the more I invest in activities with leverage, the less time I will have to invest in the long-run.

How much value does your current 50 hours of workweek generate? 50 hours?  40? 4?  Outsourcing tasks that create linear value is fine.  But what if you partnered with people on tasks that generate exponential value.  And what if the 4 hours you choose to work only focused on activities that creates exponential value?  50 hours of work could generate 5,000 hours of value.

No more linear thinking!

*  I don’t really think that I want to work only 4 hours a week.  I love the intellectual stimulation of work and the contribution I get to make.  So working that little is not really a goal for me.

3 Steps for Creating Leverage in Your Business

August 23, 2012

“Work smarter not harder.”

This dreadfully overused phrase is meant to address the apparent lack of time, money and resources we experience in our work and personal lives. But how do we translate these words into something actionable? Here are three methods I have used in my business to accomplish this:

1. Focus on what matters. Over the years, I have studied numerous organizations and have found that only about 30 percent of the typical day is spent on activities that directly create value. For example, sales representatives devote on average only one-third of their day with prospects. The remainder is allocated to administration, travel, meetings, and other less valuable activities. The same is true for almost every other “knowledge worker” in an organization.

To get more done, focus on the critical tasks while eliminating, delegating, outsourcing, or automating less important activities. I have seen many individuals go from 30 percent to 50 or 60 percent with little effort using this method.

While working at a major computer manufacturer many years ago, I was able to cut my 80-hour a week workload to less than 20 hours simply by using this strategy. It took only a weekend of analysis and implementation. This allowed me to focus my energies on activities that really matter, while helping others find time saving strategies.

2. Leverage sales channels. The ultimate goal is to maximize results with the least amount of effort. You can accomplish this through leverage: generating disproportionately large returns with a minimal investment.

Let’s look at selling again. Traditionally, to sell more, you identify prospects, create sales collateral, develop marketing materials, and then directly solicit potential buyers. This is a linear strategy. If you make a sale, it is one sale.

To create exponential growth, consider working with businesses that already have the relationships you want to build. One partnership with the right distribution channel can lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, without any extra effort on your part…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

Laziness is the Father of Innovation

August 22, 2012

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is sometimes its father.*

Some of the greatest innovations were developed by people who were too lazy to do a particular task.

Professor John Atanasoff, along with graduate student Clifford Berry, built the world’s first electronic-digital computer back in the late 1930′s. Why did he do this? He said, “I was too lazy to calculate and so I invented the computer.”

A number of years back while working for a computer manufacturer, the department head dubbed me the “Chief Laziness Officer.” He meant that as a compliment. I was constantly finding ways to reduce my workload. I got so good at it that in my spare time I helped others do the same. (you can read more about this in an earlier blog entry)

Laziness drives innovations that improve productivity. It comes from saying, “There must be a better way.”

Laziness does not mean sitting on your butt watching Jerry Springer and eating bon bons.  The process of simplifying takes a lot of effort. But when you develop a new innovation once, you get to leverage it over and over again. So in the long run, you are ahead.

Leverage is the key word. Laziness often involves the creation of something that results in exponential returns.  The development of the computer certainly did this.

Although it is not considered to be a positive trait, sometimes it is useful to tap into your inner laziness.

* This reminds me of when I worked with Dr. Michael Hammer many years back.  I once introduced him at a conference and said that he was the father of reengineering.  When he took the stage he said, “Every time my wife hears that I am the father of reengineering, she wants to know who the mother is.”  Classic.

Turning the Screw

August 8, 2012

This is the 5th article in a series on alternative paths to success

I was once told a story while working at UPS. At its Louisville, Kentucky, air hub, hundreds of thousands of packages go through the sorter every day. This is a critical operation that is supported by a complex conveyor system. If the conveyors go down, packages might be late and significant time and money can be lost.

One day, the story goes, the conveyors stopped working for some unknown reason. The engineers tried to restart it, but to no avail. So they called in the best conveyor consultant around.

He walked into the package center, looked around for about three minutes, walked to the far end of the building, opened an electrical box, turned one screw, and to everyone’s delight, the conveyors started running again.

The package center manager was thrilled, and asked the consultant for his bill.

The consultant thought about it and said, “Ten thousand dollars.”  The manager was shocked, “Ten thousand dollars for five minutes work? Give me an itemized bill.” So the consultant pulled out his pen and wrote a two-line invoice.

First line read, “$500 — turning the screw.”

The second line read, ” $9,500 — knowing which screw to turn.”

He got his fee.

Not all activities have the same impact.

  • Some activities have little or no (or possibly a negative) impact on your success and business.  Eliminate these.
  • Other activities have a linear impact.  They will improve the business, but not radically.  Delegate these.
  • The activities where you want to focus your energy are those that create exponential returns; the things that give you incredible leverage.  Focus your energies here.

Look at how you spend your time.  Are you getting an hour of return for an hour’s work?  If so, that is not good enough.  Get creative.  Find ways of creating massive results with little effort.

We will continue to explore this concept in the next blog entries coming soon.