HOW I MOVED MY NEEDLE AND GREW MY BUSINESS THE SMART WAY

HOPEFULL AND DISCOURAGED

I read this statistic several years ago when I first started my development company. I had mixed emotions; I was hopeful and discouraged at the same time. Hopeful because I knew that if I focused I could spend 90% of my time on moving my needle, but discouraged because I knew I currently wasn’t and, furthermore, wasn’t sure what my key activities were.

The statistic was from a Harvard Business Review that conducted a study and concluded that “business owners need to spend 90% of their time on activities that move the needle” in order to be successful and grow. In other words, a business owner needs to spend 90% of her time focusing on the value that she specifically brings to the business, and avoid or delegate the other tasks that distract from her value proposition.

WHAT VALUE DO I BRING?

“OK! I can do this!” I said to myself. “Um… but what do I contribute that’s of value, and what do I do that can be ignored or delegated??” I have to do bookkeeping, or my company’s finances and cash flow will be in chaos. I have to meet with my developers, or our projects will get off track. I have to market and network to acquire new clients. I have to architect and design products, because I have my name on the company – Serpico Development (SerpicoDEV).

“Well, I can’t cut anything out or delegate anything. I’m doing everything right. And even if I did delegate something, I don’t have the cash flow to hire anyone.” But I wasn’t growing like I wanted. So, obviously, there was room for improvement.

WARREN BUFFET AND HIS PILOT

The story goes that Warren Buffet’s long time pilot asked Buffet how he could improve his career. Buffet asked the pilot to write down 25 things that he could do to improve his career. So the pilot wrote down the 25 things he could do to improve his career. “Now”, Buffet said, “Circle the top 5 to focus on now that will reap the most reward.” So the pilot circled 5 and said, “I get it, focus on these 5, and work on the other 20 as I have time”. “NO!” Buffet corrected him, “Ignore the other 20 at all costs until you have mastered the circled 5”.

I’ve always loved that story. Such great advice. I tried a modified version of that exercise and listed all of the activities that I perform as the owner of SerpicoDEV:

  • Development
    • Architecting
    • Coding
    • Hardware / Server Provisioning
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers
    • Project Panning
  • Finance
    • Bookkeeping
    • Payroll
  • New Clients
    • Networking
    • Presentations
    • Combing eLance (and other project sites where development projects are posted)

Then I reviewed the list and identified which activities required me to personally perform them. In other words, I identified which activities could not be delegated because of the value I added to the company by doing those activities myself. Here’s what I came up with… the same list annotated with eye-opening notes:

  • Development
    • Architecting – I could delegate the details of the architecting to a senior level architect and review his work. This will save me several hours a week.
    • Coding – There are better coders than me. I could delegate all the coding to other developers and review their work. This will save me a ton of time.
    • Hardware / Server Provisioning – This does not need to be done by me personally. I just need to suggest or approve a hardware / server plan.Development
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers – I add value here because I am an expert of managing teams.
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers – I need to answer developer questions, because I add value by steering the project development.
    • Project Panning – This is another area I add lots of value, as I have a knack for planning projects in phases that match both development lifecycle and business goals.
  • Finance
    • Bookkeeping – I can delegate this… I am not an accountant.
    • Payroll – I can delegate this… I am not an accountant.
  • New Clients
    • Networking – This is vital, as my name is on the company, I need to be the face of the company.
    • Presentations / Public Speaking – I am good at making presentations, and, as the owner and face of the company, this is a vital task.
    • Combing eLance (and other project sites where development projects are posted) – I have had very limited success finding reliable clients on any of the freelance sites. So this activity is a waste of my time. I decided to jettison it.

Oh, wow! My new list of activities that move the needle became:

  • Development
    • Architecting – Review with a senior level architect.
    • Coding – Review developers’ work.
    • Scrums (Meetings) with Developers
    • Ad-Hoc Meetings with Developers
    • Project Panning
  • New Clients
    • Networking
    • Presentations

Within 12 months, my annual revenue DOUBLED. I then hired a project manager to run interference between me and the developers to free up even more time to focus on what I do best. Within 18 months of honing the process to focus on doing only the things that I do best, my annual revenue DOUBLED AGAIN. I can safely say that if I stood in the weeds and continued trying to do everything myself, and filled my days with tasks that either someone else could have performed or added no value to the company, I’d still be generating less than a quarter of my annual revenue.

WHAT MOVES YOUR NEEDLE?

This is a great exercise for any business owner to conduct. It only takes a few minutes, and can yield revelations you may not have expected. Go ahead… now… yes, now… and write down everything you do in your business. Then cross off the activities that add zero value to your business…. and don’t do them anymore. Now, circle the activities that only YOU can do… these are the ones that make your business unique. For example, a lawyer will always need to meet face-to-face with his clients and a backer will always need to create the secret recipes. What activities on the list do you need perform yourself in order to move your needle? The activities that you did not circle are the activities that can be delegated or, at most, supervised by you.

In the comment section below, please share what you discovered when performing this exercise, and any other advice you can give to small, growing business owners. What have you learned and can share with others?

In my next post, I’ll share a 5-minute productivity tip that Charles Schwab paid $400,000 to learn that doubled his productivity each day.

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