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Efficient laziness

laziness

Premise: The key to success is delegating and outsourcing, not doing everything yourself.

Laziness and efficient laziness are not the same. A lazy person really does not want to do any work whereas an efficient lazy person seeks to finish an assignment by delegating much of the workload. In order to do be able to delegate effectively, however, a considerably effort must be allocated to planning, preparation and execution and that, in my opinion, is what efficient laziness is all about.

When I engage in projects, the first issue on my agenda is to clearly define what the client wants to do, how he or she prefers to do it, and what elements are critical for project success. Instead of attempting to do everything myself, I outsource nearly 90% to professional firms and individuals that I trust will deliver satisfactory results. Understanding what is needed and who can deliver it is basically what I do. This approach increases the service level to the client for multiple reasons:

  • Instead of engaging tasks sequentially, they are engaged in parallel which shortens time to market and begins to generate client revenue faster.
  • Placing too much on one plate can create burn-out and fatigue while outsourcing spreads the workload more evenly, thereby reducing the risk of error or misjudgment.
  • Through outsourcing or delegation, responsibility is shared which means that instead of the entire weight of the project being on the consultant’s shoulders, he or she can leverage that against other professionals in charge of specific tasks (the consultant is still ultimately responsible for the project outcome but it is far easier to supervise and audit the work of others rather than do everything personally).

I usually deal with the planning stages concentrated on opening up new market territories for clients. In order to determine the investment required and the ROI, concrete quantitative and qualitative data has to be complied. While I could do this myself, it would mean that the time-to-market would extend which results in time lost. Therefore, when engaging in strategic planning, I prefer to subcontract those elements so that I can fully focus on how to position the client in the territory with minimal risk. In like manner, I am often on the other end as other consultants outsource marketing strategies here while they concentrate on the client overall business strategy. Keeping things focused works in the favor of the client and gets the job done faster and more efficiently than if one and the same consultant attempts to do everything. Micromanagement is not what the consultant should engage in for two main reasons:

  • It isolates the consultant from other, skilled professionals and contracts the network.
  • It puts the consultant under too much pressure that can lead to confusion and even project collapse.
  • It prevents the consultant from building a real consulting business as micromanagement usually results in a sole operation.

Many consultants attempt to do it all and few if any really succeed. Some even end up hospitalized as a result of over-exhaustion and stress. In my opinion, a consultant that cannot effectively manage own operation efficiently cannot help clients achieve a similar objective as they fail to grasp the importance of delegation and efficient task allocation. A strategic consultant effectively provides CEO support and as such is not supposed to perform individual tasks covered in the strategic outline anymore than the CEO does. Instead, his or her role is to ensure that the job gets done properly, is delivered on time and meets objectives; it is all about managing the workflow, not to drown in it.

Failing to delegate and utilize the vast resources available through professional firms and individuals renders the consultant unfit to undertake strategic projects as he or she will be bogged down by mundane tasks. We have all heard about CEOs that micromanage and the effect this has on employee turnover. Many consultants fall victim to that and I find it counterproductive. There are only so many hours in a day and they have to be leveraged. Trusting those we work with is essential and I prefer to handpick the best teams available.

As usual, this is my approach to the consulting business that some may not agree to. It does work for me and my clients, however, and therefore I wanted to share it.  I have always been fond of delegation as it helps we take on more and larger projects faster while maintaining a lean operation. For some that may not work; for others it will. It depends on the context. I would greatly appreciate feedback.

Selling your brain

BrainPremise: The key to success is the ability to sell one’s own brain, not labor hours.

After spending a decade believing I was selling my brain, I recently discovered that I have not been doing that at all – I have been selling labor hours. It is very easy to start selling labor hours without being aware of it but there are ways to prevent it. Doing so requires unbiased introspection which may be difficult, but going through the following points can be very helpful:

Do you spend more time working on your computer than speaking with people? I did that, for I believed that it would be easier to close a deal with images, PowerPoints, Excels, Words and PDFs rather than just drafting a quick outline. I spent around 80% of the workday generating content instead of actually working with the client solving a problem. Once I reduced that to 20% – and that required quite an effort – business began to accelerate. While engaged with a project, I found myself forced to cut time to market for a client from six months to two and that meant that fat had to be trimmed. I nearly stopped drafting anything – basically mapped it out in my head using mental PowerPoints, Excels, Words – reduced meeting and meeting duration from 30 minutes to 15 and got the ball rolling at high-speed. Once everything was in place, partners, distributors, end-customers and investors, I pieced together a brief Word document (converted to PDF), a short spreadsheet and a 7-page PowerPoint, That is all it took to seal the deal. What I learned from this is that if you focus on selling your brain alone, you catch the momentum whereas going the document way may cause you to lose it.

Do you micromanage more than delegate? My issue here was that I did not trust anyone to deliver the message I wanted as I wanted – text, image, layout and format. Since I could not really delegate – although I believed I was actually doing just that – I wasted valuable time on what font should be used for headers instead of working with the client solving problems or laying growth strategies. As I am quite proficient at text, visual and numerical delivery, I preferred to handle that myself whether or not I had others do it. What happened was that I would superimpose how I would have done it over the material being submitted. That is not how to run an efficient operation. Micromanagement eats up time, creates discomfort for the ones working for you, and may cause a myriad of problems that slow down revenue generation. If you want to earn more faster, reduce – or stop – micromanaging.

Do you surround yourself with people better at certain things than you are? If you micromanage, you will correct what other people do. People that micromanage are usually perfectionists (I am) and accepting imperfection (according to own aesthetic threshold) is just as unpleasant as eating fermented shark (an Icelandic dish; “The single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing I have ever eaten.” Chef Anthony Bourdain, Travel Channel). Anyone subjected to micromanagement will quickly begin to divert attention from the task at hand to a growing resentment toward you. That reduces efficiency and usually results in sloppy work. After all, if you know your boss will change everything you do, why bother?! When I stopped micromanaging, something spectacular happened: I transformed from laborer to leader. Now I expect things to be done properly, although I do not expect them to be done exactly as I would do them. The way to get to this point is to prioritize tasks and be willing to let go once they have been delegated to the proper personnel. Once I fully understood the value of doing this and was able to put a price tag on it (hint: compensation), company growth accelerated.

Do you prioritize or do you work on everything at the same time? In my book, multi-tasking means getting less done in more time. We cannot think two thoughts at the same time although the brain can switch so rapidly that we are deceived into believing that we can. We can’t, for instance, think of an oil tanker and a tomato at the same time without putting both in same mental image. We can switch rapidly between the two, but we can’t ‘see‘ both unless we put them adjacent to one another (and even then we can’t ‘see‘ both as our mind’s eye switches between them). Given the difficulty of this simple task, imagine the effect is has when working on multiple projects at the same time? In my case, I have to ‘rewire‘ my brain before changing between projects which is why I prefer to work on few projects at a time and preferably of very different nature. The greater the overlaps between projects, the higher the risk that mistakes will occur as we confuse the two.

Have you put yourself to the challenge of generating revenue using ONLY your brain? Last year, I asked myself that question and ended up staring into thin air. I had no real concept of what that meant. The method I used to test this theory was to operate only on email and telephone; no PowerPoints, Excels, or Words, only my mind and my mouth. The result was mind-boggling. Before I did this, my reach was limited to Icelandic businesses and a handful of US firms (I spent seven years there, so I had some contacts still intact). Today, I have a network capable of penetrating the largest companies on the planet exactly where I want it to penetrate. The epiphany came when I understood that people are not persuaded by documents but by other people. If you respect them and what they do, they will respect you and what you do. Once you have engaged in friendly talks and have formulated a project that creates a mutual gain, then you whip together the necessary documents and seal the deal. I have found that this leads to closer, longer lasting relationships than actually trying to sell someone something based on promotional materials or business plans. People like being sold something that they can gain from, and sometimes that gain is just interacting with another professional on the same level (that can lead to very interesting projects). I have been very fortunate to have met a lot of great people out there that hold impressive positions yet are very passionate about other things such as the preservation of the Amazon. Companies are not blocks of cement, they are people. When building a business, it is very easy to forget that which sets the stage for labor hour sales.

These are just my observations; there is no right or wrong when it comes to building a business. Or is there?

The Partnership Scorecard

PartnersMost businesses start on an individual with an idea. The second step is usually selecting partners to develop that idea. ‘No man is an island entire of itself,” wrote John Donne (1572-1631) in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (Meditation XVII, 1624), “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Most of us realize this, but we tend to make mistakes when implementing it by selecting partners. While it is only natural to make mistakes when assembling partners for the first time, there are some simple methods that can be used to prevent these first-time partnership exercises from becoming problematic. Having known someone for decades is not a valid reason for a partnership; it can actually have the reverse effect and be a disaster.

Some people seem unable to form strong, lasting partnerships while others succeed in doing so time and again. While talent comes into play, the key success factors are focus, vision and strategic thinking. Consider partners to be ingredients in a donut: Would you pour a batch of liquorice into the batter? Probably not, so before selecting a partner, ask yourself the following three questions:

Q1. Do I really need a partner?

The answer depends on whether or not a partner is essential in building the business. If you can build it yourself, you have no need for a partner just yet; you may be looking for a contractor instead. If a partner is essential, the next question is:

Q2. Why do I need a partner?

A partner is not supposed to do your work or enable you to work less. Your laziness is not a valid reason to give away part of your business. Doing so is plain silly but many do so nonetheless. A partner either has some specific skill or access to a network that is absolutely vital to getting your business off the ground. A partner can also double you up in case your workload is too great, but for IT start-ups that suggests business inefficiencies that have to be dealt with or your business may fail. If you manage to determine why you need a partner, the next question is:

Q3. Whom should I partner with?

This is where things can get tricky as you enter into the realm of personal interaction. If you have 5 different people on your radar but can select only one, which one do you pick and why? You have to be very cold and calculating; this is your business and the wrong selection may cause it to fail. Still, this process is uncomfortable for most which is why so many mistakes are made. Fortunately, there is a way to do this is an impersonal but constructive manner that will actually make you look good no matter whom you pick. We call it:

PASCO – THE PARTNERSHIP SCORECARD

The Partnership Scorecard – PaSco – is based on core business areas and lets you and potential partners determine your combined strengths and weaknesses (it is also very effective for employee recruitment but that is another discussion entirely). We use PaSco internally and also on client businesses to improve overall efficiency levels and reduce ‘fat‘. The core business areas addressed are:

  • Management & Operations (e.g. Corporate innovation, Strategic management, Communication)
  • Finance & Economics (e.g. Capital budgeting, Investment banking and analysis, Econometrics)
  • Marketing & Sales (e.g. Campaign management, Lead generation, Profitability and market analysis)
  • Legal (e.g. Commercial lending, Corporate taxation, International trade and tax law)

PartnershipScorecard

Each section is broken down into 20 or more subcategories, which potential partners check based on whether their strength in that specific category is High, Medium or Low. As you did this too, the consolidated scorecard will award points reflecting the summation of your scores and theirs; providing you with clear overview of how individual candidates stack up against you. The last thing you want is a partner that doubles you up; you are looking for a partner that is strong where you are weak!

The image to the left are actual client results that clearly indicate operational strengths and weaknesses. Based on the charts, Financial and Legal skills are weak and next in line as far as partners are concerned, whereas marketing and sales are less important (digging deeper, however, reveals that while Marketing is strong, Sales is weak, so there is an argument toward pumping up the sales department).

With this type of mapping in place, the personal element is replaced by hard facts. The gap in business operations has to be bridged to even out the slices and the candidate that delivers the best results – i.e. makes the slices more uniform – ought to be selected. The PaSco approach disarms to candidates not selected and actually provides them with valuable insight into how a strong business foundation is established. They learn from this and that makes you look good regardless of whether you select them or not, thereby neutralizing the ‘personal‘ factor.

If you have already screened candidates properly, there should be no non-factual elements to disrupt the verdict such as ‘Do I want to work with this one‘ or ‘I’d rather work with that one.’ If you find yourself doing that, return to Question 3 above. This is your business we are talking about; not a fishing trip.

If you would like more information on the Partnership Scorecard, contact us.

To app or not to app

Many businesses fire out smartphone apps that are completely useless and actually cause more damage than good they fall victim to the fallacy that apps are necessary to make them look current. A good app is a great promotional tool whereas a bad app is the sibling of bad publicity. Does the business need an app? Will the app:

  • Boost efficiency: reducing execution time by automating processes currently handled manually?
  • Increase turnover: capturing a larger slice of the target audience (or opening up an entirely new market segment) in combination with a marketing campaign adding a marketing weapon to the business’ arsenal?
  • Capture insights: trackingcustomer behavior and serving as a market research tool?

If the projection is that the app will boost efficiency, increase turnover, or capture insights it should be designed to optimize these capabilities. The app’s effect on a business should also be considered. If the app is an efficiency-boosting tool, it most likely affects frontline operations such as ordering, booking, and inquiries and may in some instances cut down overhead arising from these services significantly. It also boosts capacity as more customers can be serviced simultaneously and basically has a similar effect as homepages did two decades ago. The cost of developing an app of this type is measured against current service time and load on frontline personnel, and as such goes into the realm of activities-based costing (the stopwatch scenario)

Businesses measure apps based on payback time verses market penetration and all too often believe that lower app development costs result in faster payback. I prefer to use app effectiveness verses investment required since an effective app will end up paying for itself with interest. An app is a sunk cost, but its purpose is to recover the investment through other channels. It therefore has no direct – or measurable – payback period as such.

As a marketing weapon, the app is expected to create additional revenue which means that the investment is linked to a projected increase in sales volume and turnover. In order for this to happen, the app must have that ‘coolness’ effect that makes the market snatch it up like free candy at Halloween. Saving money on look, feel and appearance is not a good idea as that may cause the app to become inefficient and therefore a loss. Apps are wonderful marketing weapons as they offer plenty of cross-marketing possibilities. A store may develop an app that also offers mobile payment. Instead of the store, the telecom, and the financial transaction entity (bank or credit-card company) placing individual ads, the bundled solution means that they can double the campaign budget, but end up spending less each on the campaign. They can then piggy-back off each other for months once the initial blast is complete and reminder ads are run, tripling the exposure at no additional cost. Cross-marketing campaigns pack tremendous power and apps are ideal for such scenarios.

As a market research tool, apps offer a dimension homepages don’t – GPS positioning. Apps can be made to not only track customer travel but also direct the customer to specific destinations. A range of apps exist that track runners and bikers as they train, map their pulse, speed and distance and map it out for instant posting on Facebook. Advertisers can use apps for the exact same purpose except in their case; they can track campaign effectiveness using a combination of radio psychoacoustic signals (NielsenArbitron) and GPS proximity triggers. I was involved with such a project last year and the possibilities in that realm are virtually limitless. WCC  is doing some very interesting work in that area and so are others leaders in the market research field.

Well truly what the project requires is a marketing budget,” says Lisa Steinmann, Director of Developer Relations at Mobilewalla. “App discovery is the biggest challenge app publishers face. If you don’t have a marketing budget for your app, then don’t bother, unless you have a built-in marketing machine in place or a hot commodity. Justin Bieber can sell anything immediately as millions are hanging on his every move; an average app of any kind, will not succeed without a marketing effort.When selecting a developer ask them if they have a marketing team, or a standard marketing plan. Most developers leave the marketing up to you, but there are some very specific marketing issues regarding app title, description and keywords (which must be chosen prior to publication) that are vital to launching a successful app.”

A business desiring to develop an app in order to boost efficiency, increase market share or gain greater insight into its customer base should keep in mind that:

  • The app itself is not a sales item. It either saves or generates money directly or indirectly.
  • The app has to be easy to use. It is not a web page with tons of content; it has to be focused on a specific task and execute that task perfectly. Also, limiting text content makes the app much easier to translate into other languages.
  • The front and back intelligence behind the app has to be clearly defined before any programming takes place. This may call for a server that is configured to intercept, process, and redistribute the data relayed to the app (as is the case with our Jupiter platform). This is vital for market research apps and highly recommended for other types as well.

There are exceptions to this, but an app intended to increase profitability while also generating direct revenue can cause confusion and sidetrack the project. In my opinion, it’s better to focus on the app as a profitability boosting tool or a sales item, not both.

When the purpose of the app has been defined, a business is faced with the challenge of selecting the right development firm to actually build it. Here we run into price verses. track record. Is a cheap development firm with a limited track record worse than an expensive firm with a massive record? Then again, a company with limited experience will have less pre-made stuff on the shelf to help you make your app cheaply, which can easily lead to a cheap deal ending up costing more. I urge businesses to select their app project leader with great care. An experienced project manager will be able to communicate clearly to the developers what is to be built as he or she has fine-tuned the company’s app framework, leaving no room for error or misunderstanding on either side. The project manager will also know what technological components already exist and can accurately estimate their price. Finally, the platform that best matches the target audience has to be selected. The iPhone is marketed very aggressively, but for a while it appeared that Android would win that war. The tables seem to have turned again (click on image to read the related article):

Android Market Share Declines In US, Apple iOS Gains Ground As iPhone 5 Expected To Strengthen Growth

App developers are great and are here to stay. What apps offer for market research, it tracking mobility; for advertising, influencing customer behavior live by guiding them to specific destinations. Apps is a new technology and there is no doubt that we will see more and more spectacular uses for it as it matures.

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