Last week I asked if you were a hamster and if you always wanted to be a hamster -- someone stuck on the wheel of work with no prospect of doing exactly what you want to do with your life while you are still full of energy. This week we look at how to stop being a hamster -- especially if you are a small business owner.
1.Know what you want to do
This is harder than it seems. But imagine you have plenty of money and plenty of time. What would you do with it? Be concrete. How would you spend your hours each day? What, if anything, would you be trying to achieve? How would you attain personal fulfilment?
Deceptively easy questions. But as I found when I was 40, hard to answer. Find the answer before you stop being a hamster. Why is it so important to do it before? One reason is that you may never stop being a hamster unless you see the wonderful attraction -- in detail, so you can see and taste what you would do -- and fire yourself up to have the freedom to do that. The other reason is that if you don't know what to do with freedom, you'll spin your wheels, like I did in my early 40s. And that is a much more miserable thing than you can imagine.
For me, I realized eventually that I wanted the freedom to write books as a hobby, not as an occupation, not to make money. And plenty of time in the sun -- exercising, strolling, talking to friends, reading.
What is it for you?
2.Stop Doing What You Are Good At
That's right. It's not a typo.
The way to liberate yourself from your business is to stop DOING anything.
Conventional wisdom says stop doing things other people could do better. But I say, stop doing anything at all.
I've made more money, and -- far more important -- enjoyed myself and perhaps contributed something useful, since I stopped doing things.
Now I think about what other people could do, and persuade them to do it. And I don't employ any of them (except a PA and a business manager).
OK, there is an exception. I write my own books. But that's my hobby, not my business. And though the books have done reasonably well, they have had a negligible impact on my net worth.
So if your business relies on you to DO some things, stop it! Clone somebody else to do it. Train them to do it how you would. Better than you would.
Getting off the hamster wheel is as easy -- and as hard -- as getting off the hamster wheel. If you don't get off the wheel, you'll never get off the wheel. If you do, you will, sooner than you expect.
Be unavailable for a week, a month, three months. Go overseas -- or at least somewhere nobody from the office can contact you. Lock away your mobile devices. You won't free yourself from your business unless nobody can reach you. People will only assume full responsibility if they have to.
4.Create a Better Formula
One of the great advantages of not DOING anything is that you have time to think about how to make the business 10-100 times more profitable. I found as a vice-president in a consulting firm that because I didn't have to do any of the work myself, I could be more imaginative and demanding about what we did. The top dog should not be going to Cruft's dog show. He or she should be devising a better way to win at Cruft's.
Here are three different ways that you could take a huge leap forward in the formula:
5.Fire most of your customers
Use the 80/20 principle to cut back to the 5-20 percent of your customers who give you 80-200 percent of your true profits. Lavish attention on that small number of great customers. Sell more to those customers. Ask them what new products they want. Make them more successful.
Especially if you are in a service business, automate what you do and turn activities into products. Standardize the products. Simplify them. Make them more powerful.
Most small businesses do several things for individual clients that could be turned into great products for many more clients. Productizing is hard, because it involves seeing the gems you are too close to notice. Once it becomes a habit, however, there is almost no quicker route to higher profits.
What did McDonald's do to the coffee shop? It simplified it, down from hundreds of menu items to nine. It automated it, replacing waitresses with the customers themselves. It turned a service business into a product business. It productized. And it sold hundreds of billions of hamburgers.
What is your equivalent of the hamburger?
7.Use the Star Principle
The Boston Consulting Group invented the idea of the "star business" -- one that is the market or niche leader in a market that's growing fast. Almost every valuable business today either is or was a star business, because exponential growth is necessary for a business to really make it big.
Star businesses are rare, but they can be found. It's a good idea to invest in star businesses. It's a good idea to work in one. It's an even better idea to create your own star business.
My book The Star Principle describes how you can create a new star business, or, perhaps, turn your existing business into a star.
Here's a link that gives you a quiz to assess whether your existing business is a star, or how far it is from being one. It can be done in five minutes -- you don't have to register or pay anything -- www.starprinciple.com.
Whether you are a business owner, an aspiring entrepreneur, or a regular person working in someone else's business, decide whether you are a hamster or not. And if not, STOP BEING ONE. You may need to work towards that goal patiently, over a few years. But if you're not naturally a hamster, please don't stay one!
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For anyone who is really serious about stopping being a hamster, I am running a 3-day workshop in Chicago from September 28 - 30. More information on that: