Let Go of Your Business and Let It Grow

representative of business success
Business success requires a willingness to change
I deeply respect and admire small business owner/operators. It takes more than an average amount of grit, determination, and smarts to get a business going and keep it alive and growing. One could also probably make a reasonable case for those same entrepreneurs being some small degree of nuts, too. The risks are high. The time commitment never really ends. And then there is the grueling burden of administration, an aspect of your operation grossly underestimated at the start, grinding away at your attempts to actually do something that might make the company some money.

You, or you and a very small number of partners, are your business. You provided the knowledge, skills, and drive to get the enterprise off the ground. After years of hard work, the business has grown into a fine operation, but still needs your input and effort on almost a daily basis. Your finger is on every button and dial throughout the operation, keeping everything finely tuned and delivering your product or service.

Business operations, as they grow, generally do not follow a smooth progression. The revenue picture may graph smoothly, but the underlying business processes and infrastructure tend to reach certain growth milestones where a substantial step change is needed to overcome the next hurdle. Revenue growth is unlikely to parallel the change in cost over the short term. Step changes can be a little scary, as sometimes changes cannot be undone once put in place. Every business owner can surely identify examples of step changes in their own business history. Revenue growth can be fairly smooth, but business infrastructure and resource growth tends to be quite bumpy and erratic.

Revenue growth, the reason you are in business, comes through two paths, opportunity and effort. Opportunistic growth is that call from a company you never heard off that wants to buy a truckload of your widgets. Essentially, opportunistic growth comes to you. On the other hand, effort based growth consists of business acquired, nurtured, and built through an investment of time and money. My sense is that the majority of revenue growth comes through effort, in many cases the effort of the business owners. That brings us to what can be one of the bigger barriers to business growth…the boss.

How to keep revenue growth a part of your business.

Successful business man in labyrinth of decisions and challenges
The path to success is not always clear

Let's look at two areas where an owner or manager may be hindering expansion or performance, with some possible corrective measures.

Doing too much on your own.  Even though you may be the most competent person at your company in performing some task, it may not be productive in the larger scheme of things for you to be doing it. As an owner or executive of the company, be sure to devote time to the macro level issues that affect the company. Identify tasks on your daily to-do list that can be shunted to someone else. If you are drowning in routine day to day activity, it leaves little time for doing research and formulating useful strategy for the organization’s growth and improvement. The demands on executive level time and talent can shift as an organization grows and changes. A smart executive will relinquish control over tasks that can be done competently by others, enabling a devotion of time to issues with the largest impact on the company's future.

Failing to apply human resources to their best use.  A bedrock element of business success is applying resources where they will generate the greatest return. Keeping too many business functions in-house, in an effort to save money or maintain control, can be counterproductive for the bottom line. Applying personnel to their best or highest value use can be difficult in smaller operations with limited staff. Structuring the workforce in a way that has everyone performing varied tasks to keep the operation going can sometimes be the result of failed thinking. There is an opportunity cost associated with having someone work on a task that does not exploit their highest contribution to revenue. For example, having a top producing sales rep spend time boxing up orders for shipping may not be the best use of the sales rep's time. How much new revenue might be produced by having the sales rep selling, instead of taping boxes? The lost revenue that could have been generated by the sales rep selling, instead of boxing, must be considered as additive to the cost of packing and shipping for purposes of decision making.

Some tasks which may eventually be handled in-house may not currently be at a scale that justifies commitment (hiring) of a matching qualified individual. Not having the right people do the work can result in diminished quality or productivity. Mismatching people with tasks for which they are not well suited is bad…bad for them, bad for the business.

How can I get the most return from my human resources?

  • Identify the highest and best use of each person at the company. 
  • Adjust each individual's work description to keep primary focus on performing highest value tasks.

So, after getting every member of the company workforce focused in on the best use of their time, how do you get all the work accomplished that is unassigned? One avenue that can provide substantial leverage to your operation is outsourcing. Outsourcing is not only for manufacturing, and does not necessarily involve having work performed overseas. There are contracting operations everywhere and some may be located closer than you imagined. Outsourcing is available for a staggering array of business functions, ranging from unskilled tasks to very specialized procedures. Administrative work can be outsourced, freeing human resources to focus on revenue generating activities. 
Outsourcing is part of business success and growth

Why aren’t you outsourcing already?

You probably are currently outsourcing several functions of your company, but do not consider it outsourcing. Do you use a payroll, office cleaning, or mass mailing service? You are outsourcing. Operations of almost any size can wall off certain tasks and have them performed by an external provider. 

What can get in the way of implementing  an outsource?

Current employees may be concerned about their job security and resist attempts to outsource. The successful navigation of personnel and labor relations issues can be challenging. Keep in mind that this article is directed at small, very small, businesses. The intent at this scale is not to reduce the number of employees. The goal is to deliver the maximum benefit from the current staff by having workers do what they do best and having some portion of the remaining work performed by outside contractors.

Throughout many discussions with small business veterans, a common theme emerges when they recount their business history and what they might have done differently. A large majority indicate that their growth (success) was hindered by their insistence on keeping as much work in-house as possible. There may be some instances where this is necessary, but those are a minority. A small business operator's desire to keep all business functions in-house may reflect a personal desire to maintain control that is not in line with good organizational policy or decision making. Letting go of personal desires that get in the way of sound decision making can be difficult, but must be done. Learn to recognize the influence of your personality on your rational decision making and adjust as needed to achieve the success you deserve.

What are the primary benefits of outsourcing?

  • Reduced management burden:  Managing an outsource procurement is less demanding than managing all the people, tasks, and materials that constitute the delivered product or service. Freeing up management time to focus on strategies and activities that generate revenue will move the business forward.
  • Predictable cost for a delivered unit of work: Contractors deliver a product or service meeting your minimum stated requirements at a cost that is predetermined. Any risk associated with operation of the outsourced process or task falls on the contractor, not the procuring company.
  • Application of company personnel to their highest valued use: Contracting out a properly planned schedule of activities allows your valued employees to do what they do best and generate the maximum amount of return for each human resource dollar.


  • Identify potential outsource work: After you match and assign the highest value tasks to each member of your workforce, review the work activities that remain unassigned. These have a high value when outsourced because they are essentially the tasks creating barriers to your workforce producing at its highest potential value.

    Another area that can benefit from outsourcing is technical work. It can be burdensome to train and maintain skilled labor, equipment, and facilities for certain types of work. If you build something in-house, it may be advantageous to contract it out. Every situation is different, but keep in mind that sending work to an outside producer will free up your valuable internal resources to do other things.
  • Properly specify deliverables: Outsourced work needs to be specified in a way that gives the provider a clear standard against which delivered work will be evaluated. The same specification also serves as the internal quality assurance standard used to accept or reject delivered products and services.
  • Avoid evaluation strictly on a cash cost basis: The overall goal is to enable your operation to produce a higher output without a corresponding increase in staff or physical assets. The real cost of work conducted in-house can be difficult to discern, but it is generally much greater than the direct cost associated with the labor and materials involved.
  • Value your outsource contractors: Strive to develop long term relationships with contractors that satisfy you. Their value will grow along with your company.
Letting go of maximum control can be difficult for some small business owners. Their current level of success may have been built upon a foundation of self-executed tasks. If that is the case, past experience may now be a barrier to future growth. Proceeding thoughtfully and with careful consideration with an outsourcing plan may be just what a small company needs to make that step change to the next level.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime.

Workplace Reality Check - "It's not about being right. It's about being successful."

cooperative professional work group
Nobody gets things done alone. Make allies, not adversaries.
I originally wrote this article for one of CMS4i's customers and posted on their blog. It was written for a target audience of engineers, but it occurred to me that we can all benefit from a review of how we fit into the larger picture, and how our behavior might make things better for ourselves and everyone around us in our work environment. I share it here, with hope that it will give you a degree of perspective.

As engineers involved in process measurement and control, we are accustomed to everybody else looking to us for answers and solutions. We are the people that make things work. Occasionally the pressure and stress can get a little intense and strip away some of our civility in our dealings with those around us. You may have bitter experience with this as either victim or perpetrator. It never ends well. With a private and candid self-assessment about how we view and interact with other stakeholders in our projects, we may be able to scale down some of our stress and better focus on the reality of the task at hand. Consider the points below. Comment and add a few points of your own.
You are an expert, but so are they.
Accept that, just as you have specialized knowledge that others do not, they have specialized knowledge or insight you may lack. Encourage the sharing of knowledge with those you interface with on a project. Try to be proactive and ask gently probing questions to ascertain the comprehension level of others involved in the project in various roles. Their increased understanding of key project technical concepts will promote more effective communication throughout the duration of the project. It can also help to avoid missteps in your own progress. Good people appreciate the time you take to provide basic explanation of concepts they may not fully understand, but need to know. Make valuable allies of the other project stakeholders by freely contributing your expertise. It is an investment that costs you little, but may pay immense dividends at some future time.
Everybody else's job usually looks easier than it really is.
All jobs have their own special challenges and responsibilities that generate stress. Accept the notion that you probably do not fully comprehend the burdens on those around you. Your portion of the project is certainly critical, but no more so than that of anybody else. Everybody needs to perform or nobody succeeds. Try not to view your project tasks as compartmentalized, but rather as part of the combined joint effort of all stakeholders. Help out others whenever you can. Again, make allies.
Everybody is somebody's customer.
Whomever you deliver your work product to is your customer. The people delivering their work to you should view you as their customer. Make your customers happy by adjusting aspects of your procedures to better satisfy their needs. In a more technical sense, your modified process output becomes an improved input to their process. Small changes in your delivery may produce comparatively large returns in customer satisfaction. Allies.
Do not embarrass or demean others...especially in public settings.
Embarrassment breeds anger, a desire for revenge, and other bad and unproductive things. Avoid words and deeds that will make a coworker or stakeholder look bad in front of others. If there is a problem, if there is a mistake, try to deal with it discreetly whenever possible. Giving a someone a chance to repair a mistake before it becomes public builds value in your relationship. Certainly, there can be instances where more is at stake than someone's pride. Use good judgement to recognize when you can privately give someone an opportunity to amend a situation without causing harm.
Reach a common understanding of project scope and technical details.
Your organization's management or your company's client, whatever the case may be, will likely have project expectations which will be clearly understood in their mind, but perhaps not fully described to all those tasked with specific performance. It is also possible, even probable, these same stakeholders will have misconceptions or a lack of technical knowledge about certain facets of the project. Omissions from the project specs and gaps in the common understanding of technical aspects related to the work requirements can easily turn a fairly straight forward task into a wildfire of organizational mayhem. The way in which these situations are handled must be diplomatic. Injured egos can do more damage to project harmony and progress than the facts ever will. The delivery method for the facts will likely be more crucial than the facts themselves.
It's not about being right. It's about being successful.
At our company we recognize customers are more than merely people that buy things from us. They are people to whom we contribute our time and talent to help achieve their success,... which inevitably will lead to ours. Never hesitate to let us know how we are doing, or how we can help.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime.

Meetings - Some Tips on How to Make Them Worthwhile

Woman giving presentation at a meeting
Coworkers gathering to discuss
project progress or business strategy
Even in the sometimes diffuse work spaces of modern organizations, where much of our contact with coworkers might be via email, chats, messages, or specialized apps, there are still significant times when collaborators must congregate as a unit. There are some things that cannot be effectively accomplished without simultaneous attendance of the involved parties. The rate of information exchange that can be accomplished verbally far outpaces anybody's keyboard speed. We are need meetings, so let's step up and make them work.
Meetings, whether in person or virtual, can be highly efficient catalysts of productivity and creativity. If managed poorly, there are numerous very descriptive terms employed by attendees to describe the experience.

Compiled here is an admittedly long list of items that might help meeting attendees and mangers to sharpen their performance and contribute to a productive session that breeds enthusiasm and results. Some will appear obvious, but it never hurts to run yourself through a refresher and bring the important points back into focus.
  1. Publish and follow a meeting agenda. This is the easiest way to a productive start.
  2. Start on time. Can be tough at first – but if you stick to the start time, people will be more likely to show up on time.
  3. Give periodic summaries. Ask group members to summarize. This ensures everyone understands the discussion points.
  4. Assign tasks to participants. Good managers do this. This builds consensus too.
  5. Insist that vague statements be clarified. Dissidents and attention grabbers do this. Don't let them.
  6. Test all generalizations. “Everyone knows...” is not a valid approach. Watch for this in emotionally charged meetings. 
  7. Ask probing questions. Use open-ended questions, not ones that can be answered “yes” or “no”.
  8. Protect and defend minority opinions. Many good ideas come from individuals or small subgroups. Encourage them. 
  9. Keep outside issues outside. Schedule another meeting to handle those issues; don't stray from agenda.
  10. Know when to fold 'em. Once an issue is resolved, don't revisit it. Keep a list of issues that just hang on. Will they ever be resolved?
  11. Always debrief. Acknowledge what went right. This is important for morale.
  12. Combat negative behaviors. Don't let any group member derail the meeting.
  13. Curtail dominance. Learn to identify the individual that over-participates, effectively shutting others out. Have a private chat with that person. Perhaps a code or signal between the manager and dominator so the latter knows when to put on the brakes.
  14. Avoid tunnel vision. Emphasize alternatives if polarization is happening. Ask the group for new ideas.
  15. Minimize silence. Strong contributors who suddenly become silent can be a warning sign. Ask the group for input, observations and thoughts.
  16. Watch for subgroups or cliques. Try to bring those who are unaligned or undecided into the group rather than having an instigator recruit them to their position.
  17. Seek out hidden agendas of individuals whose goal may be to increase personal power or decrease the authority of the meeting leader. Have this handy: “Is this what we are meeting about today?”
  18. Monitor agreement. It could be the “yes men and women” agreeing too quickly, which isn't helpful.
  19. Find the right style. Facilitator rather than controller? Need to learn the “dance” that works with the group.
    Corporate style board room
    The same rules apply to meetings held in board rooms, cubicles, or parking lots
  20. Encourage participation by everyone. All contributions have value and may lead to a preferable solution.
  21. Clarify points. Helping someone to clarify their points improves everyone's understanding of the issue.
  22. Restate the issue. Particularly useful when meeting is not going well. Helps to refocus and defuse an emotional moment.
  23. Act as mediator. When the group is stuck, introduce a new idea, revisit an old one, or put off to the next meeting.
  24. Facilitate the meeting. The best facilitator has a general interest in other people, the group, and the goals of the organization.
  25. Express support. Even when you disagree, still support the person's right to an opinion.
  26. Invite participation. A withholding of  a "no" is not a “yes.” Non-participation is a very manipulative technique. Don't let this happen.
  27. Check for consensus. Confirm where everyone stands on an issue to determine when the group is approaching a resolution, or if more discussion of information is needed.
  28. Appeal to higher goals. Don't let the minor power plays, hidden agendas, personality issues get in the way. A wise and powerful group leader does this well.
By using this checklist for running an effective meeting, organizations and groups can make meeting times more useful and efficient. Effective meeting management is skill acquired through consideration, practice, and candid reflection on past performance.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime.

LinkedIn - The Value You May Not Realize

LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn is essential to your profession
Welcome to any first time visitor, and welcome back to returning technical sales professionals. I specifically target those in the process measurement and control industry, but anyone in tech sales will likely find some value in this article. The CMS4i blog has, for a few weeks now, been moving in the direction of providing an understanding of how various social media applications and channels can provide a boost to your discoverability in the digital world (here is the first blog in the series). I try to push aside the esoteric, mystical, and sensational, choosing instead to focus on the real purpose of your business. Activities and knowledge that will directly work toward providing technical sales professionals with revenue generating opportunities are what we want.

But there is a deeper dimension

Of course, there is. Let's look at LinkedIn, the premiere social media site for business professionals, and see what kind of impact it can have on your company's success, as well as your own. There are many professionals still without a LinkedIn presence, and probably just as many that have opened a free LinkedIn account and really do not understand how it can be useful to them. I am going to make a statement that you should keep in mind, always, about LinkedIn.

Nobody is going to place an order with you through LinkedIn.

The purpose of social media is not to get purchase orders. The purpose of social media, for you, my tech sales pro comrade, is twofold:
  1. Get found.
  2. When found, deliver a positive impression or message, showing the potential customer that you are a serious and engaged professional worthy of consideration as a valuable business contact.
It's not rocket science, but LinkedIn can be rocket fuel for boosting your image and position in the business sphere in which you operate. In business today, if you want to know about somebody, you check out their LinkedIn profile. Search engines index LinkedIn profiles, which is a very strong part of "getting found" for you personally, and your company. Your LinkedIn profile provides a means for you to tell your story in your own words. There is more to this powerful business networking and social media app, but let's take a step back, start from ground zero with LinkedIn.

What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is a business networking application that provides pathways for users to search for other professionals and make business appropriate connections. It generally consists of member profiles, company pages, and member groups. It is intended to be, and is strongly maintained as, a professional environment for business only. Members form connections, based upon common interest or business related activity, that are used to share information and seek out additional connections.

How Can LinkedIn Help Build My Business?

You may not be using LinkedIn much, but it is very likely those in your business sphere are. When you are introduced to someone, or your name arises in their activities, most professionals will search for you on LinkedIn and form an opinion of whether a business relationship with you might be of value. This, tech sales pro, is where I feel compelled to point out, so there is no confusion, that LinkedIn will be used by many of your potential customers to determine if they want to meet with you to discuss upcoming projects and purchase plans. Your potential customers, just like you, would like to work with a highly qualified, engaged, professional that can bring real added value to a business relationship. A prospect viewing your profile that does not like what they see, or does not find any profile for you, will likely continue their search and never contact you. Whether this is fair, or smart, on their part is not a point worth arguing. It has become the operating method for many professionals and organizations because it works for them. Make it work for you. 

Your profile is important.....very important, but there is another aspect to LinkedIn that you can use to great advantage. As well as being discovered in the searches of others, you can search for people on LinkedIn. When you find a person you are looking for, you can attempt to form a connection with them. You can also see how you may be connected to them through someone you already know. This is an incredibly powerful function, but be careful how you employ it. Spamming, and other shenanigans are not looked upon favorably by the LinkedIn community. Misbehave and you may be shunned in any number of ways, not the least of which is getting kicked out by LinkedIn. 

You can continue to build your profile over time by adding notable accomplishments. Another way to enhance your profile is through sharing relevant and interesting information with your connections by posting it to your page. This shows heightened engagement in your industry and helps to get you noticed.

Sum It All Up

LinkedIn provides you a way to tell your professional story to anyone that finds your profile page. Everything you do on LinkedIn will reflect on your professional brand, giving you the opportunity to continually build a reputation as someone worth knowing, and contacting, in your field. LinkedIn is about people, not products. Your goal with this application should be to:
  1. Continue to update and build a professional profile.
  2. Make connections with business related contacts.
  3. Continue to find and share quality content with your connections.
  4. Find other ways to provide value to those with whom you are connected.
Sounds easy, right? Move into LinkedIn gradually, but steadily. In future posts, I will cover profiles, connections, and other aspects of LinkedIn in more detail. Start by setting up a free account and creating your profile. Connect with a few people you know well (perhaps some personal friends) and let them know you are in the learning phase, so they will forgive your missteps and help you. Get a feel for how it all works, then proceed to build connections.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime. (I know I have this same message at the end of every blog, but I really mean it!)